I recently wrote a piece on the A to Z of content marketing and SEO intersections. These two concepts are closely interlinked and have a special relationship that needs your attention if you want to grow your business.
Content Marketing Institute informs us that only 6 percent of B2B marketers rate their content marketing efforts to be “very effective.” But why do it if it isn’t working for you? The answer isn’t to give up content marketing; the answer is to find out how to get better at it.
Today I want to clarify the many reasons your content marketing can hurt your SEO. In other words, they’re not just connected, they are interdependent. Failing at one is going to lead to failing in general. So here they are, the top 26 reasons your content marketing is hurting your SEO:
1. You aren’t using the right keywords to compete
To excel at content marketing and SEO you need to create content that uses the right keywords (and uses them well). How will you know it’s working? Ideally, because you finally match or overtake pages that rank higher for the same keywords. There’s really just one way to do this: create better content than they do—that uses the right keywords most effectively.
Interestingly, Content Marketing Institute has also evaluated the keyword performance of some of the biggest companies out there, only to find that 19.4 percent of “Fortune 100 keywords” fell on the second page of a Google search. CMI points out that this doesn’t matter for keywords that are too common or vague to be useful. Most businesses really don’t need to be on the first page of results for “online.”
Focus your content using keywords that match your goals for branding, conversions, and qualified leads.
You also need to use these keywords correctly. Each piece of content should focus on multiple high-power keywords, not just one. Search engines use a process called “latent semantic indexing,” which means that they can see how multiple keywords in a piece of your content relate to other terms on that page and on other pages. This is how they decide what the most important themes of each piece of your content are, so make sure these are the takeaways you’ve intended with your content.
Your content will work best from an SEO perspective when you have a long, meaningful list of keyword and keyword phrases that, together, can provide a rich description of what your business does, who you are and what you have to offer. Each piece you create draws from that list and adds to the overall picture.
2. Your business niche is hard to write about
There’s no question that some businesses are easier to write about than others. Your “how-to” guide about getting more social media mentions is probably going to draw more clicks than your “how-to” guide about which kinds of pre-fab concrete walls work for which industrial concerns. That’s because not too many people know anything about pre-fab concrete walls (and not to many people need to know, either). It’s just not a thrilling area for many people.
The good news here is that there are people who need the product, they know they do, and like everyone else, they want their own businesses to grow. That means that you can offer them something valuable. You might need to devote more time to research and strategy, but there is content that can be created, even in difficult niches.
Another wrench gets thrown into the works when your industry isn’t as online as others. You may think that if you sell supplies for use on small farms you can’t market online. However, the bottom line is this: everyone Googles something sooner or later, and probably sooner. This is true for small farmers and everyone else.
So here’s what you do inside your difficult niche:
- Spend time on your strategies for content. Keep trying. There are things that people need to read in any areas.
- Generate a list of content for your niche, and maintain it. Add something every day. Write down your own questions, thoughts and ideas and turn them into topics.
- If some very popular kind of content is trending, first check to see if there’s any way to relate it back to your niche. If there isn’t, drop it; you don’t need to jump off the same bridge because everyone else is unless it works in your niche.
- Never neglect industry publications and other focused sources of content. If that’s what everyone in your area is reading, write for it.
For more on how to make an okay product stand out online, check out my article here.
3. You’re curating content incorrectly
Curated content, or content you gather and distribute that is written by others but on point for your business, saves you time and effort, and allows you to interact with your niche influencers. Great content marketing does include curation, but the kind of curation that supports and boosts your SEO is very specific. As a result, lots of businesses get this wrong.
Content curation that simply leads to duplicate content or tons of outbound links hurts your SEO. Here are my rules for content curation:
- There’s no substitute for the original. Curation supplements your original content creation but does not replace it. Aim for a healthy balance of original content and curated content; a “healthy balance” means mostly original content.
- Avoid duplicate content. How? Do not ever just “repost” a whole piece of content on your site. It’s rude, and it hurts your SEO. Take a great piece from somewhere else as a starting point for adding your own unique views and commentary to the conversation. Make sure your slant and context are original.
- Choose wisely. When you do use outbound links, choose to lead your audience to high-power, high-quality pieces on authoritative sites. Anything you lead your readers to should be at least as good as your best work.
- Mix it up. I know you love Quicksprout, because I do too. Everyone does. But don’t repost their every word; it’s lazy and annoying to readers. “Curation” means carefully selecting the best of what’s out thre from a variety of great sources.
