While Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a mainstay of the digital space, many marketers would be surprised to learn just how much the SEO industry evolves year to year. As devices and user behavior change, major search engines are constantly updating their algorithms and releasing new features in their mission to connect people to relevant, useful, and timely information.
Search engine algorithms are being tweaked hundreds of time a year to provide relevant results for search queries, using over 200 weighted factors. Naturally, some of these ranking factors are weighted much more heavily than others, with one of the most important recent factors being links.
The power of the link gave rise to “link building,” the popular SEO tactic, the goal of which is to gain as many links as possible to boost the overall domain authority of a website. Many companies abused this tactic by creating huge link networks and link farms that existed for the sole benefit of linking to one another. Seeing their algorithms cheated, search engines released corrective measures (i.e., Google’s Panda and Penguin updates).
Why does this really matter, you ask? Link building, in the traditional sense, is no longer an effective means of boosting your visibility in search engines. Instead, we as marketers have to go back to the fundamental mission of search engines: connecting users to valuable, relevant information. Providing great content to your audience will create the shares, links, and search engine visibility to vault your brand past the competition.
The systematic creation of content for the purposes of increasing brand visibility is called content marketing, or inbound marketing. It’s about pulling the customer towards your brand with unique content and building stronger relationships with consumers. While this endeavor is labor, time, and resource intensive, it has become a critical component of a company’s online success.
Research – The first step in this process is simple research. The goal is to compile as much audience interest, demographic, and competitive information that you can find. Start by tagging your site with Quantcast or another audience profiling service to get a better idea of who is actually coming to your website (it may surprise you in some cases!). Additional demographic information can be layered from Nielsen, ComScore, Facebook Insights, and Twitter Analytics, which when combined offer a robust cross platform view of your audience. Use Google Insights and a social media trending tool, such as People Browsr, to determine search interest surrounding the brand and related terms. Research competitors and note their content strategies, focusing on topic buckets, content type, audience targets, etc. Once gathered, sort through this information to find specific interest patterns, content buckets, and content pieces with high share-ability.
Customer Personas – Once all research has been compiled, it’s time to create your customers’ digital persona. These personas could look different from the ones your company has created over the years (and are perhaps now collecting dust somewhere). These will focus primarily on the digital interest and activity of your consumer; factors and persona types can include: technology usage, frequented sites, topic interest, influencers vs. advice seekers, content consumption habits, purchasing habits, basic demographics, etc. Personas should be created for all major audience buckets in your existing and target audience using insights and data.
Website Prep – Since the main goal of inbound marketing is to generate social shares and links to your brand, housing this content on your website is critical. Traditional SEO best practices should be used to ensure that content is visible to search engines and contextually targeted for non-brand queries of interest to your audience. An obvious tactic is to create or use a blog that is flexible to house different types of content, such as video, articles, and images. Be careful when using choosing the platform to host this content because some, such as Tumblr, are great for content sharing but are not SEO-friendly.
Content Creation – Once you have your audience personas and interests mapped out with an optimized onsite platform, you reach the most challenging part of this process: developing compelling, sharable content. There are many potential forms of content, including infographics, interactive features (e.g., dynamic charts that change based on user input), articles, videos, whitepapers/research, slideshows, memes, etc.
These forms of content differ in share-ability and cost. For example, videos are often high-impact, but can be costly to produce. Here are a few examples of successful content:
- Chipotle (video): Back to the Start video has 7 million video views
- RedZone (interactive): NFL football interactive predicting playoff results
- Bergdorf Goodman (interactive) #BGDogs hosted Instagram photos of shoppers’ pets throughout Manhattan
Promotion – Great content has the ability to spread organically, but sometimes it needs a little push. Start by sharing your new unique content on all your social media platforms and appropriate social media bookmarking websites such as StumbleUpon. Next, begin looking for blogs that may be interested in sharing your content. These blogs should be relevant to your message and approached in a personal way. It may be worthwhile to speak to blogs before content is posted to give them exclusive “first post” rights.
The power of inbound marketing and earned media cannot be ignored. Forrester Research recently analyzed web traffic patterns and found that 90% of web traffic was from nonpaid channels such as blogs, social media, SEO, and direct. On the other hand, only 10% of traffic came from paid traffic sources. For many brands, however, paying for only 10% of traffic may not be realistic; the potential to develop strategies to bolster unpaid channels can have an enormous positive effect. As the internet evolves, digital marketing channels are becoming more closely aligned. SEO, social media, content marketing, and PR are beginning to blend together with similar resources, tactics and goals. Using inbound marketing combined with the best aspects of these channels is a recipe for success.