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  • Mary MacLeod

Search Engine Marketing: Understanding the 4 Key Types of Content

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Search engines are built to get people quickly and efficiently to websites where their questions will be answered. Search engine marketing is creating and organizing digital assets to drive relevant traffic to brand content.


If you believe everything you hear, it seems that “algorithms” are invisible evildoers setting us all up for a dystopian future. The truth, however, is far less dramatic. Algorithms are simply sets of rules and steps taken to solve a repeatable problem, for example, how to direct a searcher to the correct information, and were invented to protect us from a far more dangerous best: digital marketers. That’s right! There is a natural tension between search engine algorithms and search engine marketers because as soon as the internet began, marketers were obsessed with using content to drive business and sales leads. In contrast, search engines like Google focus on directing searchers to relevant content. This is why the details of Google’s famous search engine algorithms are so secretive and constantly being updated.


Ethical marketers know enough about this secret sauce to guide their clients’ digital marketing strategy. This includes the integration of tactics that involve optimizing owned, paid, and earned media content.


Not All Content is the Same.

There are four main buckets of content you should understand to get going on search engine marketing. These are owned, paid, earned content and meta data. Owned media includes your website, your content on partner sites, and your social network posts. Paid content has your media on all the above digital levers, that is, either paid advertising, paid search engine results, boosted posts on social media, paid placements for video content, and ads that run on popular sites. Earned media is a subset of public relations and involves third-party endorsements, mentions, and credits that promote or verify your brand. Finally, we'll go over a little bit about meta data.


Content Type 1: Earned Media

Examples of earned digital media include positive online reviews, digital newspaper articles, social posts, resource guides, video segments like the famous “unboxing” YouTube segments, and more. It can easily argue that earned media is the most valuable form of digital content for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. First, earned digital media will funnel traffic directly to your site from trusted and targeted users. These visitors should be treated as hot leads since they come directly to you from a credible authority who has endorsed your brand.


When authoritative websites provide a link to your site, search engines notate that as an indication that your site is also a credible source, which translates into increased rankings and Authority Scores. To make the most of earned media, ensure the links that direct users to your resources are correct. Additionally, post news and links to your earned media on your website newsroom, press release footers on the wire, and social media posts and profiles, with links back to the source adding a “what others are, saying” slider on your site. Hence, visitors automatically recognize your brand as a trusted source. Doing this will help to build an ongoing relationship with the earned media publishers who also appreciate and benefit from backlinks.


Type 2: Owned Media

My clients often glaze over when I start talking about their website code, and I get it. Of course, I’m not a programmer either, but the simple truth is that if you want to attract new customers in the digital world, you’ll need to understand a few simple facts that impact how search engines direct traffic to your content.


Google “organic” search results are the results seen after the Sponsored section at the top of the search results. Most of us know you want to be as close to the top as possible, and getting there depends on your matching, high-quality content.


Type 3: Meta Data

In my experience, clients state increasing traffic to their site as a top goal and key performance indicator upon which my efforts will be measured. And please excuse the mini-rank. It’s almost always the case that when I ask about getting access to the website or identifying critical missing code, I’m politely escorted back into my lane. Usually, the sites have been built and maintained by a web developer who is paid from a separate budget and is not interested in getting directives from another vendor. In addition, I have found that clients are usually intimated by their web admins because they hold the keys to the kingdom and often have written custom code that only they can adjust. This presents a very challenging situation. Imagine being paid to ensure someone gets to work on time, but you cannot use the car. It’s pretty tough. That said, knowing that this may present a challenge to the success of a campaign, I make sure to include the webmaster in conversations as soon as possible.


I explained that my coding expertise is limited. Still, as an SEO marketer, I’d access the website’s backend to post new content and make minor adjustments to the scope to include “meta” data.


Adding this metadata to a site is an ongoing process and pretty dull, so usually, the webmaster is more than ok with this arrangement. However, keeping it up to date will improve our Google search engine results, and the entire team will share that success.


· #Font styles: tell search engines what’s most important on the page. For example, the phrase above “Search Engine Marketing” is in Heading 1; the Title is in Title, and the rest of this section is in body text style.

· #Images: should also add descriptive #Alt text.

· #Page Descriptions: Each webpage should add a short description to the code when setting up a site, but many don’t. The good news is that they can be added later.

· #Keywords and Phrases: Here’s where things get tricky. Adding keywords to your site in page titles, headings, alt text, and body text is important but at just the right amount. It’s better to find keyword groupings that are related. This will not only help Google understands the content of your site more comprehensively, but it will also be easier for visitors to read your content. In short, don’t write for keywords. Make it genuinely organic.
· #Link structure – Search engines need to “crawl” your site structure so. Make it easy to find all the content on your site with links that make sense.
· Keywords and keyword targeting – You may have heard that keywords aren’t so important anymore. Alas, this is true and not true. When many marketers started writing for keywords, content integrity suffered. This is referred to as “keyword stuffing .”But, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, write content that makes sense and use synonyms and descriptive text. Write well. In 2018 Google finally launched an algorithm that would give greater value to well-written content. Consider writing thematically instead of narrowly focusing on specific words. For example, if your brand offers solutions for home insulation, include multilayered content in the form of blogs, technical specifications, and videos optimized with transcripts: these images have alt text descriptions and links to 3rd party resources. Also, use your keyword “insulation” in the page title, page description, header text (H1), and at least once in the opening paragraph body text.

Type 4: Paid Content and Search

We can also pay search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc., to serve up our paid promotions when specific searches are conducted. In that case, we bid against others who want to be seen for those keywords or phrases. These search results will appear either at the top of the search page or on the right. This is called pay-per-click advertising. Again, it can be very costly or inexpensive, depending on the keywords and phrases you target.


Social media-boosted posts are another form of paid digital media that is also very affordable in most cases, except for LinkedIn advertising which I’ve found to be much more expensive.


Paid contentis a popular option as well. I look for opportunities on online forums, represented nonprofits, and industry-leading content sites. Sometimes, these publishers are eager for blog content and will offer that for free as part of a sponsorship package.



One common tactic which is being discouraged by search engines is buying backlinks. This practice was commonly accepted but has fallen out of favor for many. Here’s a great article from Search Engine Journal that describes the pros and cons. But, for me, buying links is similar to going on a fad diet -- it might work in the short term but will most likely have the opposite effect in the long run. Getting backlinks is good, though. You are much better off earning it the old-fashioned way. Consider asking to write a blog linking to your site or being listed as a resource. Not only will the former approach have a longer-lasting positive impact, but it will also actually help you build genuine relationships with other like-minded brands and their customers.


One paid model that can work is pay-per-click (PPC), for example, Google Ads. With this approach, you will only pay for clicks you will pay only when someone clicks on your ad and lands on your website. You can spend just about any amount of money on pay-per-click advertising.


How much it costs to run an ad or promote your search results will depend primarily on the competition for your keywords. High-competition keywords (i.e., keywords that many people are searching for and that many sites are trying to be found for) will be more expensive, and lower-competition terms will likely cost less.


When you set up a pay-per-click campaign, you can also choose whether you want your ad or promoted results to be shown to users worldwide or only within a specific geographic area. According to Google, if you are marketing a brick-and-mortar business, this ability to tailor by location helps you not waste ad dollars serving ads to users who don’t live anywhere near your business, according to Google.


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