Look at the pace that the term ‘content marketing’ has moved into the vernacular of marketers, as measured by Google search volume. Although content marketing has been bandied about as a term for several years, its recent hike in popularity is not actually much of a surprise.

Google Trends Content Marketing

Google’s algorithm changes having been coming thick and fast over the last 12 months, and content-poor websites have been taking a real beating.

September 2012 saw the rollout of the latest Google Panda and Penguin updates, together with a sharp turning of the dial to tone down the influence of ‘direct-match’ domain names.  Google is working hard to shut out purveyors of thin content and rewarding owners of sites with useful, relevant and unique content.

You need to take action if:

  •  your website has less than 100 pages; or
  •  your website has a high number of pages populated with ‘thin content’ i.e. a paragraph or two at most of original content wrapped in a common template; or
  • there is very little content being added on a regular basis;
  • you want to improve the level of engagement you have with your audience

First – what do you want?

Before you take any action, take a moment to quantify your objectives. Have a think and discuss with colleagues what you really want to achieve with your marketing. And be specific, not just general business objectives like ‘increase sales’ or ‘increase market share’. For instance, ‘I want to increase the number of  visitors coming to our website from social media channels by 200% over the next 12 months’. Or, ‘in our next financial year, I want to reduce my pay-per-click spend by 40% and build total internet sales without increasing my online marketing budget’.

Action

Firstly, flesh out any thin pages you have with meatier content, whether that involves extending your product descriptions or providing more background information.

If you don’t have a company blog or a news section, get one or both started now and contribute to it every day.  If you are languishing in Google’s rankings for your prime keywords, you should see a steady rise begin in around a month or two. If you’re already up there, you’ll consolidate your position and begin to see second-tier key terms rise up the rankings.

Remember that some of your competitors will also be adding content and improving their web presence, so the pressure is on you to stay ahead of the pack, and boost your authority within your industry.

Here are the three broad strategies you need to follow to keep at the forefront:

Add more engaging, relevant and informative content
Add different types of content
Propagate your content

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Add more content

According to inbound marketing company Hubspot, businesses that add at least 20 articles a month to their website get five times more traffic than those businesses that write at most once a week.

businesses that blog get more visitor traffic

By including regular blog posts and industry news, you broadcast your industry knowledge and authority. It also demonstrates your thought leadership and, importantly, informs and educates your readers at the same time as giving them a platform to engage with you.

Gone are the days when we produce content specifically for the search engines. By that I mean liberally peppering every article with one or more top tier keywords (and never failing to include a keyword in the title).  Search engines have gotten smarter – they know when they are being shown a private dance and can detect keyword stuffing from several miles away.

This is not saying that we should lose focus on utilising keywords that specifically drive conversions.  These keywords, important in the buying process journey, need to be discovered and let out in a judicious manner.  In the course of writing truly relevant and informative articles, first and second tier keywords will naturally appear and help drive your site forwards in search and build up long-tail collateral.

Try to avoid creating content that is wholly company-centric. Too many marketers assume that their audience is going to be hooked on a stream of content centred around the company and its brands.  This approach simply doesn’t produce the level of interest needed to build a genuine rapport.

Of course it is easy for people to talk about their own company and its products or services. Conversely, it’s relatively difficult for marketers to come up with original content outside these areas, while still of particular interest to the audience. According to the Content Marketing Institute, around 41 percent of marketers say their leading content marketing problem is actually producing engaging content.

Your overall business objectives might be to increase enquiries, increase sales and profits. You also want to tell the brand story, build brand awareness, increase brand market share and establish thought leadership.

Provide content your audience wants

What I am saying is: focus on the customer and the information that he or she needs and is interested in. In the diagram above, anything outside the red circle is a no-go area.

There is nothing wrong in zooming in on your audience’s interests as they relate to your organisation. And without a brand in the picture, content is just a distant cry in the wilderness.  But if you restrict yourself to providing content that must, in a direct manner, relate to the brand and/or the business, you will struggle to grow your audience.

Just try moving your brand and business out of the story and see how much further the content will travel.  I guarantee you’ll want to do it more.
The interesting thing is that when you really do have something interesting to say to your audience about your brand or company, they’ll be much more attentive and responsive.

Add different types of content

So that’s a hint about where to start in terms of broadening the scope of the subject matter.  Adding more types of content is another way to broaden your reach, improve engagement ratios and boost SEO efforts.

