Brands are producing more and more content. That makes SEO more crucial than ever as a means for them to create a strong online presence with consumers before their rival can secure the competitive advantage.
But SEO is more than just about improving your PageRank on Google.
Jaykishan Panchal, SEO and content marketing manager at E2M Solutions, says, “consumers today are a lot more careful about their money and do a good deal of research before spending on a product. They are also a lot more discerning about what they find in search results.”
“How you appear in search determines how consumers perceive you,” he explains. “To make sure search engines portray you in your truest sense, you need to give them the right information.”
Pros say compelling title tags and meta descriptions that clearly explain your value proposition remain important for strong SEO. Attention should also be paid to keywords, although they have become less important with search engine algorithms.
But none of those strategies will do much good if your content isn’t answering a consumer need.
“SEO used to be more about keyword stuffing, such as inserting important words into your body copy as much as possible,” says Matthew Raven, VP of marketing technology at Shift Communications. “But algorithm updates over the years have all been favoring content that provides a useful response to people based on their search intent.”
In other words, search engines are increasingly smarter about interpreting what a consumer is looking to have answered and presents the results accordingly.
“SEO used to be more about keyword stuffing, such as inserting important words into your body copy as much as possible. But algorithm updates over the years have all been favoring content that provides a useful response to people based on their search intent.”
Matthew Raven, Shift Communications
In that respect, Raven advises marcomms pros to think about content marketing as a way of answering consumer questions and needs.
This could be to someone who is comparison shopping, searching for treatments to a medical ailment, or considering vacation destinations. “Look at how you can provide advice, how-tos, and solve problems in people’s lives,” urges Raven.
To further optimize the content, also think beyond long-form copy.
“If someone searches, ‘What is the best accounting software for my new business?’ that individual probably wants comparison content,” he says. “People used to write the explanation in long-form inclusive of the keywords assuming it would drive better search visibility. But today that information would be better delivered in a table comparing software capabilities.”
“Meanwhile, someone searching, ‘How do I tie this accounting software into my operating software?’ might be looking for a 90-second video that is more demonstrative,” adds Raven. “It is important for marketers to think not only about the meat of content, but also the format that is the most user-friendly to deliver it.”
In that respect, Panchal says it is essential for marcomms pros to keep up on formats growing in popularity with users, as algorithms will take that into account.
Aim for “a good balance of evergreen content that will provide value to users no matter when they are consuming it, and the seasonal flavors that are in trend right now,” he recommends.
Panchal cites “blogs were big some years ago, and now infographics and tastefully made YouTube videos are the biggest crowd pullers.”
Users are no longer searching using only their keyboard.
According to comScore, 50% of all searches will be by voice by 2020, such as through Google Voice Search.
“To stay ahead, brands will have to optimize their content for voice,” notes Panchal.
Because consumers perform voice searches as if making an inquiry to an actual person, he says they are more likely to use long-tailed keywords that bring specificity to a search term, such as “where to find” or “the best” or “how to.” Long tail keywords can also indicate a transactional or informational request.
Voice searches also tend to be local in nature, such as looking for a neighborhood restaurant, and popular over mobile devices.
Pros say this makes fast-loading, mobile friendly content a must.
“Consumers today are a lot more careful about their money and do a good deal of research before spending on a product. They are also a lot more discerning about what they find in search results.”
Jaykishan Panchal, E2M Solutions
There are also legislative and other disruptive factors that are impacting SEO.
For example, the Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on influencer marketing. The FTC has sent warnings and taken legal action against online influencers and companies that have failed to disclose their relationship in online endorsements.
That impacts SEO, as influencer marketing has long been a way to build backlinks.
When “high-authority domains” link back to a website, Google sees it is as a vote of confidence. But it has also been deprioritizing content with backlinks that appear to be sponsored, but are not identified as such for the algorithms with a “nofollow” tag.
“On the one hand, it’s recommended any links from a sponsored post be nofollow, because essentially it’s a paid link,” says Anthony Chiaravallo, SVP of paid and integrated media at Burson Cohn & Wolfe. “On the other hand, there are occasions where a piece of sponsored content, such as in The New York Times, is very valuable to a user, cost a lot of money, and drove a lot of attention.”
“Whether or not Google can 100% always identify whether a post, and by extension links, are sponsored is not entirely clear,” he explains. “Some SEOs argue whether or not that is what the search engines want to identify and reward, and therefore should contain follow links.”
It’s a changing area marcomms pros need to keep an eye on.
“Whether or not Google can 100% always identify whether a post, and by extension links, are sponsored is not entirely clear. Some SEOs argue whether or not that is what the search engines want to identify and reward, and therefore should contain follow links.”
Anthony Chiaravallo, Burson Cohn & Wolfe
Five tips for optimizing web content for SEO
Think of your web content as providing answers. This could be to someone comparison shopping, searching for treatments to a medical ailment, or considering vacation destinations. “Look at how you can provide advice, how-tos, and solve problems in people’s lives,” says Raven. “Do this, and you’ll get in front of people earlier in their purchasing journey.”
Whatever consumers love, search engines will love. So think video, images, infographics, and so on that have become popular among consumers. If someone is looking for an explanation on how something works, video might be the best vehicle, not long-winded copy.
Factor earned media into your metrics. Chiaravallo notes metrics can help you understand what’s working in search terms, and converting once they land on your website. It can also help identify the role of earned media in search queries. “Metrics can help understand how PR in particular is driving spikes in organic searches for a particular brand or topic,” he says, right down to a specific piece of earned media.
Build high-quality backlinks. Algorithms reward high-quality backlinks to a website in organic search rankings. This can include from earned media sources whether bloggers, influencers, or a news outlet, making the role of PR important to building backlinks.
Understand SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t panic if you experience a drop in rankings. “Sometimes they’re unavoidable – either due to algorithm updates or changes in the client’s direction,” explains Panchal. “Having a strong process in place, plenty of collaboration and communication, as well as using the right tools are some ways to overcome these challenges.”