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Unifying Organic and Paid Content — Amine Bentahar // Advantix Digital

Episode overview: How does a brand successfully leverage organic content utilizing paid content? The separation between organic and paid content used to be much like the separation of Church and State until brands began using paid channels to boost organic search rankings to much success. On this episode of Voices of Search Ben Shapiro spoke with expert Amine Bentahar from Advantix Digital on how brands successfully optimize their organic content using paid channels and what key strategies and data acquisition processes contribute to their success.

Summary:

  • The best channels for organic content syndication are native advertising and paid social.
  • Your content’s value and relevance is dependent on which phase of the marketing funnel your customer currently resides.
  • Bentahar advises brands whose SEO and performance teams closely collaborate on paid content initiatives experience better results and returns.

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Ben:                             Welcome to Optimization October on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro. This month we’re going to point the microscope at your content in what we’re calling Optimization October. Joining us today is Amine Bentahar, who is the Chief Digital and Marketing Officer at Advantix Digital, which is a rapidly growing full service digital marketing agency with competency in web development, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media management, and creative and production services. Today Amine and I are going to talk about optimizing your content using paid channels.

Ben:                             But before we hear from Amine, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support your loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you the consultation that reviews how your website content and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Ben:                             Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Amine Bentahar, Chief Digital and Marketing Officer at Advantix Digital. Amine, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Amine:                         Hey, Ben, thank you very much for having me today.

Ben:                             It’s an honor and a pleasure to have you here. It’s great to connect with somebody who has a deep understanding of not only SEO, but also a couple of the other channels that are tangentially related to SEO. Really that’s what we’re going to talk about today, using some other channels to boost your organic search ranking. Let’s start off, give us a little background on you and on the company that you work for. Tell us about your background and Advantix Digital.

Amine:                         Yeah, sure. So I’ve been in the digital space for a little bit over 12 years. Started my career at Microsoft and worked for [inaudible] … Fortune 500 companies, then jumped ship to start working a little bit with smaller and midsize companies. Even at one point I was a GM of a startup based in, actually, Silicon Valley. It was definitely very marketing driven, so that’s why I was a perfect fit for that start up. Then I joined Advantix Digital about four years ago. We’re a digital agency based in Dallas. We service startups and Fortune 500 companies and offer everything from SEO all the way to voice search optimization.

Ben:                             So you manage all the digital efforts and the marketing efforts for an agency that is broad in terms of its scope where you’re not only creating a website doing the content optimization and SEO, but you also provide paid and social media management services. I want to talk to you today about some of the ways that you’re using paid channels and other marketing channels to help amplify what’s happening in SEO. We’re calling this paid content optimization. What is paid content optimization to you?

Amine:                         So to me, paid content optimization is leverage in an organic piece of content and using paid channels to actually put in that piece of content in front of a broader audience. So think of it as you produced a very good blog post that’s getting a little bit of traction, and then you want … and you are getting actually very good quality leads from it, so you want actually more people to read it. So we again take in that piece of content and using paid social or native advertising on other channels to put it in front of a broader audience and getting even more referrals traffic and more traction.

Ben:                             It’s one of the biggest trends that I’ve seen in marketing this decade is the separation of church and state of organic marketing, SEO practices and paid marketing, which was PPC, right? Ten years ago you had an ad, a banner ad that was placed somewhere on a website and that drove you to a landing page. Hopefully it got you to convert and buy something. Then you had your organic content, your blog or your SERP pages or your product pages that were just showing up in Google. And the two never really overlapped. There’s this trend over the last decade where people are taking their high performing organic content and they’re syndicating it through other channels. Talk to me about what channels are effective for content syndication.

Amine:                         Yeah, that’s actually definitely a trend that we’ve been experiencing for the past decade. I think a lot of it has to do with now our ability to better analyze the data as more and more brands have been investing heavily in data analysis. So some of the channels that I’ll speak about my experience or our agency that we actually leverage where we see a good marriage between organic and paid is one being native advertising, especially if you do a very good job at target and showing the piece of content to the right kind of customers. The second one is also being paid social. I don’t know, Ben, if you ever noticed when a brand is being featured, let’s say on a Forbes or a Business Insider, where instead of boosting the post of like, “Hey, we’ve been featured here,” they actually answer that piece of content from Forbes or from Business Insider.

