Content Marketing: Friend Or Foe?
If you’ve been doing research for ways to improve your branding and increase search engine rankings, you’ve most likely come across various resources and services pushing content marketing. In simple terms, content marketing is a tactic that involves curating, creating, and sharing media, as well as publishing the content in order to create brand awareness and attract a targeted audience. While this is not a new concept, the notion that “creating a lot of content will result in higher search engine rankings” is a myth. This dangerous line of thinking has caused the content marketing industry to run amok and pollute the quality of the web. If you’re considering hiring a freelancer to work on your content marketing, make sure you do your homework and check that they have a proven track record. Creating content just for the sake of having content could be disastrous to your rankings, as you will see below.
Content marketing comes in many forms, such as videos, infographics, podcasts, and more. For the purposes of this article we will focus on written content and how the content is viewed by search engines.
Is Content King?
Content, in and of itself, is not king. Quality, unique, useful, and relevant content that provides value is king. As a result of eager attempts to boost search engine rankings, a lot of website owners and bloggers have put up random garbage that has permeated the web causing frustration to users’ search experience. Search engines can detect this and may penalize your site’s rankings if you engage in this type of activity. Google’s Panda Algorithm was created to target sites with low quality content, and the algorithm will only continue to be updated as they strive to provide users with quality search results. After all, search engines are businesses too, and in order to keep their users satisfied they need to focus on the overall search experience. Does it annoy you when you get a bunch of spam email in your inbox? Google shares your sentiments.
Could Your Rankings Be Slipping Due To A Penalty?
A drop in Google’s search rankings can be due to numerous factors, such as broken links, poor page optimization, poor wording, etc. Sometimes it’s not always obvious if your site’s ranking is suffering due to poor content, but fortunately there are ways to detect if this may be the case.
There’s a chance that your site may have been (or will be) spanked by the Panda if you’ve engaged in any of the following behavior:
- Duplicating content (by means of copying or “scraping”) from other sites
- Creating low quality content that doesn’t contain much value or is irrelevant
- Displaying too many ads in relation to the amount of quality content
- Keyword stuffing
Checking Google Webmaster Tools for manual penalties
Checking Google Webmaster Tools (GWMT) should be the first plan of action when deciphering if your site may have suffered a manual penalty. GWMT will list any manual webspam actions that need to be addressed. This can be found by logging into your GWMT account and selecting Search Traffic -> Manual Actions. This section will list any actions that were taken by the manual webspam team that directly affect the ranking in Google’s search results. Manual actions must be addressed ASAP. Once you’ve corrected whatever violation(s) may have occurred, you’ll need to submit a reconsideration request to Google.
Checking for Google algorithmic penalties
Not all Google penalties are manual. Penalties could also be the result of algorithmic detection. Though you can never be sure 100% what might have triggered an algorithmic penalty, the only way to recover is to look at all possibilities and try to rectify the problem.
- Log in to Google Analytics. If you notice a huge traffic drop on a particular day, it could be indicative of an algorithmic penalty.
- Check for recent Google algorithm updates. A great resource for finding the most recent updates is on MOZ.com. Check out their Google Algorithm Change History page. If you notice your traffic drop coinciding with a recent update, this could very well be the culprit. What you’ll want to do is thoroughly read what the update was about and address those issues on your site.
- Carefully read through Google’s webmaster guidelines and ensure you’re following their recommendations.
“Prevention is better than cure.”
It’s worthwhile to go through the pages and blog articles on your site to see if the content is up-to-date, relevant, and targets the correct audience. Below are some steps you can do to give your content a bit of a facelift:
Deleting pages and blog articles that contain poor content
Disclaimer: This could have negative effects! Though there’s controversy surrounding this, some people will be tempted to delete pages on their site that they feel is not worth keeping for whatever reason. If you go this route, you will want to exercise caution and keep a couple of things in mind:
- Are there back links pointing to that page for which good link juice might be lost if that page is removed? GWMT can give you insight as to the links pointing to a particular page (though GWMT is not always up-to-date). Another great tool to use for checking back links is Ahrefs. If you have any back links whatsoever pointing to that page, you might want to reconsider deleting it.
- Does that page get a lot of traffic? Whacking a page that brings you a lot of visitors is definitely something to avoid. Check out Google Analytics to see how that page is performing. If it gets little or no traffic, you could consider getting rid of it.
- Are there internal links pointing to that page? If there are, keep in mind that if the page is deleted you’ll have to fix those links to prevent 404 (page not found) errors.
If you feel comfortable deleting the page, you may want to set up a 301 redirect to point to another page on your site just to be safe. Setting up a 301 redirect means that the page is permanently gone and if people try to visit that page it will automatically redirect them to the specified page.
It’s understandable that you might not feel comfortable deleting pages. Instructing search engines to not index pages is a safer alternative.
Specify that search engines do NOT index certain pages
Specifying pages with poor content to NOT be indexed by search engines is a safe alternative to deleting them. This can be done by setting the robots meta tag to have a value of noindex. This will ensure that the search engine does not consider that page in their algorithm for ranking purposes. This can be done by specifying the following html code in the <head> section:
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, FOLLOW">
Update your existing content
This is easily overlooked. Go through the pages and blog articles on your site to ensure they’re up-to-date and relevant. Can more content be added? Have more recent articles been published that could be linked to from older articles? Are there more recent statistics that could be added?
Content Marketing Best Practices
Content Marketing is both an art and a science. Here are some methods that will help you create irresistible content:
Create a catchy title – According to copyblogger.com, 80% of readers will read a headline, but only about 20% will read the rest. Remember, the objective of compelling content is to get the next sentence read.
Write for users first – Approach writing your content as if search engines don’t exist. All too often we get caught up in the mindset of how to place keywords effectively so as to garner higher search rankings. Search engines have come a long ways, and one great example of this is Google’s Hummingbird algorithm. This algorithm detects more of a conversational/semantic search with longer phrases (a.k.a “long-tail keywords”).
Add pictures – A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Maybe, maybe not, but adding pics has been shown to increase user engagement. Also make sure to add ALT text to your images so that search engines can decipher what the image is about.
Make your pages easily shareable – Add social media share buttons to your site so that the content can be shared with ease. Google takes social signals into effect when ranking, so the more activity they see with social media platforms interacting with your site, the better off you’ll be.
Promote your pages – Give your content a bit of a jump start by promoting it yourself via social media, blogger communities, and perhaps social bookmarking sites. Got an email subscription list? Send your subscribers the link!
Got more suggestions for content marketing best practices or how to avoid penalties? Let us know below!