SEO for the Property Sector: Part 4 – Content
If you've paid any interest to the world of digital marketing in the past few years, you're likely to be as sick as I am of the phrase 'Content is King'. However, the role content plays in SEO for property companies is undeniably important.
In this section of our guide, we'll delve into the affect content can have on where your site appears in search results, discuss best practice and address some of the most popular misconceptions surrounding this area.
A Quick Refresher
As we covered in the 'key terms' section of part two of our guide, content refers to any material you post on your site, on your external profiles (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook) or on a third-party site.
The term 'content' is often used interchangeably with text-based articles, but as internet connections speeds have improved and more powerful computing devices proliferated – aural, visual and multi-media material has become increasingly important.
In whatever form it takes, content is the ultimate aim of every search. Therefore, the more of it you produce, the better your chances of appearing in search results. However, it's not a 'build it and they will come' scenario – and content has to be genuinely engaging to prove useful in the eyes of both search engines and your target audience.
The Role of Content in SEO
Content (and the related practice of 'content marketing') is one of the key foundations of a solid SEO campaign, but it's far from being a silver bullet for your lack of visibility on the web. Due to the growing recognition of its importance and because its proponents are so evangelical – there's a lot of hype around what you can achieve with content.
However, while it's not an over-exaggeration to state that it's one of – if not THE – most important factors in SEO, it doesn't exist in a vacuum. And content that isn't supported by a technically healthy website, good user experience, marketing and proper targeting isn't likely to be very successful.
As mentioned, Google takes more than 200 factors into account when determining where to position your site in any given results page. It's therefore impossible for us to know exactly how it assesses your content and what signals it decides are important. However, through a combination of guesswork, experimentation and guidance from the big G itself, some of the most commonly-accepted reasons as to why content is important in SEO (and beyond) include:
As a measure of relevance and authority: Google's goal is to provide the best search results for any given query and to this end, a number of its updates over the past few years have been partly or wholly dedicated to emphasising sites that have good quality content and depreciating those that have 'thin' content or have outrightly duplicated the content of others.
It's also taken this drive for authority further with the introduction of its authorship markup. In brief, this enables Google to connect an author to the content they create – no matter where it's posted on the web.
As a way to appear for key terms: By targeting the keywords you want your site – and business – to be associated with, and crafting content around these, you present Google with signals that your page is related to a given query and greatly increase your chances of showing up for a greater number of relevant search results.
For some queries, Google will also take the recency of content into account when deciding where to place your site. As the company's Amit Singhl explains, this is most likely to occur on searches related to:
- Recent events
- Hot topics
- Events that recur regularly
- Frequent Updates
A way to enhance your social media: When you think of social media, posts on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn probably come to mind. But did you know that content can also be social?
When dealing with channels like the above, you face all sorts of constraints in terms of word count, how your post will appear and how you can present visual, interactive or multimedia content. By making your website a hub for your content, you can hook prospective visitors with a tidbit on social channels and go the whole hog on your site.
While engagement levels (likes, shares and comments) are an undoubtedly important metric to keep track of, not everyone who will want to check out your content will necessarily want to interact with it. Hosting content on-site (where appropriate) gives people a reason to visit you and lets you keep track of who is checking out your offerings and what's proving popular – not to mention getting your products and services in front of the eyes of qualified leads.
Having interesting, non-promotional content will also give you fodder to talk about something other than yourself and your products on social. However, we'd urge you to remember the 80/20 rule when considering how much to trumpet your own stuff on social versus participating in a wider community.
A source of Links: As we discussed earlier – Google can't objectively determine how good your site is and therefore takes links into account as a measure of popularity.Taking to social channels is also a great way to market your content – putting it in front of a target audience that is only a click away from checking it out. People's engagement with your content on social can provide a good barometer for what your target audience is interested in and if they're particularly excited by it, they may even opt to share it.
At a minimum, this is likely to encourage more visitors to take a look, but in some cases you might even receive an equity-passing link to your site (which as we know from part two of this guide is a big thumbs up on the SEO front), as well as encouraging Google to 'read' your content faster.
There's a couple of ways links can be developed via social activity. Firstly, having content shared on some social networks will readily generate links that pass equity (e.g. Google+), however, the vast majority will not and the SEO capabilities of some platforms are dubious. For instance, all links on LinkedIn statuses are redirected and Twitter uses 'nofollow' tags that tell search engines not to follow links posted on the platform (although Google and co. also have access to the raw data from Twitter – also known as the 'firehose' – which doesn't utilise such tags).
The other way that links are generated from social activity is if an interested party posts a link on their blog and/or website that directly points to your content. In practice, however, your content will have to be pretty exceptional to warrant this kind of sharing.
Many studies have been conducted into the relationship between social sharing and a website's ranking potential and while the effects are not yet understood in a concrete way – search engines have confirmed they're paying attention to these signals and there's a clear correlation between sites that enjoy good social sharing activity and those that rank well.
Creating shareable content is no easy task, however, and so some companies opt to seek links out rather than waiting for social serendipity. The mainstay of this 'link-building' is a type of off-site SEO that focuses on connecting with relevant online publications or blogs by posting content related to a specific industry or sector.
However, due to widespread exploitation of link-building – whereby sites accrue as many links as they can from any available source – Google has cracked down on this in recent years.
Google is a lot more choosey about the types of links it pays attention to these days and unscrupulous SEOs could find themselves penalised if they're caught trying to manipulate their website's rank via linkbuilding campaigns.
Enhancing visibility: As mentioned, social activity taking place around your content will encourage search engines to add it to their indexes faster, but content's role in increasing your online visibility doesn't stop here.
