Google works hard to give searchers answers without making them click through to content pages. That’s why the quantity of no-click answers on its search engine results pages seems to grow every day.
Meanwhile, content marketers work hard to improve their rankings on search engine results pages because they want searchers to click on their content.
Given these seemingly opposing goals, does it still make sense for content marketers to invest time and valiant effort in SEO?
YES was the resounding answer from most presenters at the upcoming Content Marketing World. A few more were lukewarm in their affirmative response. Their replies offer great insight into why SEO still matters in content marketing strategy – and how to adjust your approach for this instant-answer era.
Don’t think short
Google gives instant answers to short questions, satisfying fact-intent queries super fast. So an SEO strategy based on content that gives short answers is death. It’s not going to work. The let’s-build-a-search-optimized-glossary strategy doesn’t work anymore.
But an SEO strategy based on content that gives detailed, long-form answers to big questions is still super effective. The let’s-publish-search-optimized-best-practices-for-our-industry strategy works great. – Andy Crestodina, co-founder and chief marketing officer, Orbit Media Studios
Get attention with metadata
Even though most searches do not end in a click, your content can still get attention on the SERP. This is where metadata matters most. Make sure the results showing up on Google are the results people are looking for. Answer questions directly in your meta descriptions or give people a good reason to click through and learn more. – Ahava Leibtag, founder and president, Aha Media Group
To quote one of my favorite humans Andrew Davis, “We must all strive to create content that Google can’t answer.” In the meantime, we need to make sure that we provide enough intrigue and interest that people will crave our little teaser snippet and then click through because they’re curious. – Jon Burkhart, founder, TBC Global Limited
We need to provide enough intrigue and interest in snippets that people will click through because they’re curious, says @JonBurkhart via @CMIContent #CMWorld #SEO Click To Tweet
Think new and niche
Google is becoming better at incorporating user language on the platform. Also, there are new things popping up every day that people are trying to learn. It is a plus if you are niche because you may not have a lot of traffic but can still rank pretty well. – Michelle Ngome, founder and executive director, African American Marketing Association
Responses that require a simple answer or SERP feature-based answer are a unique query type and important to consider in any content marketing effort. Understanding SERP features and where you succeed and don’t is critical. Also, understand the impact of SERP features like Answers and People Also Ask. SEO is about understanding the potential and how the flux connected to the SERP isn’t just about 10 blue links anymore. – Jeff Coyle, co-founder, CSO, MarketMuse
Focus on the other half
Let’s be honest: Google’s ultimate goal is to keep users on their search engine for as long as possible. And while roughly 50% of searches end in a zero-click, about 50% of searchers click organic search results to find deeper answers to the questions they have.
Plus, consumers like to evaluate information and choices before making a decision to buy. They’ll do their due diligence with online research, which means brands need to show up in organic search results, not just Google’s featured content. – Jane Marie Barnes, account manager, GPO
Garner brand awareness and referral traffic
Even if owning a featured snippet doesn’t drive traffic directly to your site, it is great for brand awareness. Having a top-ranking spot for a keyword also makes it easier for your site to rank for other related keywords that may be driving traffic. Organic traffic should be the number one source of traffic for every website, which makes SEO an essential piece of any marketing strategy. – Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester
Win traffic and gain knowledge
Optimization and a savvy understanding of the search landscape are the best way to own the instant answer space. Many searches don’t trigger an instant answer, so SEO is crucial to impact those search results. And even with the instant answer, there are still 75% to 90% of organic clicks available, and SEO is the best way to win that traffic. Finally, when done correctly, SEO is an excellent way to understand your audience and create content that speaks to them, answers their questions, and supports them along their journey. – Katie Tweedy, associate director of content marketing and SEO, Collective Measures
Gauge beginning success
SEO is the best way to measure the early-stage success of content marketing. Does your content attract people to your website? That is largely an SEO outcome. SEO should inform content strategy and be used to measure the early success of content marketing right out of the gate. – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group
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Trying to rank on Google’s instant answers may seem impossible, but how do you think Google’s instant answers are created? Someone wrote great content in the first place. Remember, if the answers aren’t provided in the extract, they’ll look for the next best content – which could be yours. Be warned… SEO is coming for audio. If you don’t have audio content as part of your plan yet (and a way to make it text-searchable for now), you’ll miss out big time when it comes. – Gina Balarin, director and content queen, Verballistics
Play the long game
Every time you publish a blog post, video, podcast, or even a long-form piece of social content, you’re publishing a business asset that will serve for years to come. Knowing what keywords you want to rank for and be found with will never go out of style. – Chris Ducker, founder, Youpreneur.com
Respect the people’s choice
Google is still the first place people go when they’re looking for answers. If you aren’t focusing your website and even some social content on optimizing to be an answer for consumers, then your marketing isn’t working as optimally as it should.
