[1/2] How SEO and content overlap: an interview with Nick Wilsdon, Search Product Owner @ Vodafone

Content marketing and SEO go together like milk and cookies. Technically speaking, you could consume both independently because they’re delicious on their own – but when you combine them, you get something really special.

When you think about it, SEO is actually strategized around content marketing since every website needs words, articles, keywords, and other forms of content to make it work. On the other hand, most content on today’s Web is developed to help brands meet their SEO goals, so as you can probably see by now – these strategies complement each other.

For years now, smart marketers have been relying on SEO to help them increase their online visibility and the amount of traffic to their site, and together with the power of content marketing they can ensure that visitors really see the value of a certain brand and possibly convert to paying customers.

We had the pleasure of talking to one of these marketers, Nick Wilsdon. Nick is an experienced digital marketer with almost 20 years of experience who currently works for Vodafone as a Search Product Owner.

We talked about how SEO and content marketing are evolving, why prioritizing search engines over consumers is a bad idea, what brands are really nailing it in this department, what tools could be of use, how newsrooms can take advantage of SEO as well, and much more.

In fact, we discussed so many things that we thought it only fair to publish two separate posts so that you don’t miss any of the valuable insights we’ve managed to get from this chat. Enjoy the first part.

The tricky definition of content and content marketing

During his career, Nick has worked for Panasonic, Arena Media, iProspect, Visium, Carrot, and many other brands along the way that helped him gain insight and expertise into all aspects of the digital marketing world.

The first thing we discussed was the problems of defining what content marketing actually is, and the current state of the industry. The concept of content marketing has been around for a very long time, but according to Google Trends – the discipline only started to generate some serious buzz in the last decade.

Since then, the practice itself has gone through a lot of changes. However, there is still no consensus on what the term “content marketing” actually means: there seem to be as many different definitions as there are people who talk about it.

In their latest book “The Definitive Guide to Strategic Content Marketing”, Lazar Dzamic and Justin Kirby wrote about this specific issue. They explained how nobody really agrees on what content really is and how they found a total of 70 different definitions of it when they were doing research for their book.

“For me, content is the essence that brings the consumer closer to your sales message, aligns them with the brand and gets them to trust what you’re selling. It breaks the ice, really.” – Nick explained.

“Content has been used in so many different ways and it’s very expensive now. From the SEO side, I think content really helps people to buy and if you’re talking about Vodafone, for example, they would primarily focus on the sales point. So, they’d sit and say ‘well, you’ve got content – it’s sales pages for phones’, but they won’t think about features of the phone or comparisons with other models, or what you could be doing with the other models, how good the photography is on the iPhone, etc. They leave that space entirely to the affiliates and the small websites. That’s where the big brands really miss an opportunity to capture that generic traffic with content marketing.”

We definitely agree: it’s a wasted opportunity and an unfortunate underutilization of the company blog.

Customer-focused content vs. traffic-focused content

As Nick nicely explained above, customers should always be in the heart of content marketing. It’s far more important for brands to focus their energy on answering their target users’ questions than anything else. Successful marketers use content marketing to engage with their relevant prospects and meet them where they stand. They do so by providing them with what they need and help them fully understand the value of specific products and services.

This is what most online publishers need to understand and apply to their business. Volume doesn’t really mean anything if that traffic doesn’t bring people who will remember the brand, keep coming back to consume more content, and hopefully – recommend it to their friends. As they say, the juice has to be worth the squeeze.

According to Meaningful Brands’ 2017 study, 84 percent of people questioned expect brands to produce content that tells stories and provides solutions for their problems.

Unfortunately, most companies still struggle to do that. Altimeter says that 70 percent of businesses lack a consistent or integrated content strategy and that the vast majority of them struggle to measure the impact of their efforts in this department. That’s an extraordinarily high proportion of people driving blind, especially when there’s absolutely no need.

“There’s been a lot of content that’s been produced which hasn’t been aligned to clients and that’s where the confusion comes: do we create content for the customers or do we create content because it gets links? And there’s a very big difference then in the kind of content you create.”

