There are all kinds of creative considerations that play a crucial role in content marketing but, when it comes to online publishing, among any marketer's highest priorities should be something altogether more cold and technical: SEO.
In their book Understanding Digital Marketing, Damian Ryan and Calvin Jones describe search engine optimisation simply as "the process of aligning content on your website to what your prospects are actively searching for, and presenting it accessibly to both people and search engines."
Though navigating the sometimes opaque complexities of search engine algorithms may certainly sound like a tricky prospect, there are a number of fairly simple ways in which any content marketer can apply their skills towards improving their search engine ranking.
Understanding keywords is a crucial part of search engine optimisation — these are the words and phrases that people will be entering into search engines to find your content.
The process of keyword research is a case of asking yourself questions about the overall 'mission' of your business and then putting yourself in your audience's shoes — what can you envision them searching for to find your content? What are the needs that your content is fulfilling? What are the questions is it answering?
There are a few things to take into account when addressing these questions. For example, Google's SEO Starter Guide recommends taking into account how a user’s familiarity (or lack thereof) with a particular topic will result in differences between the search terms that they use:
“A long-time football fan might search for [fifa] … while a new fan might use a more general query like [football playoffs]. Anticipating these differences in search behaviour and accounting for them while writing your content (using a good mix of keyword phrases) could produce positive results.”
Having researched keywords, using them effectively is where your creative side comes in. As the internet has grown and become more commercial, and as search engine algorithms have become more sophisticated, many of the "tricks" once used to improve search engine ranking have become irrelevant — or, in some cases, can result in your content being penalised as spam.
Take "keyword stuffing", for example: the practice of simply peppering your content with as many keywords as possible — whether they're incorporated invisibly on the page, or simply just jarringly and awkwardly repeated throughout a piece of content. Kim Kosaka, writing for Search Engine Watch, describes how the practice "used to be fairly successful — until search engines wised up to it and began penalising websites that did it," adding that the practice can now "even cause your content to be removed from search listings entirely."
The solution, then, is a simple case of writing good-quality content — using those keywords to inform your content, and incorporating them organically so that, instead of writing to trick a search engine, you're writing to anticipate and address the needs of the searchers themselves.
As Ryan and Jones condlude in Understanding Digital Marketing:
“Don’t worry too much about it. If you’re writing copy about a specific set of keyword phrases, there’s a high probability you’ll use those keyword phrases and related phrases organically in your writing, and will achieve a natural balance. That’s exactly what search engines are looking for.”
What search engines and their users are looking for are sources that are reliable, and that can be viewed as a trusted authority on the subjects that they cover. Just as citing from outside sources is an important part of presenting an authoritative argument, it also plays a big role in SEO.
Michiel Heijmans, of SEO company Yoast, writes about the importance of linking to outside sources:
"By asking you to add that outbound link, we ask you to connect your website to the next website. And that website to the next website. By doing so, we create a web that expands and expands, from one related website to another. We help Google to connect the dots. We help Bing get insights on what pages are related to each other."
Of course, in the same way that overuse of keywords can lead to penalisation; it's important to keep links relevant and to implement them naturally within your content. As well as outbound linking, other good ways of connecting with content creators include guest posts or interviews, both great ways of associating your brand with the authority and influence of others within your particular field.
Though SEO, as a topic, can seem at times to be as complicated and elusive as the search engine algorithms themselves; content marketers have the ideal skillset for addressing the most fundamental questions posed by search engine optimisation.
In their 'Definitive Guide to SEO in 2019', the marketing blog Backlinko concludes that:
"Without amazing content, you'll never get links. And without link building, you won't crack the first page [and] if you're not on Google's first page, [other SEO considerations] like RankBrain, Voice Search, and the Mobile-first algorithm won't matter."
Simply thinking about the person on the other end of the search engine, and working to create engaging, relevant, and compelling content that responds to what they're looking for can go a long way to making you the reliable, connected resource that search engines are really looking for.