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Search Marketing Content Vs. Digital PR

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My father gave me some good advice once.  Never act on anything you learn at a convention until 2 weeks have passed.  Wait until the shine has worn off, then see if what you captured is really the “game changer” you originally believed.

I attended Mozcon in the end of July.  There were some great presentations, though some attendees said they weren’t as actionable as the year before.  Admittedly, several of the presentations seemed like they were vying to win a “best keynote” award, but I certainly got what I expected from an SEOmoz convention.  A common, developing theme spoke to the evolution of our industry more as content providers, at the mercy of Penguin and Panda. We’ve heard this before (in many less than constructive ways) – the last two years were heavy on social media for SEO, while 2012 was expected to be the year of “real” content marketing.  Earlier this year I expected the “content is king” adage to evolve.  Build My Rank and other thin content purveyors suddenly went down, shaking more people into rethinking the term “content.”  Tom Critchlow closed the conference with an off-the-cuff presentation where he said, “SEOs have a problem.”  He suggested we’re not doing the kind of content development PR firms do, and we need to become digital PR before the traditional PR firms figure it out.

As a whole, I partially disagree.I disagree

I believe SEO has many definitions.  For some, it’s just about getting properties to rank well. That’s fine.  For others, it could certainly be digital PR.  From the perspective of my marketing sensibilities, I like that concept, and I was initially really taken with it.  It seems likely that the time is right for SEOs to take over that void – for those that want it.  But there’s still a huge need for search only content.

Look at Wikihow, eHow, and the others.  Panda was supposed to spank them for thin content, but luckily I still see them.

Yes, I said luckily.

Though their content is often thin, I’m glad these sites exist.  They serve a purpose.  When I searched how to change the oil in a 2004 Harley Davidson Sportster, I discovered an article particularly for that specific bike and year.  That’s pretty awesome.  The directions could have been better, but the article was efficient enough to answer my need, and served to be quite convenient on my smartphone out in the garage.  When I needed an article on the right tool to use to unscrew a Nintendo Wii, it was a long-tail targeted Wikihow article.  Today when I searched how to fix low volume issues of a Fender Twin, I got eHow.

That’s search content that’s provided not by digital PR, but by content marketing and analyzing long-tail queries.  I don’t want to see SEOs quit focusing on this kind of content. I’m willing to bet all my cookies nobody goes to the eHow homepage and just navigates for fun. I’m willing to bet my prized beer can collection that if they removed their homepage, nobody would notice.  Search is big for them, and SEOs can certainly take a cue for their own initiatives.  But maybe we could just be a little more thoughtful when we write search marketing content.

I use everything from Social Mention, to Google Analytics, to Crowdbooster, to Ubersuggest (the list goes on) to provide content ideas for my own organic growth, and for link building fodder and outreach.  It’s not quite as future-less as I think some of the Mozcon presentations were suggesting.  I like the idea of repositioning the mouth of the content marketing funnel, but I sure don’t want to shrink it.

Indeed there’s a lot of necessary clean-up from our past content marketing oil spills (some of which requires manual removal, and some Google is just ignoring).  I don’t see it as black and white though.  I think an SEO copywriter still has a lot of opportunity in the gray area.

Digital PR sounds like a great new hat to put on, build on, study on, and practice.  But search marketing content done right is still necessary, even if the article and blog networks don’t rank anymore.  Luckily (hopefully) your site still does, and you can build a home for this content if you haven’t already.  We can still rank by helping Google answer the billions of questions they’re asked.  That part hasn’t changed.


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    Comments

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    1. Brandon Dudley
      August 14, 2012

      I really enjoyed this posts. I often feel like ehow and the like often catch a bit too much flack. I know many times that those sites have been handy. Digital Pr is helpful for many clients but quality content will be crucial for both search and is the crutch to making digital PR work.

      Reply


    2. @billsebald
      August 14, 2012

      Thanks Zeph, and I don’t think I properly thanked you for the drink at Mozcon. I owe you one.

      Reply


    3. Joel
      August 14, 2012

      It’s all becoming blurred lines to me, to be honest. Digital PR. Content marketing. Long tail search marketing. Isn’t the goal at the end of the day to be answering pain points no matter what you’re producing? And if you’re known for producing content that answers those long tail questions (‘ala LIVESTRONG), isn’t that a content strategy too?

      I like that you give a couple thumbs up to Ehow, there’s absolutely still a place for this kind of content on the web.

      Reply


    4. Anthony D. Nelson
      August 14, 2012

      I agree with you on the usefulness of eHow and Livestrong. When you have a specific problem and find an article written for your exact issue, you are thankful. I get annoyed when I don’t see much difference between two articles that are 80% similar in nature, but have come to grips with it because I do still click on the results in the SERPs, knowing what to expect.

      I think part of the reason Demand Media gets such a bad rep for their SEO strategy is that us other SEOs can’t compete with their level of content production.

      The removal of the homepage would be a funny thing for them to test.

      Reply


    5. Ian Howells
      August 15, 2012

      You now rank #1 for “how to fix low volume issues of a Fender Twin” instead of an article actually giving an answer.

      Way to ruin the internet, Sebald.

      Reply


    6. @billsebald
      August 15, 2012

      Dear eHow’s SEOs, I’m sorry. Blame Google. BTW, I can be bought (just sayin’).

      Reply


    7. Rick Noel
      November 8, 2012

      Very well put Bill. My experience is similar in terms of ending up in eHow or Yahoo! answers by using Google as the roadmap to answer dozens of very specific questions I encounter in my life each week. Find answers with this kind of ease makes life better. I am grateful to learn how to get the menu of my kids wireless phone navigation from Spanish back to English and to learn what some setting on my video camera is since the product manual from manufacturer doesn’t address the blinking icon in my view finder. I too am grateful to Google and those long tail publishers. How to splice in a trailer hitch wiring system to my cars system without frying the on-board computer. This kind of long tail, how to content makes Google my “Oracle of Delphi” directing me the corner of the Internet that can answer my specific question, once, precisely when I need the answer. My most popular blog post of over 100 posts is a simple post with video that answers the question of how to add a facebook button to your website. Who would of thunk. The other post on .xxx TLD gets a lot of traffic, though for the wrong reasons :-) The key to conversion is to make sure the questions that you are answering will result in kind of visitors that you want to and are likely to enter your funnel. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply