“SEO” is an acronym for search engine optimization.
This means publishers create and post content using techniques that get it “found” by people doing Google (or Bing, or Yahoo!) searches. Unlike many forms of brand content, SEO content intends to pull or draw readers to a site. Other forms of brand content are pushed to specific target audiences by the publisher (who wants a certain quality of reader, rather than a large quantity of readers).
Two Purposes for SEO Content
SEO content can earn income for a publisher by attracting visitors to articles filled with ads and affiliate links that generate commissions for the publisher. Alternately, SEO content can generate product or service sales for companies when potential customers find the company’s content, see the business is an expert and then hire the company or purchase its products.
#1 Revenue-Generation Model
The revenue-generation model for SEO content revolves around getting as many people to an article as possible, hoping that enough of them will click on ads (the website owner gets a small payment each time someone clicks an ad), or affiliate links (the link takes the site’s visitors to a shopping website and the publisher gets a commission if visitors buy something) to generate a nice profit.
#2 Business-Generation Model
Some companies use SEO practices to attract a higher quality of visitor, rather than just a high quantity of visitors. Local and national businesses use SEO content to reach specific target audiences they have identified as likely customers. These companies create narrow and specific content, rather than a huge library of articles based on what Google says people are searching for. The hope is that the content will attract visitors who want what the company is selling.
Some companies using SEO content to generate sales include online retailers who sell directly at the website hosting the content. Other companies require buyers to go to a retail store, other sales website, or to contact the company. For example, Nike might create SEO content that gets runners interested in a new technology for running shorts. The runners, convinced the shorts are awesome, then go and shop for the shorts. A law firm might provide articles on legal topics for small-business owners who read the articles and then contact and hire the law firm to get help with incorporating, registering a trademark or creating a sales contract.
Keywords vs. Socialization: Push vs. Pull
Until the latter part of 2013, SEO best practices revolved around populating articles with words or phrases (called “keywords”) that consumers were most likely to type when using search engines to find information.
For years, getting keywords right was critical for SEO content success. When consumers conducted a Google search, they usually clicked one of the first six results that showed up at the top of their computer screens. If your site was one of the hundreds (or thousands) of results generated by a Google search, your chances of getting visitors diminished greatly if your rank was not seen “above the fold,” or on the part of the user’s screen that didn’t require her to scroll down. If your page ended up on page two of a Google search, you needed to re-do your page and keywords because few people would click on your article. If your results ended up on page three or later, you’d probably get no visitors.
Based on SEO content creators’ gaming of Google’s search algorithm and the ensuing glut of awful content that appeared in Google search results, Google has devalued keywords as a major ranking factor. Today, SEO best practices must focus on getting people to push the publisher’s content (which they somehow found) to friends and peers via Facebook share and likes, Twitter tweets, Pinterest pins and other forms of social media sharing.
Google now rates articles higher the more they are shared socially (vs. what keywords they contain).
SEO Takes Time and Patience
Pulling people to your site requires more time and effort than pushing out your content via branded, sponsored, native or blogging strategies. It also takes longer to build traffic, which can take months or more than a year before you get an acceptable return on your time and money investments.
If you’re going with a pure SEO strategy, in addition to creating valuable content, you must create and manage SEO best practices to make sure your content ranks high in Google searches. You might need to pursue a link-building strategy and you must create plans to socialize your content.
If you aren’t an SEO expert, you will need to hire one to at least help you create a strategy (including using the right tools and setting them up) you can maintain once things are up and running.
A Brief History of SEO Content
During its heyday (2009-2012), SEO content generated huge sums of money for websites that drew large numbers of visitors to specific articles. Many of the visitors clicked on ads or affiliate links that generated commissions for the publisher. The SEO giant eHow allowed non-experts and amateur writers to post content and earn money from ad clicks, creating an army of contributors who populated eHow with millions of pages of content.
The SEO content game was so lucrative that it almost “killed” the Internet as a source of credible information for consumers.
Dozens of content mills sprang up to copy eHow. These “content farms” were dedicated to creating and posting as much “findable” content as possible, regardless of the quality of the information. For example, in 2011, if you typed “How to Lower My Cholesterol” into Google, you wouldn’t find articles on this subject posted by the American Heart Association, Mayo Clinic or Centers for Disease Control unless you went to page two or three of your search engine results.
The cholesterol articles you found were posted on content farm sites such as eHow, Livestrong, WiseGeek, Associated Content, Essortment, Ask, BrightHub, Hub Pages, eZine, Squidoo, Buzzle, Helium and Answerbag. These medical articles were not written by doctors, dietitians or other health professionals. They were written by work-at-home moms, people who spoke English as a second language, unemployed newspaper and magazine editors and other wannabe writers. These “writers” earned as little as $5 per article, with $25 per 500-word article considered premium pay. Many of these writers began creating their own niche website to earn AdSense and affiliate link income. Demand Media Studios alone had 15,000 freelance writers cranking out hundreds of thousands of articles per month.
This led to SEO content marketers researching Google’s keyword reports, stuffing pages with keywords and even creating multiple versions of the same article. For example, a single content mill website would create articles with titles like:
- How to Lower Blood Pressure
- How to Lower Your Blood Pressure
- How to Lower My Blood Pressure
- Ways to Lower Blood Pressure
- Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure
- Ways to Lower My Blood Pressure
The worst content farms created dozens of variations of the same article.
SEO content got to be so incorrect and dangerous, eHow ended its user-submitted content model and hired marginally vetted freelancers to create articles that were then edited by part-time freelance editors. But the results were still not credible. Within two years of content farms flooding the Internet with poorly written, incorrect and dangerous content, consumers said “Enough!” People realized that Google searches produced a huge proportion of content farm articles, with credible sites buried way down (page three or later) in the results. This caused a media outcry, with reputable content producers attacking the search engine giant. Google responded by changing its search algorithm several times, effectively killing all content farms except eHow (which today is a shadow of its former self, drawing roughly 12 million visitors per month instead of 70 million) and its sister site LIVESTRONG.