Remember the days of hunting down quality backlinks and peppering the home page with a certain set of keywords, all in an attempt to attain that elusive top ranking in Google? While these aspects of SEO are still important, SEO has gotten much more sophisticated. Backlinks can backfire, and Google has gotten much more clever about ascertaining whether a web page is really about a particular topic, keyword phrases notwithstanding.
It is the ever-changing face of SEO that makes it sort of fun — at least for people like me, who make their living developing web content. But it can be frustrating for business owners who want to focus on their business, not the latest tweak to SEO algorithms. The good news is that, while there will always be esoteric nuances to SEO, one aspect stands out above the rest: quality content.
Google Has Changed the Role of Content
The release of Google’s 2013 Hummingbird algorithm caused a sea-change in the SEO industry. Although Google closely guards the details of its algorithms, it quickly became clear that keywords were no longer the major deciding factor in organic rankings. Of course, as content strategist for a content development agency, I’ve always been convinced that content is the most important aspect of a website. Now, Google is backing me up.
And Matt Cole, creative director at Ambient Media, LLC, a digital creative agency in Vancouver, Washington, agrees: “Businesses need to stop focusing on keywords and focus on quality content.”
You Can Blog!
Blogging is the simplest way to get content out there, especially for smaller businesses. Now, I can already hear the objections: I can’t write! My spelling is terrible! I don’t have time!
You don’t have to be a great writer to blog. Spell checkers and grammar checkers are your friends. And, frankly, a spelling error or two often just makes you seem human. Even a short blog once a week is better than no blog. The important thing is to blog about topics your readers care about. If you run an auto shop, blog about five engine noises people should never ignore. If you are a landscaper, blog about drought-resistant plants. The important thing is to communicate with your clients about the problems they are trying to solve and the issues they are dealing with in their life.
Cole sums it up this way: “If you help people with useable content that helps them solve problems, that grows your business.”
Do You Need a Content Management System?
A content management system (CMS) makes it easier to update your content. The appropriate CMS tool depends on what you’re doing with your website. For example, a site that focuses on eCommerce may use a different CMS tool than a more informational site. WordPress is popular, because it’s easy to use, free, and has a huge user/developer community that can answer your questions. Other CMS tools are available, such as Joomla, Drupal (which powers the White House’s website but really requires a full-time web developer), and Squarespace (which is highly templated but not as flexible as WordPress).
Make Sure Your Content Is Mobile Friendly
Support for mobile devices is also an SEO ranking factor. If a user is searching from a mobile device, Google gives mobile-friendly sites preference. In 2013, nearly 50 percent of Facebook traffic was mobile (that percentage is undoubtedly higher today). Of course, developing a mobile website can increase costs. Some businesses may choose to develop a separate mobile site (which is easier for small sites but raises site management issues), while others may do a complete remake of the site to accommodate “responsive design,” which enables a site to determine what sort of device is accessing it and adjust screen size and content accordingly.
Content Even Drives Backlinks
Gone are the times when you could subscribe to a link farm or be satisfied with a line on a link page on someone else’s website. In fact, these types of backlinks can cause Google to demote your site. Instead, you should pursue backlinks that are editorially given, such as in a blog or an online newspaper article. For example, you can search for mentions of your business online, such as an award announcement, and ask the content owner to give you a link. A good rule of thumb is for webmasters to control only about 10 percent of backlinks; the rest should be organic. Quality is far more important than quantity.
Five Steps toward Better Content
Here are some ideas for increasing the quality of your web content and gaining more “Google points”:
Develop a content strategy.
SEO is not something a business does once and then forgets about. You should be generating content, even if it’s just a blog, every week. Content calendars, based on keyword research, can help organize content efforts. Also consider how your other marketing efforts build audience. You can make all the channels work together to get content in front of more people.
Engage your audience.
Create rich, usable content. Google is getting more intuitive, and can filter out “junk content” that is stuffed with keywords but doesn’t provide meaningful information. The more quality words you have, the more traffic you will get. Why? Because unique quality content means more words for Google to index, and that means more search results. The logic is obvious.
Think beyond words.
Offer multiple pipes of content, such as videos and pictures. You can use LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Tumblr, just to name a few. Or, as Matthew Malone, senior digital strategist at Gravitate, a digital marketing and design agency located in Vancouver puts it, “Google likes a diversified site, not a one-trick pony.”
Make yourself an authority.
If your page establishes you as an authority on a topic, the SEO will come naturally. Rather than focusing a website on a broad topic, such as baking bread, create individual pages that delve deeply into topics your audience is interested in, such as baking gluten-free bread or tips for making a great crust. Create frequently asked question pages. Take advantage of channels such as Quora and reddit, which can be huge traffic drivers.
Find a good partner.
I don’t know the first thing about machining precision parts, fixing cars, or flying an airplane — I call on experts in those fields to help me. In a similar way, these experts may not know much about creating content. That’s where content agencies such as Kaia Communications can help.
The Bottom Line
All the subtleties of SEO pale in comparison to developing good content. If you’re generating the right kind of content that can help your audience, you’ll never be wrong. If you need more help with your search engine marketing, reach out to a good content agency or check out SEO groups like SEM/PDX or annual events like SEARCHFEST. I’d be interested in hearing about tips for getting good content in front of readers — CMS choices, time management, topic selection, and so on. What works for you?