“Content? Do you mean blog posts? We don’t run a blog, we run a business.”
“Hi, our 600-word-keyword-swamp article isn’t ranking on Google’s first page, what gives?”
“Look, these animated videos are cute, but where’s the ROI? Why did we make this?”
Have you heard these before?
Have you said these before?
Yea, you’re not alone.
Conference rooms across the country play stage to the same scene: business professionals nodding respectfully at one another as they pretend to understand what their Content Strategist is talking about.
Content is the cornerstone of how a business makes its mark on the internet. And as an SEO aficionado, I have to tell you — I really hate content.
Not because it’s bad; far from it, actually. I call it a cornerstone because it really is that important. It’s not feasible to run an effective digital marketing campaign in today’s age without content of some kind. The reason I hate content is because of how confused we all are about it.
Confusion — Constant Confusion
The first problem with content is the varying definitions polluting the business atmosphere. Everyone brings their own assumptions about content to the table and then gets frustrated when those assumptions are challenged.
Some business owners consider content as mere blog posts. Someone else might see it as explainer videos and infographics, while another person believes content to be press releases and print marketing materials. When everyone comes into the room with such drastically different and exclusive perspectives, it’s not easy to find common ground on what’s best for the business.
Here’s the truth: everyone’s right. Content is vague because it refers to a lot of different things.
Simply put, “content” is published materials that provide a solution to a target audience and market your business at the same time.
The kind of content you wish to create can be any or all of the above examples. It’s entirely dependent on what your business wants to achieve, how you want to be perceived, and in what ways you want to grow.
Under this definition, content should be one of the most invigorating discussions happening within companies. It’s an outlet for exploration, an oasis of creativity in the doldrums of spreadsheets and invoices.
But to make it valuable for a business, it has to be done right, and there’s no single blueprint everyone can abide by to create valuable materials. Good content is custom content, and to make it takes a lot of effort and some unorthodox thinking to design stuff that sticks. Bad content, on the other hand, is shallow, unoriginal, and tacky, all of which damages your brand.
Here’s an example:
This is quintessential bad content.
McDonald’s UK was attempting some sort of joke, but they butchered the slang so egregiously that it doesn’t even resemble the meme it was meant to be. The engagement numbers are high for this account, but most of the replies are entirely negative or mocking. McDonald’s is an incredibly image-conscious company, so I think it’s fair to say this was a botched content attempt.
Messy instances of improper content like this occur all over the place. And because it’s such a tricky art, most people tend to stop trying to understand content fully. They designate it to someone else on the corporate hierarchy and concern themselves with more tangibly evident business practices, foregoing what can be an impeccably significant benefit to their methods.
It’s really a shame because the blueprint for good content does actually exist — just not in the form everyone wants. It isn’t step-by-step, it doesn’t have diagrams, and it isn’t color-coded, but it is a bit easier to follow than IKEA’s.
All it takes to make good content is working with a single question: what does the search engine want?
Search Engines Don’t Simply Want Content
Businesses often purport their practices are focused toward one goal: “Give the customer what they want.” As common as this dogma is, it doesn’t often transfer over to a business’ SEO strategy. Usually, it’s because they’re forgetting a critical part of the equation.
Your customers are already telling someone exactly what they want: Google. Your potential customers tell Google what they’re looking to buy every single day. The consumer’s top confidant is freely available for you to access; all you have to do is use it the right way.
But here’s the important part: Google is working for the searcher, not for the business.
Let’s look at some examples of this. Go to Google, and type in something generic. Or, here, I’ll do it for you.
So let’s break this down. When you search something you want on Google, the algorithm is designed to bring you the best solution options possible. In this example, you may see my search and see just the three businesses featured. But those businesses are shown to me because of my search location and history, not because Google wants to help those businesses.
More specifically, the primary thing Google offered in response to my search is an array of solutions. Google didn’t bring me to ads by these three pizza places, it brought me to a Google Maps portal which I can filter by rating, price, cuisine and hours. All before I even have to scroll down the page!
As a search engine user, this is what I want, and it’s probably what you want too. Google knows you don’t want to be shown a billboard of ads when you use their search engine. Searchers want solutions, and Google wants to give them the best ones.
