Location, location, location. The long-standing real estate mantra is just as applicable for any company undertaking search and content marketing. Though Google delivers millions or billions of search results for most queries, approximately 75% of clicks go to the top three results. And if your brand doesn’t reach the first page, it might as well not exist.
Unfortunately, no silver bullet exists for quickly and automatically elevating your company’s virtual properties up search results. Improving search visibility requires persistent effort and revolves around the following foundational questions:
Say you have answered these questions. Your content is optimized, informative, and tailored to your audience’s needs and the way they search for content. But, you are still not cracking the coveted top three search results. You are not alone. This all-too-common result reflects the reality that more brands are investing in content creation and, frankly, they are getting better at it.
Frequently, content doesn’t rank because it attempts to encroach on competitive territory that brands have staked a claim with excellent content long ago. You may try to amplify your content through social media, another important tool to attract traffic. However, the likelihood that branded content, especially about a niche topic, achieves virality is approximately nil.
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Is that enough bad news?
Well, here's good news. There’s hope for your content, whether you posted it a day, a year ago, or have yet to create it. When you earn backlinks, also known as inbound links, it signals to search engines that your content is credible, valuable, and worthy of a top spot in rankings.
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Inbound links are key to a successful search marketing strategy for your company, and as Moz’s SEO/Marketing Flywheel demonstrates, creates a virtuous cycle of results.
Step 1: Rank well in search
Step 2: People find your content in search and believe it is valuable
Step 3: People link to your content
Step 4: Your content ranks even HIGHER because of the backlinks
Step 5: Repeat steps 1-4
Improving search rankings with original research
But what about Step 0, actually getting your web properties to rank well in search?
Inbound links are a proven means of signaling to search engines that you have created quality content that people seek. However, dedicating resources to securing inbound links to an individual piece of content does not scale. You will spend significant time and money supporting a single marketing asset, a dubious strategy in a content landscape that demands both quality and quantity. Exacerbating the problem is that many brands rightfully focus on niche topics that have limited linking opportunities, meaning you may face diminishing returns.
However, if you take the same strategy discussed for a single post and dedicated it to your ENTIRE website, you will command greater Domain Authority. Moz coined the term Domain Authority to express the result of an involved formula that quantifies how well a website will rank within search results. A significant component to Domain Authority is getting high-value inbound links from trustworthy sites.
Original research has time and again proven among the most effective ways to earn links from those within your industry, including influencers and trade publications, as well as those outside of it like mainstream media outlets.
Earning links from media and respected sites is a boon to your brand. Google and other search engines care less about how many links you have to your site and more about the reputation of those linking to you. A major news outlet or blog with a high Domain Authority linking to your site will do more than links from a dozen dusty blogs built on a 1997 Angelfire template.
“By producing insightful research, brands create a unique pitch that sets them apart from the tidal wave of self-centered features that journalists typically receive and ignore,” says David Chapman, CEO of a franchise PR agency. “The sharing of proprietary information about emerging industry trends, for example, entices publications to not only cover your story but to link back to the research. It’s a win-win for your public relations and search marketing.”
Before you start sending out surveys, you will need to put on your detective cap. Many brands, such as Lyft, RedFin, and Allstate, have used the insights and data that they have to provide unique insights for years. Instead of competing directly against brands that have already carved out a niche with original research, you can look for a new, unique angle that will interest media and your audience.
If you’re having trouble identifying a good angle for your brand research, consider examining disruptive trends that are having a wide-ranging impact. For example, how is your industry integrating the next wave of technology (virtual reality, artificial intelligence, or the Internet of things) into its offerings? How has the rise in veganism impacted menu offerings at restaurant chains? What effect have nap spaces in workplaces had on efficiency and employee well-being?
Consider researching an evergreen topic that you can update on a quarterly or annual basis. For example, the Content Marketing Institute has released an annual report every year since 2010. Common evergreen topics include analyses of the overall economic impact of a specific industry, trends in industry salaries, and the growth or decline of jobs in the industry.
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Once you’ve identified what research will resonate with media, industry stakeholders, and your target audience, you can begin collecting the data. Like the Lyft, RedFin, and Allstate examples mentioned previously, you can rely on your data, if you have a representative sample. Or, you can seek out the additional data using tools such as:
If you are tight on time and man hours but have a sizeable budget, you can also hire a survey research firm. Their expertise and experience can be invaluable and may be worth the investment.
Don’t forget to reward the individuals providing the data, especially if you are leveraging your own contacts. Not only will it engender warm feelings toward your brand, it will compel more people to participate. If you can’t afford a $5 gift card to a coffeehouse for every participant, consider having a raffle for one big prize, such as a tablet or wearable.
Now that you have the data, it’s time to analyze it, identify key findings, and contextualize it into exciting stories. Remember, numbers often don’t tell the whole story. If you find a significant shift within your industry, use your in-house expertise to explain why it is taking place and its potential long-term impact. Not only does this bring the story to life, it makes your brand more credible and opens up media opportunities.
Before you start to put together a lengthy white paper summarizing your findings, you must weigh two factors equally:
In some instances, brands will publish a single report that summarizes the findings of a national or international industry. For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer is an elegant piece of research that informs about multiple industries in countries around the world.
On the other hand, RedFin and Lyft often break their research down to trends in particular cities, garnering media attention from many local outlets. Outside of geography, you may determine it valuable to focus on a particular function or demographic.
The choice about the type of report you put together will come down to your data, the story, your audience, and your goals.
No matter your audience, simply putting text on a page will not have the optimal impact. You should consider infographics and videos that will help amplify the content on social and attract the attention of reporters. (More about pitching reporters in a minute.)
Also, your brand will have invested significant resources into this research. You need to make it last. Repurpose your content by breaking down the report into blog posts that tackle one aspect of the report at a time. Pepper your social media profiles with facts and graphs throughout the year. In doing so, you will wring every cent of value out of your original research.
To maximize your efforts and to earn backlinks that enhance search visibility, put a PR pitch behind your outreach. Identify the standout storylines that the data reveals, and then pitch the publications that will reach one of your target audiences.
Don’t forget, pitching no longer means reaching out just to journalists and news outlets. Consider the influencers in your industry who will find this research compelling. They might post about your work directly or use it to inform something else they are working on. Either way, your brand gets exposure and an inbound link from a prominent site.
Whether a journalist or influencer, be sure to provide them with eye-catching visuals as well as a link to an overview page with the stats that matter most. The eye-catching visuals will help your pitch stand out and make the content they create more compelling. By creating an overview page, you give them a natural place to link to from their content.
These important links are where the magic happens – it is the secret sauce that makes everything taste better. Even one or two major pickups will drive a ton of traffic to your site and improve your website’s Domain Authority. Not only will your content rank better, so will your entire domain – including all of your past content pieces as well as all that you will produce in the future.
Soon enough, each piece of content you create will start at Step 1 of the SEO/marketing flywheel. And that’s when your content marketing and SEO initiatives will drive greater and greater bottom-line value for your organization.
However, remember that the marketing mountain has no peak. As you elevate your brand, you will find your competitors nipping at your heels to move into the spotlight (or top 3 ranking in Google results). Sustained success requires persistance and innovation. Continue to learn and tweak your approach, always on the look out for opportunities to improve and new angles to explore.
Finally, remember to celebrate your successes along the way. Successful content marketing is hard work, and every back link earned, each small win, can serve as energy to keep you going on this journey.