“At no other time in history have we produced such crappy content and expected it to meet marketing goals,” said SMX East speaker and CEO of SuccessWorks, Heather Lloyd-Martin. Speaking at the conference’s “Panda-proofing Your Content” session, Lloyd-Martin and other speakers described the need to invest in quality and competitive content in the post-Panda searchscape.

Lloyd-Martin started her presentation by referencing a Brafton news article, which featured the statistic that 57 percent of marketers say they have acquired customers through their blogs. Content, she suggested, is how you can engage and convert visitors on the web – it’s something that’s essential for successful sites, with SEO ranking in a post-Panda searchscape being one of many benefits.

For businesses looking to boost their content marketing efforts for optimal search success, here are some key takeaways from the SMX panelists:

Clean up your existing content.

Chris Silver Smith, director of optimization strategies for KeyRelevance, gave a tip that may not be totally new (marketers have been talking about the need to clean site’s of low-quality content consistently since Panda rolled out – including at SMX Advanced Seattle …). But he did share some insight on site cleansing that presents a fresh perspective.

Of course, Smith advised, go through sites and eliminate the usual suspects: pages with excessive grammatical errors, pages with factual errors and abundant ads. He also encourages marketers to play close attention to the comment forums and remove spam posts that might hurt the overall page quality. Additionally, he suggested that some of his clients have seen success by streamlining their pages. “Keyword term variation pages are targeted by Panda,” he reminded marketers, indicating that it’s best to combine similar pages into a single, richer information page for site visitors.

Test for usability.

Smith’s tips on cleaning low-quality pages related to his broader Panda-proof theme of testing sites for usability. Interaction metrics as SEO ranking signals is an increasingly hot topic in the search (and content) marketing community, and Smith advises that one basic way of boosting your chances of good site engagement is ensuring that site content is easy to navigate.

“Without usability, you’re not doing SEO,” he said.

He encouraged marketers to search their sites for error pages and remove these vestigial or empty pages. “No indexing” may not be enough as you don’t want site visitors to land on them and have a bad experience. Marketers should also monitor how many clicks it takes for users to get to key information pages. Fewer necessary clicks will probably encourage people to click-through and stay on a site longer, which may be good for SEO – as Brafton has reported, Google’s Amit Singhal has said:

“…(we) often measure whether users click the ‘back’ button quickly after visiting a search result, which might indicate a lack of satisfaction with the site.”

Fewer clicks are good interaction and something for the SEO checklist. Plus, marketers should remember that on the user side, it means people are engaging your site – and the benefits of this go beyond SEO. Reducing the number of clicks across content it takes for users to get to key info pages will likely bring them closer to conversion pages. And how can you determine what type of info pages will best engage audiences and make a few clicks worthwhile?

Do a peer analysis to see what works in your industry.

Site comparisons for SEO content ideas.

SMX presenter Horst Joepen, CEO of Searchmetrics, advised marketers that a key way to identify the type of content that will both engage readers and survive in the post-Panda searchscape is to conduct competitive analysis. There are a variety of free SEO tools that will allow marketers to compare different URLs to see which competitors are performing the best in terms of SEO. Then, they can then focus on the content being offered by top performing competitors. When assessing top competitive SEO performers, Joepen encouraged marketers to:

  • Compare backlink structures
  • Compare AdSense and Affiliate load
  • Compare user experience
  • Compare content of competitive domains – Blog posts? Webinars? News articles? [What drives engagement? What topics do prospects want to know about?]
  • Compare social network usage [Where are they distributing content and is social boosting SEO?]

When marketers see examples of what works in their industries, they can reverse engineer the content strategies they implement on their own sites.

Set a strategy for prospect optimization. 

Something Joepen predicted a lot of businesses would upon assessing competitor SEO pitfalls and success is that content on sites that fail was (or is) created purely for engines. Lloyd-Martin spoke about this as well. She said it’s important that marketers stop asking, “What does Google want?” when creating content campaigns. Instead, they should be focusing on what readers want to know.

Creating good content can be tricky – as Lloyd-Martin said, it’s difficult to define quality content, but “you know it when you see it.” And good content can be different for different audiences (which is why Joepen’s competitive analysis can offer insight on what works in specific industries). Brafton has reported the need for appropriately targeting content for campaign success, with overt branding or selling potentially turning site visitors away.

Instead of honing in on search optimization, Lloyd-Martin encouraged marketers to zone in on prospect optimization by working around issues that will produce search friendliness as a byproduct. She encouraged marketers to use the following parameters to set their audience-targeting strategy:

  • Keyphrase research: What are your customers interested in reading?
  • Customer questions: What are some frequently asked questions that you can answer?
  • Sales funnel: What content do you need to inform prospects about your products or services throughout the sales cycle?
  • What stories can you tell about your product or services?

By taking this approach to content, Lloyd-Martin reminded marketers they might need cross-department collaboration. By getting everyone involved in SEO content ideas, marketers can better identify consumers’ needs as different business players encounter them. She went on to point out that just because an IT worker realizes consumers need to know about, say, integration best practices, this doesn’t mean someone without an editorial background should be writing the content. Instead, she said content writers should be put in charge of the writing – whether in-house or outsourced – and they can collaborate with department members as needed.

Set a publication calendar.

Once topics for an SEO content strategy are in mind, the next step to Panda-proof content marketing is creating an editorial calendar that will ensure consistent and quality publications. “When you create a plan, content becomes much easier,” Lloyd-Martin said. A calendar will keep businesses on track for consistent publication.editorial calendar

There are many SEO benefits from consistent content publication. As Smith pointed out in the session, it’s increasingly important to position a site as an authority, and frequent updates about industry developments are a good way to lend credibility to a brand. Plus, updates keep site visitors coming back. There were several mentions at SMX East – as well as at former online marketing conferences – about the value of news content marketing in demonstrating thought leadership and continuously bringing search crawlers back to a site.

Lloyd-Martin pointed out that setting a calendar will allow for different types of content to be published in tandem and keep marketers accountable for maintaining their content strategies…. which brings us to the panelists’ suggestion for ongoing content.

“Watchdog” the quality.

Google has said repeatedly that the Panda update (and it’s general mission) serves to promote quality content on the web. Brafton has also covered this topic extensively, pointing out that a Google Webmaster Central blog offers marketers the SEO tip of focusing on content quality.

The SMX panelists agreed that it’s important to consistently read, re-read and assess the site content being published. In addition to getting human perspective on whether or not content is up-to-snuff, they pointed out that the continuous Panda updates serve as refinements to which content really measures up in Google’s algorithmic mind. If team members are consistently monitoring content, it will be easy to see patterns in what Google rewards and what doesn’t work as well throughout future updates.

Marketers interested in more industry insight on Panda-proof content can check out our related articles and case studies:

Five SEO tips from SMX Advanced on surviving/recovering from Google’s Panda: Part 1

Five SEO tips from SMX Advanced on surviving/recovering from Google’s Panda: Part 2

Six (post-Panda) content marketing tips from ad:tech San Francisco: Part 1

Six (post-Panda) content marketing tips from ad:tech San Francisco: Part 2

Recovering from Google’s Panda updates, made simple