How Do SMEs Affect SEO? (And Why Do You Need Them?)


Published: January 13, 2023

A subject matter expert (SME) is a team member or consultant with a deep knowledge of or extensive experience in an industry. Working with these professionals unlocks a world of next-level expertise you may not get from your core team alone. Better yet, you can use SMEs in every business area, including improving your search engine optimization (SEO). Today, we’re looking at how SMEs affect SEO and how you can use them to improve your search ranking and reach online:

Why Should You Use a Subject Matter Expert in Marketing?

If you already have a good marketing team that’s dependable and capable, you might wonder why you’d need to add an SME. Is it really worth it to pay or partner with another person just because they think they know more about certain topics or industry segments than your team? An SME partnership, especially in marketing, isn’t about bringing someone onto your team to act as an overlord on a project. Think of them as additional research tools. They give you the exact information you want every time.

Your team already does online research about specific content topics, right? But sometimes they can’t find exactly what they’re looking for online. An SME can provide those answers through stories of real-world experience. And if they can’t, they likely have another connection who can. Here are some more benefits of using SMEs for marketing:

Hacking Their Name Recognition

Many SMEs earn their titles by becoming well-known names in their industry. Whether they create content on their own, speak at conferences, or just have a solid reputation in your field, working with a well-known name can help your business. Think about collaborations in other areas of marketing. When a celebrity partners up with a cosmetics company to create a new line of lip gloss, their audience takes notice. Even if the celebrity’s audience didn’t have fans of the cosmetics company before, it’s on their radars now.

Even if you’re not directly selling a product or service through your content marketing, name recognition still helps. Someone who admires or follows your SMEs work is more likely to click on your content if they see your SME’s byline.

Related: How To Promote SMEs for More Brand Visibility

Staying Updated on Industry Trends

Your experts know everything that goes on in their industry or niche. From new product releases to best practices, they know what’s going to blow up before it does. Working with a subject matter expert helps your marketing and content teams get ahead of the curve. SMEs also provide unique perspectives on current industry trends.

If everyone in the industry thinks a new product will revolutionize the way companies do business and your SME thinks otherwise, dig into that. An SME partnership allows you to look at and talk about topics from different angles and explore different perspectives. Using these contrarian points of view may actually help your business stand out and become a more trusted source for your audience. They’ll appreciate it when you tell the truth rather than follow the pack.

Reaching a Larger Audience

A common element of the other two benefits is that SME efforts often help you reach a larger audience. Whether they have their own following, say something that goes against the grain, or simply provide top-quality information, SME content gets more attention. When your audience grows, so does your potential to snag qualified leads. Authority content equals more trust from that audience. More trust equals more recommendations from your audience to their colleagues, and the cycle continues.

Do SEO SMEs Exist?

Subject matter experts exist for every industry and every topic in the world. Some SMEs specialize in SEO. If you don’t believe us, there’s an entire private group dedicated to them through Moz, one of the largest SEO software tool companies. For marketers looking for SEO help, it’s important to understand the differences between an SME and an SEO SME. This helps determine which type of expert provides the right skills and knowledge for your needs. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine which partnership is right for you:

Which Areas Need Help?

The first thing to consider when deciding between an SME and an SEO SME is what area of your marketing needs help. If you’re looking to get better search engine positioning and visibility with content you already have, an SEO SME is the right choice. These professionals know all about SEO strategy. They provide tips on how to better optimize your content to become more visible and appealing in search results.

If you don’t need someone to fix your SEO, but provide information for high-quality content, you need a standard SME. These professionals can provide information about SEO for your pieces, or they can talk about other important industry topics to develop content to fill the gaps in your SEO and keyword strategy.


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Who Do Your SMEs Work With?

SMEs work with plenty of different departments to provide insight and training for internal team members. If you plan to have your SME work with your strategy team, an SEO expert is the right choice. Strategy teams handle the planning and processes that take your marketing campaigns and push them to the right audiences. This includes leveraging SEO for more organic traffic and reach. If your SME works primarily with your content team to create pieces for those campaigns, you can choose a basic SME instead.

Why Are You Partnering With an SME?

Your purpose for hiring or working with an SME also provides clues as to which type you should use. If you want your SMEs to perform a skill or use their expertise and knowledge, you likely need an SEO SME for your project. Because these professionals work directly with your strategy and planning departments, they spend more time “doing” or training rather than talking.

If you want an SME who provides information like stories and quotes, choose a standard SME. These experts act as resources for other members of your team. They likely don’t get their hands dirty and do any direct work on your SEO strategy. Even if their words and opinions help create content that improves your optimization across the board.

Related: How To Create SME Partnerships for Your Content Marketing

How Do Subject Matter Experts Affect Your SEO?

