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What SEOs Can Learn From Brand Marketers

Episode Overview: In 2019 Google released several algorithm updates that shifted focus toward improving the user experience. The recent updates forced SEOs to re-evaluate a growing essential component to SEO – The important role great copywriting plays in SEO. Join host Ben as he continues his conversation with Aimclear’s VP of Product Innovation Michelle Robbins about what SEOs can learn from brand marketers about copywriting’s valuable role in creating content.


  • An essential tactic SEOs can learn from brand writers is the importance of writing naturally compelling content.
  • Creating a narrative story that ties all marketing channels together instead of relying on one channel for traffic should be a key component to every SEO’s strategy plan.
  • Depending on the vertical they work in, SEOs will need to balance creative storytelling and tactics like keyword optimization and determine which strategies will work best for particular situations.


Ben:                  Welcome to Integrated Brand SEO Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day talking about how you can think about how your brand is impacted by SEO, and how SEO impacts your brand. Joining us for Integrated Brand SEO Week is Michelle Robbins, who is the vice president of product innovation at Aimclear. Which is an integrated, digital marketing agency that focuses on elevating brands to beloved status by reaching everyone, ranging from uber focused audiences to mass market branding. Aimclear integrates paid and organic search, social bleeding edge creative PR data, and human expertise, and performance marketing so you can make more money. Yesterday, Michelle and I talked about why brand marketers think everything is content. And today, we’re going to continue the conversation by talking about what SEOs can learn from brand marketers. Okay. Here’s the second installment of Integrated Brand SEO Week with Michelle Robbins from Aimclear. Michelle, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Michelle:           Thanks Ben. It’s good to be back.

Ben:                    Pleasure to have you back on the show. We got started off yesterday talking about your philosophy that brand marketers understand that everything that is consumer-facing is actually content, whether it’s a phone call from your sales team, a billboard from your brand team, your SEO, your on-page contents. Anything that’s consumer-facing is essentially content, right? Data that your consumers are bringing in, and, for the most part, Google understands those signals and it’s impacting what’s happening on the ground for SEOs. Talk to me a little bit about what SEOs can learn from brand marketers. What are some of the principles that brand marketers apply that are relevant to the search community?

Michelle:           I’d say copywriting. I’d say the importance of great copy. I think that SEOs have always understood that content is king. We talk about that a lot. But when it comes down to actually writing the copy, sometimes there’s a bit of a disconnect. It’s getting much better, especially as Google rolled out the BERT algorithm changes last year. That helped in refocusing everyone on context, and copy and context, and the importance of that more so than the importance of architecture and structure of content, right? Because brand marketers don’t traditionally think about those kinds of things. They think about, “Is this copy that a consumer will respond to, and react to, and get excited about?” And that is their focus. Whereas SEOs will look a director for, “We need to appeal to…” Or, “We need to optimize for this keyword.” Or “This key phrase.” Or, “This topic.” And those are two competing goals sometimes, right? So I think what SEOs can learn from brand marketers, is how to write more naturally compelling copy and content. How to get more natural content out into the world.

Ben:                    Michelle, I actually think that copywriting is one thing. And I’m interested to hear why you phrased it that way because when I think of brand marketers, what I’m really thinking is about storytelling. And I think there’s an important distinction there. That you said, “Brand marketers are thinking about writing copy that resonates, that tells the story to the end consumer.” And so yesterday we talked about why the consumer focus is important. But I think that brand marketers think about telling a story and get information across in a consumable way that is essentially narrative-driven, not just trying to get the important words onto the page. Talk to me a little bit about the difference between what you see as storytelling as copywriting, and then really what’s keyword optimization?

Michelle:          So an example that I would use is, think about a billboard, right? Most billboards are visually-driven with short copy that you have to capture someone’s attention immediately and convey a narrative, right? You would never keyword stuff a billboard, right?

Ben:                    No, of course not.

Michelle:          But then I think it bears considering for doing work with SEO, is do we need to keyword stuff our other content? How important is it that this particular phrase we’re targeting exists in this piece of content, is that necessary? And a lot of people think it really is still very necessary. And an example that isn’t good for a podcast, and I’m going to try and remember because it’s a great example. If you do a search for, “Why does my TV look weird?” I think that’s the search that you can do. And the results that pull up have everything to do with what’s called the Soap Opera Effect. I didn’t even know this was a thing, but it is. There’s a thing called the Soap Opera Effect, and Google doesn’t return results with the phrase, “Why does my TV look weird.” or, “TV looks weird.” in any of the top results. It returns results for Soap Opera Effect because Google knows that what you’re looking for is information about Soap Opera Effect, not about weird TVs.

Ben:                   A couple of different things. I’m going to bring it back to the keyword stuffing for billboards before we get into the Soap Opera Effect. But, you wouldn’t keyword stuff a billboard because Google isn’t looking at the billboard to decide whether it’s going to show that billboard to the people driving by based on the copy. So to me the devil is in the details, but tricks for SEOs is that there is a rite of passage that SEOs are trying to meet to actually get visibility. In other channels that problem doesn’t exist. It’s really a compensation question whether their ad is going to be served, as opposed to the type of criteria and content that they’re producing.

Michelle:          So an ad being served against a particular topic is different. That’s something you can 100% control. You can tell Google, “If someone searches for this, show our ad.” I’m talking about organic ranking. I’m talking about organic visibility, and that’s typically the domain of SEOs. SEOs are more concerned with organic visibility than the page showing up, right? And so my points about the Soap Opera Effect, is that you no longer need to keyword stuff because Google does understand what you’re looking for without you explicitly telling it.

Ben:                   So that I think is important, and that’s really what you mentioned about the BERT update is, Google is getting better and better and more sophisticated at natural language processing. And they’re able to understand intent, not necessarily on the page level, but now down to the paragraph and sentence level, right?

Michelle:         Right.

Ben:                   They’re really able to make the correlation between something as simple as TV looks weird and soap opera effect, which are words that are obviously very different, right?

Michelle:         Right.

Ben:                   There’s not a direct modification of the original term.

Michelle:         Sure. But going back to the billboard. Billboards typically don’t say explicitly what they’re trying to convey. They use creative copy to capture your attention. They don’t explicitly say, “Click here and buy this now.” Right? Or “This is a car.” Right? They show a car, they have an emotional copy to try and drive you towards developing a brand affinity without forcing their end goal on you. A lot of copy that is written for SEO purposes tends to be unnatural. We’ve all done it, right? You’ve gone to a site and you’ve read something and you’re like, “Well, this is highly optimized for this phrase, but does it make sense?” Does it sound natural? Is it compelling? Does it tell a story? You’re more constrained with storytelling if you have to be sure to populate certain words within that story, right? Because then you’re trying to develop a story around a word instead of developing a story.

Ben:                  Well, so what’s the lesson here for SEOs? Do we scrap keyword optimization and start doing creative storytelling and copywriting? It seems like there has to be a balance here.

Michelle:        Yeah, I don’t think it’s binary. I don’t think it’s binary. I think it depends on the vertical you’re in, the channel that the content is geared toward, and what you’re trying to convey. I think if you have a great story to tell but you’re afraid we can’t tell the story this way because it doesn’t include this phrase, then you’ve missed the point, right? Because at the end of the day, what people do when they land on your site is more important than an, “I understand it’s chicken egg.” If you don’t rank … If the tree falls in the forest no one hears it, does the tree fall, right? So I understand it is tricky, which is why your entire marketing plan should not be ranking in Google. And if that is, then you’re in more trouble than you know.

Michelle:         And this also goes back to what SEOs can learn from brand marketers, and that’s the importance of having a multichannel integrated approach, right? Not relying on one source of traffic on one channel for all of your visibility, and figuring out how to tie all of the channels together. I mean, that’s something else that SEOs can learn from brand marketers. But I think most importantly, it is how to tell a narrative story. How to tell a story. How to write compelling copy in a narrative form that is not unnatural and geared ultimately for a machine and not a person because machine’s getting closer to having person level understanding. The gap is not as wide as it used to be, but people are still acting as if we have this really wide gap.

Ben:                  So Michelle, fundamentally what I’m hearing is that the idea of telling a story and being narrative-driven and communicating in a way that resonates with your consumers, is something that Google is going to better understand and collect signals from all different parts of your business. And that the modification in behavior that SEOs need to make, is to start thinking less about keyword optimization and more towards the narrative that you’re trying to get across.

Michelle:         Yes. Yeah, absolutely. And working with other departments on, “Are we all on the same narrative, right? Are all on the same page about the story we’re trying to tell to our consumers? Are we all on the same page about how we’re defining and presenting the brand or the product as a service?”

Ben:                   And I think that’s important and I think it’s valid advice. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Michelle Robbins, vice president of product innovation at Aimclear. Tune back in tomorrow morning to hear more of my conversation with Michelle when we discuss how you can incorporate SEO into your integrated marketing efforts. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Michelle, you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact her on Twitter, where her handle is Michelle Robbins, M-I-C-H-E-L-L-E R-O-B-B-I-N-S. Or you could visit her company’s website, which is, A-I-M-C-L-E-A-R .com.

Ben:                   Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle Voices of Search on Twitter, and my personal handle is Ben J Shap, B-E-N, J, S-H-A-P. If you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.

Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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