Before we begin, I'd like to say how happy I am to be back writing for Search Engine Watch! For those of you who wondered what the heck happened to me, these past 12 months, I was over at ClickZ doing essentially the same thing.
For those of you who are saying "who the heck is this Mark guy?" well, hopefully we'll come to know one another over the coming months.
Google, Spam, Bing & "Stings"
The bigger picture here is that Google went public with this. And, they're going public with this right after recent "admissions" from Matt Cutts that their search results could be improved -- perhaps they were becoming a bit "spammy."
Some of the new rollouts in Google's algorithm seem to be pretty easy to manipulate. But, as with link spam and content farms, certainly these issues can be addressed, too.
Then again, here we are, years later, and paid links still work.
Search engines algorithms are, without a doubt, very sophisticated. Then again, the collective minds of many great SEOs continue to uncover how various influences are affecting rankings and the cat and mouse game continues.
Content is the Biggest Influence on Rankings
As much as things have changed in SEO, especially over the past two years, some things remain a constant. Content in all of its forms is what will drive you to success.
I took on a client a while ago that pretty much tried to automate all of their content. When this client was still a prospect, I sent an e-mail saying, "Sorry, I don't think we're a good fit." However, I qualified that response by saying "we'd need to create a helluva lot of unique, resourceful, quality content to show the search engines that your site is worthy of rank."
Now, months later, this content still hasn't been created, their traffic has been dead on the vine since last May, and now their investor may back out.
Know what else? They are an affiliate website, and are only concerned with getting a huge number of folks to fill out their lead form, which exists on pretty much every page. Oh, and this lead form exists in a frame in their website and contains a div name listing the name of the company that they are affiliated with.
Really, it's no surprise that things went in the dumper, right?
So, here's the big question: what's your content strategy?
Another Case Study
I have a client who is an accomplished author. Before we were ever engaged in the SEO initiative, I mentioned that we would need him to provide us with a lot of web copy (the retainer we have with this client doesn't cover us providing copywriting).
We would provide the strategy for the content, and would edit it for search engine optimization, but they would need to deliver the "meat" -- the content, itself. This person assured me that developing content wouldn't be an issue.
A couple of months later and the content we see happens to be "very similar" to what is included in this client's books. It isn't within our content strategy and makes virtually no sense to be included on a website.
When you're thinking about what to write, doesn't it make sense to do a little research (keyword research/competitive analysis) and draft a plan for developing copy that might help your website address keywords/questions that your target audience might have and build up some authority (links) for having developed compelling/resourceful copy on your blog?
What's Your Content Strategy?
At this point, I'm still merely discussing textual content within the core of your website. What about the other content?
- Blog Content: Does your target audience ask questions and/or research products on the search engines? Chances are, yes, they do. Your blog is a wonderful opportunity for you to create helpful/resourceful (linkable) content that answers questions that your target audience is asking. Creating this content in a search engine friendly manner -- meaning, you should do a little keyword research, (perhaps even use WordTracker's Keyword Questions Tool), and make sure that your blog is set up for permalinks, where the title/URL and header are in sync with one another -- you can be well on your way to creating some solid content that will benefit your website, in many ways.
- Facebook Content: Think about your audience here. Do you have a Facebook profile for your business? Do you have shareable content on your website, and a Share and/or Like button, so that you're allowing your content to be easily shared? Are you writing unique content for Facebook? Do you have a unique editorial calendar for what you intend to promote on Facebook? A "strategy" of only self-promotion doesn't work here.
- Twitter Content: If you're using Twitter as a way to only self-promote, then, just as with Facebook, you're doing this all wrong. You need to create helpful content (sound familiar?). By virtue of doing that, long enough, you'll earn the right to self-promote on occasion. Remember, if nothing else: it's not about what you get, it's about what you give.
- Synergy of Blog/Facebook/Twitter: You should think about strategically slicing or stacking your content on the above. For example, you could write a blog post, plan a supporting discussion/question for Twitter, and a poll on Facebook. Slice and dice the topic in the best format for each channel and try to lead people to the other channels, getting them to engage on multiple levels.
- Image Content: Simple stuff. Are you titling/using alt text on images appropriately? See Google's Best Practices for Image Optimization here. Do you have an image sitemap set up with the search engines? Again, Google provides some solid guidance, here.
- Video Content: Are you set up on YouTube? Are you developing helpful content here? Back in the day, your only option was to host your own videos. Now you can use video sharing sites such as YouTube to "cast your net." Because search engines can't watch your video, they rely on adjacent text content near the embedded video on your site as well as the videos file-name/title/descriptions/tags on the video-sharing site. If you choose to use a video-sharing site such as YouTube, go the extra mile and add unique keyword-rich content near the video on your site and don't skimp on the video description. Be creative, add a link back to the corresponding page on your site to form relevance with the search engines, and add a transcription of the video for a breadth of content in the video description.
- Press Release Content: Are you publishing press releases when important things happen with your business? Perhaps a new product launch or significant client win? Post this on your website (you do have a section for press releases on your website, right?) and distribute to known press release distribution services.
- Article Content: Perhaps you have content that doesn't necessary fit the "blog" section, but also isn't a press release? Perhaps you have white papers, etc., that are worthy of inclusion on your website? This is just another way of generating helpful content for your target audience.
- FAQ Content: This can sometimes be a gray area with blogs, in that you are addressing core questions that your audience might have. Frequently asked questions, however, can address questions that your audience may have about your particular products and/or services. You'd rather have your audience find the answers on your website, rather than another website that you don't control.
- Review Content (User-Generated Content): For many resource-strapped organizations, or those e-commerce websites with thousands of pages, this may be the only solution to getting some quality, unique content on a multitude of pages.
There -- my first column back and I've way exceeded my word count limit. Consider that a bonus, for having been away for so long.
I intend to revive my old "Quarterly SEO Reviews," so please submit any websites (along with goals, challenges, etc.) and I'll be happy to consider your website for an upcoming column. Here are some of my recent SEO site reviews so you'll know what to expect:
- SEO Site Review: Beadsbug.com
- SEO Site Review: Time to Clean Up Home-Yard
- SEO Web Site Review: Water Filter Corner
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