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When SEO research harms you blog content

January 31, 2019 - Marketing - , ,
By: Chris Riley

While we are not experts in search engine optimization (SEO), we are exposed to it on a regular basis, and we understand its value in giving the content we produce wings. In my last post, I talked about a misconception around SEO optimization as a science (rather than actually being part of good content hygiene). SEO is related to what you do after the content is written. Now, I want to discuss how companies regularly harm content before it’s created, with the application of misguided SEO research — something we’ve personally witnessed.

As I mentioned in our last post, SEO activities can actually impact the nature of content. A piece with too much SEO can come across poorly and turn off blog readers, especially technical ones. They might organically arrive at the post out of interest, only to be met with robotic jargon rather than the authentic voice of the practitioner who wrote it. The result could be a negative take on your brand, and a feeling of bait and switch.

Another common SEO activity which can be hugely beneficial but also hugely detrimental to quality content creation is the SEO research a company does (whether one-time or ongoing). This research is done irrespective of any one piece of content, and it’s used to maximize traffic to the company’s site long-term. It’s part of a strategy.

The problem comes when the individual(s) doing the research are not privy to the market. This is especially true with tech companies. A well-seasoned SEO expert is tasked with finding target keywords, but knows little about how those keywords are used. The person knows the relevance of the keywords in terms of search rankings, but not how technologists consume them.

The Challenge

The reason this is a problem is because SEO research will be based on what keywords currently generate the most traffic to the site and blog — but these might be the exact keywords you DO NOT want to optimize against. Let’s take a very specific example in the DevOps market. “Continuous Integration (CI)”, and “Continuous Delivery (CD)” are two terms that accompany DevOps conversation more than 50% of the time. As a result, those two terms have high saturation in the entire DevOps tooling market. Even if the vendor tool is not a CI/CD tool, there is a good chance it may show up in the list if you sell to DevOps engineers.

If you maximize all your content to CI/CD when you are not selling an actual CI/CD tool, due to the share of conversation that CI/CD has, you probably will see a boost in traffic. But what you are measuring is more noise. For example, if your tool is an API monitoring tool, there is a good chance that the CI/CD search is not going to result in strong interest in your destination content.

This is an oversimplified example, but from what we’ve seen, it’s a very common scenario. SEO experts see what seems to be a very common term, but they do not align that term properly to the goal of attracting targeted audiences; instead, their efforts are directed at any DevOps engineer at whatever stage of interest.

How SEO is used in content curation

The reason this matters in terms of content creation is not simply because you could be wasting time optimizing for the wrong things — You could also be wasting time by not knowing how SEO research is used in good content creation processes.

We LOVE when our clients come to us with keywords, because it helps generate the general “themes” that we will curate content by. The process goes like this:

  1. First order and second order keywords are combined to create themes.
  2. Themes are used to suggest topics to our clients.
  3. After content is curated, the first order keywords end up showing up as focus keywords when the content is written and copyedited.
  4. The second order keywords are used in copy as companions to boost the overall relevance of the content to the vendor and the topic.

Or so it should be.

Without a well-directed set of keywords, the themes can be off, the focus keywords can be off, and the copy itself can be misdirected. Fortunately at Fixate, we can spot misguided keywords from a mile a way and can help coach the SEO expert and the vendor on the challenges of the “target keywords” they have selected. We’d much rather have this scenario than no SEO research effort at all.

Without that level of technical expertise, the effort could lead to a polarization of traffic that is not relevant.

SEO research your persona

There are two ways to avoid this challenge.

  1. Educate your SEO expert. Anticipate that this might be a problem and speak with your SEO expert in advance. It’s not fair to expect them to also come from a developer or DevOps background. Their skillset in doing the research is more important. After the research is done, do another review of what was found. You’ll likely iterate a few rounds of feedback from product marketing teams to better advise on what seems relevant (and what doesn’t).
  1. Do SEO research on your company (of course). But also do SEO research on your competitors to the extent that you can, or have budget for. You’ll also want to do research on your persona. Persona SEO is when you look at the keywords that your target audience uses in their conversations (found on social, namely Twitter and LinkedIn). Take the results from each aspect of your research and cross-reference them.

Polarizing your SEO research is something very easy to prevent. And having some SEO research is better than none. All vendors need to do is to make certain that SEO research is not a static process, and that it has built-in iterations with people who understand the market intimately, such as product marketing teams, tech evangelists — and even better, practitioners themselves. This will prevent research from creating an issue that both impacts the quality of the traffic you drive and the content you produce.


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Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.

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