SEO for Content Marketing in 2015 (or how we got on the first page of Google in 24 hours)
As part of a new series on why and how content marketing works (or doesn’t), we recently talked about 7 places your content marketing strategy could go wrong, and how to fix it. In doing some research for that piece, I discovered something shocking: according to a May 2015 Study by Gleanster, “mid-to-large B2B organizations lose an estimated $958M each year in inefficient and ineffective content marketing.”
The report goes on to say that “B2B firms spend over $5.2B a year on content creation efforts”. That’s almost a 20% waste of resources and energy. In talking to a number of clients, we wanted to understand where you’re struggling this year, and nearly everyone we spoke to mentioned SEO efforts.
Here’s the situation for most content marketers:
- Most B2B content marketers feel that being found on Google is important
- Most have a sense of a more “traditional” (out of date) approach to Search Engine Optimization (focus on keywords)
- Most have heard about the recent updates (they mostly have cute names like Hummingbird, Mobile Friendly, Panda, Penguin). For a more complete list, check out Search Engine Land’s list
- Most are concerned with how these updates impact their traffic, but uncertain how to handle all these changes
In an effort to demonstrate what really works for SEO this year, we took a look at our own practices, what some of the leading publications posted, and some recent guidelines by Neil Patel, one of the foremost authorities on search and traffic. We compiled a comprehensive list of 2015 content marketing statistics along our own SEO for content marketing in 2015 checklist, and have outlined that below.
To test the results, we pooled these elements and combined them into a single blog post and were astounded by the results. These include:
- Achieved 5th position ranking on the first page of Google in less than 24 hours of post
- Increased twitter following 400%
- Doubled time on page to over 5 minutes
- Increased web traffic 350%
- Resulted in over 300 social shares (most ever for our blog post)
How did we do it? By combining 2015’s best search engine optimization practices with our own content marketing methodologies, with some Neil Patel sprinkled in. Let’s look at the best practices first.
SEO Best Practices for 2015
With Google’s frequent updates to its algorithm, it’s hard to stay on top of what helps your site rank, or what knocks you down. The SEO approaches you might have used a year ago might be seen as “black hat” in 2015. Thankfully, quality content wins over all, and the solution is quite simple.
Content is King. And Queen.
Okay okay okay. Content is King. Yes, we all get that. But it’s important for different reasons now than it was last year. You used to be able to create a small army of optimized pages laden with keywords stuffed to the gills, and convince Google you should rank in your industry. No longer.
According to an article on keyword relevancy from earlier this year from Search Engine Watch (we featured this on our 2015 Periodic Table of Marketing Predictions and Trends), Google isn’t really looking at your keywords and phrases anymore, Google’s getting a lot smarter.
Instead of matching user queries to keyword frequency, Google is now looking at the meaning of your content. Based on the content of your site, Google is drawing its own conclusions to what you should rank for (if at all). In fact, synonyms of keywords may account for up to 70% of search results. Combine this with the million+ pages vying for attention in any given market, and successfully ranking for one keyword in your industry is nearly impossible.
In this scenario, a solid content marketing strategy is more important than ever. In an article on forbes.com, SEO Expert Jayson DeMers, had this to say:
“Businesses that continue to focus on SEO without having a strong content plan in place will fail, and will need to shift their focus to the creation and distribution of high-quality content in order to achieve significant search engine visibility.”
As part of your content marketing strategy, you should map out keywords AND related phrases, helping you develop topics for your blog, infographics and videos.
The other critical aspect of SEO has to do with your user. Google is now looking at what keywords and phrases your user is putting into search, and attempting to understand their intent. For example, traditionally, if we were looking to rank, we might title our blog post “Why isn’t my content marketing strategy working?” because Google used to try to match the exact words and phrases to the query. Again, Google is getting smarter.
Now, we know that someone will search for “Why isn’t my content marketing working?” and look at the meaning. We can now create truly user-friendly and meaningful titles that don’t feel like we’re overly optimizing our pages, because Google will essentially derive the meaning from the query and match it to pages that seem to answer that question most accurately, thoroughly and with quality information.
Feels like maybe Google’s getting a little TOO smart?
Again, another topic that’s been covered ad nauseam. Make sure your website is mobile friendly. Google’s all over it. Why? Content that is presented via desktop layout on a mobile screen is hard to consume, and probably dated. Mobile friendly content also decreases your bounce rates and improves consumption, giving you a slight bump to your Google rank, according to Search Engine Journal.
According to the TheNextWeb, maintaining and sharing content on your social channels is critical. Between the value that Google and Bing place on shares and likes, and how active your brand is on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, your social channels might actually show up in search before your actual website. Make sure that you’ve got an audience to distribute and share your content—because even if you don’t think your buyers are active on social media—YOU are. It can directly impact your SEO efforts.
There is already plenty written about long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are specific keyword phrases that are at least 4 words in length. They’ll result in fewer searches, but those searches will be more targeted, resulting in high-quality search results. Also, according to Wordtracker, “Highly specific multi-word phrases tend to be far easier to rank well for than the more generic single keyword or double keyword phrases.”
What About Keywords?
In our experience, combined with the above approaches, we find that there’s a simple rule to follow when optimizing your content. Make sure that your keyword phrases appear in content naturally, are in the page header, your title tag, and the pages meta description. At this point, anything else might be seen as black hat SEO.
Neil Patel’s Approach to Content that Google Loves
I recently was reading Neil Patel’s blog over at QuickSprout. (if you don’t read it, you should), because that’s why we’re here today. In his post he lays out 5 ways to create content google wants to rank. Stop reading this post and head over there now, I’ll wait.
