Some will describe SEO as a way of structurally building and organizing web pages to make them more ready for search engine crawlers. Others will describe SEO as a way of stuffing low-performing content with keywords and links to try and make it more relevant and competitive for certain searches. And still others will say SEO involves creating entirely new content types for the explicit purpose of displacing current search results. Each would be right, but they’re wrong, too. Here’s why:
Following search engine best practices for website structure (e.g. creating site maps) may indeed help make a site crawler-friendly, but that alone does not guarantee an improvement in search rank. Trying to game search engines by stuffing content with keywords and HTML (e.g. metadata and schemas) is a decades-old practice that every search engine actively watches for and stringently penalizes. And nowadays, search is influenced by so many factors — including social media factors like comments and shares — that trying to anticipate and manipulate how the search engines will weigh each factor today versus next month is almost pointless.
Finally, while creating new content can indeed reshape the search result pages over time, a fire-and-forget approach to content publishing will do little to displace old content or otherwise improve the performance of new content quickly. Ultimately, only truly high-quality content will earn a long-term spot in the search results.
And herein lies a hard truth of SEO — fixating and fussing with “optimizations” will do very little to improve content’s search performance if you spend more time optimizing than you do producing actual compelling content. In other words, don’t overthink or preoccupy yourself with SEO. Your best optimization tactic is creating great content: a strong headline, an intriguing story and rich media to help illustrate. The rest will fall into place.
The major search engines have reached a critical point of sophistication and maturity that actually works in everyone’s favor now. Those companies that focus and invest in creating great content first and foremost will ultimately be rewarded with stronger search results and a stronger connection to their audiences. And those that don’t — well, SEO can’t fix that.
SEO tactics still have a place and time, but they should be secondary considerations in a publisher’s overall content strategy.
I tend to do most of my reading in the morning. Most of my teams are based on the west coast, so I have a three-hour window in the mornings where I’m on my own and can really focus. I take that time to catch up on all the latest news and happenings, and then I’m able to bring that knowledge to my afternoon meetings and calls.
I work out of my home office in Detroit, so my setup has fewer restrictions than most. My desk tends to reflect the way my brain works – it may seem like a cluttered mess, but don’t be fooled. I know where to find anything, every note, every item. And my mind is the same way: It’s a cacophony of tasks and knowledge about clients, but I usually manage to hold on to all of it without getting mixed up.
Near my desk I have a TV that’s frequently on CNBC or Bloomberg so I can keep an eye on what’s going on in business. (Of course, it never goes to NBC or ESPN when there’s a major sporting event going on.) I’m also someone who snacks while I work. I’ve been keeping bags of almonds on my desk even before the Almond Board of California became one of my accounts, so that was fortuitous.
And then I have a bunch of baseball stuff – some autographed baseballs, a clock, a few magazines, some baseball cards. I’m a baseball nut and you can tell when you look at my desk.
It’s all handwritten. Every morning I sit down and write what I have to do for each account that day, roughly in order of what’s most important or urgent. If I don’t remember a task, that’s an indicator that it must not be all that critical. The really important stuff will occur to me organically, or I’ll be reminded during the day. I try not to log off every day until I’ve done at least the top two or three tasks for each account. Writing it down physically definitely makes it easier for me to think everything through and plan my day. I’m not anti-technology on principle; it’s just what works best for me.
My two-year-old dictates when I take breaks. I don’t want to shut out the outside world, so I let her take charge of when I step away from my desk to get her a snack or something else. (The only exceptions are when I’m on a conference call or absorbed in a tough task.) It helps me keep my mind fresh and avoid burning out, and since Brooke’s in charge I don’t have to rely on my own willpower. Other people go visit colleagues at the water cooler. My two-year-old is my colleague at the water cooler. And she’s cuter than they are too.
Touch base frequently. It’s easy to communicate only when you’re working on a deadline or have a pre-scheduled call, but that’s not how co-located teams work. There’s a lot of value in casually checking in, bouncing around ideas without a specific goal, and spontaneously collaborating. When you’re not in the same office, it won’t happen organically, so you have to make a point of it. Pick up the phone and call a teammate just to exchange thoughts every now and then.
You also have to respect others’ time and stay conscious of time differences. When you’re relaxing at EOD, your colleagues still need to focus for several more hours. Do whatever you can to avoid scheduling calls that are outside someone else’s workday. Be the first one to volunteer to take a call at a weird time, and people will genuinely appreciate it.
Drink lots of water. It helps keep you alert and makes it easier to recover from jet lag. And don’t let yourself over-work. It’s very easy when you’re traveling for business to stay at the office really late or continue collaborating into the late evening. But you’d never let yourself act the same way at home, because it’s not healthy. You need to keep yourself on a fairly normal schedule and maintain time for yourself, especially if you’re on a longer trip.
My mentor at IBM gave me the best counsel I’ve ever received: “You never look better as a manager than when your team looks good.” Your role as a manager is to ensure your team is set up to excel, and then helping their great work get visibility with the powers that be. A good manager is confident enough to understand that their people want to be great – and more often than not, they will be if you let them. It’s much more important than micromanaging or getting credit for your own work.
A well-defined strategy is critical to a publishing program’s success. The strength and timeliness of the material, its value to the intended audience, and the craft that goes into its presentation are all key pillars. But program performance analysis, one of the Seven P’s that make up PNConnect’s approach to digital marketing, is just as important as the components that make up the publishing program itself. Performance analysis encompasses both periodic measurement to spot trends and program trajectory and the occasional step back to take a broader view. On a tactical level, brands need to evaluate a larger chunk of program data regularly, in order to adjust and optimize their content.
In 2013, the PNConnect team conducted a three-month social media audit for data storage leader NetApp, a long-time client. The team reviewed content performance using a selection of complementary analytical tools, such as SimplyMeasured, focusing on opportunities to improve content shared with followers, maximize engagement while fostering organic conversations, pinpoint ideal days and times to publish content both in the United States and globally, and boost follower retention.
The findings led the team to revise a publishing methodology that had been in place for years as well as implement weekly reporting to inform real-time adjustments. Over the past six months, the data findings and strategy updates have led to a 168 percent increase in Facebook followers and 24 percent in Twitter followers, in comparison to the previous six-month period. Subsequently, average engagement per brand post has increased by 159 percent on Facebook and 56 percent on Twitter. Publishing efforts have also resulted in NetApp being named to LinkedIn’s 25 Most Socially Engaged Companies list.
It’s important for programs to keep performance approaches in balance. Along with an ongoing feedback loop, every program should adopt an approach that evaluates larger data sets and seeks patterns that can lead to tangible tactical recommendations.
Dave brought back a few key highlights from the presenters, along with suggestions for where to go to dig deeper on any of these perspectives.
— Percolate (@percolate) July 16, 2014
Percolate’s own wrap-up includes some additional highlights.
Here’s our guide to writing posts that readers will devour and share.
*Note: LinkedIn is a PNConnect client; however, this piece reflects publicly available best practices along with our insights.
Above all, focus on being fresh, informative and interesting. Link generously to your primary source material and build on strong material that’s already out there. Topics that attract your attention will likely attract readers’ as well.
For more information about our team and approach, or to learn how we can help your organization with digital strategy, development and measurement, please visit the PNConnect site.
Mike Manuel in Sunnyvale, California, wrote this month’s Feature about SEO, and Mary Gaulke in Sarasota penned this month’s Insights on LinkedIn publishing. Chris Thilk in Chicago, Dave Coustan in Atlanta and Mary Gaulke contributed stories and insights for the Social Networking Stats and Noteworthy News sections. Amanda Wu provided the latest stats, and Christopher Barger in Detroit took the On Workflow hot seat. Allison Brill in Washington, D.C., shared updates and insights on Advertising Trends. Ed McClendon in San Francisco created our NetApp case study, and Dave Coustan defined “growth marketing” for our Digital Dictionary.
Thanks to Jennifer Laker, Nik Wilets, Peter Schiebel, and Sean O’Shaughnessy from the Platforms team for providing design and development support, and to Josh Hallett, Mary Gaulke, Dave Coustan and Tom Harris for editorial oversight and proofing.
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