Content is king in search engine optimization tactics
What’s a website without great content? It’s a site that’s of little interest to search engines and thus hard for customers—and potential customers—to find. Great content is critical for making your site discoverable to the world.

Let’s start by defining content. For our purposes, content is text on the page, videos with closed captioning or transcripts, downloadable files, blogs, and forums.

In the rest of this post, I’ll tell you what we mean by great content: content that ranks well in search returns and increases customer traffic. And which content attributes you should prioritize to improve search engine optimization (SEO).

1. Create original content that adds unique value

Original content might seem kind of obvious (like don’t copy someone else’s material), but there’s a nuance here. What I mean by original is writing about your product or offering in a way that it’s never been written about before. Throw away that boilerplate text—don’t repeat a single phrase that you’ve seen before.

Here’s an example of adding unique value that resonated with me. Far too many Facebook postings drive me nuts—but why? I hadn’t been able to figure that out. Then I found Tim Urban’s post, 7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook. An aha moment for me: he beautifully describes annoying Facebook posts in a way I’ve never seen before.  And even though we’re not talking about writing for Facebook, there are lessons here for all of us. Namely, be interesting or helpful. (Talking at length about yourself, your product, or your company is rarely either.)

Be creative. Be innovative. Be completely original. Find that new and compelling context that no one has described before—that’s the unique value.

Got a product? Talk about how someone accomplished something unique and exciting with it. Show really cool things created with it.

Better yet, tell an interesting story that ties into your product in some small way.

Here’s an example. A friend lost his phone in the Clark river. Six weeks later, someone called him to tell him they’d found it—and it still worked, thanks to its waterproof case. Isn’t that more interesting than just talking about the specifications of the waterproof phone case?

And here’s a tip from my favorite SEO pro: Search for content similar to what you’re trying to create—and then create something better.

2. Publish content that others want to link to

If you create content that is original and unique; helpful, informative, or amusing; and clear and clean (free of typos and grammatically correct), authoritative websites or bloggers with an interest in the subject are more likely to link to it. Publishing content that other credible sources link to is one of the most important things you can do to increase your ranking in search results.

When you publish a new piece of content, make sure all those credible sources know about it. Announce it on all of your channels—especially your social media channels—to help get eyes on it and links to it. (And, referring to that earlier note about insufferable posts, make that announcement interesting, helpful—even intriguing. Don’t just say “Hey, I wrote this article. Here’s a link.”)

3. Know your audience and speak their language

Research words and phrases your audience uses for your product and use them in your content. Don’t make assumptions. If you don’t use terms your audience uses when they’re looking for information on your product or offering, your content won’t be returned in their search results. This article provides some good tips on how to do keyword research for SEO.

Just as important is understanding searcher intent: what question are searchers trying to answer? What information are they trying to find?  Search engines are optimized to return searches that match a user’s intent—so that should be your goal in content, too. Here’s some good information on addressing user intent with your content strategy.

Search engines recognize synonyms and word variations, so you can write naturally about your product, using the full variety of terms that may apply, throughout your content.  For example, if you’re selling electronic books, you can write about electronic books, e-books, and digital books—if your audience uses any of these terms to search and your content contains them, there’s a good chance your content will show up in search results.

4. Write for usability to improve SEO

What’s good for usability is good for SEO.

One way to improve content usability is to divide content into sections which are separated by compelling headings that contain relevant keywords. Your audience can more easily scan your content, and search engines will respond to the keywords.

Another usability tip is to put your most important information first: readers may not get to the end of your content, so front-load the critical information. For example, in this post, the most important things you can do to improve SEO are at the beginning. So even if you didn’t get past the first couple of sections, you got the most important information.

5. Keep content fresh

This is especially important for a new site. Search engines favor sites that publish new content regularly—it means you’re paying attention and staying up to date.

Create an editorial calendar that supports serving up relevant content on a consistent basis. And update your home page frequently to keep it topical.

6. Blog regularly

Blogs give you a bit more topic flexibility than your regular website. You can post about things that you wouldn’t cover on your website, giving you a chance to talk to your audience about areas where your product can add value—and to potentially attract a bigger audience.  If you blog, create new posts on a regular basis—fresh content! And remember to be interesting, helpful or both.

In summary, develop original, one-of-a-kind content that others will want to link to, make sure it addresses audience intent, and keep it fresh.

Resources Online can help you plan, create, and publish content that brings visitors to your site—contact us today.

