Contributor Jim Yu uses the SMART framework to prescribe a formula for SEO and content marketing success.

Despite the many ways Google has changed the search game over the last five years, one truth remains: con­tent is the vehi­cle that dri­ves your con­sumer inter­ac­tions, engage­ments, expe­ri­ences and, ulti­mate­ly, con­ver­sions.

How­ev­er, only 41 per­cent of mar­keters think their orga­ni­za­tion is clear on what an effec­tive or suc­cess­ful con­tent mar­ket­ing pro­gram looks like, accord­ing to the Con­tent Mar­ket­ing Insti­tute (CMI).

Mar­keters aren’t just lack­ing con­fi­dence in their efforts; these are real and mea­sur­able deficits. In fact, only 20 per­cent of B2C and 50 per­cent of B2B con­tent earns any engage­ment at all, my company’s research has found.

That’s a lot of wast­ed effort and resources invest­ed in con­tent that ends up just float­ing around the web, win­ning zero busi­ness ben­e­fit for its cre­ators.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at con­tent through the SMART lens. SMART is a goal-set­ting frame­work in which S stands for Spe­cif­ic, M for mea­sur­able, A for achiev­able, R for rel­e­vant and T for time­ly.

Below is my vari­a­tion that explains how to apply search engine opti­miza­tion (SEO) to your con­tent with­in a SMART frame­work, giv­ing you 14 con­crete ways to make your mar­ket­ing more effec­tive and to win you more busi­ness.

S — Specific content wins every time

Con­tent is not about what your mar­ket­ing team wants to say. It is about pro­vid­ing insight and infor­ma­tion that your audi­ence actu­al­ly wants to hear.

SMART con­tent is designed for a spe­cif­ic audi­ence, based on your under­stand­ing of their needs, pref­er­ences and intent.

1. Get to know your audiences.

There’s much more to this than key­word research. Where do your con­sumers live online? What’s their intent when per­form­ing cer­tain types of search­es or engag­ing your brand in social? What action are they most like­ly to take at that point? Under­stand­ing the audi­ence you’re writ­ing for is the foun­da­tion on which SMART con­tent is built.

2. Discover opportunities through topical research.

How well do you under­stand the com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment in the ver­ti­cals for which you’re cre­at­ing con­tent? Today, you’re com­pet­ing for eyes and clicks. Your com­peti­tors may be oth­er com­pa­nies, but you could be com­pet­ing for space in the SERPs against media brands, blog­gers, influ­encers and more. With­out that big­ger-pic­ture, bird’s‑eye view of rel­e­vant search and social spaces, you’re fly­ing blind.

Eval­u­at­ing the con­tent gaps not cov­ered by your com­pe­ti­tion pro­vides you with oppor­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate engag­ing con­tent that speaks to peo­ple in the key moments that mat­ter.

3. Choose content formats wisely.

Which media will you incor­po­rate to best illus­trate your mes­sage, engage your audi­ence and reach peo­ple across plat­forms?

Don’t lim­it your­self; a sin­gle piece of con­tent can incor­po­rate sev­er­al types of media, includ­ing social­ly share­able images, quick video clips and embed­ded media, like SlideShares.

This gives you var­i­ous ways to con­vey your mes­sage, but it also allows you to appear in dif­fer­ent types of search results (like Google Images) and on dif­fer­ent search plat­forms (like YouTube or SlideShare’s inter­nal search), as well.

M — Measurable content delivers on the metrics that matter

Con­tent mar­keters are get­ting bet­ter at prov­ing the busi­ness val­ue of their activ­i­ties. Just two years ago, only 21 per­cent of B2B mar­ket­ing respon­dents to CMI’s annu­al con­tent mar­ket­ing sur­vey said they were suc­cess­ful at track­ing ROI. Now, in 2017:

  • 72 per­cent are mea­sur­ing their con­tent mar­ket­ing ROI.
  • 51 per­cent are using a mea­sure­ment plan to pro­vide both insight and progress toward the busi­ness goals.
  • 79 per­cent are using ana­lyt­ics tools.

How can you make your con­tent mar­ket­ing efforts mea­sur­able?

4. Choose metrics that matter and align with your business goals.

Which KPIs tell the true sto­ry of your content’s suc­cess? Ide­al­ly, you’re going to mea­sure your content’s per­for­mance through the entire fun­nel, right from lead gen­er­a­tion and audi­ence-build­ing to nur­tur­ing, con­ver­sion, sales and right on through post-sales to reten­tion and evan­ge­lism.

Site traf­fic, lead qual­i­ty, social shares, time on site and con­ver­sion rates are among the top met­rics used by B2B mar­keters to deter­mine con­tent suc­cess. Pri­or­i­ties are sim­i­lar for B2C mar­keters.

5. Make search engine optimization a core component of content creation.

Improve your vis­i­bil­i­ty and key met­rics like engage­ment, time on site, shar­ing and con­ver­sions with strate­gic con­tent opti­miza­tion.

Apply read­abil­i­ty stan­dards and opti­mize title tags, meta descrip­tions, sub­head­ings, images and text in line with cur­rent SEO stan­dards.

Keep vis­i­tors click­ing and engag­ing with smart inter­nal link­ing that both improves user expe­ri­ence and resur­faces your most pop­u­lar, high­est-con­vert­ing con­tent.

6. Accelerate with automation.

Machine learn­ing is grow­ing in impor­tance in search, espe­cial­ly where data sets are large and dynam­ic. Iden­ti­fy­ing pat­terns in data in real time makes machine learn­ing a great asset to under­stand changes in your cus­tomer base, com­peti­tor land­scape or the over­all mar­ket.

