SEO and content marketing that works

Go onto any job board for writers and creatives, and you’ll see hundreds of jobs posted by startup wannabes who read some guru’s book, and decided that they can get rich by creating a web site, using “black hat” SEO and filling it with cheap articles that are so packed full of keywords that they no longer has any real meaning.

Keyword packing doesn’t work any more. The fact is, a well-written short article of 500 to 1000 words can be a great way to market your product or service. It’s called knowledge-based marketing, and the operative word is “knowledge” But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about that content marketing, and unfortunately, there are far too many books and seminars out there that are telling you the wrong way to do it. Those articles should present you as a thought leader. Your primary goal shouldn’t be to pack them full of keywords – your primary goal is to create something of publication-quality, which provides useful and unique information to your audience, gives them something they didn’t already know and potentially solves a problem, answers a question, or entertains them.

Here’s the predominant business model being sold by those gurus: Find a subject, any subject. Let’s take toenail fungus. Make a quick-and-dirty website. Do some keyword research and find the top 100 keywords related to toenail fungus, and then hire somebody to write 100 articles of 500 words each, each one repeating a single keyword 50 times within the article, and pay the writer five bucks an article. Or, worse yet, hire somebody to write ten articles, then put each one through an “article spinner” ten times to churn the words around just enough to make the resulting spun articles seem different enough to Google’s spider. Put some Google AdSense blocks on every page, and wait for the money to roll in. When it doesn’t roll in, hire an SEO expert who will place artificial inbound links in a link farm network of other websites.

Those riches will never roll in. You have wasted your money.

Hiring writers to produce articles at a penny a word doesn’t work any more, either. Sure, you can get writers to produce five-dollar articles all day long, but that’s the heart of the problem – your website will be full of five-dollar articles. You may as well create a computer program to put words on the page at random – it will be just as effective. Professional writers who produce useful, intelligent and compelling copy don’t work for a penny a word. If you want real thought leadership, you need to hire a writer that is a thought leader – not a penny-a-word hack.

Third, inbound links only help you when they come from real websites – link farms don’t work. Building up your count of sites linking in to your webpage is not something an SEO provider can do overnight, despite their claims to the contrary. In reality, building up those links is more of a public relations task than it is an SEO task. It comes from real engagement, and a legitimate presence on other sites – it comes from placing meaningful commentary on forums, getting quoted in feature stories, and having your own meaningful guest posts hosted by legitimate online publications. Black-hat SEO experts can’t do that type of work. If you want those inbound links, hire a PR agent.

SEO is not a mechanical process. It’s a creative one, and it takes time and costs money to do right.



Fragmented marketing doesn’t make the cut

In the “Mad Men” days and until very recently, companies orchestrated their marketing campaigns from a unified perspective, and usually through a single agency that handled everything from strategy, to branding and messaging, copywriting, design and execution. It worked well – because every person who touched any aspect of the campaign worked from a common strategy, and from a common messaging foundation. The message the public saw on a television commercial had the same theme and brand as the messages seen in print or online. Companies that are serious about marketing still use this strategy, although there has been an unfortunate tendency to stray away from it.

Marketing today has taken on a highly specialized focus, often with multiple providers, each one providing a single piece of the puzzle, and often with no communication at all between them. The results are unfortunate. When the company’s CMO says, “Hey, we need social media!” They go out and hire a social media expert. A video company is brought in to create a YouTube video, a graphic artist to create artwork and a logo, a copywriter to write copy, a website designer to create a new website, and an SEO guy to juice the search engine, each one a separate freelancer or separate small agency. Before you know it, there are ten completely separate creative professionals or service firms, each going in a different direction, with no communication or coordination between them. The social media guy doesn’t feel a need to talk to the web designer, the copywriter doesn’t want to talk with the social media guy, and the logo designer in Mumbai doesn’t speak English.

The obvious question is, why do website companies focus only on design? Why don’t they have copywriters on staff? The copy on the website is every bit as important, if not more important, than the look, feel and navigability. Depending on the client to provide the copy is a recipe for disaster – and the end result is often a great-looking website with unconvincing copy that doesn’t get the expected results.

By the same token, social media should never exist in isolation, yet too many times, it does. The social media manager often operates in stovepipe mode off in a corner somewhere, completely separate from public relations and media outreach – but what drives social media growth? Good posts on Facebook only go so far, and Facebook growth doesn’t happen just because you write good posts and throw in a picture of a kitten every now and then. Growth happens because people from outside Facebook find out about you and like you, and in that respect, social media and traditional public relations in the form of outreach to print, broadcast and online media need to operate together, from a common strategy and with a common goal.

Despite the proliferation of individual specialized providers, best practices in marketing are still the same as they always were—operate from a unified strategy, with a single branding and messaging platform across all tactics.