When it comes to digital marketing, content is king. But it’s also difficult and time consuming to create. So how can you create content that works well in both search and social? Melissa Sciorra, who is the Senior Manager of SEO & Content Marketing for SmarterTravel Media, shows us how your content can do double duty.
Rich: As a child, my next guest constantly got in trouble for cutting the line to get to the first position, and that’s when her quest for first ranking began. Well, that’s how the story goes, at least.
With more than nine years of digital marketing experience, she is a senior manager of SEO and content marketing for Smarter Travel Media, a subsidiary of TripAdvisor. Melissa leads editorial teams and content research and planning, on page SEO and social media strategy and implementation across well known editorial travel brands that reach nearly 200 million unique visitors each month.
Her portfolio includes oyster.com, jetsetter.com, familyvacationcritic.com, smartertraveler.com, whattopack.com and airfarewatchdog.com. She’s been nominated for SEMPO’s Industry MVP and Conductor Searchlights Industry MVP Searchie award, and PR Daily Digital award for Best SEO, and won PR News Digital award for SEO. I’m excited to dive into SEO with Melissa Sciorra. Melissa, welcome to the show.
Melissa: Hello. Thank you so much for having me. And what an intro.
Rich: Well, it was exciting to kind of go through all your accolades. Now it does feel, however, like there’s a gap between cutting in line for chocolate milk and being Senior Manager of SEO and content marketing. So what drew you to SEO?
Melissa: I love my story on how I ended up getting into SEO. When I first graduated from college I was actually working for an electronic medical record company, which is like the farthest that you can get from digital marketing. And essentially during my time there I was asked to start this program where we would build websites for doctor’s offices. And with that my CEO called me into his office and he was like, “Melissa, I want you to learn SEO”. And I was like, “Yeah, too cool. I got it. I’m going to learn it”.
So the first thing I did was I went to Google and I Googled “SEO” and I started to learn a little bit about what it was. Now fast forward a couple years, I ended up moving to Boston from New York, I kept my job at this EMR medical device company and I basically fell in love with SEO all over again and I realized that that’s what I wanted to do full time. I didn’t want to do implementation of the software and support. I just wanted to work for a cool agency and do SEO for clients.
So I ended up going out on a limb and I applied to an agency in Boston for a purely SEO role. And I ended up getting it, which was mind blowing because I spent the first three weeks thinking that they were going to fire me. I was involved in these really, really hectic client projects where I had to migrate multiple sites into one. And basically everything that was coming at me was brand new and I sort of had to fake it till I made it, in a way. So I would spend hours and hours researching on my own time and reading books and reading blogs and going into work early and staying late. And I ended up becoming the director of SEO at that agency.
And then I started getting into this managerial position, I wasn’t really doing as much SEO so I started my own consulting practice for doing SEO for small clients around Boston. And an opportunity came up for me to get this job at Smarter Travel, which was essentially building out an entire SEO program with an expert travel editorial team, which is like amazing, right? Because who doesn’t want to focus on travel content and read about amazing destinations all across the globe. So that’s sort of my journey on how I got into SEO, just sort of by accident and I’m so happy it happened.
Rich: Very cool. So you ended up at Smart Traveler and I understand that you led their SEO department, but then you got dragged into content. So what’s that like and what’s the difference between, in your opinion, straight up SEO and content marketing?
Melissa: So when I explain SEO, I talk about it as in the three C’s. So code, content, and connections, are sort of all under this umbrella of SEO. So for me, it’s not something that’s separate, it’s actually something that’s bucketed into search engine optimization. Because you can’t have web rankings without content, and you can’t have content without people who are going to write that content.
So for me it was like a really easy transition. I was working with the editorial team in the beginning anyway, but we sort of broadened my job role to have that more umbrella approach and to have the editorial team members feel more comfortable reaching out to me asking questions and helping with their templates.
Rich: When you say their templates, do you mean like how they might be formulating their content so it would be more optimized for Google, or what did that look like?
Melissa: Exactly. So when I first came on board, we had really great content, but the hierarchical organization wasn’t necessarily there. So when I’m talking about hierarchical organization, the content should read sort of like a table of contents with these metahead or tags breaking up the content. And that’s really useful for people who are reading the content because it makes it really easy to scan the content, which is just sort of like a normal human behavior. But it also makes it readily available for search engines to understand what are the most important topics that your content is about.
