A Q&A with SEO Guru Ann Smarty: How to Create Better Content

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Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty is an internet marketing leader and entrepreneur. She’s the brand and community manager at InternetMarketingNinjas.com and founder of MyBlogU.com. Smarty offers training courses on reputation management and other digital marketing topics, and previously was the editor-in-chief at Search Engine Journal. She recently talked with the Reputation.com team about the content, strategy and tools necessary for a better online reputation.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What are the most critical content issues that brands need to focus on — but are not paying enough attention to?

The most fundamental issue I keep seeing is a lack of content goal-setting and strategy-building. Most brands put content out there only because they know they need to. There’s almost always little to no planning, let alone measuring and analyzing. Consequently, most brands simply fail to realize the power of content marketing.

And then, even if that content starts bringing traffic, there’s not much return on investment. The lack of planning means poor intent matching, poor calls-to-action and poor search engine optimization. All of that results in the biggest misconception out there: Content works only in few “fun” niches.

A well-implemented content strategy can bring so much more than a few extra clicks. It can generate direct sales and leads, build brand familiarity and position a brand as a knowledge hub, facilitate connections with niche influencers and engage potential customers with the brand.

Search seems to be evolving. What are some of the leading search trends to look for in 2019?

It is evolving, indeed! A lot of changes are happening now. Google is looking more into context and search intent and less at keyword-matching. Google is also investigating concepts and entities and the relationships among them.

SEO is maturing. We are developing smarter tools to keep up. One of my favorite tools, TextOptimizer, is one example of how keyword research is evolving together with Google. It uses semantic analysis to help you optimize context and intent, going beyond keyword matching.

In some emerging search tools, keywords are become obsolete — such as visual search where consumers can use images to search. In others, interacting with search results is evolving. For example, people no longer click results. Instead, they speak to search engines and hear search results read to them.

What will the growing use of voice assistants mean for search and SEO?

Voice search adoption has been growing very quickly, which means a few very important changes in SEO. We are now competing for one result, instead of five or ten. Google is trying to find and feature quick answers to most queries … and that’s what we need to be giving them with our content strategy. Featured snippets (the information box Google puts on top of organic search results to quickly answer a search query) are the new big thing.

Voice search means that marketers need to understand and optimize for conversational queries. This means semantic analysis, question analysis and monitoring keywords in the natural context.

When it comes to reputation management, what are some things brands should do more of or differently?

Brands need to build connections with niche influencers, including giving them a platform through your blog or social media channels. Customers also may expect to find you on YouTube, so you need a presence there. One of the best ways to build your YouTube channel is, again, by involving the influencers to help build it for you, such as through interviews.

Brands have to encourage and promote positive social media sentiment. This includes curating and publicizing your customers’ social media testimonials.

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One of your many entrepreneurial successes — MyBlogU — helps brands share content. You say it starts with great content. Can you talk about developing a strong content strategy?

Developing a strong content strategy is a very broad topic that probably deserves a separate article or book. There are a few actionable highlights:

  • Always set up a plan using editorial calendars.
  • Create content roadmaps for a year ahead taking all the upcoming holidays and milestones into account. Seasonal content tends to perform best.
  • Develop your in-house talent. There should be recognized experts behind your content.
  • Keep your target reader in mind: Whose problems are you solving?
  • Make the most of your old content by putting it back into the spotlight through well-planned internal linking and re-packaging.

After the strategy is established, what are the best ways to get that content seen more?

Always keep your influencers involved. Collect their quotes before publishing and then tag them on social media once the article is live. Your participating influencers will send their communities your way.

Search optimization is still important. Yes, the tactics may have changed, but the goal is still the same: We want our content to rank. Capturing more organic search opportunities, such as blended image results and lists, means using structured markup and visual marketing tools.

One of my projects, Viral Content Bee, gets people outside of your immediate social media followers to share your content.

What are some of the biggest trends you see emerging in content management in the next few years?

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are the two trends that will change marketing the most. They change everything, from the way buyers discover products through AI-powered personalized product recommendations, to brand-customer interactions using service bots.

Reputation.com helps brands create powerful customer experiences using content, social media and reviews to drive better rankings.

Download our free 5-Step Guide to Improving Your Online Reputation.