How to Win the SEO and Content Marketing Arms Race

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Content marketing and SEO have infiltrated every industry. Discussions, how-tos, and podcasts about the topic are everywhere. 

Most of these articles are reactive though, and as a geeky futurist, I enjoy looking ahead to see what's going to happen next and how we can change our strategies now for better results. 

I recently went on a rant about the future of SEO to a friend of mine, and I thought I would combine it all into a post so that marketing newbies and industry veterans can consider what lies ahead for the industry. Take a look, and let me know what changes you think will impact the future of SEO and content marketing.

Take a breathe. “Not provided” is the best thing to happen to content on the Internet since the GIF.

Seriously, as marketers we should be focusing on making great things for people, not ways of cheating the search engines for top placements. By building semantic content based on conversational search terms, not only will your content teams be happier when producing that content, but your users will certainly be far more likely to actually engage with it. Everybody wins!

Instead of getting hung up on keywords alone, look at what content and topics are engaging (high time on page, low bounce rate, high of volume shares, etc.), analyze correlating landing pages, and segment out the entry points.

You should:

Write content that people care about. 

People are searching for entertainment, value, and utility in the things they search for. If you can teach them something, make them feel something, or answer the questions they have, you’ve already taken the first step toward winning the content marketing arms race in 2015.

Google's Hummingbird update focused on ranking content based on semantics and context. This we know. But why did it do this? Google wants to be the best search engine out there, and that means tailoring its results for people, not search engine marketers.

Understanding the questions, guides, and how-to answers that your customers and prospects are asking and seeking will allow your content teams to develop and deploy content that ranks high for what’s currently being searched for. It's no surprise that Buffer’s post on headline formulas is full of examples using words like "how to", "guide", and "steps".

You should:

  • Build your site using HTML5.
  • Use semantic markup to feed the hummingbird.
  • Mine your site searches for the most frequently asked questions.
  • Create content that directly addresses common objections and questions fielded by the sales team. 

Make clustering a part of your editorial strategy.

If your content strategists aren’t taking into consideration segments, cohorts, and personas, they aren’t digging deep enough into the psychology and behaviors of the people you are looking to reach and connect with. When developing content calendars with search in mind, content teams should focus on the nouns: people, places, and things. If you haven’t incorporated affinity and journey mapping into your process, you are missing a key part of your content strategy.

You should:

Patience isn’t a virtue; it’s extinct. Speedy and secure are what win Google’s attention.

You’ve already seen stats, articles, and trite infographics telling you why mobile is the key to breaking your bad marketing habits, so you’re likely wondering why I’m mentioning patience in an article about SEO and content marketing. Delivering a lightning fast, HTML5-powered experience is what stands out today. Performance is a feature. Google has incentivized developers to make faster websites that are more secure by making site speed and SSL a critical key to ranking well. That’s because Google's goal is to not only deliver users the best and most relevant content but also predict what that content is before users even know they want it. That being said, performance is a key feature driving SEO in 2015. The faster your experience loads, the happier your readers and potential buyers will be. This, in turn, will translate into great metrics for all, especially in terms of high search rankings and number of shares.

You should:

  • Test your site with Google PageSpeed Insights or GTmetrix to isolate and correct speed bottlenecks.
  • Try running a WebPageTest to see how you stack up against your competition.
  • Be sure you are using third party Content Delivery Networks (CDN) like Amazon Web Services, CloudFlare, MaxCDN, or Softlayer to serve up your static assets like CSS, JavaScript, and images. A CDN provides an affordable way to speed up how your content is accessed from users, regardless of location or device.

Experts get rewarded for their thought leadership.

In a world driven by influencers and social capital, the future of search is clearly going to be around content marketing, and being top of mind means being on the front lines. For B2C brands, this requires innovation and inspiration, while for B2B and others, it means ranking high for a specific point of view or an in-depth how-to guide, else you risk being beat by competitors.

Resources:

  • Contribute guest posts and op-ed pieces to high traffic, well-recognized sites to be considered a thought leader.
  • Check out what communities your users and competitors are taking part in by using tools like TrackMaven or SimilarWeb. In other words, if you’re a startup looking for visibility, getting featured on Product Hunt or on Inbound.org can easily generate thousands of views in just a matter of hours.
  • Answer questions on Reddit, Yahoo Answers, and Quora. Depending on your audience or industry, more niche sites can be found in the benchmarking tools mentioned above.
  • Read and understand Google Patents. This is my biggest trick for driving powerful SEO results for our clients at Digital Surgeons.

Become a winning contender for the SEO arms race.

Search behavior is a critical step in the consumer journey. Don't just think about your first- and last-click interactions. Build advanced media and attribution models so you can see how SEO, reviews, and other searches are influencing both your digital and offline sales revenue. Be relevant, care about speed, and focus on how users behave. 

Remember: SEO is about how you "technically" rank. Content marketing is how you drive engagement and rankings that have an impact on your business. These are two very different things, but you need to understand both to compete. 

What do you think the future of SEO and content marketing looks like? 

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