I am a content marketer if you want to put things in simple terms. I help businesses identify their marketing personas, guide business owners down a path for building sound strategy for their online presence and then work to implement content to generate leads, acquire new customers and retain them. The correct term for this whole process is inbound marketing but many people are not yet familiar with the term or the process.
The content I'm involved in creating is specifically for the identified marketing personas of the client. Producing this kind of content obviously requires the first, most basic step in inbound marketing - identify, in detail, the marketing personas.
What actually happens in the early phases of working with clients (and sometimes even months later) are a lot of conversations about ranking number 1 on Google for some keyword or other. Everyone wants to know the secret to showing up on that front page because that's all we've heard for countless years. Unfortunately there are many online professionals who haven't gotten the memo that this has changed and actively scare businesses into working with them by constantly pulling their attention back to it at the very same time we're trying to de-program this concept. We have all been trained that being online and being successful can only happen with page one ranking. So, when someone says "I want to rank number one" I want to respond "yeah, you and everyone else who owns a business". Of course most of the time I don't say it. Or, at least not right away since it just falls on deaf ears until there is time to learn more about how everything really works.
Why Keyword Ranking Isn't the Marketing Goal to Pursue
Let's examine why everyone thinks this should be the goal and what happens today if you follow this path. First of all, even if things were still the same in how engines rank sites (they aren't) there are only 10 positions on page one for any search. Just 10! If there are only 10, or even 20 businesess on the face of the earth who do what you do then you may be okay with this line of thinking and actually get success. Usually there is way more than 10 and if you're just coming to the table with this goal today your odds of success are even worse because your site doesn't have the credibility for the engine to give it priority over sites that have been around much longer than yours. With that in mind are you better to drive hard toward an impossible goal, try to find a path around it or just go and see what the big search engine says you ought to do.
It's very simple really, the biggest engine out here doesn't talk about ranking, they talk about building a quality website, a user friendly experience, in a word - substance. They also go on to give some advice on the technicalities that are best left to your website developer who would work in conjunction with your website designer (yes, they are TWO different roles). What they don't say is work as hard as you can to rank well for a bunch of keywords. They are very serious about moving us all away from this rabid obsession with keyword ranking. They have taken away our ability to see what words are bringing people to our websites to help encourage us to stop thinking this way.
Who Is the Search Engine's Customer?
How about we stop focusing on our own goals and look at things from another perspective for just a moment. If I am a search engine, who is my customer? The knee jerk response here is to answer that businesses are but is that accurate? Sure they are the ones buying the services, so from cash flow point of view they qualify, but ultimately the engine is in business to serve the people doing the searching.
Does it serve the engine's customers well if the results don't deliver what the user is actually hoping to find? Of course not. Over the past years of online search there have been millions of people cranking out websites and many of them learned to manipulate the engines with keywords and basically hijack the front page away from some very good businesses who could better serve the needs of the people. What did the people say when they found themselves the victim of a fraudulent site or found a bunch of shoddy sites filled with links and advertisements? Did they aim their negative experience at the "businesses" ranking on page one? Nope. The search engine takes that one on the head. From the consumer side the search engine is garbage because "I can't find what I need there".
As a business person (who else would still be reading this article?) you must be able to see why that scenario would have to change. To be able to sell services to businesses, engines must have a robust volume of people using their product. If the people searching go away because they don't find value then so does the product the engine can offer to the businesses.
Back to you
You or rather your business website, are ultimately the product the engine "sells" to the searching consumer. To provide value your website must provide quality, honesty, integrity, transparency and information. It must be easy to navigate and it must answer the questions people have about your business. The keywords still have a role, afterall the engine is a tool for indexing content on the internet - like a library index system finds books in the library - but it's not just about the keywords. The better job your website, and overall online presence, can do at delivering on these features, the more traffic it will receive from the engines. A side note here, by doing these things you get more traffic that is qualified to become a lead and customer.
Who Are You Talking To?
On top of all of this, online search has become so much more personalized. Engines have long had the ability for you to create an account with them. These days they use this account to round up a little information about you, your habits, your station in life, your hobbies and so on. Why? To help weed out things in your online searches that you probably aren't interested in. Add location based information - where you are when you conduct the search, whether you might be looking for a nearby business, and what kind of device you're using and there is opportunity for even more refined results.
How Many Page 1's Are There?
Because of all the changes, page one can be a unique experience from one person to the next for any particular word or phrase. Add to that the subtleties of whether someone is seeking information to write a report, fix something they already have or make a purchase and then you have a dilemma as to the value of that ranking. I hope at this point you can see the economic problem this could present if you're spending time, money and staff resources focusing on what will pop up in the search engine screen on a particlular phrase. This is no longer a valid benchmark for online marketing success.
What Does Google Want from Me?
As a content marketer and extention of the businesses I work for, they want me to produce quality, unique, valuable material for site visitors and make a clear path directing them where to go next on the site. They want to see NATURAL link building, not artificially generated links (meaning you can't be rushing out to find places to stamp links to your website to make this happen). By the way, Google can tell whether links are natural or not so don't waste your time on the outdated practice of link farming. They expect businesses to predict, from their experience, what type of information the user will want and have it sitting there waiting to be picked up. They expect a logical arrangement of the information so the user doesn't have to spend a lot of time looking for it on the site. They judge the quality by how many natural links are accumulating to your site and who those links are coming from.
Websites for Phones and Tablets (Mobile)
The most often missing piece from well established businesses these days that the engines want is mobile website design or responsive design. So much so that they now use that as a ranking factor in delivering results when there are options. If your site doesn't perform well from a phone or tablet (ipad for instance) then you may not appear in results for a consumer who is searching from them. You just cut yourself right out of the running if you don't address mobile website performance. Since mobile device use is growing at a rampant pace this is a great place to redirect your energy if you have been focused and failing at keyword ranking.
Don't get your head turned by the flashy ads and slick presentations that rivet your attention and stir your fears about being on page one of search (or "coming up" in social media). The world is still rampant with this dialogue and will likely continue to be as long as there are people willing to pay the fees to support it (and email boxes to catch the spam). Some businesses exist solely on this principle and having things change has destroyed their business model so they work hard to keep it alive by preying on those who aren't up to speed.
Focus on what you do and make sure you "put the hay down where the horses can get it" as I'm fond of saying. Take steps to present to the world, via your website, all about what you do and how you do it in honest discussions using content and online channels that point to resources on your website. Make sure the people building your website follow Google Webmaster Guidelines (you should know what they are too by the way)
To guide your efforts in telling your story on the web, start by identifying all of your marketing personas - it's a bit of a process but it will make generating the right content for your site much easier. Tell your story in terms of what they are looking for, answering their questions, anticipating and solving their problems. You will receive immediate business value from your website and not risk getting kicked out of search results - whatever term is used - due to misguided shortcuts.