Apr 09

How Much Content Do You Need For B2B SEO Success?

Netline CMO ReportWhile B2B SEOs understand the value in content marketing initiatives, we sometimes fail to understand the level of content commitment required to demonstrate success.

In the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council’s recent study, “The Content Connection to Vendor Selection,” researchers uncovered six distinct personas that all consume different types of content and share that content with other levels within the company.

According to the report, these various buyers consume a spectrum of content marketing assets in an effort to keep current on new technologies, glean insight and shape purchasing decisions, and (most importantly for B2B vendors) identify potential suppliers, partners and solution providers. Thus, B2B marketers should develop content across all of these personas for maximum exposure.

But, equally important was the fact that most buyers will seek neutral, third party, and fact-driven content when making purchase decisions. This means that vendor content also has to be distributed across third-party sites and social media platforms where buyers actively search and discuss needs. Search is still a critical first step in the vendor discovery process. According to the report, approximately 68 percent start their content sourcing at search engines and portals.

The importance of search was also validated in a recent report from Pardot, as discussed in a MarketingProfs column this past November. In that report, almost three quarters (72%) of buyers planning to purchase a business product begin their research with a Google search, specifically.

B2B Online Marketing Research

With all this in mind, how much content do B2B SEOs really need to demonstrate measurable success in their search engine optimization initiatives?

Here are three examples of B2B content marketing initiatives with an SEO focus in mind, that we’ve come across and / or have had access to the performance data for evaluating their campaigns.

An Enterprise Technology Publisher

An enterprise technology publisher, producing roughly ten news articles per day, was faced with the challenge of gaining additional online exposure for a fast moving promotional campaign (60-day time period). The goals were to show measurable improvement in traffic very quickly (a two month time-frame) with a focus on organic traffic growth and improved social media presence.

Content Production: In addition to the regular publication schedule, this publisher added the following elements to their online marketing program:

  • 12 blog posts designed specifically for social media/viral marketing capability
  • 2 infographics
  • 2 interview-style videos
  • 3 comprehensive feature articles, approximately 3,000 words or greater in length, with relatively extensive research

The production schedule occurred in coordination with regular publishing efforts over a two-month period. The content was heavily broadcast through the organization’s social media profiles (specifically Twitter and LinkedIn) and directly to a select PR list.

Impact/Results

Over a two-month period, the following SEO performance results were realized from this organization’s content marketing focused efforts.

SEO Content Marketing Example

  • 31% growth in organic search engine traffic from the previous two-month period
  • 67% growth in third-party traffic in that same time period
  • February organic search traffic was at the highest volume in site history
  • Over 1,000 inbound links acquired (as determined by Google Webmaster tool data)

The Digital Marketing Software Vendor

Long-term organizational SEO KPIs vary, but they almost always include some combination of traffic, lead, and keyword improvements over time. In the space of “digital marketing,” where content marketing tactics are in focus across almost all competitors, the challenge was in making sure an ongoing content development program aligned well with keyword and organic search referral benchmarks.

Content Production: A commitment was made for creating no less than a blog post per week along with supporting content marketing assets to be leveraged for lead generation tactics surrounding bigger white papers and research material on a quarterly basis. Additional tactics included:

  • Daily social media updates in Twitter and Google+, specifically
  • Weekly “news briefs” were developed focusing on industry happenings and announcements

Impact/Results: Over a two-year period, the following SEO performance results were realized from this organization’s content marketing focused efforts.

SEO Content Marketing Example

  • Over 150% year-over-year growth in organic search engine traffic from 2012
  • Nearly 100% year-over-year growth in organic search engine traffic during the first three quarters of 2013
  • Through the middle of 2013, over 200 lead opportunities realized through organic search channel, a 21% increase since the prior year
  • First Page Google search engine results positions for more than half of strategic keyword targets

The Enterprise Technology Vendor

The previous examples contain a higher volume of production than many B2B organizations are prepared for, especially if the company is new to content marketing and SEO. What about a more conservative approach? In this example, an enterprise technology vendor put together a targeted and consistent ongoing approach to blog posts, lead-generation specific content marketing assets, and news releases — but through a significantly scaled down effort.

Content Production: While this organization did not have the resources for weekly blog post development, they made an internal commitment to developing no less than two posts a month. In addition, the organization supported lead generation with a similar content marketing plan as the digital marketing vendor previously discussed. They also maintained a social presence in Twitter, specifically.

Impact/Results:

Over a two-year period, the following SEO performance results were realized from this organization’s content marketing focused efforts.

SEO Content Marketing Example

  • 36% year-over-year growth in organic search engine traffic in 2013
  • 21% year-over-year improvement in conversion rate in 2013
  • After nearly a year and a half commitment, first page Google search positioning for their primary keyword (a single-word target)

Common Threads

What did all of these examples have in common? First, keyword research always played a part in the process — at the strategic level when developing topical themes and at the tactical level with regular on-page optimization as content assets were developed. SEO goals were discussed and reviewed with scheduled content marketing campaigns on a regular basis.

Second, target audiences were also discussed and validated with analysis of the content types appearing in search engine results. Each organization wanted to make sure that the content they were producing would be relevant across various buyer personas and social media savvy professionals.

Some of the competitive analysis to consider when establishing content production requirements:

  • Type and frequency of content produced
  • Visible engagement metrics of content produced (social metrics, links acquired, etc.)
  • Scale of content program (for example, our individual thought leaders producing content in addition to broader organizational efforts)
  • Focus and frequency of activity in owned social media profiles

Finally, a consistent production schedule was critical. Regardless of scope, all three of these organizations made a commitment to producing content on a regular basis. They stuck to deadlines, often in the face of additional pressures in and around the organization’s marketing priorities.

Final Thoughts

Content development was not the only factor at play. Like many B2B organizations, event marketing, email marketing, and outbound sales all play a critical part of business success, as well. That said, quality content was at the foundation of all of these campaign examples and played a part in communication efforts across channels (online and traditional).

Lastly, while production expectations help in determining resource requirements over a set period of time, it is still important to reassess an SEO-centric content marketing program regularly. If your organization is not hitting broader marketing goals, it makes sense to re-review production and quality of content, in comparison to the competitive landscape, to determine if your targets and expectations are still accurate.

What level does your organization interconnect content marketing production and SEO strategy? I would love to read your thoughts and perspective via comments below.

Images courtesy of Chief Marketing Officer Council, used with permission, and KO Marketing.
Mar 25

Content & SEO Alignment: 3 Steps To Create The Perfect Win-Win

According to new research, brands invest $44 billion in content every year. As online content marketing budgets rise, it is essential that modern day marketers align their content and SEO efforts to maximize ROI.

Have you ever been in a situation where:

  • You create some killer content, but no one finds it online?
  • Your SERP position slides as Google thinks your content sucks?
  • Your technical SEO is awesome, but techs do not understand the human and behavioral element to content production?

Left Brain Meets Right Brain

For many organizations, SEOs and content marketers have long occupied distinct and separate spheres, often fighting with each other over the implementation of SEO changes, templates, tags and timings on site releases.

Many content marketers lacked the knowledge to implement SEO best practices and, similarly, many SEOs were not well versed in the importance of quality content. (Remember the good old days of keyword stuffing?)

