We are told no-click search is slowly taking over search engine results pages and we must plan for On-SERP SEO.
We are told to optimize for voice search.
As an agency built on the best practices of search marketing, how do we address the changing nature of search engine optimization without sacrificing efficiency?
And — since the clock is always ticking when you’re a performance agency — how do we help our clients build and scale their own SEO programs with the speed and effectiveness they need in order to see real business results?
Our answer to these questions is a program we call Editorial SEO.
The Principles of Editorial SEO
Editorial SEO combines the tenets of technical SEO, on-page SEO and content marketing in order to execute faster, more effective SEO and content strategies that result in intense organic search growth.
By definition, the program creates greater alignment between a client’s digital search and content goals, streamlines production and addresses specific problem areas using a more agile approach.
“Google’s algorithm has evolved to a point where high-quality content is needed to achieve long-term organic success,” Jordan Crawford, senior SEO manager (team lead) at Silverback Strategies, explains. “Just having your SEO team add keywords into existing content isn’t going to be enough in today’s SERP landscape. Neither is having your content team write blogs for the sake of keeping it updated.
"To really be successful long-term, the SEO and content teams must work hand-in-hand to come up with an editorial strategy that will fuel keyword rankings for keyword intent up and down the funnel, as well as drive engagement with the site and the brand.”
Defining Editorial SEO tactics
Technical SEO. We could write great content for our clients all day long (in fact, that’s how our Content Team spends most of its days). That, however, means nothing if the underlying technical foundation of the website is not optimized for organic search.
“Technical SEO is making sure that a website is as friendly to search engines and users as possible,” Jordan says. “You could have superior content across your site but if there’s a technical issue on the backend, your content could be invisible to search engines, and thus greatly decrease the likelihood of users ever finding your content.”
Technical SEO includes deep dives into meta content, site architecture, page speed, mobile usability and several other potential problem areas that require an expert eye.
Clients, content marketers and web developers may have particular insights into potential search issues, but working with an SEO specialist allows all concerns to be addressed.
“Having an open line of communication between the SEO expert, content expert and client is so important for ensuring you are writing the right content for the right users,” Jordan continued. “The SEO expert can weigh in on the type of content is performing well in SERPs for given keywords and hep guide the strategy about how that performance can be replicated by the client.
"The content expert can weigh in on what type of content the audience likes to consume, based on their research. The client can provide their input on what would be best from a lead-driving perspective.”
On-Page SEO. Sometimes, on-page SEO is mistaken as simply “best practices” for content creation.
It’s a bit more than that.
The team at Moz.com define on-page SEO as “...the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines (and) refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized.”
So yes, part of this ties into the specifics of content production, but also requires a trained SEO account manager that ensures the content gets seen.
The Curious Case of the Invisible Content
In 2017, 43 percent of marketers told BrightEdge that 75 percent of their content is not consumed. This raises an interesting question — what’s the point of doing the work if no one’s going to use it?
“When content creators can use the expertise of an SEO resource, we increase the likelihood of our content being found,” Emily Bliss, director, content at Silverback, says. “Content online is not Field of Dreams. Just because you built it doesn't mean people will flock to it. By having the SEO resource, we're giving our content a fighting chance at being found when people search for that type of information.
"But even earlier in the process, an SEO resource also helps the content team to determine what people are actually searching for around our client's business or industry.”
Content marketing. The textbook definition of content marketing from the venerable Content Marketing Institute is “...a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
This matches the philosophy we espouse at Silverback.
Silverback’s flavor of content marketing also includes elements of social media, creative design and off-page SEO, which our friends at Moz explain as “...actions taken outside of your own website to impact your rankings (like) improving search engine and user perception of a site's popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority (by) other reputable places on the Internet (pages, sites, people, etc.) linking to or promoting your website, and effectively vouching for the quality of your content.”
SEO Never Dies, It Multiplies
A few years ago, there was some breathless speculation that content marketing would eventually replace what had been known as SEO up to that point. High-quality, authoritative content would be the coin of the land and all this scraping and scuttling for keywords would disappear.
That didn’t quite happen, of course, but as the very nature of search changed, Silverback’s brand of Editorial SEO became the most logical answer to a high-performance SEO program.
The Power of Editorial SEO
The new face of the SERP — loaded with ads, questions and answers, maps, social media, reviews, shopping, scores, news, videos, etc. — creates additional complications for search marketers.