Follow these curation rules and you’ll be right on track.
4. You haven’t created a unified strategy (or you aren’t following yours)
All marketing requires strategy. Content marketing is no exception.
Remember that recent CMI study I mentioned above? There is a strong correlation between strategy and content marketing success: 30 percent of the B2B marketers said they were effective or very effective, and effectiveness increased with a documented content marketing strategy (among other things). Furthermore, 66 percent of successful marketers have a document content strategy, and only 11 percent of the unsuccessful marketers do. The trends were about the same for B2C marketers.
There are a lot of reasons that you need a unified strategy that you follow. It allows your efforts to stay coherent and avoids wasted time and money. It also allows you to more accurately measure what works and what doesn’t in order to improve. Perhaps most critically, a unified strategy supports your brand; lack of strategy dilutes or even sabotages it.
Develop a unified content strategy like this:
- Conduct research. What are the winning brands in your niche doing that works for them? How could they improve?
- Write your strategy down. After you’ve conducted your research and created a strategy, write it down. Seeing it in black and white you can improve it and ensure that it is unified and aligned with your business plan. When it’s finished, make it official and keep it as part of your core business documents.
- Define your key performance indicators (KPIs). Base them on what is most important for your business with audience, brand, sales, and other metrics in mind. Do you need conversions most? Or is traffic your biggest need right now? Track your KPIs.
- Evolve your strategy with your business. As you track your KPIs and other metrics, adapt your strategy over time—even when it is working very well, you can probably improve.
- Don’t just create content. Creating and publishing content is not a proxy for strategy. Strategy comes first, and then you create and publish content that furthers the strategy.
- Take part in your strategy. Whether you use an in-house team or professional content marketing assistance, you need to be personally involved in the creation of your strategy.
5. You focus too much on short tail keywords
If short tail keywords gobble up too much of your focus, your content will be thin, vague and weak. This is the content production strategy of a decade ago, and it does not work.
If you sell radiators, you don’t focus all of your content around “radiators.” Instead, generate phrases that your target audience will be looking for. It doesn’t matter if all readers are looking for one phrase; choose phrases that some will search for and choose lots of them: “best radiators for block buildings,” “how long do radiators last,” and “which radiators to bleed first” are all possibilities.
Ask yourself these questions: “What do my customers want to know about radiators? What do we do that will interest them? How do I really add value to this conversation?”
6. You’re not organizing your content correctly
Also that you’re not organizing content together correctly in order to make it the most authoritative page. The real goal of SEO is to create the best possible user experience, because that’s what Google and other search engines look for in your site. This means you need to avoid getting too preoccupied with technical details; focus on great content and a simple to use design and you’ll have given your site a great start.
Organizing your site is therefore very important. If your site is confusing, poorly organized or just contains a ton of content that you have to sift through to enjoy, your visitors won’t stay long.
Think of your website like this. Scientists have classified animals within the animal kingdom into a taxonomy based on how they are similar and how they differ, and you will create a taxonomy for your “content kingdom.” The two big phyla of animals are vertebrates and invertebrates; your main categories of content for your automotive business might be parts and accessories. The five big animal classes within the vertebrate class are mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects; maybe your automotive sub-categories within the “parts” class are engines, transmissions and high performance. The bottom line is that you create a hierarchy or taxonomy for your content that makes sense.
So, to fix organizational problems with your content, here are the basics:
- Organizational hierarchy. Use an intuitive hierarchy to organize the content. This hierarchical structure should give your visitors context for each piece of content. It should also let users flow to and from related pieces of content.
- Create categories for your content as I described above. They should help a visitor see, in a glance, what sorts of topics your content touches upon.
- Decide which tags will describe the smaller details of each post. Each piece of content within a category will have its own set of tags. If you write a post about the differences between turbochargers and superchargers, you would place it under the “high performance” category and then tag it appropriately; of course “turbochargers” and “superchargers” would be among those tags. Tags reveal the little details about each post.
- Make your structure fit your needs. If your site is large and content-rich, make sure you use sub-categories and make a structure that is easily and intuitively navigable.
- Remember that freshness matters. This means you shouldn’t have too many categories, because if some of them are only rarely updated they’ll seem stale. It is better to have 3 to 5 categories that get updated several times per week.
