We’ll Just Buy the Keywords

Many moons ago, in a job market far-far-away, I sat across a boardroom table from several high-ranking managing executives. A newly minted marketing manager for a luxury chain of hotels, I had drafted a communications plan for the upcoming year, which included (amongst a slew of traditional tactics) a strong digital component that focused heavily on SEO and content marketing. We need to improve our website’s standing on Google, I argued. Search “luxury hotel in Toronto” and we weren’t ranking on the first page. Regardless of how competitive the market was, we were a big brand, there was no excuse in my mind why we couldn’t get there. We just needed better content, our website needed some TLC. New photography to replace our current low-resolution 70s-vibe photos, video to replace giant-block paragraphs of text, and writing that appealed to our audience and provided answers to the questions they were asking Google. A simple slam-dunk, I thought. And at the end of my pitch, budget in hand, I anticipated quick approval. That’s when the GM turned to me and asked, “What’s the difference between SEM and SEO?” Before I could answer, the Regional Director of Sales and Marketing, interjected, “We’ll just buy the keywords.”

I took a moment and processed what she had just said. Understandably, the GM, more worried about operations and managing multiple properties might not be totally up to speed when it came to online marketing, but here was my boss’ boss, seemingly unaware as to how Search Engine Optimization worked, and more concerning, discounting the need to produce quality content, not just for the sake of improving our page-ranking, but for the sake of staying relevant in an increasingly competitive market. I wasn’t about to point out the error in her thinking, embarrassing her in a room full of our company’s leaders. Instead, we left our proposal with the senior decision-makers. Allowing them time to digest. I took my boss aside, “You’re going to explain to her that we can’t just buy keywords, right?” She reassured me, “Don’t worry about it.” They were friends, after all. She continued, “I’ll talk to her.”

It wasn’t the last time I encountered this attitude towards content. As my career moved on, every once in a while I’d encounter clients who think they can just spend their way to page-one rankings. We forget, dialed-in as we are, that not everyone grew up in the Internet era, or has the benefit of a marketing team keeping them apprised of all the latest digital developments. For some, this is all still fresh news. For myself, everything clicked when I heard the expression, Google is in the business of answering questions. Simply inputting (or “buying”) a bunch of on-the-mark keywords and ensuring they were used throughout your website wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Google wanted real language, the kind that provided answers to the questions people were entering. When someone googled, “best luxury hotel Toronto”, they wanted site content that answered why. They wanted references to and from reputable sites that proved our assertions were correct. They wanted fresh content that was relevant to our industry. They weren’t going to tell exactly what it was, that was up to us to figure out.

Content is king. It makes sense. More and more people are putting their blinders on when it comes to more traditional advertising. The best way to reach these people? Provide content that speaks to them, that answers their questions, and that keeps them entertained. The happy side effect from all of this content is that site SEO is improved. Google starts to trust that you’re in the business of providing its users with on point and relevant content relating to your business. Another happy side effect is populating social media with content that is exciting and engaging. Potential customers who may not want to be advertised to will give your brand a pass if they like and can use the content they’re seeing. Video isn’t just for commercials any more, it can be utilized for so much more that costs so much less.

For example, I will look to the Internet for reviews before I make any significant purchase. The best case scenario is when I can find a video on YouTube of whatever it is I’m searching for. When I was searching for a new mountain bike this past season, I searched high and low before finally finding a video of the bike I was interested in. The video was just a simple walk-around of the bike and it had over 50,000 views. Why? It was the only video on YouTube that was even close to being a review. When I went into the local bike shop that carried the model, I remarked that if they took their knowledgeable staff and produced simple, branded, review videos of the bikes they carried, they would increase their shop’s awareness 10-fold. People would look to them as experts, and even if they didn’t purchase that particular model, may decide to stop by the shop and do some browsing, potentially leading to a sale. Engaged staff, check; increased shop awareness, check; increased sales, check. Seemed like a no-brainer.

Advertising sales, that’s all good, but what’s even better is getting people interested regardless of a price drop. The road past cynicism is paved with sincerity, great content is the key to advertising in the modern age.