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This week, the Content Marketing Institute was kind enough to post one of my articles in which I compare SEO success to counting cards in blackjack. Convoluted analogies aside, the point is basically that as search engines continue to become more sophisticated, all the SEO tricks in the world won’t help you if you’re pumping out low-quality content.

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At Content Marketing World this month, I was pleased to speak with so many people that were clearly focused on creating high-quality, useful information. Keynote speaker Sally Hogshead urged attendees against creating “content for the sake of content,” telling them to either make something impactful, or don’t bother. Blogger Jay Baer described the future of marketing as “helping, not selling” through the power of content. Even the vendor representatives in the expo hall touted the importance of helpful clicks.

And of course, Google cares about quality as well.

But what does quality even mean? Where’s the line between high-quality and low-quality content? And how does SEO fit into the process?

To me, it really comes down to intent. Are you creating something that is truly valuable to your audience of potential customers? In one of my favorite sessions from CMWorld 2011, Marcus “The Sales Lion” Sheridan broke down some of his techniques for ranking high in Google and improving his company’s visibility online. As I wrote in my CMWorld Running Diary, Sheridan’s SEO strategy was basically to use his own understanding of his market and the questions his customers had – and create content around those topics. He didn’t use keyword research tools. He didn’t worry about keyword density or competition. He simply came up with a question he though his customers would want answered, stuck that topic in the title, and wrote a post about it. And his business flourished.

Now this is an extreme example, and most companies aren’t going to be able to successfully guess which phrases to target without any help. But I thought the message was simple: good SEO isn’t just about helping customers find you, it’s also about helping you find them. This is where keyword research is key, as it will help you gain insight into the kinds of questions your target audience has. Sheridan succeeded because he focused specifically on the areas his customers were interested in and created content that would actually help them. It wasn’t good because it was optimized, it was optimized because it was good.

There are lots of ways to define quality content, but for marketers, these lessons make a lot of sense. The old SEO tricks don’t work as well as they used to, and who would want them to anyway? After all, a click from a potential customer is only valuable if they come away from it liking what they saw.

One of the biggest challenges of a content strategy is time, so it’s best not to waste it. Do you keyword research, create content around those different ideas, and make it smart, useful and sharable. Not every post will be a homerun, but at the end of the day, one article that makes an impact and attracts a new customer is better than 20 that don’t.

Otherwise, why bother?

Brendan is an editor, content manager and marketer interested in online publishing initiatives and social media.

  • @nanceEss

    Well said. “Good SEO isn’t just about helping customers find you, it’s also about helping you find them” I find keyword searches on Twitter via Hootsuite (or other similar platforms) to be especially helpful. It helps me keep track of trending topics, while discovering great resources and new authors to guide me along the way… (like this post for example) 

    • Brendan Cournoyer

      Thanks for sharing Nancy! There’s no doubt people are finding info in different places than just search. More opportunities for the cream to rise to the top :)