SEO and Content Marketing with Wizard of Moz Rand Fishkin
June 7, 2016
Search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way since the days of stuffing keywords and hoping for the best. Back then, it was too often used to bolster weak writing, to trick people into reading something that wasn’t worth their time.
Now, good SEO makes great content even better. We use the keywords people search for to make sure what we offer will have value—which, in turn, makes the content naturally keyword rich. Good SEO practices help people find valuable content. As such, SEO is an essential part of content marketing strategy.
Few marketers know more about the mysterious inner workings of search engine algorithms than Rand Fishkin. Rand and the team at Moz have been helping clients improve their inbound marketing for over a decade. In addition to serving clients, Rand shares his expertise with the marketing community on the Moz blog, particularly in his Whiteboard Friday series.
As Arthur C. Clarke said (sort of), “Sufficiently advanced SEO is indistinguishable from magic.” So it makes sense that Rand’s official job title is “The Wizard of Moz.”
As part of the The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing, we asked Rand to share his thoughts on SEO’s role in content marketing strategy. Read on to learn which SEO skills all marketers should have, which opportunities marketers should capitalize on within the coming year, and more.
Ask the Expert with Wizard of Moz Rand Fishkin
LinkedIn: If you were starting a content marketing program from scratch, where would you begin?
Rand Fishkin: I'd work hard on getting to know my audience, studying my competition, and formulating a strategy around what would resonate before I ever took to the content creation itself. But, from that point, everything would be experimentation and evolution based on what I learn. Every audience and every platform are different. I suspect that, depending on how unique the new audience I was going after was from my current audience (of mostly marketers and tech folks), it might take me some serious time to get good at finding a sweet spot.
LinkedIn: In your eyes, what is the biggest difference between content marketing five years ago and content marketing today?
Rand: A lot has changed, but I think, more than anything else, the last five years have reduced loyalty and attention to almost unrecognizable levels. No one subscribes to just a few feeds or just a few accounts on social media. No one's messages have a shot at reaching 60 or 70% of their audience—even the audience that's opted in and said "I want to see what you're sharing." All of the social networks have substantially reduced reach. Email deliverability and open rates continue to shrink. RSS readers are barely alive anymore. Earning your audience's attention five years ago was relatively easy (or at least, much easier) if they'd already connected themselves to you. Today, that advantage is gone—a subscriber doesn't mean what it used to, and I doubt it ever will again.
Every new message you want to send will have to pierce the cacophony of noise that overwhelms us in the digital age.
LinkedIn: If you were tasked with hiring a content marketer, what is the #1 attribute you would be looking for?
Rand: Empathy. Great marketers have immense empathy for their audience. They can put themselves in their shoes, live their lives, feel what they feel, go where they go, and respond how they'd respond. That empathy comes out in content that resonates with your audience.
LinkedIn: In your opinion, what is the baseline of SEO skills content marketers need to have?
Rand: I think a content marketer actually needs more SEO skills than marketers in nearly any other position (with the obvious exception of SEO specialists themselves). That means understanding keyword research and how to do keyword targeting, how search engines generally rank pages, some of the technical aspects of SEO around indexation and crawling, how content on the same domain can boost that site's authority and ranking potential, etc. Given that content marketing isn't just about producing content, but about earning traffic to it as well, SEO should be a cornerstone of any content marketer's repertoire.
LinkedIn: What current SEO opportunities will content marketers be glad they acted upon two years from now?
Rand: First, better content > more content. This is one that's tough because A) many teams and managers and clients still want a certain number of pieces rather than aiming for fewer pieces of higher quality and B) quantity is how content marketers get their reps in—it's how we practice our art and get better at it.
The reason this matters so much is that engines are starting to learn which domains people prefer, to put those domains in front of them more and more. If you fall behind this curve, and a substantive portion of your content doesn't interest, excite, or engage visitors, you could quickly find yourself in a negative spiral of a feedback loop that lowers your aggregate rankings long term.
Second, schema and rich snippets. This one's obvious because it not only drives up clickthrough rates today, but is likely to have more and more influence and opportunity over time. If you get good at it now, you can expect a string of returns.
Finally, link outreach and link-earning content. Many of us keep hearing how link building is dead, and it's something I've said myself. But the need for links is not dead, and it doesn't even appear that links are getting less correlated with high rankings. So links are still something we need, but classic, old-school, manipulative and low-quality link building is diminished if not gone. Thus, we need to produce content that naturally earns links, and content that's likely to earn links once we do the right kinds of outreach. Then we need to do that outreach!
The best part is that if you get good at link earning and link outreach now, you'll rank and earn visibility and those links will compound and earn you more and more rankings over time.
For a thorough guide to content marketing, featuring Rand and nine other thought leaders, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.