Image by Leslie Jones, via Flickr.

The best kind of branded content is content people are actively searching for. Image by Leslie Jones, via Flickr.

In this digital age, “Content is King” is a catch phrase that gets thrown around ad nauseum. After all, content is one of the most meaningful and effective ways to engage people through social media and get a brand in front of consumers.

But while it’s great to produce content that people engage with and share and remember, what does that really do for a brand’s bottom line?

For instance, just because I enjoy telling Subservient Chicken what to do, doesn’t mean I’m going to start eating more fast food. Similarly, just because I watched the Old Spice Guy videos for hours at a time, doesn’t mean I want to smell like my Uncle Fred.

Now, these examples may be outliers compared to the kind of infographics and listicles that most brands are likely to publish, but the point is that just because a body of content is really engaging and popular across social channels, doesn’t mean it will do much for a brand’s bottom line (and there might not even be a reliable way to measure whether it did). By syncing your social media and content marketing efforts with your SEO strategy, however, not only can you better measure the impact of those efforts on your bottom line, but you can ensure they contribute to that bottom line directly.

Why brand marketers need to think about SEO

Before getting into how to sync up your SEO and social strategies, it’s worth taking a moment to consider just why you should be thinking about SEO in the first place. After all, as an acquisition channel, it lacks a lot of the sex appeal that, say, viral videos offer.

Basically, organic search is the most targeted source of traffic online because it offers intentional targeting, and SEO is the way you tap into that source of traffic and target users by their intention.

As marketers, we can target people using all sorts of information we glean through their social graphs on Facebook, or their interests on Twitter, for instance.

However, when users log on to social networks, they’re there to… network or socialize. Chances are they aren’t using their newsfeeds as shopping malls. So while your ads might not fall on blind eyes, they’re probably falling on indifferent ones.

With search engine traffic, users are actively typing the names or descriptions of products or services that they’re looking to purchase. In other words, they’re intentionally looking for what you have to offer them. Consequently, if you can rank your content on those relevant searches, you can reach users who are already one step further down the conversion funnel.

Shopping can be social, but shopping rarely happens on social networks. Image by Geoff Charles via Flickr.

Shopping can be social, but shopping rarely happens on social networks. Image by Geoff Charles via Flickr.

Where SEO and social intersect

Okay, so this whole thing about intentional targeting and SEO being the most targeted source of traffic is one thing, but what does it have to do with a brand’s social media strategy? Well, the answer, as I explain in another post, has to do with how SEO is evolving:

Like most things (and industries and technologies) in this world, SEO is in a constant state of flux, and what used to be true about it, may or may not be anymore.
[…]
This is why SEO is now about optimizing content for discovery and conversions. Whereas it used to be about showing search engines that you had relevant content (onsite keyword density) that other webmasters trusted (through backlinks), now it’s about demonstrating that you’re relevant to actual users on an ongoing basis by getting users to engage with your brand and your content.

So for an SEO strategy to succeed, it’s no longer enough for content to be optimized for keywords and be linked to by third party sites. It’s also necessary for it to generate social signals around that content because search engines want to show users the most relevant search results, and one of the best indications that search engines have of how relevant and useful a piece of content might be, is how users have (or have not) engaged with it through social media.

Building a keyword narrative

All right, so we can (hopefully) agree that SEO has some great potential to help brands earn customers, and that search engines prefer socially popular content. But this still raises the question: What kind of content should brands be producing? After all, it’s one thing to rank number one for, say, [insert-generic-viral-keyword-here], but how does that help a brand rank well on searches by people who are looking to buy a brand’s products or services?

The trick is to build a keyword narrative. Think of it as brand storytelling, SEO style. You do it by mining SEO data around what you already know about your customers and your target market.

For instance, you’ve probably sketched out customer personas around age, income, gender, and consumption patterns. From there, you’ve probably also developed different promotions and marketing strategies to target those personas. Well, you can do the same thing with your social media and content strategy.

Based on what you know about your current and potential customers, you can probably sketch out the different content types (articles, videos, infographics, etc.) and content themes (how-to’s, promotions, reviews, etc.) that will appeal to them. So the next step is figuring out how much of each type of content to produce how often.

This is where your keyword narrative comes in. By researching keywords around different content themes, you can see how much demand there is for each kind of content based on their total search volumes.

A keyword narrative helps brand marketers discover which content people are looking for. Image via Flickr.

A keyword narrative helps brand marketers discover how much demand there is for different kinds of content based on search volumes. Image via Flickr.

An example of a keyword narrative

Let’s say you run an online scuba gear store. Based on what you know about your customers, you might determine that there are three main themes of content they’ll be interested in:

  • scuba diving tips;
  • scuba diving holiday destinations; and
  • scuba product reviews.

So what you’ll want to do is:

  • conduct keyword research for each of these three keyword verticals;
  • add up the total potential monthly search volume for each of them;
  • calculate the percentage of your overall potential search traffic each content type can help you capture;
  • and then dedicate a proportional amount of your editorial calendar and social media bandwidth to producing content in that vertical.

In our scuba diving example, the result might look like:

  • 40 percent scuba diving tips;
  • 30 percent scuba diving holiday destinations; and
  • 30 percent scuba product reviews.

Now you know how much of each kind of content to produce and whether you’re publishing weekly or daily, regardless of whether you’ve decided to produce that content in the form of blog posts, videos, or infographics.

Then, as you unroll your newly optimized social content strategy, you should find your content ranking on keywords that your different personas are actually searching for and hopefully getting right in front of those potential customers just as they are actively looking for something you can offer them.

Social symbiosis

Of course, as with just about any other online channel, SEO is not a quick and easy fix. Rather, it’s a medium- to long-term strategy that needs social media support and ongoing commitment to succeed.

So just as SEO is informing your social media strategy, your social strategy will make or break your SEO. The two have to work in tandem. It’s just that now your social efforts can be tied more closely to your ROI because they are contributing directly to your ability to reach users who are actively looking for something you can offer them.