Search Engine Optimization and content marketing are two priorities for many marketing organizations today. Depending on who you ask, SEO and content marketing can be put forth as the most important tactic in a digital marketing program. In one corner, SEO advocates tout the importance of optimization in elevating a website in organic search results. Moreover, SEO plays a crucial role in an inbound marketing program that brings interested people to your online presence with the ultimate aim of converting them into customers.
In the other corner, content marketing has gained tremendous momentum because of its capabilities to actually engage people. I say “actually” because engagement is an overused word in marketing, having become cliché as many marketers are clueless about how to truly engage a customer or prospect. Videos, blogs, and social media content are three forms of marketing content that can be crafted to appeal to an audience without reverting to our desire to sell to an audience. Content marketing offers a long sought channel for increasing brand relevance.
Can SEO and Content Marketing Co-Exist?
Are SEO and content marketing friends or foes? Can they co-exist as complementary priorities in a digital marketing program. Here are some points to consider.
- SEO and content marketing offer different perspectives on what is influential in driving website traffic- each has strengths that influence performance
- SEO is measured on performance such as organic search rankings and conversions
- Content can aid in helping SEO effectiveness and can target different stages of the purchase decision cycle
- SEOanticipates demand by aligning website design and architecture practices with user search patterns and behaviors.
- Content marketing creates demand (via informing and building interest); this thought comes from a recent post by digital marketing expert Lee Odden on the TopRank Online Marketing blog.
- SEO has a goal of increasing visibility of content.
- Content Marketing has a goal of influencing outcomes along customer’s buying decision journey
And the Answer is…
Should SEO or content drive digital marketing efforts? The simple answer is “yes.” SEO and content marketing tactics are not adversaries locked in an either/or battle for a marketer’s attention. Instead, they are complementary pieces of a digital marketing strategy. An optimization focus without great content is lifeless in that it does not put emphasis on telling the brand’s story. Similarly, a content focus without consideration for optimization would result in missed opportunities to attune relevant content with an audience’s search behavior.
I was at a conference recently at which a nonprofit marketer shared with an audience an internal debate about whether the organization’s website should focus on filling the homepage with as much as possible. Her contention was that it should be heavy on content for potential SEO benefits, but I cringed at the thought of what that website might look like. A website designed with a search engine in mind instead of the target audience probably looks like… well, a website designed for a search engine- fulfilling the criteria to be recognized by search engines but not necessarily aligned with the brand’s story.
So, listen to the SEO experts and content marketing gurus for they are both correct to assert that you need them to achieve digital marketing success. The conference session presenter, a CEO of a SEO firm, gave the best advice: Design online content for users, not search engines.
Imagine owning a store in which you diligently opened for business daily but opted to leave the lights turned off and the door covered. Safe to say, such practices would lead to certain failure and defeat the purpose of being in business. Unfortunately, this analogy is reality for the online presence of many small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). A recent audit by digital marketing firm vSplash of nearly 4 million SMB websites found that a startling percentage of them were not fully prepared to conduct business online.
Some of the most surprising findings in the vSplash study include:
- 26% of SMB websites cannot be found on a Google search because their Google page rank is zero (or has no rank)
- 49% have no contact phone number on their homepage
- 94% have no contact email address and are not mobile optimized
- 95% do not have an e-commerce shopping cart
To say the least, these findings represent significant opportunities for digital marketing service providers to help SMBs strengthen their online presence. The lack of an apparent digital strategy and the absence of essential online marketing elements like contact channels and e-commerce capabilities are surprising, but we should not chastise SMBs. Many SMBs are good at the product or service that they provide but lack marketing expertise or resources of their larger corporate counterparts. It is not that they do not care; they do not know how.
Results of the vSplash study also serve as a call to my chosen profession, marketing education. The low frequencies of use for basic digital marketing tactics can be traced to SMB managers lacking knowledge. For some, the issue is that the rapidly changing world of digital marketing makes it difficult for them to keep up with the latest best practices (although the statistics cited above relate to basics that are hardly cutting edge). For other managers, they were failed by business schools that have been slow to adapt to the rapid rate of change in marketing. I see more job descriptions seeking new graduates with search engine optimization and blogging skills; it is further evidence to me that B-schools must be nimble with curriculum in response to the pace of change in digital marketing to better serve employers and students.
