Over the last year, many debates have raged about whether SEOs should start referring to themselves as inbound marketers or a number of other broader disciplines. Many long-time members of the great church of SEO consider the very thought of calling themselves something different almost treasonous at first.
After stewing watching our industry evolve at its most rapid clip ever over the past year, a clear truth has emerged: the only way to consistently win at SEO today—and over the long run—is to create high-quality content.
This isn’t just the theory of one SEO, inbound marketer, or agency. Many have written about this subject.
In February of 2012, Andy Betts artfully predicted this shift in his article “Future of SEO: Change, Convergence, Collaboration.”
Like it or not, SEO has changed and its future relies upon a complex relationship with content marketing, social media, and collaborative technology.
Google’s changes over recent years, such as Caffeine and Google Panda updates, are mostly concerned with content and relevancy issues. Google’s SSL changes are driving many SEOs to change and adapt the way they work with a renewed focus on quality content, social media signals, and technology.
Yahoo and Bing have also moved away from “technical SEO” in favor of content marketing and social media.
It is telling that, despite the fact that this was written almost nine months ago, there are many who still cling to the old ways of doing and measuring things.
Because, high-quality content is never easy to create, and it’s not cheap.
In other words, the SEO game has gotten more difficult, which means it requires significantly more time and effort. If this additional time and effort only amounted to the same benefit as yesterday, increased search engine rankings, one may conclude that the overall value proposition for doing SEO is weaker.
Not so, my friends. Lucky for us, creating high-quality, topically focused content drives:
- Increased traffic from social media
- Community and audience growth (e.g. followers, etc.)
- Increased traffic and link popularity from referral sites
- Higher customer engagement and user statistics
- Increased newsletter and internal blog subscriptions
- More conversions
- Increased brand recognition and advocacy
There is a large volume of data on the Web that support these claims.
Pure Content found that daily blog posts lead a to a cumulative increase in traffic. Kuno Creative recorded similar data in a study comparing an increase of blog post production from two to three per week to five to ten per week. This concept is catching on. A report from Optify found that 30 percent of marketers spend most of their time creating and managing content.
A New Analytics Paradigm
If you believe everything that I’ve stated above, a clear conclusion must be drawn: The value of SEO campaigns must be measured differently. First page search engine rankings are no longer the leading indicator of SEO success and value.
Consider this: If your business is driving tons of converting traffic from long-tail keywords, why does it matter where competitive fat-head phrases rank?
This presents a challenge for existing SEOs who may have originally sold their client on first-page rankings. Explaining to them that the industry has changed fundamentally, shifting focus to a new set of KPIs, may be a bitter pill to swallow.
However, an understanding of the KPIs that truly matter—traffic, conversions, community—and an additive approach to measurement that draws a correlation between those KPIs and search engine rankings will lead to greater campaign success.
AuthorRank Is Critical
In his study “Science of SEO,” Dan Zarrella came to the conclusion (using millions of data points by the way) that unless a website sells pills, porn, or poker it will get more efficient SEO results staffing professional writers as opposed to SEOs.
Having professional writers in-house, however, may not be enough. Those employees will need to be experts in the industry vertical that the business or organization operates in, constantly producing high-quality content within the topic model.
Google has already begun to consider the authors of content as a ranking factor. Agent Rank, or AuthorRank as it is more commonly referred to, will have a powerful effect on SERPs going forward. In his excellent article for SEOmoz, Mike Arnesen states that:
AuthorRank, of course, wouldn’t be a replacement for PageRank, but would be used to inform PageRank, therefore enabling Google to rank high-quality content more appropriately.
He goes on to state that:
People want to read content written by credible and knowledgeable people and using AuthorRank as a major part of their search algorithm just makes sense.
The challenges that this brave new world presents is an obvious reason why traditional SEOs still cite first-page rankings for their clients as a reason not to begin focusing on content marketing. Unfortunately, they’re simply polishing the brass on the Titanic.
Eventually, rankings and traffic will sink as their competitors begin publishing expert-written, high-quality content that solves customer problems.
If we SEOs don’t start measuring, valuing, and selling clients on the benefits of high-quality content above just search engine rankings, we are selling ourselves and our industry short.
Unfortunately, our industry’s chosen acronym implies that the only thing we do of value is drive search engine rankings. We know our content and techniques drive far more, so let’s start taking credit for it.
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