Search Engine Optimization Graphic

Oscar Wilde once famously warned that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness”. Unfortunately, many SEO experts don’t always have this in mind when developing new content. 

My moment of clarity on this arrived recently after attending an amazing conference called Content Marketing World. Thematically, many of the seminars focused on creative greatness: how we define greatness, how we achieve greatness, etc. Innovative ideas and case studies were presented from graphic designers, social media gurus, data specialists and more. My biggest takeaway was that with 2020 right around the corner, our aim should be to make our web experiences more interactive, dynamic and unique. There simply isn’t room to drive meaningful business results with subpar content.  

At the conference, I chatted with many SEO vendors, who will remain nameless, that felt out of place in this regard. What they pitched felt more like obstacles to greatness, not a path toward it. Sadly, the underlying premise of their ideas isn’t new. If you’ve found SEO to be a frustrating enterprise, there’s a good chance you’ve been pitched similarly bad advice. 

Let’s debunk some of these mediocre concepts so you never end up sacrificing what could be your next great piece of content. 

Great Content Is Not Mad Libs

The strategy goes something like this…

Say you want to rank on the first page for keywords like “rings of Saturn”. The first thing you’ll want to do is see who’s already ranking in the top positions for those words. Next, you’ll want to investigate the websites that currently rank in the top spots for them. 

For example:

  • How many times is “rings of Saturn” used and/or repeated? 
  • What is the average word count among those pages? 
  • Which semantic terms do they use (“moons”, “solar systems”, etc.)? 

Many SEO software platforms brag about their abilities to automate this auditing process. In a matter of seconds, you can be equipped with all sorts of nifty data providing a seemingly perfect outline to boost your organic rankings. Next, all you must do is come up with your own version of that page. It’s presented as simple as a game of Mad Libs. 

Right out the gate, I can tell you that this strategy is destined to fail. Notice how nowhere is “make the best dang website that talks about the rings of Saturn” part of this strategy? Or how about the absence of outlining what makes you the ultimate authority in discussing those rings? You can also forget about thought leadership entirely here since the goal is apparently to follow what your competitors are already doing with their page copy.    
Bottom line: if you’re not starting your content strategy with a focus on quality, you’re never going to achieve the results you want. Simply put, you need to be great!

Great Content Serves Your Customers, Not Keywords

Keyword rankings are just one piece of the puzzle; they are by no means the end goal. Even if you rank highly for your targeted keywords, you still need to get users to click on your listing and engage them once they reach your page so they take a desired action (like filling out a contact form or making a purchase). If your brand is not one that users trust, neither of these things is likely to happen. 

A pretty surefire way to hinder trust with your audience is to create a watered-down version of a page that one of your competitors already published or one that you rushed putting together. Customers say “yes” to great content and, more importantly, great products and solutions. They don’t say “yes” to the same page they’ve already seen a dozen times. 

Measuring Greatness: A Lesson from Scott Stratten on Vanity

One of the best keynote sessions I attended at Content Marketing World was by Scott Stratten, author of the infamous book Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging. He talked about a funny video he once shared online in which he ranted about his attitudes toward the millennial generation — an interesting premise perhaps, but not necessarily one that was “on brand” for him. The video went viral, achieving more than 32 million impressions. However, as an author seeking speaking engagements, he shockingly earned zero qualitative leads from that viral piece of content. 

In contrast, another video he shared only earned a fraction of the views of that viral video. But while low in play count, it earned him seven meaningful offers for speaking engagements. The difference? The video that earned actual leads was “on brand”. It was narrowly focused on his business goals and the unique needs of his core audience. The video that went viral only inflated what he called “vanity metrics,” i.e., the stuff that boosts your ego, but not your sales.

While this is technically a social media story, the principles are certainly applicable to any marketing channel, including SEO. Anyone who is encouraging you to sacrifice the quality of your web experience in the mere interest of inflating your visibility should be ignored. “Greatness” should not be measured by the volume of impressions or visits, but rather by the quality of leads you earn from your efforts. 

For the Record, Greatness Drives Rankings Too

If you’re looking to make content that is going to resonate in organic search, don’t fool yourself into believing that Google is concerned about how many times you repeat a certain keyword, or what your overall word count looks like. They’re concerned about providing meaningful, positive experiences for their users. The reason Google still dominates roughly 90% of the search market share, according to many estimates, is because users trust their results. 

Don’t take our word for it. When asked what the most important ranking factor to consider for a website is, Google spokesperson and trends analyst, John Mueller, put it succinctly: “awesomeness”. The SEO specialist in me is tempted to nitpick the semantic differences between “awesomeness” and “greatness” here, but much like the critiques I’m offering to the SEO community, I’d be losing track of the bigger picture.  

Don’t Forget About Google’s Major Algorithmic Shifts

Penguin, Hummingbird, Panda; you’ve probably heard the horror stories of websites that saw their rankings plummet after those major algorithmic updates occurred. While their changes all addressed specific aspects of web performance (mobile friendliness, back-linking profiles, etc.), they are unified in a larger effort by Google to improve the quality of the search results they are serving their users. 

Even if you have a seemingly magical solution to boost your rankings, it simply isn’t worth pursuing if your content or brand trustworthiness is going to suffer. It’s even less worth it if your solution involves some black hat practices, as you may be putting yourself at serious risk of banishment from Google’s results entirely. J.C. Penney can attest to this one. Sad as it is to say, the market is still full of these seedy techniques.

Although you may get away with temporarily tricking Google, you’re very unlikely to get away with it in the long run. Google has literally seen, and consequently indexed, trillions of webpages; if you think they’re not going to figure out what you’re up to, you’re mistaken. They know what greatness looks like. Don’t waste your time (or theirs) trying to fake it. 

Great. Now What?

I will not downplay the importance of SEO or the value that it can bring. There are many amazing SEO experts out there who want to exhibit your company’s greatness in your content. They are the vendors and agents whom you should trust. 

I also see no problem in using the data some auditing tools can bring to the table; in fact, I encourage it. Measuring your competitor back-links or even understanding how they structure their pages can help you develop and refine your web presence and content strategy significantly. Tracking your primary keyword rankings can also be one of many useful ways to gauge if you’re moving in the right direction. 

What I take issue with is the idea that just slapping a page together that loosely follows what others have already done really means anything to your customers. Given the highly competitive nature of the search landscape, it can be easy to confuse a keyword ranking win with a meaningful business outcome. Unless you’ve truly earned that keyword ranking — and consequently the visits and conversions that will follow — you simply aren’t going to get the business results you’re holistically seeking.  

True content greatness starts by strategically aligning your business goals with the needs of your customers. It seeks to elevate your brand as a leader in your space and illuminate the qualities that your business possesses above your competition. It requires creative thinking, quality writing, innovative web design, tactful measurement and more. If you’re struggling with your content marketing plan, TriComB2B can help.