For marketers looking to engage digital audiences, search engine optimization is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
Google’s opinion of your website can translate into value for your organization. However, you might be going about getting the attention of Google’s algorithm in wrongheaded and expensive ways.
“One of the most consistent opportunities I see missed by PR pros and marketers is creating content that they believe is optimized for search by targeting particular keywords, but is otherwise lackluster content,” says Cyrus Shepard, an SEO strategist with Moz.
Marketers and communicators seeking impact must offer real value to readers.
If you want it to rank high, Shepard says, “content has to do so much more than target a particular topic. … Not only does it need to satisfy user intent, but it also needs external validation signals, such as links generated by news and blog sites.”
The internet has evolved past the days where you could simply stake out a niche for yourself and await the traffic that would find you. In a crowded marketplace of ideas, you have to actively compete for attention, and if you don’t offer audiences what they crave—and do it concisely—you are likely to lose them to a competitor.
“Aside from the basics of keyword targeting and links (two of Google’s biggest ranking factors), content needs to be optimized for intent and user satisfaction,” says Shepard.
What does that entail?
“Intent means targeting not only keywords, but what the user is actually searching for,” he says. “For example, if someone searching ‘credit card rates’ they likely are looking for a complete list of different credit cards, along with reviews, fees, and other information. If you want to compete, you need to be better than all the other results out there. How well you ‘satisfy the user’ based on this intent goes a long way in determining how well you might rank.”
If you have happy users, but they don’t seem to be inviting their friends to check out your site, you might have other problems. It might be worthwhile to invest in a tool find the weaknesses in your strategy.
“SEO covers anything that influences traffic from search engines,” says Shepard. “So it sounds simple, but the first thing you want to check is, ‘Does my website rank for the search terms it targets?’”
That requires creative thinking by the marketer or communicator. If you want to sell soap, hopefully your brand shows up when someone posts a soap-related search query . Your keywords should align with your unique value proposition, brand promise and other distinct market identifiers. If you are looking for local audiences, make sure you rank well in local searches, too.
Reassessing your keywords
If you rank well for the search terms you’ve chosen, but you don’t get much traffic, it’s time to pick new keywords.
“In a nutshell, you want to make sure your content targets keywords with sufficient search volume, that you can rank for those keywords (by checking out the competition), and make sure your content is better than everyone else’s,” says Shepard. “Yes, you also need to check for SEO fundamentals like title tags and images, but covering the basics of good content first will get you a very long way.”
In short, there’s no shortcut around creating good content. If no one wants to read or interact with what you’ve created, there are no easy tech fixes to make up for it.
However, content creation is hard—and expensive. PR pros know that generating content in a consistent cadence is draining, especially when you don’t have a full team behind your efforts. That’s why many communicators turn to “evergreen” content—stories that can be relevant to the reader at any time. Updating your old content, or “repurposing” your posts, can be helpful.
Always make sure your content is vital for the reader.
“It’s important to keep content fresh and relevant,” says Shepard. “When you update content, you should update the time stamp on the page to reflect this. In many cases, this can help your SEO.”
SEO robots probably won’t fall for a quick fix, though. “Updating your time stamp when you haven’t actually updated the content is less helpful,” says Shepard.
How can you measure progress?
Shepard says the key metrics are rankings, traffic and conversions.
“You can keep track of more refined metrics as you dive deeper into SEO, but those are the important ones,” he says. “In SEO, performance is relative. You are either competing against yourself or other competitors.”
If you are competing against yourself, how can you win?
“The benchmark of all SEO performance is how well you do over time,” Shepard says. “Obviously, you’d like more traffic and conversions, so if these are going up month after month, you could say you’re doing well. Also, tracking against your competitors is another benchmark to measure yourself against. Using competitive analysis, you can chart your competitors’ top keywords and traffic, and see how well you measure up.”