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February 18, 2013
The Two Sides of Content Creation: Part 2

In my last article I discussed the creation of content to boost the SEO from an onsite perspective, but it's also invaluable for boosting offsite signals as well. When we're considering offsite signals I'm going to include both incoming links and social media signals. While the specific value of social media as it directly pertains to enhancing organic search engine rankings is debatable, it's clear that it is a factor and, perhaps more importantly, will very likely gain a stronger place in the algorithm in the coming months and years.

What Is Content?
Before we delve right in let's take a moment to consider, “What is content?” As an SEO of over 13 years, I occasionally have to fight my instinct of viewing content in the narrow context of words appearing on a web page. A throwback habit to when the search engines were a far narrower and simpler place. Today we need to take a broad view of content to include any 1s and 0s that are intended to convey a message to a visitor. This includes but is not limited to: words, images, videos, audio, interactive scripts, games, tools, and more. 

Essentially, anything on your webpage that is visible and intended to pass information to or get information from your visitor or even just keep them engaged at their location can be viewed as content. And each one, in their own way, can be used to establish external ranking signals.
Limitations Of This Article
Obviously I'm not going to be able to cover every possible way to use content to develop external signals to your site. My hope here is to give some examples, discuss the philosophy, and hopefully help get the wheels turning in your mind to consider how these signals can be developed in the unique context of your resources and sector.
So, let's get started.

Guest Writing 
We've all heard about it and some of you have probably already tried it, perhaps successfully, perhaps not. There are many blogs and resource sites in need of quality content from authoritative people. What's important to understand, however is that the best of these resources aren't interested in an email that reads, “I'd like to write for your blog on a generic and over-written-about subject and just need you to give me two links.” So how do you do it?

As a writer for others and host of our own blog, I see both sides of the equation. I know what works from the perspective of one seeking to write for others and I know what's worked when others offer to write for me. The key here (as with most marketing or sales efforts) is personalization and relationships. So let's look at an example of how I might go about this.
Let's assume that in researching my competitors or just knowledge of my industry I saw that the site AuthorityDomain.com was a very strong site in my niche and linked to many of the top ranking sites. Obviously, this would make it a very strong location to get a link on. The first order of business is to review their content, see if they accept (openly) submitted content, and find regular authors that write in areas of interest to you (preferably not guest writers but that's not a deal-breaker). You'll then want to follow their work, perhaps set a Google Alert for new work, follow them via social media, and essentially watch what they're writing about and comment on their work (not just a “great article” but actual opinion on their piece). Essentially, before you offer your own content, show the site editors/writers/owners that you're paying attention to what they're doing and get your name in from of them.
Once that groundwork is laid, and perhaps they've even responded to your comments from time to time, I personally like to wait until I see a piece related to the sector I'm working in where I have a different but compatible take on things and will write a brief blog post on just that, referencing the site I'm adding to. In a more personal fashion it's time to send the link to that post over to the author or to the editor with a note that looks something like:
“When I read your article (great by the way) it got me thinking about X, Y and Z. I wrote up a brief post about it on my blog at www.mydomain.com/interesting-subject/ but I'd be interested to write a more thorough piece on it for your visitors from a slightly different perspective.
My thoughts are to cover points A, B, and C but I also noticed some of the comments argue that you didn't consider point M, which is clearly wrong and I'd like to include that as well. If you think this is a good fit or if there are any other points that you think should be covered on this topic from my perspective, I'm happy to discuss it. You can reach me at 555-2368.”
Of course, you'll need to customize based on what you're offering, but there are three main take-aways from this angle:
1. Show you're paying attention and are interested in the site and the author's work.
2. Show your knowledge of the subject.
3. Outline what you'd like to cover and show you've really considered the angle you're taking.
You'll notice that this is a lot of work. Good links almost always are and here's the bad news: it may not even work. That said, even if this specific offer isn't accepted, you've gotten the attention of the author/editor, you're more educated than you were previously, you've added new content to your blog/site, and you've been polite and thorough so you're likely to be considered in the future.

Written Content On Your Site 
Generally when we think of onsite content in terms of SEO we think of ranking that content for specific phrases. Here we're going to look at an example of writing content for links and social signals.

