Last week my colleague Elizabeth Quinlan took a step outside the box of SEO into Brain Engine Optimization – the sometimes forgotten but essential engine in B2B lead generation. This week we focus on SEO and its relationship to content marketing.

SEO without content marketing is like a body without a soul – every website needs words, articles, substance AND keywords! So PR and marketing professionals take note – successful strategies in 2022 will rely on SEO and content marketing going hand in hand. But where to start?

The best practices of SEO are always changing, requiring marketers to adapt their strategy with each new update Google makes to its algorithms. The impact of recent global events has significantly affected the digital ecosystem, raising questions on how suitable pre-pandemic tactics are now.

Semrush has released a State of Search 2022 global report to help PR and marketing pros get to grips with the search landscape, which provides a 360-degree analysis of Google updates, user behaviors, and SEO actions. The IBA team has gone through the study with a fine tooth comb and selected three key takeaways on how to adapt content strategies for 2022 and beyond.

  1. SEO traffic is a bellwether for vertical market popularity

SEO data gives PR and marketing pros clear signals of intent and user behavior – and can be critical to understanding popularity changes in vertical markets. As part of the Semrush analysis of increases in search traffic, the study broke down the top 100,000 sites by industry and calculated search traffic by category. It found that from 2020 to 2021, all search traffic grew by 4%. When broken down by industry, travel and leisure saw the greatest increase in search (20%), followed by food and restaurants (12%), financial services (11%) and logistics (9%) – so what does this mean for content planning?

These trends can offer insights into topics that would be valuable additions to any content strategy. For instance, quotable quotes or comment pieces on trending news stories can provide a quick win – helping PR and marketing pros position their client spokespeople as leading subject matter experts and align key business messaging with popular media trends.

Identify the no-go areas

Tread carefully – any ad hoc attempt to craft content around these categories should not be disingenuous to the core function of what your content is trying to communicate. As a previous IBA blog on newsjacking explores, not all hot topics or breaking news stories are smart to associate with. There are some definite no-go areas. For example, it’s best to do your background research before posting about politics, deaths or controversial events.

  1. Keep your keywords short and snappy…

The core function of SEO is about finding relevant keywords and making use of them in your content so it ranks higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). With results on the first page of a Google search getting over 90% of traffic, leading businesses can’t afford to not be there, especially if their competitors are – so it’s time for PR and marketing pros to brush up on their keyword strategies!

The Semrush study found that over 94% of all searches contained between one and five words – demonstrating a popularity for ‘short-tail keywords’ such as ‘CRM for business’ or ‘top enterprise technology’. This doesn’t discount the value of longer-tail keywords, but rather highlights the importance of understanding user intentions. So for instance, if we take one of the previous examples and write a longer-tail keywords such as ‘top enterprise technology for service providers working in the healthcare industry’ we find that these are often more targeted to the niche topic the audience is searching for. Their value here is that  they can be more likely to generate conversions, or actions that searchers take on certain sites, such as signing up for a consultation or buying a product.

…but avoid the temptation to overstuff

Many marketing and PR pros can be guilty of engaging in a practice known as ‘overstuffing’ – including as many keywords as possible in their content – a practice that the research found has limited success. Today’s search engines are on the case and tweak their keyword crawlers to identify these attempts and stop their content from dominating the first page of search results – so it’s back to the drawing board!

The Semrush study uses the company’s database of 160 million keywords and rankings for U.S.-based websites to determine what number of keywords perform best in searches. It found that the overwhelming majority (83%) of unique queries in user searches contained five words or fewer, with 3-5 word queries comprising 67.1% and 1-2 word queries making up 15.9%. This proves that like in many things, balance is a must. Keywords can be great to increase search traffic, especially if used in the title of thought leadership pieces, but avoid cramming them in just for the sake of optimized search results.

Remember, it’s not just Google algorithms that can detect this – well-versed journalists can spot this practice a mile off!

Effective SEO strategies would benefit from looking at the top websites and competitive keywords that are closely associated with the specific business or industry your client works in. Fresh, unique and creative content gets rapidly indexed and ranks higher than low-value and repetitive content, so brainstorm creative ideas and embed only the most important keywords to guarantee your content works.

  1. SERP 101 – the battle between organic and paid

It’s good news for PR and marketing pros – top coverage doesn’t always mean paying a hefty price to get there! This is something we have previously covered in our ‘vanity PR’ coverage vs pipeline growth blog, but it appears we’re not the only ones that believe this! Semrush’s study found that Search Ads at the top of the SERP were down in 2021 versus 2020 on both desktop and mobile. On mobile, Google Ads appeared at the top on average for only 3% of SERPs in 2021, and on desktop, they were even less frequent, showing on only 2.4% of all SERPs on average. This is a clear scale-back on Search Ads across the board, no matter the device.

In stark comparison, 2021 saw some significant changes to the display trends of various organic SERP features, most notably in the ‘People Also Ask’ feature, which saw a 25% increase on desktop and 11% on mobile in 2021. Knowledge panels, which appear on roughly 20% of both desktop and mobile SERPs, also saw a positive increase in 2021 – with an 8% increase in display frequency on desktop. Mobile did see an 11% decrease but this could be due to the ways in which Knowledge Panels are displayed across devices. These panels are allocated a separate space to the right of search results on desktop, but they take up more valuable real estate on mobile SERPs and replace other content, so they may be less frequently deployed as a result.

Get to grips with the world wide web, one SEO strategy at a time

As the digital ecosystem has undergone such significant change in the past few years, it’s no wonder that PR and marketing pros are struggling to keep up. Now more than ever, success will rest on a clear understanding of how these changes impact content strategies. SEO trends are always changing and by keeping track of these, PR and marketing pros can ensure their content ranks higher in search time after time – and hopefully, on page 1!

Investment in SEO can build long-term brand awareness, credibility, and trust within key target audiences.

The proof is in the pudding – organic SEO will continue to prove its worth in 2022 and help PR and marketing pros increase their clients’ visibility.

Hannah Watson is PR Executive at IBA International.

Leave a comment