Way back in the early days of the internet before the idea of "search engines" there was "the directory". The directory was a website of links that people (real, actual, in-the-flesh people) would collect and organize into categories. When you were browsing the internet it is likely that you went to one of these directories to find your way around the internet. This is how Yahoo! became the gateway to the internet - same with AOL and others.
In order to be considered worthy of listing it was important to have plenty of original content on your website. When search engines came on the scene a while later they largely followed the same pattern - that is, websites that had lots of content had a better chance of ranking well. There is a long and storied history of techniques people used to try and game the system and the responses to those schemes employed by search engines. But this post isn't about the technical back and forth between site owners and search engines, it's about one thing that has remained constant over the years: that in order to be counted as important in the eyes of search engines it is imperative that your website maintain and develop content.
In real estate "location, location, location" means everything. In the real estate of the web it's "content, content, content". So how does a small business create big content!?
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat - it's not likely that every small business can make use of a content strategy to develop their website into a resource worthy of recognition by search engines. I can't imagine the corner convenience store having all that much to write about. But the boutique stores that specialize in products of particular type of item have every opportunity to help grow their business by becoming comfortable with writing content.
Take, for example, the local organic food store. There are issues and questions related to healthful food decisions that the grocer can write about for days on end - labeling of GMOs or farm-to-table initiatives. Visits and interviews with the local farmers who provide the produce for the store or product reviews of the newest gluten-free, organic what-have-you. By committing to writing content about issues that impact their business, they provide value and insight beyond their price tag and have ample opporunity to grow a committed and interested following on social media because they will have more to discuss than simply the weekly specials. And the most excellent part of this is that search engines will reward them over time with better rankings.
The small independant book store isn't able to compete with the likes of Amazon on price and shipping. But they have something Amazon does not - they have the opportunity to be a physical presence in their communities engaged in events that provide fodder for content for their website. Amazon will not be hosting a local book club any time soon, but discussion about the book of the month from the local book store is the perfect sort of content to help the proprietor gain more relevance in search - especially when the aim is to be found locally.
The key to the creation of a content strategy is to look at the wider world of relationships to the key aspects of your business. If you sell beer and wine then content that reviews the different varieties and pairs them with recipes is great stuff to consider adding to your site. If you sell toys then what about a short piece looking back on the toys of a bygone era? If you peddle shoes then inform us about how shoes are made or how to know when a shoe just fits.
"Content is king" was a phrase coined by Bill Gates in an essay publish January 3, 1996. In it he says:
Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the internet, just as it was in broadcasting.
Seventeen years later the statement remains as true now as it was then. Opportunities exist for even the smallest players online to make a big difference in their bottom lines when they focus on creating content. The content itself may be valuable as a platform for advertising (one way of making money from content) or it can help drive traffic from search engines that gets turned into sales, newsletter sign-ups, social media connections and other forms of connection that ultimately lead to increased awareness of your business and improved sales. If you have a small business and you want to attract more customers or clients via online channels it behooves you to start writing.
If you'd like me to take a peek at your current website and offer some suggestions for content strategy, hit me up in the comments below with a link to your website and I'm happy to oblige.