Focus shifts from links to engagement at BrightonSEO


By Chris Lee

The biannual BrightonSEO conference this month offered the opportunity for the UK’s leading online marketers to gather and discuss best practice in search. At previous BrightonSEO events, one emerging theme has been the growing importance of inbound links following the Google Penguin algorithm updates of recent years. This April, however, the onus appears to have shifted towards the user-friendliness of sites as a mark of ‘popularity’ by which Google in particular ranks sites.

Engagement is key to ranking

While public relations and social media professionals have long touted the importance of engagement – typically, retweets, Google plus ones, Facebook likes and LinkedIn shares – but ‘engagement’ should also account for the way visitors interact with website content. This is because Google looks to reward ‘popular’ websites, ones which keep visitors and provokes them to search for the brand on Google, explained Tim Grice of search and digital marketing consultancy Branded3.

Grice said that engagement is key to overcoming ranking problems brought about by the Google Panda update, which downgraded sites with weak content. To rank it is not solely a question of links, according to Grice – it is about engagement – so websites need to be useful to visitors and include calls to action. Marketers need to consider the entire decision-making process and be mindful that not every visitor is ready to convert there and then. This means webmasters need to create better, more useful and engaging websites.

“[Previously], no one cared about building better websites. 2014-15 will be the year of building better websites,” Grice argued.

How to achieve virality

Another preoccupation with marketers is how to make content ‘go viral’ and be shared widely across the Web.

Malcolm Coles of popular Trinity Mirror-owned website Us Vs Th3m keynoted about how the publisher managed to create viral experiences with its content, despite having no marketing or PR budget.

The site was launched in May 2013 and Coles explained how the aim was to get traffic from social media rather than SEO, while many of Trinity Mirror’s other online properties are very reliant on search.

For Us Vs Th3m, just six per cent of traffic comes from search, while nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) comes from social referrals. Its games – which include such satirical titles as ‘Where’s Damascus?’, ‘Badger Penalty Shoot-out’ and ‘How much are you hated by the Daily Mail?’ – have proven to drive massive amounts of attention from major sites – and with it, links.

“Suddenly all these news websites were picking up [our content] and linking to it. That was quite nice,” Coles told delegates.

Data leads content strategy

Coles was keen to explain how traffic data helped Trinity Mirror develop its content strategy. Between 9pm – 4pm The Mirror receives more desktop visits than mobile, but outside those hours mobile reigns, and that often includes Facebook activity.

“In some ways social and mobile come together. Facebook and mobile are essentially the same thing on social. Your analytics might hide this from you. Facebook is nearly all about mobile and it’s really hard to see [unlike Twitter],” Coles said.

Visitor behaviour is core to understanding what encourages people to share, Coles added. For example, people do not tend to share swear words on social networks.

Timeliness is important too, as topical subjects receive the most interest. This often means Us Vs Th3m’s coders have to turn around games in an hour and to capture attention, a lot of A/B testing goes into getting headlines that sell the click.

“It is incredibly hard to get it right,” Coles warned.

Coles recommends brands ask the following questions of their creative content team:

· Are your teams set up in a way that allows you to create amazing content?

· How do they sit together?

· How are ideas acted on?

· How do they work together?

· How do approvals work?

· Have you considered the visitor’s screen size?

“If you can get a set of people to be interested in something, other sites will write about it – some will try to steal it so write about it in a way that they have to link to it,” Coles advised.

Coles concluded that marketers should consider creating content for niche audience, so that they can seed it to their network. Find the audience and see whether that leads to link building because the influencers in that sector will see people sharing it.

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