March Madness is winding down, with the Final Four set for this weekend in Houston. The drama that unfolds during NCAA tournament games can be breathtaking, and storylines develop that make household names out of relatively obscure teams and players. This year is no different as VCU had to play its way into the tournament and made a remarkable run to the Final Four. Along the way, VCU beat higher seeded teams in the Southwest Region including Georgetown, Purdue, and Kansas.
VCU’s string of upsets in the NCAA basketball tournament has created buzz and excitement, two traits that any brand would desire. So, why not tap into the frenzy of interest generated by upsets during March Madness? According to Networked Insights, a social media marketing firm, that is exactly what some marketers are doing as an alternative to expensive TV advertising buys. A Networked Insights client made unpaid and paid content placements in social media and search engines related to upsets that generated almost 200 million paid impressions at an average CPM of just over $11. When the unpaid exposure received was factored in, CPM dropped to just over $2.
A strategy of brand message placement in the context of upsets in the NCAA basketball tournament is brilliant! It is a great example of marketing in the moment, deftly associating a brand with a popular cultural event. And, upsets tend to be feel good stories (unless your team is the one that was upset), creating desirable emotions to link to a brand. Marketing around upsets is effective because they are unexpected, newsworthy events. When upsets happen, basketball fans might seek out information about the game, and in the case of VCU, search to learn more about the coach, players, and institution.
The fact that there are no 1 or 2 seeds in the Final Four and two teams came in to the tournament as 8th (Butler) and 11th (VCU) seeds are evidence that this year’s NCAA basketball tournament has proven to be a bonanza for marketers looking for upsets to provide marketing opportunities. With the Butler-VCU winner playing either Connecticut or Kentucky in the championship game, is there one more upset in the cards for marketers? One can only hope!
Marketing Charts – “March Madness Upsets Ideal for Online Ad Content”
I am amused when I hear people say that search engine users do not click beyond the first page or two of results. The amusing aspect of a statement like that is that it is based on personal behavior. Are most people really like that- too time poor or too lazy to go beyond the first page of search results? The answer is no, not everyone, just 95% of everyone. According to digital marketing firm iCrossing, 95% of web site traffic for nonbranded searches generated by the three main search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo) come from the first page of results. Only about 3% of traffic due to organic nonbranded search comes from page 2.
Findings from the iCrossing study reinforce the importance of performing well in organic search. When search terms are based on nonbranded keywords such as product category and geographic location, an optimized site is the difference between appearing on page 1 and being invisible… which essentially describes results on Page 3 and beyond. This challenge may be even more significant for small, local businesses. Small businesses do not have the brand awareness that national brands possess. Thus, to be found on search engines it may hinge on turning up high on the list of search results for more general (i.e., nonbranded) keyword searches.
Although it turns out that the “experts” who say no one looks at search results past the first page are correct, thank you iCrossing for confirming that notion… and for reminding us of the importance of search engine optimization.
eMarketer Daily – “Organic Search Still Reigns”
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch is leading the call for online media organizations to refrain from giving away its content. In particular, Murdoch views content from his company’s The Wall Street Journal as too valuable to let non-subscribers get articles and content from the newspaper. Murdoch has taken this stance to the point of removing all WSJ stories (and all stories from News Corp. publications) from Google’s search engine index. If you want it, you have to buy it- no free access.
This move is the latest chapter in a debate that is almost as old as the commercial Internet itself. People pay for newspaper and magazine content in print form, so why should expectations change when it comes to the online channel? The News Corp. decision to remove stories from Google’s search index adds a new chapter to the debate. News Corp. seems to be overlooking the fact that a significant percentage (25%) of traffic to wsj.com each day comes via Google. Moreover, 44% of site visitors coming through Google have not visited the site within the past 30 days. In other words, Google is driving a sizable percentage of unique views to wsj.com.
