Episode Overview: Optimizing content for SEO is more than just examining data. Apart from carefully selecting keywords, your content also needs to be optimized for accessibility and readability. Join host Ben as he speaks with Acrolinx CEO Volker Smid about when, and why, you should prioritize content optimization and what optimizations to focus on for success.
- Content optimization priorities differ depending on which stage a company is at in their growth cycle.
- Rapid content production is the most important content optimization process for early stage companies to create a wide breadth of coverage and expand reach.
- Optimizing existing content and creating data-informed new content is part of the content optimization process for established and enterprise-scale businesses.
- If a reader can’t process and understand your content within 10 seconds, they’re likely to stop reading further.
- It’s crucial when optimizing content to ensure it’s easily scannable and easy to read. Avoid using hyper technical language that isn’t accessible to a wide audience of readers.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
Ben: Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. And today we’re going to talk about content optimization technologies. Joining us is an old friend Volker Smid, who is the CEO of Acrolinx, which is an AI platform that uses a unique linguistics analytics engine to read all your content and provide immediate guidance to improve it. The Acrolinx technology is transforming how the world’s biggest brands create high performing content. And today Volker and I are going to talk about when and why you should prioritize content optimization. Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Volker Smid, CEO of Acrolinx. Volker, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Volker: Thanks Ben. Happy to be here. Thanks for the invitation.
Ben: It’s exciting to finally have you on the show. We’ve obviously known each other for a little while because of your previous role. You were the man who signed the checks for a long time for my former consulting client, my current podcast sponsor, Searchmetrics, and now you’re running another content and SEO related business. First off. Great to see you again, congratulations on the new role and tell me, what is Acrolinx?
Volker: Yeah. Acrolinx, in a nutshell, has large enterprises and enterprises in general to govern holistically their content. And this sounds like a trivial task, but in a road where the user experience is mainly driven by the consumption of content, it becomes a big task for enterprises. Because content is being produced everywhere, and it’s really hard to get your hands around it. It’s really hard to govern it in terms of an optimal output and performance, but also the governance aspect is to reduce the risk in your content. Quick example, in a life science company, normally on 95% of their web pages that talk about their products and you can be rest assured that the chief compliance officer want to make sure that everything that is being said and written about the products of that company needs to be governed in a certain way to avoid some legal risks.
Ben: So you’ve obviously been in the SEO and content production game for a long time, former CEO of Searchmetrics, now at Acrolinx. And I’d love to hear your opinion on where content optimization should sit in the CMO or the head of marketing’s mind. I think people think of content production a little bit as a necessary evil, maybe even a commodity for some businesses. How much time or where should marketing leaders think about optimizing their existing content as opposed to creating that new content?
Volker: Rule number one, marketing plays a big role in content production. But that’s not the only role. Content is being produced for various purposes, to market products, so create awareness, create the need for transaction. But after the transaction, there’s an enormous amount of content being produced for retention purposes, for loyalty purposes. So content is being produced in almost every department over an organization.
Volker: I give you one example. One of our clients, they run a subdomain. That subdomain has one billion visits per year. And the average time the visitor spends on that subdomain is seven minutes. If you do the math, this is seven billion minutes every year that that company enjoys having interaction with their clients or prospects. So, there’s half a million pages sitting on that subdomain that has a billion visits and seven billion minutes of consumption. Nobody would dispute or argue whether there is a need for optimization. Can you get this to 1.1 billion? Can you get this from seven minutes on average to eight minutes on average? And by the way, was the user experience a good one or bad one? How’s the NPS from these clients on the site? But if you look at the order of magnitude, I’m fascinated by the fact that the user experience culminated in seven billion minutes of consumption of content in any given year is an enormous opportunity or might be a risk.
