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College and university web marketers understand that they have to publish high quality, relevant and original content for their sites to rank highly. They also know that they have to build a strong social media presence that communicates their brand and draws their target audience(s) closer into their institution’s sphere of influence.  The piece that many people do not fully understand is how closely related these three elements of digital marketing really are.

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Content, Social Media, and SEO, or the digital trinity, as I like to refer to them, are intimately related and highly codependent. If at your institution, you separate them operationally, it’s time to step back, rethink how they work together and retool your approach. Hopefully, this post can help you to see a way to do that.

This post offers a case study on how to build content, distribute it across social media and to build SEO rankings, as one process. We’ve talked about an approach for how to do this in past posts. In this case study, I’ll walk through a example from HEM’s files, step by step, to simplify some of the complexity of their interrelationship and to provide some tangible examples that you can really get your teeth into.

So let’s begin by establishing the importance of our weekly blog to all of our content sharing strategy. We believe very strongly that you should use your blog as the anchor for most of your site’s original content and then leverage it from there.  With that in mind, let’s get started.

1) Your business objectives, customer personas and sales stages should drive your content

So what will we write about this week? If you’re asking yourself this question, you probably have not taken all the right preliminary steps. You need to break down your priority business objectives, your marketing objectives , your content strategy, your main visitor personas, and the stages in your “sales” funnel, (or it might be a recruitment funnel, a donor funnel, or an event registration funnel), and identify the topics that address the needs of these individuals and then write about them.  Once you have your list, calendarize it and voila, you have an editorial schedule. I know this is easier said than done but if you drive your content out of these requirements, you will have taken the first and most important steps in aligning your original content with your SEO objectives.

In this case study, the business/marketing/content/sales goal we were focused on was to try to grow our base of customers for HEM’s SEO services. Having checked Google Analytics for our past blog posts results, it showed that we’d had good traction with general content pieces providing general SEO education.

So here’s the blog post we wrote.

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This post was targeting marketing managers, directors and VPs at colleges and universities who know that SEO is important for their success but didn’t really know much more about the details of it. We were writing for marketers who were “early in the sales funnel”, at an “information gathering” or “educational“ stage.  Sort of similar to a typical prospective student, who knows they want to attend college, but have not gone any further than that  to learn about their  options with any particular schools.

2) Write for your audience, then optimize for SEO

I researched and then wrote the post with the audience in mind, without really concentrating too much on SEO keywords. I think that’s generally the best way to create good content.  At this stage, I focus on the customer, and their needs, certainly not on the search engine spiders.  Once the writing is done it is moved over into Wordpress, polished and optimized there.  I then made sure I had all the main keyword I needed covered, used good H1 headings, optimized the images, and added links and blog categories, etc., so that once completed, its’ on-page SEO was in pretty good shape.

3) Publish, curate, syndicate and bookmark your content on Social Media

With the blog published on the website it was now time to leverage this content across our social media channels.  The image below summarizes our approach of how we do that. Most importantly, whether a tweet, an image on Pinterest or a video summary of the blog post on YouTube, always link back to the original post on your blog.

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So let’s look at some of our real examples.

Here’s the original tweet we sent out to announce the original blog post. Our practice is to send out a tweet, in slightly modified form, 2 or 3 more times in the first week, scheduling it at different times during the day for maximum exposure.

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Here’s the original Facebook post announcing the post. It includes a brief intro, image, and then links back to the original blog post on the HEM website.

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A similar but again, slightly different intro, image and link was posted to LinkedIn.

Before we look at curation or syndication of the post, let’s jump forward to January 2014, when, 11 months after the blog was originally published, we reimagined the original content into an infographic.  Reimagining your content into new forms is a critical step in leveraging the work you have done into a new form that will reach new and different people, adding new inbound links and eventually increasing your SEO rankings.

To announce the release of the infographic, a second blog post was issued, including a brief introduction to the content and the infographic, as follows.