Here’s one more example.
Pay attention to the URLs of the top ranking results. Again, my search didn’t bring me to ads by bands or artists, or even ads by concert venues in New York. Google wanted to provide me the best solution to what I wanted, and they did that by connecting me to popular, high-traffic aggregate sites. Google responded to my request by doing what they see as best for me as a user, not best for the businesses. There’s a distinction here.
All of this is to say one simple thing: search engines look for solutions, not for billboards. Good SEO strategies convince Google that your site offers the solution. Often times, content can be the answer. It’s not the only answer, but it works, and that’s where the value comes from.
Content is especially valuable for searchers who go to Google with a question, or just a general phrase. My example searches were all directly related to a product and narrow in terms of potential solutions, but just consider how many searches you do yourself that are less obvious. What about the person with abstract searches like “how to know if you’re ready to be a parent,” or “pros and cons of social media,” or “how to market my business better”? This is where aggregate, informational, and in-depth content shines.
But to do it right, you have to go beyond the article. Good SEO strategies involve your entire website, top to bottom.
Content: Just One Slice Of Your Website’s Pie
Google loves websites that provide solutions. So how does it define a solution?
As you can imagine, the process is pretty complex. Google’s algorithm accounts for over 200 factors when it decides what to show a user after they search something. Some of the most important factors include your domain authority, the individual page’s authority, the quality of the links within a page, and the keywords used in the page’s headlines, subheads, and body text. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
This is where SEO strategies earn their reputation for leaning on blog posts. What better way to incorporate the most prominent factors than a well-researched, long-form article? However, don’t forget that content goes beyond text posts. Google wants good results, whatever form that takes.
This is why you’ll sometimes see videos pop up at the top of searches even though you aren’t searching under Google Videos.
Google knows that some things are better shown than read. More importantly, Google can identify which content has solved a user’s problem in the past, and they push that content to the top. “How to” searches can often bring up videos, infographics, and diagrams because the that’s what best serves the user. Notice how the secondary tabs under the search bar have even realigned — you may never have noticed, but depending on your search, Google will reposition the tabs next to “All” depending on which content best provides you the answer you want.
So how does your website factor into all of this? Well, your website can provide a solution that Google and end users want in a variety of ways. Articles, videos, and graphics are one aspect, but SEO tactics must be considered on all levels.
On the frontend, this means that your website’s pages must be designed to convert or to funnel visitors toward a conversion. It’s a basic principle, but you’d be surprised how many businesses believe their sites are easy to navigate when they simply aren’t.
If your promotional content links back to a website that is improperly designed, it’s going to affect how much a visitor trusts your site. The layout, ease of navigation, and invasiveness all contribute to your website’s user experience, a pivotal factor for a strong SEO strategy.
Here’s a scenario: you spend a ton of time and effort writing a great article. It gets picked up by Google, and you happen to snag a searcher with that snazzy headline you spent 25 minutes writing. But when they go back to the site that article is hosted on, they don’t like what they see. It’s a hodgepodge of ugly formatting, non-modular layout, and timed pop-up boxes asking them to join some newsletter.
You’ve probably been this user before. What happened? Did you stick around very long? Of course not. Most users in this situation back out of the content and go find some other solution. Even worse, they probably won’t trust any content they see from your domain in the future. There go your future content’s engagement numbers.
All that effort put into content, and it wasn’t supported properly. All you end up with is another business owner who fell victim to the glittery allure of “content.”
Look, content isn’t the bad guy here. It’s actually the best guy.
Content will drive traffic to your website, progressively build your domain authority on search engines, and ultimately contribute to your business’ conversions and total value. But it needs to be understood and created in a total SEO context, or else it’s just a waste of time.
Content isn’t the savior of your SEO strategy. It’s just the tip of the arrow. You still need a good bow to hold it in place, and a skilled marksman to hit the target.
So don’t put all your eggs in content’s basket. Find marketers and content managers you can trust, and work with them to create a custom, total content plan for your business, your market, and your niche.
Content is worth your time, but you need to believe in it first.