So I worked with the editorial team on creating these unique templates for different types of content so that we could hit on all of those like meta factors. So make sure that we have ⅛ one tag and then underneath that we have subheadings and things that explain subheadings and then H threes and H fours and it sort of goes down in chronological order.
Rich: All right. Okay. So what is the overlap in your opinion between search content and social content? Is there an overlap?
Melissa: I would say there is definitely an overlap. So we know that search engines understand social signals and they understand if content is shared on social and if there is engagement around it. But I do think that there has to be some differences between SEO content and social content.
We noticed that a lot of the times people who are searching on search engines are looking for that informational content. Whereas social media is a discovery platform. And a lot of the times if we use scare headlines or these really wow topics that more often than none gets the most clicks and engagement from social. So we have to be really crafty with the headlines that we use for SEO versus the headlines and descriptions that we use for social media.
Rich: So you’re creating in your role now you’re creating content that should play well both on the search engines in terms of ranking as well as on social. Can you give me an example of an article or topic that you might cover and how you might approach it from a search engine standpoint and then how you might approach it from a social media standpoint to get engagement with it?
Melissa: Definitely. So I’m pretty sure this podcast is PG, but this topic might not be so PG. So for example, the amount of people searching for nude resorts on Google is actually a lot, people want to know the best places to go where they can be nude. When we look at it from an SEO standpoint we want to hit on all of those key topics, key themes, keywords that people are searching for.
When we look at it from a social standpoint, people might not even know that nudist resorts exist. So a title that we might change would be something for SEO,”Here’s the 10 best nude resorts in the USA”. For social, it might be something along the lines of, “You won’t believe how amazing these 10 nude resorts are in the USA”. So that it would entice the click if they discovered that content.
Rich: Okay. So how do you do that research then? Because some of it sounds almost like a gut check. Although on the search engine side, I’m sure you’re using some different tools to determine search volume, competition, that sort of thing.
Melissa: Definitely. So on the SEO side we do have myriad tools that we use, SEMrush, Google Search Console are among some of our favorites. We were also using a browser extension called Keywords Everywhere, which I absolutely loved until they turned into this sort of freemium plan.
So right now if you use Keywords Everywhere, you have to pay for a certain amount of credits to get search volume based on what you’re Googling. And that search volume will be directly implemented within your browser. So it’s a helpful tool because it will hit on a lot of those long tail keywords that are all related to the head term of what you’re searching for. And a lot of the times it’s not really going to be keywords that are showing up in SEMrush or in Google Search Console. We also turn to Google AdWords often, but a lot of the times I find it more useful to utilize competitive analysis and SEMrush analytics tools.
Rich: Okay. And then conceptually, how are you doing the social stuff? Is that like, what would you think that somebody would click on, or are there tools you use on that side as well?
Melissa: Yeah, so we have a pretty robust CRM program where we test different headlines and A/B test certain scenarios. And we can understand from those certain tests what resonates best for enticing that click and email. And we typically try to use the same sort of language for social because we find that both of those play and work together the best.
Rich: Okay. So let me ask you a question. At some point I’m going to be crafting the title of this very episode for this podcast. Could you give me a SEO title for this topic as well as a social media title for this topic? Sorry to put you on the spot, but I’m curious. I know that you didn’t have the time to do the research, so it’s going to be more a gut check than anything else.
Melissa: I don’t know how many people are searching for Melissa Sciorra, but… So for SEO or the search engines, I would probably do something along the lines of, “Best tips for SEO and social media in 2020”. Right. And then do a pipe and do Agents of Change Podcast. For social. I might do something along the lines of, “SEO expert reveals secrets for how to rank in 2020”.
Rich: Okay. All right. I thought you were going to work, whatever. It’s all good.
Melissa: That might entice the click through. I don’t know.
Rich: So you work at Smarter Travel and obviously this is a bigger organization, a lot of people work, certainly a certain amount of visibility there. A lot of people who might be listening to this podcast are solopreneurs, small business owners, you’re using agency level tools. What are the takeaways that somebody who maybe doesn’t have the time or the concentration or the money that Smarter Travel, what can they do on a day to day basis to get their content out there and get it found?