Ok, back? I’ve enjoyed a slightly-too-hot cup of Caffé Verona Dark while you were gone.
You totally didn’t read that whole thing did you? That’s because it weighs in at over 4,000 words. Have you ever written 4,000 words? For a blog? Yeah, me either. The closest I got was the post we’re talking about today, and that clocks in at just a little over 2,600 words, and that was brutal. I’m pretty sure Neil’s got an army of dwarfish scribes hidden away some where writing for him. Either way, 4,000+ words is outstanding, considering how many posts he unleashes a week. I read a good portion of his post, skimmed a bit of it, and took away a couple of key points (jump to the bottom right before the comments):
- Make sure your post is longer form, quality and in-depth content (although 4,000 words is a bit much). According to Neil, “packing in more information is usually better for the user, which is what search engines want… My personal experience shows that such posts are more shareable as well, which is an indicator of their usefulness…”
- Make it clear and simple (actionable)
- Make it user-friendly (mobile SEO anyone?)
- Support it with experts and stats (external links help a lot with SEO)
- The fifth point can be challenging at times: give users multiple options to take action (i.e., do it yourself, pay someone else to do it)
I really enjoy Neil’s posts, since I learn something new every time.
The “What We Did” SEO Checklist
Following Neil’s suggestions and what we’ve seen as best practices for SEO in 2015 from reliable sources, we then applied what we know about understanding B2B buyers, creating content marketing strategies that solve problems, and delivering content that readers want to share. Here’s the breakdown:
1. Develop Adaptive Personas
We’ve covered the benefits of developing buyer personas to drive leads, but the focus here is SEO. How does a buyer persona drive your rank on Google? A properly developed persona tells you what your buyers challenges are, what their pain points are, and what they are searching for and what terms they use to search. In short, your persona will determine what long-tail keywords you should be leveraging in your content marketing strategy.
We recently developed a persona for an in-house Director of Marketing, and understood that one of the key challenges that internal marketing teams face is troubleshooting a content marketing strategy that isn’t working. We then used this as our main long-tail search phrase, and created content around solving this problem.
2. Map Your Buyers’s Journey
How do your buyers get to the decision making point when they don’t even know what their problem is? Pardot has a really nice overview of the Buyer’s Journey process here. Understanding and mapping your Buyer’s Journey will help you understand what content your buyers need and when. This is absolutely critical, since, according to SiriusDecisions, “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.
”During the early stage (Awareness), buyers are trying to understand the problem they are struggling with. Rather than optimizing content to sell your product or services benefits and features, creating content around the specific long-tail keywords they are using (as identified by your personas), will help your site rank for those specific searches.
3. Develop a Content Marketing Strategy
In understanding who our buyers are, and what their journey looks like, we were able to map out a strategy for:
- what content needed to be created
- what voice to use
- what the subject matter would be
- what long-tail keywords we need to focus on
- what format we needed to publish in
- how long it should be
- and where/how we needed to share it
4. Do the Research and Write the Content
This is straightforward. We looked at what we wanted to rank for (why existing content marketing strategy wasn’t working), and over a few days I researched and wrote and threw away and did more research and wrote some more. So we had content covered. Then we made sure that our content contained a reasonable and natural sprinkling of variations and synonyms relating to that keyword phrase.
5. Make It Mobile Friendly
Done. Our site has been mobile friendly for a while now, so that wasn’t an issue for us. If your website isn’t, you’ll want to take care of that right away. A few ways to make your site mobile friendly include:
- (The proper way) Develop a mobile-first content strategy, and rebuild your current site to be responsive.
- Leverage a mobile plugin available via your CMS. WordPress, Drupal and Joomla all have ready-to-go plugins available.
- Use a tool to convert your desktop site to mobile.
6. Leverage Social Signals
From an article titled How Social Signals Impact Search Engine Rankings:
“Google and Bing use data from social sites in order to determine how high to rank your website.”
You can’t guarantee that your content will get shared. But you can help it along (and boost your SEO) by making sure that it’s useful and shareable. In fact, providing practical value is one of the top ways to make sure that your content gets shared.
By sharing out our blog on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, and (gasp) Google+, we created enough social traffic to positively impact our search rankings.
7. Focus on Long-tail Keywords
We might have been a bit extreme here, but we focused this post like a laser on ranking for the long-tail “why your content marketing strategy doesn’t work”—almost to the exclusion of anything else. We included it in the title, meta description and header. But we didn’t stuff it into the content where it didn’t belong. What we hoped for was that Google would match this to user queries like “why isn’t my content marketing working?” and it did.
8. Leverage Keywords
We supported our long-tail keywords with a few related regular keywords, but only as far as they made sense in context. For example, “content marketing,” “content marketing methodologies,” and “marketing stack” all made sense.
What Should You Focus on If You’re Doing SEO for Content Marketing?
We are all strapped for resources—especially marketers who have all manner of new tools, technologies, and responsibility for ROI. In looking for quick “wins” in SEO and marketing, leverage your Buyer Personas and the Buyer’s Journey to understand what challenges your buyers are trying to solve. With that in mind, create long-form quality content that is specific, helpful, actionable and sharable, and you should start to see success with your SEO efforts like we did.
What is the fastest you’ve ever gotten a page or website to rank with Google? Are you struggling with generating content, organic traffic, or leads for your business? Contact us today to learn how we can help you improve your SEO and achieve organic search engine rankings.