One of the most important, but most misunderstood marketing tools is content marketing. Many confuse it with off-site SEO, thinking that a content article’s main purpose is to serve as a wrapper for a backlink; and many confuse the popular “content is king” dictum and mistakenly take it for a call for large quantities of spam.
Content marketing is a strategy of creating high-quality, professional articles that adhere to journalistic standards, and would pass muster from any professional editor at a reputable media outlet like the New York Times. Content marketing articles should avoid self-promotion, should appear to be unbiased and vendor-neutral whenever possible, and should offer something original and meaningful to the reader. Articles that simply rewrite Wikipedia entries and existing Internet articles enough to pass Copyscape don’t offer value to readers – those types of articles are spam, and not legitimate content marketing.
Tip #1: Don’t think of it as just “content.”
The phrase “content” conjures up an impression of filler text and spam. You may hear from countless SEO gurus that you can hire “content writers” for a penny a word. What you will get for that price is a page full of words loosely based on a given topic, and mostly rewritten from other articles on the Web. In the very early days of the Web, when there weren’t that many websites and Google’s search algorithm wasn’t very sophisticated, it certainly was possible to throw together a poorly-written, semi-literate article filled with keywords and links, and rank on the first page of the Google SERPs. Those days are gone. Today, ranking on the Google SERPs requires articles that possess some level of professional, journalistic quality, and offer original thought leadership on your subject.
Tip #2: Strike a balance of on-site and off-site content.
Creating a steady stream of fresh, well-written content to appear directly on your website will engage your readers, and it also tells the search engine that you’re paying attention – and you’ll be rewarded with a higher ranking. But the best way to become a real thought leader is to be published on other sites as well, and a combination of content on your own site and on other legitimate sites is optimal. Writing an article (or being quoted in somebody else’s article) in a high-authority site also tells Google you’re paying attention. When seeking placements in third-party sites though, don’t go for “private blog networks” of websites that are created just for the purpose of SEO. By the same token, there are also plenty of sites where you can sign up to be a contributor just by creating a username and password – in other words, anyone can contribute. Generally, if anyone can contribute, quality is low – and even if domain authority is high, the site should not be part of your strategy. You want to be published in places that are a little more discriminating in who they allow to publish.
Tip #3: Content articles aren’t just wrappers for backlinks.
There are several reasons for publishing articles in third-party sites. One of those reasons is to create backlinks, which increase your Google rank, but too many people get lost in the backlink push and neglect the other equally important reasons for publishing. First and foremost, being published in a mainstream media outlet makes you a thought leader and an authoritative source, and regardless of whether there is a backlink, that fact makes you attractive to potential customers. Second, even if there is no backlink, the brand mention alone will also factor into the search engine score. By the same token, don’t get too caught up in the “do-follow” imperative. Naturally, you want to have a lot of do-follow links pointing back to your website, but if every single link is a do-follow link, Google may think you’re just gaming the system instead of really sharing your insights. If there’s an article with a no-follow link to your site, that doesn’t mean Google doesn’t know it exists, it just means it doesn’t give you link juice (but it does give you brand mention keyword juice). It’s good to have a mix, and a high-profile, widely read site with no-follow links is still worthwhile to include in your target list.
Tip #4: Understand “brand journalism.”
Brand journalism is content marketing ratcheted up a notch. Brand journalism is the creation of high-quality articles that adhere to normal journalistic standards, which would be acceptable to most professional editors, and published on either mainstream third-party sites that have editorial review processes, or a publication of your own creation which, while obviously sponsored by you, remains vendor-neutral and not self-promotional and instead serves as a legitimate news outlet for features that are related to your line of business.
Tip #5: Separate content marketing from SEO.
Many companies relegate the content marketing function to their SEO contractor, and the SEO contractor readily takes it on. However, SEO and content marketing are vastly different functions, and most SEO contractors are not equipped to provide the type of quality that is required for true content marketing, nor do they possess the editorial connections necessary to place your articles in mainstream news and feature outlets. Content marketing is more closely related to the public relations function. While SEO deals in hard metrics and sees success measured in the quantity of links, legitimate content marketers measure success by the quality and originality of the articles, the extent of thought leadership portrayed, and how many articles can make it past the editorial review process. While SEO may use tactics like submit-and-post websites and private blog networks just to ramp up the numbers, content marketers will typically enjoy fewer placements, but the quality of those placements will be far more valuable.