Ben: I think it’s incredible, A, I can tell you which domain that is not. It is not voicesofsearch.com unfortunately. We’re hovering around six-and-a-half minutes per visitor. I’m just kidding. I think there’s an interesting thing to think about when you’re looking at content consumption and when you’re thinking about content optimization is that it has different priorities for different sizes of business. When you are an early stage and often a growth stage company, content production really matters the most. It’s about content volume to have a wide breadth of coverage, wide reach. When you become an enterprise scale business, a lot of the times you’ve covered all the topics that you need to, and it becomes more about optimization. When you think about the value of content optimization, specifically, you mentioned a few metrics that are important, NPS, time on sites, number of visitors. What are some of the metrics that you look at to identify whether your content optimization is successful and why?
Volker: There is a fair amount of metrics that we create when we govern a site. And most of them are around quality of the content. And it’s a pretty complex thing that can only be managed via AI. So let’s assume we are an enterprise that tries to sell to a young audience. You would think that in content production, you need a language that is number one, emotional, that speaks to 17 to 25 year old men, women. And so how do you make sure that this content has emotional language? How do you make sure that this content is engaging, comprehensively engaging? And so it’s pretty hard if you outsource content production for let’s say an agency, if you get this back from the agency, how do you ensure that actually your content is engaging with the audience that you want to be engaged with? And so these are the kinds of metrics that we create by scanning the entire amount of content existing on that site.
Volker: We establish a quality metric. And normally what then happens is that the enterprise sets a threshold of quality. And this threshold of quality says only content will be published. That is above a certain threshold defined by the enterprise. And it’s pretty important. And it’s not a cookie cutter approach because content for marketers need to be engaging and emotional. Content that is being produced to let’s say, for other audiences like clients, has a complete different purpose and doesn’t have to be emotional, right? It has to be rational. It needs to be written in a defensive mode. So there’s a number of metrics that we establish. But the quality gates and the thresholds are being defined by ourselves.
Ben: There’s another component to content optimization for the SEO community, which is yes, there’s a quality score. You have to understand how your consumers are going to react to the content, whether it be for acquisition purposes, retention, engagement. Obviously, you have to make sure that the end consumer is going to consume, enjoy, and hopefully share the content. There’s also the notion that Google has to interpret the content. When you’re going through content optimization enterprise with some of your enterprise clients, how much are you thinking about optimizing content so Google interprets it the right way so it affects ranking and therefore reach as opposed to what your specific end consumers want?
Volker: There’s one component in our platform that is called findability. That’s a very simple term and we all know how hard it is to achieve that, content is being found. But the first thing that every enterprise has to define is what is it that I want to be known for? Because a visit on your website that doesn’t hit the purpose, it’s just a waste. So defining your relevance is number one. Number two is, and marketers are great in this, sometimes marketers create terms out of the blue. Now these terms sometimes have zero search volume and it doesn’t make sense to speak at length and to create content about things that don’t exist in the minds of the consumer, because that would mean you create content that cannot be found. So one of our components of the platform is findability. In findability, We use search data to enrich the editor while he or she is in charge of creating content so that you use relevant terms in the minds of the consumer while you create content.
Ben: There’s a little bit of a chicken or the egg problem here with looking at findability based on search behavior and understanding what people are searching for, and then understanding what someone is going to want when they actually get to your website. Do you ever find that essentially Google is wrong, do you find that there are times when you’re writing for findability or brands are writing for findability, but the conversion rates end up suffering because they’re optimizing for a search engine’s interpretation as opposed to a human’s interpretation of the content?
Volker: Yeah. Yeah. This is where most of our platform comes into play because traffic was all conversion is a waste, I think we would all agree. So give you a few terms. Is your content scannable? So can you comprehend the content quickly? Because in today’s world, everything that you cannot comprehend it less than, let’s say 10 seconds, probably the user would walk away from the site or the piece of content. So scannability. Readability, is this, and sometimes it has to be on technical documents, do you use simplified technical English or do you use nerd language that nobody understands?
Ben: SEO speak.
Volker: Yeah. There is a lot of nerdy talk in SEO, for sure.
Ben: We can say that now. It’s okay.
Volker: Yeah. So the content needs to be readable. The content needs to be scannable. The content needs to be emotional, if need be. These are all factors that drive traffic to conversion because if you’re just optimizing for a search term without making sure that you have engaging content after the fact that you get the traffic, you will probably have a very high bounce rate and very low time spend on the site or on the page.