- User friendly is the goal. Remember, the purpose of your structure is to make using your site a snap. Don’t place one piece of content in every section; place it where it is most useful for your users. Only add tags that signal what’s in the post and help people find it.
7. Your content lacks influence
As you plan the content you’re going to create, make sure it supports your influencer goals. Each piece of content must be designed to increase your audience and bolster your authority. Imagine creating a piece of content that is so useful that it gains the attention of major influencers in your niche; that piece is going to take you places.
To create more influential content, remember these tips:
- Content that provides valuable advice and teaches new techniques to readers builds your credibility.
- Aim for highly shareable pieces of content; if people think others will benefit from your work, they will share it, establishing their own authority as well as yours.
- Your content that gets organic traffic is more likely to reach influencers.
- If a certain piece of content takes up an issue where another influencer left off or answers a question asked by another influencer, share the piece with them and ask for their input.
As Google assesses your content, these kinds of activities yield results and improve your SERP rankings. For more on becoming an influencer, see my guide here.
8. You are guest posting on low-quality sites
Although guest posting has been criticized in recent months—with good reason, because many people were doing it wrong—guest posting the right way is critical to SEO. On the other hand, guest posting on low authority sites can hurt your SEO (not to mention your reputation).
Be very choosy about your guest posting. When you consider whether you should post on a site or not, look at these kinds of factors:
- Who are the other guest posters on the site? Are they authoritative and well-known?
- How often do the site’s authors post?
- How many email subscribers does the site enjoy?
- How many followers and social media fans does the site have? Are they engaging with the site’s authors or just sitting there?
- How many backlinks to the site exist—and of those, how many are high-quality?
Never take a chance on a site that just doesn’t look right to you. Remember, one bad guest post can have serious consequences. For some great ideas on where to guest post, see my blog about great guest posting sites here.
9. You’re not investing in your content (money, yes, but also time)
When it comes to purchasing content, you really do get what you pay for. If this is an essential part of your strategy, invest in it. The recent CMI study of marketing effectiveness reports that B2B content marketers with “most effective” outcomes spend 39 percent of their marketing budget on content marketing, whereas those with “least effective” outcomes spend only 16 percent.
Similarly, don’t expect to dash out great content in an afternoon; it just doesn’t work that way. It takes time to create and implement a content strategy, but without one you won’t gain the results you need from your content. It takes time to analyze which of your marketing projects had great ROI, but you have to do it if you want to improve your weak areas and exploit your strengths.
Content marketing takes a time and money investment.
10. You are not using critical keywords in the SEO titles for your content
This is an area that is overlooked a lot more than you’d think. Which of these do you think does better SEO-wise:
Right, it’s obvious. Remember to make your title tag and content page description both work for you—this means they should use the right keywords, but it also means they shouldn’t be identical. You don’t need to repeat your visible content header; make your SEO page title unique.
Along the same lines as the last point, remember to use meta descriptions in the first place and to use H1 tags in your content. Never miss out on opportunities to use keywords naturally. These points don’t just help your SEO from a technical perspective; they also make your site simpler to use.
11. You’re syndicating your content without using rel=canonical
Syndicating your content on other high-power sites can be part of a sound strategy to boost your business and promote yourself as an influencer. However, don’t syndicate your original content without making it clear to Google that you are the source of it. This is easiest to do with the “rel=canonical.” designation.
For information about rel=canonical use see Google’s explanation here, but in short the command works like this. You choose the most important source of that single piece of content: your website. The rel=canonical “merges” the two pieces for purposes of search engine rank and emphasizes your original.
Ask sites that want to syndicate your content whether they use rel=canonical. This can make your life much easier, because you don’t want to lose rank or get penalized for duplicate content.
12. You are not optimizing images attached to your content
Remember, you don’t want to pass up a single opportunity to optimize. Each image you use in your content should signal what that content is about in an easily readable way. This doesn’t automatically boost your piece of content, but it does make the image itself rank higher in an image search.
Here are the basics of optimizing your images:
- Image name. Make this, the actual file name of the image, count. Lose 4993825.jpg and replace it with an image name like “SEO-optimized-content.jpg.”
- The image title isn’t the same as the image name; it’s what you see when you move your mouse over the image and hover. It takes exactly two seconds to optimize this and make it easy to read, so do it.
- Alt tag. This is what people see when they can’t see the image itself. They are not lists of keywords and they’re not the same as the image name. All the alt tag does is describe the image to those who can’t see it, so do just that with the text. A picture of me playing soccer might have this as its alt tag: “John Lincoln loves to play soccer!”
