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Voices of Search Episode 37: Understanding the Content Creation Process

Episode Overview

February is Content Month on the Voices of Search podcast. Jordan Koene returns to kick off the month with an overview of the content creation process and his playbook for SEOs who want to better understand the optimization and content creation process.

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Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to Content Month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re going to do a deep dive into the words behind the numbers and discuss what you SEOs need to do know about content creation, publishing, and optimization.

Ben:                 Joining us to kick off the Content Month is Jordan Koene who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. And Jordan is going to walk us through his guide for SEOs to understand the optimization and content creation process.

Ben:                 But before we get started, 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 you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic. A member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a 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. Here’s the first installment of Content Month with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:             Thanks, Ben. It’s great to be back. I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been on the podcast, but looking forward to kicking off Content Month.

Ben:                 The last time we talked together, we went through a week of doing your 2019 SEO predictions. Some of them have come true already. Give us a little update before we get into all the content talk about what’s happened so far this month that is related to some of the predictions you made.

Jordan:             Yeah. So actually, just this past Friday, January 25th, just to be exact, Google announced on their Webmaster Central Blog that they’re going to be making changes to Search Console, that they’re going to be investing more into Search Console, but in particular they’re going to be actually stripping down, removing some features within Search Console and kind of cleaning it up a bit. So the reality here is that this is great. It’s Google’s way of focusing on what we said in our prediction, giving all webmasters and SEOs data and information about what’s happening with their website. And so I’m glad that they’re turning off some older things, and that they’re going to be looking at perhaps investing in some new features of Search Console.

Ben:                 So a fresh take on Search Console coming up. There’s also been some changes that they announced to the SERP. Tell us a little about what happened there.

Jordan:             Yeah. So also announced was, and I believe this was General Mueller who announced this, is the idea of including more feature-rich elements. Nothing spectacular but feature-rich in say the Knowledge Graph, in particular bolding features or bolding words, excuse me, and highlighting certain elements within Knowledge Graph. I think this is just Google’s way of tiptoeing into the concept of, “Hey, people love Knowledge Graph. People love the answer box and all these other integrated search experiences. How do we now improve the data and connection of the data to the search query and make it more visible and apparent to the user?” So that was announced this past week, and I would expect us to see that become a pretty consistent message from Google.

Ben:                 So congratulations, at least two of your predictions for 2019 have come true, and I guess we’re starting this year off with a bang. And to continue and to keep the ball rolling, we’re going to talk a little bit more about the content creation and optimization process for this month. So talk to a me a little bit about how you think of content and the role that SEOs play with its creation, management, and evaluation. What’s the framework that you think of when describing an SEOs role with content?

Jordan:             Absolutely. The first thing to start off with here, and I think this is where it gets really interesting, and personally, I’ll be really transparent with you, Ben. I’m going through this learning process myself because I come from the SEO mentality of like data is king. I’m going to force feed data points in front of the editorial and content team until they listen to me, and beat them over the head with keyword ranking data and all these other analytical data points until they change the way they handle content. And unfortunately that hasn’t worked, right? That never worked. It still doesn’t work. It is largely how most SEO to content teams work with one another, and the reality is that that’s a paradigm that needs to shift.

Jordan:             So, the way we’re looking at content these days, to answer your question, Ben, framework that we’re using to look at content is really through this lens of starting with the customer journey. Understanding the journey by which your customers going to go through on your site and consume content is step number one. Then looking at data points and content data points. Migrating that into the production process and then the measurement process or the performance process of your content.

Ben:                 So you bring up an interesting point that I think that a lot of SEOs traditionally and had a little bit of conflict with the content production team. Feeling like they are the writers that put the words in the right order, and an SEOs job is to take data and tell them what the topics should be or tell them what keywords to focus on. And really where you’re starting is a higher level problem. Putting your marketer hat on, something that we can all agree on. Whether you’re on the content production or the content optimization side, that we’re all working as marketers. So understanding who your customers are, understanding the purpose of the content, as you said, the customer journey and how it’s going to be … the content is to be used is really the starting point for all marketers to no matter where you are, content production optimization side, understand who your customers are, understand how they’re going to use the piece of content you’re trying to create.

Jordan:             Correct. Correct. And starting there is, like you said, it’s a marketing journey, it’s an editorial journey in which you’re taking yourself in and not just looking at what’s happening in search but really trying to understand what is it that this visitor, this user is trying to achieve. What are they trying to acquire? What kind of knowledge are they trying to acquire or what kind of accomplishment are they trying to achieve by visiting this particular piece of content?

Ben:                 I think the more that I’ve talked to elite SEOs, they have the practical skills and the technical understanding and knowledge to be effective in terms of doing all the data driven SEO work. But they consider themselves to be marketers, not just SEOs, and I think that starting this process thinking about the customers is the right way. And there are different stages along the customers journey that are generally very prescriptive. Walk us through how you think of understanding the customer journey and what are the different stages there and do they relate to different formats of content?

Jordan:             Yes. As I said earlier, I myself am going through the journey of learning this and becoming better at it. In fact, later this week, Marlon, on our team, who’s really a content expert, is going to be diving into this and doing a whole week set of episodes on this topic. I start off by trying to understand what is the objective of the customer when they are consuming this piece of content? And so is this a transactional type event? Is this informational? Is this navigation in nature or even broader than that, is this news-worthy? Is this some form of insight that you might be gaining from this particular piece of content? And understanding that journey and understanding how that customers going to consumer that content should then dictate what data points you want to acquire. And if you can start your conversation by talking about the customer journey and what an editor or writer is trying to achieve by producing that piece of content in the journey, your communication as an SEO is going to change dramatically because you’re not just going to be applying your data and how you look at data but you’re going to be applying the customer journey and how that writer is trying to achieve that goal for that consumer.

Ben:                 Each brand and each company’s journey is going to be a little different, and I’m sure it’s drastically different across industries, right? Your customer journey when you’re working in media and publishing is going to be different than eCommerce. The way that I think of the most basic funnel is you have your top of funnel content, let’s call it your lead acquisition. You’re just trying to cast a broad net for anybody that might be relevant to your subject matter. You get into your middle of funnel content, and this is about education, informing someone about why they should engage with your brand, product or service. You move on to the bottom of funnel, which is about actually converting someone, and this could be to make a purchase, it could be to buy a subscription, enter an email address, whatever you’re trying to do that you call a conversion. And then you get on outside of actually driving somebody through and a purchase funnel, and you get to things like your post purchase intent and then there’s these other types of content, retention, brand building. You mentioned navigational as well. To me, when I think about the marketing funnel, those are kind of the five most prescriptive stages, and I think that’s something we’re going to get down to next week. You mentioned that we’re going to be talking to Marlon on the Searchmetrics content team about how to use data to optimize each one of those segments.

Ben:                 Do you think about the funnel in the same way or are there other ways that SEOs look at the different types of content?

Jordan:             So the funnel, as you described it, is exactly how the entire marketing, content, and SEO industry should be thinking about things because there isn’t a difference in those various customer journeys. We all have to become align that there are these top, middle, and bottom of funnel activities and by us understanding where content is within those aspects or within those channels, we become better at prescribing and defining and supporting the content members who are owning those areas of the funnel. And so I’ll give you an example real quick.

Jordan:             The moment you step into the room with your PR team. If you understand what that PR team is trying to achieve in terms of say top of funnel awareness for your brand, you can quickly prescribe certain data points that help that PR team become better and more successful at generating awareness. But that awareness concept top of funnel with a PR team is the link that you need as an SEO to become more effective.

Ben:                 Yeah, I think the one thing I’m going to actually argue against the framework that I set up where to me this is if you’re looking for a subscription business, if you’re working in eCommerce, that top, middle, bottom of funnel concept and then the sort of tangential things makes a lot of sense. If you’re working in businesses like media and publishing, I do think that there’s different types of content and maybe those funnels look a little different where it’s not about retention and you’re not sequencing your content. It’s really just about staying topical and real time. But generally if you were looking for a framework, I think that’s a useful tool to start thinking about. Understanding what the purpose of each piece of content is.

Ben:                 So talk to me about some of the data that goes into optimizing or at least making suggestions to the content team for these various stages? Is there a KPI that you’re looking at when you’re thinking of top of funnel versus middle versus bottom versus retention, what are some of the recommendations you think about in terms of metrics to look at to optimize each stage of the funnel?

Jordan:             So, the most prevalent piece of data that all of us as SEOs use is obviously keyword rankings. We are looking at the rankings for particular keyword opposition for that particular keyword and trying to understand how we can improve that position.

Jordan:             Subsequently, the other data point that’s pretty common these days to help analyze content performance from an SEO perspective is the number of keywords ranking for a particular URL, and so if you’re looking at one page, does that page rank for 10, does that page rank for 100. And then you could also look at say the clusters or the relationship of these keywords. Is there buckets of keywords that are very similar? Is there different intentions behind the keywords that are ranking for this particular URL, like transactional? Do all the keywords have the word by as a preface, for example, for this particular URL?

Jordan:             So those are some of the main KPIs that as SEOs we look at for content performance in terms of content data.

Ben:                 The most interesting thing to me about what you said is try to use some data to understand the intent of a piece of content. Tell me a little bit more about that. You just mentioned, okay, if the word by is in front of something, it’s probably I’m guessing a little lower down the funnel. How do you use data to sort of understand … That doesn’t actually seem like data, that seems more like keyword research.

Jordan:             Right. So we’ve actually built technology here at Searchmetrics to help us define this, and inside of our platform, we can actually show you for a particular keyword what’s the most likely intent behind the keyword. And there’s a couple of different ways to decipher that. The most prevalent way is by looking at what is Google actually surfacing within the search? So for example, if Google is to show the knowledge graph for a particular keyword, the likelihood of that keyword being informational is very high. And so the representation of Google showing the Knowledge Graph means that Google is trying to inform users about this particular keyword. And so making that connection between the keyword intent to the type of content you’re producing is one of the most critical pieces of providing data to the content owner and thus influencing that content journey with the right content.

Ben:                 Interesting. Okay. So basically you can use signals that are on the SERP to understand what Google thinks the intent is, and if you’re matching what Google thinks the intent is, there’s a higher probability of you ranking up the page.

Jordan:             Exactly.

Ben:                 Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about the production side. Once you have a sense of where your target should be, what the intent of the keywords you want to go after, there’s the whole process of putting words on a webpage before you’re trying to figure out how Google interprets them, and I feel like that’s something that a lot of SEOs might think of as a black box, right? They’re not really responsible for the content production piece. They just deal with it once it’s published. Maybe that’s not the best way to think about it. Talk to me about the relationship and content production and what should SEOs, how should SEOs be thinking about it?

Jordan:             So, there’s a lot of friction here at this particular juncture between say editorial content members and SEOs. Often because historically SEOs would focus a lot of their attention on topics like TF-IDF, which is the frequency by which you should be using a particular keyword in your content, or SEOs have looked at say solutions like natural language processing, which is a technology that enables you to create content in a more automated way. And so these concepts like TF-IDF and MLP have created a little bit of friction in the content production process because they’re not necessarily aligned with how content writers would consider producing content. And that’s largely the friction between say the creative process versus the data driven process of content creation. And so to get to the production piece and to make the production piece successful, you really have to go back to the beginning of this conversation, which is alignment between the customer journey to the data that you’re providing and thus you can influence the production process as an SEO. Because as SEOs, we are becoming less and less relevant in the production piece. We’ve tried, I think many SEOS out there try to become very, very demanding in the production piece. But the reality is that it’s really a place of influence more than it is a place of dictation because ultimately the content strategy has to start by focusing on the customer.

Ben:                 I mean, at the end of the day, this is something that the SEOs will likely don’t control. I think that there is on some teams the ability to outsource content production and mostly for smaller organizations that might not be an editorial team that is separate from SEO.

Jordan:             Right.

Ben:                 Just so that we understand some of the mechanisms of how content is created at scale, walk me through a little bit of the outsourcing process. To me, that’s one of the most fascinating thing about how content is produced is it’s not just your in house writer sweating over a typewriter, obviously. There’s sophisticated organizations that are doing content production at scale. Talk to me a little bit about that industry and some of the mechanisms there.

Jordan:             Yeah. I mean, nowadays, especially the big content producers, they have incredibly diverse, remote content workforces that include in many cases both employees and contractors or consultants or third party firms who help produce and manufacture content. When we’re talking about these really large, big scale productions, many times in the production process, we want to influence the production by showing data in the CMS or other tools or technology that those producers are using so that it comes very visual, it becomes very natural, and it becomes part of the content production journey.

Jordan:             For those of you out there who aren’t working on content at that massive scale, it’s not a problem. It still becomes a relationship between access of the data and placing it properly in the process of production. And so that doesn’t change the goal, which is how do I get access to the right data at the right step in the production process.

Ben:                 Okay. So at the end of the day, you’re trying to advise your content production team or some of the third party resources that you’re using to produce content that you think is likely to rank. Talk to me a little bit about the measurement. I think this is the poor skillset and responsibility of an SEO is evaluating the content that you’re publishing. Tell me a little bit about how you think about measurement of content.

Jordan:             We’ve talked about this a little bit on other podcasts, but as a quick summary, there’s really two core KPIs that we’re typically looking at. The first one is is my content ranking for more keywords. So basically that’s breathe. How can I get my page to rank for more keywords? And then there’s the depth component, which is can I rank at a higher position for particular keywords. The depth piece really becomes very relevant when you’re looking at very competitive landscapes or another tactic that we like to talk about a lot on Searchmetrics is just content optimization. So optimizing an existing piece of content to make it perform better.

Jordan:             But really I think the most important thing, especially for many of those who are just getting started with content and leveraging content to improve your search rankings, it’s really about the breathe concept because the more you can understand how to make the particular page rank for more keywords, the more likely you are going to be having long term success. It’s no longer a world where Google ranks one page per one keyword. Those days are long gone. It’s really about Google understanding how a particular page works to a relationship of keywords, to a topic graph of keywords and how closely related those keywords are and then how successful that piece of content can be to ranking for that entire topic graph, not just that one single keyword.

Ben:                 It’s getting more complicated to evaluate how content is performing, right? There’s not just a single page for a single keyword. What are some of the tools or specific KPIs you should be looking at when you’re thinking about evaluating your content?

Jordan:             Yeah. So there’s the pre and post analysis that you typically look at when it comes to say traffic, rank position, number of keywords ranking. So there’s always that pre/post analysis. In fact, one of the things we do all the time in Searchmetrics with many of our customers is we take a look at the aggregate number of keywords and the percentage of keywords increased over a period of time. It’s a great way to understand if a particular piece of content is helping you generate more exposure for more keywords. And so that’s one of the elements that we spend a lot of time looking at. Obviously you’re using a variety of different tools to do these things. I think this is where the great content SEOs really showcase their great skills because they’re able to map data from tools like Searchmetrics or other SEO platforms with analytics and performance KPIs like number of visits, like number of conversions, like number of downloads, like number of views. And so that marriage is really a critical one for content SEOs to be successful.

Jordan:             In fact, one of the coolest things that I’ve seen recently is the ability for a content SEO to connect the dots between the performance of a piece of content to the technical performance of a page to the overall KPIs of the business, like conversion metrics. And that’s kind of the whole recipe, right? I mean, as good overall SEOs, you’re looking at the technical performance as well as the content performance of a page to see the overall success. Connecting all of those dots is often very difficult and challenging one and that’s why we often focus on swim lanes as content SEO versus say a technical SEO.

Ben:                 Yeah. I think that I will take that even a step further in that when you’re looking at the performance of a page, obviously the technical is the technical piece, but when you’re evaluating the content specifically, it also depends what your KPIs are, which depends what type of content is, right? Going back to the beginning of our conversation is are you looking for the top of funnel content? Are you just hoping to cast a wide net and introduce your brand to someone? Are you hoping to educate them? And generally the KPIs are is this piece of content if it’s top of funnel, driving someone to a middle of funnel piece of content. You can set up the tracking in a way that you have your goals, which are cascading down to try to drive someone to the bottom of your funnel and through the conversion metrics.

Jordan:             Correct.

Ben:                 So as your obviously evaluating the technical performance of your page and you’re looking at the content performance, not all pages are designed to get a sale. Some of them are designed to introduce your brand and some of them are designed to educate people and get them farther down the funnel. And so that’s one of the things to consider and this goes beyond just being a good SEO but back into being a good marketer is understanding the purpose of a piece of content and what your objective is for it to be successful.

Jordan:             Yup. We have one client who literally tries to create these mirrors, apple to apple comparisons of content. So they’ll take a look at one of their long form pieces of content that’s intended to be informational, and then they’ll compare that to their competitors version of that. And they’ll look at all these KPIs, like what’s the average rank position, how many keywords did that keyword rank for, what’s the longevity of those rankings, how long have you ranked for those positions. And then that gives them a true nature, a true sense, an apples to apples comparison, true sense of is this page adequate, is it working in its competitive environment, and that is I think one of the neat things about where content is going that we can literally evaluate a piece of content and map it, compare it to then make stronger decisions about how we influence that customer journey. And that’s the one piece that we often forget is how we bring that all the way back to that customer journey piece because when we do that, we help users in Google, we help the users who visit this page, and we lift the overall performance of our content.

Ben:                 So I think that there’s a lot that we’ve covered in terms of how to think about content, some of the different components. We’re going to do a deeper dive into the vast majority of these topics. Next week we’re going to talk a little bit more about what data you can use to understand your customer journey. We’re going to be talking to someone on a very advanced and large SEO team about how they work with their content production team, and we have an influencer in the content management space who’s just going to tell us a little bit about the landscape of content production as well. So whilst to look forward to for the rest of Content Marketing Month. And we’re exciting to bring it to you.

Ben:                 Jordan, thanks again for joining us, and it was great to chat.

Jordan:             Likewise, Ben, and I hope everyone enjoys the next month on content. There’s a lot more detail coming in our follow up podcast.

Ben:                 Okay. That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to bio on our share notes or you can reach out to him on Twitter where his handle is @jtkoene.

Ben:                 If you have general marketing question or if you want to talk with me about this podcast, you can find my contact information on our show notes or you can send me a tweet @benjshap. If you’re interested in 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.

Ben:                 If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast field, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and will be back on your feed next week to discuss what data you can use to optimize any stage of your marketing funnel. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love you to leave us your view in the Apple iTune’s Store or wherever you listen your podcast.

Ben:                 Okay. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.