Author: Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner has been recognized as a Forbes top CMO influencer, a Top Business Keynote Speaker by the Huffington Post, and a Top Motivational Speaker by Entrepreneur Magazine. He is CEO of Marketing Insider Group, where he has worked with more nearly 100 brands in building effective content marketing and employee activation programs. Michael is the co-author of 2 books including The Content Formula, and Digital Marketing Growth Hacks. And is currently working on his 3rd book on the power of Empathy in business, marketing, and life. Michael enjoys sharing his experiences and client stories to inspire leaders like you into action that creates impact. Follow Michael on Twitter @BrennerMichael.

By michael-brenner published October 3, 2019

The Best Reason to Do Content Marketing? Organic Search

When did you last stop to ask yourself: Why do we do content marketing?

If you ask me, the reasons abound:

  • Content helps you connect with each customer, win their trust, and eventually build and maintain a relationship with them.
  • Content lets you explain the benefits of your product or service offerings (and eventually sell them) to the market.
  • Content helps you differentiate yourself from the competition.
  • Good content demonstrates the authority of your brand in your niche, while building a strong reputation and recognition.
  • An effective content marketing strategy delivers the best business results.

While you might choose to put your content out there with in-depth how-to posts on your blog, a column in your local newspaper or industry journal, a billboard at your city’s airport, witty tweets, or amusing Instagram stories, the only channel that satisfies every reason you ever have for distributing and promoting your content – including those that I listed above – is organic search.

That’s not an overstatement. Let me explain.

Organic search traffic is the super KPI of content marketing

Other than for people discovering your content in response to their searches – problems, questions, or curiosities – what are you sharing information for?

While determining an exact ROI for content marketing has proven elusive in some cases, SEO and organic search can help you define key performance indicators to measure success and isolate metrics for each of these KPIs.

#SEO &organic search can help you define KPI’s to measure success & isolate metrics for each KPI. @BrennerMichael Click To Tweet

How? Think about your organizational goals for content marketing. Here is a screenshot from one of the earliest CMI content marketing benchmark studies:

These goals have changed little since 2012, although the priorities and effectiveness of each objective might vary depending on the organization.

Organic #SEO traffic is an easy measure to relate your #content to each org goal, says @BrennerMichael. Click To Tweet

Let me walk you through each of these objectives and how organic search acts as a catalyst for you to achieve them with your content.

Organic search is the biggest source of website traffic

Where do you put your best content? That’s right. On your website.

And which channel, source, or platform – whatever you choose to call it – brings the most visitors to your website?

Whip up your Google Analytics, go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels and look.

Go on, do this before you read further. Here’s my site’s traffic by channel:

Organic search is nearly 75% of the site’s traffic. What did I pay for that traffic? Nothing.

Ask yourself:

  • How can we improve SEO to get more traffic from Google?
  • What sections of the site are they visiting? What sort of content appeals to them?

Organic search traffic builds brand awareness

Search queries are primarily of three types: informational, navigational, and transactional. Keywords for each query can be further classified as branded and nonbranded.

Traffic on unbranded search terms is often 10 times greater than branded search. And yet most company websites focus on ranking and paid search for those brand terms.

Traffic on unbranded search terms is often 10 times greater than branded search. @BrennerMichael #SEO Click To Tweet

But when you build content to target each type of keyword, you can hold your customers’ hands along every stage of their buyer’s journey until they make the decision. Or as I love to say, you can reach, engage, and convert buyers you would have never seen.

Along the way, you build brand awareness, recall, and eventually, trust.

Ask yourself:

  • Does our content appeal to visitors at different stages of the buyer’s funnel?
  • How is our brand being highlighted in this content?

Organic search traffic cements your thought leadership

Quite simply, the search engine is the best vehicle to build thought leadership. When you create relevant content with a hub-and-spoke approach, your pages start popping up for searches related to that topic.

