Does SEO still matter to your content marketing strategy? Are the top spots on Google’s first page reserved only for big box stores, chain restaurants, and nationwide companies with enterprise-level budgets, effectively blocking out small, local, mom and pop businesses?
While it may feel like it’s increasingly difficult to drive qualified traffic from the search engines to your website, SEO continues to be an effective–if not critical–component of content marketing regardless of the size, industry, or audience of your company.
What is “Content Marketing” and “SEO” Anyway?
Let’s start by making sure we’re all on the same page. The Content Marketing Institute provides this definition of content marketing:
…A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
While the popular SEO app company Moz defines SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) as:
…The practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
I’m here to show you that SEO is critical to content marketing…both in the creation of your valuable content as well as its distribution.
Keyword Research is Market Research
Keyword research is the starting point of all good SEO. Free tools like Google Keyword Planner or agency-level tools like Ahrefs help you uncover the exact terms your ideal customers are searching Google for to find products, services, and solutions like the ones you offer.
This keyword research gives you insight into how many people each month are searching for those terms, which related terms may be more effective, as well as how much competition you might be facing as you develop your content.
Tools like Google Trends can help you compare related terms or uncover emerging trends in your industry.
If you’re talking about hair replacement on your website, but everyone’s searching for hair loss, there’s a disconnect there. Although Google understands the two are related, they may not feel the same to your follically-challenged customer.
Even if ranking at the top of Google isn’t your main concern, this first step in SEO is critical in understanding the words and phrases your customers use so you can put them in your content marketing and sales material. You want your content to resonate with your customers.
In short, if you’re looking to create valuable and relevant content, keyword research needs to be in your content marketing toolbox. (Consistency is on you!)
Google is a Powerful Distribution Channel
Running a digital marketing agency for 23+ years has given me access to hundreds of Google Analytics accounts across industry and independent of company size.
It’s through this experience that I can comfortably state that the number one driver of website traffic for most businesses comes through Google, and that percentage is even higher when you look at first time visitors…meaning Google is responsible for introducing the most qualified visitors to your content and your company.
Search Trend Articles Can Be Misleading
There have been “SEO is Dead” articles almost as long as there’s been SEO. But as long as there is search, there will be search engine optimization. There’s also no shortage of articles about search trends…some that come true, and some that don’t.
Many of these search trend articles focus on some surprising data points, but don’t necessarily provide the necessary context, or pull some questionable conclusions from a single data point.
“Voice search is killing content marketing.”
The truth is, while voice search is growing in popularity, it is increasing search volume, not cannibalizing it. Think about the searches you use voice for. No sane person is asking Alexa or Google Assistant “who should I trust with my taxes?” or “what type of camper is best for a family of four?”
That’s because smart speakers and digital assistants aren’t designed with content marketing in mind. They’re designed to give us directions, set a timer, or “play the Hamilton soundtrack.”
“Most Google searches result in no click.”
In SEO circles it’s been widely reported that in 2020 more than half of Google’s search results result in “no click.” Meaning that either the searcher didn’t like the results she saw and refined her search term, or that the answer was provided by Google without requiring a click.
While this may be troubling for some search engine marketers and publisher websites that require eyeballs to sell ads, it shouldn’t be troubling for your content marketing. Because while the results that are answered in a knowledge panel (above) might be satisfactory if you’re searching for “who is the president of Chile,” they often don’t go deep enough for queries that pull content marketing results, and require a click to the website in question.
“It’s too costly to compete in Google.”
While some might argue that the sheer amount of content on the web makes the SEO challenge increasingly costly, this just proves that companies find that this investment provides a positive ROI.
As more businesses discovered the value of Facebook Ads, the cost per click went up. That didn’t mean it wasn’t worth it, just that advertisers had to get smarter with their spend, more targeted with their audiences, and improve their creative if they wanted this channel to work for them.
Depending on your industry, your investment in an optimized blog post may generate hundreds or even thousands of search visitors each month for years to come.
Local Business Can Win at Google
Can the local pizza joint win for “pizza”? Of course it can! Because Google is looking for relevant results that match the searchers intent, and the likely intent when searching for pizza is chowing down on a slice! So they serve up local results.
Now, local pizza shops aren’t probably engaging in a lot of content marketing, at least the way most B2B companies think of it. Creating a page on the history of pizza, different pizza styles, or even the craziest pizza toppings from around the world isn’t exactly the “low hanging pepperoni” for your local pizzeria.
But if they are posting their daily specials through their Google My Business (GMB) page, aren’t they “distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content”? And according to the 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors, an optimized GMB page is the most important thing you can do for your local search visibility.
Pick Your Battles
Maybe you’re looking for more speaking opportunities, but there’s no chance you can break into the top ten results on Google’s first page. But don’t fret; all is not lost. Because who searches for “keynote speaker” anyway?
Wouldn’t it be more likely that someone would include a modifier with “keynote speaker,” such as “motivational,” “parenting,” or “social media?” Even if they started broad with “keynote speaker,” they would likely narrow their search once they saw the initial results.
In fact, based on this report from Ahrefs, that’s what’s going on. The click through rate on the search “keynote speaker” at Google is under 35%, which likely means that a lot of people who perform this search immediately modify their search after seeing the results.
Coincidentally, as I was writing this blog post I was asked to speak at a Virtual Summit for Auction Houses. When I asked how they found me, my contact told me “I Googled ‘email marketing keynote speaker.’ From there I reviewed the websites and chose you.” That’s SEO at work.
Let’s face it…you’re never going to win “travel.” But if you’re a travel agent who specializes in serving people with disabilities, you might win with content marketing blog posts that include:
- 10 Tips for Traveling with Disabled Family Members,
- 15 Handicapped-Accessible Hotel Chains, or
- The Best Luggage for Disabled Travelers – 2021.
Of course there are less searches around niche topics than broad topics, but putting your content in front of the people you serve is always a good business decision.
By doing your keyword research you will write (or record) content that’s more valuable for your ideal customer.
By placing your keywords appropriately and performing other proven search engine optimization activities, you’ll increase your chances that Google will distribute your content to your targeted audience.
By narrowing your focus, picking your battles, and leveraging Google My Business, you can win a top spot on Google’s page one results regardless of your size, location, or service area.
In short, to make the most of your content marketing investment, leverage SEO as a multiplier for your success.