By Michael Brenner published March 3, 2015

Get the Biggest SEO Bang for Your Content Marketing Buck

brenner-seo-content-marketing-buck-coverOne of the biggest questions we get from our customers is how to get the most value from their content marketing budget. So like any decent and respectable content marketers, we do our best to answer our customers’ top questions.

My biggest secrets for SEO and your content marketing budget? Content doesn’t have to be that expensive. You don’t have to create it all. You don’t have to use paid distribution to drive all your traffic.

So how does a brand publish regularly and consistently to obtain the highest possible search-engine rankings at the lowest cost? We always recommend that brands look to balance original content, full-length licensed content, and some form of community content (employee-generated, influencer-generated, or user-generated content).

Duplicate content myth

When it comes to licensed content, we often first see fear in the eyes of our customers.

Turns out, the massive and nearly ubiquitous myth in certain marketing circles and across the interwebs is that duplicate content hurts SEO. Some believe that duplicate content can actually cause a brand to be penalized. This myth has been around a long time. And in our customer strategy work, it comes up all the time.

But is there any truth to it? And, maybe more importantly, how can a brand use “other people’s” content to rise to the top of search-engine rankings without breaking the bank?

The straight answer is that licensed or syndicated content doesn’t hurt a brand’s SEO at all. And it often helps SEO.

Don’t take our word for it. Here is Google’s own take: “Let’s put this to bed once and for all, folks: There’s no such thing as a ‘duplicate content penalty.’ ”

Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.

I am a big fan of “other people’s” content.

At SAP, I built an award-winning content marketing hub called SAP Business Innovation and started it with little budget. How do you build a content hub on a small budget? You need an army of volunteer content contributors.

I did this by syndicating content from other experts (mostly employees, to start) with their permission. When I started showing business results and my budgets increased, I added licensed content as well as additional paid original content.

Many publishers offer great examples of high-volume sites built off a licensed-content approach. Even the top publisher sites in the world license images and stories from providers like Getty Images, Reuters, and Associated Press.

One of the reasons these sites rank for the topics they cover is that they produce a steady stream of content around their topics. Each licensed article adds a small amount of search authority on the topic.

Search authority takes time

Every brand publisher wants to rank for certain search terms and gain that coveted organic search traffic. But search authority takes time. This was the lesson my former SAP colleague, Gurdeep Dhillon, posted on LinkedIn. He found that it took about six months for search traffic on its Customer Edge site to reach close to 30%. The site includes the mix of content we recommend: original stories plus licensed content.

customer-edge-organic-traffic-image 1

Chart Source: LinkedIn

How to drive the best results

We should start by acknowledging that if budgets were limitless, brands would create mostly original content to give the best and unique answers on the internet in every format used by their audiences. But budgets at most brands are limited. So how do we achieve the best results with our content budget?

We usually start with a guideline called the “rule of thirds,” stating that one-third of your content should be original, one-third licensed, and one-third community-generated. We don’t know what the right mix is for every brand. We only know that there needs to be a balance between cost and content effectiveness.

Starting with “the rule of thirds” allows you to test what works for your brand and its goals, then adjust the mix as you go. We often see that each type of content supports the other in gaining organic reach, social shares, and community engagement – all driving to better business outcomes.

Gain search authority with volume, value, and variety

To break through the noise, brands need to focus on the 3Vs of content marketing:

  • Volume: To achieve the highest level of organic search, brands needs to start with the highest volume possible. To become an authority on a topic, you have to spend a lot of time (frequency) publishing on that topic. To rank higher than another source, you need to publish more content than the other source, all other things being equal.
  • Value: As Lee Odden and Andy Crestodina have said, you need to create the best answer and the best pages on the internet for the topics relevant to your brand. Many marketers mistakenly think this means that you need to only publish articles greater than 1,000 words or some other arbitrary number.

Long-form content should be part of the mix. But brands should also link to other sites with authority. Repurposing content or linking to other authorities on a topic is often the best way to provide value to your audience.

  • Variety: The search engines report results in the form of web pages, images, videos, news, and more. To rank for a topic, brands need to create a variety of content types at a high enough volume and with relative value to be considered an authority.

What about paid social distribution?

Similar to the myth about duplicate content, paid social is not a shortcut to organic reach. As that article’s author concludes, paid social is just one of many tools. But you have to “start with great content first, then use paid social media promotion to reach new people.”

The key takeaway is that you have to have great content. Your content should live on a platform that has some existing or growing domain authority and follows standard best practices for SEO. If your content is great, you will gain the holy grail of content marketing and SEO: inbound links from websites of higher authority.

Using paid social only allows you to reach new audiences, then you have to use the opportunity to gain a comment, an inbound link, a social share, and an organic search result.