Search engines are the best vehicle to build thought leadership, says @BrennerMichael. #SEO Click To Tweet

As people associate your content with the topic more and more, it builds not only awareness but also trust for your brand. For example, my firm has been doing a lot of work on scaling content marketing via employee activation.

That content marketing work has led our definition to be the featured snippet on Google. Google’s changing SERPs and usage of featured snippets, answer boxes, and knowledge panels can mean much more exposure for your content, and if you’re a little smart, use it to bring in more clicks to in-depth content you created on the topic.

Ask yourself:

  • How do we create content that answers all our audience’s questions on a topic, and associate our brand with that topic?
  • How can we take advantage of Google’s featured snippets to increase our visibility?

Organic search traffic opens vistas for engagement

No marketing channel on its own can improve engagement with your content. The usefulness or relevance of your content is purely up to you. However, when organic traffic visitors arrive on your page, you can:

  • Measure types of engagement with each piece of content.
  • Take actions to improve engagement and encourage visitors to explore other pages.

What’s more, a cool recent SERP feature is a box highlighting other related searches when someone goes back to Google after clicking to your site. (You can also ace the other-related-searches box if you’ve been creating thought leadership content.)

Ask yourself:

  • How do we get visitors from organic search to bookmark our pages, share them on social media, or subscribe to our newsletter?
  • Do we have a good CTA and internal linking strategy that encourages organic visitors to check out other pages on the site?

Organic search has been and continues to be the best reason to do content marketing. It can help us to reach and engage buyers and consumers we never would have reached if we hadn’t done content marketing.

Organic search has been and continues to be the best reason to do content marketing, says @BrennerMichael Click To Tweet

But what about leads, revenue, loyalty, and retention?

Organic search traffic is the best source of quality leads

We know the three kinds of search keywords: informational, navigational, and transactional. They clarify the intent of the searcher. Intent also is one of the most valuable variables in lead generation and sales. Whether a prospect is searching for information, comparing brands, or evaluating a product, all customer journeys begin, progress, and end with intent.

It is easy to dig into your organic traffic analytics and match keywords with intent. Done correctly, you get an exact idea of how far the visitor has come along the buyer’s journey. To illustrate that, here’s an example of progressive long-tail search terms:

Image source

Based on the search queries (and the nature of the queries), it is possible to qualify the organic search visitor as marketing qualified leads (MQLs) or sales qualified leads (SQLs), and target them with appropriate content, such as a blog post or e-book at the top of the funnel, webinar or case study in the middle of the funnel, and demo video or landing page at the bottom of the funnel.

While that search effect relates to the quality of leads, let us not ignore what salespeople ultimately want: volume. Well, organic traffic doesn’t disappoint here either. A HubSpot study found SEO beats social media, email marketing, and PPC and other marketing channels at increasing new leads.

#SEO beats social media, email marketing, PPC, and other channels at increasing leads via @HubSpot. #research Click To Tweet

Image source

Ask yourself:

  • Does our keyword research help us understand the intent of visitors at different stages of the buyer’s funnel?
  • What criteria do we use to classify organic visitors as leads, and how do we nurture and convert them?

Organic search traffic converts better and results in sales

The HubSpot study referenced earlier threw up two interesting stats:

  • 42% of companies increase their lead-to-sales conversion rate when they use inbound marketing (which is primarily organic).
  • Nearly half of the companies that increased sales did so in a little over six months.

Clearly, more sales are a direct outcome of increasing organic traffic. However, content is a huge part of an integrated, search-focused inbound marketing strategy. As you can see in the following figure, organic search is clearly the single digital channel that adds most to the bottom line.

Image source

A combination of SEO, blog posts, and landing page copy with compelling CTAs makes a 46% contribution to increasing sales. Add a bit of lead intelligence to that and you have an unstoppable sales machine. One way to go about it is to use compelling conversion points with the promise of more valuable content in your blog posts.

A combo of #SEO, blog posts, & landing page copy w/ CTAs makes a 46% contribution to increasing sales. @HubSpot Click To Tweet

Ask yourself:

Organic search improves customer retention and loyalty

Google profiles the search results for every user based on the terms they use and the URLs they click and returns personalized results that its algorithm deems suitable based on their interests and preferences.

