“I don’t do link building, but when I do, I call it content marketing,” joked Laura Lippay as she kicked off the SES New York session, Content Marketing: How to Earn Visibility & Links through Killer Content Strategy. The problem, she said, is that a lot of SEO marketers who are on board with content for search optimization aren’t targeting the right goals for content creation. Too many brands are focusing on content as a means to a keyword end, without realizing that targeting audiences is what drives real SEO (and overall marketing) success. Lippay, CEO of SEOgadget, and Shari Thurow, SEO director of Omniture, shared insights on using content to create connected and successful web experiences for audiences that search engines will reward.

What’s content marketing versus link building? “Content marketing is marketing, link building is manipulation,” said Lippay.

The new SEO: Content that’s all about your audience

Content marketing is whatever is the most pertinent to YOUR audience. This might be articles, blogs, infographics or any number of formats (Brafton has reported the average website uses 12). Instead of thinking about what is best for winning links, Lippay said content should fit the format your audience wants.

Links have traditionally been votes for websites in SERPs (and Matt Cutts recently confirmed that links will continue to be a valuable ranking factor.) At the same time, Lippay reminded marketers that content is a brand’s road to becoming popular – and popularity signals are increasingly important votes for websites. She pointed to the classic 1984 commercial where Clara asks, “Where’s the beef?” This is still popular today because it directly speaks to an audience that wants something (red meat), while presenting a personable figure in Clara.

Here’s Lippay’s formular for real content marketing for SEO:

Meet audience need + Evoke emotion = Shares, links, popularity, #winning

Discovering audiences’ needs and networks… real link bait

Lippay suggested that marketers’ first step is discovering where their audiences are active on the web. Know where users are active, then do the needed recon on what they’re talking about.

Chances are, audiences will be active on other content-driven sites. Lippay advised brands to collaborate with publishers to spread the word about their content. This only works if companies are investing in real content for their users – publishers don’t want a pre-made article that can be dropped anywhere online. (Matt Cutts has offered similar advice on the downside of guest blogging: Don’t produce the same article over and over across the web!). Lippay recommended brands pitch a few ideas before creating content without knowing how to tailor their media to what publishers want.

Then, it’s time to get creative and publish something in a place where audiences are already active online.

Nine steps to successful content marketing

Lippay provided a quick guide to content marketing (although no successful content marketing strategy should be put together hastily! )

 “Content marketing is marketing, link building is manipulation.” – Lippay

  1. Know your target and goals
  2. Know where they are online
  3. Craft ideas
  4. Get creative
  5. Pre-promote
  6. Collaborate with publishers
  7. Publish
  8. Post-promote
  9. Follow up with citations

Ultimately, she called on attendees to, “help us turn the industry around!” SEO has an opportunity to provide real user value – it’s all in the content. Up next, Thurow explained the characteristics of killer content … and why linking should start on a brand’s own website.

Characteristics of killer content

“A lot of site owners think content marketing starts after they’ve built a site, but it begins when you’re setting up your website,” said Thurow. Much like Matt Cutts’ recent declarations that SXO – search experience optimization – counts for SEO, Thurow explained that the “connected” element of content impacts success on the web.

She offered insights on how to create killer content before setting fingers to keyboard. 

“No matter how beautiful or creative your content is, if the information isn’t there, it’s irrelevant.” – Thurow


1. Content must contain words and phrases that users/searchers type into search queries.

This may sound intuitive, but it goes beyond keyword inclusion. She explained the “scent of information” as critical to content success. “People will click to the information that matches the query they want – the answer they seek.” She advised brands to run an expectancy test: What do users expect to see when they click on links?

“No matter how beautiful or creative your content is, if the information isn’t there, it’s irrelevant.”

2. Information architecture: The design that impacts user experience.

At a basic level, is your site usable? Is the information easy to find, not only from SERPs, but also when users arrive at your site? “Findable content is key – you can’t use what you can’t find!”

3. Technical architecture … which comes after information architecture.

Tech architecture refers to the hardware and software used for serving web content. (Hardware including: serving computers, routers, networks, caches, load balancers. Software including: protocols, programs, databases.) It may be back-end, but this still impacts how users interact with site content.

4. Link development and social signals.

“Findable content is key – you can’t use what you can’t find!” – Thurow

While Thurow pointed out that links aren’t an end in themselves (don’t go buying them!), the number and quality of objective third-party links pointing to a URL is important in content marketing. “Link building will adapt,” she said. She referred to Matt Cutts’ statement at SMX about how links are still key, and Authorship will become more important. How can brands prepare for Authorship? Focus on quality! While some SMX experts suggested business owners should network offline to get online love (a strategy that Thurow conceded is useful), she emphasized that quality, original content is most important. “Scholars don’t cite each other because they’re friends – they cite each other because they have something important to say.” she said.

5. Respond to searcher goals and behaviors.

Thurow then launched into an in-depth overview on the types of content that can best answer different user queries …

Three types of queries content must answer

All queries fall into informational, navigational or transactional buckets, said Thurow. It’s important to cater to all of these audiences.

1. Informational queries: These ask direct questions, and look for direct responses.

If people search “Best …,” they want information. She suggested marketers add lists to their content agenda – even create SlideShare docs or on-site slideshows that answer “Best” queries in Lists. Another common info query revolves around the FAQ. Focus on how-to’s, blog posts, articles and other instructional content that can answer the informational query.

2. Navigational queries: People want to go to the website when they type a navigational search term into Google or Bing.

It’s important to rank for your brand terms! Also, test your sitelinks – she reported a 33 percent increase in clicks for navigational terms when the right site links are included in SERPs. Another idea: Search for your brand name. Are your most important pages ranking first? If not, beef them up.

Another interpretation of navigational queries: These searches may have local intent and reflect people looking for nearby stores.

To appeal to these shoppers:

  • Add a “browse stores by state” on your site.
  • Give people a map of all locations directly on a consumer-facing site.
  • Build a find a store feature – and make sure the URL reveals people can find a store nearby.
  • Add a simple picture of your storefronts on related landing pages – let people see where they’re going so they know what to look for when they hit the streets.

3. Transactional queries: These are ready-to-buy searches – a small fraction of overall searches …

“Don’t make crappy content and expect miracles.” – Thurow

Overall, every company should have linkable assets internal to its site, Thurow explained. “It may be a tough pill to swallow, but link development begins at the information architecture stage.”

A final thought for marketers: “Don’t make crappy content and expect miracles,” said Thurow.

Stay tuned for more SES NY content coverage from Brafton.