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From the Trenches

SEO Success is a Marathon – and Content Marketing is Your Only Distance Runner

Mike Sweeney | May 10, 2021
Marathon Runners

Many companies are obsessed with search engine optimization. And this obsession is justified considering 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine.

However, a lot of businesses take a short-term, quick-fix approach to SEO. They focus almost exclusively on technical SEO and on-page SEO, and they roll with a set it and forget it mindset. Meanwhile, the one “natural” tactic that ensures long-term SEO success — deep, topical content — is cast aside.

The Short-Term Trap of On-Page and Technical SEO

You may say your SEO game is marathon-worthy, but you’re probably sprinting toward quick fixes and short-term results like (nearly) everyone else.

Companies tend to fixate on on-page SEO first because, frankly, it’s the easiest fix. They optimize page titles, H1 tags, subheads, and maybe do a little page formatting. The problem? They’re doing this on what are generally company-focused or service-focused pages — not deep, thought leadership-oriented pages.

Then some companies move on to technical SEO, and they only get there because some “SEO consultant” runs a website crawl on their site and it spits out all kinds of ominous-looking signals. (These are usually colored in red to indicate danger ahead.) While many of those signals are real, some companies simply focus on crawl errors, which leaves hundreds of potential and existing content pages untouched.

This fixation on technical and on-page components stems from executives’ general uncertainty about SEO. They’ve been told it’s important but can’t pin down what exactly they should be doing. Slapping some alt tags everywhere seems right for a while, but, ultimately, this uncertainty and lack of direction leads many companies to hire external SEO agencies for help.

Unfortunately, most SEO agencies exacerbate this technical and on-page SEO obsession. Worse, there’s often little visibility into the agency’s processes. It’s wild how many people don’t actually know what their SEO agency is doing for them at all.

Is your return on SEO still a mystery, or can you quantify the optimization results your agency is garnering for your business?

Why Content Marketing is the Long-Reigning SEO King

Look, you should care about each nook and cranny of on-page and technical SEO. But really, in today’s Google-centric world, that’s table stakes. Site speed, tagging, image optimization, etc. — that’s your SEO baseline.

If you want to take control of your long-term SEO destiny — corny, we know — you need high-quality, topical content.

Thoughtful, optimized content is the gift that keeps on giving. Think of it this way: If you bought 1,000 shares of Netflix stock in 2011, you’re ~$450,000 wealthier in 2021. Content marketing works the same way. You might not get an immediate return on your investment, but one single blog post could still be making you money in the form of leads and closed business a decade from now.

There’s nothing as powerful as content’s compounding effect over the long term. Take a marketing-specific example. Your Series B SaaS company could invest $5,000 on a paid media campaign today and attract leads instantaneously. Let’s say it generates 16 sales-qualified leads. But that $5,000 is done working for you today. You got your 16, and now you’re gonna need to spend $5,000 again tomorrow to get your next 16.

What if you spent that same $5,000 to craft one long-form, topic-specific, well-optimized blog post? I’d be willing to bet that most of you would generate zero leads from that post on day 1. But when I ask you how many leads that single piece of content drove in the first 365 days, it might be more like 25. And after 3-4 years? We’re probably talking in the hundreds.

Google Rewards Content Marketing Efforts

The Google machine favors expert content more and more with every algorithm update. There’s a prevailing industry belief that short-term, single-page SEO bandaids (think meta tags) no longer win Google’s affections.

How can we tell that Google loves good content? Other than the obvious — your pages won’t rank high if they suck — the EAT and YMYL algorithms clue us in on Google’s priorities. Both concepts flowed from a recent update to Google’s quality evaluator guidelines.

The EAT acronym stands for “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness.” Google looks for signals that your content meets these EAT objectives and ranks your pages accordingly.

YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life.” This algorithm affects content that has a direct impact on searchers’ finances, health, and safety. Let’s say you’re a medical devices firm that sells infusion pumps to hospitals. Your healthtech content better be accurate and informative because it affects huge healthcare networks, potentially influencing patient outcomes. Google will punish you for misinforming users and reward you for being a genuine expert.

To sum it up, EAT and YMYL prove that Google values quality content over many other facets of SEO.

Searchers Aren’t Fooled By Low-Quality (on Nonexistent) Content

Just as Google’s algorithms mature, so do users. Ranking on page one in search engines will always matter, and quality content will undoubtedly help you get there. But users are also becoming savvier, tuning out “manipulated” results more and more all the time.

Gone are the days of searchers being tricked into clicking thinly veiled sales pitches and duplicate canned content. They know what questions to ask Google, and they know which links to click to get legitimate answers.

All this to say, only the best content is left standing, so you better get writing.

Tips for Writing Google and User-Approved Content

Okay, you’re convinced you need to invest in quality content to nurture your SEO success over time. But what defines quality content, anyway?

Pieces that dive deep into meaty subject matter. Ones that offer real advice, solutions, and explanations. Your readers should walk away from your content with new insights and a clear understanding of the topic. This all means that your stuff should probably be longform — like 1,000-plus words when appropriate.

Stay in Your Expertise Lane

One way to more easily produce these deep, topical pieces is to tap your existing expertise. That’s what makes content marketing the most “natural” SEO tactic. You’re just writing what you talk about all the time.

What does your company do best? Take what you already know and put pen to paper. When you force content that isn’t in your wheelhouse, you won’t sound authoritative enough to meet Google’s — and users’ — high expectations.

Also, don’t cover your core topics once and move on. To really prove your expertise, cover each topic multiple times in multiple formats.

Refresh Your Writing Over Time

Content is your key to long-term SEO success, but only if you refresh that content. Always look for ways to improve what you’ve already written. This is good news for those who find writing new pieces challenging. Try updating your existing content in tandem with pushing out new stuff.

To refresh your writing, start by looking at your keyword data. Can you hone in on search intent? Let’s say you’re ranking highly for “patient observation platform,” but “virtual patient observation platform” would capture more qualified leads aligned with your services. Change some H2s, edit your copy. Because even your best-performing content can use an occasional update.

Now What?

A final thought on traditional SEO agencies: They’re not usually built to write top-notch content, if for no other reason than they don’t employ writers with vertical-specific or topic-specific subject matter expertise. They might (and they better) value content marketing, but they’re probably not the ones who should create it for you. And if they do, be sure they’re not playing any old SEO games, attempting to trick Google’s algorithms.

If you don’t have the bandwidth to produce excellent content in-house and your SEO agency partner isn’t the right fit, or you just don’t know where to start, consider outsourcing your marketing (as so many others do) to a content marketing firm. If you’ve got your head in the long game, that is.

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.