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Matt Cutts on Links & How to Succeed With Content Marketing

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matt-cutts-talks-linksEric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting did it again in another info-packed interview with Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts. This time, Enge tackled all sorts of topics with link building as the lead into the discussion.

The interview perhaps cleared up some myths about link building today, and much of the discussion centered on the concept behind this quote from Cutts:

Not all link building is bad. The philosophy that we've always had is if you make something that's compelling then it would be much easier to get people to write about it and to link to it. And so a lot of people approach it from a direction that's backwards. They try to get the links first and then they want to be grandfathered in or think they will be a successful website as a result.

It's that shift in how to approach web marketing today that carried through most of the conversation between Enge and Cutts.

I caught up with Enge to talk about the emerging themes from his talk with Cutts and what it all means. We touched on big-picture ideas driven by one major point: site owners and SEO professionals re-engineering their mindset when it comes to how they approach marketing online.

SEO is Becoming More Like Traditional Marketing

One of the themes that emerged from the Cutts interview was that "SEO is moving steadily towards becoming more of a traditional marketing-type discipline," Enge said.

"SEO used to be this thing that people thought of as happening in the dark corners of the web where you could do anything you wanted and magically, you'd get more search traffic. More importantly, they thought they could do anything they wanted and it wouldn't impact their brand. For example, they could publish crappy content, and since no one ever read it, it didn't matter," he said.

"What's really clear now as Google enforces its policies for good and bad links, for example, is that publishers are going to be pushed more and more into viewing link building as an integral component of brand building and vice versa, as a component of brand building is really smart link building. Those two things are going to be harder to separate."

Indeed, as Cutts noted in the interview, many people focused on getting the links to increase rankings on Google, rather than on creating a "fantastic website that people love and tell their friends about and link to and want to experience," which is the actual secret to getting stronger, sustainable rankings.

We Need to Think Like Traditional Marketers

When businesses build a web marketing strategy based on what they can get away with, it's not a long-lasting plan.

"Just because Google doesn't currently enforce something doesn't mean they condone it," Enge said.

So how do those SEO professionals and businesses that are hyper focused on dated tactics shift to a more traditional marketing mindset (or, as Cutts puts it in the interview, "good old fashioned marketing")?

Enge said it starts with killing everything you thought you knew about how to approach marketing.

"You have to start in a different place," Enge said. "The idea of how to interact with the search engines and the web is different now."

Get used to asking really hard questions about your marketing tactics, he said. Enge gave an example of a process his company uses to evaluate links, which includes criteria like:

  • Would you get this link if Google and Bing didn't exist?
  • Would you proudly show this to a prospective customer?
  • Would you show it to your children?
  • Is it a genuine endorsement by the person giving it?
  • Do you have to argue about whether this is a good link?

"There should be no question," Enge said. People should just know it's a good link or good marketing tactic "not as an SEO, but as a marketer. If you get to that place, you're in a good spot.

"But the first and most important step is to completely re-engineer your approach. Forget what you knew and practiced before, and start with a blank slate. It can be challenging, but smart people who are willing to adapt can make the shift. You just have to be committed to it," Enge said.

Enge reinforced that the technical SEO stuff still matters. All those tactics like making sure on-page optimization is sound, markup like Schema and rel=author and making sure the site is crawlable and working well for both search engines and users is still important.

"It's the link building and promotional side of a brand online that's going through a big change," he said.

Focus on the Quality of the Strategy

Making that shift means thinking about quality. Cutts stressed the importance of raising the "quality threshold" for content, especially when it comes to guest blogging.

Where link building is concerned, quality of the content is the key.

"To me, the content itself is a key part of your brand. So you have to be very careful about how you produce the content," Enge said. "I'm fond of the saying, 'Be an expert or go home.'"

Enge said that as a brand, you need to make sure you're putting content out there that stands out. "Nobody needs the millionth article on mortgage debt. That's been written. So ask what sort of perspective you're bringing to the table that's new."

If you're going to be successful with a content marketing strategy, said Enge, you have to be able to answer the question of what you're contributing. "You're not going to get that guest post at a high-powered blog or any influencers tweeting your content unless you're producing something uniquely new and valuable."

That's not to say that you can't be successful talking about old or basic ideas, but you need to differentiate, Enge said.

"Suzie Orman comes to mind as someone who takes the basics of financial planning and makes it really easy and digestible for people, and she's done quite well," he said. "You do not have to invent something new with everything you do, but present it in a in a way no one has before."

So How Do You Succeed in Content Marketing?

In his interview with Cutts, Enge didn't make it blatantly obvious that he was centering the discussion on how to succeed with content marketing, but he said it was the plan. "All of the ideas I put forth in that interview are integral to a content marketing strategy."

So what are his tips for tackling and succeeding with content marketing today?

"There are a number of elements, but let's talk about the concept that a good content marketing plan is using multiple channels for communication like social media channels, content on a brand's own site, guest posting on other authoritative sites, giving and getting interviews, and so on."

You don't have to do all of these things, Enge said, but no matter which channels you choose, make sure they are working together to support one another and understand that they are. For example, businesses often see social as something separate. And that's not the case.

"If you're just starting out, it can be daunting to think you have to do all these things, but you don't have to start with them all. You can start with just one or two areas – maybe it's your own site's content and one social media network. Just keep in mind that what you're doing now is all part of the bigger picture as you grow; putting quality stuff out there and building a reputation."

If you haven't yet read the interview, check it out here.


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