Posts by Christina_McDermott

In the land of SEO, is Content always King?

24 November 2011

In contenta always king in SEO? (credit to opensourceway)

“Content is King.” Since Bill Gates coined this term in 1996, it has become the golden rule of SEO (as well as one of its most pervasive clichés). Matt Cutts of Google has repeatedly said that quality content is key to getting to the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS).  And the bods at Bing have also said that “all SEO signals revolve around content.” But what do we mean when we talk about ‘content’? How do search engines differentiate between good content and bad content? And, in the land of the SERPS, is content always king?

Before we start looking at the ins and outs of how to produce content, we have to ask ourselves why is good content so important in the first place?

Content is the lifeblood of the internet – it’s the blog posts you read, cat videos you laugh at, maps you consult and images you use. The major search engines main objective is to deliver the most relevant data and provide the best user experience possible. It does this by awarding higher visibility to websites that offer relevant and high quality content to the searcher. But there are a thousand and one websites out there that are talking about your chosen topic – how can you create content that enables your website to get to the top of the results?

Well, there are a number of ways. You could stuff your web pages so full of keywords that it resembles a rhyming dictionary. You could employ one of those shady ‘Black-Hat’ SEO types to buy up lots of paid links to ensure that your website gets a good page ranking. If you’re feeling confrontational (and fancy stirring up a bit of a social media storm), you could ‘linkbait’ – a tactic which sees you producing content which catches people’s attention (for both good and bad reasons – for a perfect example of how Linkbait works, watch how Twitter reacts every time Liz Jones writes a feature for the Daily Mail). Or, you could be really radical and actually produce content that people want to click on.

One of the key recommendations that the Google Webmaster Team advise that you consider when you’re creating content for the web is ‘authority’. Essentially, the more niche you make your content, the more of an expert you’ll become about that topic. People will like what they see on your webpage, won’t ‘bounce’ back to the search results, and will probably visit again – meaning you’ll be rewarded accordingly in the SERPS. Whilst Google’s engineers have said that they don’t favour ‘brands’, the reputation of a brand undoubtedly has an effect on how people search, and the conversions they make once they find what they want. Indeed, research has shown that 50% of consumers are more likely to click on a search result if a brand appears multiple times on a results page.

For an example of a brand who have got it right when it comes to unique content, take a look at Old Spice. Their series of Old Spice ManYouTube videos – custom made pieces of content where their spokesman responded to questions from bloggers, celebrities and fans who posted questions – is one of the most popular viral campaigns in recent history. And with good reason. After all, who wouldn’t want a personalised video from a devastatingly handsome man?

How does Google define ‘good content’? Simply follow the Panda

In early 2011, Google launched its ‘panda’ algorithm. This had one key goal – to “reduce SERP rankings for Low Quality Sites—i.e. sites with low value to users, generally containing unoriginal or shallow content.” This meant that sites which contained unoriginal content which had been scraped off other websites, or were just pages and pages of links would be penalised, whilst websites which contained original, ‘good’ content and encouraged social engagement  would shine.

Panda was a game changer in terms of SEO.  When it was rolled out by Google, it reportedly affected the rankings of almost 12% of all search results. Websites which was considered to be ‘high-quality’ sites saw their rankings improve, while those of supposed low-quality essentially vanished from top of the rankings.

But how does the Panda algorithm define what is good content and what is bad content? Well, Google has specifically stated what they look by providing you with some questions you need to ask yourself when you’re writing for the web:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

Good spelling and grammar help too. Google evaluates the ‘quality’ of content on websites, and the ability to spell correctly correlates with PageRank. As Matt Cutts explains in the video below;

“We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well. The reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well.”

Of course, well written words aren’t the only aspect you need to consider when it comes to SEO. Other things you should think about when you’re optimising a site for the web are:

  • User Experience: The more engaging your website is, the more likely that someone will look at multiple pages.
  • Avoiding too many ads on your site (pop-ups are a real turn-off!): This one is fairly self explanatory. Having too many adverts makes Google think that the website exists just to serve ads rather than providing authoritative information.
  • Duplicate content: Don’t repeat yourself!  A page should contain its own unique content, title and meta description that tells the search engines exactly what it’s about.
  • Remembering that less is more: Having a lot of poor quality pages on your site can reduce your page rankings, even if you have plenty of high quality content. If you’re a Web Manager, try and do a regular audit of your website to ensure that it doesn’t contain lots of pages which contain out of date content and broken links.

If Content is King, then Linking is Queen

As we’ve established, good content is vital to getting your website noticed. But it’s nothing if you don’t have a good link building strategy in place. It’s not enough to put  words, pictures and videos onto the web and hope that they get linked to by an ‘authority’ website. If your content is good, you need to shout about it!

