Shane Snow is a Mashable contributor and cofounder of Contently, which builds tools for journalists and brand publishers.
Five years ago, it seemed nothing was as buzzy and mysterious as SEO. Today, “content marketing” has taken over as reigning buzzphrase in marketing circles, with many SEO practitioners shifting their sales pitches to match the trend.
The difference, essentially, is content marketing aims to create content humans want to read, whereas SEO aims to create content that pleases search engines. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but not long ago creating cheap, machine-friendly garbage for SEO was as effective as putting time and money into quality content.
Yet, Google still gets 100 billion searches every month, according to Search Engine Watch. Publishers angling for social media traffic would be foolish to ignore search entirely.
How can content marketing organizations remain search-friendly while adhering to best practices in social media?
The New Rules of SEO for Content Marketing
Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz, outlines five best practices for content marketers hoping to maximize SEO value in an ethical way.
- Create content that people will have an incentive to share.
- Do keyword research, so you don’t waste effort writing about things people don’t care about.
- Put all your content on the same domain/subdomain. (e.g. don’t use blog.mysite.com, use mysite.com/blog)
- Stand for something, and write about it. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
- Don’t separate your brand from your content. For instance, casino sites that make fascinating infographics about animal rights aren’t going to last long.
Successful content marketing publications rely heavily on social traffic for timely impressions. They build search rank for their archives almost as a byproduct of good social content. Well-ranked branded publications like RedBull.com adhere to Fishkin’s advice of producing “large amounts of content people find interesting,” combined with “solid UX” and SEO basics: clean URLs and smart markup.
Machiavellian SEO Doesn’t Work Anymore
Just as in traditional journalism, content marketers should never seek to betray or deceive readers, whether through SEO practices or their content. Anything that borders on sneaky or unethical eventually gets filtered out of search engine results, if history is any indication.
“Manipulative techniques like 301’ing old sites, hordes of anchor text rich links, exact match domains, etc. are gone,” Fishkin says. “SEO today is holistic. It demands that you build signals real brands have that, in years past, could be artificially overwhelmed by large quantities of links or other tactics.”
Search engine algorithms constantly improve to defeat what amounts to cheating — sending false signals of real popularity, like link trading schemes. Today’s algorithms even factor sharing into their search rankings, so users can blissfully skip over crappy content.
Syndication and Influencer Content Works
High-growth blogs tend to focus on content distribution — getting their stories and headlines on other blogs or news sites across the web. Done well, this can build honest links to a site, indicating to Google that brands with authority trust a site’s content enough to publish it on their own. Plus, other blogs tend to riff off of popular posts on authority sites, which can solidify search trust.
Additionally, inviting influential writers and publishers to guest post on your site not only encourages traffic, but also boosts social signals when those influencers share your domain with their social media followers.
At the end of the day, good SEO is baked into good content.
Says Fishkin, “Delivering an exceptional experience and building a true web brand are now essential to long-term SEO success.”