These two types are marketers are driven by two different sides (hemispheres) of the brain. Left-brain marketers (the traditional SEOs) tend to be analytical and numbers-driven in nature. Right-brained marketers (the traditional content marketer) are more open to creative concepts and imaginative storytelling.

Yet, with the fusion of media comes a fusion of minds. The modern-day marketer balances left- and right-brain thinking. They use SEO and technology as an enabler and distributor, using content marketing creativity to build holistic content and SEO programs that result in measurable business outcomes.

Left Right Brain

Infographic from Marketo. (Click to enlarge.)

Convergence Yet Divergence

A positive outcome of Google’s seismic shift toward content is that we now live in a world where SEO and content marketing efforts align. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily reflected in how organizations and departments work.

It’s an unfortunate catch 22: SEO and content strategies need to be aligned for optimal marketing performance, yet the costs and time associated with training and development can negatively impact productivity, scale and revenue. This catch 22 makes it difficult to achieve such levels of collaboration, and divergence remains.

In a post Panda and Penguin SEO environment, the relationship between content writers, publishers and SEOs needs to be based on synergy and “whole brain” strategies.

To restore equilibrium, the content team should be asking the SEO team, “How can you ensure my content performs?” The SEO team should be asking, “What can I do to help you optimize your content before publishing?”

Content Management & SEO

The rapid growth and evolution of content marketing has meant that content is now being created, consumed and shared at massive scale. With scale comes the challenge of measurement and alignment with business outcomes. Concurrently, SEO has evolved to become one of the largest, most efficient and most measurable marketing channels.

According to the yet-to-be-released BrightEdge 2014 Search Marketers survey across a customer base of 8500 brands, over 83% of marketers are placing a greater strategic importance on content performance by optimizing for organic search.

http://www.allmanbrothersband.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Calendar&file=showCalendarMonth&type=listevents&search=upcoming&orderby=date

Click to enlarge.

Optimizing content for search engines not only generates revenue rapidly, it also helps identify the best performing content for promotion across all digital channels. This includes paid search, email, display, social, video and mobile.

The Role Of The Content Management System

Content management systems have now evolved to help bridge the gap between SEO, content and technology. The effective use of a CMS forms the backbone of my 3-step framework to drive content and SEO ROI. Technology, in this instance, is used as a key enabler to fuse together the content and search optimization process.

A 3-Step Content & SEO Framework To Drive ROI

  1. Empower Authors To Create What Matters To The User. SEO is the best channel to help content marketers understand demand. Utilize search data to identify what topics matter to the consumer and empower content writers with these insights at the time of authoring.
  2. Enable Teams To Distribute Content Effectively. Have content teams work closely with search and social teams to help distribute content. Ensure that you pair content on pages with SEO keywords and constantly optimize pages based on competing keyword terms. This is where you can really integrate SEO into your content production process.Content Workflow
  3. Track & Improve Content Performance. Track content performance at a page level and assess how well content is performing through organic search.

The Win-Win

Optimizing content for search at the time of authorship has a massive impact on the value of your content while, at the same time, increasing productivity and efficiency of the SEO and content teams. This is in addition to the most important wins: greater outcomes for your business and a better experience for your visitors.

On Wednesday, March 26, (2 p.m.) at the Adobe Summit, I will be sharing deep insights into the latest BrightEdge innovation Content Optimizer technology for Adobe Experience Manager.

This is when the statistics really do the speaking!

Jan 06

Just Say No To SEO (Sometimes)

Just Say No to SEO!There are some SEO rules that you should break. While conventional SEO wisdom advises certain types of behavior, there are times when that advice should be ignored. SEO must be viewed as part of a larger overall marketing picture, and sometimes other considerations must rule the day. Below are three situations where the standard SEO advice is not always the best course of action.

Titles & Headlines

You are used to being told that you need to load these with keywords. More progressive SEO firms may tell you not to overdo it; and, there are even cases where you might not think about “SEO titles” at all. Unlike conversion-oriented pages (e.g., e-commerce pages), I don’t think about titles when it comes to blog posts.

For the record, in my entire career as a digital marketer, I have never done any keyword research for any blog post or article I have created. Think about it; when you are writing a blog post, what really is your objective?

Are you trying to rank for your money term on a blog post? What are the chances that you’re going to convert? Hopefully, the purpose is to build your brand and reputation. If that is the case, your goals should be engagement and building your brand. How do you do that?

You focus on attention-grabbing headlines!

These are often not “keyword rich.” In fact, if your objective is to get your post shared and/or read, the headline is the most important part of your post. If you have been active in social media (you should be), and you have built a decent presence there, a good headline will drive social shares, and that will drive links to your content. What do you think will do more for your SEO — the links or the keyword-rich title? The links will win that battle every time.

Just Say No to Keyword Rich Titles!

Important Point: The story with e-commerce pages, and many other types of pages, is quite different. I still heartily recommend appropriate SEO optimization of title tags and heading tags for those types of pages.

Design For Shareability

The notion of creating enticing, shareable content goes well beyond title tags and heading tags. When creating a blog post, the keyword should not really be a factor in the discussion. Start with that attention-grabbing title and then follow up with great content that generates a strong response from your readers.

You can’t give writers a list of keywords they are supposed to put into a post and expect them to also do a good job creating great content. To write awesome stuff, they need to think more about these types of things:

  1. How they can create an emotional response
  2. How to write short, concise paragraphs (“write tight”)
  3. How to use images that can make the post visual
  4. What research they need to do to create world-class content instead of recycled BS
  5. Plus many other writing basics that will make the content more shareable

These areas of focus are already demanding. In addition, you want your writers to create the most semantically-rich content possible. The best way to do this is to have them focus 100% of their energy on creating world-class content. Semantic richness follows automatically from that.

Duplicate Content

We all know that duplicate content is bad. So we should never do this on purpose, right? Wrong. There are times when it makes perfect sense to go ahead and duplicate. For example, in September 2013, I put up a post on the Impact of Google Plus Shares on Non-Personalized SEO on the Stone Temple Consulting (STC) website.

I also posted the results of the study on Search Engine Land. While the two versions of the content were not exact copies of each other, the overlap was substantial. The SEL article was over 2,200 words, and about 2,000 of them were verbatim from the longer version on the STC site.

Why would I do such a thing? Simple — SEL has a larger audience, and a different audience. Posting there provided the study with the most visibility. Those that wanted the more comprehensive version of the study could go to the STC website. We probably received more traffic to our website by doing this, than we would have if we posted it only on the STC site. Also, chances are really good that it helps drive our social media presence more this way, as well.

Note that whenever you do something like this, if you can, make sure you do one of the following:

  1. Get a rel=canonical from the article copy to the original article
  2. If you can’t do that, get a link from the article copy to the original article (which is what we did with SEL in my example)
  3. NoIndex the article copy

Syndicating Content Safely

Try to get at least one of these three things put in place. However, even if you can’t do one of them, you may still want to allow a copy of your content to be published if the visibility boost is large enough!

