Rev Up The Content Marketing Engine To Achieve Local Liftoff
Looking to bolster your local SEO strategy? Columnist Chris Silver Smith discusses the benefits of content marketing for local businesses.
Anyone who has read my columns is probably already aware of a variety of content marketing media options I recommend to achieve Local SEO benefits over time.
The reason I do this is because it’s worked — sustainably — for years now, weathering all sorts of algo updates. There is still a lot of potential in this strategy, so here’s an overview of top options for gearing up the Content Marketing Engine.
The Indirect Approach
Content marketing is valuable for more than just helping your keyword associations and search engine rankings. Much of the material generated for content marketing development will intersect with consumers early in the buying cycle, often while they still may be in a research phase, just prior to making a purchase decision.
Marketing when you don’t appear to be marketing is a sort of stealth approach — you can sneak up on the consumer before they know what’s happening. Content marketing does exactly that.
Sometimes, people will not precisely know what product or services they need or from whom to get it. What’s the best or minimum quality of product/service can I tolerate for the lowest price? Internet consumers now seek to educate themselves in order to answer these sorts of questions.
The advantage from a marketing perspective of being a creator and provider of in-depth information on many aspects of your product is extensive. Potential customers are more likely to find your business and to identify your company as being open with information and authoritative about the industry. If your competitors are not going this far, then you’ve created a decided advantage over them.
And, this advantage goes beyond mere incremental SEO enhancement. This constitutes a double benefit.
When you’re open about your unique processes, products and policies — and when you’re providing education around your products — you’re really inserting your implicit marketing message before consumers even realize it. The message is: We tell you everything, we’re not intimidated by informed customers, and we’re so experienced with this stuff that you should come to us!
The Local SEO Benefits
Search marketers got into content marketing in many cases because it helped build links in non-sketchy ways. Provide free content, distributed widely, often resulted in receiving external links back.
Fast-forward to the present, and many of the sloppier content marketing link-building ploys have been essentially decommissioned by various algorithm updates. Articles distributed through paid syndication, free links from content sharing services, cheaply/poorly written articles just generated for a link — these things have been penalized and eroded to where they are unlikely to work.
But, what continues to work is a dedication to building good-quality content, and sharing it where consumers can find it and interact with it.
Going overboard with paid distribution is not going to do much, and social content sharing sites have nofollowed links. But if you build good quality content in a noncynical manner, you can still derive SEO benefits.
Search engineers have stated that they may continue using information sources they deem to be of high-quality, implying that they may ignore nofollow attributes on links in some cases. (Consider Wikipedia, where lower-quality, spammier links tend to get removed by bots and human editorial review.)
So, the fact that links may be nofollowed should not be the sole decider of whether you will incorporate a particular service in your content marketing plans.
While a nofollowed link likely does not convey PageRank or equivalent ranking weight, the link text can still convey keyword relevancy. So, keyword associations with your company and website may still factor into the vectors through which searchers come to find your information and marketing materials.
Beyond link weight, search engines are frequently playing with other, more subtle ranking analysis and factors.
If a piece of content becomes widely shared on social media, then the entity behind that media may be assessed to be more popular than its competitors. The popularity of social accounts and pieces of discrete content now seems consistently influential where rankings are concerned.
Best of all when it comes to Local SEO, there simply is no “nofollow” attribute for citations! If your business name and address or phone number are associated with a lot of widely distributed content, all those attributions may help factor into your rankings. And, associating your content frequently with geolocation signals should amp up your overall local relevancy in the eyes of search engines.
The Content Marketing Engine & Its Parts
There are a number of broad areas one may target via content marketing. If you’re already well-saturated in one category, consider generating some content in another. Here are some of the top areas:
Blogging, Articles & Whitepapers
Most of us in local search marketing have touted the benefits of blogging (I’ve even called it a “secret weapon” for Local SEO), and we continue to harangue companies to do this.
A blog can easily be a foundational element for performing content marketing and social media marketing, and they’re so easy to do that there’s little excuse not to have one. I think there are often cases where a business owner will attempt it, write a handful of posts, and become disappointed when they don’t emerge as an overnight sensation.
Blogging is a long-term tactic, and its benefit is unlikely to kick in until you’ve been doing it consistently for months. Consistency is key. Additionally, blog posts can fuel updates to social media accounts, presenting businesses with an opportunity to build audience engagement.
There is also guest blogging. In the recent past, Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, announced that guest-blogging was “done” as a link-building tactic, so many now fear this practice. However, if you are selective and judiciously choose one or two high-quality blogs related to your industry for posting a meaty article, you are unlikely to be penalized.
When evaluating guest blogging opportunities, only pursue those that have an existing audience that would be valuable to reach. Don’t do it for SEO — do it to provide a high-quality piece to a high-quality audience. That probably means you should only do it once or twice (again, judiciously!) and not as an ongoing practice.
Likewise, article syndication was heavily targeted in the past couple of years, making involvement with article syndication to be very risky and generally not recommended. However, there are alternative methods of distributing your information without incurring penalties.
Consider publishing some whitepapers as PDFs on your site, and allowing those to be taken and published on partner sites, or on university websites, if appropriate.
Or, provide a few commentary articles for your industry’s association websites — real sites used by real people. Or, provide educational articles for newsletters or local newspapers. Under some circumstances, article syndication can still be done safely, too.
Blog posts are simply a slam-dunk where content marketing is concerned, and not all article writing is dead. The keys are to write good-quality content that would be of real interest to human readers, and publish in good-quality places.
Social Or Conversational Text
Business proprietors not already involved with social media and email marketing are often intimidated by the prospect, thinking that it might be too involved and therefore require more time than they have.