I'm going to use as an example a scenario where you may want to develop signals into a page on your site that sells downhill mountain bikes (enjoying the sport myself I like to use it as an example). The first step in the process is to figure out what's being asked about or often referred to about the subject. Remember to stretch your brain. In this case, it may be about parts or options, but it may also be about the best locations, tools for carving your own trail, etc. This is about external signal development, not about selling your product (that will come with the rankings).
There are many ways to find this out including visiting some of the bigger hub sites, but another tool I like to use is Google search (a crazy notion). Simply enter your query and use the filtering tools right below the search bar on the results page to view just the blogs and discussions on the subject (they're under the “More” option. Further, clicking the “Search tools” link will allow you to limit the time frame to just the past month (or week if you prefer) so you can get results that are current. Twitter trends can also be helpful.
Logically, there are a lot of questions in the discussion vein about how to select a good downhill mountain bike. Refining that further, there are a number about picking your first bike. At this point I would visit these sites to consider what context the question is being posed in and are there ways to write one very good piece that would fulfill multiple questions. While you're there, take the time to set up a profile; you'll be visiting the site again later. From there it simply becomes the task of sitting down and writing an instructional and thorough piece on what you need to know to pick your perfect first bike. From the basics of riding style to the different options and budget, you want to cover all the topics that may come up. Get the piece proofed by someone in the know as well as a layman to make sure it's understandable and well written across the two core knowledge levels that are likely to read it.
To establish the first level of external signals is now much easier. You already know the discussions to visit where your advice will be welcome; you found them when determining the subject of your content. The first stage is to simply revisit the locations where the initial question had been posted and reply to the thread.
Here's a big key while doing that: don't be lazy. Let me repeat that with some emphasis: DO NOT BE LAZY! Here's an example of how not to include your link in a discussion thread:
“Visit http://www.mybikedomain.com/first-time-buyer/ for more info!”
Remember and remember well: This is someone's website and they like it a lot. They value their visitors and they hate sp@mmers. You are here to provide value and you've taken a lot of time to craft some very good content that addresses the specific needs of the visitors to that thread. Here's what to do.
First, re-read the initial question and scan through the replies thus far. Even if you did it in the research phrase, there may be more. You'll then craft a post (in the case of a discussion) that looks something like:
“Hello , that's a great question that all of us asked ourselves at some point when we were just getting started. made some good points about budget and the impact that has on your decision.
You inspired me to write a tutorial for beginners to the sport at http://www.mybikedomain.com/first-time-buyer/ that I'm hoping covers a lot of your questions. As it was inspired by your post, it hasn't been up long, so I'd love some feedback or any other questions so I can expand on it.
Thanks for your question and enjoy the sport we love. :)”
You'll notice that I used the URL and not anchor text. Usually the anchor will be in the URL if the site is built properly (and the page titled well) and converting to anchor text is a clear sign that you're looking for SEO value and not just trying to help out. This is a time to sacrifice a bit of SEO value in exchange for what will likely be a much higher stay-rate.
Also important is to revisit the initial threads to reply to comments. While this won’t necessarily give the link any added value, it will help build your reputation on the discussion site and help you down the road.
Added tip: For those wanting to also broaden their exposure a bit further across blogs, you may want to also consider Zemanta. Essentially it's a service that allows you, via RSS, to get your content in front of publishers. They don't guarantee links, just that they'll get you in front of publishers of related content, but if you write well it generally performs pretty well.
At his point you have some good content and you've used it to generate some good links to an internal page; now it's time for some social media. Hopefully you have a solid social media presence and I'm not going to get into the benefits of social media buttons on your information pages save to say, you should. It's time to write a brief description of the article and syndicate it through your social media channels and while that's good, to get your reach out past those who already follow you, drop the extra $10 on Facebook to make it a “promoted post.” This extends its reach past your friends and out to their friends.
Tip on Facebook: To make Promoted Posts more effective, be sure to connect with authority figures in your industry. If key individuals are in your Friends group, their friends will see your promoted posts. Not every post you do should be promoted, but key content geared to attracting signals should be. At times I've even promoted content I placed on third-party sites to boost the signals to pages that then link to me.

This article is divided into two parts and will be continued next week.

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Dave Davies is the CEO of Beanstalk Internet Marketing. Dave has been working as an SEO since 1999 and started Beanstalk in 2004. He writes and speaks regularly on the subject of Internet Marketing and hosts a weekly radio show on WebmasterRadio.fm. for more up-to-date tips and information on SEO and Internet Marketing.
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