Google’s Panda algorithm has changed the game for digital marketers. Where once “SEO” was the buzzword of the day, “content strategy” now reigns supreme. With the recent release of Panda 4.1, content is — or should be — the prime focus of every small and mid-sized business’s marketing efforts in 2015. If you are among the legions of SMBs online that don’t know what content strategy is, welcome to a much-needed crash course.
Put simply, people don’t want bold-faced advertisements, they want stories. This is the foundation of content marketing, which should be a pillar in your marketing platform. Today’s consumers are not just connected, they’re engaged. To keep your target audience engaged with your business, your main priority should always be to write compelling content about the things that interest them.
Of course, SEO is still important, but it should not be your main focus. Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, says, “Think of SEO this way: If a customer-focused content marketing program is the sandwich, then SEO is the mayonnaise. It touches nearly everything and enhances the overall flavour of the sandwich, but on it’s [sic] own, it’s not very appetizing.”
Now that Google has rolled out Panda 4.1, SEO is no longer a sure-fire route to visibility through organic search. In fact, one of the indicators of spam content for this latest algorithm is “keyword stuffing.” SEO without meaningful content to support it will not only get you penalized by Google, it will, more importantly, lose you your audience.
The number one goal of content marketing is to reach your customers on an emotional level. It’s a way to strengthen your brand, but indirectly. Your website’s visitors, the customers that are loyal to your brand — well, they actually think. They feel; they question and learn. They want to know that you do, too.
Sean Si of SEO Hacker explains the revolving influence of SEO and content strategy on your brand: “[Branding] does not affect SEO and rankings directly but goes through the human emotional filter. Once it passes and makes a strong emotional connection to the person who’s reading your content, your brand has stuck – resulting in an indirect effect in your SEO and rankings.”
Unfortunately, too many marketers underestimate the value of the emotional connection that content offers. Instead, it is treated as a traffic booster, and the emphasis on quantity is valued over quality. Inevitably this leads to content spamming, which is the very thing Panda 4.1 targets. Content deemed “thin,” or of little value, duplicate and machine-generated (spun) content, and riddled with images and affiliate links is penalized as negatively affecting the user experience.
Michael Martinez of SEO Theory says that the best way to identify if your content is considered spam is to ask yourself:
- is it only there to provide context for advertisements, a lead generating form, or promotional links?
- is it only there to serve as a place holder on your site and to generate a bit of traffic?
Panda is not your business’s enemy. Think of it as your target audience’s friend. Going into 2015, you will want to work with Panda to engage potential customers. Content marketing firm Skyword gives the following suggestions for overhauling your content strategy for 2015.
- Above all, provide value. The message your content delivers should not be about your business and your products. Through your content, you are establishing trust. You’re giving potential customers the chance to get to know your business through the stories you write as an industry expert.
- Extend your voice by reaching out to industry peers, members within your organization, and even your corporate partners. Again, it’s about value, not brand. By sharing the digital microphone, you’re reinforcing with your audience that your organization is more than just the services and products it provides.
Content should not be thought of as a “quick win” tool the way SEO has come to be considered. In the end, SEO rankings, however they’re determined, are really about the user. Never forget that it is a real, live human being from whom you are trying to earn loyalty, patronage, purchases and — the holy grail of every SMB — digital word-of-mouth advertising.
Photo via Flickr user SumAll
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