Last week’s Whiteboard Friday from Moz co-founder and blogger Rand Fishkin posed an interesting question: “Is it possible to have good SEO simply by having great content?” I thought this was an excellent topic for conversation as it seems to me that many sites tend to focus on one or the other and don’t really take that holistic approach to digital marketing that I quite often bang on about.
Rand offered the thought that it’s possible, yes, but in order to be effective you essentially need two things – content exposure and time. He goes on to say that of course, it helps if a site also has a good Domain (DA) and Page Authority (PA) as well as key elements such as the following:
- On-page content quality
- User and usage data
- Spam analysis
However, without DA and PA even these are likely to be ineffective, as it will be almost impossible to rank well for key terms.
Content Might be King, but it Has to be Found
Content marketing has risen hugely in popularity over the past few years as it’s gradually become clear to people that Google no longer accepts spun, duplicate or poor quality content. This has naturally led some site owners and webmasters to allow SEO to develop more organically than they may have in the past. However, SEO is of course not all about the content and so concentrating on content alone will more than likely be doing any site a disservice.
Whilst it’s true that good content will naturally attract back links – which are really the lifeblood of any good SEO campaign – it’s very unlikely that it will attract links of the quality you’d prefer if you were carrying out manual link building. According to Rand, the marketers who make the decision to neglect link building generally attempt to plug the SEO gap in other (perhaps more holistic) ways.
He says that they tend to focus more on the following:
- Product quality
- Press and public relations
- Social media
- Offline marketing
- WOM marketing
- Content strategy
- Email campaigns
Let’s have a look at why these things may not be the best choice in a world where it’s all about the digital.
Whatever your business on the web you’ll be wanting to get the word out there that you have the best product or that your services are better than everyone else’s. That is, after all, what business is really all about, it’s highly unlikely you’re marketing something that you don’t believe in.
With this in mind, I think this is a little bit of a throwaway really – of course your product’s great and you no doubt have lots of plans to take it to an unsuspecting public and of course, you have a nice website all set up. But if that site isn’t SEO optimized, then it’s quite unlikely that anyone will stumble upon you in search, even with great content, especially if your site’s new and doesn’t have a Page Rank score or any DA.
Press and PR
If you have a huge budget, then advertising through newspapers, radio and TV will of course have its benefits. However, if you don’t then the best you can really hope for is a news piece in the local paper (great for local business). Networking with other local businesses is always a good idea and you can carry out local and national (depending on the size of your business) campaigns that raise the profile of the company through doing good work too. Giving to charitable causes, donating to charitable auctions etc. are a great way of showing the world that you’re an ethical company and this is something that does influence buyers. However, like advertising it’s also often expensive to hire a dedicated PR firm which personally, I think have had their day.
Press releases too are often overused to the point where they’re not effective any longer. Anyone in the content and SEO game must experience this – clients wanting to publish and distribute a press release every week. This is counterproductive, press releases should, above all else, contain newsworthy information that journalists can pick up and quickly make into a story that people want to read. Companies that bring out press releases too often risk being ignored by journalists and bloggers and harming the reputation of their brand.
Of course, press releases that are distributed online are also no longer as valuable as they were as spammers have once again abused the process.
OK, social is good and something that every business should be making the most of. It’s possible to use it effectively for free and social advertising is rising in popularity (and effectiveness) all the time. But is social enough to take over from SEO? Not really. Social media sites can’t alter your site structure after all – they just help to create communities and drive traffic.
However, if you’ve a good social audience and it is sending a lot of visitors to your site, then this will slightly up your SEO as search bots recognise that people think the site is valuable.
For local businesses offline marketing is often invaluable and takes many forms. From advertorials in local publications, to word of mouth marketing in the local area, there’s plenty of opportunity to drum up trade if your business is a local one.
However, good local SEO could boost business substantially and is quite specialized, so in this case I’m not sure that simply having good content on the company website would help very much beyond perhaps maintaining a presence at the forefront of potential customers’ minds.
Again, this is very useful for local businesses and those that use social media channels well. WOM (word of mouth) through social is a very effective way of boosting your online presence and getting more people to your site. So if you produce content that’s of a high quality, and it gets passed around from follower to fan and all of their friends, then WOM marketing certainly has its place.