Charging for content delivered online, particularly from an esteemed publication like The Wall Street Journal, is a reasonable strategy. Not all media companies have the clout with consumers to charge for content, but News Corp. does possess such a brand in wsj.com. However, making wsj.com content unaccessible through Google searches seems to be based on outdated thinking. Today’s Web is about being open, and while News Corp. has a brand worthy of charging for online content, its new search engine policy is too restrictive and misses the opportunity to engage prospective subscribers.
Online Media Daily – “To Be Free, Or Not Be Free, Murdoch May Find Out: 25% of Journal’s Traffic Comes from Google“
You know the adage that “the customer is always right.” I do not necessarily subscribe to that view, but I certainly believe that we have to understand who our customers are and put ourselves in their shoes. If we do not think like customers, we cannot fully appreciate their perspective. The above statements are rather broad, so how about an example to illustrate the point from search engine advertising.
Susanna Speier shares on the blog Search Engine Journal that a post she made this spring about Daylight Savings time increased the amount of traffic to her blog by over 500%. What was the secret- useful tips on how to transition to Daylight Savings time? No, not really. Was the increased traffic just good fortune given the timing of her post coincided with the time change? That’s part of it, according to Speier. The key? A misspelled term. Speier deliberately used the term “Daylight Savings Time” as opposed to the correct form “Daylight Saving Time.”
Why knowingly use an incorrect term? Simple- the incorrect form was entered as a Google search term about 3 times more often than the correct form. Rather than earn points for proper spelling, Speier experienced a sharp rise in blog traffic by using a term most people use. This tactic enabled the search engine to find her blog posting and connect Speier with people seeking information on the time change. Speier’s experience reminds us to think like customers when we are talking them.
Search Engine Journal – “Daylight Savings Time 2009 Optimized”
Search advertising is an effective but unremarkable channel for reaching customers and prospects. Measurement of effectiveness and budget management through the keyword bidding process make paid search appealing to advertisers seeking to make every marketing dollar count. Paid search is unremarkable in terms of its “flash.” Limited to text only and limited in length, the power of search ads is their ability to drive traffic to a landing page where the persuasive efforts really begin.
This model for search advertising is being shaken up by the industry giant, Google. It has relaxed a policy concerning the use of trademarked terms in text of search ads. The policy had been that only the trademark owner could use a protected word or term in search ads. Now, Google will allow search advertisers to use the trademarks of others in their ads. The policy change will likely create a new look for comparative ads on Google. Generic claims of product superiority are not as powerful as more specific comparisons of a brand to its competitors.
Some advertisers have complained about Google’s policy change, and there is a legitimate concern that competitive trademarked keywords might be bought to portray brands unfavorably. Conversely, comparative advertising is hardly new. Brands have been challenged by competitors in TV commercials, radio spots, and print ads for years. Search advertising is the newest frontier for battling competitors.
Link: Online Media Daily – “Google’s Trademark Policy Could Bring New Money to Paid Search”
It is said that pictures cannot lie. Maybe the same can be said about the words we use to conduct searches online. A December 2008 survey by ComScore revealed sharp increases in the frequency of search terms such as “bankruptcy” and “unemployment.” This trend reflects what is on the minds of many Americans today, and they are turning to the Web to find solutions to their problems. The ComScore survey also found evidence of how Americans are using the Internet as a tool to become better consumers. For example, the number of times “coupons” was used in searches skyrocketed from 7.6 million times to 19.9 million times in December.
These trends undoubtedly are garnering the attention of marketers that use paid search advertising and search engine optimization to drive traffic to their web sites. Consumers have a need for information on ways to save money and make money. And, the quest for this information is taking place on the Internet, not in a newspaper’s classified ads section or other traditional mass medium. All signs point to search advertising becoming a more prominent part of marketing communications budgets in the short and long term.
Link: Tech.Blorge.com – “Online Search Terms Provide Further Proof of Recession”