Content Marketing (nee SEO)

A bold statement – “SEO IS DEAD!!”.

Before I start getting hate mail; It isn’t, of course, but has it evolved out of all recognition?  It’s in the nature of evolution that you can’t see it happening before your eyes but, given enough time, you end up with a very different beast.   There was never a Homo Habilis that gave birth to a Homo Erectus, and yet, by degrees, the latter descended from the former.

The timescales for the evolution of SEO are much smaller, and epochs do tend to be more clearly defined by changes to Google’s algorithms, but could now be the time the classify a new species?

Before naming this new species, let’s look at it’s defining characteristics and compare them to their ancestor.

When SEO first cropped up in the mid ’90s, search engines were a very different beast*.  Pre-Google, search engines spidered and indexed pages primarily to count and rank  keywords on pages.  Webmasters twigged very quickly that if they packed keywords into their content and meta tags, then they would rank well.  This was recognised as being bad for users (the term “Blackhat” was coined pretty early on), there was very little done about it until Google came along.

The first significant change that Google brought to the game was the inclusion of off-site factors into their ranking algorithm.  Links to a site were considered ‘votes’ for that site.  The more votes, the better.  Votes coming from a site that rank well for a given keyword will help you rank better for it.  This reduced the leverage that on-site keyword density had on rankings, and so changed the focus of the SEO industry, shifting it onto link acquisition.

Over time, Google have focussed on engineering the algorithm to sniff out and penalise the SEO techniques of yore.  Press Releases don’t float PageRank like they used to (if at all), ‘bought content’ (e.g. ‘guest blogging’) is identified and ignored where possible, and keyword cramming, content cloaking and other such techniques can lead to significant penalties and the destruction of your rankings.

In other words, Google have shut down all the old games, and if they haven’t, they’re certainly working on it.  If you’re trying to apply traditional SEO techniques, then Matt Cutts is after you…

Should we all just go home then?  Absolutely not.  While Google is the go-to gateway for the world’s web traffic, businesses will always do whatever they can to increase their rank in their results, and what Google have done is to align businesses’ priorities with users’. It’s still a game, only now it’s a very different one, and one that does us all some good.

If the old SEO of buying links, duplicating content all over the web and cramming keywords into content is the equivalent of playing Doom 2 in a darkened room, then the modern descendant of SEO is the equivalent of ‘Who can eat their broccoli the fastest’.

What are the characteristics of this modern descendant/rules of this new game (merging the evolution of species/game metaphors)? I’ll paraphrase and summarise below, but the full set of rules are published very clearly by Google themselves in their Webmaster Guidelines.

In summary:

  • Create well-written and informative content
  • Make sure your site is well laid-out and easy to navigate
  • Make sure your site is fast

If you do that, then the rest will follow.  If you content is good, then people will read it, link to it, and keep coming back.  You’ll get links, they’ll be ‘natural’, they’ll be relevant, and your rankings will soar.

Sack your SEO agency and fire everyone except for your content writers then, right?  Not on your nelly, there’s still work to be done.  What good is well-written and informative content if no one is aware of it?

So, how to make people aware of it?  How do you make people aware of anything?  You market it to them.

All that waffle leads me to my proposal for a name for this new species:  Content Marketing.  It’s not a new term, but is it time full full-scale adoption, and a solid definition?

It sounds dangerously close to a recategorisation of spammy techniques, like copy/pasting links to your content all over the web.  That’s nothing more than bad Content Marketing in the same way as printing up thousands of fliers and fuzzing them all off the top of a tall building is bad ‘traditional marketing’.

If that’s the case, then how do we apply marketing best-practice to Content Marketing?  We all know what marketing best practice is, however many ‘P’s your preferred framework has.  You keep it relevant (see targeted); you make it timely, informative and you give people a reason (and a mechanism – very important this, and often forgotten) to engage with the thing you’re marketing.

Google Plus is FAN-TAS-TIC for syndicating content in a targeted and relevant way.

An example.  Master of Malt sell every spirit category imaginable, and produce blog posts and other content for them.  Google+ allows one to organise people into ‘circles’, so, if you’re writing about a whisky, then you can share this with people that express an interest in Whisky and avoid spamming those that are primarily passionate about Gin.  Further, Google+ Communities self-select people into interest groups, so being an active participant in these communities and sharing relevant content with them will gain much better traction than packing your content into the Twitter Blunderbuss and firing it out into the world (not to say that Twitter isn’t valuable if properly used).

Press Releasing is another Content Marketing channel that can be done very well, or done very poorly.  There are lazy options, like putting your content out via newswires for syndication.  This will achieve little more than to provide link farms and affiliates with content to duplicate (doctored slightly, in an attempt to make it look unique) and links from sites that often have very little relevance for your content.  Again, good ol’ Matt Cutts says as much here, and he he states an aim, then Google’s very best are working on achieving that aim, if they haven’t already.

Press Releasing can be extremely valuable though, if you’re willing to put in the hard yards.  Identify those that are authoritative, and that write similarly engaging and informative content.  Get close to them, establish a dialog, give them information about your content/post/product.  Don’t write it for them, laced with ‘SEO friendly’ links.  Get them excited about what you have to say.  Give them lots of information, and let them write their own content.  In other words; market your content to them, and then have them market it to others.

Anyway, I’m not here to tell you how to do marketing; more to encourage you to change your mindset towards SEO.

Think of it as two distinct functions; (1) creation of editorial, written for users, not a search engine; and (2) Content Marketers.  The job of the Content Marketers is to use marketing best-practice to market the content to people so that they engage with it.  This might mean reading the content, reading the content and sharing it socially, or creating their own content which references yours.  It most certainly does not mean sending people blocks of content and asking them to publish it, or firing out social broadcasts which say nothing more than “I wrote this”.

If you do that, then it doesn’t matter what you call it; good things will happen.

*The next few paragraphs contain massive simplifications, but you get the point.