Amine:                         The reason is they want to build that credibility seeing that hey, instead of me telling you, “I’m great at this,” it’s like, “Hey, look, all of these third party sites are actually talking about me,” and to benefit from there is, one, building credibility, but then if you click on their article, there’s always a hyperlink to your site. Most of those articles, they usually do follow links. So those are kind of the two strategies that I would say have worked really well for us is, one, native advertising, and two is leveraging paid social, especially if you get a featuring on a high domain authority site.

Ben:                             Another buzz word that I hear a ton is, “programmatic advertising.” How do you differentiate native and social from programmatic?

Amine:                         Yeah, so native in a way is part programmatic. It’s like within programmatic you can do display campaigns, again, do native advertising. There’s a lot you’re going to be doing with a programmatic, because in real time you’re bidding to show your either article or ad or display to people in real time that are meeting the criteria as your target audience. So I want to say to me native advertising makes a lot of sense from an organic standpoint, just because … think of it this way, native advertising literally looks like an … let’s say you read the news on Yahoo Finance. It’s literally embedded within the page, so it doesn’t even bother you, it doesn’t look like an ad. If the topic is that attractive, you don’t even mind clicking and go into whatever site I’m trying to send you to. Versus programmatic display, for example, that’s kind of in your face, like the banners are being served and we’re clearly trying to advertise to you. Versus native advertising that I feel is like getting embedded within the contents of a news site and it doesn’t really annoy the user experience.

Ben:                             So programmatic is essentially a way where you’re doing real time bidding and optimization. You’re evaluating the value of a perspective customer prospective click and you’re using native and social channels to drive traffic to a piece of content.

Amine:                         Just to add, there a lot of programmatic platforms where you can actually run ads even through Facebook, because they own a lot of inventory on Facebook and Instagram and other social media sites. So you can do everything from one place pretty much.

Ben:                             So I guess there’s two things that we need to talk about here, which is, one, how do you figure out what content should be promoted? Two, you mentioned the targeting is incredibly important when you’re starting to syndicate your content. Let’s start off with how you figure out what content you want to syndicate. What should SEOs know about saying, “Hey, I’ve got a winner here, I need to go hand it to my performance marketing team”?

Amine:                         So depending again on your business, I want to say the piece of content that’s generating the most quality traffic quality leads, the least bounce rate, that clearly shows you that “Hey,” you know … and also you look at time on site, you want to see how much people are spending reading that piece of content. So here’s the interesting thing then I think a lot of brands are missing out a lot, because their SEO teams are not speaking with their performance teams. Because if that communication happens, you’ll be amazed about the amount of collaboration and the amount of results that some brands can get into. Believe me, I work with brands every day and sometimes two teams are completely siloed and don’t really talk to each other.

Amine:                         So I think the key here is again keeping an eye on the pieces of content, that are getting the most traffic, most [inaudible] … but also the most searched pieces of content. That’s when the social media management team also plays a role. So if you see that people are actually sharing a piece of content, that means that, “Hey, you know what? We have a winner here, so let’s put some dollars behind it. Let’s boost that on social lists, run a campaign in native advertising.” That’s how you should be deciding on what kind of pieces of content to be marketing.

Amine:                         I want to say the second thing that I would do is you see that there is a topic that’s really trending and that there is a lot of good, relevant content, and let’s say you just blogged about it and within a couple of weeks you’re on the first page of Google, that’s really your chance to as well get and own position zero that not only is going to benefit you from an SEO perspective, but also from the voice search perspective. That’s how we go about deciding what pieces of content we should be investing in.

Ben:                             We’ve preached a lot on this podcast that being an SEO is not just about the practice of generating rankings, but you need to be a cross collaborational partner. You need to work with the other parts of the marketing team and you also need to understand your business. A lot of this in terms of identifying what is the piece of content that you should be promoting is knowing what the purpose of a piece of content is. Some pieces of content are great for lead acquisition, some pieces of content are great for driving people through the bottom of the funnel. You have to understand the purpose of each piece of content to be able to understand what signals you should be looking at. If I have an article … Forbes is writing an article talking about my brand, it might be a great way to generate credibility and get someone into my marketing funnel, but it might not necessarily convert into sales. I might need different bottom of funnel content to drive people through.

Ben:                             So as you’re trying to figure out what’s the type of content you need to identify, it is not necessarily just what drives the most purchases. Each piece of content can have value at different parts of your funnels. So you have to go through the exercise of understanding, “What are the milestones of your business?” and then identify what pieces of content have the highest conversion rates for each one of those milestones. Then the second part is you have to work with your cross functional partners, understand who’s in the performance marketing team, and hand those pieces of content to them, and ask them to promote it or give them the assets they need to be successful.

Ben:                             I think that there’s also some inherent risk when you’re taking a piece of content that has well-performing organic metrics and just start performing it in marketing. What do you see as the risks for promoting content that’s successful in terms of organic rankings?

Amine:                         So some of the risks can be, again, if you are not targeting the right audience, you might drive a lot of irrelevant traffic and might get flagged. There’s definitely a lot of risks if you are not targeting … again, you’re not spending the right time understanding, “Who is your target audience?” I think we touched on something that’s extremely important, which is, “In the first place, what was the goal of that piece of content? Was it to be informative? Was it to drive top funnel, lower funnel?” So I think based on even understanding what was the goal behind producing that piece of content, you need to refine your targeting and you need to ensure that you are talking to the right audience. You do not want to start driving a lot of referrals traffic that’s really irrelevant and that’s going to hurt you in the long term.

Ben:                             I think that’s an important thing to mention, that when you have a piece of content that’s performing well on the organic side and you start to do promotion … let’s take an example of a piece of bottom of funnel content that really converts well and gets all of your organic traffic to start buying whatever you’re selling. The reason why that piece of content is converting is because the people that are getting that page are far down in your buying funnel. When you start promoting that content to people that are unaware of your brand, the conversion metrics are going to look like … the time on site’s going to look different, the bounce rates going to look different. And you run the risk of taking a well-performing piece of content and changing the metrics. Google is then going to reevaluate, because you’re sending different signals to the value of that content where it should rank, which gets into the question of targeting. Talk to me about how you think about targeting to drive valuable traffic to a piece of or well-performing organic content.

Amine:                         The way I personally go about targeting is understanding each business is different, and within each business there are different personas. There is your John will likes to read ESPN and is on Wall Street in the morning, and you have your Mary who likes to read maybe also the Wall Street in another magazine. So truly understanding, “How did they behave? What do they like? Even what products within your business line they like?” Then based on that, I make sure that we are showing you the piece of content is the most relevant to you. Because remember personalization, which everybody’s talking about, “Yeah, we’re trying to be as personal as we can showing the right content.” Well it translates not only from content marketing in general but also from a paid perspective, because the more relevant the piece of content that you’re promoting is to the end consumer, the better the results are going to be whether in the short term or the long term. So that’s how we go about targeting is understanding, again, the different pieces of content and who is going to be responding best to it based on the data that we’ve collected from the organic standpoint.

Ben:                             I think again this is an exercise in understanding the purpose of the piece of content. The more that you can understand why you’re seeing good organic conversions for a piece of content and who is interested in that page, you can then use your performance marketing channels to go find more people that are likely to be ready to have the same conversion metrics. If you’re not good with your targeting and you’re promoting a piece of content to an audience that isn’t ready to consume it, you run the risk of cannibalizing your organic results.

Ben:                             There’s a flip side of the coin here. We’ve talked so far about how you can take your well-performing organic content and syndicate it with paid channels. Is there a way where you can take your paid media efforts and start to boost a piece of content to drive organic rankings?

Amine:                         So that’s actually definitely a very good question. So I think here’s the way how I see the relationship between paid and organic. Paid also, it’s a pay to play game. You can get collect a lot more data, it doesn’t take six months to rank, it’s just like you get immediate results depending on how well optimized your campaigns are. So the way I see it is, which way you’re able to also collect on other kinds of data that can actually help your organic in a way where you can go back, for example, to your SEO team and be like, “By the way, guys, we’re seeing this trend where my top performing keywords aren’t anymore the ones that we are trying to rank for X, Y and Z,” or, “These long tail keywords, there’s more and more people searching for these long tail keywords, and there isn’t a lot of people bidding on that … there isn’t a lot of programming content.” So that’s actually how personally today we’re leveraging paid to organic, if that makes sense.

Ben:                             So I think there’s two ways to think about what paid content optimization is. There’s the idea of finding a strong piece of content. Google is giving you a signal saying, “This content is likely to perform,” and you can be in Google Analytics and whatever other analytics platforms you have and try to understand what the conversion rates are from any piece of content, and you can use your performance marketing channels to drive more traffic to that content knowing it converts. There’s also the opportunity to say there’s a piece of content that we really want to rank in Google, we really want to drive this up in the search results, so we’re going to drive some paid traffic to it. Do you find yourself focusing more when you’re thinking about paid content optimization on embellishing content using paid to drive your rankings up or vice versa?

Amine:                         It’s actually the first, so definitely embellishing to drive … again, using paid to actually drive more organic performance up, because even think of it … let’s say you get a paid link and you’re pretty much paying to have that link there. As long as it’s a [inaudible] … usually it does have an organic value to it, especially if it’s coming from a high domain authority site. So the way I see it is paid, if done properly, will always be helping the organic side, especially if you are leveraging. I think we’ve talked a little bit about native and the different channels that are available to us today. You are definitely going to be able to benefit from paid, if that makes sense?

Ben:                             Yeah, I think there’s the long standing myth or hypothesis that if you’re going to buy ad words or Google ads, if you’re going to pay Google to promote a piece of content, then they’re going to give you a boost in your organic traffic. Google has said that if you buy ad words, it doesn’t affect how they rank your content, but if you’re driving traffic to a piece of content and you’re giving Google a signal that that content is going to perform well, that factors into how they’re evaluating the page. So whether it’s Google ads, whether it’s Facebook ads, native ads, your performance marketing efforts if they’re targeted can be an asset to help your rankings. Amine, any last words on paid content optimization?

Amine:                         Yeah, absolutely. I think honestly there are many brands today that are not really leveraging paid content optimization as a channel to help with their organic performance. There is no wrong or right way to go about it, it’s all about testing and learning. Again, the beauty of leveraging paid channels in general is that it doesn’t take months for you to understand what’s the impact of what you’re doing. You will be able to either see, “Is this effort helping drive more referrals traffic? Is it helping boost my organic presence? Are we starting to see an increase in leads or whatever your KPIs is … ” So I absolutely recommend for brands to start using paid content optimization or paid content promotion to help out SEO and have both teams work hand in hand, because their results from our experience has been really great with all the brands that we have to [inaudible] …

Ben:                             I think my takeaway from this conversation is assuming you have the resources, if you have the ability to have a credible performance marketing team, that can be a tremendous asset to help you promote your organic content. On the flip side, if you have great organic content and you don’t have a lot of budget or resources to invest in performance marketing, you can take your well-performing organic content and use that to try to make the most out of what ad dollars you have.

Amine:                         Exactly, completely agree with you, Ben.

Ben:                             Okay, well, good to hear we’re on the same page. Amine, I appreciate you coming on as a guest of the show. Thanks for talking to us about optimizing paid content.

Amine:                         Thank you very much for having me. Again, best of success and luck to you, and continue doing what you’re doing with your podcasts. We’re definitely all learning from it.

Ben:                             All right, thanks, Amine. That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Amine Bentahar, the Chief Digital and Marketing Officer at Advantix Digital. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Amine, you can click on the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is abentahar1, A-B-E-N-T-A-H-A-R-1, or you can visit his company’s website, which is Advantix Digital, A-D-V-A-N-T-I-X-D-I-G-I-T-A-L.com.

Ben:                             If you have general marketing questions, if you’d like to talk about this podcast, or if you’re interested in being a guest on the show, you can find my contact information in our show notes where you can shoot me a tweet @benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. If you’re interested in learning about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team. If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed later this week. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.