Summary

No, I am not saying you should ignore SEO. The search engines still need our help in a lot of different ways. But, SEO is not a paint-by-numbers game that you do automatically, no matter what. Sometimes, it needs to take a back seat to other marketing considerations. I shared three scenarios above. What are some other situations where you think SEO is secondary? Let me know in the comments below!

Dec 05

2014 SEO Playbook: On-Page Factors

2014 SEO PlaybookWelcome to part 2 of my annual SEO playbook. (Click here for part 1.) I have to thank Danny Sullivan and the Search Engine Land team for giving me the perfect outline for the 2014 playbook, the Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors.

Part 2 will cover on-page factors, including content, HTML and architecture. You’ll find more than enough food for thought and some very actionable steps. This is not a step-by-step SEO guide, and it’s pretty informal. Before embarking on a search engine optimization campaign, do your research or consult with an expert.

Periodic Table of SEO

Content: Quality

Quality was a big discussion item during 2013, especially topics like word count and deep content.

After Panda, you’d think we would be well past the age of producing short “fluff” articles. However, too many websites, especially business sites that struggle to post fresh content, continue the practice. Recently, I saw a corporate blog post listing 10 must-read books on a topic — the article consisted of 10 thumbnail images and the names of the books, linked to an online bookstore. You can’t afford to keep putting out cut-rate articles like that; in bulk, they are perfect Panda-penalty bait.

On the opposite end is deep content — pages or articles of around 1,500 words or more. Websites have seen success with this content, so it may make sense to take the time spent creating lots of short, “fluffy” posts and use it instead to produce a few longer, more meaningful articles. Whatever you do, make sure content is well written, with attention to grammar and spelling. Don’t just say something; back it up with thoughtful opinion or researched facts. Put some meat on the bones. Personally, when it comes to article content, if I cannot easily pass 450 words, I will combine it with other content or deem it not worth writing about.

As for e-commerce descriptions, I used to deem 250 words as the sweet spot. Nowadays, I am less concerned about word count and more focused on creating a great list, matching features with benefits.

Content: Keywords

Keyword research is not going anywhere and is still the foundation of all on-site SEO. The difference is, after the Hummingbird update, we are discussing the role of entities, where topics take the place of keywords in the result pages. Google has made great strides in synonym identification and concept grouping — some have even called it the death of the long-tail keyword. (But, as with all the supposed death knells in our field, this, too, is probably an exaggeration.)

My advice is to make sure each page stands on its own as a topic. Do not create multiple pages about the same exact thing in order to optimize for different keywords. Instead, stick to single, well-written, citation-worthy, topic pages and optimize them for multiple keywords. This can be another good reason to use long-form content.

Content: Engagement

Engagement is about whether visitors spend time reading your content or bounce quickly away. Once again, meaningful content is key. It’s amazing how it all comes back to quality. Are you publishing something your audience or target personas will want to read, or are you just filling holes in an editorial calendar — or perhaps publishing out of guilt because you have not published anything recently?

Engagement isn’t just limited to text content, either; Web page design is equally important. Words don’t just have to read well to be engaging — they have to look good. Readability includes everything from page layout to font selection to letter and line spacing. Additionally, pay attention to navigation and the presentation of links to other content, as these elements can have a huge impact on time, bounce rates and other visitor engagement metrics such as time on page/time on site.

Content: Ads

Another part of layout is the placement of ads. Search engines will not ding you for having advertisements. That would be hypercritical. What they will penalize is too many ads or inappropriate ad placements.

I do not foresee big changes in this area beyond the enhancement of current search engine policies. In addition to display ads, be especially wary of text link ads. Make certain they are content-appropriate or matching, and that you nofollow them. If you still use automated phrase link advertising inside your content, I strongly suggest you consider removing this. If you use interstitial or pop-up advertising, make sure it doesn’t interfere with the ability of search engines to crawl your pages.

Content: Freshness

I am a big proponent of fresh content — this includes not just posting about hot topics, but also ensuring that you are publishing new content on a regular or frequent basis. Not only is new content important to attract readership, it also improves crawl frequency and depth. Earlier, I wrote that you should not create content just to check off your editorial calendar. Not to backtrack, but if you do not have an editorial calendar in place, you probably should create one and get to work creating content.

Think of your content as a tool to generate awareness and trust. This means you must get beyond writing about just your company and its products or services. Go broader and become a resource — a real, viable, honest-to-goodness resource — for your target market and the people or companies that your target market serves.

Taking this broad approach will give you more to write about, allowing you to focus on topics of interest to your target market. This is the kind of content you can build an audience with. In my opinion, if you are not trying to build an audience at the top of the marketing funnel, you are probably doing it wrong. Obviously, there are exceptions to this; though, I think a lot more companies fail here than don’t need to worry about it.

HTML: Titles & Headers

Title tags are interesting right now. The usual rules for writing optimized title tags and headers have not changed. I do foresee search engines (Google especially) rewriting more title tags algorithmically. If you see Google rewriting your title tags, test changing your HTML to the same text Google presents in the SERPs. By test, I mean change a judicious few, then observe what happens to performance indicators. If you see improvement, a broader title tag optimization program could prove worthwhile.

Going back to entity search and optimizing for multiple keywords… when you are doing topic optimization, you must be cognizant of which keywords you use in the title and H1 tags. I wish I could give you a surefire formula, but one does not exist. As you look at synonyms, pay attention to which words or phrases received the most exact match searches and trust your intuition when it comes to popular language use.

HTML: Description

I don’t see anything changing with Meta description tag optimization. Write unique descriptions for every page. They will not change your rankings; but, well-written descriptions can increase click-through rate.

I always pay attention to length, around 150 words. In reality, the actual length depends on the combined pixel width of all characters, but from a practical standpoint just make sure your descriptions are not getting cut off when they appear in the results.

For pages that appear in site links, be sure that the portion of the description that appears beneath each link forms a coherent thought. This is a place where many enterprise sites and brands can improve.

HTML: Structured Data Markup

Each year, it seems structured data markup is always a big topic.

First is the question of whether or not you should use it for organic search engine optimization. Some long-time experts do not like structured markup or machine-readable language because they do not want to help the search engines present information in a format that does not generate visits.

For example, if you type in the name of your favorite NFL team, Google will show you information about that team, including their next scheduled game, right on the SERP. Here’s an example I fondly remember: someone once asked, if you ran a zoo website, would you want Google to show your business hours at the top of the search results, or do you want people to visit the website, where they will learn more about current exhibits and events? This is a fair question — to which I think the fair answer is, whatever will get the most bodies through the door.

Google, Bing and Yahoo are going to show the data they want and in the format they desire regardless of how you or I feel. Personally, I’d much rather be a trusted source, even if it means my website information is made available in the SERPs. For this reason, I am a huge proponent of structured data markup like schema.org and RDFa.

Other forms of structured markup, like the author and publisher tags, are not controversial and have entered the realm of best practices. Use them.

HTML: Keyword Stuffing & Hidden Elements

Negative ranking factors like keyword stuffing and hidden text are so old that many of us practitioners brush them off as search engine optimization 101. Unfortunately nothing is ever so easy.

