Content strategy is where the worlds of search engine optimization (SEO) and web experience engineering collide and it’s a huge business opportunity. While this is a highly technical area it is the Executives of the business that MUST direct and control the strategy. This does not mean they need the technical skills to implement but they CANNOT delegate the vision and direction of the business. This article is intended as an Executive Introduction, so we try to stay at a high level.
Content strategy has lots of moving pieces and the interactions are complex, but the concepts are not. The goal is to direct the creation of content that scores well for SEO (the search engine robots) and creates a web experience worth talking about. Without optimization no one will find your business in the maze of internet content and delivering anything short of a great experience will just embarrass the business. The is where Executives earn the big bucks.
Content does not exist in a vacuum and must be managed in a highly fluid competitive environment. Competitors are in the market attempting to beat your strategy and when you start to make changes they will react. To win you must innovate and defend at the same time.
Content strategy breaks down into text and images and collectively they need to convey the business message to the visitor. The message must be easy to understand and on target. Much easier said than done. Let’s start with the text side of this challenge.
Step one is to understand your current message, and this brings the challenge of how to see that message clearly. In our planning process our tool of choice for visualizing the message is a word cloud. Its converts tons of tabular data that technicians work with into a visual that smart Executives can quickly understand. Our agency manages PPC and the core of our message is “AdWords Experts” and here is what our message cloud looks like.
The size of the word is the weight of the word within our message and the color tells us the class of word. Examples of a word class are Verbs, Nouns, or Adjectives. Nouns, as a person, place, or thing are normally the core of the search query. Adjectives are the claims being made and are usually qualifiers in the search query. Verbs are rarely part of the search query, but they are essential for the “Call to Action” needed in all web experiences. The weight of a word is calculated from occurrences and hierarchical position. For example a title word has a much higher weight than the same word in the body text. There is no ideal mix of colors but if your message cloud has no big blue words that could be a problem.
Next, we run the same data analysis for the major competitors to give us an idea of how the messages vary. This gives us a starting point in the strategy development. This is the first block of our Content Strategy document, allowing our entire team to read the tea leaves. When dealing with text it is one thing to have data and quite another to understand inferences and trends. Let’s just say that in this area there is lots of art mixed with the science.
You will notice that we like word-clouds as a method for visualizing data and so our next process is what we call a battle cloud. This is a cloud that represents the battle between our client’s site and their competitor.
In a Battle Cloud the size of the word is driven by the higher weight of the site that won the competition. The color indicates who won.
The intensity of the color indicates how much the competition was won by. The deeper the color the more decisive the win or loss. The scale of this is shown on the legend under the cloud. We use this to manage the balance in this competition.
Before someone thinks that this is all they need to know let me tell you that life is not that simple. SEO has eligibility and score, and it is a density calculation with a keyword stuffing penalty. So, the game is not won by just stuffing more occurrences of the word onto the page. To manage this you must clearly understand and remember this rule:
The best way I have found to explain this to Executives is to relate this to a fixed budget. The content directs how the budget is spent but if you want to spend more of your budget on a word you must take it from some other word. In content strategy, points are not created, only distributed.
At this point someone has their hand raised and wants to know how they get more points. Fair question but you probably are not going to like the answer. Points come from your online reputation much like your reputation in the physical world. There is nothing fast, free, or easy about it but it can be done. Speak at events, write books, share your expertise, and engage with your market. This is how you build points and in the industry you will often hear this expressed as the site’s authority.
Next, we must broaden our vision of the competitive landscape because its very easy to win a battle but lose the war. For this we have a War Cloud. In this cloud the size is the high value just like the Battle Cloud, but the color is now used to indicate the competitor that won. The intensity of the color tells us how much they won by over the home site. This allows us to pick our battles based on the reward and effort involved.
A rookie might think that getting everything to solid green is the goal but that’s not thinking strategically. You want to win but only by the smallest margin. You want to beat your competitor, but you do not want to crush them. It is a waste of resources to overkill the enemy and you will need those resources for other battles.
This is where we are today, but this journey is just beginning. Next steps in our technology will be clouds to support PPC and SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) and we are already coding these.
The PPC cloud will visualize the opportunity size, word class color, and quality score intensity. The SERP Cloud will visualize the strategic search query words, with aggregate position size, quality score color, and opportunity size intensity. Our database is designed to show trends because the trend is more important than the current value.
Once the Executive has wrapped their head around the data the real fun begins. If you think about the data as the tea-leaves, then the art is in reading the tea-leaves and developing a war winning strategy. The data will not tell you what the prospective customer is thinking as they interact with your web experience. This requires a creative leap and an understanding of human emotions in the web experience. Hardware and software can help by providing simple facts, but it requires warmware of the humankind to understand the emotions and meaning extracted from the language. Ultimately emotions are what drive sales.
Trust me when I tell you that I could go on for days and days with this, but this is a good start to your Executive Education. Learn to understand these tools, develop plans to exploit what you learn, and then get ready to do this over and over as our competitor reacts to your changes. The battle will be tough and fraught with danger; but to the winner go the spoils. So, stay focused and out-think your competitors.
If you want help or coaching in this area, please reach out to us. We would be glad to compete for those roles in your team. As a player we can assist with the execution of plans. As a coach we can help you think through the tough issues and provide you with technical insights.
Our next article will explore image-based content strategy followed by case studies that mix both.