The following is a post I originally wrote for CongRegation 2014 in November 2014 whilst travelling in Southeast Asia. It’s a topic that proved quite popular, and I think it will resonate with readers here, so I’m re-publishing it. Let me know what you think.
Do you have a social media strategy for your organisation? How about a search optimisation strategy, or the current darling of online marketing gurus everywhere… a content strategy?
If you have a strategy for each of these things, then bravo! You’re head and shoulders above the competition.
You’re also behind the times!
Same-same but different: when search is social media is content
In the night market of Luang Prabang in the People’s Republic of Laos, (where I find myself writing this little missive) you’ll find t-shirts and other tourist paraphernalia sporting the slogan “Same same… but different”. It’s a ubiquitous phrase used by locals and adopted by travellers across Southeast Asia, and is used in countless situations where things are very similar, or can be bundled together, despite their obvious differences.
I couldn’t help but put a digital spin on it.
The truth is that the days when you had the luxury of considering the various facets of your online marketing separately are long gone (I have my doubts they ever existed… but that’s a topic for an entirely different post).
Considering search optimisation without developing a strategy for creating high-value content to engage and retain attention is pretty pointless. Creating great content without a social media strategy to share, amplify and build relationships these days is at best shortsighted. And ignoring the way social signals inform how search engines index and rank your content is a sure-fire way to consign your business to internet obscurity.
The relationship between content, social media and search is a complex one, but its one you need to consider in a cohesive way if you want to make the most of your opportunities online.
Search engines and the tireless quest for relevance
When push comes to shove a click-through from a search engine results page is still the way most businesses connect with most of their online prospects for the first time. It’s the genesis of the most crucial relationship in your organisation… so on a list of business priorities search should still be right up there.
When it comes to analysing your online content search engines are only really interested in one thing: relevance. How well does a particular piece of content meet their customer’s search query?
Search engines are obsessed with relevance. It’s an obsession born not of some altruistic mission to make the web a better, more navigable place (no matter how much they might like you to believe the notion); but of a much deeper business imperative. By delivering better search results a search engine retains and increases its share of the search market. Bigger audiences attract more advertisers, and more advertisers generate more revenue. It’s simple economics.
Stop worrying about search engine updates… focus on delivering value
Assessing content relevance is a complex business, and search algorithms are constantly tweaked and refined to improve results.
As search continues to evolve, and search engines become better at understanding context and intent, the effectiveness of “traditional” search ranking factors will continue to wane, and the importance of understanding your customers and delivering genuinely valuable, relevant content that resonates with them will become ever more important.
In a MarketingProfs Pro seminar I delivered not to0 long ago I argued that the only real way to future-proof your SEO is to stop obsessing about pandas, penguins, hedgehogs, lamas or whatever else Google throws into its search ranking menagerie. Instead invest your energy and resources into understanding what your customers really want, and then give it to them.
It’s a radical concept, but were in an era where the best way to optimise for search is to create and distribute high-value, relevant content that your customers love… and love to share.
There’s a bit more to it than that, of course, but broadly speaking as long as you follow a few basic rules to make sure your content doesn’t stump the search algorithms, then ticking the right boxes for your customers is going to tick the right boxes for the search engines too.
So your content strategy becomes part of your future proof SEO strategy, and vice versa.
Cutting through the background noise: social amplification
So where does social media come in? I guess the short answer is everywhere.
The social media platforms where your customers choose to hang out can be useful in so many ways.
- They help you understand your audience and what resonates with them, so you can make your content more relevant and appealing.
- They allow you to tap into trends and provide a rich seam of ideas and inspiration you can mine.
- They help you build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships with your customers.
- They offer fertile ground where you can seed your best content, nurture it and watch it grow.
- They amplify the reach of that content, helping it cut through the incessant background noise
All of those social signals… the likes, shares +1s, retweets and other interactions with your brand and your content… increasingly have a bearing on how search engines gauge relevance and rank your content in their results pages. So getting social also helps with your search optimisation, and feeds directly into your content strategy.
You can see where this is heading, right?
Get it together
If you’re still treating search, content and social media as isolated elements in your digital marketing mix, STOP!
What you really need to do is work out a coherent customer attraction strategy (or whatever you want to call it) that integrates search optimisation and social media, with high-value, customer-centric content at its core. By doing that you’ll improve your search performance, boost your social media profile and start attracting more customers to you through all of your online platforms.
Best of all though sharing valuable content regularly will establish you as an authority in your area of expertise. Customers will start to view you as a trusted source of information in your industry, someone who they can turn to for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.
Who do you suppose those same people will turn to first when they’re in the market to buy what you’re selling?