Stuffing is definitely a factor in e-commerce shopping cart optimization. It can be tricky not to use the same word or phrase over and over again when they are used as categories or descriptions for products. Different shopping carts have different levels of control. Some are more easily optimized than others. On category pages, it may be as simple as limiting the number of products you display on each page. Without going into an entire lesson on shopping cart optimization, what I will tell you is: if you have not done a shopping cart review in the last two years, it is time. Make certain your e-commerce platform is keeping up.

It still surprises me how often I see unintentional cloaking. Usually, it’s a result of the template writer getting around a quirk of the content management system. But I have also seen static links in a template that are cloaked using display: none on some pages while they appear on others, depending on something such as the category. The bottom line is this: if it appears on the page, it should be in the HTML. If it does not appear on the page, it should not appear in the HTML.

Architecture: Crawl

Not enough search engine optimizers pay attention to crawl. I realize this is a pretty broad statement, but too many of us get so caught up in everything else that this becomes one of the first things we ignore unless there are red, flashing error messages. Obviously, you want to make sure that search engines can crawl your website and all your pages (at least the ones you want crawled). Keep in mind that if you do not want to botch the flow of PageRank through your site, use the meta noindex, follow tag to exclude pages, not robots.txt.

The other concern you should have is whether or not search engines crawl and capture updates to existing pages in a timely manner. If not, it could be an overall domain authority issue or that PageRank is not flowing deep enough in sufficient quantities.

There are tricks to resolve this, such as linking to updated pages from your homepage or a level-one page until the updated deep page gets reached. The more wholesome approach is to make sure that the content which gets updated is naturally close to content or sections of content with higher authority, or to build legitimate internal links from related content that has its own off-site PageRank.

I am not telling you all your content should be crawled all the time. Search engines budget crawl frequency and depth for good reasons. What I am saying is manage your website crawl budget and use it well; don’t just leave everything up to chance.

Architecture: Duplicate Content

Earlier this year, Matt Cutts stunned the search engine optimization community by telling us not to worry about duplicate content. He assured us that Google will recognize this duplicate content, combine the disbursed authority, and present one URL in the SERPs.

This is really not a big surprise, as Google has been working toward this for quite some time. Webmaster tools has had automated parameter identification and Google spokespersons have discussed duplicate content consolidation for some time.

To repeat what I have written before, Google is not the only search engine out there and reality does not always work the way Google says it does. The bottom line is: keep managing your duplicate content by preventing or eliminating as much as possible, and as for the rest, put your canonical tags in place.

Speaking of canonical tags, I know a popular hack has been to use one canonical URL, improperly, on all the pages of multipage articles. There are other canonical hacks out there, as well. I’d be wary of these. If you’re using canonical tags, machine-readable content or advanced meta-tags, you’re basically waving a big red flag telling search engines that your website is technically savvy and using search engine optimization. In other words, you’re begging for additional scrutiny.

It would not surprise me if Google becomes more fierce in penalizing websites for this type of technical misdirection. Search engines tend to use a soft touch on levying penalties algorithmically for fear they will burn innocent websites. But as we have seen with Panda and Penguin, as they become more confident, they also become more aggressive. If you are optimizing for an employer, keep it clean.

Architecture: Speed

Most websites are not going to see an SEO benefit from increasing the speed of their website. Google has always said only a small fraction of sites are affected by this part of the ranking algorithm. This view seems to be borne out by correlation studies. Honestly, the best test of speed is to take your laptop to the local café and surf around your website. If you are not waiting for pages to load up, then you are probably okay.

The exceptions (sites that should be concerned about speed) are large enterprise and e-commerce websites. If you optimize for one of these, shaving a few milliseconds from load time may lower bounce rates and increase conversions or sales.

Architecture: URLs

The current best practices for URLs should hold true throughout 2014. Simple and easily readable URLs are not just about search engine optimization. With today’s multi-tabbed browsers, people are more likely to see your URLs than they are your title tags.

I will also add that, when seen in the search engine results pages, readable URLs are more likely to get clicked on than nonsensical ones. If your content management system cannot create readable URLs based on your title tags or will not let you customize URLs, it is probably time for a CMS review. This is now a basic search engine optimization feature, so if your CMS cannot handle it, I wonder about the rest of your CMS’s SEO efficacy.

Architecture: Mobile

2013 was an interesting year for mobile SEO. Google and Bing agree that the ideal configuration is for websites to have a single set of URLs for all devices and to use responsive Web design to present them accordingly. In reality, not all content management systems can handle this, and Web designers have presented case studies of situations where the search engine standard is neither practical nor desirable.

If you can execute what Google and Bing recommend, do so. However, if you cannot or have a good reason not to, be sure to use canonical tags that point to the most complete version of each page, probably your desktop version, and employ redirects based on browser platform for screen size.

You will not risk a penalty from the search engines as long as your website treats all visitors equally and doesn’t make exceptions for search engine spiders. Basically, this is similar to automatic redirection of visitors based on their geographic location for language preference.

That about wraps it up for on-page SEO factors in 2014. Be on the lookout for Part 3 of my 2014 SEO Playbook, which will cover off-page SEO factors relating to link building, local search and social media.

Aug 19

The Concept Of Sameness & Why It Should Matter

Long ago and far away, there was a world where there was no Web. Back in those early years (such as the 1960′s through the mid-1990s), there were certain basic concepts that guided the world of marketing. One of the facts of life during those times was that each market space tended to support somewhere between three and five major brands, and no more.

The major brands were the ones competing for general merchandise or services on a national or global scale. Regardless of where you went, they were there. There were other companies in these market spaces, too, but they operated in a niche fashion. They constrained their efforts to a local market, or a specific subset of the products in a given market space. They also could do quite well, but they were inherently smaller, and they were not in a position to cover the broad market the same way the big brands did.

The Great Disruption

Then came the Web. Suddenly, leadership was defined by understanding the universe of terms that a user might type into a search engine, implementing keyword-rich pages on your website, and using a link-building strategy. Dozens, or scores of businesses could compete on very generic terms nationwide (pick your country!) or even globally.

In some cases, this actually helped make these players huge brands. But more often than not, there were tons of companies that were no-name brands, competing in their market in a broad horizontal fashion — not like that post-caveman era/pre-Web marketplace at all.

This disruption is coming to an end.

The reasons for this reversion are quite clear. To see what is happening, we need to understand how the products of the search engines work.

A Little Frog Story

I am going to illustrate my point with a sequence of screen shots that tell of a user’s hypothetical search experience. Imagine that a user searches on [frogs]. They click on the first result, and they get a page that looks like this:

Frog Search Result Page One

Frog Search Result Page One

However, the user does not get what they want from that page. So they go back to the search results and click on result #2, which brings them to this page:

Frog Search Result Page Two

Frog Search Result Page Two

Still not finding what they want in the second result, they go back to the SERPs and click on the 3rd result:

Frog Search Result Page Three

Frog Search Result Page Three

If you look at these three pages closely you will see that they are not duplicate content, and they are most likely written by different people. But the problem is, they have the same four basic pieces of information, which we can summarize as: frogs are green, they live in water, they jump, and toads are a sub-species of frogs. In other words, there is NO difference in the actual information provided. Imagine what this does for the person who is trying to find out what frogs eat!

Angry Search User!

