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The Role of Content in SEO Explained

July 26, 2016


The above observation came to my attention when reading one of PR practitioner, Michael White’s blog posts and it struck me how true a statement this is.

Having worked at a previous agency where clients often saw PR, content, social media management, SEO and PPC as individual services, often purchased from multiple agencies that were held accountable to different metrics and goals, it now astounds me to think businesses consider each service independently.


The Evolution of SEO

Back in 2013, Forbes published an article entitled “10 Ways to Improve Your Google Rank”. The piece centres around the importance of “those little blue links that you see on almost all websites” as “the biggest factor in determining Google’s rankings”.

The article then goes on to suggest 10 different ways you can get your website to have more links pointing to it. My personal favourite is number four, “donate to charity”. Seemingly it doesn’t matter whether donating to / supporting a charity is something that your company genuinely wants to do, as long as they agree to link back to your website, that’s all that really matters.

Back in 2013 when this article – and many more like it – were written, a business that wanted to rank number one for a search term would likely look to either directly employ, or employ the services of, someone that could generate these links for them – whether via paid or earned links.

This, initially, appeared to be quite a formulaic approach, with success easy to measure simply by asking “how many other websites link to ours?”. Content was an afterthought, with content generated to incorporate keywords rather than provide readers with anything of genuine interest or use.

Although links to a website may once have been regarded as the most significant criteria for Google rankings, it is estimated that the criteria changes around 500 times each year. This means that how Google ranks websites will probably have changed more than 1,500 times since the Forbes article was written.

Over 200 factors decide today’s Google rankings. SEO is certainly not an isolated discipline focused on page optimisation and links, but a complete, complex and impressive skillset. PR, content, social media, website design, optimisation and email marketing all now carefully contribute to your SEO. Collectively working to organically fulfil Google’s complex ranking criteria through best-practice.


Taking two Google ranking criteria as an example of the importance of content to SEO:


Criteria 1: Content that matches with the user / searchers intentions is good for SEO

No more keyword stuffing, today Google wants to be sure that your content is giving searchers the information they are looking for. Taking the search term “costume ideas” as an example…


Rank #1:


This piece of content includes an extensive image gallery, a concise description, links to other relevant pieces of content and has earned high social engagement. It also perfectly matches the user’s intention – i.e. a user that is looking for inspiration (note: they are not looking for specific products!).

In contrast…

Rank #14:


This search result brings up shopping categories, which does not match with the intentions of the searcher. There is also no product text or helpful links to other sites.

The above example demonstrates the importance of developing content that will be the most relevant to the intentions of your target searcher, rather than continuously pushing products.


Criteria 2: Duplicate content and hidden content is bad for SEO

Watch out for this one particularly if you are an ecommerce business. Waterstone’s learned this the hard way earlier this year, as it appeared that someone had been stealing its books when its search engine ranking for a whole host of products dropped suddenly…


This was found to be happening because the synopsis of each book was exactly the same as the synopsis found on the product description on other sites. Duplicate content can negatively impact SEO and click to expand menus or tabs may also be discounted as Google will see this as your business hiding content from website users.


Waterstones fixed its content by ensuring that the synopsis of each book was different to that on its rival sites and removing any functionality that hid content from users.

The results within 10 hours of Waterstones making the changes were as follows:


The above examples are testament to the fact that content strategy, its design, syndication and the management of 3rd party use of content is a hugely important part of SEO.


The days of link numbers being the primary benchmark for SEO success are long gone, replaced by a complex set of factors that need careful management and continuous monitoring. The skillset to do this effectively is extremely valuable and must not be underestimated.

To find out more about how you can improve your SEO and content, email [email protected]

Written by Andy

Andy is Venture Stream’s Chief Operating Officer and has over 15 years’ experience in ecommerce consultancy, design and retail marketing.

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