SEO sometimes still gets a bad rap.
Many marketers think the practice of search engine optimization is no longer relevant, thanks to Google’s innate ability to just know the difference between good and bad content. Others still think it’s just a fancy term for keyword stuffing, otherwise known as manipulating search rankings by cramming irrelevant words and phrases onto a page. And yet another contingent considers it something like cheating, an unscrupulous way to draw traffic to your website.
Is there even a tidbit of truth to any of these views? Actually, yes. Google is becoming more and more intuitive, constantly. Keyword stuffing is a thing. Unscrupulous SEO tactics, and people who engage in them, do exist.
But overall, the idea that these things define SEO is a misconception—one that can lead to missed opportunities for content marketers. “When you don’t optimize your site, you’re making it hard for people to find your content in Google. This reduces the ROI on every piece of content you put on your website,” says Heather Lloyd-Martin, CEO of the SEO and content marketing consulting firm SuccessWorks.
Have these SEO untruths influenced your content marketing strategy? It's not too late to double back. Here are seven things you need to know about content marketing and SEO to get the most return from your content.
1. Black hat SEO will hurt you.
Dodgy SEO tactics like buying links, keyword stuffing and cloaking—where the search engine is presented with content that’s different from what the user sees—have been around as long as SEO itself, which is at least as long as Google has been around. And there will probably always be people who choose to use them. Reputable companies and websites, however, need to steer clear. “Google is good at recognizing black hat tactics,” says Pax Roberts, SEO manager at Imagination. “Using them will damage your credibility.”
Instead, experts recommend focusing on methods that are not only proven but also honest, like excellent content, keyword tracking and quality backlinking. “White hat strategies do take time, but they're more sustainable in the long run,” Roberts says.
2. Keywords are still key.
Speaking of keywords, don't let anyone convince you that they're passé—or worse, that they're automatically synonymous with the black hat practice of keyword stuffing. The reality is that keywords matter a lot, not only to the major search engines, but if your site has its own search application, they matter there too, says JP Sherman, manager of search and findability at Red Hat, an open-source software company recently acquired by IBM. He says it’s all about using the right keyword. “Keywords are very important because they are the vehicle through which intent is expressed,” Sherman says, explaining that Google is getting better at query structure that has an implied intent, rather than looking at the query as just “a bag of words.”
What’s more, keyword tracking is an effective way to monitor the ROI on your SEO strategy. “I start tracking those keywords we're targeting for a client, and then I tell them, ‘Hey, at the end of this month, you got $12,000 in free traffic from this one article we optimized from these three keywords,’” says Roberts. There are numerous tools, some paid and some free, to help content marketers monitor and manage keywords and determine their effectiveness.
No matter how good your keywords are, though, they’ll be useless if the content that surrounds them is bad. Keywords need to be incorporated into content that is meaningful and relevant to users. “If you don't answer a searcher’s query with the right keywords, your website is not going to be ranking,” says Violette Moussavi, SEO and digital marketing manager for Greendropship, a dropshipping supplier of natural and organic groceries, supplements and body care products. “But it has to be natural, not forced.”