Why This Story Matters

It’s simple. Content-identical results like these are bad for the search engines’s product. The search engine’s customer is unsatisfied — they did not get the information they wanted, and they are frustrated.

More importantly, the search engines know this, and they are working on methods to eliminate this type of “sameness” from their search results.

This is something I discussed with Matt Cutts over a year ago, and here is what he said when I showed him this frog story:

Those other sites are not bringing additional value. While they’re not duplicates, they bring nothing new to the table. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what these people have done, but they should not expect this type of content to rank.

The bolding is mine, but the key point I want to get across is that success as a publisher does not simply mean “don’t spam” or “don’t use duplicate content” — in fact, it means much more. If you are publishing websites and ranking in search engines is a key part of your business strategy, than be prepared to answer the following question:

How will showing your webpages in their results improve the search engine’s product?

In more traditional terms, how will your webpages provide users with materially different value than the other websites covering the same market space?

If you don’t know the answer, then it might be that you won’t be showing up high in those results any time soon.

Aug 05

Why My Optimized Landing Pages Trump Your SEO Or PPC Landing Pages Every Time!

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Image via Shutterstock

Landing page optimization is big business for successful PPC campaigns. Google’s weighting of where a paid ad will show and how much each click costs is factored, in part, on the quality of the landing page the ad leads to.

But, on the SEO side of things, you don’t hear a lot about “landing pages.” That’s all stuff for ads, right? PPC has “landing pages,” SEO has “optimized pages,” and they tend to be worlds apart.

But that’s the problem. We shouldn’t think of landing pages and optimized pages as two separate types of pages. Nor should they be two separate “actions” being taken to a page. They should be one.

Landing pages need to be optimized, and optimized pages need to work as solid landing pages. Let’s look at how to merge these two types of pages into one optimized landing page.

What Makes A Good Landing Page?

In order to create a good landing page there are a few basic elements that need to be in play. This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list; however, missing any of these components will undoubtedly cause your landing page to suffer.

  • Strong Headline
  • Topically Focused Content
  • Benefit-Oriented Content
  • Scannable Content
  • Visual Clarity
  • Call-to-Action
  • Testing

What Makes A Good Optimized Page?

The primary focus of search engine optimization is on rankings. That’s not to say good SEO doesn’t include other things. It does… which is the point I’m getting to. But for simplicity, here are some core components of an optimized page.

  • Keyword Focused Title
  • Well-Written Description
  • Keyword Focused Headline
  • Keyword Focused Content
  • Content with Properly Coded Hierarchy
  • Inbound Links
  • Socialization Options
  • Testing

Sooooo… What Makes A Good Optimized Landing Page?

The goal of creating an optimized landing page is to create a page that works great for both PPC and SEO purposes. If your organically optimized page isn’t a good landing page for conversions, then you’re throwing away good money. You want just as good a conversion rate for organic traffic as you get for paid traffic.

There are some cases where it makes better sense to deliver PPC traffic to a non-optimized page — one designed specifically for paid traffic. However for most situations, you should be able to drop your paid traffic onto your optimized pages and see a strong result. The key is to make sure that you don’t drop them on a page that has only been optimized for rankings, but on one that has been optimized for conversions. Here is what you need:

  • Compelling, Keyword Focused Title Tag. The title tag is no small part of an effectively optimized page. It’s probably the most important 8-10 words you’ll write. Your titles need to not only be keyword focused, but compelling enough for the searcher to choose your link over the ten others on the first page. Anybody can throw keywords in a title to get ranked, but it takes craftsmanship to create a title that will get more clicks than the rest. (You can read The Complete Guide to Mastering Your Title Tags to get the full rundown on optimizing title tags.)

  • Well-Written Description. While the meta description isn’t very important for rankings, it is still a key SEO component, simply due to the fact that it displays in the search results and is a factor in getting the visitor to click into the site. The description of your optimized landing page is a great place to include a strong call-to-action for the searcher. The goal is to be more compelling than the other descriptions on the search results page to assist in generating a click. (The Complete Guide to Mastering Your Meta Tags will tell you everything you need to know about the meta description tag.)

  • Strong, Keyword-Focused Headline. Since the page headline is the first thing the visitor sees after landing on the page from the search engine, it’s a good idea to maintain the keyword “scent” from the search result to the page. It should be wrapped in an H1 tag for proper optimization and should do much more than state a simple fact. It must give the visitor a reason to stay on the page and continue the engagement. While a small SEO factor, the proper usage of headings and sub-headings can help the search engines determine the topical focus of the page as well as specific content areas. (Read The Complete Guide to Mastering Your Heading Tags for more on how to use heading tags properly throughout the page.)

  • Topically & Keyword-Focused Content Concentrating On Benefits. The content of your optimized landing page must maintain its focus on the topic and goals to be achieved. Long-winded or meandering content will cause you to lose your visitors. Long isn’t bad, but unneeded excess must be cut. There is a time and place for specifications or talking about what you can do, but the visitor needs to know what’s in it for them, how their lives will be bettered and their goals achieved. Be sure to speak to the visitor outlining the benefits they receive when they take the desired action. While keyword usage usually isn’t a problem, keyword focus often can be. Keep your content focused on a small group of related phrases in order to build up the topical page authority needed to rank.

  • Scannable Content with Properly Coded Hierarchy. Not everyone is an avid reader. Use as many words as is necessary to achieve your goals, but longer content, however necessary, needs to be easily scannable. Not every piece of information will be essential to every visitor. Giving visitors a way to move quickly to the information that matters most to them will help keep them engaged. Good content hierarchy will help with making the content skimmable and scannable.

  • Visual Clarity. Cluttered pages create distracted visitors, and distracted visitors don’t complete your intended goals. Keep your pages visually clean and appealing with as few distractions as possible. White space helps, and adjusting things as simple as line, paragraph spacing and image usage can contribute to the overall readability of the content. Keep it nice, clean and tidy.

  • Inbound links. No optimization campaign is complete without incoming links. There are good links and bad links and really, really bad links. The good links will help drive targeted traffic and give the search engines an idea of your page’s topical relevance before it even has a chance to analyze the page, as well as give an idea of the page’s popularity on the Web. Inbound links are not just a way to get votes (and push up rankings), they are also a source of new traffic.

  • Socialization Options. Social signals are growing in importance in search algorithms, so it’s important that each optimized page is set up to be socially shared as easily as possible. This allows your visitors to spread the word and drive traffic, doing the heavy lifting for you. The more your visitors engage with your content, the more likely they are to come back and fulfill the intended goals… and bring others with them for the same.

  • Call-to-Action. Without a call to action, the landing page is useless. Each page has to have a goal and desired action (or set of actions) that you intend the visitor to take. Without a strong call-to-action, the visitor may leave, never having received an appealing reason to take the next step. The only way to get the visitor to the goal is to tell them what they should do next. Be their guide, don’t just drop them on your page to fend for themselves.

  • Testing. No optimized landing page would be complete without testing. Very rarely does a one-time pass get a page to rank in the number-one spot or get the maximum conversion rate possible. Testing and tweaking each of the above elements of an optimized landing page will allow you to improve the page incrementally, once the bulk-work is done. A good, optimized landing page is always under construction. Test for rankings, test for conversions and keep testing to improve both. The more you test, the more you’ll be able increase both traffic and sales.

