The role of content to drive engagement and conversions.
Anyone who has been involved in the seo world for the last few years will agree that content is the key to driving interaction with your website, both in the form of rankings as well as user experience. Google has gone to great lengths to assure users through continual algorithm updates and additions that the website that they find at the top of search positions when they ask a question is going to not only provide an answer, but also will expand the desired knowledge base of the user. Google has gone beyond the crawling of websites and pages looking for information on a subject, and has now evolved into the providing of useful information based upon their perception of the user’s intent. When you ask Google a question, they are not only attempting to provide an answer to that question through information on a website, but also trying to understand WHY you asked that question and provide not only an answer but also answers to potential additional questions you may have as a result of the information you have found presented. Content for SEO is now a process of answering relevant questions and providing information in a way that is meaningful to users.
Here is an example. People reading this article have landed on this website and are now reading the information we are providing because of a few potential paths they could have taken to get to this page. They could have been referred directly to it by someone telling them that they need to read this article and providing them with the address of the page. This form of direct access does not provide Google with any information except that people from a certain area typed the address and ended up on this article. Google is watching what they do from that point, however, and learning about the importance of this information with regards to a certain topic by analyzing where they go from here. Are they clicking away from the site after reading this information, or are they then clicking to another part of the site? If they go to another article, is it because this new article further explains a point that was made on this page? Are they going to a form or a contact page? If they are, Google understands that the information here is designed to illicit a reaction on viewer’s parts, and potentially was part of a sales process. These types of ongoing interaction within a website’s navigational paths are being used by Google to judge how effective this website is at providing useful and relevant information to users.
If Google can learn additional information about a user’s motivations through the paths that were taken to get to this point, they further decide the importance of the content in relation to a topic and manipulate rankings as a result. What this means is that Google is using the path that you took through their system to get to this point in order to decide the other uses of this content and other content that is attached to it. Generally, there are three types of visitors to our website; people who are looking for information that they can judge in order to make a decision to hire us to do their SEO work or to hire a different company, people who are looking for information on how to do SEO themselves or what the SEO process entails so that they can hire someone to do it for them, or salespeople from other marketing firms looking for outsourcing leads in order to gain new work that we may not be able to handle ourselves. When Google ranks this article somewhere in it’s results for a query like “how does content effect SEO in 2015,” they are notating that people found this article listed in their results for that search and clicked on it. This means that something in the title or short description led them to believe that the answer to their question would be on this page, and they can find out more information on the subject by reading it. Google then begins the process of analyzing that user’s behavior once they are here, from how long they are on this page to what other pages on our website they might explore. Google will also track if you click away from this page and then go back to their results and click another page, which would tell them that the question was not answered satisfactorily. All of this ongoing tracking provides Google with information on if they should increase the rankings for this page to a better position for that particular search query, or should they potentially include this page in other queries that are along the same lines. At the end of the day, the ideal behavior is to get someone to click through a Google listing that is attached to a specific question that you assume a person looking for your type of business is going to ask, them moving through that website to other pages that expand on the knowledge that was gained through the answering of the first question. If you asked “how does content effect SEO in 2015” and you found our page at number 10, then you came to the page and stayed on it for a long period of time, then you clicked onto several other articles we have written on the topics of content, our SEO process, how SEO is different in 2015 and other SEO related subjects, then Google will push this article further toward the top listings for other users who ask that original question or something like it. Google learns from the previous users in order to make better decisions for future users interested in the same information. This process of specific content either adding to Google’s trust of it with regards to providing useful information, or the opposite effect of being pushed backward because users are acting as though the content was not relevant for that subject, is what ultimately decides if this content page will rank or not for searches with regards to SEO questions. How users act with regards to this content on our website compared to other content on the website will decide if the site itself ranks for broader “SEO questions.”