Search is still your No. 1 priority because it is the one where consumers are actively looking for an answer or a solution. You have to work 10 times harder everywhere else just to find those that might want one. – Jason Falls, senior influence strategist, Cornett
Go where your prospects are
In B2B, perhaps 50 to 60% of buyers do their research online before they even speak to a salesperson. Therefore, you must invest in SEO to ensure those searches deliver your brand message when people are actively looking for information to solve their problems. – Karen McFarlane, chief marketing officer, LetterShop
Deliver for your target audience
Especially in B2B, the one-sentence snippet isn’t really an answer. When people want more, content is our opportunity to be there for them. SEO is still the best way to position content to capture as much demand as possible during the search/research process. – Andrea Fryrear, CEO and co-founder, AgileSherpas
Know your audience’s behavior
For B2B technical buyers, research shows that engineers are more likely to go 10 pages deep than they are to stop at page one. The instant answers are helpful for simple topics, but if the stakes are high or the search topic is complex, skeptical buyers will invest the time to find the most accurate results from the most credible sources. – Wendy Covey, CEO and co-founder, TREW Marketing
Appreciate better quality traffic
Those instant answers are helpful for folks looking for quick answers, but Google is still primarily a research hub for so many people. Providing detailed answers, education, explanations, entertainment, and more there drives more search volume from those who are actively looking for more information. In fact, instant answers might actually make the organic search traffic you do get even more valuable than it was prior. – Tracey Wallace, director of content strategy, Klaviyo
Go beyond soundbites
SEO is a foundational part of content creation, and SEO will always matter for content marketing. While some simple queries won’t go past those instant answers, if you are creating in-depth content that speaks to your audience, they will click through to go beyond the featured content soundbite. – Erika Heald, founder, lead consultant, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting
Expand beyond search
SEO still matters, but not as much. The influence of SERP is not as influential as the referral. A referral often comes from people sharing content on social media, adding comments, and recommending it to others. Google’s first page is crowded with more ads, Wikipedia listings, stories, videos, books, and even podcasts pertaining to your search topic, making it more difficult than ever to benefit from a first-page listing. – Bernie Borges, vice president global content marketing, iQor
Get ready for the swing
First, Google isn’t the be-all and end-all. There are additional “powers that be” driving SEO. Plus, like all pendulums, the swing from all the way in one direction always comes back. The secret is to be ready for when it comes back. Second, yes. My little, tiny agency, Outlandos Media, uses a name I flat-out stole from one of the most famous bands in the world – it wasn’t trademarked (The Police, Outlandos d’Amour) – and still out-surfaces them in any search. I closed that agency almost a decade ago and have published zero content on its behalf or on any of its social channels. Try it. Certainly, I’m not more famous than Sting. – Kate Bradley Chernis, co-founder and CEO, Lately
Tune Into YouTube
Yes and no. Google will continue to develop its own content and answers to monopolize search results, partially because they know exactly what people want and partially because it provides a more consistent experience. But I still see a ton of value from our search traffic, and it’s absolutely worth it to continue to use search to inspire new content ideas. I think YouTube is also an underrated area for optimization, and Google provides you with search data directly in YouTube now. – Jennifer Jordan, vice president and global head of content, Babbel
Create an insurance policy
The instant answers are answers that are easy. Even with featured snippets, if your content is tackling a complex subject matter, Google will still refer people to your site. That said, you want an insurance policy against Google, and that policy contains two things: brand and community. Build both, and SEO will work for you, but more importantly, your marketing will work without SEO. – Christopher Penn, chief data scientist, TrustInsights.ai
Put people first
I will say that our goal as content marketers should be to build a relationship with the audience before they need you, or so they need you, which might result in bypassing a search altogether. – Andrew Davis, author and keynote speaker, Monumental Shift
Co-exist in and outside a search world
I love the Lee Odden quote, “Content is the reason search began in the first place.” The instant answers in Google may increase click-throughs, so it’s important to structure your content appropriately (e.g., FAQ schema) to try to get those placements.
But ultimately, SEO-plus-content strategies must continue to co-exist so that great content can be found. Those looking for in-depth, valuable, and engaging resources will not stop at the first instant answer Google serves up. But you do need to make sure your content is differentiated, comprehensive, and more engaging than the search results you’re competing against. – Ali Orlando Wert, director of content strategy, Qlik
Avoid a one-channel strategy
Hopefully, you’re getting traffic from way more sources than just Google. If that’s all you’re relying on, you are not in a good place to grow. – Tim Schmoyer, founder/CEO, Video Creators
Don’t be vain
I’m afraid SEO is becoming a vanity metric. Many marketing managers I know can’t answer a simple question: why do you want your brand to be the No. 1 in a Google search? If SEO isn’t connected to your business model, take a step back and analyze why you should invest time and money in that. – Cassio Politi, founder, Tracto Content Marketing
Make conscious choices
SEO certainly matters to content marketers in the instant-answer world. But these experts share that it’s not the only answer. Their answers also reveal ideas for how to approach SEO in today’s world by knowing why you’re playing the search game.
Are you using any of the techniques they suggest? How have attitudes toward SEO changed (or not) at your company?
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute