Lab Report: Content Marketing

Two weeks ago today we undertook an experiment to see whether we could gauge the results of content marketing  in a very specific way: does placing a good article or two linking back to a site with a given keyword improve rankings for that site with that keyword?

Someone had asked us, that’s why.

We never do this particular task in isolation, but always as part of an overall linkbuilding strategy, and always when the combination of client website and offsite content is particularly likely to be effective. We therefore were unable to say whether it would work as an isolated effort.

Fortunately, we have our lab site, FreshPlans, to mess around with.

We chose two terms for which we were fairly well ranked but not at the top of Google’s results and placed a couple of articles using those keywords. We used an online rank checking tool, SeoCentro’s ranking tool — it may not be accurate, but it should be consistent.Here’s where we were for the two terms.

For “classroom theme ideas”:

www.myfreshplans.com
Search Engine Placed Rank Competing Pages  First Url Found
Google yes 8 21,900,000  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2011-07/owls-classroom-theme-ideas/
Yahoo! yes 15 0  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2010-05/classroom-theme-ideas/
Bing yes 15 30,600,000  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2010-05/classroom-theme-ideas/

 

Then, “shark lesson plans”:

 

www.myfreshplans.com
Search Engine Placed Rank Competing Pages  First Url Found
Google yes 12 1,130,000  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2011-05/shark-lesson-plans/
Yahoo! yes 14 0  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2011-05/shark-lesson-plans/
Bing no n/a 15,000,000  n/a

Here we are now, for “classroom theme ideas”:

www.myfreshplans.com
Search Engine Placed Rank Competing Pages  First Url Found
Google no n/a 0  n/a
Yahoo! yes 9 0  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2010-07/undersea-classroom-theme-ideas/
Bing yes 8 27,900,000  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2010-07/undersea-classroom-theme-ideas/

and for “shark lesson plans”:

www.myfreshplans.com
Search Engine Placed Rank Competing Pages  First Url Found
Google no n/a 0  n/a
Yahoo! yes 13 0  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2011-05/shark-lesson-plans/
Bing yes 13 15,100,000  http://www.myfreshplans.com/2011-05/shark-lesson-plans/

Obviously, we have a data problem, since this tool says that we have fallen off of Google’s radar completely, and also that we have no competing pages. I used another tool to check Google, and it said we were at #2 and #9, respectively. If we accept this amalgam of results, we have this effect:

Keyword Google Bing Yahoo
Classroom theme ideas 8 15 15
After content marketing 2 9 8
Shark lesson plans 12 14 0
After content marketing 9 13 13

 

On Google, if we believe this data, we went from #8 to #2, a change that puts us nicely above the fold, for our first search term, and from #12 to #9, which gets us on the first page, for our second. We saw some results with Bing and Yahoo as well. I’d like to say that this proves that content marketing will work very well even in isolation.

I’m having a little trouble with it, though. First, the SEOCentro tool just doesn’t seem very reliable –and having to switch to another tool for Google clinches the unreliability of the data.

Second, I haven’t seen any of the articles online yet. While they were submitted and accepted, they don’t appear to have been published. Are we ready to believe that my simply writing the articles and sending through the ether caused Google to think, “Wow! She’s serious! I’d better increase her rankings!”

I’m not ready for that.

Comparing FreshPlans’s analytics for July 21 through August 3rd (the length of the experiment) with the preceding period of the same length, we see traffic up by 24.44%. Keywords containing “classroom theme ideas” are up 29.59% and those with  “shark lesson plans” are up 50% — from 2 to 3. Given that we’ve just had shark week, that’s not much. It’s not bad, though. We also rose a point (to the maximum of 99) in our Website Grader score during the experiment — maybe sharing our content a bit was all we needed.

It’s possible that the articles have been placed and I didn’t notice. Frankly, I usually just write the stuff and let someone else worry about when they get published (I don’t want to see what they did to my punctuation anyway). It’s possible that this is the beginning of an upward trend that will take a while to blossom fully.

What conclusions can we draw?

  • Our experiment wasn’t set up well. We should have chosen two terms to serve as controls. We shouldn’t have used “shark lesson plans” because, while it might have encouraged people to publish the articles, it probably also increased our competition. We should have figured out a more accurate way to check the rankings.
  • Content marketing probably takes more than two weeks to produce clear results. Especially if you don’t count from the publication of the articles, but from when you hire someone to begin the campaign.
  • It’s not a bad thing to do. We may not have results clear enough for me to be happy with them (I took Research Methods and Scientific Ethics  in school, after all), but I wouldn’t turn down the rise in traffic — an extra 51 people in two weeks for those two terms. I wouldn’t turn down rankings jumps like those, either, if I had more faith in them.

My recommendation: continue to place articles offsite as part of a well rounded linkbuilding strategy.


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