A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.
Topic: Content Marketing and SEO – Can One Exist Without The Other?
Even before the most recent Google update announcements, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about the current state of SEO and its changing role. Content marketing plays a big part in the effectiveness of search, and SEO has an impact on content findability. What is the future of these two previously separate functions?
Ray Grieselhuber, Founder & CEO at GinzaMetrics
Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Erin: Hey, everyone. Welcome to FOUND Friday. It is actually Good Friday, April 3rd, and I’ve got Ray with me. One of the things that we are changing our format a little bit around to do is to answer questions that we hear throughout our time in the space from users, audience members, folks who ping us on Twitter and Facebook, which you’re all welcome to do on GinzaMetrics, on Twitter, and on Facebook.com/GinzaMetrics, as well.
One of the things that we’re talking about today is this idea of content marketing and SEO, and how these two co-exist. Do they exist without each other? Can they even exist without each other? Even before the slew of updates, we got a lot of questions around the current state of SEO and its changing role in the marketing space. The reports of death of SEO and things like that really seem premature and, honestly, kind of ridiculous especially in light of how important search is in terms of content marketing. Content marketing also plays a really big role in the effectiveness of search.
What we want to talk about is: what is the future of what were two previously separate functions? How can people be successful using both? Is that even a request? The first question is: “How do successful brands effectively blend content marketing and SEO?”
That’s a really big question but I think maybe we can tailor it to an example or two, or one or two things that we think these folks do really well.
Ray: Probably a really good place to start is looking at what made blogging successful as a whole. When blogs came out, they started creating a ton of new content for the Internet and people were finding new authors and new topics. I think we’re finding new audience members primarily through search. They would put a post out there. There was no Facebook back in the day, there was no social network driving a lot of the stuff. E-mail obviously existed but it wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is now from a marketing perspective.
So really, people had to rely only on search in order to build their audience and then from there it’s a matter of getting backlinks and everything else. That’s probably the most primal way that it worked. It worked pretty well for a lot of people, so it’s still useful to look at it from that perspective today because you can still see that same thing happening just on a much larger scale.
Erin: We’re talking about how somebody can effectively blend content marketing and SEO because they’re blended already. So you don’t actually need to try to blend them, it’s happening anyway. So by creating good content that you’re hoping is relevant to your audience, you are naturally doing SEO a favor. By practicing good SEO, you are naturally doing better content marketing. These two things are part and parcel of the same situation.
I would say that some really good examples of things that people are doing though to make sure that what they’re doing has worked across both places and also not trying to duplicate efforts – because that is what I’m thinking about in terms of being super effective and getting the best possible effect out of that is – we work with a company and one of the things that they do is they actually use SEO data, including things like important topics and keywords that they start to see really change and things that their competitors start to put a lot of time into. They use that to inform marketing campaign decisions and they use that to figure out which types of content that they need to be creating. What are people finding the most? What are they sharing the most? What seems to be the most relevant to their audience? They actually watch how that changes over time, so they’re not doing these dips in at once a year or twice a year or once a quarter. They’re actually really monitoring that on a regular basis, so they work hand in hand with their marketing department to make that work.
Here’s another interesting question that we got. I know that you and I, based on our background, will probably have a fairly significant answer on this. “How much do marketers need to understand SEO and what do SEO practitioners need to understand about content marketing?”
Ray: It depends on your company. It depends on what your goals are. You need to have at least a pretty good understanding of the basics. You need to understand how search engines work. That’s really important. It’s not that hard. It just takes some time to sit down and go through it.
The thing that’s interesting about it is once you start to try to learn about it, it’s pretty quick to pick up and you’ll actually find yourself wanting to learn more. I think the biggest challenge that people run into is they are hesitant to begin learning because it seems super technical. It’s a bunch of stuff they don’t really want to deal with. But once you do it, there’s a lot of really interesting stuff out there.
I’d say you at least need to know the basics. Things are always changing so you really need to keep up with the changes because it’s going to have an impact on the business.