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Similar to the release of the original blog post, notice of the infographic was tweeted out to our followers, three more times in total, at different times, on different days.  Note, different hashtags are used in this tweet, varying its distribution and exposure from the earlier version.

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We also used LinkedIn to distribute a notice of the infographic based post. Note the clicks, interaction and engagement stats provided by LinkedIn right in the page to help you track and gauge your contents impact in this channel.

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Slide share is another great platform upon which to re-imagine your content, and to reach another new audience. With a minimal amount of extra work, we migrated our content into a PowerPoint format and redistributed it across this channel. Note on the right side of the image below,  is a list of HEM posts that are now available in short PowerPoint slide formats on Slideshare. The infographic was posted to Slideshare as a single image format.

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Next we used and Pinterest to further distribute the infographic version of the content. Social bookmarking sites were also added to create additional links back to the original content.

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So to recap, our original post, or reference to it, appeared at least 8 times across 4 channels. The content was then reformatted as an infographic, syndicated on Slideshare, Pinterest and and referenced again a number of times on Twitter, Facebook and Linked. Using this approach we have facilitated at least 20 web references to this content.

 4) Track the visitor traffic impact of your content in Google Analytics and Webmaster tools.

That all sounds great but the more important question is what level of visitor traffic with real results did all of this activity generate? Let’s look at the organic traffic first.

Here’s the traffic generated by the original post.

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Here is the traffic generated by the second post, promoting the info graphic.

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Interestingly enough, the infographic received substantially more interest than the original post. This is likely due a couple of factors, including, 1 ) our curation and syndication process has been refined since the release of the original blog post and has helped us expand our reach, and 2) infographics really do appeal to many people, providing  a simple and quick way to garner useful insights.  We are continuing to experiment with infographics for our audience to determine if there is a growing preference for this format. Also note the bump in traffic in the original post in January 2014, due to the release of the infographic.

Visits to the infographic page on the website, directly attributed to social media channels, can be seen in the Google Analytics Social Referrals report below.  As you can see, total visits from social referrals is quite low, only about 4%  of all visits.

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This very low level of traffic generated by our efforts in social media is a fairly common result in our experience.  Conversion events associated with social referrers are similarly rare.

So where is the ROI on this activity, if it is not coming from visitors from social media?.

5) Content + Social Media = SEO Rankings

Take a look at the Webmaster Tools report below to review the inbound links that have developed into the infographic blog page. The Wordpress links are internal to our website so they should be ignored. The remainder are true external inbound links.  These are the golden nuggets of ROI that our content production and social media efforts have produced.

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As added proof, below are the search engine results page for the keyword phrase “invest in SEO college”.  In fact, ”invest in seo” combined with a number of our other common higher ed keywords will produce a similar result.  Yes, these combinations are “mid to long-tail” but if we remind ourselves of our content’s original objectives of reaching marketing managers searching for general info about SEO, I think we have done pretty well.

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So to summarize, we produced the following outcomes associated with the original blog post:

  • The original blog post
  • A follow up blog post containing the infographic version
  • At least 6 tweets
  • 2 Facebook posts
  • 2 LinkedIn posts
  • 1 Slideshare post
  • 1 Scoopit post
  • 2 Pearltrees links
  • 760 Unique visitors
  • 66 social referrals
  • 109 links from 16 domains to the infographic blog post
  • Multiple page one search engine results on related keyword phrases
  • At least 25 substantive interactions with readers across the blogs and social media posts

As you can see the combined effect of good solid content, and the effective use of social media to share it, can produce many desirable results, including increased traffic, links, visitor interaction, and a helpful lift in your organic page rankings. Your original content will be clearly quite different than ours but if you follow this process you will get results. The relationship between content, social media and SEO is complex but as seen in our example, can be navigated and leveraged to produce the marketing ROI we all need to successfully promote and grow our businesses.

Now, over to you to give it a try!

Please let me know if you have questions.

We’d love the chance to connect with you.