Content marketers know an important part of their job is search engine optimization (SEO). But traditional branding says marketers need to tell a story, especially with compelling, authentic copy.
Obviously, blending both goals is best. But can you pull it off? And if so, how? Before considering these questions, it's important to look at how, exactly, marketers optimize websites for search engines and how they tell a brand's story.
Writing for SEO + Search Engine Rankings
SEO is one of the foremost goals of content marketing. By writing around certain keywords, you can cause search engine ranking algorithms to think the page is relevant to searches that contain those keywords. This can, in turn, influence how relevant the search engine thinks the rest of the pages on a given domain are.
The SEO tactics that content marketers use are constantly changing as search engines change their algorithms. In general, however, content marketers aim for certain keyword density (the percentage of the copy that consists of a given word or phrase). They may also strategically place the keyword in headings and subheadings.
Solid Storytelling Technique
In the marketing industry, people learn the importance of telling a brand's story. This doesn't mean telling the literal story of the company or product (although it can include that). Instead, it involves providing a way for customers to relate to the brand and a reason they would want to.
For instance, one restaurant might establish itself, in marketing materials, as a place where diners are treated like family and the cooking is familiar and homey. Another restaurant might present itself as a fun place to relax and have a drink and meal with friends. These are very different stories, and they influence a lot about each restaurant – including the aesthetics, menu items, and advertising materials of both. But each of these examples is a solid brand, and each allows customers a clear point of entry and reason to engage.
Write for People, Please the Search Engines Second
Many marketers – in particular, those who are new to SEO, think it's impossible to blend these two goals. They believe telling a brand's story will detract from keyword density and that meeting keyword density goals will negatively affect the readability of the copy. Some marketers even try to work around this by creating separate pages for search engine optimization and actual human readers.
To be sure, a lot of SEO content isn't very legible. But this is a bad practice. While the exact algorithms governing search engine rankings are secret, researchers have noticed that if a keyword's density is too high, or if the copy isn't realistically written, Google will actually decrease a page's ranking. Naturalistic copy is almost always better. People are not robots, nor do they compute written words as such. Tell your story in a clear, consistent voice clear from fluff, clear from jargon, and clear from obvious SEO overload.
Make It Shareable, Make it Powerful
What's more, one of the factors influencing a site's search engine ranking is how shareable it is. If a page gets linked to a lot of others, search engine ranking algorithms assume it's more relevant and rank it accordingly. While some marketers try to cheat the system by creating fraudulent links from other domains they own, search engines usually penalize this practice. Realistic links are more valuable – and those will come from readers who genuinely appreciate a site's content.
Good SEO should focus content, not hamstring it. With SEO, a light touch is generally better. Just giving a page a keyword density of 1-2 percent, not including titles and headers, is often enough to create a positive effect. This gives content creators more room to tell the brand's story in a credible way, which makes the content more shareable and further boosts search engine rankings. The end result is solid, effective copy that both your customers and ranking algorithms will love.
My fire is fueled by the relationships I make, build, and cherish. I love hearing people’s stories, what makes them who they are, and where I fit into their lives. As the Creative Content Lead at Leighton Interactive, I'm a storyteller. I’m lucky that I can use my natural ability to help people find their voices, tell their stories, and reach their goals so their businesses can get results. Outside the office I get excited to find sunshine, consume iced coffee, work out, or add unique pieces of jewelry to my ever-growing collection. I also tell stories on behalf of my local AAF chapter, and serve as the Board's President.