Welcome back to aimClear’s coverage of #SESNY 2013! After a rousing keynote on the effect of social media on modern television, attendees hankering for some top-shelf tips on content marketing found themselves in the Empire room of the Marriott Marquis for a look at How to Earn Visibility & Links through Killer Content Strategy. Let’s break that session title down: we’re looking at getting quality links as a result of creating and syndicating totally badass and valuable content… but we’re not talking about link building.
Link building! Eughh! A dreadful term, according to the lovely Laura Lippay. Laura, CEO at SEO Gadget US, took the stage to share her two cents on link building, and effective best practices for acquiring high-quality links to fabulous content… au naturale.
The Trouble With Link Building…
Rewind three years back,: Laura finds herself on a conference panel with four or five other dudes. It is time for a lightning round, and each speaker has a few minutes to share some marvelous expert tip as a final takeaway from the session. She is the only person who doesn’t say something about link building, and, upon pointing this out, is embraced in a side-hug from a fellow panelist who whispers, “Oh, Laura– link building works!” Does it?
In the online marketing industry, yes, it does work – however black-hat or shady the link building tactics may be. That said… she still hates the term “link building,” because while yokels are out there getting so-so links by spammy means, Laura works on behalf of some big brands with reps to protect – therefore, when tasked with bringing in links for that brand, she can’t really dabble in those seamier tactics. She has to get links naturally. How does she do it? By working really hard at crafting a really great content strategy.
The New SEOs, Post Penguin & Panda
Google’s now infamous algorithm updates, Panda and Penguin, have seriously spanked sites for having poor quality and spammy-ish links. Who’s fault is that? Laura suggests it’s our fault – the fault of SEOs, in a way. Since then, SEOs have been rebranding themselves as “content marketers.”
Fair enough. But what’s the difference?
“Link building is manipulation,” Laura contends. “Content marketing is marketing.” Touché.
After Panda and Penguin, some companies suddenly started losing money thanks in part to a sudden (and sometimes sharp) decrease in traffic and visibility. Some know what they’re doing is shady, and might anticipate (or deserve) the rank-spank. Some hire SEOs to do the work for them, and therefore may be unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes. “Our industry is tainted,” Laura stated, referring to SEOs. “It’s the reason, in many cases, that business are losing money, laying off people– in some cases, even closing their doors. Our industry.”
So what do we do? We rebrand. As content marketers.
Content Marketing vs. Link Building
Now we have all these SEOs learning how to market—how to do marketing, which is awesome! Laura comes from a marketing background, so she’s all for it – really excited about it. Sadly, even with this rebranded job title, in most cases, she’s still seeing the same thing: building the kind of links that can get you into trouble. Still, as that panelist commented three years back… it works. Funnily enough, the search trend for “content marketing” is going up while “link building” is going down… but are people really marketing?
Okay. Hold Up. What IS Marketing?
Marketing is having a target audience that has needs and wants (maybe some they don’t even know about yet…) and you provide something as a business that meets those needs. You want people to know about what you have to offer. That’s marketing – getting in front of the right people at the right time with the right message. This can be achieved with ads – search, social, display, and so on. Content marketing isn’t about those ads… it’s marketing with content! Content = articles, videos, infographics, tools, downloads – whatever is most pertinent to your audience.
Where’s The Beef?!
Laura brought up a slide featuring the sweet old lady of the “Where’s The Beef?” campaigns from way back when. This was content marketing from back in the day. It achieved the things content marketing should achieve today – it featured a kind-faced grandma-type woman who elicited emotional responses – she was funny, relatable, directly spoke to a need (there’s no beef!), and catchy. She was popular – and that’s one of the things you actually want for SEO. SEO is more than the right anchor text and keywords and title tags – it’s about being popular, it’s about getting those social shares and links and natural virility. These things affect rankings – which is good!
Pro-tip: Laura recommended pouring over traditional marketing and advertising to gain inspiration for content marketing ideas you can map to today’s digital landscape.
Mathematical equation for this section of the presentation:
Audience Need + Evoke Emotion = Shares, Links, Popularity
A Case Study: Vancouver & Going Green
Next, Laura toured us through a case study of one hotel booking company executing a rather successful content marketing strategy. Let’s get the facts:
- Housetrip is, as Laura stated, “like the Airbnb of UK (started there)” – people renting their places of residence
- Target audience: hip folks
- Business challenge: get the attention of new cities (in this case, Vancouver)
- Research team pokes around, looking for ideas content. They want to create something awesome.
- Team researches what’s important to Vancouver. Discovers Vancouver is really proud of being a green city.
- Team concludes: Hip folks will like the green factor!
- Research team checks out existing content surrounding the concept of green cities. Goal is to pull inspiration from what’s already there, but also to create something way cooler than what’s already there.
- Pro-tip: Search for your keyphrase MINUS the brand you’re working for, e.g. “ “greenest cities in the world -HOUSETRIP”
- Research results – there wasn’t much out there. Lots of potential to create something SUPER AWESOME!
Content Strategy Method:
- Find out where hip folks are reading online. We want to know where to get in front of them. They’re not on Housetrip – if they were, you’d want to make and serve content there.
- Befriend publishers. The new web is all about relationships – just like offline. Don’t spam them. Create relationships to place your content. Collaborate with them. Get them involved. Get their opinion. See what they think. Depending on how much time you have, when you have an idea, send it out to a bunch of people you think are right to create the content (for example, developers and designers if you’re making an infographic). Dribble offers services like this. Take their concepts to the publishers and client – see what they like. Then, hire that developer, and create the content.
- Get creative. Really, amazingly creative! According to Laura, who’s opinion, especially in this case, represents all smart people in the universe: Stock photos suck! Again, seek ideas from content that’s already out there. Surf informationisbeautiful.net, dig through traditional advertising, assorted arts, things like that. Sit down, flip through, make notes, get inspired.
- Go time! Publish something the target audience will love in a place they’re already reading online and make it work to your business goal. Housetrip decided to create and publish a pretty infographic of the world’s greenest cities. OMG did people pick it up! So much so that when you Google the link, something like 101k results come up. Fastcompany picked it up and shared it. The band 30 Seconds to Mars found it and shared it on Twitter. The freakin’ mayor of Vancouver (the city they were after, remember!) shared it online. Freakin’ Microsoft’s Green blog picked it up (and linked back to the Housetrip site!). All of this resulted in increased visibility. Gold. Real, quality links from credible, authoritative sources. That’s a lot better than traditional link building. It’s marketing!
A Recap of Laura’s Content Marketing Strategy, Step-by-Step
- Know your targeted audience and business goals.
- Know where your audience hangs out online. Know what will evoke emotion.
- Craft ideas.
- Get creative.
- Optional: Pre-promote with tactics like audience voting, PR, etc.
- Collaborate with publishers on ideas.
- Optional: Post-promote with stories on the piece, other types of follow-up content.
- Optional: Follow up on citations (links) as word spreads.
“So yeah, sure – link building works,” Laura concluded, “but good content marketing weeds out manipulation. Are you up for the challenge?”
Oh yes. We are.
Thanks so much, Laura, for a fabulous presentation chockfull of actionable tactics and powerful words of encouragement. March on, content marketers, march on! And meanwhile, stick around on aimClear blog for more coverage comin’ atcha from #SESNY 2013!