Making the Most of Your Content for Blended Search

In the first part of this article, I talked about the ways in which Google’s Universal Search (and other search engines’ blended search) changes the equation for SEO. I tried to get you thinking about what you’re currently doing with your content, and the changes you can make. In this part, I’ll cover that subject in more detail, and talk about using social media to promote your site.

Before I dive back into this subject, let me talk a little about the different kinds of content that can turn up in a blended search. I didn’t cover it in enormous detail in the first part, though I did include a screen shot that illustrated the point. Blended search results can include images, video, news stories, blogs, book listings, PDF documents, and local search results. These kinds of results can turn up for just about anything now. If your content is almost completely text-based, you might see your site pushed down in the SERPs, even if you’ve held an excellent position for years.

So in the first part, I asked to you to take stock of your content, optimize it, and be prepared to create new content. I said that you should have a plan so you can promote your new content on social media sites. But let’s back up for a second. What do you do if you’re stuck about the kind of content you can create to promote your site?

You can try to approach it from the opposite direction. Think of the kind of content that shows up for a blended search, and figure out the best way to take advantage of the format on your site – in a relevant manner. For example, if you’re releasing a new product, you might create a video that explains how to use it. If you sell what many people consider to be a boring product (like duct tape) you might create a blog that features some of the unusual ways it has been used by your customers. You could even create an image gallery, like this one from 3M:

  

If you’re going to be adding fresh content to your web site on a regular basis – and you really should – you need to make it as easy as possible to add. Some large companies use a content management system to maintain their sites. Some CMSes are so complicated that they’re handled by an outside agency. That’s a little ridiculous for a small business; fortunately, there is an alternative.

Blog software is easy to find online and it’s often free to use. Check out Blogger.com or WordPress.org for examples. Most forms of blogging software ask for tags for each entry; that should give a boost to your keywords. Additionally, blogs can be set up to archive entries by category, which gives you another opportunity to get your keywords in.

Lee Odden notes that blogs can be used to publish “a wide variety of content types, such as: company news, industry insight, product announcements, press release or newsletter archives, customer testimonials, user-contributed content, surveys, and lists of resources or how-to tips.” With any luck, that list will help you think about the kinds of content that would be appropriate for you to publish on your site.

It’s usually easy to set up an RSS feed to be associated with a blog. Once you get users subscribing to your content, they’ll return to your site again and again. And they won’t need a search engine to get there!

Search engines will reward you for a good blog. Your visitors will too – as long as you serve their needs. If you do choose to blog, make sure you’re clear in your mind about the blog’s purpose, and that the information it delivers is what your visitors are looking for.

Odden tells the story of brick-and-mortar retailer J&O Fabrics Center, which illustrates the power of a blog. The company “added a blog to its online retail site as a way to archive a monthly newsletter online. Within three months, a part-time writer was hired to post to the blog on a regular basis. The blog now includes entertaining and informative posts that send customers directly to product purchase pages. The links from the blog to the main Web site have helped rankings. J&O Fabrics now competes online with much larger competitors like Jo-Ann Fabrics and enjoys rankings on Google like No. 3 for ‘fabric stores.’”

Before you start promoting your content in social media, you need to take the time to understand it. Social media is not about selling; it’s about having lots of conversations. The trick – one of them, anyway — is to have those conversations with people who are genuinely interested in your content.

Many social media sites feature interest-focused groups that members can join. Users participate actively in these groups, sharing information; many belong to several. Searchles is a social bookmarking site, but I’m going to use them as an example because I’m a member. Here’s an image of the groups I belong to:

 

As you can see, I belong to 11 groups, and most of them are associated with some aspect of the search engine and SEO field. My preferences are set up to send me one email every day that lists all the links posted to Searchles in the previous 24 hours that were saved in at least one of those groups. I’d show you Searchles’ entire list of groups, but it went on for 44 pages the last time I checked.

Think about that for a minute. At 20 groups per page, that’s 880 groups. Searchles is just one social web site (and admittedly not the most popular one at that). With so many options, you’ll almost certainly be able to find several groups on a number of different social sites that would be interested in your content.

As I said before, however, you need to know what you’re getting into. Lee Odden notes that you should jump into social media not as a marketer but as a participant, and sums up social media participation basics as follows:

  • Register and create a profile;
  • Explore the community and “make friends;” and
  • Vote, comment on and submit content.

I would add that if you want to be taken seriously, you might want to submit content from sites other than you own, in addition to your own content.

You may not be happy about needing to change the way you approach content creation on your web site, but let’s face it, this isn’t the first time we’ve had to change for the search engines, and it probably won’t be the last. Thankfully, a lot of the old rules still apply – make a site that’s interesting and you will be rewarded. In fact, if David Davies of the company Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning is to be believed, the search engines have gotten better at tracking which sites are “interesting,” at least from the visitors’ perspective.

“I’ve mentioned before and I’ll mention again, the search engines have the ability to monitor the length of time a visitor spends between visits to that engine,” Davies notes. “If you…only spend 5 seconds [on a site] before hitting the back button Google can infer that the site was not what you were looking for. If it was 5 or 10 minutes before you returned back to Google they could thus infer that you found content you found useful to your query.”

This means that, even with blended search, the basics of SEO are still important. Produce interesting content; create compelling titles; get the word out where people will link to it. Make it easy to link to your content and to tell other people about your content; this is why every article on SEO Chat has buttons to let you add a link to a variety of other social media sites.

What will happen if you don’t optimize for blended search and fail to promote your site in social media? SEO-Space has the answer to that question: “If you do not begin optimizing for universal search results as part of your online marketing strategy now, you may cost yourself more in the end. As you drop in search rankings, you may be forced to increase your pay per click spend driving up your online advertising expenditure.”

The effects for social media could be even longer term. Think about Club Penguin. The young kids and tweens that are using this site and others like it are growing up with social media. And they are your future customers. Good luck!

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