Optimizing pages for SEO and creating good landing pages for PPC is smart. Creating an optimized landing page that provides twice the performance with half the effort is smarter. While SEO and PPC provide two unique functions, you don’t always need two pages to do the job, when only one will do… and do it better!

Jul 22

Long Tail Content For SEO — 2013 & Beyond

There was the old way of doing SEO for the long tail. It worked for a long time, and lots of people made lots of money doing it.

But those days are gone. What was the old way, you ask? In a nutshell:

  • Research a long list of long-tail keywords
  • Create a page for each long-tail term
  • Give each page a title tag with the key phrase at the very start of the title tag
  • Implement a header tag with the same key phrase at the start of it
  • Write some simple blather type text that repeats the key phrase once or twice and arguably adds some additional value
  • Focus the page on conversion

Often, all you’d end up with is a site that simply tried to capture traffic for every imaginable related search phrase:

mortgage-tips

Simple planning, easy execution, not so great user experience — but who cares? Lots of money to be made!

This approach got so ingrained in our online culture that there are still thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of publishers still doing it — and they have no idea why Google does not like them anymore. The answer to that question is actually simple:

Compared to sites that offer authoritative information, sites using the above formula suck — and Google does not like to offer users sites that suck in their results!

The above statement seems fairly obvious, yet many have found it hard to accept. After years of creating websites that “worked” and made tons of money, people lost sight of the fact that those websites were actually not very good. A site that offers efficient ways to buy something fast, with little other value, is not a good site when compared to one that does offer other value beyond ease of conversion.

Buy or Leave Web Site

If you have a straight e-commerce experience, that might be okay if you have a major brand, as this offers a different element of value to the overall site experience. So, if you are not a major brand, and you are looking to cover a fair number of long tail terms …

… What To Do Now?

Since the old formula is a dying dinosaur, what can you do instead? Great question! Here’s the new approach:

  1. Take your best and brightest and brainstorm. Gather your team in a conference room and come up with ideas for pages/content you might want to create. Do this before you get too deep into your research. If you are really good at your business, you have a lot of domain expertise already — so get the best out of your internal knowledge before you corrupt it with additional “facts.” Your own creativity will often produce ideas that extensive research does not.
  2. Brainstorm user needs. Figure out the top 5 (or more) things users want to know when they land on a page offering products or services like yours. Interview past users, poll prospective customers, and do online research within your niche. Map out content that addresses common consumer questions in as much detail as you can. As you do this, take the time to go much deeper than you will need to on the page itself — it’s best to have too much information at your disposal rather than too little.
  3. Research complementary products and services. Now that you have thought in detail about what people need from your product or service, what are the other things that people will want at the same time that you don’t offer? Does it make sense to create content focused on those things? If feasible, use this information to create a comprehensive solutions guide that helps prospects with every aspect of the problem they are trying to solve, not just the piece that you address directly.
  4. Research what the bulk of competitors are doing. Use your competitors as a baseline — after all, you will need to do better than they are. Copying your competitor’s approach is a bad strategy. Competitors may get away with a crappy site experience, but it’s a bad plan for you. You should plan for excellence — this is the best way to build a sustainable long-term strategy.
  5. Research what authoritative competitors are doing. You looked at the bulk of your competitors to get a baseline. Now, look at the very top people in your space to see what they are doing differently. This will give you some additional clues. I like to delay this step because it is best to not corrupt your creativity in the early stages. But, now you can use it to develop a whole set of fresh, new ideas.
  6. Do some quantitative research. Now that you have the basic ideas, start doing some research into keyword volumes to help you prioritize what is most important. This is only one input into the equation — don’t overlook the importance of the user experience, too. Just because something has twice as much search volume does not make it front and center if it is really a tertiary piece of information to a user. I have a strong preference to put the most important information to a visitor front and center, and treat keyword volume as a secondary factor to alter the balance in otherwise close calls.
  7. Create an initial design, and obtain feedback. Now that you have a sense of priorities, develop one or more strawman designs with the goal of obtaining feedback. Honestly, it can be surprisingly cheap to get feedback on different mockups, using services such as UserTesting.com or even Mechanical Turk.
  8. Gut check: does the page deserve to exist? You can actually do this at any stage in the process, but you should do it at least once every time a page is published. Is there a legitimate reason for the page to exist? I should refine the question a bit: does it add some redeeming, real value to the Web or your website? If you have a blue widgets webpage, you probably don’t need a round blue widgets webpage, a square blue widget webpage, and 4″-diameter round blue widgets with blue trim webpage, etc.

Summary

The key message I am pushing here is the shift toward a more user-content-centric view of the world. SEO is not dead, but it can no longer be the single cause of the website for your business. Priority #1 has to be the user experience — from there, you can add SEO wisdom to the mix.

That said, you can still create pages for the long tail. But you will have to invest more than you would have had to three years ago.

Jun 05

Use Site Search Data To Fuel Your Content & Key Phrase Strategy

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Image via Shutterstock

Blindfolded, Dave listened carefully to his guide. Her clues about what lay beyond the two doors were interesting, but vague. Then the horn blared. He was out of time! He had to choose his path. But how? He needed more information!

Much like Dave, marketers are often in the dark when they make content strategy decisions. More often than not, they rely on data gleaned from out-of-the-box analytics (that only tells half the story).

But, you have better options! Why not fuel your content strategy with signals created by your own audience? Your site search data can help you do exactly that.

What is Site Search & How Can it Help Your Content Strategy?

Site search is an internal website function that enables users to search your site’s content.  It can either be part of your CMS/infrastructure (most CMS systems come with their own search functionality), or a third-party solution, such as Google Site Search.

Customers often turn to site search when they are unable to locate what they need on your site. By entering a query in the search box – and subsequent refinements – they have a better chance of finding the information or products they want on your website.

SEL_graph1

Because customers use site search to tell you exactly what they are looking for, it can help you create an effective content strategy. How so? The search refinements performed within a website yield valuable insights that can be used to inform website content, paid key phrases, and SEO tactics. This data can also help you improve usability and conversions. Overall, your site search data can be a search marketing goldmine.

Think of site search this way: imagine that you have a brick and mortar business, and every day you stand at the door and ask each customer what they are there to buy. Then when they leave, you ask what they ended-up buying. And you write down all this information. Well, site search offers you just that. It will record what people are looking for, if they found it, and whether or not they ended-up buying it.

