From SMX and SES to the latest Webmaster video from Cutts, March's content marketing insights on graphics and SEO can regine your strategy.

The end of March marked the end of the first business quarter of 2013, but this year’s content marketing evolution is just getting started. Last month’s biggest content headlines make clear that audiences expect more interactive media from brands and search engines, meaning companies must raise the stakes for SEO content. From expert insights at some of the leading search marketing conferences to fresh data, March’s content marketing buzz can be used to update your strategy in Q2 2013 and beyond.   

Give the people what they want: ‘Pretty content’

Your site might have more user interaction, time on site, conversions – all that stuff – because it’s prettier. We see that better design can help people use and enjoy your site more.

– Matt Cutts

At the start of 2013, some marketers thought infographics were a flash in the pan, but it’s increasingly clear that visual content is here to stay. 2012 saw infographics as one of the fastest rising content types on the web, with adoption growing 1.5-fold, but there were some questions about graphics’ SEO and long-term viability as the year came to a close.

In a March Webmaster Central video, Cutts confirmed what a lot of us already know – people like pretty content. It’s something Google recognizes as a common trait among sites with good interaction metrics and conversions. Cutts wasn’t just referring to images and infographics, but also to site designs and visuals that create intuitive user pathways, as well as fonts and formatting to make text look more digestible.

What does this mean for your strategy?

When you’re publishing long-form content, use subheads to break the information apart and avoid overwhelming readers with a block of text. Subheads are also great opportunities for natural keyword inclusion.

Pretty content - format long-form content

And don’t shy away from infographics, custom CTA buttons or other visual content and website enhancements. Just make sure your graphics are editorially relevant and supported by accompanying text for SEO. (Check out Brafton’s related white paper for tips on creating branded graphics that enhance search and social visibility.) More, Brafton reported in a content recap from earlier this year that video content is one of the biggest ROI-drivers. Introducing interactive visual media into the mix can deliver results.

Even though Cutts said marketers can’t depend on Google to do optical character recognition at this point, pretty content can hold the key to great user experiences, and that’s what search engines strive to reward.

Penguin is coming – and content is linkbuilding

Matt Cutts SMX West

Speaking of rewarding UX with SEO, at this month’s Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies conferences, representatives from Google and Bing confirmed that links will be more closely monitored by the leading search engines, and great, shareable content is the best way to get beneficial links. Although both Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester confirmed that social won’t replace links for SEO any time soon, they noted the correlation between good links and shared content.

Cutts also hinted that the next Penguin iteration will be stronger than the past versions. Brafton has reported evidence that each iteration of Penguin is getting better at identifying spam links on websites, moving from penalties for sites that were 80 percent spam to closer to 50 percent spam.

At SMX, Cutts said there would be a Penguin update in 2013 that would be the biggest algorithm change of the year.

What does this mean for your strategy?

The best strategy brands can adopt for good link building is creating user-focused website content. At SMX, Forrester said, “If you nail your content and usability, you don’t have to do link building. Let it come naturally because your content is awesome.” Companies should also review their link portfolios and take action against any paid links or unsolicited spam links pointing at their site.

“If you nail your content and usability, you don’t have to do link building. Let it come naturally because your content is awesome.” – Bing’s Duane Forrester

The moment is ripe to set up your content Authorship

Another big trend at last month’s SMX and SES conferences was Google Authorship. Content marketers wanted to know about the SEO implications of adding Authors to their sites. Matt Cutts made clear that Google will care more about identity and social reputation for rankings over time. Plus, authorship gives you a picture next to your content and we know people click more when they see images.

While Bing doesn’t have the same kind of Authorship, it launched a new feature last month that puts images next to search results. The feature is still being tested, but it seems the images sometimes show authors, sometimes subjects, of content.

What does this mean for your strategy?

It’s appropriate to start thinking about how you’ll incorporate Authorship across your website. Marketers are often concerned about giving employees too much visibility – but the credibility (and potential SEO value) a well-regarded Author lends a page doesn’t go away if he or she leaves a company. Currently, brands can’t be listed as an author, nor can authorship be shared by multiple players, like two co-writers for an article or a script writer and video producer on a video page. Still, Cutts said Google is considering “umbrella” authorship features. Content marketers should explore the best avenues for setting up their website authorship now – before it’s critical to SEO.

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.