I’m a proud SEO and digital marketing nerd.
I first learned about this thing called “SEO” 8 years ago, when I randomly attended a presentation by Rand Fishkin at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Campus. At the time, I was running a team focused on direct marketing over the phone. Our work was fun, data-driven, and gave us the opportunity to run hundreds of A/B tests every year and dig through mountains of data to find wins. But, listening to Rand speak that day introduced a totally foreign concept to me – through a combination of SEO and content marketing (or inbound, if you like), you can market to people at the very time they’re looking for your solution as opposed to interrupting them with outbound marketing.
For me, that concept grew into an obsession. I remember walking into the office the day after the talk and printing out the entirety of Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which I promptly read, twice, and then carried around in my bag for literally years. I haven’t missed a Whiteboard Friday in these last 8 years, and if you were to look at my email inbox or list of people I follow on Twitter, you’d see an ever-evolving list of information on content and SEO. I’ve also had the good fortune to turn this academic interest into a career pivot and have spent much of the last 8 years running SEO and digital marketing efforts for some really cool companies.
I joined Verblio about ten months ago to run marketing. Verblio provides the unique opportunity for me to go more meta with this content marketing obsession – not only do we use SEO and content marketing to power a lot of our own marketing efforts, we are also building a product that helps marketing agencies and businesses power their own content marketing efforts.
I thought it was a good time to reflect on my perspective on the state of content marketing. So, here are 10 things I believe about content marketing today, based on all my experiences over the past 8 years. I hope they’re useful, spark some ideas for your business or agency, and that if you have questions or comments you’ll send me an email – my contact info is in my bio below.
My 10 Things for 2018
1. Content marketing continues to gain importance in the [patient] modern marketer’s toolkit.
Let’s get the caveats out of the way: if you are impatient, need results tomorrow, or believe that SEO and content marketing aren’t real, they aren’t for you. Read enough on digital marketing and you’ll see the phrase “SEO is dead” come up like clockwork every few months.
My favorite response to this is pinned to the top of Cyrus Sheppard’s Twitter Profile:
If you choose to believe and are willing to put in the work, you can stand out, because many of your competitors aren’t going to be able to pull it off. And, study after study show that high-quality content produces low-cost search traffic and high-quality leads and customers.
2. Content marketing, done well, is hard.
You’ve got a couple of things going against you when it comes to content marketing:
- You aren’t going to see results right away, so it never feels like the most pressing thing on your to-do list. Often, this means it keeps falling and falling and never gets done.
- Content marketing has exploded in popularity. This means more competition, and better quality required to beat the competition.
- Not everybody’s a writer. So that means you’ve got to find a writer, explain to them what you need (not easy), and manage them and the logistics. (I wrote more on that here, if you’re interested.)
By the way, shameless plug, at Verblio, our goal is to help you solve #3.
3. Content quality matters more than ever.
The days when you could put up 200 words of content, fill it with 10 instances of a keyword you wanted to target and expect to show up on page 1 of Google are gone.
Searchers, and search engines, expect to see quality. “Quality” might feel pretty nebulous, but I believe quality content answers questions and solves problems for searchers, is well-written, authentic and authoritative, and is comprehensive but not long-just-to-be-long. Don’t take my word for it though, leading thinkers in SEO believe Google is using data about how engaging content is as a ranking signal.
4. Quality content starts with great writing – a specific type of great writing.
Great writing for content marketing is a specific type of great writing. I think it involves four things: 1) solid, fundamental writing skills, 2) subject matter expertise in what you’re writing about (or the ability to do really solid research), 3) a basic understanding of how to write for the web, and for SEO, and 4) writing that’s on-brand for your organization.
5. Length matters for quality, but longer isn’t better for all content pieces.
As a general rule, longer content tends to perform better for SEO.
- There’s a lot of solid evidence that Google rewards content that’s more comprehensive. And, more comprehensive content tends to be longer.
- As we discussed in #4 above, quality matters. And it’s hard to squeeze quality answers to searcher questions and needs into a too-short blog post.
- Longer content tends to get more engagement – people spend longer reading your post, are more likely to click through to other pieces on your website, etc. As discussed above, engagement matters.
It’s for these reasons we tend to encourage clients to create longer content. There are, however, three additional considerations:
- Not everything needs to be long. In fact, for some blog posts and content pieces long is outright bad. If you’re writing on a topic that can be answered quickly and comprehensively in just a few hundred words, do it! And, if you’re looking to serve searchers who just need a quick answer to a simple question, optimize your content to be consumed quickly.