Content types used in online marketing
The content type above is a visualisation, which in this case shows a selection of  content forms available. The positioning of content types here (based on our internal data) gives a general idea of the production ease and relative effectiveness of each.

In reality the effectiveness of a content form really depends how suited it is to your information.  Your choices are also going to shaped by resources that are available. Writing a book or even a white paper, whilst generally very effective, is going to some time and therefore is expensive.  At the other end of the spectrum you have social media updates and blog comments which are quick and cheap to create and, on their own,  have limited effectiveness.

There are some under-utilised types of content, like comics or cartoons, which can get good shares in social media,  stick around for a while and are good at picking up inbound links. Slideshare presentations are great at condensing longer Powerpoint presentations or displaying a set of slides in a visually appealing manner.

In terms of value for money, quality blogs and original news feed are a very powerful way to inform and engage with your audience, especially when used in conjunction with newsletters and social media. The ‘Freshness Update’ was coined to explain the way that Google rewards websites that are continually adding more content. A Google search guru even said that search results were like cookies that come out of the oven – ‘best when fresh’.

Infographics are in vogue of course, and are fantastic for allowing people to digest and make sense of larger amounts of data in a fun way. Different types of information are often best conveyed by using particular content forms.  So couple creativeness in broadening your topics with a bigger toolbox of content forms to really build your audience.

Propagate your content 

Once you have produced your content, is it just going to be plonked on the website, waiting to be discovered? Or will it be actively promoted and marketed?

Internal promotion
Before discussing ways to get your content linked to from third party sites, check to make sure the page upon which the content sits is well formatted, optimised for search and is featured around the site itself, including the home page.

Adding internal links from keywords or phrases in your regular content to relevant sections will help consolidate those sections and form good site architecture. Don’t be afraid of linking out to third party websites. In the old days, this would constitute ‘leaking of link juice’, but most SEO experts now agree that linking out helps rather than hinders online marketing efforts.

Make sure you have social sharing links prominently displayed above or below the content. Maybe both.  Check that there is an RSS feed set up so people can subscribe to your regular content through their browsers and in their personal news aggregators.

External promotion
Here’s what agency and brand marketers are doing to promote their content externally, according to Outbrain.

content distribution strategies

It’s likely that the better online marketers are utilising the majority of these.
No surprise to see that nearly everyone is using social media. If the content is deemed good enough by the audience, it will travel a long way.

Take a Facebook post we put up recently for a client, a sustainable forestry investment company.  It was just 50 words with an image about the world’s first ‘vertical forest’ – trees growing on every balcony of an apartment building in Milan, Italy.  But it’s interesting, relevant content for this audience, garnering many comments and hundreds of shares. There’s no mention of the brand anywhere, no calls to action.

Other times we will link to a news story or a blog post on the client’s website, where there is a chance of conversion.    Three quarters of online adults at least sometimes visit a corporate web site after learning of a news story through social media channels.  And seven out of ten will use corporate websites or online newsrooms as a source for sharing and posting information.  Social media is a very powerful platform to showcase your expertise using compelling content.

In your holistic approach, you will be co-ordinating your social media, PPC, SEO,  public relations and other online marketing activity so you’re not duplicating efforts and you are achieving a level of synergy.

Follow the bones of this content marketing über strategy, and you’ll leave your competitors straggling on the first lap.

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If you’d like to talk to me about how to achieve your online marketing objectives through cost-effective content strategies, drop me a line now! (Mention this blog post, How to build a killer content marketing strategy, and it will be directed to me).

 

 

Google Panda and Penguin UpdatesWith so many websites relying on traffic from Google, the search engine is uniquely positioned to influence where the internet goes next. But as it continues to grow, Google’s job has become increasingly difficult. It’s not just big businesses and tech geeks who are building web pages now; almost anyone with an internet connection can throw up a page relatively easily.

This has meant that not everyone is producing a quality product and an increasingly large percentage of people are just out to make a fast buck. As a result, the quality of websites has started to deteriorate, with more and more people pushing advertising and spam without offering anything of value.

Over the past 12 months, Google has shifted its focus to tackle those websites that offer little or nothing of interest to visitors, pushing them down the search listings while raising the profile of those websites that provide good quality original content.

Two algorithm changes – Panda and Penguin – have been key in this. Following a number of tweaks and adjustments after the original launch the changes are now really starting to come together to make 2012 the year we will remember for Google’s efforts to improve the quality of content on the internet.

