A blog can be a major investment, but the SEO benefits can make it worth the effort. Columnist Stephanie LeVonne makes the case for why blogging works to improve search visibility.
A client wants to develop a content strategy so they can rank for more keywords but isn’t sure if they can muster the resources to create a blog. Sound familiar?
When budgets are tight, it’s often tempting to put more money behind your paid media campaigns; after all, you can actually see which ads and optimizations are generating the most revenue each month.
Earned media is not so cut-and-dried. However, creating and developing blog content should be regarded as a long-term investment. And as any good financial advisor will tell you, it’s best to start saving early. There is evidence to suggest that investing in a blog today will pay dividends for years to come.
Why should I have a blog?
No matter if your website is focused on e-commerce, lead-gen or self-service, there is what I like to call a “finite keyword set” that constrains you, whether you realize it or not. This concept of a finite keyword set is dictated by the fact that you want to serve the most relevant content to users at all times. By this notion, you would never post a recipe for lemon ricotta cookies on your fashion e-commerce site. (Or would you? We will revisit this idea later.)
Ideally, at the most basic level, your website should provide an expert level of knowledge about your subject matter — this will help ensure you meet Google’s quality guidelines. However, if your goal is to truly dominate the SERPs and outrank the competition, you need to start thinking outside the box to expand the breadth and depth of your content.
Simply put, a blog allows you to gain search engine results page (SERP) real estate, which can provide additional touch points for users to discover your brand. In creating new content, you will inevitably be expanding your keyword set — though I highly recommend performing keyword mapping (using Google’s Keyword Planner tool) and pre-planning your strategy to avoid keyword overlap and URL confusion.
Do note that recent changes have made it increasingly more difficult to get accurate keyword data from Google. In order to see “normal” search volume ranges, you will need to have a significant amount of ad spend with Google. It may be helpful to sync up with your paid search team to create a workaround.
SEO’s role in the conversion funnel
It’s no coincidence that appearing more times in the SERPs can lead to an increase in click-through rate; however, it’s important to fully understand the role that SEO plays in the conversion funnel. If you’ve ever heard an SEO lament that the last-click attribution model fails to give proper credit, this is because SEO is frequently used for discovery/awareness purposes. Knowing this, you may decide to create certain informational landing pages using more general keywords as opposed to long-tail.
When a consumer enters the funnel, they might not even realize they’ve begun their buying journey. Some consumers will begin their journey by researching the product or service they want and comparing offerings across brands. However, others might be looking to solve a problem — and while reading helpful answers, they discover the need to make a purchase.
The strategy here is to assist and educate consumers in their most vulnerable moments while they’re still brand-agnostic. Organic search campaigns will have a different impact on consumers depending on when they interact with them.
In the model below, we can see that both social campaigns and organic search are the first touch points a user will interact with. This tends to vary by industry, but the important thing to note is that while having an early organic presence is crucial, SEO still assists with conversions during other phases of the purchasing process.
Expanding breadth & depth of content
When creating content, ask yourself what consumers might be searching for before they need your product. For example, if you sell stainless steel cookware, a common question might be, “Are Teflon pans bad for your health?” Here, the consumer may be researching out of sheer curiosity — or potentially researching to purchase. In either scenario, creating a blog post about this topic not only educates the consumer, but also increases the likelihood that they will keep your brand top of mind when it comes time to purchase.
While creating educational/persuasive content can easily align with your brand, it’s also important to create content focused on semi-related topics, which helps to expand the scope of your keyword relevance. To begin the ideation process (keeping cost in mind), it’s helpful to thoroughly study your competitors’ blogs to get a sense of the topics they cover. It’s also worthwhile to dive into their backlink profile and see if they’ve captured the interest of high authority sites and publications (you can even reach out to some of these sites if you see a good opportunity).
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive solution, there is a host of paid platforms that can help you identify gaps in your own content; however, this this may be cost-prohibitive.
While publishing content on expected topics will help to grow your keyword set, the best way to cast your net is by covering loosely or indirectly related topics. Think back to the e-commerce example from above. Time and time again I defer to Nordstrom and their success with creating recipe blog posts that rank for a substantial number of keywords.
On the surface, there may appear to be some dissonance between these two ideas. The focus here is not on the product mix itself, but rather on understanding consumers on a more fundamental level and positioning oneself as “helpful” even before users have entered the discovery phase.
While Nordstrom uses this page to drive consumers to their in-store restaurant, let’s assume that this were not the case. When developing loosely or indirectly related content, start by creating a user persona that can help you visualize your consumers’ lifestyle, behavior and needs.
For the purposes of this example, we’ll assume the following:
- Nordstrom customers are rather affluent (HHI $100,000+).
- Mostly female, tend to skew a bit older (36–45).
- The average customer is a stay-at-home mom with children.
- She occasionally entertains and likes to bake from scratch.
- She’s willing to pay more for something if it will save her money in the long run.
With this information, it’s no coincidence that Nordstrom has chosen to post a recipe for “Best From-Scratch Lemon Ricotta Cookies.” In order to tie this to their product mix, Nordstrom could easily link this page to the bakeware landing page. However, someone searching for a recipe is looking to satisfy an immediate need and probably isn’t looking to take out their credit card.
The strategy here is to appear as frequently as possible in the SERPs for your target consumers, helping them solve their everyday dilemmas. Nordstrom knows that consumers who have more frequent interactions with their brand are likely to keep it top-of-mind when they need to purchase. According to a 2013 global Nielsen study, 60 percent of consumers prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them.
The key takeaway here is the SERP real estate that was able to be realized. This recipe page ranks for 266 keywords, 16 of which appear on page 1!
Obtaining featured snippets
As an added benefit, creating a blog will increase the chances of your content appearing for featured snippets and quick answers. The benefits of featured snippets are that even if your page does not rank in position 1, it can still appear above all other search results — as in the case of another recipe from Nordstrom.com.
While many rich snippets are dependent on structured data markup, featured snippets are organically pulled from your on-page content, which reduces the need to constantly monitor your markup implementation. Google has yet to release official guidelines for obtaining snippets, but there are several studies that outline how to improve the chances of your pages appearing and provide industry-specific tips.
At minimum, your page should focus on a target query — this will be the keyword for which you want the snippet to appear. In this example, it’s “shrimp and asparagus risotto.” Looking at the Domain Authority of the website that currently holds the featured snippet is a good way to assess your level of competitiveness.
In short, content creation, particularly blogs, is critical if you want to expand your brand presence. As an added benefit, an influx of fresh content requires Google to regularly crawl and index your site, and fresh content is a consideration when Google ranks your page in search results. Moreover, if your website lacks on-page content due to aesthetic purposes, a blog is an excellent way to augment your content offerings and target specific queries.
While it may be intimidating to commit to a blog, know that a weekly or biweekly content cadence may be all you need to start seeing return visitors. If you’re unsure where to begin, start by creating a list of evergreen vs. seasonal content, and capitalize on any upcoming topics that would be of particular interest to searchers. If creating a blog is out of the question, creating informational landing pages will also aid in your keyword efforts.
So, how does this pay dividends? The long-term goal is to obtain backlinks in some capacity. Not only will this help to increase your Domain Authority, it will increase exposure across the web and help drive traffic to your site. Most importantly, if you’ve been lacking social content (or posting without adding much value), share your new content and make sure to engage your followers in the conversation. After all, user feedback may be some of the most valuable.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.