For content production teams working with SMEs for research and insight, there are still plenty of ways they affect the SEO of your pieces. Even if they’re not involved with strategy and planning. Here are a few ways working with an SME positively affect your SEO:

Create Better Search Intent Content

Search intent is the reason someone conducts an online search. If you know why someone is looking up information online, you can better create content that fits their needs. But without direct knowledge or skills of a certain topic, this becomes trickier, Enter SMEs. They help you develop the right content for each intent by looking at search intent categories in these ways:

  • Informational: SMEs provide stories and accounts of real-world experiences to share knowledge and tips about a topic.
  • Navigational: SMEs know the right places to visit to meet certain needs or get answers about a niche topic.
  • Commercial: SMEs provide lists of pros and cons or comparisons to help people shop for products and services in their industry.
  • Transactional: SME testimonials or endorsements may help audience members make the final decision to buy a product or service.

Write Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Title tags are the linked headlines searchers click on search engine results pages (SERPs) to visit a website. Meta descriptions are the short blurbs that appear under the title tags to provide more information about the resource. Both are critical not just for search engine positioning so that your content ranks for the right keywords, but also for clickability from searchers. Your SEO SMEs are the right choice to help with this type of project.

They understand how to craft the right title tags and meta descriptions that appeal to both the bots and human searchers. SEO SMEs can help you insert your target keyword into these features but avoid keyword stuffing. They can also help you match search intent, create concise descriptions, and match the search intent in both areas.

Provide Better Images

Getting high-quality images to go with your content is one of the most troublesome parts of content marketing. From copyright restrictions, quality issues, and finding the right subject for an image, it’s hard to get everything just right. Your subject matter experts may help. SMEs can provide their own graphics, images, or slide decks to illustrate their points within other content. If they’re the creators and share the images with you, there are no copyright issues to worry about.

You may also work with a photography or graphic design SME to better optimize your online images and visuals. These professionals help you choose the right file formats and sizes for the best quality. SEO SMEs can help you optimize images with the right alt text to appear in search results. They can also help you solve any page-loading issues caused by oversized or junky files.

Create Linking Opportunities

If your SMEs create their own content elsewhere online, those partnerships are ripe with external or outbound linking opportunities. It’s important to link out to other websites to build your domain authority and expertise with Google and searchers. External links prove your team does its research and associates itself with other reputable websites. When you work with SMEs, you can link out to their other content to prove points and create stronger connections between their additional content and your brand.

SME partnerships are also good for generating inbound or backlinks to your content. Your SMEs can link to content they contribute to on their social media profiles, portfolios, and websites. Gaining backlinks from their sources help increase your domain authority, which helps better predict how well your content can rank in search.

Create Useful Content

The most important way to use SMEs to help your SEO is actually the simplest: use them to create helpful content for your audience. Working with an SME opens up brand new content opportunities you can’t get from basic internet research. They have stories, experiments, and data findings that don’t exist elsewhere. Your SMEs understand the genuine needs and pain points of your audience because they likely once (or still) fit into that same category.

The more unique and helpful you can make your content, the better chance it has of appearing higher in search results. And when you’re sharing something the audience can’t get anywhere else, they’re more likely to keep coming back.

Related: How To Use Subject Matter Experts To Create Quality Content

Can Subject Matter Experts Hurt Your SEO?

Most SME partnerships should positively influence your SEO. But there are a few situations where working with an SME might hurt your SEO, or at the very least, doesn’t help it. These include when your SME:

Is Dishonest

Nobody likes a liar. If your SME lies about their experiences to make “better” content, it can stagnate or hurt your SEO. You should always aim to build trust with your audience through content marketing. Trust comes from honesty. Your content team members and the audience should be able to trust anything your SME tells you is true. If you (or someone else) catch them in a lie, it can hurt your brand reputation. And that has a host of repercussions, including declining SEO on not just that specific piece of content, but anything your brand puts out.

Isn’t a True Expert

How do you know if someone is really an expert in a field or niche? Spoiler alert: you don’t. You can’t measure expertise on a numerical scorecard, so you have to do your research and draw your own conclusions. You may find that someone talks a good game, and even has the “credentials” to prove their expertise. But they don’t know as much as they think they do.

These non-experts likely can’t provide you with anything unique. You’d be better off saving your money and doing your own online research into their topics and niches. Working with a non-expert likely won’t hurt your reputation the same way working with a liar will. But it’s still a waste of your time and money to cultivate these relationships. Especially if you’re not getting the returns you expect.

Isn’t Likable

Even if your SME is an actual expert and always tells the truth, some personalities don’t work with audience-facing content. When creating visual and audio content, especially, your SME has to have a likable personality. Your audience should want to watch or listen to them. They shouldn’t appear arrogant, condescending, or otherwise prickly on screen or in recordings. Similar to working with a non-expert, working with an SME who isn’t likable might not hurt your SEO, but it’s also not going to help. If your SME becomes too annoying for your audience, they’ll find similar content elsewhere.


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