Where Site Search Data & Your Content Strategy Meet

Site search data contain a wealth of information that you can use to drive your content strategy. It’s just a matter of examining the data and seeing the opportunities. Below are a few key ways that site search data can help:

  • Optimization: Site search reports contain highly relevant keywords since they reflect the exact terms your visitors entered into the search box. Use these internal search terms to improve your on-page and metadata optimization for higher rankings through organic search, or better performance in your paid campaigns. Tighter alignment with these search terms will also improve page and website retention since visitors will find more value on the pages.
  • New Content Ideas:  Your site search data can also point out possible deficiencies in your existing content. If your analysis reveals a lot of searches for content you do not have, consider building out these content themes. Doing so will help keep visitors engaged on site, and help capture new visitors and volume through search engine traffic. It also can shine light on some naming conventions. For instance, you might learn that consumers refer to a product in a completely different way than you do (e.g., Power Toothbrush  vs. Electric Toothbrush).
  • Refinement Opportunities: If your site search data shows a lot of searches for content themes you already cover, you might want to examine the long-tail terms to see if they are a detailed match. For example, you might have a lot of content around HD cameras, but the consumer is actually looking for HD video cameras. Because of that, you might rank, but not for the right content. Or, your home page might rank for the term, but the content resides on a deeper page, and the visitor has a hard time finding it.
  • Market/Product Research: Site search data will show you how well your product is performing. For instance, your analysis might reveal thousands of site searches for toothpaste, but you have sold very little of it on your site. This type of trend indicates that you are either selling the wrong type of product or it is too expensive or irrelevant to the market/audience. Your data can also tell you what your consumers are interested in. In fact, it is not uncommon for entirely new product lines to be created based on consumer insights. For example, if thousands of people are searching for strawberry toothpaste every day, you might want to let R&D know.

Site Search Data In Action

Let’s assume you’ve installed a form of internal site search, and you are tracking your searches and their behavior and activity. Now what? How can you make use of the data? In the following examples, I will highlight some of the ways we leveraged site search data to influence e-commerce, on-site optimization, search, and content:

1. E-Commerce: One of my e-commerce clients is tracking sales and site searches in Google Analytics. Doing so has proven very interesting because it reveals a per-search value — the revenue driven through the results sets from searches by a term.

SEL_search_value

 

We then sorted this list by the highest per-search value. SEL_search_value_2b

 

That gave us the top revenue-driving internal search terms. When we compared them to our paid strategy, we had a 62% overlap. So, we created a new ad group, added all these terms, and used the internal search result pages as landing pages. This dramatically increased our conversion rate and overall sales from paid search:

 

SEL_search_value3

2. Relevance/On-Page Elements:  One of the first steps to take when you start to review your site search data is to analyze the pages that triggered an internal search, as shown below for one of our Lifestyle brands:

SEL_site_search_start

This analysis pinpointed the pages where the user was “lost” and initiated their query. It is also important to determine where the user abandoned his/her search. This can be found by examining the destination page report with the search term, and sorting by the highest exit rate (%Search Exits is the percentage of searches that resulted in an immediate exit from your site.).

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These results tell the complete story, from where the consumer started the search, what he searched for, where he landed, and where he was when he left. Now, it’s the marketer’s job to review these pages to determine if the user should have landed there with the given term; and if it’s relevant, ask the following: “Why did he leave?” “Was the intent different?” and “Do we need to modify the calls to action?”

3. Optimizing For Organic & Paid Search: In this example, the brand had a solid key phrase strategy, the pages were optimized correctly, and overall, it dominated the SERPs for its terms. So, where could it go next?

By examining its site search terms, we discovered about 200 new phrases that were not part of its existing key phrase strategy. We sorted these newly discovered terms by engagement and performance. This gave us a great list of highly performing terms with existing landing pages (the actual results page).

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Newly-discovered KPs are marked in green.

Again, the beauty here is that you get the best performing combinations (keyword [intent] to landing page); this is essentially an organic and paid strategy wrapped in a box. We then created customized pages for those newly discovered terms that are highly optimized for SEO, and started to rank very well within a short period of time. This resulted in greater organic reach and improved paid ROI.

4. Content: How can site search data inform your content themes and ideas? In the below example, we looked at the search depth value (the average number of pages visitors viewed after getting results for the search term). This data shows you what the user was unable to find, and therefore continued to browse.

We then took these key phrases and worked with the brand and its planning agency to create content assets around those terms. Again, a lot of the terms were closely related to existing content, even just synonyms, like the earlier-mentioned “Power Toothbrush vs. Electric Toothbrush.”  By using these newly discovered and highly performing terms inside your content, you can provide more value to your current audience (because now, they can find what they are looking for), and you can create greater reach (higher rankings) for those terms you were unaware of before.

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Don’t Operate In The Dark — Use Site Search Data To Discover Important Insights

Today, it is critical to have an effective content strategy. Fortunately, site search data can help inform your content strategy along several important metrics: search frequency, visitor intent, keyword/key phrase relevance, visitor satisfaction, navigation effectiveness, and conversions. When developing your content strategy, don’t operate in the dark. Instead, tap into your site search data to shed light on important insights that could translate into a competitive advantage.

If you have been leveraging your site search data, I’d like to hear about your success. How has your search site data informed your content strategy thus far?

May 01

Five Ways To Flip Your Copywriting For Higher Conversion Rates

When faced with creating a conversion-focused SEO landing page, what should our copy focus on?

There are so many things we can do — so many directions we can go — that it becomes hard to know what to choose. Do I go with statistics or stories? Facts or feelings? Data or discounts?

If one of these is good, isn’t a mix of all of them better?

Blending Content Types Doesn’t Work

We know we’re blending when we start adding adjectives to our sentences. “Our solution is the most cost-effective, easy-to-use, colorful, highest-intensity, waterproof, process-oriented available on the market.”

We know we’re blending when we want to put one more “value proposition” on a webpage, even when we don’t have room. “Hey, let’s use a rotating hero image!”

The beauty of it all, though, is that search marketers don’t have to blend. We can use keywords as a guide to help us get started on our copy.

Eugene Schwartz is an old-style direct marketer and copywriter who has demonstrated his knowledge of copywriting with a long string of huge successes. He came up with a model to help answer the question, “What kind of copy do I write?” With his model, we can flip our message and focus it, rather than try to blend what we’re doing (thereby, loosing people in the process).

Schwartz Awareness Scale-500w

Schwartz created a scale with five levels of consumer awareness. On one end, we have people that are totally unaware of your company, of the problem you solve. On the other end, we have people who are the most aware — those who already know your products and your company, and in many cases, are already customers.

In between, there are three levels: Product Aware, Solution Aware, and Problem Aware. Different levels of directness will appeal to each group, and each has a specific copy strategy associated with it.

Once we have an idea of where our audience is on this spectrum, we can start to put together a content strategy to market to them.

When Writing For People That Already Know You, Be Direct

On the top end of the spectrum are the Most Aware visitors, with whom we can be very direct. Since this audience already knows your company and its products/solutions, they are likely entering keywords that contain your brand or product names.

When targeting these folks, you can often be as direct as, “You know us, you like us. Here’s the new product, here’s the price, and here’s how you buy it.”

Apple is a great example of targeting the most aware. Apple has spent millions of dollars on marketing; they don’t need to tell us who they are or what an iPad is. When visitors are most aware, companies can simply show off the product and provide a big button to purchase it. That’s all you have to do for this crowd — they already know and love you, they just want the latest version of what you’re offering.

When writing for people that already know you, be direct. Most Aware customers want product and price. They’re already your fans — you don’t need to sweet talk them into liking you or build up more trust with them.

On the other end of the spectrum are the people who are the Unaware. It is rare to direct search ads at those that are unaware of a problem. However, if you’re using a display network, you will want to use the indirect approach with these visitors. We can use things like storytelling to get them in a mindset that will allow us to market to them.

