Relevance still beats SEO

Analytics reveals the power of relevance!I recently started using Yoast SEO, one of the leading search engine optimization plug-ins for WordPress. I have to confess it’s making me a better writer. But it’s also validated something I’ve told clients for years: relevance matters more than anything else.

Many of you know that I think SEO has its limits. Still, clients and prospects keep asking about it. So lately I’ve been diving in and learning more about the art.

The proof is in the numbers

A month or two after I had a few super-optimized blogs posted, I did what every good marketing pro should do: I checked my analytics data. I was eager to see how the new posts were performing. To my surprise, my best-performing story since the beginning of the 2016 was something I wrote two and a half years ago.

In fact, nine out of ten of my top-viewed blogs in the last four months were pieces I had written before I started worrying about SEO. Some of them were written this year, but several dated back to the early days of my current website. Many were pieces I haven’t promoted or linked to in a while. And the SEO-optimized one? It ranked tenth on the list.

Relevance trumps everything

When I looked back over the top performers, I started to smile. They didn’t read like they were written for robots. There were no obvious focus keywords, no “optimized” subheads, and no dehumanized corporate-speak.

What they all had in common was relevance. Every one of them dealt with stuff my readers (mostly designers, writers, freelancers and other marketing professionals) care deeply about. How to get better clients with less effort. Why it’s okay for you to outsource your own marketing. Five ways to stick to deadlines. And a personal favorite: 13 Traits of a Great Ghostwriter.

The top performers were also pieces I really enjoyed writing. They cover topics my readers and I are passionate about, use personal stories, and they speak in my most authentic voice. I firmly believe relevance, not SEO, is the secret of their success — especially the older ones that have been on my site for 2–3 years. And the numbers back me up.

Now I’m not suggesting you throw SEO out the window. In fact, the content you’re reading now makes every indicator in Yoast SEO light up green.

But I will continue to plant my flag in the sand and champion the cause of writing for humans instead of search engines. SEO can lead people to your content, but it can’t make them read it, like it, or pass it on to their friends. The most important part of the process is still knowing your reader. All the hits in the world won’t do you any good if visitors don’t find content they care about when they arrive.

  Does digital marketing really work?

dm-crystalDigital marketing — from content optimized for mobile devices to social media to predictive analytics — continues to spark passionate debates between skeptics and true believers. The key question, often asked by those who’ve been in the industry since before the Dotcom bust, is “Yeah, that’s kind of cool, but does is sell?

According to a new report released in July by Adobe, the answer appears to be “Yes, if…”.

The critical part is the “if.”

The report, titled “Four Advantages of a Planned Approach to Digital Maturity,” summarizes the results of Adobe’s 2015 Digital Marketing Survey, conducted in February of this year.

Some of the results will come as no surprise, notably that most organizations aren’t taking full advantage of the latest tech. Only about one in five companies surveyed (19%) have achieved what the report calls “digital maturity.” Such companies make specific, ongoing plans for digital marketing and back them up with investments in structures, people, processes, and technology. Nothing earth-shattering here.

Where the data starts to get exciting is when the report begins comparing this “mature” group to the rest of the pack. In particular, near the end of page 6, the authors rather casually drop this little bombshell:

In fact, when multiple departments are involved in testing, average conversion was shown to increase by 14%.

This isn’t one of the statistics that gets displayed in bold type, but it deserves to be. It’s the point where you start asking “whoa, how are they doing that?” (which is exactly what the authors intended).

I encourage you to check out the results for yourself, but here’s a quick rundown of how the report claims these organizations are creating digital marketing that gets results:

  • Investing in people, processes and tools
  • Keeping the customer first by adapting to their needs and behavior
  • Integrating mobile devices into every strategy they create
  • Using analytics to refine strategy and create a competitive edge
  • Looking ahead, not just reacting to industry leaders

This isn’t the first time strategies like these have shown up as recommendations for the digital marketing landscape, but they highlight realities that are slowly becoming clear to a small but growing number of organizations.

They also contrast sharply with what isn’t working…occasional instead of ongoing digital efforts, throwing stuff online without a plan, pursuing inconsistent strategies, spending time without investing resources, failing to measure results, and many other half-hearted practices that remain all too common.

Underlying all of the data is a reminder that digital marketing isn’t an instant-win game. It’s an ongoing process that increases in value over time. This remains a daunting thought for those who are just getting started, but the results are well worth the investment. Check out the report for yourself, especially if you’re a digital skeptic. The numbers don’t lie.