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How an Owned, Paid, and Earned Content Strategy Can Power Your SEO

three-pronged dart-content strategyIn this post, we’ll focus on how the keyword strategies of the past have given way to a new type of strategy that can help your brand succeed in a semantic search world: an owned, paid, and earned content strategy

Move over keyword strategy

Keyword strategies should be put to rest — at least, in the way they used to be utilized. The same thing can be said about trying to rank “on the first page.” Want to know the reason for this? Look no further than your own Google search results.

After searching for a topic, take a look at the first page. You’ll see snippets from industry experts you may know, and possibly a couple of social posts that relate to you (if you’ve discussed the search topic in any of your published content). But, what will your friend see when he searches the same thing down the street, on the other side of town, two states over, or even from a different country? One way to gauge that difference would be to select the “hide private results” globe on the top right of the Google search page. Now what do you see? Most likely different results, in a different order.

What this boils down to is that there isn’t a standard first page for everyone anymore, and the keyword strategy of the past bears the brunt of impact from this change. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a keyword strategy in place. It can help with your content strategy and content creation. Tools like Google Webmaster Tools or Majestic SEO can help track your average search position for related keywords from your site. This information is how you can come to understand where you “rank” within Google — and it’s where your greatest opportunity lies for capitalizing on certain keywords/keyword phrases. But it’s how you gauge success of your keyword strategy that has to change.

An owned, paid, and earned strategy

If keyword strategy has taken a step back in importance for ranking, what has taken its place? An owned, paid, and earned content strategy. This type of strategy has become a main focus for those trying to increase their rankings — primarily due to Google’s frequent algorithm updates.

To understand what’s involved in an owned, paid, and earned strategy, it is important to understand semantic search. Semantic search is how search engines discern context and user intent to return more definitive answers, rather than the hierarchical list of guesses Google presented previously. Simply, semantic search helps Google present better results for any given search.

With this knowledge in hand, here’s a description of the three types of media — owned, paid, and earned — and why using them in tandem should be a top priority for successful content marketing.

  • The owned media within your strategy is, as it states, owned by you. It’s your content, published information, website — anything you’ve created in the past that tells a story your customer wants to read.
  • Paid media used to be centered on PPC campaigns on Google or a local newspaper website. Now it includes tactics like native advertising.
  • The earned strategy, or publicity gained through editorial influence, is something that has been around for awhile but has become more important due to the advent of social media. Not unlike earning coverage in an industry magazine article, gaining shares, “likes,” re-tweets, posts, and every other social signal related to your business has become an important criteria for promoting your business’ authority. It provides Google with an opportunity to understand if your content is important and, in return, helps to move that content up higher in relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). Online earned media has taken the place of the “word-of-mouth” advertising we all coveted.

Of course, how you decide to blend these media types is up to you. Having a strategy in place that allows you to stay on track will give you a leg up and make sure things are being done on time and can be analyzed to identify areas for improvement. If your time and budget are limited, start with your owned media and build up your online profile. This will allow you to show Google you’re an authoritative source within your industry, and in turn you won’t lose your place in SERPs.

The four Vs

As you create your owned, paid, and earned strategy, it becomes important to know how you are already using your content within each of the media areas. That’s where the four Vs of semantic search come in. The idea, from David Amerland in his book, Google Semantic Search, stresses that the four Vs that govern big data also govern what you do with your SEO and content marketing strategies. Volume, velocity, variety, and veracity are all important to your content strategy and how you promote your content:    

  • Volume is important for gaining traction in all three types of media. The amount of content that you’re presenting to your prospective clients helps Google understand more about your company.
  • Velocity covers the speed at which you move your content. The quicker you give Google information, the quicker it can index your content and provide your content to your customer.
  • Variety tells Google that you really care about what you’re producing for your intended audience. Using a combination of blogs, eBooks, videos, social posts, and other tactics gives you an advantage to get in front of your customers — no matter where they are online.
  • Veracity is how your content is perceived, and why Google should present your content to searchers. Creating new and interesting content helps your business champion its point of view and, in turn, lends authentic value to your content — value that Google will pick up on.

Taking a look at how each of the four Vs are incorporated into your owned, paid, and earned content strategy is important to gaining traction in a semantic search world.

Metrics to watch for

As mentioned in the keyword strategy section above, it’s important that you monitor where your content is showing up in search engine results. Most SEO tools will provide a dashboard that will show you whether you’re moving up or down in the rankings, the number of clicks your content has received, and the number of impressions it has earned. These key indicators will drive your content efforts by providing a road map of what is working for you and what isn’t.

Being patient is also key. It may take up to three months to take hold, but if you aren’t seeing the response or movement you’d like, try performing a search on Google yourself and taking note of the results that are on the first page. What do they have in their content that you don’t? Is there a design you can use to further your campaign? Are there keywords that you could use? How long has their content been posted? Using these as guidelines can help upgrade your own post in hopes that your content will start to gain traction. If you are seeing positive metrics results, consider ways to build on the content you have created. For example, using a successful piece of content as a hub page, link your new, related content to that piece. This will allow you to pass link juice back and forth between your old and new content. It also will allow you to build authority around a topic and will help drive your content higher in the ranking results.

Another metric to watch is what on which landing pages your visitors enter your website. If you are focused on one piece of owned content in particular, it’s important to watch where your visitors to that landing page came from. Finding out which referrer (i.e., Google, a guest post URL, another website, etc.) has sent the visitor to your page will give you a good indication of whether the focus you put on the earned and paid media areas is taking hold. If you focused your earned media on a certain social platform, you should see how many of your visitors came in from that platform. The same goes for paid: If your budget is spent on a certain PPC campaign, your traffic should be coming in from that referrer.

After comparing visits from your referrers to a previous period, you may find that either your earned or paid media strategies aren’t hitting the mark. Cutting back on that type of media and focusing more on the media that is driving results will help give you a more optimized strategy — and better content marketing ROI.

Using a content strategy that incorporates owned, earned, and paid media is vital for reaching the goal of improving rankings in the semantic search world. But giving it greater importance than your keyword strategy is only one step in the right direction. Using the four Vs from Amerland’s book will give you additional direction, but it’s still important that you monitor your success with metrics you can rely on, and can use for any reports you create.

Want to learn more about the content strategy factors that impact search engine marketing? Sign up for our new Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, taught by from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.

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