The "rich get richer" is just as true in content marketing strategy as it is in the real world. It's very easy for large companies to completely dominate a whole load of SEO keyword rankings on search engines that smaller brands want to compete for, sometimes by accident!
That's why we're joined by James Scherer, VP of Growth at Codeless, to look at how CMOs can level the playing field when it comes to SEO and successful content marketing.
This conversation was first published on an episode of the CMO Convo podcast, which you can listen to here. Or, if you fancy a 15-minute read over a cup of coffee, stick around and find out all about…
- James’ background and role at Codeless
- In SEO, the rich get richer
- How to level the SEO playing field
- When to optimize your best content
- When to start a content marketing campaign from scratch
- High-quality content vs. high-quantity content
- The future of successful content marketing and SEO
- The power of repurposing content
- The golden rule of content marketing strategies
James’ background and role at Codeless
Hi, James, thank you for joining us. We’ve been wanting to cover content marketing strategy and how you compete in the SEO space for quite some time now. But before we get into that, maybe you could introduce yourself to our readers?
For sure. My name is James Scherer, and I'm the VP of Growth at Codeless. Codeless is a sizable content marketing agency, and we work with companies like Monday.com, ActiveCampaign, and a lot of others to create content plans and strategies to drive organic ranking positions and success through SEO.
I've been doing that with Codeless for about three years, but I've been in the inbound blogging space for 13. When I graduated with an English degree, I was like, “I don't know what to do with this, and the world doesn't need me.” So I found my way serendipitously into marketing, and then via marketing into content creation. I'm a big proponent of merit-based content marketing – that’s my jam.
In SEO, the rich get richer
When we were coming up with the concept for this episode, there was a phrase you used that stuck out to me: “the rich get richer.” Let's talk about that and what it means in the context of content marketing strategy and SEO before we dive into some case studies and examples.
The rich get richer is basically the idea that domain authority and domain ranking are core variables in a piece of content's chance to rank. If you have a new site, its DA DR will be below 30, and no matter how good your content is, you won’t have a chance to rank for a competitive search term. An older site hosting that exact same content will have a DA DR of 75 and significant existing traffic, so it’ll rank way more easily.
A lot of small and medium-sized businesses, especially if they’re just getting into content now, are facing a serious uphill battle. There are people who are driving to the top of the mountain in all-terrain vehicles, with oxygen tanks in case they get out of breath. Meanwhile, the little guys are on foot, with no equipment, trying to haul a 500-pound bag to the summit. It is not a level playing field, so you have to find ways to even it out.
How to level the SEO playing field
So what are the implications for CMOs looking to do better on search engines, and how can they get around this? Different formats? New channels?
This perhaps goes against the main topic of conversation here, but the reality is that content marketing is not right for every industry. We have clients who come in saying, “We want 20 pieces of content,” and we have to tell them that those opportunities just aren’t there in their space. That doesn't mean you can't succeed as a business; it's just that investing significantly in inbound marketing and content creation may not be right for you.
Don't just assume that because everybody's doing it and it's been a hot topic for 10 years, it's worth doing for your business. It’s like how social media isn't right for every business, and the perception that you need to be on every social media platform or app and have a social media manager. It’s an absolute fallacy and a massive waste of some businesses’ time, energy, and resources. So that’s a caveat to the rest of this conversation.
Now, assuming that inbound content is right for them, in order to compete, small and medium-sized businesses can't create content flippantly. They need to be far more conscientious about creating content with intention. They need to know why they’re creating it, how it will navigate people to the next page, and the key phrases and secondary semantic key phrases they’re targeting. There are a lot of best practices to consider.
Once they’ve got all that figured out, I would recommend they go live with three categories of content, each with three to five pillars and 15 to 20 support pieces. Get that content up and then be really conscientious about keeping an eye on how it's performing – you can use tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush for that.
Whenever your URL really matters to you, and you've invested significant marketing budget in every single piece, you need to be really on top of where it's going, where it's plateauing, and where it's finishing its organic rise. And once your content plateaus or starts to decline, get on it. Update that URL, add fresh content, or generate more internal or external links.
You need to be very aware of not just the production of your content, but also the lifetime of your content. And don't do anything haphazardly, carelessly, or without clear thought.
When to optimize your best content
Let’s focus on a little thing you said at the end there – “lifetime of content.” What is the lifetime of a piece of content? Is it fixed, or does it vary by industry, content formats, or channel? And how do you know when it’s time to refresh your content?
