When starting a rant blog about the Anaheim Angels, Noah Lemas had no idea that it would fundamentally alter his career path into content marketing and search engine optimization.
“We all come into SEO from different paths, and I’d like to say mine was unique, but it’s not,” he said. “My goal was never SEO, it was writing on the side as a hobby about what’s come to be known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. There were a lot of jokes around that name and as an old Angels fan, that’s what drove me to write a blog—I was frustrated with the bandwagon of the new Angels’ expectations.”
The blog that started out as a rant between three or four people caught on to where he was later approached by the Orange County Register for help with their Angels blog.
“I was in effect stealing their traffic, so they came to me and asked me to start writing for them. It was during that process that I realized somewhere along the way that I had unlocked the door to organic traffic in that space,” said Lemas.
Once he understood how it worked and why he’d been successful attracting readership, Lemas started looking at how others were doing it in different spaces, and his career in search engine optimization took off.
“It got away from me from there and turned into what I’m doing now, which is more at the executive level in SEO—but it all started very humbly in the sense that I was just pecking out content on a keyboard and writing it for a human being and lo and behold, that resonated.”
Currently, Lemas is an executive with Distilled, a online marketing agency specializing in content and search engine optimization with offices in London, Seattle and New York.
Lemas sat down with The B2B Content Enterprise to share some of his insights on what it takes to create quality content that will result in better organic search results.
Q: How has search engine optimization changed since you started working in the space?
Lemas: When I first started in the industry eight years ago, it was all about building links and creating content. Content was king, and any content worked.
It took awhile, but ultimately algorithmic changes allowed Google to start recognizing what the content actually was and how it related to other content. As that changed, so did the expectation within SEO that the content was relevant and targeted and had some originality and authority.
The biggest change within SEO was that providing just any content didn’t work. So if the content you produce is authoritative and relevant, it should work. But there’s still a big difference between quality content and most of what’s out there.
Q: What are some strategies for increasing the quality of your content?
Lemas: Content quality comes down to how the human being interacts with it. The human being is going to interact with it based on if it’s original—just like anything else we encounter in life, whether we’re looking personally or professionally online it resonates with us rather quickly if its something of high quality and it doesn’t if it’s not.
We have an innate ability to see if something is relevant and targeted, and if it is interesting to us, we’ll draw into it — we actually want to be the person that ends up sharing that content to our friends and connections. Otherwise we move away from it very quickly.
That’s at odds with the idea that we’re going to put something out there and the search engines are going to find it and organically our traffic is going to grow because the search engines like what they found.
Q: How important is having a blog?
Lemas: Everyone who wants to establish their company or brand online needs to have a blog—it’s fundamental. But you still need to bring passion, knowledge, and original ideas into your blogging subject if you’re going to succeed.
Conversely, If you’re posting about something you’re not that passionate about once every other week just because you think you should have a blog, it can be counterproductive and I would actually recommend revisiting that strategy.
Q: How can you compete with content in a noisy, competitive space?
Lemas: Writing and competing in competitive spaces all comes down to providing some form or differentiation or some sort of unique perspective, whether it’s in your product offering, customer service. Original ideas are rewarded because the human being is the emphasis. What the human being does with with that content is ultimately how the search engines are going the measure of the quality of content.
As we evolve to more active and dynamic content like video content such as this interview (the search engines are not crawling the video content, but rather the transcription down below).
So no matter the competition level in the space, it comes down to the uniqueness of the content that your’e providing. Or, often is the case that you’re providing a unique idea behind it. So sometimes you can write something that’s not the greatest piece of content but if the idea behind it capable of resonating with people, that’s a piece of quality content. If you can combine the quality of production of content with the quality of original thought or ideas, that’s how you really have winners—but quality content takes one or both of those.
Q: What do you consider to be questionable (grey hat) practices in SEO?
Lemas: Often lost in translation is the fact that bad SEO is oriented around appealing to search engines. And good SEO is oriented around appealing to the actual user—the human being that is visiting the website. So long as your content is built with that human being in mind, and you do well by them when they visit, Google’s algorithm is going to reflect that and they’re going to follow suit.
The search engines are going to follow the people, as opposed to the older model where the people followed the search engines. SEO can’t work like that anymore and it largely doesn’t.
If you're intent is only to draw the search engines, you may have temporary success until the next algorithmic update unmasks that strategy. I call anything that pursuing the search engines over the user grey hat. So If you’re following the search engines and hoping to draw the search engines, that’s probably a great formula for failure in SEO.
Q: What does “create an experience for the user” mean to you?
Lemas: User experience really comes down to the level of quality of the content you’re providing and creating some type of engagement. It’s all about putting your audience first—that’s the thing that I’ve had in any of my successful blogging or writing.
If you try to make each piece of content the highest quality that you can in that space and you come close to succeeding, you’re going to have some good metrics around that.
Q: How do you produce content that will resonate with your audience?
Lemas: The short of it is that you should always have the audience in mind that should be based on persona research that you’ve done and everything you produce online or offline in the form of content should have an audience.
For me personally, I actually isolate one individual audience member (based on persona research) and start by writing them as if I was writing a letter and hone it into an article from there—but I’m always holding that individual out as the audience.
Q: What if you lack the passion for an given topic?
Lemas: Then you have to find the knowledge level, because the other side of passion is thoroughness.
For me it was PCI compliance—which is credit card issuer compliance laws that everyone that issues credit cards has to abide by. I didn’t know anything about it, I wasn’t really interested in it, and I certainly wasn’t passionate about it. But I set out to understand it as thoroughly as anyone in the field. Then I would find a way to write about it that actually translates the merit of the content—for instance, why was that blog important at that particular time?
That comes from being thorough and making sure that everything you set out is something that you can be proud of — essentially every piece of content you should produce should aim to be the best and most authoritative and definitive piece that’s been written in this space.
That may seem like a lofty aim, but in reality, if you're thorough about it, you’re going to come close enough to draw visits. Find a way to make that space complete.
Editor’s note: Interview responses have been edited for brevity and clarity