Ranking first in organic search results means a lot less when a.) you have to scroll through a veritable carnival of Featured Snippets just to find those results, and b.) you actually need to rank higher than first in order to be invited to the party.
And how do you get invited to that party?
Great content that answers real questions, combined with the technical schema and streamlined site-crawling functionality that allows Google and other search engines to pick your result from the millions of other possibilities.
“The process starts with each party bringing their priorities to the table,” Emily says. “The client's team brings any business priorities — new product launches, seasonal priorities, etc. Our Content Team adds our priorities, according to our editorial strategy — we need a blog, long-form downloadables, infographics, and so on. Then, the SEO Team brings its priorities and insights, like search volume around X that we should capitalize upon or the ability to place in any of the Google SERP features.”
Working together, Silverback’s search and content experts work with the client to game plan several steps for the coming months.
“We list everyone's priorities and flesh out the quarterly plan,” Emily notes. “We like to work toward the opportunities that have the most impact in general, whether that be SEO value, content that supports a business need or optimizations of existing content that could be performing better in SERPs. The collaboration is all about everyone bringing their needs and ideas to the table and then moving the puzzle pieces to get a collaborative vision for the quarter.”
Starting an Editorial SEO Program
When Silverback’s SEO Team audits a client’s search presence, they often find immediate areas of opportunity to address with new or refreshed content. As the engagement deepens, these opportunities become more and more prevalent.
When there is not a content resource at the table, our SEO account managers are forced to rely on the client’s content producers.
This is fine, so long as the in-house content team has the capacity to take on new work and turn it around quickly — otherwise, the search program is hamstrung and performance is impacted.
It’s a big reason why we feel so strongly about introducing external creative resources to a client engagement, even when the partner has its own content creators.
We outlined the weaknesses of over-reliance on an internal team in a recent blog post. Those drawbacks can include overtasked writers, writers who lack an expert-level understanding of best content practices for search performance and slower, tangled chains of communication.
“The relationship between content marketing and SEO is a mutually beneficial one — not only between our two departments, but the client also prospers from having these forces joined,” Emily says. “Search-friendly content is produced at an exponential rate as our clients adopt our recommendation to embrace a long-term content strategy.”
In other words, if we don’t have to stand around and wait for content to be produced, but can do it ourselves — from the very start of the relationship with our client — search performance can begin to grow at a significantly faster rate.
Once the SEO Ball Starts Rolling, It Doesn’t Stop
“I think the largest benefit of Editorial SEO is the long-term value it can drive,” Jordan adds. “Once you prove that your site has a solid technical foundation and has frequently updated and valuable content, Google is going to crawl your site more frequently and your authority is just going to keep growing over time. We’ve seen this lead to enormous organic growth for a variety of clients and I think really any company would benefit from it.”
We’ve Done This Before: An Editorial SEO Case Study
One of our closest partners is Long Roofing. This industry-leading home improvement business has built a national presence thanks to its quality, integrity and craftsmanship.
When the LONG team challenged Silverback Strategies to optimize its web presence, we combined the skills of our expert SEO and Content Marketing account managers to craft a blog and service page optimization strategy that blew previous performance out of the water.
Within 12 months, organic traffic to the LONG website had spiked nearly 4.5x higher than the previous year.
The organic traffic increase was fueled by a 554 percent jump on blog visits. Overall site traffic increased 443 percent.
Now, skeptics would note that a rush of new traffic may result in a smaller percentage of organic leads because those new sessions may be coming from unqualified or out-of-market site visitors.
Not with LONG.
Blog requests for quotes increased by 590 percent and phone calls went up a shocking 12,600 percent. Goal completions for the site as a whole were up 97 percent year-over-year.
Editorial SEO: The Best of All Worlds
SEO engagements are futile if growth can’t be proven.
Content marketing gets devalued when there is an assumption that all its metrics are soft, never pointing towards measurable performance.
Silverback’s Editorial SEO program combines the best aspects of search and content to create uniquely powerful results.
“I think it's a natural fit between two teams,” Emily concludes. “it's mutually beneficial. For SEO to continue to see growth, new content has to be produced, whether that's fixing old content or creating something new to capitalize on an opportunity.
"Additionally, content efforts are more likely to perform when there is an eye focused on the search landscape, and how it can be discovered and found. Distribution of content is a huge part of a content marketing strategy.
"If we can leverage an SEO expert, some of that distribution happens naturally due to our leg up on the search landscape — and that’s great for everyone, especially the client.”