13. You’re not promoting your content
Promoting your awesome content is at least as important as creating it. You cannot expect the search engines to do your promotional work. Even the most optimized pieces of content require active promotion. If all you do is create content, you’re engaging in “content production,” not content marketing.
Take a multi-pronged approach to content promotion:
- Create a newsletter that shares your weekly content with subscribers.
- Social media. Share your content on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, along with any other platforms your business is active on.
- In contexts where there’s a good fit, comment on posts and in forums and include your content link.
- Pitch it. Keep your master list of industry influencers, editors and site owners handy when you promote and pitch your new content to those with a similar focus or a need for the content.
Watch the balance between creation and promotion in your content marketing strategy, and adjust it as needed.
14. Your content is too short or too thin
Search engines place a premium on more lengthier pieces of content because, overall, longer pieces include more information. Length also allows you to use more keywords in natural ways. Would you rather slog through ten 500-word posts that each deal with a small part of your topic of interest or just read one 1,500 to 2,000 word post that includes everything you need to know?
Other reasons to opt for length include the ability of a single piece of content to appeal to more readers, and the chance to further your reputation as an influencer. Influencers exhibit in-depth knowledge and a deep understanding in their field; they write long form pieces.
One word of caution: remember, no padding or fluff. Your lengthier pieces should offer extensive, useful information. If they don’t, you’ll irritate your audience.
15. Your content isn’t optimized for mobile according to Google
In 2015 Google rolled out “mobilegeddon,” designed to favor pages optimized for use on mobile devices—and many sites that were not mobile optimized did take a hit. However, this isn’t the end of the story, and we can expect mobile optimization to become more important, not less important. This means your site itself should be optimized for mobile use, as should your pieces of content.
This means you need a mobile content strategy. To create yours, here’s what you need:
- Know which devices your users prefer. Find out where, when and how your site visitors consume your content. Are they coming right from social media platforms? From searches? From your email newsletter? Use the data to shape your strategy.
- Make sure each piece of content looks great on multiple mobile devices. Optimize images for quick loading, and use great headlines and in-text headings to make reading easier and the main idea simpler to see.
16. You have too many broken links in your content
Broken links in content are frustrating for your readers. They can hurt your SEO, especially if you let them pile up. And beyond all that, each broken link is a wasted opportunity; you could be directing visitors to more of your great content instead of annoying them with a dead end.
Look for broken links with a link checking tool like “Broken Link Checker” and replace them with the URLs for related pages. Remove them if you must, but whenever you can direct them to more of your work.
17. You are using a subdomain rather than a subfolder for your content
Let me admit this at the outset: Google says subdomains and subfolders are “roughly equivalent.” By that they mean that their algorithms have gotten more sophisticated and are better able to see that the content in these are the same. However, if you want your content to be connected to your website, you really need to use subfolder.
Only use a subdomain if you don’t want the content to look connected to your main site.
18. You’re not letting data drive your decisions
You absolutely need to know how well each piece of your strategy is working in order to improve it. Each time you add new content your conversion rate, level of engagement, rank and traffic may all change; chart them and find out. Ideally your keyword phrases for the new page should outrank those on older content pages.
Data can also help you see when your content is weak. If your email open rate for your newsletter plummets after you’ve released new content, that’s a red flag. Even if it just slowly drops, you’ve got a good indication that your content need work. Similarly, watch your levels of engagement after content goes out into the world. Sheer number of comments isn’t always telling the whole story, but substantive comments that indicate your readers are using the content are important.
19. You’re not creating enough content
Creating great content consistently is a challenge. If you’re not producing enough high-quality content you can’t expect that much from your content marketing strategy. Here are some ideas for different kinds of content to keep your output stream steady:
- blog posts
- case studies
- customer stories
- ebooks and excerpts from ebooks
- executive summaries
- how-to guides
- listicles of great resources for use in your industry
- market or niche assessments
- news commentary
- Q&As with influencers in your niche or your own company stars
- technology reviews
- videos, especially with transcripts
- white papers
20. You’re not creating the right kind of content
Even if you churn out a huge amount of content, it won’t work for you if it’s not right for the people you’re looking to attract with it. Get the right focus for your business like this:
- Tailor your keyword research carefully. Be as specific as you can when you choose keywords, and focus on long tail keywords for more targeted results.
