The Content Life Cycle & the SEO Audit

Good order is the foundation of all things.
-Edmund Burke

Training is an extremely important part of the cultural fabric at CopyPress. We believe whole-heartedly that professional and personal improvement is the core of a happy work life. In the Spring, I did an expanded series of SEO training for the staff where we educated everyone from marketing analysts to developers on the entire SEO workflow. We then setup a crowd-sourced SEO audit and strategy system internally so we could take on the occasional pet project and keep our skills fresh as a team. This is important to me so that our team understands how the content life cycle interacts with individual marketing niches respectively.

Based on my years of experience in online marketing I can say the skills we will discuss here can be applied regardless of the type of audit or strategy you are doing. Online PR and social media need to be as focused on competition as SEO,and I think often this is not the case.

By staying conscious of the content life cycle as you move through the data gathering and planning phases of your marketing program, you can assure a well-rounded approach that will yield results.

The Structure

This is how a basic audit we would do for a site that does not yet exist would be structured:

The reason you can tell this is a site that does not yet exist is because we do not explore technical issues per say, however we do tackle competitor issues in the information architecture portion of the audit.

Key things to take away from this:

  1. I like to separate auditing and data collection from strategy. The reason for this is to make things easier for internal staff. The SEO’s boss usually doesn’t care about the data; they just want to know what will be done.
  2. Social media and content strategies are a key part of the strategy. Why? Because it is no longer to keep those items out of a strategy, they are too important to a healthy online marketing campaign.
  3. You can see my preference for education here in the “best practice” documentation we put in. I think its important for people to understand why as much as what.

So which portions of this outline deal with the content life cycle?

All of them.

Content is the core of your website; whether its keywords, information architecture, blog strategy, linkbuilding, or social media optimization, content will be a huge variable.

However since things like keyword research are their own subject and are something we use in later portions of the strategy creation, we will be skipping portions of the above outline to focus on what I feel is most important.

Audit

Information Architecture Audit

In this portion of the audit we are generally collecting data on how the competitor and our sites stack up in terms of IA. We build out IA maps for each site, take screenshots of important UX issues that need to be addressed, and most importantly here look at how Google is handling the indexing of content.

We also begin to collect data on the internal content of the site.

If they have a ton of pages, are there duplicates? How are they handling layers of their site such as categories and product pages in terms of content. How does the pages indexed in Google measure up against their current rankings, both quantity and quality.

We are doing an IA SWOT analysis on our site and the competition. I always say there is no reason to build the road from scratch that your competitor has already paved for you. These SWOT analysis data points will become key in strategy creation. You want to steer clear of the competition’s mistakes, and do what they are doing well but better.

Link Audit

I come from a linkbuilding-heavy background, so we really flesh this part out well in my opinion.

What are we looking for?

1)   Basic link metrics for each site:

  1. Number of links
  2. Number of linking domains
  3. Average Moz Rank and Citation Flow number
  4. Number of social shares for each site (from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Google+)

2)   Industry Averages:

  1. Average Moz Rank and Citation Flow
  2. Average Social Shares
  3. Average number of links
  4. Average number of linking domains

For me finding the industry averages is important because it lets me know what is natural and unnatural for each vertical based on how the sites are performing in the index.

From here we begin to delve into what an optimal profile for this vertical would look like.

Questions we ask:

  1. How many connections can safely be made in a 12 month period?
  2. What should the levels for this outreach look like? Not all of your links should be just the average Moz Rank or any single metric. A well put together link portfolio has inherent layers to it, a mix of high quality and average links that would be attained. Let me be clear that in my opinion linkbuilding is as much about attraction as outbound promotion, so our content strategy for the site will account for some of our acquisition goal.
  3. A list of sites from the competition portfolio that are “must have” targets for connection.

Majestic SEO has a couple of great tools we use here.

  1. I like to use the Link Profile Fight on two most optimal sites to see what the correct distribution of Trust to Citation Flow would look like.

2)   The Clique Hunter is awesome to find groupings of common links

3)   Backlink History gives a great idea of how quickly the sites in the analysis are attaining links, and especially important links compared to domains.

The other core thing we note as we work through this audit is the content being linked to. Are the links coming from PR? Is there special content being utilized? It is important when doing an analysis to really explore how the competition is doing what they are doing. If the competition is utilizing specialized flash-based applications to attract links to their site this is a proven method of link acquisition and should be something that makes it into your strategy.

Strategy

Information Architecture Strategy

We are now ready to take our SWOT analysis from each site and our best practices, and create a winning IA for our site. This is where will decide how everything on the site will be organized. SEO and UX must be the main concepts at the forefront of our mind here. Some stuff is great for SEO, but makes for a convoluted user experience, and on the other hand you can do a lot of cool stuff to increase user experience that can hurt your SEO efforts.

The general way I break down IA is below:

For each of these sections content is a key component of the IA, and this is where keyword bucketing becomes key. Your site architecture should flow from most important terms for driving traffic from search at the homepage level, to mid-tail at the category level, and longer tail as you drill deeper. This isn’t always the case depending on what type of site you are dealing with, but in general it is a best practice.

In this strategy for this process, we begin to build a content development plan for each of the levels. I think it is important to leave places for both evergreen and time stamped content on your site, and this is another idea that will need analysis. Is your core group of terms heavily effected by freshness? If so then a news or blog section may be the best place for this content, with a strategy to periodically refresh and canonical.

This doesn’t mean your content should be built for SEO. Your content should be built for users first, but with SEO in mind. When we construct an IA concept for a site we think about the natural flow to conversion as well, and this goes for content creation also.

With this in mind we are actively attacking both the content and conversion portions of the content life cycle as we work through our strategy.

Linkbuilding Strategy

For us at CopyPress this section of the strategy breaks down into our content and connection portions of our content life cycle. You will note that we layout strategies for both inbound link acquisition from quality content, and outbound connection creation via outreach.

Content

When looking at the content we should create, we go back to our list of linked-to content that the competition has created. From here we provide a list of new content ideas that fit into each category.  Some of the content types we explore include, but are not limited to:

  1. UGC – Is user-generated content a big link driver for the competition? How can we implement this in the site?
  2. Infographics and Images – What type of infographics are working, and where are they getting shared? You can use TheSocialGrader.com for this. From there we outline the style and a list of concepts that we think would work well.
  3. Videos – Are they utilizing video? Even if they aren’t is this a good strategy for the client? What type of video should be created, and how should it be hosted?
  4. Articles – I usually view these as the evergreen content portions of the site. These could include resources, buyers guides, and white papers. We create a list of topics that seem to be popular for sharing.
  5. News and Blogs – Now we move on to the time stamped content. Is this a vertical that would fair well from a separate news and blog strategy? We create an editorial calendar of needed.

Using TheSocialGrader.com’s bulk upload feature and our link data, we can figure out the average number of shares and links that each content type will draw on a piece by piece level, and this will give us the content strategy we need to follow moving forward.

Connections

We have already created an early list of sites we should contact using Clique Hunter so let’s start there. We need to explore these sites and see what type of content would make for a good approach to build a connection. Most quality sites aren’t going to simply allow for low quality guest blogging. We have found that if you can create really valuable content (images and video work well here) and guarantee help in the social promotion of the content, publications will be way more open to connecting. For this reason we create our target list, contact them in a transparent fashion to create the relationship, and work out an idea for content with them that would work. Keep in mind some of these site owners are extremely busy, so having some good content in hand is important too.

Once we have our strategy in play for these sites (ongoing outreach is going to be a necessity), we begin to pull data on new prospects. We have found Alexa to be a great ally in this, as their API allows you to pull sites based on category, traffic level, and geography. The one issue with this is that some of these sites will be ecommerce or corporate websites, but I wouldn’t count those out immediately for outreach dependent on your niche.

Once you have a good list of outreach targets together you should build a strategy for not only outreach, but content management and delivery as well. The worst thing that can happen is getting a bunch of bloggers saying yes to your pitch and not be able to deliver. You need to track your success and use that data to find out how many emails you should send daily, iterate on your outreach emails, and plan for your staffing for this project.

Social Media Strategy

Now we are moving into the curation portion of the content life cycle. Social seeding and curation is vital for your linkbuilding strategy to work.

  1. It will help people find the awesome content you have put on your site. The set it and forget concept with content doesn’t work very well.
  2. It lets you build better symbiotic relationships with your connections. If you are able to get them traffic and links as well, you will have a long term partner.

This shouldn’t turn into a spam strategy.  For this reason I think the techniques that make the most sense are:

  1. Use social ad platforms and establish an ongoing budget. My favorites today are StumbleUpon, Facebook, and Twitter, because you can start with smaller budgets.
  2. You should build and cultivate a strong Facebook Page. There was recently a good article on how to do this using Facebook’s advertising and several startups on TechCrunch. We have utilized a similar strategy with success. The key to this strategy is not to make it into an RSS feed for your site, a place to post only “buy now” messages, and to keep EdgeRank in mind.
  3. Create accounts on good curation portals and make friends with other users. Pinterest, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, and Visually are great places for this.

Your content is only as good as the amount of visibility it gets.

This is another good place to regroup with the conversion portion of the content life cycle. How are you going to convert social users that come to your site? Social traffic often has high bounce rates due to the nature of the traffic. Figuring out how to maximize the value of these users is well worth the time spent experimenting.

Conclusions

SEO has content at its heart. An SEO audit and strategy that doesn’t have the content life cycle well incorporated is bound to fail. Obviously technical SEO is very important, and not something discussed here due to the nature of our focus, but content is just as important in the overall strategic mix. This needs to go beyond getting keywords on pages and links to the site. As we have seen a strategy based on those concepts can verge from flawed to dangerous dependent on the tactics used.

I would love to hear from SEOs that approach content in their strategic work and how they handle it in the comments.

To kick it off I asked some of my homies.

 

 

 

 

About the author

Dave Snyder

Dave began his career online as a well respected Internet Marketing Consultant. He has spoken around the world on the topics of search marketing and social media, and has consulted for some of the worlds largest companies on the topics. He has also been an educator and writer in past careers.

Dave’s passion shifted from a purely marketing focus as he worked with more and more entrepreneurs to build profitable companies, to the creation, construction, and management of startups. This passion was the inspiration behind SteelCast.