“I judge the UK Search Awards and I see this trend is quite damaging, where people are hopping on topics which should have been left to social media or PR people. If you take the example of Games of Thrones, which is something I often cite, it’s a massive phenomenon and really interesting. But if I’m an insurance client, should I really be having a lot of content on my site about Game of Thrones? If you look at the traffic that that content’s driving, it’s random traffic, and even though they feel they’ve made a success of it because they’ve increased traffic, they’ve increased the wrong kind of traffic.”

Nick also said that he has seen several cases where people have started deleting blogs, taking blogs off subdomains and deleting content en-masse in the effort to make their sites more topically relevant again. Similar mistakes are made by the SEO community: they pay people to build a load of links for them and then they pay them again to remove loads of irrelevant links from their domains. It’s the same cycle, only in a different setting.

SEO specialists aren’t psyched about doing the “boring stuff”, but that’s the thing that works

While talking to Nick, we quickly came to an agreement that content and SEO are inseparable practices. You cannot properly do one without another. However, even though most companies understand this now, they still face a lot of difficulties figuring out what comes first, and how to actually set up and run effective campaigns.

“SEO campaigns” have become a buzzword and they bring a certain dose of excitement to the usual workflow; young brands get hyped about creating campaigns when in fact – the focus should be on creating useful content that’s properly optimized.

Nick said that he saw a lot of this while working for iProspect. He said that a lot of his younger colleagues felt that SEO content marketing is really about coming up with campaigns.

“You can do two different types of content: first you have content and you do have some campaign content. But it shouldn’t be coming from the SEO department – it should be the SEO department optimizing the content that’s coming from above the line, from the creative ideas and threads that come through the business. The second type is much more boring, but it’s that really useful content […] A lot of this is very boring, but it’s stuff that works. Google expects to see that on your website.”

He also explained that many SEO agencies experience issues with selling that kind of content because the clients often fail to see the value of it.

“We have had successes on that side with clients like Tesco Bank, where embedding SEOs with writers, legal teams and compliance, and optimizing what they’re already doing and that’s what SEO is essentially about: optimization. So, that’s what I’ve seen: a lot of people don’t want to do the boring stuff, and I think that’s a big failing in the industry. I think the creative stuff just often isn’t on-point.”

The key ingredients to a successful content strategy

The main takeaway from what Nick said above is to always remember that the main goal of every SEO and content marketing strategy is to deliver the right type of information to the right users, at the right time. The idea here is to organically appear in front of the users’ eyes at the very moment they’re searching for a specific topic, and give them enough material to make informed purchase decisions.

Is it going to be of interest to our customers? Is it going to encourage them to come closer to the brand? Is it truly useful to our audience? – these are just some of the main questions Nick believes digital marketers should be asking themselves regarding content.

“They should think about the audience they’re targeting. Is this content going to be relevant in two year’s time? The other thing which is often forgotten about is the maintenance of content. Because you’re a large brand and you develop hundreds of pages, someone has to look after these pages. They don’t just live on their own: they need to be updated. So, if you have content which isn’t evergreen, I’d be seriously considering giving that to the PR team rather than the SEO, and think about what kind of content you could link off that, which is more permanent.”
According to Nick, those are the key guidelines for content and then from an optimization point, this is where the SEO team enters the picture:

“They know the language, they know the terms, they know from a technical perspective what kind of changes to the page can really help to get that content indexed by Google and get that visibility in Google. They can help with the schema, with the marking up material in a machine-readable format to get more traffic to these pages. They can help a lot with the internal infrastructure of the website and where that content should go, how you should form hubs, so this is where that crossover comes becomes content, creative and SEO – I think it’s a mix of all of them.” – he concluded.

Huge thanks to Nick Wilsdon for taking the time to talk to us and sharing his insights with us

Stay tuned for the second part of the interview where Nick shares some of the most successful brands that are crushing it in the content arena and explained how data-powered creativity will soon rule the seven kingdoms land.

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