Google Panda Update

The Panda update came first, initially launched in the US in February 2011. Various additions have been made to Panda since, with the update eventually extended to deliver a global coverage of English-speaking countries in April 2011. It has become the longest-running named Google algorithm update with adjustments being announced well into 2012.

Upon its initial launch, Google engineers Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts stated: “In the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking – a change that noticeably impacts 11.8 per cent of our queries – and we wanted to let people know what’s going on.

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites – sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very helpful.”

Ultimately, Panda was designed to deal with site quality. It aimed to lower the rank of poor quality sites and raise that of websites that put time and effort into their content. Reports at the time showed that news websites and social networking sites saw a surge in their rankings, while pages with a lot of advertising fell.

However, things didn’t run entirely smoothly and some sites complained that they were being unfairly punished in the rankings. There were some faults on Google’s end, but the search engine refused to address individual cases and instead urged developers to work hard on their site quality in line with Google’s quality guidelines.

Amit Singhal, writing on Google’s official blog, stated that tests show the algorithm is “very accurate at detecting site quality”. He added: “If you believe your site is high-quality and has been impacted by this change, we encourage you to evaluate the different aspects of your site extensively … As sites change, our algorithmic rankings will update to reflect that.”

These are: Make pages for users, not search engines. Avoid tricks to improve SEO. Ask yourself if you’d still do this if search engines didn’t exist. Don’t participate in link schemes that involve anything dodgy. Avoid using unauthorised computer programs to submit pages as these violate Google’s Terms of Service due to the fact that they use extra computing resources – as such sites that do employ these techniques tend to be punished in the rankings. Avoid hidden text and links. Avoid cloaking and sneaky redirects. Don’t send automated queries to Google. Don’t put irrelevant keywords in your page. Don’t use duplicate content. Don’t create phishing sites or anything with malware in it. If you participate in an affiliate programme ensure that your site adds value – Google suggests using unique and relevant content to give users a reason to visit your site first. Submit your site for reconsideration after you’ve modified your website to fit in with these guidelines.

Google Penguin Update

So if Panda is all about quality, then what’s the deal with Penguin? Many of the areas the Penguin tackled crossed over with things that Panda looked at. Purposefully duplicated content, for example, was something that both algorithm updates are thought to have hit hard, pushing sites down the rankings for using software to rehash content on multiple sites or straight up stealing content form other sites.

But Penguin, launched in April 2012, went one step further and looked at a range of more specific ‘black hat’ SEO tactics. Matt Cutts explained: “In the pursuit of higher rankings or traffic, a few sites use techniques that don’t benefit users, where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be ranked.”

These techniques are employed on a surprisingly common basis and include everything from keyword stuffing to dodgy link schemes. Penguin targeted sites that employed these tactics and others, punishing them in the rankings for neglecting to develop content that would actually be of some interest to their users.

The latest update to Penguin came just this month (October), with engineer Mr Cutts explaining that around 0.3 per cent of English language Google queries likely to be affected by the update. As ever, the search engine remained elusive about the exact changes to the algorithm, but it is understood that web spammers are once again the main target.

Of course the vast majority of sites avoid dodgy SEO tactics like link spamming and keyword stuffing and so will see no difference in their ranking following this update. But this hasn’t stopped the same old worries developing among SEO experts and web developers.

Google has been tackling issues with poor quality content and websites almost since it began operating as a search engine. But 2012 has been the year when things have really started to come together, with Panda and Penguin affecting a significant proportion of the internet (between ten and 15 per cent of sites upon the launch of Panda and around three per cent for Penguin).

This has only been possible as Google has started to hone its skills and gain a greater understanding of the way in which websites operate. Bear in mind the company was only incorporated as a privately held company in 1998 and the business of search is still a comparatively young industry. Things will continue to change and evolve but it feels to us like Google is taking more and more control over the situation, shunting useless sites away from its top pages and rewarding sites that invest in their content.

There is nothing wrong with Google’s goal of supporting websites that provide something genuinely useful and interesting for their users. The search engine has come out in favour of good SEO tactics and praises websites that are arranged in a way that makes them easy to crawl and rank as well as sites that are stuffed with useful information for their users. But SEO can’t come at the expense of a website’s users – it needs to appease the search engines and the visitors and it appears that Google is making it increasingly clear that content is the best way of doing this.