Newsletter #17

Senior marketing roles, faster rankings and the fundamental flaw of SEO tools

The weekly newsletter for content marketers seeking exponential growth in their work and personal lives.

Links

πŸ”₯ How to Earn a Senior Content Marketing Role [Animalz]

Animalz' Marketing Director Devin Bramhall shares her best advice for leveling-up and earning a senior role in content marketing. Spoiler: being a good marketer isn't enough.

"My own career has been successful, but hard-won. My marketing skills got me started, but only took me so far. And that’s when I discovered the harder, but more valuable, lessons of career advancement."

πŸ”₯ How Long Does It Take to Rank in Google & How To Speed It Up [Cognitive SEO]

Every customer I've ever had has asked some variant of "how long does it take rank?" Now, instead of waxing lyrical about the idiosyncrasies of each website/industry/article, I'm just going to point people to this post.

"Seeing results with SEO usually takes from 6 months up to one full year (even for experienced SEOs). But it can also take longer, because it depends on very many factors. Of course, it can also take less."

πŸ”₯ Why Marketing Analytics Hasn’t Lived Up to Its Promise [Harvard Business Review]

As the industry's fascination with metrics - concise, easily-defined performance indicators - grows from strength to strength, I'm seeing a new problem appear: we find ourselves overwhelmed with too much information and too little context. HBR provides a succinct write-up of the challenge we're all facing.

"...data libraries often look like the proverbial cluttered closet, where it is hard to separate the insights from the junk."

πŸ”₯ Strange Attraction [Tom Critchlow]

This is a great hypothesis with huge relevance to service businesses: lead generation is a chaotic system, and instead of focusing our energy on the minutiae of any individual lead, we should aim to shape "system-level outputs" instead.

"In this post I’m going to break down my personal system and philosophy for generating leads for my consulting practice - embracing the chaos of generating warm leads from real humans."

πŸ”₯ Semantic content optimization with entities [Kevin Indig]

Kevin Indig sheds light on the murky world of search entities, and makes a compelling case for entities becoming the next-frontier of content and search optimization.

"Google seems to restructure its whole approach to indexing based on entities... Understanding entities and how Google uses them in search sharpens our standards for content creation, optimization, and the use of schema markup."

Opinions

The epistemic blindspot of SEO tools
SEO tools like Ahrefs and Clearscope play a critical role in content marketing, but serious problems arise when marketers develop an over-reliance on these tools, and place too much stock in the backwards-facing, highly-contextual, highly-simplified metrics they generate.

Here's an example I regularly run into: Clearscope.

Clearscope analyzes the SERP for a given keyword, and uses the characteristics of top-performing content (down to individual keywords) to recommend a format for "better" content. In short, it's designed to help you beat the existing results at their own game.

There's a critical blindspot in this process: it ties you into emulating the current search results, creating a myopic focus on a single dimension on which you can out-compete existing content: comprehensiveness. In the Clearscope lexicon, "better" content is more "complete" content, with a more rigorous set of related keywords and concepts built into the article structure. An indirect result of this ethos: "better" content is also longer content, by virtue of more opportunities to include relevant entities in the article structure.

But there are serious problems with this approach. We're shifting the primary focus of our content from reader to search engine. We're encouraging marketers into an arms race to build the longest, most unwieldy content imaginable. We're ignoring the myriad other ways we could "outcompete" existing content - contrarian angles, personal experience, stronger social proof - and succumbing to a fundamental flaw of all SEO tools: assuming that the current SERP represents the optimum strategy to match intent.

It doesn't. It represents the best strategy so far.

Seeing the SERP for a target keyword dominated by ten round-up articles might mean that round-ups are the optimum way to meet the search intent. It may also mean that a better vehicle for the information simply hasn't been tried. This is extremely common: though there's a huge amount of content in the world, that content is spread - unevenly - across a huge number of domains. Common formats from one industry are often novel and un-explored in another.

The problem is compounded by the prevalence of SEO tools. We like Clearscope scores and Ahrefs metrics because they transmute a vastly complex world into something we can immediately parse and share with others. The tools' "more of the same" ethos is easy to understand, easy to communicate, and perceived as low risk. The more popular these tools become, the more copycat articles we write, and the more homogenous the search results become.

This "low risk" approach is problematic. It forces every content marketer to compete on a single playing field: length. As I know from hard-earned experience, there will always be another marketer willing to write something longer, more detailed, more "complete." The more commonplace these formats become, the more jaded and indifferent searchers become, accelerating an already rapid descent to the bottom.

In a world increasingly dominated by "data-driven" article formats, it's those marketers with the foresight to experiment, to eschew overly-simplified data and try novel ways to meet the search intent, that will see the greatest results. If ignoring data sounds cavalier and arrogant, it's important to remember that all SEO metrics are simplistic heuristics for an analytical process we - as professional marketers - can make in seconds:

  • Is this content good?

  • What could make this content better?

  • What's missing from these search results?

  • Is there a better way to communicate this information?

Data is hugely useful, but for as long as people can offer better answers to these questions than any SEO tool, skilled intuition and experimentation should remain the ultimate arbiter of content strategy.

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