Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple Consulting is a pillar of the speaking circuit and regularly does videos and blog posts about SEO. He always has helpful insights and actionable steps for marketers to better their content and make it appealing to both the search engines and the users.
I had a chance to interview Mark before our last SEJ Summit SEO conference of 2016, happening November 2nd in New York City. Check out his answers below:
Your SEJ Summit Presentation is about creating content that is also SEO and brand friendly. This is an area many brands seem to struggle in. Why do you think that is?
Brand content tends to be created with either SEO or reputation/brand-enhancement in mind, but rarely with both, as if they were mutually exclusive. It’s difficult to say why that happens in all cases, but in our experience with larger brands, it’s often a result of who has ownership of the content, and what their goals are.
It is possible, though, and we believe most desirable, to create content that both helps build SEO while at the same time creating real value for actual users of the site.
SEO and content marketing seem to be pitted against each other. What are the benefits of the two disciplines working together?
As I said in the previous answer, which of those is emphasized seems to depend upon who within the company (or which department) has ownership of the content. The sad irony is that there’s increasing evidence that high-quality content that does a good job of fully serving user needs actually enhances SEO, so there’s obviously benefit in bringing the disciplines (SEO and content creation) together.
For that reason, at Stone Temple we work hard to raise the vision of our clients for what content can do, and to support them in “selling” to their companies that higher vision.
I love the story of your start in digital marketing. You worked at an indie bookstore who was losing money due to Amazon and your boss pretty much said “Figure this out.” Over the years, what changes in our field surprised you the most?
My biggest surprise over the years has actually also been my biggest delight. When I was “inventing online marketing” (or so I thought!) for that small store, I thought at first that it was all a matter of learning a set of tricks. But I discovered that doing real marketing, the best stuff that always worked even before digital, actually enhanced and strengthened my SEO and e-commerce efforts. To my surprise and delight, because of the increasing sophistication of Google, those practices actually scale up to the huge brands that Stone Temple works with today.
Let me provide a couple of concrete examples from my bookstore marketing days:
Our store served a pretty geeky culture, people who were really into the kind of books we specialized in. In those pre-social-media days, bloggers ruled as far as influence, and we came to realize that a lot of our potential customers discovered new books via popular book review bloggers. So we reached out to those bloggers, building great relationships with many of them, resulting in them recommending and even linking to our store in their reviews. They came to love us because they realized we truly loved the books they and their readers loved, and that love fest resulted in a big jump in traffic and sales for our store.
The next step was nurturing a sense of community amongst our customers by creating a way for them to become qualified reviewers on our site, which led to many of them becoming mini-celebrities in our niche. We made heroes of our customers, and gained a lot of valuable user-generated content along the way.
Those early lessons have never left me. It’s why Eric Enge and I constantly preach that SEO and content are never stand-alones; to be successful they must be part of a complete marketing ecosystem.
It seems like content marketing is now starting to mature as a field, where do you think the future of content marketing is heading? What can we expect in the next 5 or 10 years?
I don’t think the emphasis on the importance of content will ever go away now. From the SEO perspective, it’s become obvious that search engines place increasing importance on the quality and usefulness of a site’s content. My hope, though, as I stated above, is that more and more companies will adopt a more holistic view of content, and realize that not only are SEO and traditional marketing goals for content not at odds, but they are most successful when they are in cooperation.
In your opinion, what is the number one under appreciated skill a digital marketer needs to succeed in 2016?
Without a doubt, it’s learning the fundamentals of traditional marketing. I’ll be the first to admit that I have big gaps in my own background in that area. The good news is that you can self-educate in marketing these days, if you’re diligent in uncovering the best information sources and dedicated to putting in the effort. I’m investing significant time into my own marketing education these days.
I still am thankful for my “thrown into the deep end of the pool” introduction to digital marketing. I learned a lot because I had to, and I honed those skills in the real battlefield of high-competition marketing. Now it’s time to “grow up” and dig deep into the accumulated wisdom of marketing that goes beyond technical SEO skills or the ability to create great content.
Great insight, Mark. It is always a learning game. Thanks for answering my questions. See you in NYC!
Don’t forget; you can still buy tickets and come see us in NYC Nov. 2nd at the TimesCenter in Manhattan.