The internet has always been driven by content. Or as Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Marketing, puts it "content is the reason search began in the first place."

Since the beginning of the internet people have looked to compile, and access information. That demand birthed an entire industry dedicated to helping businesses and search engine users find content- search engine optimization (SEO).

From day one SEO has been plagued by spammers, and less than ethical marketers who’ve gamed the search engine results to help websites rank higher. Google, the world’s largest search engine with 3.5 billion searches daily, has been especially vigilant in reducing the amount of spam, and increasing the quality of its search results.

Google developed its SiteRank algorithm as a way to measure a websites relevance. The more relevant, or authoritative, the site the higher all of the pages of that site would rank in search engine results pages (SERPs).

What began as an effective way to boost SEO rankings, content marketing has matured into an effective tool for generating thousands of inbound visits at low cost. Content marketing itself only came about as black hat SEO tactics were shutdown by Google and Bing’s ever improving search algorithms. The shift towards quality forced digital marketers to focus on the quality of the sites, reducing keyword stuffing, link bots, and other shady tactics, in order for them to rank.

From day one Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of web spam, made it very clear that the SiteRank algorithm was dedicated to improving the quality of its search results. As such it would actively promote those websites that were able to provide useful, easy to read, and highly relevant information to searchers.

So how do search engines begin to evaluate the quality of the pages they’ve crawled? Well it's based on hundreds of different criteria, but they can be broken down into four main categories:

1) Keyword Relevancy- does the content contain any keywords or phrases directly related to the search term?

2) Inbound Links- were other people linking to this domain? Well it must important and relevant?

3) Amount of content on the page- how many words, images, and videos are present? High value sites share a lot of content to educate, and inform.

4) Outbound Links- Is this page sharing useful information hosted on other sites that we know also share high quality content?

Google’s logic for this is simple: good content will always satisfy these quality requirements. Why? because by default good content is focused on a single topic, is linked to by other people who also find it good. Good is subjective but generally speaking the higher value content has depth- is interesting but easy to read, and also points to other useful content.

SiteRank has contributed to massive explosion of content on the internet, but also an explosion in the amount of people who turn to the internet to find useful information. In short, the better Google became at finding great information, the more people used Google to find information.

Marketers jumped on the opportunity to tap into the demand and pushed even harder to create more content. Even with this boom, Google estimates that even it's algorithm and crawlers will never be able to keep up with the amount of new search terms constantly being created. In fact millions of new search terms, and keywords are created daily.

This explosion is both good and bad.

On one hand it’s easier for consumers to find information related to their concerns, interests, or life stages. On the other the majority of that content isn’t very good, can be misleading, or worse- boring. This is where most content marketing strategies fail, they fail to produce any content that actually moves people to share and link to it. If people don’t share or link there is no awareness generated, and you’ve effectively wasted time and money.

For marketers, entrepreneurs, and brands there remains a lot of opportunity to inject their passion and domain expertise into content that generates real traffic, and revenue for their company. While SEO is incredibly important, having such a singular focus is why many content marketing initiatives fail.

SEO isn’t magic, it’s an acquisition channel just like anything else. Success in SEO can result in thousands of additional visits just social media platforms like Facebook, or Pinterest. Similar to other platforms, SEO requires hard work to identify the keyword opportunities, develop kick-ass content, and create the links.

That hard work can also be leveraged to create earned media, generate authority both of which feedback into SEO. Great content will generate SEO results to create the sort of awareness (in search engines) that really grows companies.

For the smart and dedicated marketers, content is a powerful and cheap way to generate earned media, and authority in your niche. By distributing this content you can create a feedback loop for your SEO keyword focused content. Since your content is constantly being discovered it will greatly increase the chances of it being linked to again, or and the readers will find it of higher authority because of it's position.

Why do long-tail keywords matter?

Long-tail keywords are very specific search terms that have lower search volume (and demand), but are also less competitive. They have the added benefit of being highly relevant to a searcher's specific needs. For example if a short-tail keyword might be "boots" or "leather boots", then a long- tail keyword might be "brown leather boots 2016" or "Steve madden leather boot outfit". In either case the chances that your website will rank higher for the latter terms is way more likely than former. In the former you'll be competing against established retailers who spend millions on SEO.

Often-times the more detailed an article, or page, the more likely it will resonate with a reader because it speaks directly to their specific interests. In the case of our long-tail leather boots we know that someone searching for "brown leather boots 2016" is either looking for trends, or looking to purchase. By creating a simple blog post with an affiliate link you can tap

into that search demand. But if the content is really good they may go one step further than just clicking- a reader might go on to link to it, quote it in a presentation, share it with friends or colleagues in an email, cite it in a thesis, or share it across social media.

With long-tail keywords it's all about visibility. If you're able to rank on the first page of a less competitive search term it will increase your ability to capture a larger portion of that search demand, and inbound visitors will be more likely to engage with your content, offer, or email opt-in.

A study published by Moz shows that click through rates drop from 31% in the first position, down to 14% in the second and 9.85% in the third. By the time a searcher hits the second page the click through drops to 3.99%, and then to 1.60% on 3rd page. The first five results drive 67.60% of all organic search result click-throughs. In other words there’s no real point to trying to rank for competitive keywords unless you can rank on the first page.

It’s better to rank on the first page for a keyword that gets 2000 monthly searches than for a keyword that gets 20,000 searches and that you’re on the fourth or fifth page for. While the traffic difference may not be that significant, the difference in conversion rates will be enormous.

When you rank highly for a keyword it’s almost guaranteed that you will capture the majority of the demand for it. When that ranking is combined with strong content, people will take any of the following desired actions:

1) Sharing the content to social media and helping you generate even more traffic.

2) Journalists and influencers will link to it from their high authority sites helping to increase your domain authority, and rank even higher.

3) There are also stronger actions like having that person take a desired business action in the form of an email opt-in, a request for more information, or better yet an actual purchase.

By focusing on quality, and choosing stories that motivate readers to engage, anyone can quickly build organic traffic and audiences with even the tiniest budgets.