On March 28, 2013, Jonathan Anderstrom presented at a lunch and learn event at Creed Interactive in St. Paul, MN. Join our Meet Up group for future events. Here are the notes from the event and the slides:

Using Content Marketing for SEO

This is the product of a real life dilemma. One of our clients has enjoyed good SEO rankings. We did a number of things right from the get-go and have had good success. As we looked for continued methods of improvement, we realized that all the tweaking and backend best practices weren’t going to help us gain more traffic from search engines since we lacked a fundamental element—content.

So, for the past 6 months we have been on a crusade to produce new and relevant content for their site and have seen the vast opportunity for all of our other clients as a result. Search engines continually tweak their algorithm, and the current formula greatly rewards a content marketing strategy as we will see together.

Before we dig in, let me start off with a story. Back in 2000, in the midst of the dot-com bubble, I worked for a start up that was founded by a Harvard graduate. His rich buddies gave him $4 million dollars to start a company. At the time, success was measured by burn rate—how fast you could burn through your capital. The idea at the time was, the faster you burn through capital, the faster you’ll be to market ahead of your competitors. So, faster is better. Anyway, the company spent all $4 million on building a prototype product. When it was done, it was cool and worked, but no one knew about it or had a use for it.

What I learned from my experience is that for any website or system, you always need to focus on what matters to your stakeholders and figure out how you are going to gain the attention of your stakeholders and how you are going to connect with them. Until you figure that out, it doesn’t matter what you build or invest or think people will want.

I am breaking this topic into 4 sections—SEO, Content Marketing, Optimization, and Distribution.

Search Engine Optimization

So, I view search engine optimization as simply a method to reach a target. It is like advertising only it is free and it is relatively pure and authentic. If I am searching for a bicycle on Google, I expect to find relevant information about bikes. And, as a marketer, I want my bike products, information, or services to be at the top of the heap. So, what affects how one ranks in a search engine results list? Well, it is both an art and a science. Search engines are a black box that we don’t usually know specifics about, but we do know a lot about how they work in general and what best practices to follow.

So, what affects SEO? It is a combination of off-site factors and on-site factors. Some of these factors we can control in full, some we can partially influence, and some we just hope for the best on. The following stats are provided to me by Kris Skavish.

Off-Site – Inbound Links (42%). Links from other websites to your site as a whole and to individual pages on your site hold the most weight in your site’s ability to rank. Think of each link as a vote for your site. Only each vote is like the electoral college. A California vote is worth a lot more than a Montana vote. Similarly, links from high authority sites are worth a lot more than low authority sites. Search engines also pick up what the link says in the underlined anchor text of the link and use that to rate a site on keywords. So, a link to your site that says “bike deals” will rank you for that keyword much more than “link” will.

Off-Site – Social Links (7%). The social buzz of a particular page, for example Twitter links and Facebook shares. Keep in mind that social has a time element to it. For instance, Twitter links are rarely clicked after a few hours. Social links are great but are hard to control and influence.

Off-Site – Domain URL (7%). The visibility of a brand across the web in news articles, noted sites like Wikipedia and sheer volume of searches is an indicator to the search engines that the keyword is important.

Page Level Keyword Usage (15%). The keywords on the page. Search engines seek to determine what a page is about by looking at key page elements and will penalize a page if keywords are repeated too many times.

Page/Domain Level Keyword Agnostic Features (12%). Includes uniqueness of content compared to other content on the web, freshness of content, age of site/page.

Page Level Traffic/Query Data (6%). This category of factors includes user experience metrics such as the click through rate of your listing and the bounce rate of the page. In essence, the search engines want to reward sites that users appreciate.

Domain Level Keyword Usage (11%). This category refers to keyword usage in the domain name itself, e.g. www.[keyword].com.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is the publishing of content on a regular basis to add value to your stakeholders. Content marketing is driven by one big idea: if you produce and share fantastically useful content, your community will be more likely to become customers, remain customers, and send you more customers. The benefits of content marketing include stronger customer relationships, a well-earned reputation, educated and empowered customers, fewer customer service calls, and opportunities to educate customers about the buying process.