Erin: To get specific about things that people should probably know about if you’re a marketer… It’s funny. I was having this conversation yesterday. It’s hard to me to be a marketer today without understanding anything about websites or how technology at the web level works. That’s because I can’t think of very many marketers that in no way, shape, or form rely on the Internet to do something and that I can’t think of very many companies today that don’t have a website.
So if you’re a marketer today, even if your job is to do print ads, radio, and TV, I would still say that those things affect analytics somewhere online and are driving traffic likely to a website somewhere. What’s interesting about that is, having no knowledge of basic HTML – I’m going to say super-basic stuff – and knowing what title tags are and Meta descriptions, how to make sure that something is made a header and not just bold, large text to signify to search engines that that line of text is important, when you’re saying the basics, some of the stuff is not just basic SEO, it’s basic “What is a website? How does it function? How is it found? How is content actually ordered, created, and organized?”
I’ll say another thing about understanding the basics about what marketers need to know. If you don’t understand how the Internet works and how websites really work, one of the things that is really easy to mess up and can have detrimental effects to your organization is things like not creating a website structure properly. That can really screw things up.
Now there are all these different template files and things like that that you can use to make a website. Very few marketers I know actually build a website themselves from scratch. But if you do, let’s say, go on to WordPress and pick a theme or go to Square or something and choose a theme, if you add in a bunch of random ancillary pages and you don’t actually assign some sort of classification system or site map, we’re talking about some things that are really going to take a lot of really hard work that you’re doing to create content and a lot of things that you’re probably doing to drive traffic there and undermine them. So you really don’t want to do that. I’d say almost like a basic website. HTML 101 class will get you reasonably far.
The next question is talking about the fact that people still feel like SEO sometimes is associated with tricks and techniques to fool search engines. How much of that is still true? How much of it is SEO requires super technical expertise to even get into?
Ray: The history of people trying to trick search engines obviously goes back as far as possible still going on all the time today, to be completely honest, if you have an organization that has dozens of highly trained SEO experts, engineers who are able to turn on a dime, you’re able to spend millions of dollars on researching the latest search engine algorithm a month and make changes to those everything that you’re seeing, yeah. You can probably build an operation where you can trick Google long enough. You’re just going to have to be rewriting your entire code base every three months.
I’ve met companies that do this. They’re in places like Cypress where they’re not necessarily in U.S. jurisdiction. They’re making tons of money but I don’t think that step of operation most companies is going to be. Most companies don’t have that type of resource. If you’re not that type of company, you shouldn’t be focusing on trying to trick search engine. Everyone has already talked about why content is valuable. Most (99.9%) of the companies out there are focused on creating websites and experiences for their customers that should be valuable. Basically, SEO is taking it one step further and ensuring that your audience can actually find it.
Erin: This idea of SEO is out there to trick somebody is always interesting. We’ve seen this, too. To try to trick a search engine, especially stuff where Google actually goes and test things daily, and you can see this with our daily [9:43 inaudible]. You can actually see things drop because they’re testing something and then go back up. If you spend all this money trying to trick a search engine into getting into the top two, three, four, five rankings and they change something, we’re talking about thousands and thousands of dollars worth of work loss but then you have to pay to redo.
Similar in my mind to paying for digital advertising or any sort of advertising to drive traffic to something, at the end of the day, it’s whether or not the thing that you’re trying to driving traffic to is relevant. And if it’s relevant, it’s going to be good on its own. Everything else is a superfluous thing to it. So if it’s good on its own and it’s actually relevant, it’s going to be ranked higher by the search engine without you trying to do this. Always SEO best practice is will help that and will stabilize anything and will make you less susceptible to drops and competitor things.
But similar to advertising, it stops working when you stop doing it if the content sucks. Don’t make crap content because even if you drive a million people to a page, if the page that they get to is not a good page, then they’re not going to convert anyway. Why are you spending money on something over and over and over again instead of just doing it right the first time? I ask myself that a lot of times.
