MozCon 2012 has come and gone and the big topic of the conference was content marketing….shocking, I know. ;)  Overall, the quality of the speakers and content was very strong and it was a great week in Seattle.

What I found interesting was how many of the speakers had seemingly conflicting views. Rand says that SEOs should focus on content instead of links because “the ultimate link building tool is the publish button.”  But Paddy’s take is that Rand’s advice is great if you’re an influencer, but most companies can’t afford not to do link building. Hmmm. Well, maybe Ian Lurie can break the tie for us. Ian’s take?… link building and content marketing don’t even exist as tactics. They’re both just the result of great marketing.   

Well that clears things up. :)

The good news is that when you dig deeper into what each of the speakers was saying, they actually agree much more than they disagree. Whether you’re looking at the link building tactics that Paddy detailed, the big picture thinking in the first half of Ian’s presentation, or Greg Boser’s explanation of BlueGlass’ business model changes, there were common themes.

First, if the old link building tricks aren’t officially dead, they’re definitely on their last legs. Google’s algo is getting too smart for even the most seasoned SEOs, so the traditional link building tactics/schemes just don’t pay off as well as they used to. And even if you are able to rank, the fact that google is increasingly crowding out organic listings in competitive SERPs reduces the value of SEO as a marketing tactic. So how do these speakers suggest you drive people to your site post-Penguin? “Do real company s***.” #RCS.  

So what is RCS? I think you can bundle it into three things: Community, Content and Campaigns, all pointed towards a well thought out content strategy.

Community

The community component means gaining a detailed understanding of the influencer landscape in your niche. The key is knowing who is relevant and influential, and understanding what they care about. These are the people that you need to build real relationships with. No, this doesn’t mean you have to send birthday cards to their kids, but it does mean that the value you provide to the community needs to far exceed what you ask for. This is a long play, but the value is huge and it provide more sustainable differentiation than you get from content and links. Just about any SEO worth their salt knows how to mine a competitor’s backlinks to find opportunities and there’s no shortage of people who “borrow” from other people’s content strategy. But you can’t copy relationships.   

Content

The content component means developing research-based content that provides unique value to your market. This may sound like motherhood and apple pie, but the key is making it research-driven. Low quality, keyword stuffed offshore content just isn’t going to cut it anymore and it puts your company or your client at risk. You need great content that your community will naturally share and link to. The relationships you’ve developed should help with that.

Campaigns

Finally, campaigns still have a place, but outreach needs to be personalized and, when possible, relationship based. These campaigns do two things. First, they give you tactical wins that sustain you while you’re waiting for your efforts to pay off. Second, they supercharge your content marketing efforts.

Summing it Up

So the good news is that we know what we need to do and there are good models for doing it effectively.

Ready for the bad news?

This s*** is hard….and not only is it hard, the traditional SEO agency business models don’t support these changes and traditional ROI calculations undervalue their benefits. Content marketing involves a lot more work, carries more risk of failure and has a much longer lead time than traditional link building efforts. Given that budgets aren’t going to magically increase to meet this reality, these models are going to need to evolve over time. There’s only three ways that this can occur:

1)      Increase the value of the services you provide

2)      Improve your sales effectiveness so that you’re demonstrating the true ROI of your efforts

3)      Develop operational efficiencies that reduce your costs

I suspect that agencies will need to excel in all three of these areas. I think that the ones that fail in all three areas will likely disappear over the next few years. This is particularly challenging for agencies that service small businesses because, while there is a roadmap, nobody is doing a good job of explaining how these agencies are going to get there (I have thoughts, which I’ll dig into in a follow-on post). 

Not very cheery, I realize, but no need to put on the brown trousers just yet, because there’s some more good news.  First, CMOs and business owners are becoming more aware of the need to make these changes, which should make the job of selling this easier. More importantly, any time that a market is in the midst of a major shift like this, there lies a significant market opportunity for those that are able to move fast and solve the problem effectively. You’re already seeing some of this with many of the agencies that spoke at mozCon (e.g., Distilled, BlueGlass, Seer, Portent, etc.). 

So how are Google’s changes affecting your SEO efforts and your business strategy? 

Paul May

Paul May is the CEO and co-founder of BuzzStream. Previously, Paul was the first employee at Support.com, helping grow the company through its IPO. Paul also helped build products and grow revenue at BMC, Tonic, Alterpoint, Wavebender, and Pluck. You can follow Paul on Twitter or Google Plus.

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