SEO = Content Marketing

So the big “Aha” moment for me a while back was that the outputs of a successful content marketing program are exactly the same inputs needed for a successful SEO program.

  • Links
  • Social
  • Keywords
  • Uniqueness
  • Freshness
  • Clicks
  • Crawlable content

Tracks of Content

So, how does one create a content marketing program to create successful outputs? The most successful way to do this is to create tracks of content. It is hard to think of something interesting from thin air on a continuous basis. But, if you are able to think of common threads of things that people are interested in, you can have a program that continues to pump out solid content that people actually want to read. You can come up with ideas for content tracks by asking customers, sales reps, or customer service reps what they are interested in. You can join industry groups and conversations. You can curate content that you find interesting. You can take a survey of what content you consume yourself. Once these tracks of content have been established, you can produce a series of content.

Schedule and Commitment

As important as a process or tracks are, it is even more important to set a schedule and to make a commitment to keep to that schedule. The best intentions are worthless if they are not executed well. An abandoned graveyard of content that is irrelevant, out of date, and has no longer accurate information in it is worse than not having any content at all.


Understanding the basic inputs needed for SEO and the outputs of a successful content marketing program, one can see the overlap and the opportunity to exponentially gain traffic. But, gaining traffic in this fashion is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work over a very long period of time to gain traction, so it is not for the faint of heart.

On, we started a blog about a year and a half ago and have only done the basics to keep it going. Over a two year period, we have seen our rankings go from #10 to #4 in the keyword we are targeting for the site. It is not enough just to work hard at this, one must also work smart and optimize the content to be SEO ready and to cut through the clutter of content on the Internet.

Cutting Through Clutter

Here are some stats on the shear volume of content created online:

  • “We create as much information in two days as we have since the dawn of man through to 2003.” Eric Schmidt, Google CEO
  • Nearly 7.5 million blog posts are published every week on WordPress alone – one of many blogging platforms
  • 340 million tweets posted every day
  • Facebook’s 1 billion users have uploaded 219 billion photos and clicked the Like button 1.13 trillion (yes, trillion) times
  • 1 hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second
  • To sort through it all, Internet users type nearly 18 billion queries into search engines every month and rely on their social networks to curate interesting information.

With all of this clutter, it is really important to create content that is valuable to humans. Write interesting titles and descriptions, use bullets and keep content short, use visuals and graphics and have clear calls to action.

Above all else, your content has to provide value to people. Search engines are getting better at knowing which content was created to game the ever-changing algorithm versus what content humans actually trust. In order for content to get downloaded, linked to, bookmarked or shared, it has to satisfy a human need. It must entertain or educate your audience.

Optimize to Search Engines

As you create content, it is important to find keyword and get URL, page title, H1 header, intro and page copy, and meta data to all include that keyword. Follow these best practices as you create content:

  • Keep one keyword phrase focused to one page
  • Use a CMS with friendly URLs
  • Link internally from content piece to content piece using keywords
  • Use tags and categories with keywords
  • Keep a site map up-to-date
  • Make social sharing easy

Content Distribution

So, with content ready to go how do you get it out to the masses? With all different devices and platforms people use, how do you target your stakeholders? Think of what a responsive solution will do. Also think about what an app will do. What if you created an API that could power all of the different presentations of your content? And, use your social platforms to publish. Post content on sharing sites and then embed in site. From there, push to social channels. Make sure to put your content in chunks that are segmented and easily shared.

Where to Start?

There are a lot of considerations on using content marketing as an SEO tool, but here are some general ideas:

  • Start small, then grow
  • Determine SEO keywords
  • Research tracks of content
  • Commit to a publish schedule and assignments
  • Optimize by creating valuable content with SEO keywords
  • Write content chuncks that can be used multiple ways
  • Distribute across platforms and devices
  • Participate in online conversations