Don’t think that SEO has to be a super technical thing. This goes back to understand something core about website technology and about Internet technology. There are tons of resources for that. We’ll include a few in the blog post follow-up to this. Understand that creating really good content at the end of the day is going to trump whatever thing that you’re trying to do to drive the traffic there because you can’t convert traffic no matter how heavy the traffic is for something that’s terrible.
Somebody wants to know what search factors should they consider when publishing content and is it different for a blog.
Ray: I would say the most important search factor that anyone should consider is number one, what topic are you targeting? Are sure that the topic, the keyword you’re targeting has enough search volume to support the type of audience looking for that content? Once you’ve decided that, make sure that that is the case.
The next thing is have you actually optimized your content for that topic? When we say optimized, it sounds maybe a little bit technical. What it really means is making sure that the title of your post or your page actually matches and includes the keywords that you’re talking about. The topic is referenced keynote throughout the body of your article in a way that’s natural and flowing.
Are you providing informative content? Are you creating clean HTML? Are you running it on a server that is performing and doesn’t take three seconds to load? Mobile is becoming a huge deal with the upcoming release of the new mobile-friendly algorithm update later this month in Google. Ensuring that your content is optimized for mobile is going to be a very big deal, as well.
These are the things that we’re talking about when we talk about the basics. When you publish new content piece, you should ensure that you’re hitting those basics. The same is true whether it’s a normal landing page or a blog page.
Erin: What’s funny about a lot of this conversation is that you have to tie it back to people’s day-to-day stuff and when you try to describe it this way, it feels like it makes sense. If I have a website – let’s take our site, for example, and we will create content. If we have keywords and topics that we’re trying to target – because that’s what you’re really trying to do, you’re trying to rank four specific topics, specific keywords, things that somebody would search for. Let’s say content marketing platform or search marketing platform are some things that we care about. If I create content, I want to make sure that I include those specific terms and topics in the relevant parts of the content on the page.
I always think it’s really funny when somebody would be like, “Why am I not ranking for such and such term?”
I was like, “Let me look through some of your content. Okay, great. You’ve actually written a bunch of content about search marketing or content marketing platforms. But then the titles on the headers of your page are things like ‘The Airplane Effect’ or ‘Why Purple is My Favorite Color.’”
I get that this is actually all part of an analogy that you’re drawing to content marketing platforms or search marketing platforms. But the problem is you’ve actually now told the search engine that everything else is on the page. You kind of undermined because you haven’t actually structured your content in a way to make it more findable. It’s always really funny. If these little things that we talk about where it should make sense, this is the easiest way to make this happen.
A question that somebody sent in, it asks: “What has a better return on time investment if you can only work on one thing: creating better engaging content or working on the nuts and bolts of SEO (which would be things like updating tags, updating better URLs, Meta descriptions, things like that)?”
Ray: I’d say content 100% of the way focus on the content. I hate to say this, but you can always go back and optimize the content further. If you’re not creating the content in the first place then there’s nothing to optimize. The biggest problem that most companies have is actually spending the time creating that workflow around creating the content. Once they start to see the fact that they’ve spent all this money on content and for not getting any traction from it or they are seeing that their competitors are writing similar content and beating them because of things like technical optimization of other things and then they’ll start to realize, “Oh, we have to pay attention to that first.” But if you don’t take that step of investing in content creation in the first place – we see this all the time – everything else… You’re not going to do that stuff anyway. So I’d say definitely put some content.
