Rand Fishkin: Effective SEO Comes Down to Good, “Amplifiable” Content
One of the sessions I was most excited to attend at this year’s Digital Book World Conference & Expo was Rand Fishkin’s talk on search engine optimization (SEO) and book discovery. Fishkin is the CEO and founder of Moz, a leading SEO and content marketing software company. I anticipated this session would be filled with technical insights that reveal the secret inner-workings of Google and the internet. But actually, it seemed to reinforce a theme that’s been quite prominent at DBW today: In the end it all comes down to quality content.
Fishkin made clear that SEO is critically important to publishers’ direct-to-consumer marketing strategies. Although social media, in particular Facebook, is often at the top of publishers’ audience growth strategies, organic search is still the top traffic driver. “On average, Google drives 7X to 10X more traffic than Facebook does,” explained Fishkin. He added that for ecommerce sites, search traffic is still the top referrer.
In order to harness the power of organic search, Fishkin advocated that publishers create compelling content for their readers. “Content is the backbone of what gets distributed on the web. It’s what gets ranked on Google, shared on Facebook, talked about on Twitter.” But he added a caveat, saying that content, even great content, doesn’t matter unless it’s seen. Fishkin explained that readers need to care about a publisher’s or an author’s content enough to read it and amplify it through email, shares, and backlinks. This activity is what informs Google that an article is valued by searchers and leads to higher search rankings.
Although publishers should invest time and energy in identifying valuable keywords, optimizing search snippets for articles, and building a network of links back to their original content -- all of which Fishkin highlights in his massive presentation -- SEO success really comes down to understanding on a deeper level one’s audience and creating content that they will not only love, but will also share.
Fishkin said that before he writes any piece of content he asks, “Who will amplify this and why?” Fishkin said that he needs that level of commitment from readers in order for a piece to be worth writing. He added that it takes just as much effort to create content that no one sees as it does to create content that readers find and amplify.
FIshkin had a few pieces of advice for identifying this type of audience. First, he advised publishers to find a handful of ideal customers and survey them. Publishers must find out why they purchased a book, how they found it, what other interests they have, who are their influencers online, and where they spend time on the web. Then publishers should clone these users, identifying audience online that behaves similarly and has similar interests. These are the audience publishers should be writing for and targeting.
This isn’t an easy or quick solution, said Fishkin. Content marketing, and the valuable SEO that comes with it, takes time. Fishkin gave the example of his wife, Geraldine, who began a blog in 2009 and often earned less than 100 visits per month. In 2012 she was ranked in Time’s “Best Blogs” list. That garnered Geraldine hundreds of thousands of visits a month. The audience stuck with her because of the quality of her writing, and eventually that consistent audience growth landed her a book deal.
Book publishers obviously have more resources at hand than a lone blogger, but the process remains very iterative and data-driven, said Fishkin. As publishers build these content foundations, incrementally improving posts in light of increasing audience insights, traffic and reader amplification will continue to grow.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.