Vincent Donley

When I ask marketers about their goals for their sites, the answers vary depending on their industries. I often find marketers with retail sites want SEO in order to become accessible and drive sales, technology solution providers are looking to gain visibility so they can utilize sites as a lead generation tool and others, such as marketers at environmental agencies, are primarily looking to be positioned as online resource centers to gain subscribers or customers. The goals may vary, but the solution remains the same: provide fresh and informative content that is keyword rich to engage your audience.

For businesses that want SEO, I consistently tell them they need search-optimized, quality content. For those that want thought leadership, I consistently tell them (you guessed it) they need search-optimized, quality content. The current online marketing climate necessitates marketers who want SEO results to publish niche content, and marketers who want to be known for their authoritative resources need to make sure content is optimized to standout in search and social channels across the increasingly cluttered web.

What I hear from my clients is that this is much easier said than done. When it comes to the hurdles they face, you name it I’ve heard it. Marketers struggle to write fresh and unique content, to optimize every piece of content that goes live on their site and – often – to make their SEO/ thought leadership/ content strategy sustainable.

These hurdles must be tackled; failure to do so ends in your competitors’ favor.  Whether you work it out in-house or decide it’s time to call in the experts and work with agencies for content marketing (the subject of a recent Brafton blog), steps must be taken to overcome your content issues. Otherwise, competing businesses will outrank you and win over your prospects with compelling information that your site and social pages lack.

If you’re still not sure content marketing is the solution to your SEO and thought leadership woes, let’s explore how it addresses each of these needs. With Google rewarding sites with fresh and relevant content, the search giant is making the requirements very black and white…better known as Panda.

Panda and the importance of content for SEO

In January of this year, Google reaffirmed the importance of timely, fresh and relevant content. Google’s Panda, which is up to version 2.5, penalizes sites with duplicate content or content that isn’t relevant to their audiences. After the first Panda update, Brafton reported that sites lacking content that balanced SEO with quality information saw rankings and keyword referrals plummet. Conversely, sites with fresh, exclusive and niche content saw gains in terms of indexed pages, organic traffic and – often – rankings. One of the winners we explored was a niche ecommerce site that beat out shallow SEO pages from larger sites by offering high-quality, industry-specific information in an SEO-friendly format. The content was centered on its products (“drywall paint,” in particular).

Utilizing your keywords organically in the content builds up your site’s keyword density. This attracts more visits from search engine spiders and (when done right) can lead to overall better rankings in SERPs. Google is on to keyword stuffing, so SEO best practices that improve users’ experience of your site are a must.
Steady traffic through Panda
Here’s an example of a business in the B2B cloud computing sector with steady organic traffic levels through the first killer Panda update – in fact, it claimed some non-paid search traffic gains toward the end of February after Panda rolled out. The site publishes multiple, search-friendly industry news articles each day. Its SEO viability is clear as it gained keyword search referrals throughout the launch of Panda. The number of organic referring keywords to the site in February represented a 14 percent increase over the number of referring keywords it had in January.

Brafton has reported other cases where fresh content helped sites gain (or regain) organic search traffic post-Panda. But marketers shouldn’t forget that even pre-Panda, major search engines have been working to promote quality content in search rankings. (For more, check out Brafton’s infographic: Why Content for SEO?)

Bing is equally adamant about giving search visibility to high-quality results, though Google’s Panda undeniably places a premium on top-notch content – and not just any content, but content that is clearly marked via SEO as being relevant to searchers’ specific queries. Brafton has reported that being a niche authority is the No.1 factor correlating to top results in Google News, and Google’s Matt Cutts has suggested that brands that want to see SEO results should focus on becoming authorities in their niches… which brings us to our next point.

If you’re going about your content marketing(L) strategy effectively, you’re not only driving more traffic and separating yourself from your competition in terms of visibility, you’re also establishing yourself as a thought leader.

Effective content marketing and thought leadership

Before we can understand the relationship between content marketing and thought leadership, we need to understand the concept of being a thought leader. This is a person or entity recognized as a credible authority on a niche topic. Thought leadership requires businesses to communicate with and engage current and potential customers. While you can demonstrate thought leadership with your charm and quick (verbal) answers when you’re at an in-person event or on the phone, the way to do it online is by (frequently) publishing useful content. This can range from insightful blog posts to how-to videos (supported by on-page text for SEO); from info-rich white papers to short, breaking news stories.

There are many benefits to being recognized as a thought leader by online audiences – from improved SEO to brand recognition and repeat traffic. When your company is a thought leader, visitors will likely stay on your site for longer periods of time. You can drive them to other web pages through internal linking, which increases the interaction metrics (and further contributes to SEO success). You might be worried that integrating SEO into your thought leadership marketing will detract from the information’s value, but in reality, good content marketing should include keywords and on-site optimization that attracts (rather than alienates) your audience. It makes it easy for people to find the resources you’re providing.

Google principal engineer Matt Cutts recently addressed this issue when he answered the question “Is SEO spam?” in a Webmaster Help YouTube video. He explained that useful information positioned with the right keywords is good for search engines and users.

Another way search-optimized content can be leveraged for thought leadership is distribution across social platforms. Sharing useful content helps your business gain loyal Facebook fans or become added to Twitter Lists. Traffic driven from social media is frequently the kind that is engaged and relevant and will stay on the site longer, come back more frequently and convert.

Twitter Visits The same B2B business referenced above shares its news headlines to its Twitter feed. In the past two months, Twitter has been a leading referral site for the business, driving highly relevant, valuable traffic. Twitter visitors tend to stay on the site 61 percent longer than the average visitor, and they view 154 percent more pages than average. (Did I mention the site has a solid internal linking strategy?) Plus, Google Analytics indicate the percentage of these Twitter visitors who are new site visitors is lower than the overall share of new visitors to the site overall, meaning Twitter drives more repeat traffic.

Social users will repost your articles and drive your brand marketing in social media channels – but you have to make sure it’s easy for them to discover the content in the increasingly search-friendly social spaces. (Twitter and Facebook are continuously evolving new search capabilities that make it easy for users to find categorized content on the sites). Plus, positive social sharing metrics can make your content more visible to logged-in searchers, which means you should be adding social sharing buttons to your content pages to create advocates who will sing praises of your thought leadership and help boost SEO.

In summary, content is king.  While this is a phrase all marketing professionals have likely heard, the fact of the matter is that more than half of the prospects I talk to in a marketing role don’t even have a clue as to why content marketing is crucial to a business’ online success. They want to gain more organic traffic and/or be thought leaders, yet have no content marketing in place to position themselves for success. Content is necessary for these ends, and compelling content that generates demand for your products/ services/ expertise can transform a visitor into a customer.