For more information:

Build a solid SEO foundation

Backlinks for SEO

Original content that adds unique value

Content matters for B2B customers

Content remains a critical tool for marketers. To help you understand which content can help you sell to your customers, we distilled key learnings from some recent surveys and studies on business-to-business (B2B) content.

Content matters in the sales cycle

Customers see your content long before they talk to you. Only 25 percent of buyers revealed their interest in a product or service to the vendor early in the sales cycle. More than half of the respondents in one survey said that they viewed at least three pieces of content before talking with a salesperson.

Savvy marketers have a strategy for producing content that targets specific phases in the sales cycle.

Customers prefer certain B2B content types

The studies we looked at included a variety of content types, from white papers and case studies to podcasts and webinars. Customers have their own preferences, so most content types are beneficial to some portion of your audience. But marketing budgets are limited. To get the most bang for your buck, studies show that you should focus on these types of content:

  • Blog posts
  • White papers
  • E-books
  • Product and datasheets
  • Infographics
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Interactive tools

Blog posts and white papers are widely read and frequently shared. Business customers report reading white papers frequently and at more points in the sales cycle. In a 2015 study, 83 percent of business buyers reported reading a white paper in the last year. Webinars took second place, followed by e-books, which 68 percent of buyers read.

Choosing the right content type is half the battle. It’s equally important to present each type of content when it’s most valuable.

When is B2B content consumed during the sales cycle?

Not all content is not effective at every point in the customer journey. The studies clearly show customer preference for different types of content at different stages. Based on our review, here’s when you should use each type of content:

Content type for each stage of the B2B customer journey

Like all of us, your customers are inundated with content and have limited time. So keep it short, especially in the earlier phases. The further that customers move down the funnel, the more time they are willing to invest in content. Mid-size business and enterprise customers consume more content than do small business customers, and decision-makers spend more time with content than do influencers.

How do people find and share B2B content?

Most business customers find content through search. If you want to make it to the consideration phase with your business customers, search engine optimization (SEO) is critical.

Sharing is also a powerful tool. If your content is compelling, readers share it through email and, less often, on social media. LinkedIn is the top social media site for content sharing, followed by Twitter. Provide an easy way for customers to share blog posts and other content using all three methods.

Interactive content is increasingly important

More and more companies are creating interactive content, such as SlideShares, calculators, and assessments, among others. Interactive content takes more time and money to develop, but it also helps you stand out from the crowd: customers perceive it as more valuable. According to the B2B Technology Content Survey Report, “Seventy-three percent say a high level of interactivity somewhat or greatly increases the influence of content.” And, according to the Demand Gen Report’s 2014 B2B Content Preferences Survey, “Buyers are increasingly relying on infographics, videos and other interactive content, such as ROI calculators and assessments, as they make their buying decisions.” Maybe that’s why marketers report moderate or high conversion rates for interactive content 70 percent of the time, versus only 36 percent of the time for passive content.

In the first two phases of the customer journey, you can use interactive content to help customers understand that they have a problem and that your product or service can be the solution. The key is to keep interactive tools general and helpful, while making customers aware of your product or solution. Also, give them a clear next step in their journey. Expect to see increasing uses of interactive content—and increased competition to develop new, more engaging and informative formats.

Most of all, be useful

Buyers want useful information that’s pertinent to their phase in the customer journey. In the early stages of the journey, they continue to report that too much content is marketing-focused and product-oriented, rather than general and helpful. Even further down the funnel, it’s important that your content stays informative and appropriately biased. Nobody expects a company to talk about its products or services without highlighting the strengths—but a pure marketing pitch is a big turn-off.

Not surprisingly, 97 percent of buyers gave more credence to peer reviews and user-generated content. Barring that, in the early stages, buyers prefer content that is backed up by research. So in the early stages, provide valuable information in a short, easy-to-digest manner. Keep it informative and useful, as you help prospects move through the sales cycle, increasing the product focus and level of detail at each stage.

And if you want help developing content or a content strategy for your company, reach out to us.

Picture Frame

Creating engaging content remains one of the biggest challenges for content marketers. Although quality writing is certainly key, you really need to start by picking the right topic. If you want to create content that interests and captures the attention of your customers—and benefits your business—look for the intersection between your products/services and customer queries.

Most marketers tend to write about their company, products, or services. That’s because, as a marketer, you want content that helps your business. You aren’t writing for fun.

It’s true that you might be able to draw tons of readers by writing about the hottest celebrities, but if you provide plumbing services or business intelligence tools, your posts about Justin Bieber probably aren’t going to get you sales.

The key is not to write about your business (most of the time, anyway). Instead, write about topics related to your business—topics that interest your clients and highlight your expertise.

Assuming that your content marketing efforts are focused on lead generation, moving potential customers toward a purchase, and supporting existing customers, identify topics by listing your company’s products and services. I find it easiest to list them in a matrix and then brainstorm from there.

Content Marketing Topics Table 1

Phases of the Customer Journey

Next, consider the phases that a customer goes through on the journey toward a purchase. (Some are more relevant than others for your customers, and you can add any that are specific to your business.)

  • Awareness of a problem, need, or opportunity. The customer realizes that she has a problem or an opportunity. Or maybe you need to help her realize that fact.
  • The search for a solution. The customer wants a solution to the problem or a way to take advantage of the opportunity, and he starts looking into the possibilities.
  • Comparison. The customer becomes aware that there are multiple products, companies, and solutions, and he is deciding which one to pick and why.
  • Validation. Your product, company, or service is a leading candidate in the customer’s mind, and she needs to validate that you are a good choice (and to be sure that there aren’t any showstoppers). In some cases, this happens before the customer actually makes a purchase. In others, it’s the final step before he contacts you to get a bid or to begin more formal, in-person discussions.

Add these phases as columns for your matrix.

Content Marketing Topics Table 2

Continuing the journey with customer-focused questions

Now, ask customer-focused questions to help fill in the table. This is where it gets tough. It’s why we often use personas at this stage and why people hire consultants to advise them. The trick is to try to forget the kind of business you are in and your specific role. Instead, put yourself in the customers’ shoes and ask, “What problem does my product or service solve?” “What need does it serve?” or “What opportunity can it offer?”

Then, for each product/service and each phase in the matrix, ask:

  • What triggers the customer to begin this phase? For example, which situations cause him to become aware that he has a problem or to begin actively searching for a solution?
  • What questions does the customer have about the problem, need, or potential solution at this stage? For example, if your product is a marketing automation tool, in the search phase, what questions do users typically have about the capabilities of automation tools?
  • What information might the customer be seeking, about both the problem and the solution, at this stage? What data do they want to see?
  • Who else is involved in the decision, and what information do they need? If your services or products are travel-related, who else might your target customers consult with or have to make arrangements with? If yours is a business-to-business (B2B) company, does the purchase require IT or management approval? What would these people need to know?
  • What information might help the customer to move from here to the next phase? Ultimately, you hope this lead will move on to the next phase. What information or tools can you provide to help them do that?

Content Marketing Topics Table 3

Paving the way with adjacent topics

Lastly, for lead generation, it’s also helpful to ask yourself, “What topics are related to my products and services which are also of interest to my target audience?” Take this blog post, for example. The service I’m focused on is “content marketing strategy,” which Resources Online provides. But I’ve identified adjacent topics of interest to content marketers, such as writing engaging content, creating good headlines, strategies for sharing content, and others. All of these topics are related to content strategy and are important to the audience I’m trying to attract.

Knowing my audience, I could even go broader. Content marketers often are “marketers” who have added content marketing to the mix. So any topic about marketing stands a good chance of attracting these folks (or those considering the profession) and would be fair game for me.

Add the adjacent topics to your matrix, with the product they pertain to. You can merge the phase cells for each row and use that space to include any additional information for the topic.

Content Marketing Topics Table 4

This matrix approach can really kick-start your list of topics to write about. Next, take the list and look at it from an authoring perspective and a search engine optimization (SEO) point of view, to identify themes and keywords. This allows you to build content pillars with subtopics, along with the queries and keywords to focus on. From there, you can plan out a full editorial calendar. You may even be able to write about Justin Bieber after all.

B2B Customer as a robotWhen you come into the office in the morning, do you put on your business hat and turn into a robot? No. And neither do your business customers. So why do we write web copy as though we are talking to one?

According to a recent study from CEB, emotion plays a bigger role in B2B purchase decisions than most marketers realize. Although business customers may be looking at vendors through the lens of their company, behind that lens is still a person. Remembering that you are writing for that person—rather than for a business—can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your content.

Does professional have to equal boring?

The same man who visited websites on Sunday researching cars is a sitting behind a desk on Monday researching cloud storage systems. The same woman who was looking into vacation packages for herself yesterday is looking into marketing automation tools for her company today.