- Shorter content is better than no content. If you get scared away by thinking you needed a 2,000 word monster blog post to make it worthwhile, you’re not going to create content. And in many cases, a shorter, high-quality piece will do just fine (especially if you’re writing on a niche, hyper-local, or long-tail-keyword type topic.)
- Long content still needs to be usable. With attention spans on the web at an all-time low, content that’s long for the sake of being long, or long content that’s not well organized is going to lose – readers will see a massive block of text, get scared or just overwhelmed, and hit the back button.
6. Creating quality content consistently is a major part of the equation.
Content marketing is a habit. As we’ve written about before, it’s the marketing equivalent of the Mediterranean diet and exercise as the solution for a long, healthy life for your business vs. drinking more Red Bull to get through the day.
There’s another reason it’s important to consistently create content: you aren’t going to know ahead of time what your most popular, most powerful pieces of content are going to be. Even uber-experienced marketers don’t have a great hit-rate on creating content that creates evergreen organic traffic, so producing content at volume increases your chances of creating content that helps achieve your goals.
So, consistently creating content improves your chances of getting great results from your content marketing strategy.
7. Blogging continues to be the cornerstone of a solid content marketing strategy.
It’s easy to get caught up in whatever the latest “it” format for creating content is – infographics, video, interactive, etc. And, these can be effective types of content. But they tend to be expensive, time-consuming, and, in the end, not necessary for all businesses or all topics.
Blogging, on the other hand, doesn’t sound sexy. But it’s effective. First, it’s achievable. Second, it allows for the content volume necessary to target a solid number of long-tail keywords.
This isn’t to say that a blog should be your only form of content, but it’s a great place to start, and no matter the other work you’re doing, it serves as a solid ongoing “foundation layer” to your content marketing.
8. 10X Content is a relative scale, and not always a useful measuring stick.
After getting to know many small businesses and agencies getting results from content marketing, I’d like to comment on a concept that I think scares a lot of people away from content marketing as a viable business strategy: 10X Content. The idea here, courtesy of Rand Fishkin, is that if you want to win in SEO, your goal should be to produce content that is ten times better than what your competition is producing.
This is an inspiring and worthy goal. But it gets people into trouble in two ways:
- They don’t think of 10X as a relative scale. Rand’s examples of 10X content are mostly in big, competitive industries where 10X creates a lofty bar – an interactive piece from The New York Times is an oft-cited example, the search “best hotels in new york city” an example of a query. But, if you’re a local auto repair shop in a mid-market city in Michigan, 10X content doesn’t need to be big-budget, super-high production-values stuff.
- The idea behind 10X stops them from getting started at all, and they miss out. The truth is, you can rank on Google with content that’s 2X better than what’s out there. I’ve done it on my own websites numerous times. So, think of 10X as a stretch goal, but don’t let it stop you from producing high-quality content
So, let 10X inspire you, but don’t let it scare you away from content marketing – you can win without being 10X, and 10X for the long-tail, hyper-local, or niche player is a lot more achievable.
9. There are a number of new cutting-edge SEO & content marketing strategies that are more accessible than you might think.
A lot of marketers and business owners I talk with feel that without a big-name, high-priced marketing agency, they can’t benefit from cutting-edge SEO and content marketing. That’s B.S.
Here are two ahead-of-the-curve strategies that are accessible with a solid understanding of your business, just a little keyword research, and some great writing support.
- Revamping & republishing old content. The basic idea here is that if you’ve been blogging or doing content marketing for even a short length of time, you probably have a number of pieces that, with a little work, could do much more for you. Google rewards recency, and also rewards content that gets more useful over time. You can read more about revamping and republishing here.
- HubSpot’s Content Clusters Principle. HubSpot’s content cluster idea involves creating a long (2,000+ word) piece of content (the pillar) around a general topic and a number of shorter blog posts on related, longer-tail topics (the nodes). This strategy is rooted in some really solid SEO theory, and HubSpot is getting some really solid traction with it. Best of all, it doesn’t require anything too fancy – again, just some keyword research and great writing. Learn more here.
10. There is an insane amount of free, high-quality content about content marketing, but it gets overwhelming quickly.
This is kind of a bonus addition to the list, but it’s worth noting that the SEO and content marketing industries are incredibly open and use content marketing in their own marketing. This means you can get a world-class education on content marketing and SEO for free on the internet, but it also means things get overwhelming really quickly if you don’t have the time or the interest to really dedicate yourself.
This is a problem we try to solve with our own blog – creating actionable, but not overwhelming information on the mechanics of content marketing and how to execute on a content marketing strategy.
So, that’s my top 10. Thoughts or questions? paul[at]verblio.com