SEO and the Business of Content

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From General Search to Long Tail Search, and Everywhere in Between

Content providers such as Demand Media are, not surprisingly, attempting to feed the growing demand for content from websites hoping to draw eyeballs that attract advertisers. The company creates inexpensive content and sells it to companies that want content to make their sites more attractive via search engine results. In fact, article titles are literally driven by actual searches performed by content consumers, which Demand Media believes promotes the creation of content that aligns with consumer interests.

This turns the traditional search ranking model on its head, in that popular content used to rise in the results as users found it, mentioned it, linked to it, etc. Organizations approaching content in this way are concerned about drawing traffic to their sites to boost their business, whether the business model is focused on revenue generated through advertisers or through online sales. It appears that there’s ample opportunity for a multitude of approaches, according to industry experts—as long as optimizing for search is in some way a key part of the plan.

“Yes, AOL and others will have high overall page rank, and you’re likely not going to be able to compete with them there,”  according to Mike Jacobs, chief services officer of IMARKETING  LTD. However, he adds, “you don’t have to.” Search engines, he says, are looking for quality and relevant content. “Having content specific to a search is just as important as overall page rank to Google, and arguably more so.

“One site can’t be all things to all people, and Google knows this. AOL Seed and Demand [Media] will segment their content over multiple domains to a point but can’t have the laser-focus of an organization with a dedicated site,” Jacobs says. His advice: “Don’t try and be all things to all people, but [be] the expert in your area. Be the definitive source on the specific niche you’re targeting. Don’t go too wide, or you’ll just start to look like a lesser version of the goliaths you’re competing with.”

Companies hoping to increase their search rankings need to adhere to the basics, says Calabro, who stresses that SEO is still a very important part of any web strategy. However, he finds that SEO tends to bore most companies. “They say ‘we’ve done the SEO thing.’ But I can guarantee they haven’t,” he says. “If you’re not search engine optimized, you have a problem.”

Danielle Leitch, EVP of strategy for MoreVisibility, agrees. “SEO should always be the first focus,” she says. The competition “can be overcome if a company puts a good plan in place and then acts on it,” she says. “The challenge is really determining [the competition’s] strategy.” And, as others point out, businesses have always faced the challenge of competing with businesses that have access to more resources. The challenge is the same. It’s just the playing field that has changed.

Niche Online Marketing Generates Results

David Saries is an SEO expert with Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). It’s really no different than the traditional marketing environment that businesses have always competed in, says Saries. Just as small retail stores go up against big box retailers and often succeed, online marketers can effectively compete against the content providers that are pumping out massive amounts of content, he says. They can use the differentiators they have to drive traffic to their sites. Saries tells of an engineer he used to work with who now makes custom guitars and lives in San Jose, Calif. “He ships his guitars all around the country and perhaps the world,” says Saries. “It’s a very specific type of instrument that you’re not just going to walk into any music store and buy.”

Businesses will always have to compete with the Walmarts, the Walgreens, and the Barnes & Nobles around every corner, he says. Those that can successfully identify and leverage their unique differentiators that will appeal directly to a specific, target audience will be successful. These are the same differentiators, he notes, that they would have used in a Yellow Pages ad or a brochure or in talking to customers, but they now use them in an online context.

“To the extent that businesses can understand that and be more specific in their content and the pages they’re creating on their websites, they will be found,” he says. And there are a number of successful online businesses that have found that they can do just that by targeting a narrow niche and delivering specific content that appeals to that niche.
Bruce Kasanoff, co-founder of Draw the Dog, a website that was introduced in late 2009 that is based on a user-generated content model, is one example. “Never go head to head with a giant,” says Kasanoff. “Kick him in the knee, run between his legs, and hit him from behind.” On Drawthedog.com, unique cartoons are created on a daily basis. The cartoons are based on photos and stories about dogs that are contributed by visitors to the site. The site is growing fast, says Kasanoff, and it’s not solely because of SEO.

“We pay attention to SEO, but it’s not where we get our traffic,” he says. Traffic to the site has been built primarily by reaching out individually to dog rescue groups with win-win propositions, he says. “They pass the word about us, and we donate lots of art they can use to raise money for their nonprofit activities. These groups power our growth, and leveraging them requires building one-to-one relationships, something machines suck at.” In addition to these partnerships, word of mouth is generated through the contributions of the users. “Every cartoon we create is inspired by stories or photos dog owners send us,” says Kasanoff. “We make dogs famous, and every time we publish a new cartoon inspired by a dog, the owner emails, Facebooks, etc., everyone they know.”

For Kasanoff, success has been achieved through a narrow focus—the creation of relationships with site visitors who can actually become part of the site’s content and are eager to share it as well as partnerships with organizations that can help to spread the word about the site. Identifying a specific target market, clearly understanding the market and what needs and interests its members have, and leveraging partnerships are all basic marketing strategies that have worked for marketers for years. The good news is that these techniques can work online as well.

One misstep that some online marketers make is focusing on a market that is too broad. While some are interested in attracting a national following, others can and should be satisfied to draw from their local market area or from a narrow national market as Kasanoff has done. Once that narrow market has been defined, the next step becomes determining how that market is most likely to attempt to reach out to find you while online.

With this tactic, specificity is key. It’s the little things that matter, says Saries. Getting specific can generate results for businesses, he says. “AOL or Demand tend to have more generic articles or videos on some topic such as how to paddle a canoe. However, a local canoe rental business might specifically serve particular rivers or lakes that can allow them to stand out in geo-based searches or appear in local review sites such as Yelp,” he says.

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