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SEO and Content Marketing: The Westworld Edition

March 16th, 2017 Posted by Content Marketing, SEO No Comment yet
If you’re an HBO subscriber, science fiction buff or just a fan of mind-bending prestige drama, you’ve no doubt heard of last year’s breakout hit Westworld. Set in the fictional realm of a wild-west-like theme park called Westworld, the show follows the trials and tribulations of artificially intelligent androids (AIs) and the humans who, well, “dehumanize” them. 

If you haven’t seen it, just stay with me.

As wild as it seems, Westworld has much in common with two of my favorite topics: search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing.
Like search engines, Westworld’s android hosts develop the capacity to think for themselves with less need for human intervention over time. Like content marketing, the narratives written by Westworld’s visionary founder lure humans and AIs alike into a sophisticated web of storytelling neither can resist. If that doesn’t describe amazing content, what does? At its heart, Westworld is about both the evolution of artificial intelligence and the power of great storytelling – which are akin to SEO and content marketing.

So what, exactly, is SEO?

“SEO” describes a wide variety of methods used to improve search engine rankings and increase website traffic. Though it can involve any number of technical tactics, two of its main drivers – keywords and backlinks – happen to live at the center of any good content marketing strategy.

Why keywords matter to SEO

Keywords tell search engines what your web page is all about, so the search engines can provide the best and most relevant results. For example, a prospective college student might Google the term “adult learning” to find popular courses. A school that optimized its website for the term “adult learning” is more likely to be found by that student than a school that optimized for the term “professional development.”

Though they play a big role in search engine optimization, keywords only tell part of your story. After all, anyone can write an article stuffed with keywords. In fact, in the early days of the Internet, “keyword stuffing” was a major problem. Websites often published pages packed with them to get to the top of search engine results. Bad user experiences ensued. Not unlike Maeve, Westworld’s favorite enlightened barmaid, search engines uncovered the truth and tweaked their own algorithms to combat manipulative practices (chiefly, they began to assign greater importance to backlinks).

Why backlinks matter to SEO

Backlinks are incoming links from other websites. The more relevant, high-quality backlinks your web page collects, the more valuable it is in the eyes of a search engine, and the higher your rankings. Think of them as votes of confidence from the Internet.

Don’t forget that “quality” matters. At one time, a high quantity of backlinks would be enough to rank well in search engines. But this too was manipulated. Black hat SEOs used low-quality link farms to drive backlinks to web pages, resulting in undeserved rankings. Search engines again evolved to consider the quality and relevance of websites doing the linking. After all, which Westworld recap would you take more seriously: an article linked to from The New York Times or a post linked to from an unknown online directory?

Where SEO and content marketing meet

Luckily for you, the combination of relevant keywords and quality backlinks are the two parts of SEO most easily (and earnestly) addressed by great content. When you publish great content – whether it’s a blog, article, or SEO-friendly PDF – SEO is almost inherent.

Unluckily for black hat SEO artists of the past, great content isn’t easy to fake. That’s because great content treats buyers a lot like guests are treated at Westworld (spoiler alert: at least until last season’s final episode). It engages them with unique narratives and guides them gently through a journey created just for them. When you produce content that reflects the needs, challenges and language of your buyers, keywords happen. If you make it engaging to boot, others share it and backlinks happen.

Just remember that as much as search engines have evolved, they haven’t reached “Westworld-host” level awareness, which is why human intervention still goes a long way. A stellar content marketing strategy will leverage SEO best practices, outreach, and buyer research to give you an edge over the many competitors vying for your buyer’s attention.

Marisa Meyers is an expert digital marketing strategist with 8 years’ experience and an unhealthy obsession with zombies. When she isn’t helping clients develop buyer personas, map customer journeys or otherwise navigate the complex world of digital marketing, you will find her binge watching all 6 seasons of the Walking Dead.

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