Working with clients, I’ve noticed that philosophies about SEO often fall into two camps — those that gravitate to the technical side of SEO, and those who try to build their SEO through a combination of blogging, social, and/or content strategy. The seductive quality of this false dichotomy is that adopting either strategy may work really well on the short term: a really good content or branding reboot, or a really effective technical SEO refresh can do wonders for the way a website performs — and this, in turn, can build a lot of loyalty to that particular camp’s philosophy.
However, the truth of the matter is that, on their own, neither strategy can hold up indefinitely. Only through a combination of technical SEO improvements and content strategy can a website enjoy long-term growth and success. Think of it like lobster fishing.
Technical SEO: Making Your Traps Work Better
Imagine you’re a lobster fisherman with 100 traps, and your business is going to fail unless you start catching more lobsters. One approach would be to find a better way to use the traps you do have. You’ll start to gather data about what you’ve been doing so far, how you’ve been doing it, and how you could improve. A technical SEO does the same thing with your website — they take the content you do have, and find technical ways to make it work better. For example:
|Discovers that, due to a placing error, many of their traps were being placed with the door opening on the ground.||Discovers that a major portion of the website was accidentally blocked from search by the robots.txt file.|
|Learns that they’ve been placing their traps in locations with few lobsters. Moves the traps to a place where more lobsters are present.||Conducts keyword research and optimizes pages so that content better matches high-volume search terms.|
|Changes his bait from haddock to salted herring, and discovers that it catches more lobsters that were searching for food.||Rewrites meta titles and descriptions to improve clickthrough rates when pages appear in search results.|
|Makes changes to the trap’s netting to make it easier for lobsters to enter the trap, improving his haul.||Optimizes site load speed and builds on mobile compatibility to reduce on-page bounce rates.|
|The lobsterman’s old wooden traps are falling apart and need to be repaired or upgraded to new metal traps.||Works with IT to upgrade to from an antiquated CMS to a new, more efficient one.|
In short, technical SEO can lead to some immediate and powerful improvements in site traffic, and it’s vital to making the most of all existing and upcoming content.
Content & Social Strategy: Capturing More Business
Eventually, you’re going to find that you’ve done most of what you reasonably can to optimize how you use your 100 traps, and your time is best used shifted to other efforts. For both a lobsterman and a digital marketer, this means you’ll need to do three things:
Learn From The Competition
From growing up on the shoreline and working for a lobsterman in my early years, I know that trade secrets are their lifeblood. They keep a close eye out to see what they can learn by watching one another: checking out their neighbor’s prices, where they’re putting their traps, and where they’re finding success. There’s only so many lobsters and a lot of people chasing after them; times are tight.
In the digital world, we can gain the same advantages through competitive analysis. Why reinvent the wheel when your competition has already started building hovercars? Identify your smartest (not your biggest) competitors and examine their strategies to see what they’re doing with their content.
Look at their content:
- Are half of your competitors putting out a new video every month and marketing them heavily?
- Did three of your main competitors abandon their white paper strategy after a few months?
- What kinds of blog posts are getting engagement, and how often do they blog?
- Where is their largest social media following?
- Are they pursuing e-mail marketing and newsletters?
- Are they doing A/B testing?
These are all data sources that will help you understand what worked (and didn’t work) for them — and learning curves you don’t have to suffer through as you rush to catch up.
Get someone sick off a bad lobster and they’ll do more than stop buying lobster from you — they may never eat lobster again. And they’ll tell everyone they know about their experience — which is terrible for your business.
Once you’ve got the your own site under control, be sure to check to see if there’s a mess hanging around elsewhere on the Internet with your name on it. Respond carefully and politely to any reviews you find — preferably both the positive and negative ones — and make sure that you’ve done what you can to make things right with the people who are upset with you. As Chipotle’s is probably painfully aware of these days, when people search for your brand, your own website tells only a tiny part of the story of what you’re about — everyone else tells the rest:
Placing More Traps
Ultimately, you can only catch so many lobsters with 100 traps. Websites are much more scalable, but the philosophy generally holds: to catch more, you’re going to need to get more “traps”, and figure out where to place them.
To some extent, your technical SEO work will build into this. Keyword research usually provides a lot more data than you have content to match it to, and it’s low-hanging fruit to use the “leftovers” to identify big gaps in your current content strategy.
Use Google Suggest (when Google makes suggestions as you type in the search box) to see what kinds of questions people are asking in search, as well as which ones are being answered, and by who, in Google’s “Answer Box”. Fill in the gaps in the answer box, and hijack your competitions’s answers when you can to take over that prime search real estate.
Finally, use the concerns and passion points you discovered while doing reputation management to build content that speaks to what really gets your customers wound up. Address their concerns in your own content: relate to them, and put their minds at ease by speaking to the concerns weighing on their minds.
Prioritizing While Keeping Your Business Afloat
If your strategy is one-pronged right now, bringing in the other half of your strategy does not necessarily require you to increase your budget or manpower. Start with a technical audit to make sure there are no crippling issues with your SEO, evaluate your current content strategy, and use that data to inform how you should allocate your resources for your ongoing strategy.
In my experience, there’s usually at least a handful of urgent-level technical issues that can be quickly solved for big gains. After that, a hybrid strategy is the ideal move. Shoot for quality over quantity — take the time to build schema, social schema, and strong metdata for each new content piece, and put the effort in to make the content the best of its type online. The engagements and perception of quality that goes hand-in-hand with this approach is going to sell you a lot of lobsters.
Which camp are you strongest in? Technical, content strategy, or a hybrid approach? What kinds of wins is it bringing you? Let me know in the comments below; I’ll stop by often to respond.