Picture this: Day in and day out you shed blood, sweat and tears over your content. You rack your brain for timely, relevant topics. You research diligently to ensure you deliver genuine value and not just fluff. You cry over every comma, and re-Google The Oatmeal to make sure you’re using your semicolons properly.
And what do the gods of Google do? They laugh. They deliver measly traffic so low it’s not even worth A/B testing your headlines. What’s a lonely content marketing director to do?
Recently Jay Baer published this excellent post explaining that in a world awash in content, SEO is more relevant than ever. True enough.
So if SEO is still essential to content marketers, how do you do it? Isn’t SEO just a moving target? Actually no. Last week, I sat down with Seattle-based SEO expert, Mark McLaren, and he filled me in on what the pros are telling their clients these days. The following is based on our conversation.
As Mark explains it, “There are two parts to SEO, the content part and the technical part.” That’s because Google has gotten so much better at search.
“The Panda update and the Penguin update were specifically designed to weed out the garbage and they both do a really good job. These days, you need great content. 5 years ago, that didn’t use to be the case. Google has just gotten so much better at finding people that are trying to game the SEO system.
So if your content is good, you’re already way ahead of the hacks churning out junk, because Google is sniffing out those puppies like a K9 working for the FBI.
Every two years MOZ (formerly SEO MOZ) surveys leading search marketers and publishes their opinions on the top eighty or so factors they believe Google values most. Is this the gospel direct from Google? No, but it’s pretty damn close. Most SEO experts agree that by consistently following the top priorities on this list – at least those that are within your control, and not all are – your content will increase in rank and traffic over time.
But eighty is a lot, right? A LOT. Don’t panic. Luckily, Mark has summarized the most important ones:
As Mark explains it,
“Far and away the most important thing for your pagerank is the number and quality of links pointing to your website. And your pagerank is the biggest factor in whether your post shows up on page 1 in Google search results.
There are different ways those links can be related. But the bottom line is the site with the most high quality links pointing to it wins. And high quality is key. In the old days people could get away with a lot of nonsense in terms of getting in-links but the Penguin update put an end to that.”
How do you get more links? The most obvious and natural way is by creating good content. Think of sites like The Oatmeal. Or even Buzzfeed. I know, Buzzfeed can be annoying but people love their content. It’s funny, it’s quick and it’s topical. Or even WebMD. It’s dry, but people read it because it quickly gives them the information they want. Period.
So start with great content, but be strategic too. Write about someone or some company well-known in your industry and they are highly likely to link back to you. And if you have genuinely good content it never hurts to ask.
Not all in-links are created equal. Google has gotten smart, so just a few in-links from highly ranked sites will help you more than thousands of links from obscure sites. This is a good thing, because it means you can focus your efforts on getting just a few quality links.
One of the easiest ways to do this Mark explains, is to focus on getting links from sites that end in .edu, .org or .gov. That’s because Google (mostly correctly) assumes that since non-profits and government sites have no economic incentive to push a particular product or service their links are less subject to manipulation.
You can take advantage of this by brainstorming ways to get those links. Are there any government or non-profit agencies that would be interested in your content? Make them your target. Ask if you can write a guest blog post, or send them links to your content and ask them to share it. Even one or two of these will go a long way to advancing your own site’s rank, thus raising the rank of ALL your content.
The bottom line: spend your precious time and money getting a few really powerful links rather than hundreds of weak ones.
Okay, so maybe it’s going to take a while to build up some quality in-links, but you can add some excellent quality out-links right now. As Mark explains, “Write posts that include a link out to an authoritative site in the first paragraph. From Google’s standpoint they aren’t going to penalize you for out-links, and it definitely increases your post’s credibility.”
Okay, here we get a little technical, but bear with me, because this stuff really matters. There are a lot of aspects to structure, but on this point Mark is emphatic, “The Title Tag is #1. It’s more important than anything else on a webpage. If you don’t get the title tag right, don’t bother.”
So what is the title tag? Basically, it’s the text Google reads first to decide what your content is about. It’s also the text that shows in blue in search results pages to tell searchers what your content is about too. Here’s what it looks like for another post I wrote:
If you use a blog publishing platform like WordPress, ask your web developer to add an SEO plug-in that allows you to edit the title tag to make it as SEO and click-friendly as possible. As long as it accurately reflects the content of your post, you should absolutely take advantage of this by using the keywords most likely to drive traffic.
There’s a whole science related to keywords and what people will search for, but the basic rule is this: Write in the language most commonly used by your target audience. Not in your own jargony-jargon. Not in the language you think sounds the most “professional” and corporate. Not in the words you just made up last week to describe your niche product. Just the common everyday language of your customers. Because guess what? That’s what they are Googling.
An easy way to check if the terms you are using have SEO value is Google Suggest. Here’s how: Pick a term you want your page or post to rank well for and start typing it into Google. Google immediately starts filling in some suggested terms for you. If YOUR term doesn’t show up, it’s not frequently searched. Rewrite your content to use one of the terms that does show up instead. Don’t want to? Sorry Charlie! Google doesn’t care, and neither do your searching customers. So change it.
Mark shared this excellent example: “Take “facebook marketing”. You can see in Suggest that “facebook marketing tips” appears before “facebook marketing ideas”. The suggestions don’t appear alphabetically; they appear in order of search volume, so we know that “…tips” is searched more often than “…ideas”. Nine times out of ten, it’s best to use the one that’s searched more often, especially in a title tag or heading. Note that something like “facebook marketing thoughts” doesn’t show up. So you can rule that one out.”
So there you have it. Seven powerful things you can do right now to make your outstanding content stand out. Go forth and conquer.
*photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net