While location and device play a significant part in personalization, the nature of previous searches also matters. Search engines place a significant focus on first impressions, brands, and match of real-world customer journeys and experiences with digital. This AI response mimics natural search behavior – if someone has had a great experience on your website, they tend to click or even seek your brand in search results even when it’s below other listings.

This simply means people who clicked from Google or Bing to one or more of your pages are likely to see more of your URLs in their SERP for search terms related to similar topics.

This is a virtuous cycle. Organic search keeps sending your customers and brand advocates back to your site. It keeps them consuming your content. Every time they do so, it’s an opportunity for you to plant cookies on their devices and give them more of what they want next time they come back.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you have enough content that enables your customers to use your product or service to its fullest?
  • Do you create authoritative and informative content that makes people think of your brand for anything related to your industry?

Organic search is the most cost-effective way of distributing content

Let’s make one thing clear: There is no such thing as cheap SEO. And it is exceedingly hard to accurately compare the ROI of organic search to paid or any other marketing channel for that matter. (Trust me, I tried and didn’t find a single reliable study.)

There is no such thing as cheap #SEO. @BrennerMichael Click To Tweet

The primary reason is because it’s not easy to attribute “spend” to SEO like you can do to PPC or email marketing. There are multiple overlaps between the costs of producing content, optimizing it for search engines, and marketing it via off-page inbound tactics.

That said, once you have an approximate figure for your SEO spend, you can measure the reach and ROI that it gives your brand and compare the ROI with other digital channels. And then set up conversion tracking and goals to determine the ROI of your ongoing SEO and content campaigns.

Ask yourself:

  • How much do you spend on SEO and content marketing every month?
  • Do you have an accurate attribution model to determine which channels deliver ROI for your content?

Organic search spins your content marketing flywheel

Over the past few years, Google has increasingly incentivized adding structure and meta data to your content and formatting it in ways that suit the devices and methods your audience uses to access it. Further, structured information in the form of lists and tables helps you get extra visibility in the Google SERPs, via an answer box or featured snippets.

Not only that, if you’re smart about it, you can provide searchers with quick answers and draw them to your site, then keep them there with great content and CTAs, leading to more virtuous cycles.

The more content you have in different forms, on different digital platforms, the better chance to dominate the search results for branded terms related to your industry.

With the original 10 blue links giving way to search results populated by snippets leading to content in a variety of formats, you can create blog posts, landing pages, slide decks, social media profiles and updates, graphics, videos, slide decks, and podcasts, and have all of them ranking for a given set of related keywords.

Organic traffic gives you a competitive edge and creates a digital flywheel on Google – good, optimized content leads to better search visibility, more clicks increase your site authority, and site authority gives your content better chances of ranking.

Ask yourself:

  • What is your strategy for repurposing and redistributing your best content?
  • On which platforms, publications, and media other than your site do you post content?

Organic content marketing is here to stay

No, SEO is not dead. But it has a constantly changing face. What doesn’t change are the business benefits that organic traffic brings to your digital content marketing strategy. It’s up to you to optimize your content to take advantage of Google’s evolving SERP features, and improve reach, conversions, and sales in the process.

No need to search. You can have helpful content marketing trends, tips, and insight delivered to your inbox every weekday. Subscribe to CMI’s newsletter today.  

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

By michael-brenner published July 24, 2019

Want to Scale Your Content Marketing? Get the Employees Involved

Every person has a story to tell. And if you are a smart content marketer, you know that every employee has a story that can sell your brand.

As I write this, I think about the picture of Sir Richard Branson posing with an employee caught sleeping on the job. While other leaders would have been miffed or looked away, the flamboyant Virgin boss wove a wonderful story, keeping all of his active as well as not-so-active employees in the spotlight.

