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Why Your Online Content Needs Both Social and Search Optimization

magnifying glass-socialOptimized and socialized online content is essential for reaching information-hungry, multi-tasking audiences that are bombarded with new messages every day. For brands to be prominent on the search and social web for their customers, they’ll need to understand the best of each discipline and how to put them together.

SEO can deliver content-rich answers to buyers at the moment of need, and social media can provide the means to connect and engage. Both rely on content to achieve success. 

While many marketers will debate what comes first (content vs. social media vs. SEO) the most practical approach is to use the tactics necessary for your target audience in order to “be the best answer” wherever customers are looking.

SEO is the condiment, not the sandwich

While SEO has traditionally been able to drive online marketing performance on its own, search engine updates to address online content quality (Panda) and the more conversational nature of search behavior (Hummingbird) — along with the surging popularity of social networks — have changed the SEO landscape forever.

Think of SEO this way: If a customer-focused content marketing program is the sandwich, then SEO is the mayonnaise. It touches nearly everything and enhances the overall flavor of the sandwich, but on it’s own, it’s not very appetizing.

Many SEO practitioners-turned-content marketers focus on creating content as a means to attract links. It reminds me of the early years of social, when brands used social networks and media primarily to attract attention and links, not to create true relationships, increase engagement, or inspire transactions and referrals.

A simple comparison tells the tale: Having 500 optimized blog posts on every derivative of a 50-phrase keyword list that no one wants to read is no more useful than attracting 50,000 drive-by visitors to your site for 10 seconds each from Digg — as was popular several years ago. Focusing on superficial online content performance metrics only drives superficial tactics. Do you really want your marketing characterized as superficial?

Understanding the difference between mechanical tactics and meaningful outcomes is an important distinction when hiring content marketing professionals or a content marketing agency. It can mean the difference between a keyword hell of thin content and a content portfolio that serves real customer interests and proudly represents what your brand stands for.

Optimize your opportunities

Search marketers are opportunists by their nature. Each time a major trend in online marketing emerges — from blogging to social media — SEOs have adapted and engineered their way to discover every possible workaround or tactic to create a marketing advantage. This opportunism has extended to online content marketing as well.

Operating within the guidelines of quality marketing, such adaptability is a highly valuable perspective to take. However, when opportunism bleeds into manipulations outside the scope of search engine guidelines, the risks can turn out to be painful and sometimes disastrous to a business.

But here’s the thing: Google is a battleground for SEOs. Those who have adapted successfully and have real, on-the-ground experience can become some of the most valuable marketers you will ever find. Your most valuable hires (whether a marketer or an agency) will be both creative and analytical. Look for lateral thinkers — those who solve complex marketing problems through non-traditional, indirect and/or creative means. Those search engine optimizers still stuck on content marketing as “more fuel for keywords” and social media as “link building” should be avoided.

Social vs. SEO-focused online content marketing

Whether you hire an agency with roots in social or one with roots in search depends in large part on your specific needs. (See sidebar, below.) So, what should companies look for when considering content marketing hires or an agency selection?

Social vs. Search: Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?

SEO-focused content marketing:

  • Tactical approach: more content equals more search presence
  • Topics derived from actual search demand
  • Keyword-managed content plans tied to performance
  • Continuous cycle of performance improvement using search analytics
  • Organic amplification is built-in to content creation
  • Content promotion, link building and social promotion
  • Good SEO is good user experience
  • Technical optimization
  • Performance is focused on search KPIs and conversions

Social media-focused content marketing:

  • Topics focused on brand and messaging
  • Shorter form content: status updates, blog posts, image tiles
  • Topics managed by social content calendar
  • Social monitoring surfaces new, real-time content opportunities
  • Amplification is often organic but increasingly paid
  • Performance is based on views and engagement
  • Conversion and ROI are more difficult to measure with confidence

Goals and accountability are essential for an optimized and socialized online content marketing program to succeed. For an integrated approach, here are three of your most important considerations to ensure content performs for customers and your brand — and issues your in-house marketers and agencies should be able to speak about fluently:

1. Attract: How will the particular content object attract exposure? Will your content perform as part of an ongoing narrative? Will it be a part of a sequence? Will it be connected to other content objects through links, repurposing, or curation? Where content is promoted on social networks will matter for attraction as much as what phrases and questions are used for search engine optimization.

2. Engage: How will the content object be meaningful to the readers such that they interact, react, and respond to it?  What context needs to exist for the content to be so relevant that it inspires action? Social media and search both play a role in developing the context for engagement. When they interact with what they find, does the customer think, “Yes, that’s exactly what I was looking for,” or something else?

3. Convert: How will the optimized content object persuade the reader to take the next step? Each content object can play a role in guiding the reader from one stage to the next in a brand and customer relationship. From awareness to purchase to advocacy, conversions are happening at each stage — whether it’s sharing socially, subscribing to a newsletter, downloading a white paper, signing up for a webinar, filling out an inquiry form, or making a referral.

Within your content plan, think about how you can make these actions easy and intentional for the target customer. An optimized content plan means being accountable to discovery, how it’s best consumed and what messages will inspire action.

Remember, content is the reason search began in the first place. Ensure your team takes an integrated approach to incorporating search and social media with your content marketing programs — and that both your internal team and agency are accountable for attraction, engagement and conversion. With that focus on accountability, the investment you make in high quality, optimized and socialized content will pay returns over and over.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bi-monthly magazine. 

Cover image via Bigstock