Now that we have established that content has a direct effect on rankings due to user behavior, the question becomes “how do I create content that provides users with answers” and “how can I use this content to increase my sales?” The answer to this question once again comes back to understanding your user’s motivations for being on this page in the first place. At this stage I am assuming that I am no longer speaking to people interested in hiring an SEO for a project, as they would have stopped reading a long time ago and made the decision to either do further research on our company on other pages of the website or made contact to us through a form or a call, or if you were a salesperson you long-ago would have clicked away. Obviously you are looking for information on how to actually use content on a website in order to increase rankings, drive user interaction and engagement, and make people contact you for a product or service. All of these things start with getting Google to understand what your content is about and provide you with a ranking for something, which will then be further developed in one way or another by ongoing interaction and behavior. Google will scan the text and imagery associated within the page, and then will also consider the interlinked pages from this same website or other websites. They will scan the text looking for terms that they understand through previous analysis, then will also look for terms that they view as being “comparable” or things that are often times used in the same articles by experts in the field. Google will look at the overall subjects on the website that the content is on, as well as the content of websites that both link to and are linked to by this website. Through this process, Google will form a basic understanding of the topic. Do not confuse this with human interaction and understanding, Google is a machine that does not actually understand what you are saying, and instead is forming a basic understanding based on everything that is connected to this website that it has seen in the past. This basic understanding of the page topic will be verified by what Google sees as the main topic being reiterated in the title and description that you provide. If you do not provide this information, Google will pull sections from your content that are relevant to what Google believes your subject is. Allowing for Google to make it’s own interpretation of your content is dangerous in that it might not be able to understand well enough to be accurate. This is why it is so important to take the time to fill in descriptive title and description meta data, if nothing more it will give Google an understanding of what YOU want them to understand the subject as being. This information will generally be used in the sections that Google displays within search results, thus making this title and description crucial to appeal to a human being looking for an answer. If nobody click on the result, it will begin to fall in search results because Google is interpreting this lack of click-through as the subject not being relevant. This lack of ranking for one result will harm potential rankings for associated searches as well, dooming the content to never being presented.
Once you have developed the content and the titles and descriptions, how do you begin the process of driving the interactions that become self-fulfilling after the rankings have their basic development? Each SEO will have a different opinion on how this is most effectively accomplished, but the short answer is that you should use any methods within the terms of service that Google provides in order to get real people to view your page. If you can get people to link to the site from a website that is in the same content pool as yours, then you have achieved the ultimate in verifying in Google’s eyes that this page is relevant for a specific question. The discussion of how to effectively generate links to your content is going to be loaded with different opinions. Is it all right to guest blog on another website and then link back to your content? In most cases this is fine (but with different levels of effectiveness) however if Google believes for any reason that you have paid or bartered for the right to put that guest blog no that site, then they will either provide you with no credit or potentially will punish you by de-ranking you for that subject. Google uses many factors to make this determination, however it can be generally summed up by saying that if they see TOO MUCH of one kind of link, they will become suspicious that you are trying to manipulate the system. Should you pay for your content link to be promoted on another website? The answer to this question is also quite difficult due to paid linking being against the Google TOS, but promotional advertising being fine. What determines how Google interprets your position on that other website is their past history, and how much on topic this entire website is. You are somewhat at the mercy of the other website in regards to how your website is viewed, so be somewhat careful when reviewing these opportunities.
In the past few years, social signals have gained importance in Google’s eyes as they are a real-time indication of how people act in connection to this information. Are people sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other mediums? Are people talking about it when they share it, using terms that have been learned are associated with the topic? All of these social cues have some relevance, so it is a good idea to develop some form of social sharing and bookmarking strategy to initially spread the content into the internet world. Of course, a social sharing strategy has limitations in that your reach is limited, bringing up the topic of social influencers and their promoting of your content. Asking people who are important within a subject area is fine and can yield fantastic results as far as traffic to a website, however Google has taken steps in the past year or so to identify where and when a social influencer is taking money or barter in order to promote something. Do not get caught in this trap, but reaching out in a legitimate way is encouraged. From that point, continually exploring any opportunity to get your content in front of people interested in the subject is the way to go.
In a nutshell, content is a well-documented method of establishing the authority of your website on a certain topic, and the creation of content on that topic and then expanded upon within linked pages on your website is the way to develop rankings. This content must be on topic, relevant, important, unique and solve a need. After this content has been placed within your website and linked to from relevant spaces, socially spreading the word that the content exists completes the strategy. Reach out to everyone you think will be interested, both physically through emails and phone calls as well as using more social media types of interaction like posting the links and initiating discussion on groups, pages, forums and other forms of media. Be relentless in your promotion of the content, because at the end of the day if nobody knows it is there, then it does not solve a need. Google will take over from this point, and the rest will come naturally. Content is the most important aspect of SEO in 2015, and without it you are going to see a hard road ahead if you rely on search engine rankings in order to find new customers.