Ide­al­ly, your con­tent automa­tion sys­tem will include report­ing to tell you not only how each piece is per­form­ing but also make rec­om­men­da­tions to help you focus on your most valu­able oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Automa­tion allows you to man­age rou­tine tasks with less effort so that you can focus on high-impact activ­i­ties and accom­plish busi­ness goals at scale.

A — Actionable content is always on & ready for activation

By action­able con­tent, I mean that which is ready to answers users’ ques­tions but also is valu­able way beyond the ini­tial peri­od of pro­mo­tion after pub­lish­ing.

7. Empower your content creators with technical SEO support.

Last month, I wrote about the impor­tance of bal­anc­ing tech­ni­cal and non-tech­ni­cal SEO with­in your orga­ni­za­tion. If you want your con­tent to per­form its best, you need to sup­port your cre­ative team with a tech­ni­cal­ly sound, opti­mized online pres­ence.

Site struc­ture and hier­ar­chy, meta­da­ta, mobile readi­ness, inter­nal link­ing, site speed, cod­ing errors and oth­er tech­ni­cal SEO fac­tors can all affect your content’s abil­i­ty to rank.

Fur­ther, they can affect read­ers’ abil­i­ty to access and enjoy the con­tent and then take next steps. Get your tech­ni­cal and non-tech­ni­cal SEO in order to set your con­tent team up for suc­cess.

8. Optimize for activation across multiple channels.

Search engine mar­ket­ing is the sec­ond-most com­mon­ly used paid con­tent pro­mo­tion tac­tic, next only to social adver­tis­ing.

Push your con­tent to social chan­nels like Twit­ter and Face­book, but don’t for­get oth­er chan­nels like LinkedIn, YouTube, Pin­ter­est, Insta­gram and Google+.

Ide­al­ly, you’re going to have some under­stand­ing of your audi­ence on each plat­form and which chan­nels will be most recep­tive to each new piece. Make sure you’re opti­miz­ing your social posts for the plat­form on which you’re post­ing — cut­ting and past­ing the same post across all chan­nels doesn’t cut it.

R — Resonate with content promotion in relevant channels

Even if you build it, they will not come until attract­ed. The com­pe­ti­tion for eyes and minds is fierce; increase the effi­ca­cy of your organ­ic efforts and pro­mo­tion­al spend by tar­get­ing the right peo­ple in the right places at the right time.

9. Amplify in social channels for early traction.

Low spend min­i­mums on chan­nels like Twit­ter and Face­book make it afford­able to run exper­i­ments against dif­fer­ent audi­ence seg­ments and see where your con­tent res­onates best.

Plus, that ini­tial boost of activ­i­ty gives your con­tent author­i­ty and appeals to the social net­works’ rank­ing algo­rithms, help­ing you get more organ­ic reach.

If you are track­ing and mea­sur­ing cor­rect­ly, you can see which audi­ences are not only engaged, but con­vert­ing. That’s where you want to allo­cate your con­tent-pro­mo­tion bud­get, rather than hav­ing some pre­de­ter­mined amount of spend per chan­nel that runs its course regard­less of per­for­mance for each piece.

10. Syndicate and use paid promotion to reach targeted audiences outside your existing network.

Syn­di­ca­tion takes con­tent you’ve already pub­lished on your site and repub­lish­es it else­where, expos­ing you to anoth­er publication’s audi­ence. You might be able to find organ­ic syn­di­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties, and there are plen­ty of paid syn­di­ca­tion ser­vices like Out­brain, Taboola or Zeman­ta.

11. Don’t forget email!

Your con­sumers want to hear from you. In fact, 86 per­cent want to receive emails at least month­ly from com­pa­nies they deal with, a Mar­ket­ing­Sh­er­pa sur­vey found in 2015.

Make your call to action (CTA) to click through and read the con­tent crys­tal-clear. Avoid plac­ing com­pet­ing CTAs in your email, and resist the urge to try to sell in every com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Your con­tent is designed to do the work of help­ing them take the next log­i­cal step.

T — Tangible business results are derived from SMART content

KPIs like social inter­ac­tions and site vis­its give you a great idea of how well your con­tent per­forms in search and social, but you need tan­gi­ble busi­ness results to prove val­ue.

12. Make content profitable with CTAs that drive performance.

What action would you like read­ers to take? Which of your site’s con­ver­sion pages are cur­rent­ly con­vert­ing best and gen­er­at­ing the high­est-qual­i­ty leads? These insights will help guide your CTA selec­tion, but remem­ber, your CTAs should also match the con­sumer intent you’re tar­get­ing with each piece. Don’t for­get to include embed­ded per­for­mance track­ing for both site traf­fic and con­ver­sions.

13. Incorporate elements that support multiple business functions.

Make your con­tent mul­ti­di­men­sion­al with ele­ments to build brand author­i­ty, inspire or edu­cate on prod­uct (or ser­vice), encour­age engage­ment and more.

Incor­po­rate tes­ti­mo­ni­als into your con­tent, where they can serve the pur­pose of pro­vid­ing social val­i­da­tion with­in the con­text of an exist­ing con­sumer expe­ri­ence. Devel­op author per­sonas to give your con­tent greater author­i­ty and build the pro­files of key employ­ees and exec­u­tives.

14. Improve ROI with ongoing content management and optimization.

How much con­tent does your orga­ni­za­tion have sit­ting on-site and around the web? Each piece is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for ongo­ing traf­fic and lead gen­er­a­tion, but only if it’s kept in line with con­stant­ly chang­ing SEO stan­dards.

Updat­ing your entire cat­a­log of con­tent every time Google releas­es an update would be a task so astro­nom­i­cal in scope that it’s not even worth con­sid­er­ing doing man­u­al­ly.