Maximizing budget requires balance

Brands that want to gain the biggest SEO bang for their content marketing budgets have to balance original, licensed, and community content. They have to balance volume, value, and variety. And they have to challenge the myths and learn from their own tests in trying to regularly reach their audience with great content.

Some final takeaways:

  • A mix of original, licensed, and community content drives the best results for your budget.
  • Licensed content can help increase your authority on the topics important to you.
  • In Google’s own words “There’s no such thing as a duplicate content penalty.”
  • Higher search traffic and SEO take time but are well worth the wait.
  • Brands need to focus on volume, value, and variety to achieve higher organic search traffic.
  • Paid social is not a shortcut, but can help if your content is great.

Want to learn more helpful tips to boost your content marketing efforts? Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World 2015.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, and co-author of best-selling book The Content Formula. Michael is recognized as a Top B2B Marketer, Content Marketer, and Social Media Marketer. Follow Michael on Twitter @BrennerMichael.

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  • Mike Myers

    A great example of someone who’s been there and done that sharing with others to eliminate confusion (hey, that sounds like content marketing!) And the idea of balancing original, licensed and community-driven content is not only practical, but very smart. Thanks for sharing!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Mike. The big insight for me (and my “secret” to content marketing success) is that this doesn’t have to be so darn hard. We don’t need to do it all on our own to be successful. Just answer customer questions. As simply as possible.

  • Carrie Morgan

    LOVE this article, Michael!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Carrie! I tried my best to answer the question. It’s an important one.

  • Shai Geoola

    Great article Michael, thanks for sharing! Cheers

  • Igor Katušić

    Leveraging costs can be tricky for startups. Luckily there are always ways to have a steady stream of fresh and highly valuable content without endangering your budget. This is a good piece Mr. Brenner but it doesn’t really provide new information.

    For instance, what exactly constitutes the greatness of the content as the single most important element of success?

    It’s not a volume. OK. Not the good looking picture also. As Mr. Brenner quoted Oden and Crestodina in one line of this piece: it’s about providing prospect with the top answer. How do you know that you finally have one? How to get one?

    Only by employing a great analytical skills and power of brainstorming the topic. Once you’ve reached the true and effective solution you can engage in creation of infographics, videos, apps, and everything else on the panel. Until you are not able to provide a concise, meaningful and correct answer in one single paragraph – your content is not great nor it will ever be.

    Many brands (startups) in their desire to launch A.S.A.P. make a tragic mistake and simply wrap some 350 to 600 words around the specific keyword to generate initial content base. In many cases they do it themselves or by hiring writer who is not capable of handling the request. And the request is simple: Solve that problem. Not many are able to pull that. Are you?

    My point is simple: before you spend money on fancy images and licences, try to outsource (if you don’t have time) and find the solution first. It will save you both money and time. And you will end up having a uniquely effective concept people are happy to share around.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Igor, I was unable to follow your logic to the conclusion of outsourcing. I think finding great talent, often from partners or an agency is a key component to consider in an effective approach to content marketing. We can agree on that, at least. Some brands have to “fake it until they make it” ti becoming a brand publisher. But at some point, that expertise has to come in-house, supported still by agencies and partners and experts in design and photography and SEO maybe, but brand publishing is a key component of an effective marketing organization.

      • Igor Katušić

        Hello Mr. Brenner, thank You for taking the time to discuss this matter with me.

        Your answer shows that you understood my logic. Outsource individual or agency to crack the problem prospect has and to . provide the solution. That’s what makes a quality content.

        If you allow Mr. Brenner, here is my take on your topic (ranking for keywords for startups with limited financial resources using a legal approach):

        STEP 1: develop a highly valuable piece of content and place it somewhere on your website. Make sure it’s not a hub page or a homepage. I cannot stress enough how utmost quality of the copy plays a crucial role. Hire experts in fields to do it because it has to be mix of text, graphics and possibly a video. More content the better.

        STEP 2: locate and target PR 6+ websites relative to your niche/subject/topic. Create and submit an article or comment where you link the keyword you are trying to rank for to the piece on your website.

        Sounds simple but in practice it takes a rock star content developer to achieve it as he or she has to pitch high PR site. As it is known: inbound link on high PR website is a holy grail of SEO and SEM. When you put yourself in a perspective of an owner of that high ranking site it becomes clear how picky you would be about the content you are allowing on it. That being said, it is now clear what can you do with only couple of high quality pieces on your website. But, be advised – editors on high ranking sites only allow content that provides THEIR readers with something valuable. So, your content developer needs to adjust the copy for that audience.