By showcasing useful resources, commentary or data on your site, you encourage referral traffic and promote your authority on a specific topic, as well as building a firm relationship between your website and relevant topics in the eyes of Google.
Showcasing your thought leadership: Your website is the modern equivalent of your shop window. By producing genuinely good content around subjects related to your industry or sector, you can present your staff as experts in their field.
This can go some way to creating a favourable impression among prospective clients, as well as prestige from your peers. If your content is of a particularly high standard, it's got the potential to attract editorial interest (e.g. being cited or quoted in the articles of others) and can even result in opportunities to provide further commentary or analysis in related publications.
Sales tool: Producing valuable research and resources takes comparatively more effort than a straightforward text-based article, but can be a key asset in the sales process.
By giving away useful or interesting resources on your site, you can generate a good reputation and long-term trust between your company and your target audience. Not all your prospects will be at a stage in the sales cycle where they're ready to buy, but by keeping them interested with the right kind of resources, when the time comes to part with their cash, they'll be much more likely to consider you.
The above list is by no means exhaustive and given Google's secrecy around its rank-determining algorithm, it's unlikely that we'll ever know just how important content creation and publishing is to your site's relevance. Having said that, hopefully the above present some compelling reasons as to why you should be exploring content as a marketing option.
How to do content for the property sector
The way your company approaches the content marketing element of SEO will differ greatly depending on resources, budget and nature of your organisation. And while we'll try and keep our advice as broad as possible, there are a few considerations likely to affect all parties.
Web development: As mentioned in part three of this guide, web design can play a significant role in both SEO and the general usability of your site. If you're aiming to produce content, there's no point in putting it where it won't be seen. So if your site is out of date, or isn't set up in a way that showcases your latest content, some web development may be required.
Whether in-house or outsourced, having the capability to change your website on the fly will be a boon when it comes to producing content, getting it seen and acted upon.
To gate or not to gate: 'Gating' content refers to putting it behind a barrier of some kind – typically a form users must fill out before they gain access. If you don't have the web development capability to create new landing pages (either through a content management system or directly through a developer), it's something of a moot point. It's a similarly academic issue if you're unable to capture lead information or will be focusing on solely producing blog-style content, rather than in-depth resources like eBooks, webinars and the like.
Gating content is a divisive issue in the content community and in our opinion, there's benefits to both options. Simply giving away content will make sense for some types of content and gating will be more appropriate for others. To briefly sum up the pros and cons:
Un-gated content pros:
- More people will read it
- Better for promoting sharing
- Better for SEO
- More likely to be linked to.
Un-gated content cons:
- Might not necessarily be read by the right audience
- Less likely to capture leads
- Less actionable intelligence collected on site visitors
- Negates the ability to nurture leads (e.g. sending them an email follow-up after they download a resource).
So what would we recommend? A bit of both. Giving away content on your site is a must if you want to be found by the right people. However, if you want to get involved in lead generation, gated content is an unparalelled tool.
It allows you to ascertain which stage of the purchase process your leads are likely to be at and enables you to offer them targeted resources in the right place at the right time. However, while the feedback loop of data this generates is immensely useful, it'll take a lot of effort to capitalise on properly.
For starters, you'll need the resources to create and adapt content, market it properly, nurture leads and analyse the information you collect. And that's without even getting into advanced practices like A/B testing, where you switch up elements of a page or resource to see which converts better.
To some degree, the complexity of your product or service will also play a role in which route would be better for you to take. If it's relatively simple to understand (e.g. buying or renting a property), or easy to offer a sample or free trial of (e.g. comparison or database software) then un-gated content might suffice.
However, if your offerings are particularly complex, only appeal to a relatively niche audience, or can't be readily demonstrated without a significant commitment on the part of the customer, it could make sense to go down the gated route to ensure you're consistently targeting the right people.
Creating content: Businesses are often keen on digital marketing and SEO, but despite the best intentions, many fall astray when making their first forays into unfamiliar practices or engaging in activities that aren't directly seen to be fee-earning.
While we've discussed some of the finer details in other posts, some of the most common barriers to content creation include:
- Not getting the buy-in from management or the wider team
- A lack of understanding of the value of content among general staff
- A lack of understanding about the purpose of content
- Time constraints
- Not knowing what to produce
There's no silver bullet for these woes, but by arming yourself with the right facts and processes, you can mitigate the impact of these problems. For instance, there's nothing better to spur your own efforts than a little envy – so if your superiors or wider team members question the value of content, simply pointing to a competitor who's doing it well can work wonders.
Similarly, when it comes to what to produce, the lucrative keywords, questions and common issues you've undoubtedly uncovered during the research phase of your campaign will make a great starting point. Once you've started rolling content out, you can use data to ascertain what's popular among your target audience and focus on more specific content of this type.
Time constraints are a perennial consideration and there's no way round the fact that marketing activities will almost always be pushed back in the face of "real" work. However, you can take this into account by setting up an editorial calendar and allowing contributors a generous deadline for their content.
To make sure your content efforts don't fall under the radar, you should trumpet your successes whenever possible and reward your best-performing authors.
As this is a beginner's guide, we've skirted over a lot of the in-depth elements of content creation, research and marketing – and it's fair to say we've only covered the tip of the iceberg in terms of how you can use content as an effective marketing and SEO tool.
So if you've any questions or want to share your experiences, don't hesitate to leave a comment below or give us a shout on Twitter.
And if you're looking for a more detailed account of how online marketing works for the property sector, be sure to download our beginner's guide today.
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