There are some pieces of content that we think of as evergreen. The idea behind that is you publish it once and you don't have to touch it again. You pay upfront, and then you get this ROI over time.
That's no longer as true as it was five or 10 years ago. When I first started in content there was a legitimacy to the idea that you could publish a URL and walk away, and it would continue driving traffic, leads, and sales for the next 10 years.
It does depend to a certain extent on industry too. The reality now, especially if you're in the SaaS and B2B space, is that a lot of what you talk about is obsolete in half an hour. If you're in eCommerce, products and services change, what you offer changes, and the value that people are looking for in any given product changes. So the consumer is also affecting what people are looking for in any given piece of content and what their search intent is.
A target for us is to optimize your content when it needs it, which I guess is a little ambiguous, but there are two ways you can determine when the time is right for optimization.
The first way involves going back to Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, or whichever SEO tool you’re using, and taking a really clear view of your content’s plateaued or declining ranking position. You want to be aware when it starts ranking between eighth and 30th position, which I refer to as your elevens, just off of a traffic-driving ranking position. First to seventh position is where you're driving significant traffic.
If your content is in eighth position and seems to be rising week on week, don't touch it; let it plateau. Content that’s in the elevens should be your first port of call for optimization.
The other time you should be looking at optimization is when your industry changes and there's new information to be added to your content. Google likes recency. Ironically, Google also likes really old domains. But Google, theoretically, likes recency. They like up-to-date statistics and they're getting better and better at identifying that kind of thing.
One of the rules within our content creator team at Codeless is that the statistics added to content can be no older than 18 months. If any of our writers put in a stat from 2020, we have to send that piece back or have an editor update it. Particularly in the SaaS space, there's so much data out there that there's no reason to cite anything older than 18 months.
So, to wrap up, optimize when you plateau at an 11 – eighth to 30th position – and also optimize when the information has changed. Just optimize every year anyway.
When to start a content marketing campaign from scratch
You mentioned waiting until certain metrics plateau. Is it worth going back and optimizing a piece of content that hasn't performed at all, or is it better to just start from scratch and focus your optimization on your best content? If it’s got zero engagement and zero traction on it and the plateau happens within the first week of that content going live, what’s the best course of action?
Going back to the first question, if we're creating content plans with intention, and we're only creating content that targets relevant high-intent feasible target key phrases, then there's no reason for you to ever create another piece of content targeting the same key phrase.
So if you publish something, and it just goes into the black hole of Google, that’s okay. If it’s still a viable key phrase that you do want to rank for, let it sit for a while, and see what happens. See if anything just organically changes. If it’s not going anywhere, you have two options.
The first option, if you have any backlinks in your content, is to do a 301 redirect to one of your elevens on a related topic.
Let’s you're targeting project management software, and you wrote an article on project management tools. That article never went anywhere, but the project management software URL is in 12th position for a significant key phrase. Do a 301 redirect from the one that’s not performing, and send all that link juice to the URL that’s just off a significant ranking position.
Your other option is to completely rewrite the article. Don't worry about it – the URL holds all of the value. The content itself is immaterial.
Brian Dean at Backlinko does this brilliantly. The number of articles or URLs on his site is relatively limited – he just updates his existing pages. Say he does a guide to backlinking in 2022, last year, that same URL was a guide to backlinking for 2021. It works really well.
So to sum up, the idea is to create content with intention and target high-value key phrases. If it just happens to go into the abyss of Google, let it sit for a while, and then do not be afraid to do a 301 redirect. Or if you see no possibility whatsoever of it climbing out of the abyss – maybe it was a mistake to target that key phrase in the first place – completely rewrite the article.
High-quality content vs. high-quantity content
It's interesting that we're in this position where repurposing and re-optimizing types of content is the way to go because a decade ago, it was all about just having as many pieces of content as possible. Content was king, and you just kept churning it out constantly.
What's led to this change? Is it changes in the Google algorithm or the metrics we focus on, or is it something deeper in terms of the types of content our target audiences are looking for?
Ultimately we're talking about the quantity versus quality debate, which has been raging for, as you say, a decade or so.
I've been doing this for a while. I think of myself as an SEO, I lead content teams, and I have for years. Yet if you ask me, “Is this article going to rank for that key phrase?” I can't tell you with significant confidence. Any SEO who tells you this is going to rank and that's not going to rank doesn't know what they're talking about – you can't be sure of anything.
Ultimately, it's down to the SEO gods. If you create content, you have to throw it against the wall and hope that it sticks. If it doesn't stick, it doesn't mean you created bad content; it just means it just didn't happen to stick.
