We’ve been having a lot of discussions around Terakeet in recent months about how we define great content. Great certainly seems to be what every SEO is being told to aspire for. After all, it is content that’s king in this business, right? But we’re not the only SEOs having these discussions.
It’s actually become a fairly trendy play in today’s industry when clients approach SEOs about how many inbound links their site needs to rank well in Google for their keywords, for an in-house SEO or unaccountable freelancer to chuckle belittlingly at the client and proclaim to them that “it’s all about the content.”
Clients are understandably confused when it appears they’re hearing mixed messages from their SEO providers. The grim realities of Panda and Penguin seem to have unleashed a born-again movement of content integrity evangelists. In fact, many of those comprising this movement are the same black hat SEOs who up until early 2011, had been drinking their own Kool-Aid in that they believed they were acting in the best interests of their clients by embedding links in forum comments and blog themes.
It’s funny how a couple of algorithmic shifts and lost contracts can bring those on the fringes closer to compliance with Google’s best practice guidelines. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.
Ok, so you’re the SEO… what is GREAT content?
As progressive search marketers, we now seem to be struggling to define where we fit into a client’s marketing budget after they’ve gone through the motions of common on-page optimization. The process formerly known as “link building,” which we refer to as blind one-to-one outreach for the purpose of acquiring an unqualified smattering of links to a client’s site, is time consuming and measurable at a quantitative level, but is less effective today at advancing client ranking goals.
And so clients are now asking us; if great content is really what it’s going to take to take my SEO goals to where they need to be, then what is it? How do we produce it? What do we do with it? And who cares?
For most SEO agencies now, the answer is…Crickets (as in the calming, chirping sound of nighttime silence). There may be a mumbling reply the culminates in a lost contract or a half-hearted, “let me get back to you on that,” but the fact is that most digital agency types, for all the time they’ve spent attempting to hack Google’s algorithm, are neither prepared to answer that for their clients- or know where to find the answer.
Seek not the meaning of great from me, as look within and see great in thee!
Had 16th century poet John Donne been a level-minded SEO today, his response to a client’s question about what great content is would have been something like that above. The fact is, clients themselves, and more importantly their audience, are a better resource for understanding impactful content in their niches.
The majority of brands who have invested even a small amount of their resources into marketing have a decent understanding of who their primary constituency is and what their interests are. At Terakeet, we’re extremely diligent at the onset of every contract to develop a strategy based around who the brand’s primary audience is, what they care about, and the extent to which they talk about it. After that, it’s finding a way to inject the brand into the conversation that’s already going on.
We look to the client to help us develop an understanding of who their industry’s primary influencers are, both digitally and elsewhere. We look to see where the epiphanies and controversies of a niche industry are occurring.
Next, we look to understand who the prototypical user is or who the people are who are involved in these discussions, and where they’re consuming their content. Websites are not organically growing entities, but are manipulated by real human conversations, ideas, and engagement. In other words, there are real people behind these sites, and it’s integral that we understand everything we can about them. These may or may not be a brand’s primary customers, but their engagement with the web represents the best possible idea of where people who care may exist.
With a better understanding of who the impact audience for the brand might be, and where they get their content, we then set out to design a “media asset” for that segment of people and the medium from which we envision them consuming it. This could be an article, data visualization, infographic, or any other piece of content that we feel brings fresh value to a segment of real people.
For instance, if the audience is twenty-something’s who spend their whole day on YouTube, it probably makes sense to appeal to the audience where they’re comfortable through a video content strategy in YouTube or other video streaming platform. If the audience is college students sharing memes, it may make sense to reach them through Facebook with some clever imagery.
What’s important to remember is that nearly all segments of human audiences have a preference of where they play and what they respond to. For every piece of content there is an audience and a channel to deliver it to them. We like to think we’ve gotten pretty good at identifying both.
Content that speaks in the voice of the audience is probably the hardest thing for an SEO to master, but can be the most important aspect of the strategy’s overall effectiveness. At Terakeet, we’re aware of our limitations and if we can’t produce content in the voice and tone of a particular audience, we look to seek out those who the audience are influenced by and incorporate them into the strategy or replicate their tone in our media.
Help me, help you
There has to be a value that the brand expects to inherit from this effort, however, and as SEOs at-heart, we need to hypothesize the desirable results from the strategy. It may be an increase in natural links. It may be brand mentions, re-tweets, or simply increased traffic. All have SEO value in 2012 and will for the foreseeable future. Identify these at the onset of every earned visibility strategy and measure your content by its ability to mobilize your audience in the way you envisioned.
But, of course, the real value lies in the knowledge that we effectively connected with our users in a way that demonstrates empathy and creativity…which sounds a lot like pure marketing. Earned visibility is predicated on gaining visibility for the great things you’re already doing. So help your customers help you. Understand what they’re already doing from a marketing standpoint and advise on the value to be gained by what they should be doing.
Search engines seek to reward good search engine optimization only so far as it relates to connecting users with the best possible solution to what they’re looking for. As we often need to remind ourselves, there hasn’t been a single algorithmic change since the beginning of the algorithm that wasn’t geared towards connecting people with high quality content. The signals have evolved but the intention has always been the same.