- Know your customers. Understand what your customers need and want, not just from you, but in general as consumers and people. Know their hobbies and interests, hopes and goals.
- Know your pain points. What specific problems can you, your business and your product solve?
Once you have these concepts down pat, you can better tailor your content strategy.
21. Your content isn’t original enough
If the only content you create is just like other existing content, it won’t take you where you want to go. It is true that “there is nothing new under the sun,” but that doesn’t mean that you can’t create original, entertaining informative content. Focus on ways you can add value and offer something unique within the same topic areas that others in your niche cover.
Here are some concrete strategies for setting your content apart and staying original:
Language. Develop your own writing style and let it shine through in your content.
Give a close up view. Are you great at creating long form, detailed explorative pieces? Make long, in-depth content your specialty.
Give quick and easy information. Are you an expert when it comes to distilling the important points in content you consume? Maybe your specialty can be offering quick summaries and guides.
New angles. Are you the person who usually has a unique take on things? Make use of that and specialize in creating content that presents unusual angles on standard niche topics.
Holes in the existing sources. Have you identified a “hole” in what’s out there in your niche? Be the person who bridges that gap.
Do your homework. Make detailed keyword research central to your content marketing so you can figure out how to creating unusual content that works for your business.
22. Your content is just bad
If your content is just plain bad, your content marketing is definitely going to hurt your SEO. It also hurts your brand, your business, and your reputation. Don’t take chances with your content.
If you hire a writer to create content, choose only writers who are competent in your niche and pay them fairly. Maintain some control over topics and ensure they stick to your overall strategic plan.
If you create content yourself, work on your writing. Avoid jargon and long-winded explanations that don’t add value. Ask another authority in your area to review your content critically and take steps to improve your work.
23. You don’t understand link-building
Your link-building efforts can boost your SEO or ruin your site’s rank. How can you make sure you’re doing link-building right?
- Pitch your content well. Aim for high-quality websites that rank well in your area. Choose editors, bloggers and reporters that share your interest in the topic of your content.
- Broken link-building. Identify any broken links that used to contain content that’s similar to yours. Contact the site with the broken link and suggest that they use your content to fill that gap.
- Resource link-building. This kind of linking is less intensive than actually getting your content syndicated because your goal is not to convince another site to reproduce it in its entirety, but to list it as a resource instead.
- Understand internal linking best practices. Internal links are a great resource that is often underutilized. Create internal links that make sense contextually, add value and flow naturally. These internal links support your site’s organization, build your authority and make your site easier to use.
- You don’t use breadcrumbs in your content. Part of your overall internal linking strategy, breadcrumbs help users get around your site. It’s easy to forget to link new content in the chain of breadcrumbs on your site, but you need to do this. As an example, direct readers to similar content at the end of your post.
24. You’re not dealing with old content that’s out of date
Imagine this: someone who fits the exact demographic you’re hoping to attract to your site visits via a piece of content that is outdated and now contains incorrect information. Do you think that visitor is going to think you know what you’re doing and give you another chance? Think again.
When portions of your older content lose their value, don’t just leave it there or let 404s take over. Update that post so it stays relevant, or use a 301 redirect to send visitors to fresh, on-point content. This allows you to get more from your existing content and support your SEO goals more effectively.
25. You’re doing social media content wrong
Social media content is critical to your business, but you must understand what it can and cannot do to make the most of it. Your optimized original content won’t always be seen in searches. For example, fewer than one percent of all Tweets get indexed by Google; you can only be sure that your followers are seeing those. Your Facebook posts aren’t getting indexed either.
On the other hand, your Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube social content are indexed by Google, so remember to emphasize them within your content marketing strategy.
26. You’re trying to do all of your content marketing yourself
Are you still trying to research, create, test, implement and improve a content marketing strategy by yourself? Good luck, because that is a daunting task. Trying to be a one-person content marketing show (as you run your business) will limit your progress, and frustrate you. Additionally, the odds that you’re a complete ace at copywriting, design, editing, link-building, PR, promotion, research and social media are slim.
I’m definitely not saying that you shouldn’t try to master these things, or that improving your skills isn’t important. I am saying that delegating some of these tasks to people who are great at them makes great sense. Hiring the right people saves you money and grows your business, so ask yourself if you can afford to skimp on your content marketing when you ask if you can afford to get help.
Obviously there are many ways that your content marketing might be hurting your SEO. The good news is that each of them has a definite fix that you can implement.