  • Think about trading reciprocal links with your peers: (I write a food blog – Little Red Courgette – and I get a number of clicks to that from fellow blogs which have links to that on their pages). Just one link from an ‘authority’ website  can have a massive impact on where your website appears on Google.
  • Leave comments on others blog posts which include a link back to your website: You get to tell someone you like their stuff and you get to promote your own website! Don’t be an idiot though – no one likes an idiot on the internet (well, unless they’re this kind of idiot).
  • Use good anchor text: If you’ve ever used ‘click here’ for a link, give yourself a slap on the wrist. Now. Then remember to never to do it again.
  • Alt tags are your friend! This is especially relevant when it comes to any images you’re hosting on your website. Make sure you add a full description of what the picture contains and any important keywords you’re trying to target.
  • Create ‘internal’ links to various pages on your website: This tells the Google spiders which pages on your website are important and which aren’t.
  • Add “rel=”nofollow” tags to your links where possible: This  is an HTML  command which instructs some search engines that a hyperlink  should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. It also helps to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of search engine spam, thereby improving the quality of search engine results and preventing spamdexing from occurring.
  • Make your content easy to share across social networks: The easier it is to share, the more likely people are to share it.

Don’t forget to be social

It feels as though every post on this blog is about Social Media, but it’s with good reason. Content is the fuel of the social web. According to data from a recent Nielsen content sharing study, 27 million pieces of online content are shared daily, and more than one in five social media messages include links to content. Quality content that can easily be discovered online is a preferred method of product research with a lot of people, and it also tends to lead to the most customer conversions. Nearly three-quarters of shoppers prefer information from companies in the form of blog posts and articles over advertisements, and 42 percent look to blogs for information about potential purchases. Plus, shared content frequently mentions brands by name. Judging from Google’s recent launch of its own social network, Google Plus, it’s clear that search engines wish to prioritise websites that actively encourage visitors to share content with others. So, what does this mean for us as web content creators?

If 23% of conversations on the web include links, then we have to create content which users actively want to share. We also have to make it as easy as possible for people who are coming to our content to share it with others – be it via email, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or any other social network.  One way in which we can do this is by transmitting it via our own social networks (at LIPA, where I work, each piece of new content uploaded to the website is promoted via our Facebook and Twitter accounts).  You can also add ‘share this’ buttons to your content which allows viewers to share it across a number of social networks with a single click of a button.

SSMM Social Media

Another good rule of thumb when creating content for the web is to think to yourself ‘is this the kind of thing I’d be happy to share with my social media networks?’ Granted, a remarkable amount of (arguably) awful content is passed around social networks on a daily basis, but having a single tweet retweeted by someone with thousands of followers can lead to your content going viral. This means lots of new followers and customers for your website and a higher page ranking on the SERPS.

What can we conclude from this?

Content is undoubtedly the most important consideration to take into account when you are devising a strategy of how to get your website a better ranking on the search engines. And if a blog post, video or picture is engaging enough, then it will always be shared across the internet by people. But as Content Creators, Web Managers and Social Media users, we should always be thinking about how we can engage users and encourage them to share our content with their own networks. The implementation of Google’s Panda algorithm has shown that the emphasis is slowly shifting away from paid links and content farms to content which is truly ‘social’.  Yes, good content is important. And when it comes to SEO, it probably always will be. But the impact of sharing links on social media really cannot be underestimated – and it’s an impact which is only going to increase in size over the coming years. Perhaps from now on, SEO specialists mantra should be that if content is king, then social is emperor.

Agree? Disagree? Or perhaps you just want to say hello? If so, feel free to follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/misscay, or you can add me on LinkedIn.

How to make friends and influence people on Social Media

21 November 2011

Business Cat

So, you’ve decided to embrace the world of social media…

Perhaps you’re an organisation who has heard all the buzz about Facebook and its ilk, and feel that you’re missing a trick not being on there too. Maybe you’re a freelancer who feels that getting social would lead to a fatter contacts book and more juicy commissions. Or perhaps (like my Dad), you’re a fifty-something with too much time on their hands who likes the idea of Twitter because it allows them to keep tabs on their children (sorry Dad). But now, after registering on all of these sites – choosing a pithy user name and a swanky avatar – you’re not sure what to do next.

But wait! Don’t fiddle around with it for five minutes and then brush it off as being a bad lot. Social Media can make a difference to your business. It’s all about finding a niche, taking the time to make connections, and pushing out good content to the right people.

I’ve been using the internet regularly since 1996, when it was all fields and the occasional IRC chat room. And, throughout the years, it feels as though I’ve jumped on every social media bandwagon going – IRC, Livejournal, Friendster, MySpace, Friends Reunited, Bebo, Facebook, Twitter – you name it, and I’ve probably had a profile on there.

