We encourage our clients to have a thought leadership program to connect with existing customers, engage new leads, and to share with media. Successful thought leadership programs engage audiences with interesting content that can be posted to a company blog or website, social media and in relevant publications that speak to the right audiences.  Thought leadership can also help with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In the following Q&A, we talked with Shane Stiles, President of Gate 39 Media, about the connection between thought leadership and creating online visibility.

Why is thought leadership important to a company’s online visibility?

We think of thought leadership as part of a firm’s overall content marketing strategy. Blogs allow you to build thought leadership to demonstrate your own and your team’s knowledge, experience and opinion on topics relevant to your audience.

A single blog post can be used in so many ways and broadcast across any number of platforms; we consider well-written content key to staying top of mind with clients and the potential to generate traffic via search engines.

While we’re focused on online visibility, thought leadership pieces that get noticed can also help create real-world visibility through invitations to speak at conferences and events your clients are attending.

Do you advise your clients to incorporate important key words into their thought leadership content? How important are key words in headlines?

Absolutely! If you hit the right keywords and keyword phrases in headlines and in the article, it improves your chances of getting traffic from search engines. This means people are searching more for advice, answers and deeper understanding on specific topics. If you hit these terms right, you may become the “answer” many people are looking for.

That being said—try to avoid keyword “stuffing” in your blog title and articles. If it doesn’t read well and isn’t natural, don’t force it. From a social media perspective, a more interesting and catchy title may be better than a keyword stuffed “fake newsy” headline.

What mistakes do you see people making when trying to improve SEO or getting visibility for their content?  Can you “buy” search placements by trying to pay bloggers to run your content or link to your site?  Is that a good idea?

Like most things, there are no real short cuts to good SEO or content visibility. Once in a while you can strike a home run with a link to your site from the right partner or directory, or gain a burst of traffic from a well-placed article, but generally speaking SEO and article sharing comes from doing research, a planned approach, and making connections.

The biggest mistake clients make are paying non-legit “SEO firms” to boost your search engine rankings. Many of these links go to sites specifically set up (often outside the U.S.) to create “link farms” that try to game Google in the rankings. Google now can quickly identify link farms, and often issues a search engine penalty to sites listed on these black hat sites. Once you’re penalized by Google, it is extremely hard getting back on their good side.

Similarly, paying to have your article featured may or may not have good results. If the site has scattered content or contains a lot of poorly written content clearly designed to get clicks, it just plain looks bad in addition to potentially getting you penalized.

What key steps would you advise a client to take who has experienced negative news that’s now plaguing their organic search results?

It’s really, really, hard to override or push down negative search results. We’ve seen firms that have had lawsuits, negative news in publications, and reviews that cast the company in a bad light show up in top 10 search results.

You want to take control of your search results by putting out good content and messaging into the world, before negative search results happen to you.

How important is multi-media content?  Are webcasts or video content ranked higher in search than written content? 

A range of content formats help get your message seen or heard. As an example, we have a number of futures brokerage firms that cater to farm owners. Farmers listen to a lot of audio due to the amount of time they spend in the field. They also rely on their phones more than most since they are rarely in front of a computer. In this case, audio makes sense.

Creating good video and audio is more labor intensive than written content (and can’t be as easily searched). Produce multi-media content in formats that make sense for your audience, and not just to check a box.

When posting content, are there basic best practices for meta tags?

Meta tags have limited value now. In fact, Google ignores the keyword meta tag completely. A description meta tag helps craft the results that appear on Google search results, but truly your content alone should be enough.

Title tags are the one thing that we consider truly important for marketers to be mindful of. However, the title tag should ideally match the title of the page/post for best SEO, so this is handled automatically when you determine the overall title of the page/post.

Do you have best practices as to how frequently blog and/or thought leadership content should be posted in order to “move the needle?”  (e.g. minimum of once per month?)

This is always a tricky question. How much is too much, and what is too little. According to HubSpot, “Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published 0-4 monthly posts.” (HubSpot, 2015)

So is the answer to keep cranking out as much content as possible? Obviously not. You want to be sure you have good, quality content that engages and informs. Not every post will be an industry shattering missive, but each should be genuine and provide value.

With that in mind, my answer is to produce the amount of content in each month that you can reasonably, consistently, and with quality. Once you are doing that and engaging with your audience, you can then increase the amount and frequency as needed.

How important are news releases in improving SEO relative to other content posted to websites, blogs or social media?

I believe there are two types of press releases now. Press releases that are issued just as a general announcement and those that carry more significant weight and can benefit from having a push by a professional.

General announcements are good to place on your website, send to your “short list” of clients, your associations and contacts, social media, and a general news service like PR Web. These are ideal for just getting news into the world (controlling your search engine results) and staying visible.

More significant ones can get you media appearances, coverage in other publications, feed discussions on social media, etc.

A semi-regular schedule of news releases creates continued visibility for the firm, which should add up to more visitors, and therefore clients. And that’s what it’s all about!