Erin: I’ll play devil’s advocate and I’ll say it depends on where you are and your situation. If you have a bunch of really good content created and you’ve never really focused on SEOs and organization, or you feel like you have a bunch of really good content created, I would say that if you do an audit and get a list of recommendations on things that you can do to shape up existing content and maybe give that a refresh or add in tags where you didn’t have tags and change out headers, that would be a time where I would say you like it more bang for your buck if you actually go in and make these recommendations to help your already existing good content, get found better by search engines. If you’re talking about starting from scratch, I would say – I agree with you – you need to start at this level. But I think it depends on where you’re at in your content creation process and the depth and breadth of your existing content. If you feel like all of this stuff is super relevant and you have data to back that up, yeah, I’d go in, refresh that. Especially if you haven’t done it since certain algorithm changes have happened. If you had content up that’s been up for two or three years – so much has happened – go in and check on that.
This one is kind of a similar question: “Since search delivers results for brands, does that automatically make SEO indispensible?” If search is supposedly driving the most relevant traffic, is SEO not the most indispensible function?
Ray: Sorry, I can’t process that early in the morning. You’re saying because Google is already going to favor brands – larger brands in particular – does SEO become even more important?
Erin: I think the question that the person is asking is around the idea that search or organic traffic typically yields better conversion results than paid traffic a lot of times because somebody even found it natively themselves. If SEO is what’s helping drive these organic visits, doesn’t that make this the more important function?
Ray: This being SEO?
Ray: Yeah, for sure. I would say that competing very broadly, if you had to choose between paid acquisition and organic acquisition, I would personally focus on organic acquisition because of that long-term loyalty, engagement, and retention that you get.
Erin: It’s like the thing we always say which is: paid stops working when you stop paying for it, but organic stuff will keep living on and doing things inherently. That’s not to say that there’s something wrong with paid. This goes back to what we’re talking about last time which is paid is a really great way to give something to start the avalanche. Then you let search and organic traffic keep that moving.
Last time, we were talking about search and social, and their marrying together. This is a similar situation that we’re talking about, which is moving those two things together to really understand how to keep a conversation happening. Paid can help jumpstart that, but if the content isn’t good then it’s not going to keep moving once you stop paying for it.
This is a really interesting question that asks about, “Can SEO ever be responsible for content creation in your opinion?”
Ray: Actually, creating the content?
Erin: Yeah, actually writing landing pages and stuff.
Ray: I guess I hesitate to say yes typically because most search people that I know I would say it’s not their wheelhouse to write really good content per se. They tend to be much more focused on identifying the demand, ensuring that the content itself is actually optimized. If you can find people who possess both skill sets and also are really good writers, then those people are gold and pay them whatever you can to keep them. So if you have those people, yeah, sure. But most people that I know don’t necessarily have both of those skill sets combined. I think you have to build your team around who has what skills and figure out the best way to structure it for your company.
Erin: You know what’s funny is I actually think a lot of times, not all marketers are great writers, which is tragic. You don’t have to be a great writer but you should be good. Because it’s hard for you to judge other people’s writing. Let’s say you’re an agency, even if you have a copywriting staff, if you as a marketer are not a good writer yourself, it’s hard to recognize crap.
It’s also interesting because I feel like one of the conversations we’ve had recently is a lot of marketers don’t have some of these technical skills and it’s becoming way too fragmented that I think it’s weird that anybody who has come up as a marketing person in the last 15 or 20 years that doesn’t have some baseline of technical skills really needs to evaluate what they’re doing because it’s very hard to market anything without using any sort of technology. If you don’t understand it, it means you’re relying on somebody else to understand it for you. If you’re relying on somebody else to understand it for you, you don’t know if they’re right or wrong, you don’t know how to go back and check it yourself, and that person is always going to be slightly more indispensible than you.
So I do think it’s interesting. What we’re saying is traditional SEO folks don’t necessarily possess writing skills because they actually have a more technical background than a traditional marketer does. But we want marketers to have these technical skills. To me, marketers could be made more invaluable by learning more of the technology behind the resources that you’re using and SEO folks could be made more indispensible by learning a little bit more of this content marketing aspect.
It’s not that you need to go out and write all the landing pages or create all the website content but you should be able to make suggestions. You should know these trends. I think that’s the key. As an SEO person, what you actually should be seeing, if this is what you’re focusing on, while you’re doing a lot of the structural issues is you should be noticing trends in content types.
