Online marketing strategies evolved rapidly over the last two decades.
Many segments grew so rapidly that they erupted into their own industries. Content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) are two of those industries.
The Rise of Content
The first content agencies started to support, design and produce brochure-style websites. Public relations firms focused on content produced to build awareness and authority while copywriting firms fed the growing demand for corporate blogs, whitepapers and e-books. What started as disparate departments or agencies grew into businesses and agencies building teams to provide cohesive, coordinated and centrally strategized content production.
The Rise of SEO
It only took a few years, but search engine optimization exploded into a multibillion dollar industry. Weak algorithms matched with intelligent analysts made SEO one of the easiest online marketing investments to quantify and provide a return on investment for. Agencies with little or no branding or marketing experience grew to prominence because of their ability to manipulate rankings.
The Rise of Google
Thankfully, Google was able to both harden and develop far more complex algorithms that went beyond site performance, site optimization, keyword usage and backlinks to rank sites. Sites are now analyzed for their relevance, their authority, their trust and even their authors to position them accurately amongst competitors. Google continued their assault on unscrupulous SEO professionals by burying the domains pages deep, or penalizing them and removing them from search results altogether.
Companies that invested in SEO to artificially inflate their rank were now in trouble. Many of them not only lost their rankings, they continue to fight to regain any prominence. Leading SEO consultants are now being hired to reverse the damage done to those companies. Some companies had to abandon their domains altogether; the damage was simply too great.
At the root of the issue was that SEO was a math challenge, while marketing was a people challenge. SEO was simply too good to ignore and many companies fell into the trap. Unfortunately, many of the SEO consultants and agencies that got clients into trouble continue to execute the same poor practices today.
Is SEO Dead?
Search engine optimization has become far more complex than ever with the growing adoption of mobile and voice usage, as well as the growing impact of a search user's location on the the results. Public relations and targeted social promotion have become an imperative of any search engine optimization strategy.
Great content marketers who have built expertise in search engine optimization, but never tried to take game the algorithms, continue to increase their visibility and return on investment on search engine optimization. However, SEO practitioners who don't understand the larger marketing ecosystem, are failing miserably.
Content and SEO
The word "versus" should be forever removed from every marketer's vernacular. Content and SEO are not discrete strategies, they are absolutely intertwined. The ability to rank well extends well beyond those strategies and into many others, as well.
At its root, high rank in a search engine result page (SERP) requires backlinks from highly relevant and high authority domains. Some experts in the industry also believe citations - such as unique product names, company names, addresses or phone numbers - may have impact in search engine algorithms as well.
In order to rank and be found, a company's content must be seen, shared and found. That requires a promotion strategy as well - including paid social advertising, organic social promotion, paid search promotion and pitched content placement from public relations professionals.
SEO and Content
Search engine rankings are not just the result of a great content strategy, they're also a primary resource for analyzing the content that companies should be producing. By understanding the keywords that a business already ranks on, a business can identify the topics that they have authority on. This, in turn, can help businesses acquire greater ranking on like terms.
Every marketing effort influences search, even email. Content shared via email is distributed and often shared via relevant sources, producing relevant links that influence search engine rankings. Email also provides a means to maximize conversions since visitors may arrive at a site and subscribe without making a purchase. Email provides a frequent push strategy to drive the subscriber back into the conversion funnel.
Foundational SEO practices still exist, like XML Sitemaps, pinging of search engines, monitoring webmasters, redirecting URLs, canonical URLs, meta data and rich snippets. Site speed, page speed, content delivery networks and responsive Web design continue to play an important role as well.
Beyond these basics are much more advanced insights and analysis, though. Site hierarchy and ontology play an important role in how both search engines see a site and how users interact with a site. Lexical onomies, the relationship and associated verbiage, is also important analysis:
- Synonomy are similar terms
- Antonomy are opposing terms
- Hyponomy are specialty terms
- Meronymy are subtopics of the terms
- Holonomy are the parent topics of the terms
Keyword segmentation of branded terms, topics and geographic terms is also imperative. A company may rank very well for a specific keyword in one geographic location, but not in another.
Now tack on how the user wishes to digest the content - visually, auditory or kinesthetic - and you can see how the process continues to become even more complex. All of these are foundational and critical elements and are all data elements outside the characteristics of the visitor.
Previous assumptions writing content based on general personas is also proving to be too simplified. Cisco research (Winning the New Digital Consumer with Hyper-Relevance) on the customer journey is providing evidence of more than 800 different paths to conversion for the average product. Google is uncovering evidence that consumers don't follow a predictable journey, but instead have micro-moments where decisions are made.
Just as the SEO industry has had a fissure separating modern SEO practices with outdated, risky practices, so has the technology utilized to research, track and analyze content performance. Modern measurement platforms utilize ranking as a key metric, but also incorporate engagement, sharing, and conversions to monitor the performance of content.
The modern toolset for an SEO expert includes Google Webmasters, Keyword Research platforms, Social Performance, Analytics and Ranking Data. Leading providers are integrating all elements into Web presence or authority solutions that are getting marketers much closer to providing real-time and predictive data to help drive content strategies.
Douglas Karr is the founder of the Marketing Technology Blog and has worked for more than two decades in the online marketing industry. Douglas assists investors and VCs with their due diligence and his agency, DK New Media, assists companies in building market share and awareness.