A recent study found that those content marketers who create a strategy document to lead their marketing efforts are more successful at what they do than those that don’t. Further to this, they also find it easier to prove ROI and the success of their campaigns. This is not a huge surprise, planning in business is always more effective than if you just wing it and hope for the best.
However, whilst it can certainly boost your content and get it in front of more eyes, without good SEO on site, it’s unlikely to be found through search unless the site is an authoritative one.
As social has come to the fore as the modern way to reach your customers, email has been discarded by some. However, it remains one of the most effective marketing tools that you have and so shouldn’t be discounted in any campaign. Email is an ideal way to distribute content and alert your customers to special offers, as well as where to find you online throughout various channels.
If you consider too that “for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return is $44.25” then it’s safe to say that if you don’t use email marketing then you’re doing your business a disservice.
If you’re using AdWords, Facebook Web Custom Audiences, Twitter advertising, Bing or any other platform, then there’s a good chance that’s it’s working for you. PPC is a great way of generating traffic, leads and conversions through advertising but to some extent it also depends on SEO.
If you don’t have the relevant keywords contained within your site, then it’s unlikely that you’ll get a quality score on AdWords that is halfway decent. Google looks at the keywords on your account and determines how relevant they are to your site. If they’re not deemed highly relevant, then it’s likely that your ad won’t be shown.
So Can You Have Good SEO?
You can have as much quality content on your site as you like but without any SEO, it’s going to struggle to get found. SEO is made up of numerous elements and whilst content is an important part of this, it’s not the one thing that will make your website a success.
In order to be considered a useful resource, search engines look for:
- Good, logical site architecture: A site should be well constructed and use internal and external linking, keywords on each page with related terms that are highly relevant to the sector. Site maps should ideally also be constructed for both users and search engines and pages should have the meta information completed for the page, site and all images used.
- Great content: This is of course vital to the overall picture and should be well written, using excellent spelling and grammar and again, be relevant to the industry niche that the site’s in.
- A good link profile: Whilst it may be tempting to rely on gaining links just through content, it’s far from ideal. Links that come from sites that are unsolicited don’t tend to be of the quality that you’d prefer, although you’ll inevitably get good links too if your content is good enough to attract it. Link building through guest posting has become a dangerous practice since Matt Cutts banned it for SEO (thanks again spammers) but it’s still doable and even if you don’t get a follow link, it’s healthy for a site to have a mixture of do follow and no follow links anyway.
There’s no doubt that link building is one of the most important aspects of SEO though and it’s still possible to carry out guest posting, so long as you’re not really link chasing. Be happy with approaching editors for a relationship in the first instance and you’ll have much more success.
There’s also the option of publishing via LinkedIn, which if done properly with a bio can return do follow links, but this shouldn’t be overdone and if you’re repurposing content then you do have to take care not to post duplicate content that might get you a slap on the wrist. With that in mind, rework any content you’ve posted previously to be sure and if you want to get picked up by LinkedIn Pulse, then make sure you’re writing for your audience and that you make sure it’s a really good piece.
Directories and Comments
Backlinks can also be obtained by entering the site details into reputable directories. The recent Google Pigeon update, which is for local SEO, improved the rankings for good directories so it’s worth getting your details entered into the better ones. However, avoid those that have heavy advertising from dating sites, usually with semi-naked images accompanying them. Also take care to ensure that the directory that you’re adding your site to has actual people that you can communicate with as many directories are set up for the advertising revenue but not ‘manned’. This means if a link shows itself to be toxic from one of these sites then you have little to no chance of it being taken down and will have to disavow.
Comments are also a good place to get your site name and a link in, even if it’s no follow. Get involved with your favourite sites and comment on the blog posts that you like, many sites appreciate you adding to the community and will welcome your comments.
As discussed, great SEO is a sum of its parts, of which there are a good few. Great content is a must and a huge part of it, but can it make up for not carrying out any SEO at all? No. it can’t. There are too many variables and it’s unlikely unless you have a massive email subscriber list and social audience that these alone will be enough to ensure that your site gets the traffic it potentially can, even if it is found in organic search.