The consumer websites that we view regularly on our non-work time are focused on captivating copy—often with a bit of humor—written concisely and presented in a friendly and approachable manner. Boring doesn’t cut it on a consumer website. Yet, when we put on our B2B writing hats, boring copy tends to be the standard.

Whether it’s a B2B or a B2C website, the fact remains that users make a “stay-or-go” decision within seconds. So the first job of website copy is to grab the users’ attention and keep them on the page. You stand a better chance of doing that if you apply techniques similar to those used for consumer websites. That means an aesthetically pleasing webpage with reduced text, written in an informal tone.

Make your copy engaging and compelling. Just like those in a newspaper, your headlines should grab the reader. The usual marketing speak or standard business lines aren’t likely to do the job. Instead, try humor, surprise—or even controversy.

If you manage to keep the reader on your website, at some point you will probably need to provide more detailed information about your products and services. That doesn’t need to be boring either. One way to keep it interesting is to write to and about your customers rather than about you. We call this you versus I writing.

To illustrate, here are two examples of website copy:

B2B copy:

GreatTools is an enterprise-capable suite of data-quality modules designed for SalesToYou administrators. GreatTools contains modules for data deduplication, normalization, standardization, comparison, verification, import, export, and mass delete, to name a few. These modules have been designed to work on massive data sets at the most sophisticated SalesToYou installs around the world. GreatTools can be operated in a manual mode but also in a 100-percent scheduled unattended mode for large batch jobs.

B2C copy:

Action Cam.
Prove Yourself.

Relive the glory of every hardcore, gravity-defying moment and share it wirelessly via Wi-Fi, thanks to Sony innovation. No other mountable camera combines Carl Zeiss optics, 4x slow motion and low light sensor with a rugged exterior that welcomes mud, snow and water. http://www.bestbuy.com/site/promo/sony-action-camcorders-112276

Which do you find more engaging? If you’re like most people, it’s the video camera content written for consumers. Even when it doesn’t use the word “you,” it speaks directly to the reader, suggesting he or she “relive the glory” and “share it.”

You might be thinking, “Yes, but a video camera is naturally more interesting than an enterprise data cleansing tool.” True, but even the boring tool can have better copy, by focusing on the reader and his or her experience. Compare this rewrite to the original:

Do you just love data deduplication and standardization? Our guess is no.

Hand the drudgery off to GreatTools. Save time while ensuring accurate and up-to-date information with this enterprise-capable suite. It handles a multitude of administrative tasks involved in keeping data clean: data deduplication, normalization, standardization, comparison, verification, import/export, mass delete, and more. Keep database maintenance worry-free by scheduling GreatTools to run regularly. Or operate it manually. GreatTools supports even massive data sets on the most sophisticated SalesToYou installs. Now, you really will love data deduplication!

This revised text may not be as exciting as that for the action camera, but it’s more personal than the original text and speaks directly to the benefits for the user in a much more informal way.

Speak to the business person, not to the business

Which brings me to the next point. Not only should you speak to the user and about the user, you should speak about the user’s problems. We often forget that the business user researching a product or service likely has a personal stake in the outcome of that research.

The user searching your website may have been tasked with finding a solution to a business problem—in which case his or her reputation is on the line. That person will be blamed or praised depending on how well the solution works.

Or the user may be looking for a solution to a problem that affects him or her directly. Maybe he’s trying to eliminate daily, time-consuming tasks so he can focus on more strategic work. Maybe she’s looking for a product that will end the complaints of the people her department serves. Or finding a vendor who can implement a solution to meet critical corporate initiatives. In these cases, the solution may directly make the user’s life easier or more difficult and may affect his or her work review or career.

You don’t have to know the reader’s specific situation to write in a way that speaks more directly to him or her. Simply keeping your focus on the person rather than on the business, and writing for that person, can change the nature of your website copy to make it more compelling.

Text like “Improve the ROI for your business” becomes “Deliver good ROI to your management.”  Text like “Save time and money” becomes “Make your work life easier, and meet budget goals.”  And text like “Increase user adoption and user satisfaction” becomes “Tired of hearing complaints from your users? Turn complaints into compliments by…”

Speaking directly to your business buyers’ concerns and issues shows them that you see them as real people and that you understand the personal impact your products and services can have on them. It suggests that you empathize and care. As human beings, we prefer to interact with and give our business to people who actually see us as such and who care about the outcome for us. So, if you want to make the sale, write your copy for humans instead of robots.