Search engine optimization is an integral part of our role as content strategists. We are dedicated believers in the premise (eloquently laid out in the book Audience, Relevance and Search) that user-focused content and search-friendly content are the same thing — because modern-day Internet users typically begin their search for information with a search engine rather than browsing. SEO is an essential part of a site’s architecture and messaging strategy.
But I’m the first one to admit that I’m no SEO expert, compared to people on the planet who live and breathe this stuff. We work on SEO from the point of view of relevance and “findability” — helping people get to the information they need in the way they seek it — rather than playing the ranking game. Getting to and staying at No. 1 in Google for an exhaustive list of keyphrases is not my primary goal for clients. It’s difficult, it’s time-consuming, and for many of our clients, it’s not really necessary, because while search engine visibility is important, they are often generating leads in many other ways.
However, SEO is a vital piece of some companies’ marketing strategy, and for them, top rankings are the name of the game. This is where the SEO consultant comes in: a firm that spends 100% of its time developing and managing paid and organic search strategies, keeping on top of the hundreds of ongoing changes in search engine algorithms, tracking rankings and making tweaks to keep clients at the top of the pack. It really is a full-time job.
Rescue your SEO people from the desert island!
Herein lies the problem: companies often think of their content people and their SEO people as doing separate functions, and the thought never arises to bring them together until the end of the project. The scenario looks a little something like this:
The content strategist/information architect goes through an extensive discovery process to determine communication goals, establish a messaging strategy, and plan and architect site content. SEO research and strategy is typically part of this process, but the client insists they want their SEO company to “do” the SEO, so the content strategist leaves it out at this stage.
The SEO company is used to coming in at the end of a project and proposing a strategy for post-launch. Therefore, when told they need to provide keywords to the content people ahead of time, they usually have to pull their hair out rushing through research. The deliverable is a large spreadsheet of keywords and phrases that often don’t have much to do with the content strategy agreed upon by the client. But because the SEO consultants are the experts, everything has to change in order to fit in the keyphrases they recommend.
It’s a frustrating turn of events, one that causes project delays, lots of extra meetings, and ultimately clunky copy that must be manipulated to force in keyphrases that don’t quite fit. The client is often unhappy with the content in the end, the SEO consultants are frustrated because of the mandatory rush and lack of control, and the content strategist struggles to keep the integrity of the messaging strategy and content plan intact.
There’s an easy fix: SEO and content must be in sync from day one. If your company uses an SEO consultant as part of your marketing strategy, make sure that person is on the call or in the room with the content strategist during the kickoff meeting for your website design project, or if that is not possible, ensure they start talking as quickly as they can after kickoff. Everybody must be aligned to ensure that content supports search strategy and goals, and vice versa.
“Doing” SEO in a vacuum, rather than making it an integral part of the content process, can undermine the quality of your content strategy and the success of your search engine strategy — and diminish the return on investment that you have made in both. After all, as Google’s Matt Cutts reminded us recently, good content often trumps SEO techniques anyway. Pursuing both in tandem can only serve to elevate the prominence of your brand online.