Across the spider-verse: Conquer the evolving search landscape with out-of-the-box SEO and crackling content
You don’t need a crystal ball to know the only constant is change. And there are areas building steam you should keep on your radar as 2024 approaches. The search engine landscape in particular is a shape-shifter, and this demands preparation and agility to keep your marketing content and strategy relevant.
The tried-and-true hallmarks of digital marketing will remain relevant and keep you grounded as you explore additional methods to complement them.
So let’s start there…
Keep These in Your Digital Marketing Toolbox
While plenty is changing when it comes to digital marketing, there are also some fundamentals that remain the same.
Strategy grounded in the core fundamentals of digital marketing
The basic building blocks of a digital marketing strategy aren’t changing much:
- Use your client’s business goal(s) to shape your marketing research and initiatives.
- Identify the target audience(s).
- Plan and create content to meet the needs of the target audience(s).
- Choose the right distribution channels for the content.
- Recruit the best people, processes, and tools to support your initiatives. These could include specialists such as website developers or designers, the judicious use of artificial intelligence (AI), and customer relationship management software to help you stay on top of contact lists.
Deciding what comes first — SEO or content creation?
SEO-optimized content is going to remain essential to bringing in traffic.
Because of that, you need to figure out your best method for writing strong, easily found content.
In this variation of the age-old chicken and the egg question, most writers will (and should) conduct SEO research first (considering the core elements above). Then, they often diverge into different approaches to creating content:
- Methodical approach: writing content around specific SEO keywords and phrases
- Organic idea dump: writing content that reflects SEO research without inserting specific keywords along the way
I favor what I rather ineloquently called the idea dump. Your writing flows more naturally when you start with a stream of consciousness from what you learned in the research stage. It’s surprising how many SEO keywords you will use organically, creating a far less stilted document. If important keywords are missed, you can address this in editing.
While SEO remains a critical part of content creation, both must evolve and work in tandem if your client wants to be found anywhere on the search engine results page (SERP).
Considering algorithm criteria
Understanding what algorithms are looking for can help your content get found by more of your target audience.
Let’s start with Google to give you a picture of the types of criteria most important to search engine algorithms. Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines are designed to help human raters review the quality of search results. You can use this algorithm as a template for creating quality content.
In 2014, Google introduced the E-A-T algorithm (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness), and in 2022, they added another “E” for Experience. Now the abbreviation is E-E-A-T. These same attributes apply to good content on most platforms — so you can use this checklist to plan, write, and review your content:
Experience: Google rewards content that can be traced to a client or company’s firsthand experiences with the subject matter and includes compelling personal stories and opinions that can demonstrate their knowledge.
Expertise: Sometimes expertise overlaps with experience, yet they are not identical. Does your client have the knowledge, qualifications, and credentials to offer reliable information? A website’s “About” page, FAQs, and testimonials are prime locations to highlight expertise.
Authoritativeness: This refers to your overall standing and reputation in a niche or industry. Is your client an expert or influencer with a proven track record? You can also reference other experts to back up your client’s claims.
Trustworthiness: Arguably the most important, this rating takes the creator, content, and website into account. As a digital copywriter, you are often the creator but represent a client who owns the writing. Your work may be attributed to your client or their business. Outside experts can also contribute content. Build trust by providing useful content, crediting authors, fact checking, citing trusted sources, and not bombarding readers with ads.
For more about how you can demonstrate E-E-A-T qualities, read about the Stanford Web Credibility Project.
Social listening and monitoring
Analytics aren’t the sole source for evaluating campaign performance. You’ve likely heard of “social listening” and “social monitoring,” which are on the rise. What’s the difference?
Sprinklr says, “Social monitoring is like observing individual trees, while social listening is akin to viewing the entire forest.”
Social monitoring measures what people are saying on your social media platforms. It is a micro-view that looks at specific campaigns or keywords and functions as an extension of your customer support — monitoring users’ conversations so you can engage them accordingly.
Social listening is the context around why people are saying things. It gives you an overview on a macro-scale of all online conversations related to your brand, products, industry, and competitors and the sentiment or mood around them.
Social listening can help you learn about frustrations and track sentiment in real time, so you can step in and address it. Take this meme, for example. If McDonald’s marketing teams are listening, they can respond to the sentiment here in a number of ways.
You can improve brand messaging while making customers feel seen and heard, and optimize content strategy, campaigns, and SEO. Multiple social listening and monitoring tools exist that can be game changers.
Video strengthens content marketing success. Consumers now expect videos to educate them about a brand’s products and services.
Some clients balk at being on camera, but you should investigate creative ways to display more visual content. Attention spans are shorter than ever, and many people won’t stop to read a blog or article, but they will watch eye-catching videos.
What’s on the horizon?
SEO, content development, social media, and video will continue to play a core role in any online marketing strategy. But there’s more to consider in the coming year…
The rise of the machines
AI will remain a big mover and shaker after exploding in 2023 with new capabilities like ChatGPT. Content creation and marketing has changed with AI, yet it still performs best with human digital creators and strategists guiding it to produce brand-specific work.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend developing a working understanding of how to use AI as an aid for your research and productivity. Larger questions about the risks and challenges of AI will continue to unfold alongside the promise of greater speed and capacity.
Get caught in a spiderweb
Sales funnels are so ingrained in the marketing world that it’s hard to visualize another concept that complements this established paradigm.
Spiderweb Content Marketing Strategy (also called spider webbing) isn’t a new idea, but it’s growing in popularity. Spider webbing focuses on creating a diverse, yet interconnected, network of content and multiple links to a website — rather than a traditional funnel that guides users along a linear path to a single landing page and ideally a conversion.
Spiderweb SEO builds relevant links that point to your website, resulting in a weblike structure that search engines can crawl and index. This involves varied content like blog posts, infographics, videos, backlinks, and more to attract users from across the internet — offering multiple locations that can respond to their search queries.
Warning — be careful when searching for information about spiderwebs and funnels online if you don’t want to fill your screen with larger-than-life orb weavers or Australian funnel webs!
Micro-influencers and user-generated content
Recent years saw businesses and brands chasing influencers of 1+ million followers in a bid for high visibility and credibility. Many found the costs were unsustainable and that, in some cases, these huge influencers came with a lack of authenticity.
Now, more brands are working with local micro- and nano-influencers (500 to 100,000+ followers). Unless you promote the luxury sector, it’s more likely for smaller communities to resonate with “real” people who share the same needs and locales rather than mega-stars endorsing products few can afford.
User-generated content is produced by customers who become brand advocates by sharing their experiences. They can be powerful resources for businesses looking to expand in their local community. Peer recommendations build credibility, and these advocates develop a sense of loyalty that attracts new customers.
Voice search optimization
Voice search is growing by leaps and bounds, as is the capacity to have content read to users. Optimize your content for voice-activated devices like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Focus on answering queries with the same conversational style that real people use to ask questions.
The overlap of search and social for content discovery
Social platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, Amazon, and Facebook want to entice visitors to stay on their platforms with every scroll, click, and swipe. Embedding search functions on those feeds helps them accomplish this. Essentially they are dissolving the distance between search and social functions.
As a content writer, knowing where your audience spends time helps you craft specific content for those social platforms. If you find more prospects and customers on YouTube or TikTok, develop videos. If your targeted crew hangs on Pinterest — invest in original images. Whatever platform and media you include in your strategy, stay consistent with your brand’s voice and the platform’s norms.
Evolving platform algorithms
The algorithms that social platforms and search engines use to evaluate content will continue to change, so make a habit of checking for new criteria. For instance, the Google algorithm is updated about once a year.
As the search engine landscape becomes more competitive, keeping up with evolving niche platforms appropriate for your clients will keep you a step ahead. Expanding your SEO strategies beyond Google, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok will be imperative when seeking visibility for your client’s brand.
Go ahead, spin your web wider!
What skills do you need for 2024 and beyond?
If you like using both sides of your brain simultaneously, SEO and content marketing is the perfect place for you! Here are some of the skills you can refine for the coming year:
Understand how to develop a content strategy — Strategic thinkers and planners will come out on top as we see more automation of low-level marketing tasks. Those who can analyze, customize, and apply content and data to specific markets will be most in demand.
Content writers should study target personas, care about messaging, and have the skills to plan and implement integrated marketing campaigns that span the entire customer journey.
Additional SEO tools — If your go-to is studying Google SERP features for your competitors’ content and “People Also Ask,” keep in mind that you can access tools like Google Trends, Google Perspectives, Glimpse, or Exploding Topics for an even deeper dive.
AI tools — For better or worse, a content writer or marketer skilled at AI will have more work than one who is not.
“Marketers must develop the ability to look at the big picture and identify opportunities. Strategy, creativity, and innovation will be essential skills as more routine work gets turned over to AI.” — Brian Piper, Director of Content Strategy and Assessment, University of Rochester
Personalized content writing — Shore up your writing skills in areas most difficult for AI to replicate. Writers who can create fresh, original, and personable content will stand out in the sea of sameness as more companies rely on robots.
Data analysis — You don’t need to be a wizard to find a measurement tool you are comfortable with to help you understand how the content you create is performing. You should seek results important to your client, such as the number of followers, engagements, and conversions, or how your organic reach compares with paid promotions.
Improv skills and intuition — Let’s face it: Sometimes our efforts will miss the mark. Even AI will miss the mark if not given the correct prompts. Sometimes the world throws something at us that is completely off-script (take COVID, for example). We need to be flexible, empathetic, and, yeah… have improvisational skills to quickly rebound with a new plan. You will never lack work if you are the face reflecting calm amidst chaos.
There will also be times when you just get a feeling in your gut that you’re on the right (or wrong) track. It’s like intuitively knowing when to add a pinch of salt or a dash of cinnamon when you’re cooking. This “seasoning” comes with logging a lot of writing hours.
Research skills — AI has brought a rather wonky twist to doing research. Sometimes, it lies — or, equally disconcerting, makes things up. When using AI, always be sure to check your facts. When conducting original research, provide the appropriate references when citing others’ work.
Studying the competition when creating content for a client is always a solid strategy. This analysis prevents you from repeating an approach if you see it fell flat. Learning what not to do is just as important as brainstorming new approaches.
Spending time on SERP pages and links, conducting original research, and using research tools will equip you with reliable intel when assembling your SEO strategy and content creation.
Roundup articles such as this one try to predict trends for the upcoming year — so my next suggestion may surprise you. Don’t chase trends.
Every facet of today’s world seems harder to predict. There’s more noise… and pinpointing what matters most is challenging. But don’t shy away from serious issues.
Businesses that have earned staying power address problems faced by their current and prospective customers as the world changes around them. Accepting that events will shift rapidly can help you focus on and recognize what is important in your client’s orbit.
Expanding your creative capabilities and technical know-how will benefit your clients’ brand and business, and your content marketing career. No matter where your core areas of expertise lie, the more you learn, the more you can achieve.