This goes back to this medium, method, message thing that we talked about. You know based on how people are actually getting to your site, what channels are working out. You know what based on what topics and keywords that they’re finding you for, what things your audience really cares about, hopefully, and you see the effect of different campaigns on those things. To me, you should be helping inform some marketing decisions, which is that example that I was giving at the beginning of the conversation. You should also be highlighting that stuff and bubbling that up as a report. I’d like to see that happen more often.
The last question is: “If somebody is a marketer and they’d like to learn more about SEO – like they’re content marketer right now and they like to learn a little more about SEO – is there a good place to start?”
Ray: Yeah. There are actually a lot of really good resources out there. It depends on what format you like. If you like classroom type formats, our friend Tommy Griffith has a site called ClickMinded.com. It’s probably one of the best, most comprehensive courses I’ve seen out there. It’s affordable. It’s something that companies use to train their internal SEO teams. So that’s a really good one. If you don’t want to necessarily pull out your credit card right away and start reading a bunch of articles, Moz has a really good set of tutorials online.
Once you have gotten through the basics and are looking for more stuff around strategy, ongoing trends and so forth, we put out a lot of content, as well. We’re always creating new content telling how you can use these latest ideas in the context of our tools and other tools that are out there. I would say definitely start there. Once you get into things, there are lots of different good websites like Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch help you keep up on the trends, as well.
Erin: For me, because I think a lot of it comes from what we’re talking about earlier, which is not understanding the native structure of certain things, one of the things I would actually suggest starting with is do you even have access to Google Analytics? Do you have access to your CMS? Even if you learn about SEO, could you do anything about it later?
It’s always an interesting question. It’s always interesting when somebody calls us and wants to talk about the product and they don’t know what their analytics provider is, they don’t know who their CMS is, they don’t have any way to actually update contents owned by someone else in the organization. Let’s start with that.
If you use something like WordPress, even if you don’t use WordPress (WordPress has some interesting instruction on what the breakdown pages is), I would say that a really simple place to start because it’s usually one of the less templatized parts of a website is going to be a blog. Because you can actually create the title, the URL, header tags, and side there. I can add images and I can put descriptions and tags inside the images. And I can do these things and I can actually create a dummy blog post and see what that structure is and look at what SEO would recommend I do differently versus maybe some other landing pages. And parts of a site a lot of times have a lot of very specific hard-coded elements that you’re not going to be able to really mess with unless you are a website developer or a graphic designer or somebody. So that may be a little bit more difficult to get into and probably may even be a little out of your control in terms of stuff that you could fix easily because it will involve needing somebody else to come and help out.
There are a lot of standardized landing pages I know most businesses have where if you knew that you had to create text for a campaign for one of these landing pages, if you picked one apart and looked at all the structural elements that go in and looked at what SEO would recommend you do differently, we have a recommendation section and you can actually look at a site level. But what I think is really interesting is when you look at it at the page level, it’s like your little to-do checklist for that page. What should I do differently? If you look at that across a couple of landing pages or a couple of blog pages, you’ll start to recognize and then what will happen natively is you’ll start to write knowing that and you’ll start to create content knowing that those are going to be the suggested recommendations. You’ll actually start creating better content that way.
Ray: I agree. I think that is really a solid approach.
Erin: That’s pretty much it for our conversation today. We had a bunch of questions today around SEO and content marketing, how those things go together.
If you have follow-up questions or you want to add your own thoughts, we always recommend that you do that. We have a blog post that always goes up within a couple of days of the show. You can also send your thoughts and comments to Ray or I, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. If you want to be super public about it, you can tweet on Twitter. We’re @GinzaMetrics. We’ve also got a Facebook page. If you have thoughts or ideas for future show topics or you want to submit a question to be asked on the future show, feel free to do that, as well.
Alright, Ray, until next time.
Ray: Alright. Have a good weekend.