It does require time, particularly at the outset as you set up accounts, profiles and management systems, and as you ramp up in understanding each medium’s unique ecosystem.
It doesn’t have to be rocket science, however, and it doesn’t have to be a continual huge time investment. Once you’re set up and understand it, you may be able to plan for juggling it a few minutes per day, or once a week or so, depending on your business and how frequently customers choose to interact with you on those channels.
Developing a following on Twitter over time can enhance your reputation, though it is unclear whether this has any impact on search engine rankings. Postings on Twitter and Facebook can contain links to your business site, and the postings themselves can rank in search engines for many different keyword combos; so, all these can become incremental lead generators, too.
Developing an email marketing list is also a great way to build a bit of a captive audience of “raving fans,” too. (Generally, this should be an opt-in arrangement).
If you’re blogging or writing articles, that activity provides fodder to feed out across Tweets, Facebook updates and email newsletters — attracting ongoing interest in your business and providing opportunities for your followers to communicate with you and ask questions, etc. Don’t be afraid to post/repost/retweet/share/comment-upon information from others related to your industry and information that would be of interest in your local area.
Images continue to be one of the most versatile elements of content marketing. Most businesses can leverage images.
Take photos of your products, your location, your facility’s interior, events you’re involved with, and document your processes or delivery of services. Businesses with fewer opportunities for photos can also develop images — screengrabs for computer or online services, infographics, and sometimes, illustrations or diagrams.
Sharing the photos across social media has long been pretty effective for optimization purposes and, again, for lead generation. Flickr is the granddaddy of photo sharing services and continues to be advantageous because of strong usage and how well-optimized the site is for search. Pinterest is excellent, too, and Instagram is hugely important for younger demographics.
Simply sharing directly from within Facebook and Instagram can be effective, as well, but you may amp up the impact if you post images through multiple channels.
Slide Presentations & Other Media
I recently outlined how sharing slide presentations online can enhance Local SEO. There are other types of media that may be shared or made available for others in a like fashion. Even some traditional promotional activities such as writing books can optimize for local search.
Different industries often have specific types of media that people may be interested in, so consider your options. Even sharing statistics or other data unique to your company can convey promotional value.
Video remains a content marketing medium with perhaps the highest potential available, while also being one of the most underutilized options for local businesses.
Perhaps it’s because it’s daunting, or there’s a perceived high level of cost/difficulty/complexity involved with it — but the truth is, even cheaply-shot videos of low quality can perform very well.
A few years ago, I proved this by shooting a lower-quality video of the Texas Stadium implosion. Just by applying basic SEO practices, I was able to get that video to outrank videos of the same event that were shot by major news organizations and other individuals!
Today, it’s easier than ever to produce a video and share it where consumers may readily find it, so there’s no excuse to ignore the potential benefits.
I have a client for whom I’ve produced dozens of simple videos, using articles and images we’d already developed for the blogging and image sharing portions of the overall content marketing plan.
By taking a few images, a simple script, even a digital slide presentation, and obtaining audio from a voice artist, one can use any number of programs to combine the lot into a video that’s ready to be shared.
Sharing options abound as well, although the preeminent channel for this purpose is YouTube. Vimeo is also good, and for uber-short pieces, one may use Vine.
As with images, one may share videos directly through Facebook. However, videos tend to perform better when hosted on YouTube and then shared via Facebook and Twitter.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Hard
Of course, there are many advanced optimization techniques for each of these channels, and those with the right know-how can likely achieve the best results; however, you shouldn’t let it dissuade you if you’re not an expert.
Simply doing it accomplishes quite a lot — just showing up is half the battle! Start producing with some consistency, and then focus on improving quality or fine-tuning as you go.
There are also tools that can help with your efficiency, too. Incorporating these tools into your content marketing routine can reduce your time investment and help you get the most out of your efforts:
- Hootsuite and Sendible are both good for scheduling and deploying social media status updates as well as monitoring your accounts.
- Trackur and Mention are also good for monitoring any mentions of your business beyond just direct contacts, allowing you to be ever-vigilant without spending a lot of time checking around.
- Dlvr.it is also great for distributing content feeds; for example, if you publish content on your blog, it can deploy out across your social media accounts automatically.
Various tools that help in the creation of content like videos and graphics can be helpful, too. Stock art or clip art subscriptions can be handy, particularly if you have access to an artist that can customize these images to create new works. (Straight-up stock art or clip art isn’t all that effective compared with your own original media assets, but modified and customized art from such sources can be very useful.)
So, leverage tools to make tasks easier and more productive for you.
Make It Fast
As I observe above, just showing up is half the battle. You don’t need to do things perfectly to start deriving benefit from the super-charged engine that is content marketing. However, it’s ideal to get out there and do it — or, if you’re already doing it, do even more, or expand to media you haven’t already launched into.
Finally, Make It Consistent
I’m contacted all the time by companies that want optimization and have tried it for five minutes and then walked away, disappointed that it didn’t provide an overnight bonanza.
Most of the time, content marketing requires steady, consistent production over time for the beneficial effects to noticeably accrue. I’ve seen a lot of businesses that publish 5-10 blog posts and then run out of steam. Perhaps they’re not imaginative enough to come up with ongoing topics to post about, but it seems more likely they lose the initial enthusiasm and motivation.
If you’re not doing it steadily, in an ongoing basis, it likely won’t work for you.
I don’t want to even hear about you trying to measure ROI until you’ve done this stuff for at least a year! Content marketing requires honesty and commitment — create useful, high-quality content and publish it. It’s just that simple, and the results are often extraordinary!
[Content Marketing Engine graphic based on a photograph of part of the National Ignition Facility, provided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under the CC-by-SA 3.0 license.]
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