Content Marketing and SEO: Proceed With Caution
Q: What are the best tools to measure the SEO impact of content marketing?
A: Many publications and businesses employ content marketing as a way to reach people. By utilizing this format, brands can create actual useful content for readers. Blog posts on company websites, video campaigns and e-books all fall under this umbrella. This strategy is often a more effective method of reaching people vs. splashing ad content all over a web site.
Naturally most businesses want to track the search engine optimization (SEO) impact of content marketing because they see content marketing as primarily a SEO tactic. Write great stuff and you’ll garner links. Write relevant stuff and you’ll make your site more relevant, too. This strategy of producing quality content can be costly and businesses want to make sure investing in this format pays off. Most companies therefore want to track return on investment (ROI) in terms of SEO gains.
As for your question, it is a bit loaded. I'm going to answer it and then explain why this may not be the right way to look at content.
Measuring the impact on SEO
You have a several options to measure the impact and ROI. We usually use a combination of the following:
1. Look at organic traffic. Tracking traffic to your content from organic search over time is the most accurate measure. Any analytics package, like Google Analytics, will do this by looking to see where people are coming from.
2. Track rankings. Companies can look at where their site shows up in a search result for a relevant phrase. There are several great tools like Advanced Web Ranking, AuthorityLabs and Moz, which all let you keep track of rankings over time. If your rankings suddenly rise for topics featured in a specific piece of content, it's a safe bet there's a connection.
3. Utilize Term Frequency Inverse Document Frequency. Also knows as TFIDF, this formula allows businesses to measure keyword relevance of pages within the larger structure of a site. For example, if your new piece of content uses the phrase "running shoes," you can measure the frequency of the term on that one page. TFIDF can also measure how relevant this page will appear for a particular phrase against the larger context of the web site. This technique may provide a hint of how you're impacting your site's key phrase-relevance as you add new content. That being said, search engines don’t publish their algorithms, so we’ll never know for certain just how useful TFIDF really is.
4. Gain authority. Great content attracts social media shares and links. Those are pure gold, no matter how Google changes their ranking algorithm. So track those links, either by watching referrers in your analytics software or using one of the link tracking tools out on the market. Moz.com, Majestic SEO and Ahrefs are great.
5. Build from the ground up. Seems ambitious, but businesses can build their own tool to pull together social media shares, organic search visits, links and TFIDF of each piece of content. It's not easy -- you'll need a professional developer to do it -- but if you take the time to build a tool like this, it'll pay off in the long term.
But all of this comes with a major caveat:
Content marketing isn't an SEO tactic
Content marketing really shouldn't be considered a SEO tactic. SEO is the outcome of a fantastic web strategy -- from infrastructure to user interface design to content. It's not driven by one particular tactic, so treating content as a route to higher rankings is dangerous. One reason being is for content marketing to even work, exceptional content is required. There are millions of poorly-written, keyword-stuffed articles hanging off web sites out there, which gets lost in the noise and search engines will (at best) ignore it.
Google's Panda update actually ranks sites based on overall content quality. When Google rolled out this update, many major sites that had relied on "content farms" for rankings saw their high standings vanish.
Content marketing should actually be considered its own marketing strategy. It brings you those potential customers long before they’re ready to buy and helps them remember you. It grows your audience via social media, increases the chances of media mentions and targets specific audiences that are hard to reach. Yes, it can help with SEO by attracting citations (like links) and building relevance, but it does a great deal more, impacting almost every marketing tactic.
Don’t approach content marketing as purely an SEO tactic. Account for its broad effect on your marketing strategy, and you’ll get better business – and SEO – results.
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