You’re so vain, I bet you think this content’s about you
How can we tell compelling brand stories or create anything authentic when we’re also writing for an audience of machines?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. This article isn’t aimed at you. Not directly. Its target is the word cloud around content marketing and SEO that our analytics tools tell our content team you might like, based on what you search for.
We’ve analysed the terms our persona-modelling tells us you might search for, and created articles on those topics as part of our content marketing programme. Here’s the problem: the article also has to appeal to a search engine algorithm, or you’ll never see it. To reach you, we must first talk our way past the Googly gatekeeper.
SEO-focused content marketing has two jobs: to appeal to you and to index in search engines
Every sentence is created with half an eye on how big mamma Google works. Google’s algorithm creates a bias to content of a certain type: words. Lots and lots of words. For all the astonishing work being done on Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and machine vision, search engines still struggle to make sense of visual content. By comparison, indexing words is far easier (without in any way suggesting that what Google does is easy). So, for content marketing or search marketing, you need a ton of copy.
This part is full of technical keywords aimed at Google, you can skip it if you want
Here’s the tricky bit: it’s not just any copy. First, we weave focused keywords into the headings and sub-headings (the H1 to H6 tags in HTML). As an example, the sub-heading marked with *, below, hits seven different target keywords. Headings are regarded by Google as highly indicative of an item’s meaning, so we cram them in. Then we shoehorn those same keywords into the copy a measured number of times. We’re aiming for a keyword density of about 1-3% (no more or Google starts discounting them).
Images get the same treatment with keyword-heavy filenames and alt-tags that may be only loosely related to the actual image content.
Next, salt the page with metadata and pepper the copy with internal links. Finally, spread related content over many pages and websites, tied together with a loosely connected thread of subjects and hyperlinks. It’s all designed to create a semantic indexing cluster: a cloud of correlated words and phrases that has been painstakingly researched to reach past competitors’ word clouds and, finally, to reach you through higher search rankings.
Because it’s so highly engineered, SEO-focused content often feels stilted and un-human. All the effort has gone into creating something that works for the machines and there’s no time left to invest in creating something with any emotional resonance for an actual person.
What does this mean for your brand?
Having to write for a machine audience does push us in uncomfortable directions, creatively. The best headline may be short, enigmatic and funny, so how far do we compromise that in hope of gaining search engine ranking?
The skill lies in creating content that hits the target keywords in the right way without detracting from its originality and authenticity.
This is hard.
So, to be blunt: many don’t even bother trying. It’s a case of “never mind the quality, feel the width,” because sheer volume can yield results. But at the cost of customer experience. Think about it: if you push out achingly dull content headed by yawningly bland stock photography, what message are you sending to your customers? To whom are you really appealing? It may shift a few units in the short term but, to quote David Ogilvy, “You cannot bore people into buying your product.”
The time taken to craft great work pays off as you gain a reputation for interesting, useful content: customers turn to you first, recommend useful content to friends, share links, reference the article and yes, find it through a search engine.
It’s an invisible war of words of which most people remain blissfully unaware.
SEO-focused copy as part of your brand and content marketing strategy*
In a well integrated marketing strategy, you need a diverse range of pieces designed for different jobs. Bitesize shareable content for social, incisive cut-through creative for TV, outdoor and display. Original, authoritative long-form content and influencer/media backlinks for SEO. Editorial concepts for influencer outreach, multi-platform tie-ups for promotions and just about all of the above for content marketing. Each element is part of a wider whole that lifts your brand story above your competitors’.
That’s why you need to work with an agency that understands not just the technical minutiae of production for each channel, but also the wider brand context. As an integrated agency, that’s Dinosaur’s specialism: understanding your core proposition and crafting a strategy to tie those disparate elements into a coherent whole. It enables us to create memorable campaigns that real, human customers love; delivering a great brand experience, strong ROI and sustained sales growth.
Sure, we’ll keep Google happy, because machines need love too, but we never lose sight of the fact search engines don’t buy your product. Humans do.
Also published on Medium.