Setting the Scene
I once read an article in 2010 from an offshore cheap as chips ‘SEO firm’ that had been hired by the company I worked for at the time. The task that they were set (and not by me) was to produce content around the keyword term ‘step ladders’. More specifically, their objective was to produce content around the type of steps ladders that the company was selling.
It may have only been a 300-word article but I felt as if my reading ability had taken a massive step back and diminished to the level it was when I was actually learning how to read! I think deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics would have been a much easier task. Needless to say this content was the most incomprehensible and utter piece of rubbish I had ever laid eyes on. It had obviously not been produced for the target customer, but rather to manipulate search engine results. Between the vast amount of short hyperlinked keyword phrases, the article mentioned everything else in the world other than the step ladders themselves. If this article was in print it would not have even been fit for purpose as my Friday night fish and chip paper.
Looking back, it really does beg the question as to why webmasters allowed themselves to have those type of articles associated with their brands only online asset. Yet back in the day that’s what aggressive SEO’s did, and they did so on a large scale and at a rapid pace.
I don’t call SEOs’ back in those days’ digital marketers as the principle of being a marketer is to focus on the needs and wants of the target customer and present them with a tailored value proposition. Focusing on manipulating the search engines through jargon sentences and spammy backlinks does not address either of those two points.
As I have said many times before, SEO was founded on the flaws of the mathematical equations that drove search results. It was a cat and mouse game between the technically minded SEO’er and Google’s user experience team.
Present Day Content Marketing
Fast forward seven years and what was once the underultilized SEO tactic of producing quality content for the user, has now become our primary focus for improving how we position ourselves online organically.
We are continually getting better at producing quality content year on year, and as a result we are seeing more rewards than we are penalties when it comes to our ranking results. Nowadays the focus is solely on the target customer and not on the search engines. In fact, it’s by having that mindset, that B2Cers states that 64% of B2B content marketers are “much more” or “somewhat more” effective in their content marketing effort verses the 30% rise we saw the year before. Typically, we attribute content marketing towards blogging, video and infographics. However, content producers, especially those within larger brands, are finding new ways to be creative with their content in order to break through the noise. This as well as being more focused on who we are targeting through niche groups, is what is driving our content to be more effective.
If you are still not in the mindset of producing quality content through proper journalistic or creative channels then your online presence will start to diminish gradually. Even worse, if you are looking at farming out your SEO to an offshore firm in the hope of saving some cash, you’ll soon find yourself not ranking at all. Many of these offshore firms are still stuck in the past and when it comes to content they lack the in-house expertise. Just like running a call centre, their main drive is still on making money with cheap client packages. Many of these pirate firms still produce articles like I experienced back in 2010 for companies that have no previous SEO or digital marketing experience.
Anyone that continues the practice of producing poor, unreadable content with heavy backlinks in-house, is also the type of person that could literally shoot themselves in the foot. More worryingly for those businesses with a ruthless competitor, that type of person (not in their employment) may more likely be corporate saboteur of the SEO industry - need I say more?
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Google Panda – It’s Not Cute & Fluffy
But what is quality content? How do we produce or test content to see if it is good enough to help us improve and grow?
The change in practice in how we utilise content for our website is solely attributed to Google’s Panda update that was released back in February 2011. Initially designed as a filter to reorder search results, its purpose was to improve the quality of the content that search engines presented to its users. Named after the Google engineer Navneet Panda, the algorithm’s purpose stemmed (pun intended) from the simplest of concepts. A point based system that meant content that was highly relevant and of a good quality achieved a higher score and therefore ranked higher in the search results.
Six years later and the Panda update no longer just reorders our search results as it was once intended to. Instead it has evolved into an algorithmic fundamental and in 2016 it essentially became a part of Google’s core ranking algorithm alongside hundreds of other of ranking signals. Unfortunately, such signals are always kept close to Google’s chest, and therefore for many digital marketers and webmasters its more of a gut feeling or educated guess when it comes to determining whether content is fit for purpose. However, it’s fair to say that currently the popular and prefixing term ‘unique’, now acts as a major guiding principal when considering how we can at least start to generate quality content.
The 6 Steps to Auditing Your Content
The 6 steps below are guiding steps to aid you in your content marketing effort. Whether you are producing articles for your blog or you are posting products that many other retailers are selling, keep these 6 steps in the back of your mind. For those with existing content start by using these steps to carry out an audit of your contents quality and purpose.
Step 1. Getting a Full List of Your Websites Pages (Crawl)
To gauge the extent of your poor, thin or duplicated content issues, you will need to extract all the pages of your website either manually or by using one of many SEO software tools available on the web. How you deal with your content depends largely on your website’s size, your industry and the weight your website holds as a revenue generator.
Small websites may end up dealing with poor content by editing or adding more value to what is already there as they cannot justify deleting it. Whereas larger websites can simply weed out and remove the content or delete the page or section entirely without any repercussions.
Step 2. Check for Thin Content
The more relevant content you have on a page the more you are telling the user and the search engine what that page is about. Not enough unique content or content overall and you have what is known as ‘thin content’. Rule of thumb is at least 250 words per product page or 500 words if you are writing an article. Although again, this an educated guess amongst SEO’s and is entirely dependent on your level of competition and your industry.
Step 3. Check for Duplicated Content
Copying and pasting an article or product description from another site, although easier, initially doesn’t help any website in the long run. Doing so removes that ‘unique’ element that we hold dear to the concept of producing quality content. Duplicated content is considered automated, low quality content. Therefore, don’t do it!
Step 4. Check for Aggregated Content
This goes hand in hand with how ‘unique’ our content is. Does your content repeat what is already being said elsewhere on the web? If you find value in someone else’s’ content and you want to repurpose it, you will need to add you own ‘Je ne sais quoi’. An example would be taking an article and turning it into an infographic or talking about a topic in your own words.
Step 5. Check for Proper Keyword Usages
With this step keep in mind less is more. We no longer want our page copy to have a high density of hyperlinked keywords in order to produce something that we think will help us rank well. Write for the reader and not for the search engines. Use of keywords need to be natural and if that means you only get to mention your targeted keyword 3 times in every 1000 words then so be it. SEO is a slow burner and not something we can rush.
Step 6. Check for User Engagement Metrics
One of the biggest pains in the side when it comes to content and on-site user metrics are unnecessarily high bounce rates. A user can come to a website and spend five or six minutes reading an informative and engaging article only click back once finished. Sadly, this type of behaviour can show 100% bounce rate if no other interactions are made on your website. As any digital marketer knows, the emphasis is on improving user metrics through identifying user intent and then presenting that user with the appropriate and relevant ways to continue on through your website. Known as user experience modelling and conversion rate optimisation, you should look at pages that have a high bounce rate and identify ways in which you can reduce them. Two commons suggestions that are regularly made are to either improve content or add in prominent call-to actions.
Hopefully all the above goes some way in helping you with your content marketing strategy for 2017. If you have enjoyed reading this article and would like to discuss a content marketing strategy for your website or business, please get in touch.