Marketing your business online is an ever-changing and dynamic practice. As usual, there are plenty of vague-sounding marketing buzzwords doing the rounds at the moment. You might think that Content Marketing is as vague as the rest of them, if not more so.
But there is a reason for this perceived vagueness, which is the boundless opportunity that it presents to be creative.
If you want to get your business noticed and visible within search engines, SEO should not be considered the only solution. Traditional search engine optimisation is merely a small part of the large digital marketing puzzle. Increasing your brand awareness across social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn not only helps your organisation engage with existing and prospective clients, but it has been proven that these "social signals" have a direct impact on your website's chances of featuring high in the search results.
If you are able to acquire a large online following with engagement (including comments, likes and shares), your brand and your website's online presence will improve dramatically.
Search engine optimisation is still relevant, but arguably more so in the technical sense. There are a number of optimisation techniques that can give your website the edge in the rankings, including keyword-focused (but readable) Meta titles and well patterned and intelligent internal linking. The established best practices are also still relevant, including ensuring that your site isn't slow, and that you have a good thick bulk of content on each page for the web spiders to crawl. Furthermore, easy navigation for the human user ensures that the search engines also have the same smooth journey through the website's content, and they will reward you accordingly.
But there have been a number of recent changes that changed the world of SEO forever, and for the better.
Whilst backlinks from strong, reputable, and relevant websites still offer a boost for your site's online authority, search engines like Bing and Google have become increasingly sensitive to links that are considered to be "spammy". This means that you must be careful to monitor the links that are pointing to your site and make sure that you don't invest in a wide scale, sweeping, link build operation. These low quality links used to be highly effective in boosting a website's rankings, but are now harshly punished, sometimes by complete de-indexation of the site in question.
The key for small businesses: DO NOT get lured in by the promise of cheap backlinks and guaranteed top rankings. Although many of the vendors guarantee short-term success, you will more often than not get caught out eventually, and your website may disappear from all search results. How would this affect your business? And is it worth the risk?
A more sustainable approach is required. These days, links must be genuine and natural. And what is the best way to acquire genuine links? Good content.
This is precisely where content marketing has overtaken SEO as the new emphasis for digital marketers. Creating great content that is useful to your audience is the key to spreading brand awareness, increasing engagement, and ultimately driving more traffic to your site. The more traffic you get, the more chance you have of converting the visitor into a sale or an enquiry. A content-focused approach to a SME's online marketing requires more patience in playing "the long game", but you will gradually develop an online presence that is honest, consistent, and popular.
Content - The Vagueness
So let's get to grip with this word, "content". What is it exactly?
As you may already suspect, content can be a variety of things...
The very basis of online content for a company's website is the on-page copy. We've already highlighted the importance of comprehensive and well-written website pages, but this information also needs to be useful to the visitor. Ask yourself whether the content on your website answers the questions of its visitors. Does it tell them what you do, how you do it, and why you do it? Does it tell them how they can contact you? No matter what your service or product, it is always useful to have a detailed FAQ section, and encourage people to get in touch if they need any more information.
Fresh content is also an indicator to the search engines that your website is active and useful to visitors, and therefore a blog or news section is essential. Here is where you can get a little more creative with your content. The blog can act as the host for many different types of marketing content, including news articles, infographics, videos, photographs, and presentations. An article that answers the questions of your audience will perform well in the search results and drive traffic to your site. For example, if you run a restaurant in the Cotswolds, creating an article about the "Best Walks in the Cotswolds" is useful to your target market, and is likely to be shared amongst them. You can then re-purpose this information to create an online presentation or an infographic, ensuring that your content is available across a variety of media channels.
Photography really is one of the best mediums to share ideas, and if your business has a premises worth shouting about, or creates products that are unique and interesting - take snaps and publish them! With the improvement in smartphone technology, you no longer need a professional photographer and can give the wider world an insight into what you do every day. Social platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are ideal for sharing this kind of content.
Content marketing is not necessarily about direct selling, but is geared towards communicating with an audience that may interested in your product or service. Keep your brand in front of the right people at the right time, and you will see that raising awareness does have a tangible return over time.
SEO Isn't Dead
Some Digital Marketers are claiming that SEO is dead. This is plainly untrue. The technical side of SEO is well and truly alive, but the dark side of the practice is indeed enduring a painful demise. Search engine algorithm updates have ensured that paying "$5 for 1000 links" is no longer effective as a long-term strategy, and can in fact be very harmful. It is worth avoiding at all costs. Understandably, SMEs don't always have the in-house resources to implement a full scale content marketing strategy, so if you require an agency's help to improve your online marketing, make sure that they are creating engaging content as well as using traditional SEO techniques to boost your website. Above all, make sure that they are not creating spam links for a short-term win, because this is certain to end in long-term failure.
Great content is timeless, and establishes a superb basis for your marketing campaigns. Be creative and be informative. If you give people the information that they need, they will keep coming back!
Matt Goolding is a Digital Marketing Executive at Oxfordshire-based agency Zest Digital. He loves writing and his passion lies in creating great marketing content for clients. Zest Digital is a creative digital marketing agency specialising in Content Marketing, SEO, PPC, and Website Design.