I don’t claim to be an ‘expert’ about this subject, but I am one of those ‘Digital Marketing’ types (by day I’m the Web Manager for The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, and by night I post recipes and restaurant reviews on my food blog, Little Red Courgette), and I feel proud to say that I’ve managed to make a career out of messing around on the web. I’ve also recently been studying on Salford University’s Search and Social Media Marketing course which has enabled me to think about social media in ways which I hadn’t envisaged before. Whilst this isn’t going to be the definitive tome on the subject, think of it as a handy Beginner’s Guide.

But why should my organisation use social media?

As Bill Gates famously stated in 1996, when it comes to the internet, Content is King. But it’s not enough to create amazing words and pictures and let them sit there on your website waiting for people to stumble across them. If you want to make an impact on the SERPS, you have to be a bit noisy. As this handy infographic says, social is SEO and content is social. Google’s Panda algorithm actively encourages people to produce and share high quality content, and posting links on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus allows people to share your content to their own personal networks. Having a single tweet retweeted by someone with thousands of followers can lead to your content going viral, meaning lots new followers and customers for your website and a higher page ranking on the search engines.

Become an expert

If you want to make an impact on social media, find your niche. There’s no shame in being a one topic wonder, so long as people connect with the content you’re sharing. If you provide users with the most useful, attractive and engaging content that you can, then this will motivate them to share it with their friends, link to it and keep coming back for more.

  • Don’t be afraid to tailor you content specifically towards your target market. If you try and be relevant to everyone, you won’t relevant to anyone.
  • Don’t sound too sales-y. There’s nothing worse than someone who is using a blogpost to simply flog their services. The more relevant information you can provide, the more people will be wanting to return to your website.
  • Remember – the more high quality content you share, the more valuable it becomes and the more people will share it. So make it sensational!

Start making friends

Social media should be exactly that – social. Don’t just use your profiles as a glorified RSS feed. Start conversations and make connections. Reply to tweets and Facebook messages. Comment on people’s blogs and befriend people in your industry who you think may be interested in listening what you have to say.  A bit of cheekiness can go a long way – and can reap huge rewards.

Don’t restrict yourself

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – it’s easy to find a platform  that suits you and use nothing else. But in doing so, you’re doing yourself – and your brand – a bit of a disservice. Different social media platforms attract different audiences, of different age ranges and different nationalities. When devising a social media campaign, it’s important that you look at each platform, think about how you can transmit your key messages through each of those in a unique way and adapt your voice accordingly. For example:

  • I use Twitter to share links and chat with friends and freelance clients
  • I use Facebook to catch up with old acquaintances and the family members I have scattered across the globe
  • I use WordPress for my blog
  • I use LinkedIn to speak to colleagues and business connections
  • I use Google Plus to promote my blog posts to a wider audience

If you’ve not yet encountered Google Plus, it’s a social network which aims to be Facebook, but better (and with less risk of your boss seeing pictures of you drunk and falling over). To find out more, watch the handy explanatory video below.

Learn from the masters

When it comes to devising and implementing a social media strategy, it’s always good to look at what your peers are doing. If they’ve got a good online reputation, it’s usually because they’re doing something right.

A few brands who do social really well are fashion retailers ASOS, Topshop and Evans (which have all utilised blogs, Twitter and Facebook to connect with their key demographic). Evans have also reached out to the blogosphere, holding press days for fashion bloggers to see their new collections, and encouraging influential bloggers to contribute guest posts to their corporate blog.

The Golden Rule – Don’t be an idiot!

OK, so this just sounds like common sense. But it’s a sentiment which can easily be forgotten in the heat of the moment. The internet has a long memory, and it’s often quick to judge. One misjudged tweet or Facebook status update can have a debilitating effect on your brand. A good example of this is when, in 2009, Habitat used ‘Hashtag Spam’ to get into the top trending results on Twitter. Hashtags are the keywords used on Twitter which allows users to follow a conversation, and, using hashtags like #Iran and #Mousavi, the retailer added notes about its products into the stream of tweets about the Iranian uprising in 2009. Whilst Habitat blamed this on the actions of a rogue intern, the effect was debilitating and, arguably, the brand’s online reputation hasn’t really recovered since.

And, above all else, have fun!

It’s easy to take social media too seriously, but in doing so, you’d be missing out on seeing it for what it can be (namely, bloody good fun). If you’re prepared to put the effort in, you’ll soon reap the rewards, as well as make friends, influence people, and (eventually) become a social media superstar.

Agree? Disagree? Or perhaps you just want to say hello? If so, feel free to follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/misscay, or feel free to add me on LinkedIn.