SEMA News—June 2013
Old Is New
Feature Articles Now the Top Digital Marketing Tool
Three new studies have unearthed a startling trend in online marketing: The traditional feature article—used for centuries to market brands in conventional media—is now the go-to digital marketing tool for 2013. Driving the trend are changes Google has made to its search engine during the past few years. Essentially, the revamp rewards websites that post interesting, quality content and heavily penalizes sites that cough up yawn-fests stuffed with keywords only a search robot could love.
“Before, content wasn’t the big push,” said Tyson Stevens, a search-engine optimization manager at PMA Media Group and contributor to the 2013 State of Content study released by CopyPress. “The goal was to put out mediocre content as quickly as possible, targeting as many keywords as possible and pushing links to that content to increase search-engine rankings.”
But content marketing is no longer about the quick, cheap hit, Stevens said. It must be quality.
Evidence of the trend popped up most dramatically in a study entitled “Quarterly Intelligence Briefing: Digital Trends for 2013,” released by Econsultancy and Adobe. The research found that 39% of marketers surveyed now say that content—including articles, video and white papers—is their top tool for digital marketing.
Similar research in “The Spending Study: A Look at How Corporate America Invests in Branded Content for 2012,” released by the Custom Content Council, found that nearly 75% of the 177 respondents are creating content for print and then re-purposing that content on their company websites and throughout social media. The study also found that 79% of marketers surveyed said they are refocusing their marketing efforts on branding with content at a moderate or aggressive pace.
“The stability of brand content spending in the face of overall marketing budget decline proves the staying power and efficacy of content marketing,” said Lori Rosen, executive director of the Custom Content Council. This notable growth outcome is motivating brands to outsource content creation at record levels, she said.
Moreover, the CopyPress survey revealed that 62% of marketers said feature articles yield the best return on investment across all industries. Close behind in popularity were videos, followed by white papers. Other categories of content that had less favorable return on investment in descending order were photos, interactive media, sales copy, infographics, illustrations and motion graphics. Like the Econsultancy/Adobe study, CopyPress also found that its marketers identified quality content as the most effective tool for digital marketing for 2103.
“From an agency perspective, a lot of service providers have begun offering content marketing services where none existed before,” said Dan Tynski, a vice president at Fractl, a content marketing firm and another contributor to the CopyPress study. “There has been a huge shift away from any/all strategies that smell even remotely of black hat. Efforts are being made across the board to stay above board.”
Of course, companies looking to take advantage of the new emphasis on quality feature articles in digital marketing still need to drop critical keywords into that copy. And they still need to study how those feature articles are performing with web analytics and make adjustments accordingly, according to web marketing experts.
Those marketers will also want to find as many ways as possible to re-purpose that content across all the communities where they have a presence. A feature article written for a company website, for example, can easily be re-purposed as a press release and massaged again to surface as a post on company Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other accounts.
“Producing and sharing engaging content with targeted communities and influencers is becoming the safest way to increase rankings in Google while promoting your company or branding online,” Stevens said.
The clear takeaway: The days of throwing a bag of keywords up on a website and seeing what sticks are over.
“I often talk about the convergence of search, social and content marketing, and that’s what it is all about,” said Arnie Kuenn, president of the marketing firm Vertical Measures and a contributor to the CopyPress study. “Nothing works well in a silo. A good content marketing plan includes many aspects, starting with a strategy and incorporating research, development, optimization, promotion and measurement.”
It’s also a good idea to follow or at least consider Google’s own tips for creating the kind of content that is most highly rewarded by the search engine. Key advice found in Google’s “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide” includes the following:
Create Content People Will Recommend: Users know good content when they see it and will likely direct others to it. These links can come from blog posts, social media, e-mail, forums and the like. Google generously rewards authentic links to your content from these types of third-party sources.
Post Only Fresh Content: Marketers who post rehashed content or simply copy content from other websites to their own are penalized by Google. Ditto for marketers who post duplicate content on many pages of the same website.
Avoid Posting Seas of Text: A holdover from the early days of keyword stuffing, seas of text—large swaths of words that feature no paragraphs, sub headings or layout separations—are penalized by Google.
Forget Keyword Stuffing: Dropping reams of keywords into text and rendering it difficult or impossible to read is severely punished by Google. Ditto for dropping in blocks of text, such as “frequent misspellings used to reach this page.” The search engine also penalizes marketers that post invisible text that can only be seen by search engines.
Use Descriptive Anchor Text: Google rewards anchor text—the text you use to link to other pages on your website and other sites—that is descriptive and easy to understand. Avoid using generic terms, such as “page,” “article” or “click here.”
Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.