And so from my perspective, going back to the quality versus quantity debate, you should create a high volume of content, throw it at the wall, and if it sticks a little bit, go back in and optimize it. And by sticking I mean, becoming an 11 – ranking between eighth and 30th position for a 250-plus monthly search volume of a key phrase related exactly to what you're talking about within the article.
Only once your content gets close to a traffic-driving position is it worth investing significantly in re-optimizing it. Don't get me wrong, you're investing in your content to begin with, but you're really investing when it gets to traffic position. Because what's the point in investing significantly in a URL that’s never going to see the light of day?
The future of successful content marketing and SEO
We've talked about how content marketing strategy has changed, and how things are now. Is it always going to be this way? Is it always gonna be a struggle for small companies to compete with big companies with their content marketing efforts, or is there anything on the horizon that could change that?
Given that I’m responsible for driving growth in a content agency, I would love to say that every small business has a great opportunity to drive traffic and growth through content for the next forever. However, the reality is that I don't think it's going to get any easier.
I think the monopolization of the SERP is going to increase as opposed to decrease. What that means is that small and medium-sized businesses have another few years in which they can, with a little effort, find success with content.
So what's the answer? Let's not just lay down and die. There are other content types we can turn to. Last year we hired a head of video. She’s excellent, and she's put together a great team of videographers and spokespeople who create high-quality video content. We’re seeing across the board that video content added to written content increases ranking position.
As I'm sure you're very aware, the podcasting space is an up-and-coming one. That’s a legitimate audience too if you do it well. For small and medium-sized businesses in particular, webinars also remain an incredibly impactful content type for lead generation.
I would say as well, be conscious that the number of people searching for stuff is not decreasing. If anything, search volumes are just increasing and increasing. So don’t be afraid to say “Realistically, I'm not going to get the biggest piece of this pie in this space,” particularly if you're in SaaS, where some significant businesses are going to dominate the majority of niches.
That being said, there are some very legitimate smaller search volume key phrases that will be attainable because those bigger brands haven't quite gotten to them yet.
Also, we have to be aware that there are new spaces opening up all the time. The monopolization we're talking about is that of existing searches, but particularly in the data, analysis, AI, and cryptocurrency spaces, these search terms are not yet dominated by massive businesses because they’re new.
So be on the cutting edge; don't be afraid to create something that doesn't yet have search volume and go with your gut on that. And good luck, honestly.
The power of repurposing content
It's certainly an uphill struggle for smaller businesses, but at the end of the day, content is always going to have value besides just ranking for searches for your target audience. Content can play an important role beyond lead gen and brand awareness further down the funnel, like lead nurturing, customer retention, and customer success. There's never gonna be a day where digital companies are gonna say, “We don’t do content marketing at all.” We’re just doing content for different reasons.
And also, a lot of what you're talking about, from lead nurturing to social media, from my perspective, starts with a long-form blog article.
If you create a long-form blog article and it doesn't rank, despite being created content with intention, internal links, external backlinks, supporting content, and all the right things, don't just disregard that content as having no value. Repurpose that long-form blog article into a five-email drip campaign, into another couple of articles, or an ebook.
Take out snippets from that article and make them into social media snapshots. Turn that article into a video script, make it into a webinar, or make it into a podcast subject where you do a Q&A with the person who wrote it. There's a lot that can be done. Don't waste the investment that you create; it's still a valuable piece of content.
And this is key: do not be afraid to rewrite content from scratch on the same URL, and do not be afraid to do 301 redirects. It feels really scary, but the worst thing you can do is delete a URL (to a certain extent – it's complicated) so do not be afraid to do a 301 redirect.
That's a big message to end on there – do not be afraid.
The golden rule of content marketing strategies
Is there a golden rule that you want to tie everything together with, one final message for our CMO audience on content marketing strategies?
The mistake that I see a lot of CMOs making, especially in SMBs, is in the belief that if a piece of content doesn't perform, it's done – let's move on.
Optimization is the heart of a successful content strategy in 2022 and beyond. Keep a really close eye on every URL’s performance. If it starts climbing, let it be; if it starts falling or plateaus, do something about it.
Spend as much time investing in optimization of content as you do in creating new content, not least because it’s a significantly lower investment to tweak an existing URL than it is to create a new one. That's your low-hanging fruit.
Thanks James. This was absolutely illuminating, reassuring, and slightly terrifying all at the same time. We’re sure many of the CMOs who are struggling with their content strategies feel the same. So thanks very much for today and thank you very much to our audience as well.
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