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By michael-brenner published July 18, 2019

7 Easy Ways to Super Boost Your Newsletter Open Rate

You probably realize your newsletter ain’t the beans. You can’t sprout the open rate overnight. However, if you lay the groundwork with targeted and well-researched strategies, your newsletter will grow uncannily fast just like bamboo shoots.

Let me ask – how do you measure the success of your newsletter? There are two easy ways:

  1. See how many people open it (and therefore, hopefully, read it).
  2. See how many people click the links within.

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By michael-brenner published July 12, 2019

Content Is NOT the Same as Content Marketing

Editor’s note: Confusion still exists about how content and content marketing differ. It isn’t about the definition, but the difference between creating content and practicing content marketing. This post is updated to provide you with a better understanding and to be shared with your teams and executives. 

An e-book, a webinar, and a white paper are not content marketing. Ads are not content marketing. Social media posts are not content marketing. Marketing with content is not the same thing as content marketing.

But what is the difference between content and content marketing? The answer is the publisher-like destination and the regular frequency of quality content that you use to attract and build an audience. You don’t own the audience on social platforms. And one e-book is not consistent enough to build the trust that audiences today are expecting.

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By michael-brenner published July 2, 2019

How to Make the Content Marketing Case With ROI

Editor’s note: Given the continued importance of ROI in content marketing, we bring back this post with a few updates on the subject.

Questions about content marketing ROI are probably the ones I hear most from marketers who are struggling to build the business case and demonstrate content marketing results.

We know our customers are tuning out advertising. And we know that as consumers we are all consuming more information online. We are all looking to get informed and we are looking to be entertained.

We don’t care where the content comes from. But we aren’t sitting around waiting for it. And we won’t go too far to find it.

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By michael-brenner published June 27, 2019

How to Run a Strategy-Focused Content Workshop

Content is the life force of marketing today. Every business is an information business first; its product comes second. In this age, content is what enables marketers to build, connect, and interact with customers at every touchpoint in the buyer’s journey.

Newsletters, events, and courses are all great sources that content strategists, marketers, and consultants can leverage to advance the practice of content marketing. But one of the best ways to achieve the goals of content marketing – to reach, engage and convert new customers to your business – is to document your content marketing strategy with a hands-on, insightful content marketing workshop.

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By michael-brenner published April 3, 2017

What Is the Difference Between Content and Content Marketing?

difference-content-contentmarketing

Editor’s note: There continue to be a lot of questions about how content and content marketing differ. This post shares an insightful answer that resonates with marketers, so we are bringing it back. 

What is the difference between content and content marketing? The answer is the destination you will use to attract and build an audience.

Content marketing is about attracting an audience to an experience (or “destination”) that you own, build, and optimize to achieve your marketing objectives.Continue Reading

By michael-brenner published November 29, 2016

Content Marketing ROI: A Formula for Any Type of Organization

content-marketing-roi

Digital, social, and mobile technologies have dramatically changed the world we live in. And no function has been more disrupted than marketing. Executives won’t fund marketing if it doesn’t demonstrate results. That’s why marketing ROI – including content marketing ROI — is one of the top challenges for CMOs and marketers.

But before we dig in to walk you through the formula to do this, here’s a secret: You need to build a content marketing destination, such as a blog or a content hub. It is easier to measure the value of an owned platform  relative to any other form of marketing.Continue Reading

By michael-brenner published May 2, 2016

The Secret to Content Marketing ROI

content-marketing-roi

Editor’s note: For the most recent version of this post, click here.

Questions about content marketing ROI are probably the ones I hear most from marketers who are struggling to build their own business case internally.

We know our customers are turning out advertising. And we know that as consumers, we are all consuming more information online. We are looking to get informed and we are looking to be entertained.Continue Reading

By michael-brenner published April 17, 2016

What Is the Difference Between Content and Content Marketing?

difference-content-contentmarketing

What is the difference between content and content marketing? The answer is the destination you will use to attract and build an audience.

Content marketing is about attracting an audience to an experience (or “destination”) that you own, build, and optimize to achieve your marketing objectives.Continue Reading