Ben: How do you prioritize those two? There’s an SEO listening to this podcast that doesn’t have an enterprise level of content or an enterprise budget, and they have to manually optimize their content. Should SEOs and content creators be thinking about content formatting or the actual language, the words that they’re using on the page? How much of is it language and how much of is it page structure and content format?
Volker: Yeah. That’s the $10 million question. Nobody knows.
Ben: Both are obviously important. I’m looking for a ranking, if you had to pick an area to focus.
Volker: I think my response is, number one, I don’t know, but I have a piece of recommendation. I think there needs to be a central component for SEO that looks at every technical aspect of SEO, page speed, other things. Technical aspects, everything that is on page. But everything is for content production. I think the SEO has to make sure that his or her data is being transferred over to the person that creates the content at the time when the content is being created. Because sometimes, and in many cases, and most of the cases that I’ve seen, SEO is a central function.
Volker: But you have thousands and thousands and thousands of content writers inside the enterprise and outside the enterprise. And how do you make sure, as an SEO, that you distribute your data out to the people that need it when they create content? This is the biggest flaw I believe in the system overall, that the SEO keeps looking at content, millions of pages, not enough time, not enough budget and not enough authority. I like the fact that SEO, on the technical side, is a central function. But other than that, they should be distributing what they have, the knowledge that they have, into the hands of the writers when they wrote content.
Ben: It’s one of the things that I appreciate about the company that we’ve formally worked together about is the approach has gone from building a platform, and I’m speaking of Searchmetrics, building a platform where people can come in and optimize their content to, on some level, distributing their data and services and enabling the SEO community to be able to broadly understand the power of search data. There is value in search data beyond just optimizing for SEO. It can help your strategic partners, your writers, everyone understand the mindset of your prospects and your existing customers.
Ben: When you think about the distribution of search data, and also when you think about the data that goes into optimizing content, where are people falling down and not understanding the value and usability of that data?
Volker: Well, that’s a good question. So I think if you look at the road outside and you look at the way how content is being produced, content is often auctioned to platforms, and then you have thousands of writers sitting in several places. And if you look at the amount of editors that they use to create content, you probably count hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of different editors, and Microsoft Word 10 exists in 20 different ways.
Volker: It can even be in Microsoft Word 95 that exists out there for people that create content. And the task has to be, not everybody would register to your platform, to use your SEO platform. You have to make sure that the data that the SEO people have from the platform has, is connected to every possible editor that exists out there. Because this work is very complex. And if I say hundreds and hundreds of editors, these are only the editors that we know. In technical documentation, you have structured editors, so called data editors, highly complex, less known than a Microsoft Word, but equally important. And all this data needs to be visible at the time when this editor is used to create content. So this integration need of the SEO data and all these various platforms, I think is very high. And if you don’t make that effort, you will fail in creating optimal content, both from a traffic perspective, but also from a conversion perspective.
Ben: Yeah. At the end of the day, when I think about content optimization and Volker, you said this earlier, so let me paraphrase some of your words. They’re really two key components, right? You need to think about the end user experience and write to make sure that you have content scannability, content readability. But you also need to factor in how Google’s going to consume the content. A lot of that is formatting for lists and bullets and making sure that Google can grab the snippets of content that they’re going to be able to put into the search engine to provide the best search experience. When you’re creating your content, it goes through almost countless hands, countless different solutions. And so making sure that you have processes and technology in place to enable the evaluation of your content, to make sure it hits your bar and to make sure that the people that are writing have the tools and resources they need, is fundamentally important to making your content perform.
Ben: And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Volker Smid, the CEO of Acrolinx. We’d love to continue the conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Volker, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is SmidVolker, SmidVolker. Or you can visit his company’s website, which is acrolinx.com, acrolinx.com. Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests.
Ben: You can also send us your topic, suggestions, your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter. And my personal handle is BenJShap, BenJShap. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.