The PB&J of Digital Marketing: Content and SEO

Content Marketing has become a buzzword seemingly overnight—but there’s one elusive marketing goal that many marketers don’t realize content marketing can achieve for them: SEO.

Why is this?

Most folks in the marketing space understand that Google operates on a host of proprietary algorithms and ranks webpages in search results based on a number of semi-secret factors. While Google has never released exactly how its algorithms work, over the years, they have released general guidelines to help websites attract the best traffic.

For a great guide to the total history of SEO check out this timeline from MOZ, but as it relates to content marketing, here are the highlights you need to care most about:

  • 2003 – The Florida Update: This was the first time Google penalized sites that employed SEO ploys like keyword-stuffing.
  • 2005 – The Nofollow and Jagger Updates: Google used to rank sites higher that had many inbound links—even links that were left in the comments section of blogs. Nofollow and Jagger stopped giving low-quality inbound links credence.
  • 2009 – The Real-time Search Update: Google started crawling information available on Twitter and other social media channels to include in search rankings—the first time social posts impacted SEO.
  • 2010 – Social Signals: Google confirmed that social signals do impact search rankings.
  • 2011 Panda Update: This update was key in that it not only indexed the amount of content on websites, but actually began to measure the quality of that content.
  • 2012 Penguin Update: Google started penalizing sites still employing spamming SEO tactics such as link farming and key-word stuffing.
  • 2015 – Mobilegeddon: This update favored sites that were optimized to be read on mobile devices.

Overall, Google’s algorithm has become less robotic and reliant on quantitative data, such as how many inbound links you have, how many times you use a key word, how many pages of content you have on your site, etc., and more human by ranking sites through qualitative factors (yes, Google is now judging your blog the same way your high school English teacher would). But don’t freak out—this is actually great news for content marketers because Google’s algorithm is thinking more like us.

However, even as content quality has become increasingly important, we still can’t rely on our power of prose alone to boost our search rankings. There are three core pillars of SEO that factor whether or not your content will help boost your site in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages): on-page factors, off-page factors and social factors.

Let’s assume that the content in question is a run-of-the mill blog post on your company’s website.

When viewing through the lens of on-page factors— these are the things that you build into the structure of your content that allow Google’s crawlers to easily index the information provided. In other words, you need to write your content in such a way that Google can easily discern what that content is about—and what YOU want it to be perceived as being.

Here are some basic boxes you need to check when it comes to your on-page SEO signals:

  • Write metadata
  • Ensure your headlines contain key words
  • Format your headlines with H1, H2, and H3 tags
  • Give your URL string a custom name that also contains your top key words
  • Make sure that you’ve named your images with key words that explain what they are—that’s how Google ranks images in the “image” search function

Next—leverage your new piece of content to boost your site’s SEO through off-page factors. While having too many low-quality links to your site can hurt you, having the right high-quality links to your site can tremendously help you. To achieve this, try to get your content re-published on a site with a high Google PageRank—the score Google uses to quantify what makes a quality website. Aim to get links from sites that have a Google PageRank of at least 3 or 4. Any page rank above 6 is very good. Oh, and P.S. – any institutional site that you can get to link to yours—think .edus and .govs—can tremendously boost your SEO.

Lastly, we mentioned in our SEO timeline that Google takes social factors into consideration when ranking sites. The more people who share the URL to your content on social media, the better. Clearly place social sharing buttons next to your content on your website, making it easy for others to spread it into the social sphere. Also, be sure that you share it yourself to your company and personal channels and use a sticky, shareable headline! Social media is increasingly becoming measure by which Google says “this is a quality piece of content”. Wondering which platform Google gives the most “Google juice” to? Not surprisingly, the underutilized Google+.

There are many other complex strategies to amplify each of these SEO factors in your content marketing strategy, but every good content execution should be in compliance with these three basic areas. You’re already creating lots of content. Make sure it’s helping you win the SEO war!

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