Well-known industry players are starting to say that content strategy is the new SEO. Some argue that traditional link building strategies are dead, especially following Google's infamous Penguin update. It's a bit like going back to square one. Remember when websites were designed to deliver information and the links between blogs were "natural" and valuable? With the numerous recent algorithm updates, it's becoming clear that Google is trying to force people to "be natural" with whatever they do improve their website's visibility in Google's search results.
Does that mean link building is dead?
Not at all; links are still the most important factor in the ranking algorithm. But the old-school link building tactics have been rendered ineffective (and can actually hurt your rankings), while new link building tactics work only when you have something valuable to trade.
That "valuable" thing is simple: unique, high-quality, valuable content.
Content Strategists & SEO
Completely isolated from the tech crowd of SEO experts lies the island of strategists who work with "content" instead of links. These guys work to produce the value that comes with a brand. By creating and distributing value, content strategists gain traffic not just through search engines, but through a variety of other sources.
Prior to the recent Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, SEO had been largely a technical game; it exploited the fact that Google relied on links to establish how valuable a website was.
When Google decided links from reputed directories mattered, SEOs took advantage of and exploited that fact. When Google decided anchor text was a good way to measure relevance of the destination website, SEOs exploited that too.
But that's not how content strategists work. A content strategist thinks about producing valuable content and distributing it across various channels; the rest of the equation completes itself. In addition to building a brand reputation and recognition through social channels, great content also builds links, relationships, and lasting value. The ultimate goal of a good content strategy is to drive more website traffic, of course, but this approach takes the road less traveled.
Traditional link building may still work to a limited degree today, but unless that link building is achieved through the execution of a quality content strategy, it will eventually backfire. Google's intense focus on valuable content has raised the bar for what truly qualifies as "great content" as well as highly relevant links.
5 Traditional Link Building Tactics that are Dead
Although link building through directory submissions isn't entirely dead, its value and the number of respected directories have declined through the last few algorithm updates. Google's valuation of links that stem from directories has steadily diminished; in some cases, Google has given links from certain directories a negative value.
2. Forums & Blog Commenting
Forums and blog comments have long been viewed as solid components of a link building strategy. However, these tactics lost their value years ago, and prompted the introduction of the "nofollow" tag which became the subject of much debate and confusion across the industry. Sadly, some self-professed SEOs continue to use these outdated techniques. Unless your content strategy actively includes participation in discussions across cyberspace, doing unnatural commenting just to create links back to a website just isn't worth it.
3. Paid Links
With regard to paid links, the experts' opinions are divided, but many agree that paid links are costly and risky. In February 2011, JC Penny made national news when Google penalized them for buying paid links. Ironically, JC Penny gained thousands of new inbound links as a result of the national news exposure. Nonetheless, paid links just aren't worth it.
4. Web 2.0
All that was celebrated about Web 2.0 -- blogging on platforms like Blogger and Wordpress, submitting links to Digg, Del.icio.us, etc. -- is gone. There's no buzz about Web 2.0 these days. It's all part of a dead link building strategy that only helps when there's a content strategy.
5. Link Exchange
Link exchange (the practice of trading links) was one of the first link-building strategies to be rendered useless. When Google devalued links that were deemed to be reciprocal, this tactic should have died. Unfortunately, many webmasters still receive emails requesting link exchanges. Some people are still years behind the times, apparently.
5 Reasons Content Strategy is the New SEO
1. It Adds Value, Not Noise
The bigger picture, from Google's viewpoint, is to enrich users with valuable information. In order to achieve this, Google identifies valuable websites and tries to serve them up highly in search results pages. With tons of useless and unworthy websites sprouting all the time and hanging around, this goal may be tougher than ever, but Google is run by some of the world's smartest people, and it's evolving continuously. A good content strategy adds value. Where there is value, there are readers, automatic link-backs, social shares, and other elements that bring traffic and ranking.
2. It Builds a Community
Content strategy is about building a following by providing value and benefiting the user. Effectively executed, content strategies make good use of tools and resources like blogs and the social media to build a strong readership/following. This enables businesses to generate more revenue from even a trickle of traffic.
3. Google Loves "Natural"
Rather than being sneaky and stealthy, a content strategy is about creating valuable content and distributing it through the right channels. This natural process protects you from new algorithms and updates.
4. Improved Brand Awareness & Image
Link building serves a smaller purpose: that of amassing traffic through higher organic search rankings. A content strategy, on the other hand, not only serves the purpose of ranking highly in search engines, but it also focuses primarily on building a strong brand -- an image that speaks volumes about your business. By delivering value, a content strategy naturally propels you to the top rungs of search engine results pages.
5. Links Can't Go Viral, but Content Can
Finally, if you are even remotely fantasizing about using the "viral" factor, only an amazing piece of content will do. Building links can never achieve this. In fact, every campaign that has gone viral has succeeded solely on the value of the content and its "shareable" quotient. And that builds links naturally.
A Content Strategy is not Easy
If a content strategy is so worthwhile, why isn't everyone doing it?
Simply put, a content strategy is not easy to pursue. People always look for shorter processes that yield faster results. Only those with the vision to build value and a clear grasp of the bigger picture understand the true value of content strategies that will put a business and website ahead.
A content strategy takes a lot of time and resources, but it's a one-stop solution that comes with a variety of benefits.
A good content strategy results in:
- a strong content base with good information that can be used in a variety of ways: infographics, ebooks, white papers, blog posts, etc.
- a large, market-specific subscriber base
- relationships with other industry leaders who have popular websites and blogs
- improved social media presence, interactions, and following
- ranking, organic traffic, and authority, all of which have become essential these days
So what's holding you back? Become a content strategist and you'll automatically transform yourself into a search engine expert. It's the one guaranteed way of making sure your efforts don't become obsolete after the next algorithm update from Google.
Follow Jayson DeMers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaysondemers