content marketing binder

Chances are, if you own a small business, and you’ve dug around for some info on how to optimize your website in 2014, you’ve seen the phrase “content marketing” thrown around a few times.

It’s the buzzword of the decade in SEO, and these days it seems everybody who offers SEO services – even for small businesses – wants you to know they can market your content, too.

But if you’re a local business that doesn’t have the time or budget to dedicate hours each day to producing new content for your website, how can you be expected to keep up? Should you just accept lower search rankings as a fact of life for small businesses?

You guessed it… NO!

Marketing for a small business means being resourceful. You may not be able to pump out ten articles a day, or hire a college student to post cat pictures to your Twitter account five days a week. But that’s no reason not to use what you’ve already got and get the most out of content you’ve already produced.

In other words, if you’re looking to improve your search rankings using content, the trick is to start not by creating but by optimizing. Take what’s on your site now, review it, do some research, make it awesome. Done right, you can make a lot of difference to your search rankings without having to labor for hours over new material.

So, how exactly does one go about doing that?

Let’s start by reviewing our goals. By optimizing your site content, we want to:

  • Rank in organic search results for terms relevant to your target market
  • Provide great, informative content that answers questions and adds value to the web
  • Offer users something to link to and/or share in social channels, improving search rankings down the road

You’ll notice that a lot of the language here is focused on “giving,” not “getting.” That’s because the best way to “get” anywhere in search today is to add value to the web. Produce content that helps people, and they’ll do the work for you, spreading it around in ways that directly contribute to your search rankings.

As the creator of Buzzfeed, one of the fastest growing viral content sites on the web recently put it, nobody wants to be a shill for your brand – but people will share things relevant to them that help them express their identity on the web. The goal in creating great content, then, should be to make that easy for them.

What are the most important elements of optimized content?

Explicit, interesting titles and sub-headings.

Unlike print media, you don’t have as much room to be clever, pithy, or poetic. Titles heavy on wordplay or light on detail might be excellent, funny, and eye-catching in print – but on the web, they may seem awkward or ambiguous.

That’s because most folks writing for the most-read websites out there have come to realize the inevitable truth about Internet content: if it doesn’t rank, it doesn’t fly. And if you don’t put the right keywords in your titles and body text, you’re going to have a hard time ranking. (Think you’d have found this post if it were called “Wordsmithing For The Web?” What about “SEO for Savvy Searchers?” “Phishing Phor Phrase-Match…” okay, I’m done.)

Keyword targeting.

Really effective content targets specific, well-researched keywords. Data should drive every keyword choice, and you should be deliberate in making sure your keyword choices will deliver the types of users you want to be seeing on your site. You might not be able to rank #1 for “car dealership” or “new cars,” but if you write the best post out there on the “best hybrid cars under $30k in 2014,” you’re going to be pretty darn visible to more than a few folks looking for content like yours.

The most important things to keep in mind when choosing keywords to target are search volume, keyword competitiveness, and target audience/page intent. The first two are essential metrics in the keyword research process: one tells you how many people could potentially find your post if you optimize for that term, and the other tells you how hard it is to rank for it.

When you put together your content calendar for a given month or series of months, try to maintain a balance of high volume, highly competitive terms (usually these go hand-in-hand) and low volume, low-competition ones. You might not see many site visitors for a really out-there search term, but the chances are good that the one you do is going to stick around and read what you’ve shared.

As far as page intent is concerned, again, be deliberate: make sure you know exactly what a post is going to do for you and your users before you write it. There’s no harm in writing something now and again just because it’s interesting and relevant – lots of the best content is created this way – but generally speaking, your work will perform better if you’re highly intentional in how you approach it.

Length appropriate for the audience/intended purpose.

Not everyone is going to read a 1,000 word post about how to pick out a wedding dress, but if it’s helpful and well-written, you better believe a determined bride is going to! And remember that not only does longer content earn more links, but Google also tends to prefer it, because longer content provides more informative value to the user. As long as you keep it engaging, longer content is going to help you rank more often than not.

Readability!

This one gets overlooked sometimes, because it’s often assumed that web writing should be punchy and short. But if you’re adapting something you’ve already written, you may need to revise and reformat it some to make it more web-friendly.

Remember: content for the web must be easy to read, or your visitors are going to look elsewhere for answers to their questions. That’s, again, not to say you shouldn’t write long articles – a common misconception often taught by those who used the web in its earliest days.

If you write something worth reading, and you show it to the right people, the chances are they’re going to read it – but you still need to make it easy on them. Keep paragraphs short. Don’t be afraid to leave a line or two by itself. And use sub-headings wherever possible. Your readers will thank you!

What should you do once you’ve created great content?

Find the right channels and…promote! Promote! Promote!!!

There’s not much point in putting all the work into writing something great if you don’t let people know about it. Establish a regular network of interested connections, business partners, relevant blogs on the web – and share every post they might be interested, on top of your established social channels.

And don’t be afraid to dream big, either – if you write a piece on something that’s better than anything else on the web, you might just get a link from one of the big names out there. You’d be surprised at what a couple of great links can immediately do for your search rankings.

Measure its impact.

You might not have much to go on now, but once your posts have been sitting on the web for a few months, you’ll have access to invaluable data about how they’ve performed. Open up Google Analytics to study on-site engagement metrics. Look through your Facebook insights to see who’s been liking, sharing, or commenting on your posts. You can use this information to piece together an idea of what content performs best and what your audience likes and engages with most.

Keep it coming.

The best and most credible sources for information on the web are the ones that are reliable. Consistency is your friend here – if you can be counted on to regularly provide your audience with great content, they’re going to make sure it gets out there. Don’t risk losing the readership you’ve worked so hard to gain by letting your output slip!

If you’re just getting a small business off the ground, and haven’t caught the content marketing wave yet, it can be intimidating to get started. But like anything else, with marketing for the web, you get out what you put in. Chances are you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish on your own.

In summary, remember:

  • Focus on adding value to the web
  • Be explicit (the appropriate kind)
  • Research!
  • Measure your progress
  • Don’t forget who you’re writing for

Do you own a small business? How have you gone about navigating the world of content marketing for your website? Let us know in the comments!

About Brendan Silk

Brendan Silk is the lead content strategist at Ethoseo and a regular contributor to the Ethoseo blog. In addition to blogging and copywriting, he's spent the past three years honing his SEO and inbound marketing skills, with an emphasis on link building and social media. In his spare time he can usually be found chasing cats, playing drums, or listening to Phish. You can find more posts by Brendan at his bio page on Ethoseo, or follow him on Google+.

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