Why Technical SEO Matters for Content Marketers Too

August 13, 2014

If there’s content on a website and no one is around to read it, is it marketing?

Maybe, but it’s not very effective.

Getting an audience in front of your content is the most basic, but also one of the most critical parts of content marketing, and organic search traffic is incredibly important to the long-term success of your content.

Reports of SEO’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The cliche “SEO is dead” really refers to the grind-house article and link schemes crested years ago, broken by superior algorithms that shook up the SERPs and left the cheaters in mourning. What’s left is what has always been effective and required for ranking well on Google and other search engines – good old technical SEO.

What is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO is a toolbox of techniques, site fixes, tricks and problem-solving used to improve three key areas: Crawlability, User Experience and Semantics.

It’s a skill set that comes from several disciplines, built over time, partially a check list, and mostly critical thinking. A technical SEO expert is someone who has worked on a variety of websites making code fixes, who follows search engine algorithm changes and tries to think like a web crawler while reviewing a website.

Even though these are not the typical things a creative would encounter day to day, that doesn’t mean creatives shouldn’t be paying attention to Technical SEO. Content marketers can be tech-savvy too–or at least enlist the help of those who are. And they need to be if they want to make the most of their content marketing strategy. When it comes to your content, your audience comes first, but when it comes to the marketing power of that content, how Google sees things is what really counts.

But how do you make sure your content is optimized for more than just your audience before sharing it around the web? And how do you make sure your website is technically sound and readable by search engines before investing the time, the energy and the resources putting killer content on your site and building out your blog? Start by getting familiar with the ways Google–not just your audience–processes your content.

How Google Crawls Content–And Why it Matters for Content Marketers

Humans are not the only readers for your content.

There are dozens of web-crawling bots out there, endlessly navigating through pages, attempting the impossible task of discovering every document on the Web. Making sure that the most important bot, Googlebot, can crawl and read your site properly is paramount.

If a website cannot be crawled, then there is no guarantee anything will end up in Google’s index–making any content marketing you do from your site or to drive traffic back to that site far less effective.

In the past, when content management systems were less search-aware, this was even more difficult. These days, xml sitemaps are automatically generated and robots.txt files are not as necessary. The goal now is to help Google crawl the entire domain while removing speed bumps and dead ends along the way. The reason for this is Crawl Budget. Discovering every document on the Web is a time-consuming task, and Googlebot only has so much time to devote to each domain before having to jump to the next one. If a website is full of redirect loops, broken links, infinite crawl errors, duplicate websites and orphaned pages, then Googlebot will give up and make the best use of its time by going to the next domain in its priority list.

Most of a website is actually invisible, but invisible errors can turn into very visible shortcomings for your users.

Broken links, missing images, weird redirects, default server 404 pages and slow loading speeds are all things that can seriously impact the success of your content by annoying your audience, increasing bounce rates and funneling dropouts as a result. Even worse, since a search engine’s purpose is to return the most useful results to users, they won’t want to serve results from domains with all of these problems–further limiting your content marketing’s reach.

Making Your Content Marketing Search-Aware

User experience problems are devastating for rankings and campaign performance. Finding these site errors is too time consuming to do manually, page by page. Luckily Google provides reports on site errors in Google Webmaster Tools, but those reports aren’t comprehensive and don’t update often. Tools like ScreamingFrog are recommended for finding site errors and creating reports, but they don’t hold anyone’s hand through the process – the user needs to already know what they are looking for.

Matching a document to a keyword query has been a computer science problem for longer than the Web has existed. The first techniques relied on keyword frequency in a document, but there are now much better methods that determine the meaning of a website semantically.

The easiest ways to make sure a search engine can understand content–whether onsite or off–is to make it obvious. For offsite content that you’re promoting around the web, keep your content relevant, build authority by getting your content hosted on sites that Google already recognizes as authorities, use descriptive anchor text in your copy, and so on. For content that’s on your site or in your blog, and, use descriptive title tags, include author tags, organize it with related pages in your site architecture, and so on.

Now that we have Schema.org microformats to use, we can wrap metadata around portions of text and tell search engines what kind of entities they are. Google is getting better at natural language processing, but it still relies on statistically identifying the topics a document contains. The best way to optimize for this is to make sure the language used is varied and descriptive. Shallow content that relies on keyword density isn’t going to cut it anymore.

As a content marketer, you shouldn’t have a problem with text relevance. Write for the user and Google will reward you.

At the end of the day, search engines know there is no such thing as a perfect website. Search engines aren’t looking so much for the best, as they are for the best match. What sites like Google are looking for are the least imperfect, least irrelevant websites to place in the first page of their results. This is what a content marketer should expect out of technical SEO: the best platform to promote your content from–a site that’s technically sound and search engine friendly.

If you’d like to learn more about technical SEO and what to do with a technically sound website, you can download our free eBook on search-aware content marketing.

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