How did the subject of "content" find its way onto the agenda of a search engine marketing conference? Because often, higher rankings in search engines go to websites with higher quality content that earn more links.
A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, Feb 28 - March 3, 2005, New York, NY.
One of the most obvious, yet surprisingly overlooked, components of a search strategy is the creation of quality content. In our search engine marketing practice, the number of companies we encounter that expect high rankings in search engines for Web pages containing pictures, but no text, amazes us. Attaining a top ranking in search on a particular keyword requires that the targeted keyword appear somewhere in the text of the page, and often it requires that the page contain some amount of text (read: content) far in excess of what the design folks think looks pretty.
Make no mistake, this law of search engine marketing is clear: less content, lower rankings.
By providing valuable textual content, a site can not only increase its search engine visibility, but also improve the site's conversion rate. The key question, however, is what is "content?" And what are the characteristics of good content?
The "What is Content?" panel sought to provide information on creating content to help boost search engine visibility, in addition to enhancing the user experience. Despite being the first session on the last day of the conference, it was well attended by an enthusiastic audience.
Kent Lewis of Anvil Media kicked off the panel by presenting a case study of content creation for Melanoma.com. The primary objective of this website is to provide education on the medical condition of melanoma, with a secondary focus on providing information on treatment. Kent detailed how he undertook the following steps in creating the content:
- Identify most common questions by interviewing patients
- Organize the content into primary information categories with further organization within each category
- Optimize the content and site for search engines, including creation of a good internal linking structure and developing custom meta tags
Kent also shared some of the challenges he faced in creating this content, such as the need to get approval from his client's legal department and the Food & Drug Administration. He discussed the role of the sitemap in search engine optimization, as well as advised the audience to create custom 404 pages.
In addition, Kent stated that keyword research is important and the content needs to be created in such a way that it does not negatively influence the user experience. His takeaway for the audience was that "you can achieve Number 1 [position” without an optimized site if the content is good."
Jennifer Slegg of Jensense.com was next. Her background is in content creation for a variety of niche markets. Jen identified a set of tools that helps her creating content:
- Comprehensive statistics program to determine good content from search referrals
- Access to customer requests and questions
- Books about copywriting
- Dictionary and thesaurus
Additionally, Jen provided a number of pointers on creating successful content:
- Don't focus entirely on "big money" keywords while ignoring secondary keywords
- Include seasonal topics (events or holidays)
- Create catchy titles to increase the click through rate
- Keep the length of pages between 250-300 words
- Generate content ideas from customer correspondence
- Use message boards for additional content inspiration
Following Jen was Anthony Garcia from Future Now. He opened by pointing out that search engine spiders don't have credit cards, but people do. Hence, he suggested that you pay more attention to your users than to the spiders. Anthony critiqued that most people write content to mass audience instead of focusing on individuals.
Anthony sited the example of a blog by Anil Dash who won a SEO contest by achieving top ranking for the non-existent keyword: "nigritude ultramarine" by simply asking his readers to link to his blog. Anthony's point was that you must focus on creating a page to be read by people instead of robots. He then covered examples of over-optimized sites that were very difficult to read and navigate.
Anthony then presented a case study of TheLeoDiamond.com, to illustrate how to write good content. This site is listed in position #2 for "diamond certification" with very few links. His point was that search engines strive to deliver the most relevant content to the end user.
He then discussed how to sell online:
- No matter how good the content copy is, if you can't find a way to meet customers' needs, they won't buy
- Content should not attract unqualified traffic
- Content should inform and persuade visitors
- Placing trigger words in links can increase user click-through rates
- Wireframe your content to provide an interconnected flow and personality
- Create different personas based on different archetypal visitors
- Define three dimensional personas: Topographic, Psychographic and Demographic
- Create internal linking of the site based the personas
- Identify important keywords through keyword research process
Anthony identified three questions you should ask about every page of a website: (1) What is the action I want the visitor to take on this page? (2) What does a visitor need in order to be persuaded to take action? (3) What does the visitor need in order to take the action?
Audience questions focused on the creation of content as well as maintaining it. A member of the audience asked the panel about how to convince your clients to pay for content creation such as hiring copywriters. Jen suggested showing your competitors' content can help make a strong case.
One interesting question from the audience was on how often to review and change content. Kent's advice was to continuously update your content as needed, and Jen shared that she updates her content every 3 to 6 months. Chris Sherman, moderator of the session, advised to focus your attention on content that is not working.