One generic message wouldn’t appeal to both of these groups — what appeals to the most aware would scare off or confuse the unaware.

Creating Copy For Different Stages Of Consumer Awareness

Real estate agency GoodLife Team offers content for audiences at different stages of the funnel. For their Unaware audience, they offer content on topics such as “The Cities Hippest Neighborhoods” and “Our Caffeinated Culture.” The approach is high level and uses stories and secrets to soften up the ground for more direct marketing.

They also offer pages that appeal to the Problem Aware. Visitors that type in terms in the “Problem Aware” category, such as [how to sell your home], would land on a page that leverages benefits and anxieties. Calls to action (relief) are more prominent.

goodlifeteam-sample-large

The example above states, “The longer your home is on the market, the less you will make.” That highlights the problem. The followup text, “Learn what we do that nets $9,857 more,” then drives home a specific benefit. Note that they used a specific number here rather than “over $9,000.” Specificity lends credibility to almost any statement.

Searchers that enter search terms hinting that they are solution aware may be more swayed by claims and proof. People searching for keywords such as [home exercise equipment] don’t need to have their anxieties about the gym emphasized. These Solution Aware readers are more likely to respond to claims that your product will deliver.

One Solution Aware landing page exclaims, “Incline training burns 5x the Calories just by walking.” Maybe I should consider an inclined trainer.

At this point, I’m Product Aware. I might type in [home incline trainer]. Content geared toward this audience requires a different approach.

Product Aware visitors generally fall into one of two categories: transactional shoppers and relational shoppers. Transactional shoppers are their own experts, while relational shoppers rely on experts to help them in their decision-making process. Deals and discounts will appeal to the transactional buyers — product ratings and reviews will appeal to the more relationship-oriented buyer.

In both cases, they want you to help them decide. Transactional shoppers are afraid of spending one penny too much, and relational shoppers are afraid of buying the wrong thing.

Someone looking for Web hosting doesn’t need to be told the benefits of a Web host — they need to be told about the benefits of your Web hosting solution. Price, bandwidth, reliability, and disc space are their concerns. We know it’s hard to tell the difference between different Web hosting services, it’s a commodity product.

This brings us back to our Most Aware visitors — those looking for our specific product or service. We need to give them the information they need to (re)order and get out of the way. Trying to handle objections is more likely to introduce doubt rather than reduce it.

When creating copy, we should ask ourselves, what do we know about our audience? Do we know whether they’re going to be in the middle as a product aware customer or if they are already totally aware of our products and services? By considering where on this scale our customers fall, we can create copy that targets their specific needs and converts higher.

Apr 23

The Informational Content Advantage

You may have heard that content is king, but the truth is that informational content is king. It’s estimated that approximately 50-80% of search queries are informational in nature (pdf). Most websites have very little informational content on them, preferring instead to focus on driving a conversion. These websites are missing an excellent opportunity to capture search market share.

Ratios of Informational Content

In previous articles, I’ve written about the importance of theming content – developing a strategy that truly plays to your customers’ search intent. But usually, very little of that is informational content. The average website has a ratio of 80/20 navigational or transactional content to informational content — the opposite of how people are searching. If you have a blog, the ratio usually doesn’t get much higher than 60/40, and even then, most of that content is either not keyword rich or it’s what we call “time-limited” content.

Types of Informational Content

There are two primary types of informational content: “time-limited” and “evergreen.” The former describes the category that most blog posts fall into: a summary of some industry event, a commentary on recent news, or an opinion piece that will be outdated in a few months. Evergreen content, on the other hand, will continue to be relevant for many years.

The most popular of the latter type is “how to” content; but, that content has unfortunately earned a bad reputation due to sites like ehow and wikianswers, where you are as likely to find content on how to tie a shoe (not particularly useful) as you are on how to tune a guitar (useful). If a how-to is useful, then by all means, you should write it and include it on your website.

If you’re having trouble determining what people in your industry are looking for, try using the “Discussions” feature in Google. To do this, search for a keyword, like [computers]. Then, click on the “More” drop-down menu and select “Discussions.”

Discussion tab in Google

The resulting page shows you a variety of queries and discussions related to your keyword. “What percentage of computers are gaming computers?” “Where can I buy a used computer?” “How can I connect multiple computers to the same Internet connection?”

These questions all make great fodder for evergreen content. You could collect some data and write a post about what kinds of computers people buy and what they are used for or a post on what to look for and be wary of when buying a used computer or a post that explains how to connect multiple computers through a single router.

As you can see by the examples above, evergreen informational content doesn’t necessarily have to be “how-to” in nature; it can be explanatory (the difference between x and y) or best practices (why x, y and z will continue to work), as long as each is based on a topic or concept that is likely to remain relevant for years to come.

While time-limited content tends to be more effective at gaining links and attention, evergreen content is generally (not always) more effective at gaining rankings for specific keywords. The key is to make sure either type of content is truly helpful to searchers and not just written for SEO.

When is Informational Content Useful?

To answer this question, consider what the searcher is looking for. For example, if a searcher is looking for “droid cases” and you sell batteries, then content related to “droid cases” is probably not going to be all that useful to either party. A searcher of “droid cases” is not going to find your website relevant if you don’t sell droid cases, even if you do provide great information about how to choose one.

But, if the searcher wants to know why his “phone won’t charge” (10k monthly searches and very low competition), then you could provide some detailed, helpful content about when it’s best to buy a new charger or how to tell when your battery may be past its prime. This type of content is directly geared toward producing a sale, but it does not have to be.

Another example: let’s say you have a corporate website and you are trying to attract investors. This is a very competitive, low search volume market. Obviously, you want to optimize for the brand keywords [xyz company investing] and such, but you also may want to provide information on the different types of investments as well, even if you don’t offer them.

For instance, [high yield investment] is a strong search term. If your company is focused on long-term investment, then this would be the exact opposite of what you do; so normally, you would not optimize for it. But, with such a limited volume for [low risk investing] and similarly relevant keywords, you should take the opportunity to try and capture these additional keywords. Here’s how:

Steps to write informational content

Steps to writing informational content

Integrating Your Informational Content

Informational content is important, and you shouldn’t just throw it everywhere. Long-form content has its place, and you should consult with your designers and user experience team to determine where it fits best. (We’ll explore that more next month.)

For now, just know that you need to have the content as well integrated with your site as possible. Keep in mind, too, that evergreen content can be in a blog if that’s where it makes sense to put it, but it’s more likely to get search engine attention if it’s part of your main navigation, such as within an “information center” or “resources” section.

If you fill a few pages of your site with informational content, you’ll find that you will get a lot more traffic. The catch? You must accept that the purpose of this exercise is to get more eyeballs on your site (oops, I mean to provide a valuable service) and that the traffic may not convert well. Still, 1% conversion on 10,000 visitors is a lot more conversions than 5% conversion on 1,000 visitors.

I joked earlier that this is just an SEO play, but the truth is that all websites should have some element of informational content. There are several stages in the buying cycle, and information gathering is one of the most important. Don’t leave your information seekers out in the cold — or worse, at one of your competitors’ websites.