        If you don’t know what you are doing, you might as well quit before you start because you will probably blow your only chance to publish on high PR sites. On the other hand, if you succeed you will make a killer move for a few bucks. Ultimately, if you fail to publish, you will still have a wonderful piece on your own site which will get attention of the crawlers in couple of weeks on its own.

        Just make sure your answer is the best for the question asked by the potential prospect.

  • LibertarianUSA42

    good article! I always wondered this…

  • Terri Zora

    Good article with some interesting food for thought. I think something else to remember with “volume” is that consistency is important too. Dumping a bunch of content all at once can overwhelm readers, and lead to content being ignored. On the other hand, publishing regularly can help people to feel a sense of consistency.

    • Michael Brenner

      Good point Terri. Publishers publish every day. Consistency is a key visual clue to us as readers that a site is committed to the topic.

  • Marcus Schaller

    Just goes to show how false rumors can have such a strong ripple effect. “There’s no such thing as a duplicate content penalty.” is a surprise to hear. Thanks for clearing this up!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Marcus. Hopefully I added enough context and examples to demonstrate the point as well. Content marketing doesn’t have to be hard, if we focus on adding value to our audience, and helping them with the content we publish.

  • Matt Latuszek

    I really enjoyed this article, Michael. Thanks for dispelling the “duplicate content penalty” myth! I am a big proponent of highlighting other work, especially if I know it will help my readers. Another idea to remember is repurposing content. Making one of your blog posts into a LinkedIn SlideShare and adding some new insights is a great way to present your content in a different way for readers that might not have gotten as much out of the article the first time.

    • Michael Brenner

      Great idea Matt. I’m a big fan of re-purposing as well!

  • Philip Koury

    The rest of the paragraph from Google:

    “Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results. If your site suffers from duplicate content issues, and you don’t follow the advice listed above, we do a good job of choosing a version of the content to show in our search results.”

    Seems to be discussing more about choosing a version of YOUR content when you duplicate content on YOUR own site. For example, allowing the WWW and non-WWW versions to both be indexed.

    I don’t think Google is telling you that remarketing someone else’s content is ok to do, and I think that would be pretty silly if they were.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Philip, I think you are right that duplicate content within a site was the original context of the answer. But the point he makes is still valid outside that scenario – that Google does not penalize sites for publishing duplicate content. Having created or advised in the creation of dozens of brand sites, I have seen this reality hold up 100% of the time.

      Because Google “does a pretty good job” of knowing who the original publisher is. And figuring out who is just scraping and trying to take credit for work that is someone else’s IP.

      I know for a fact that Google doesn’t penalize sites that share content from others because they rank sites that re-publish content (see my examples above, any top publisher site, and so many more examples.)

      No one really knows what Google intends, and I question anyone who says they know. But we can infer what they mean from actual search results. Again, some proof points above, many others out there if you look.

      I believe Google knows how to reflect the world we live in. We create content, we share other’s content, we comment on other’s content. All of it adds up to the content echo system.

      Licensed content from Getty, Forbes, NYTimes? No problem.
      Syndicated content with approval and attribution? No problem.
      Embedded YouTube and Slideshares from others? No problem.

      It is not only NOT a problem, it is an effective way to add value to your audience, to build a brand publishing platform that provides a return on your investment, and does so without breaking the bank!

      I do appreciate the question Philip and hope this provides some guidance on the issue and the concern. In the end, I suggest you try it. See if it works for you.

      • Philip Koury

        I appreciate the response and your time to write it.

        I was merely pointing to the fact that I think things were out of context. I understand that overall, content value is a more important proposition for visitors than content source is necessarily. I also understand that you’re not encouraging the theft of someone else’s intellectual property.

  • jamiedefined

    Hi Michael, I enjoyed your article. I’m a little fuzzy on the concept of “Licenced Content.” Can you elaborate or show some examples please?

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Jamie, Licensed content is any content from another source that you pay for the rights to publish. Just about every major publisher uses licensed content. Typically they use Getty images or a Reuters article and “license” that content for use on their own site. You can see one example here:

      Licensed content is one of the 3 pillars of content every publisher should consider (brand, media or personal blogger). It allows you to publish high quality content at scale, and without breaking the bank.

      I hope this helps and if you have any additional questions, please reach out to me on Linkedin or Twitter and we can setup some time to discuss.

  • Apoorv

    Hi Michael, First of all thank you for clearing the air about duplicate content. However I am a little confused about the concept of using content. Here’s a scenario:
    My client is a developer of a smartcity. The city offers commercial space to international OEM manufacturers like BMW. Now my client’s name is quoted as a part of a news article on a notable news website. Just because the it was quoted, I use the news piece and host it on my own website and place a source link pointing to original URL of the news website.
    Can you call this a legitimate way of using third party content?