Meissa: Ah, that’s a great question. So when we first started out, we definitely weren’t using enterprise level tools. That’s something that I had to make a case for and train basically the entire team on. What I could recommend is do your due diligence and research your topics directly in search engines.
So this could be Bing, Google, Yahoo, Ecosia. Just if you think you have a topic in mind that you want to rank for, go into an in private browsing mode which doesn’t take into account any of your previous search history or things that you’ve clicked on, and start Googling the topics and keywords that you think you want to write about.
From there start to identify who is showing up in position one, position two, position three, in those search engines and look through their content. Are they breaking up their content with subheadings? Are there keywords in those subheadings? Do they include imagery? What is the alternative text or text behind those images? How long is their content? Is it around 200 words? Is it around 1600 words? Try to create something that’s along the same lines of what your competitors are doing, but make it better. And definitely make it unique. Don’t copy it because that’s going to be detrimental for you.
Rich: All right. So if I’m understanding what you’re saying is – whatever the topic is – whether it’s gluten free pizza or doggy day care or CBD, what we’re going to do is we’re going to do the type of searches that we think somebody would look for when they’re looking for a company/product/service like ours. And then we’re going to look at the top results and basically we’re going to try and reverse engineer them. Take a look at, like you said, length, subheads, all tags, all that sort of stuff.
And then you mentioned something that sounds magical, “make it better”. Give me one or two tips that I could use to take a top ranking piece of content and somehow make it better. Do you see certain things out there that people aren’t doing on a regular basis that you think we should be doing if we want to unseat that top ranked result?
Melissa: Yeah. A lot of the time I see that when people are writing these articles about certain topics, they’re not going into depth on the subtopics. So, for example, if someone is looking for a packing list on what they should pack for Nashville, there’s more that we can write to please that user to make them stay along on that webpage longer. And maybe click some affiliate links or see some display ads. So what I mean is, we know that this person is going on a trip to Nashville, perhaps we can also provide some recommendations on the best attractions to visit while they’re in Nashville. Or hit on the weather in Nashville so that if they know they’re visiting in April they should probably bring a rain jacket cause there are potential rain showers or do they have certain frequently asked questions around Nashville. So a really great tool that I love is actually, there’s two tools. One is called answerthepublic.com.
Rich: Ooo, I love that one.
Melissa: Oh yeah, it’s so great. And you know, they used to have that really creepy guy in the front who was picking his teeth and it was really gross. They actually ended up changing it, which is great. But Answer the Public is free for about three to four searches per day. And what it pulls from is the Google auto suggest feature.
So what that means is anytime you’re in Google and you’re Googling a query or a keyword and Google is trying to match your question, there’s no way that a human being can go through all of those and copy and paste them down. So what this tool does is pulls all of those from the auto database. So if you enter “Nashville” into that tool, it will provide you with all of the questions people are asking around Nashville that you can then answer within your content to make it better.
Another great tool that sort of around the same area is, alsoasked.com. This one is fairly new, I think it’s still in beta. But these polls from those Google Q&As that tend to show up on the top of the page and sort of midway down for certain queries. So if you’re asking like,’What is the weather in Nashville in April”, typically Google will pull out a few questions and answers directly in those search results.
Rich: That’s the “people also ask”section then?
Melissa: Exactly, yes.
Rich: Okay. And just a pro tip, and I don’t know if this is gonna work forever, but the other day I was playing around on Answer the Public with a free free account. And of course after three, four or five, whatever it’s like now you have to pay. And you can’t just switch to another browser because it’s tracking your IP address. But I happened to have just downloaded the tour browser, which offers total anonymity and I actually had good results with that. So you know, that might work, I don’t know, it’s a hack if you don’t want to pay for it.
Well those are some great tools. I hadn’t heard of ask.com so I definitely want to check that one out.
Melissa: Yeah. Alsoasked.com.
Rich: Alsoasked.com, that’s what I meant. That’s a great one, I definitely want to look at that. Now there are people at different parts of the customer journey, let’s call it different parts of the funnel. Do you have any recommendations on how to content that targets people at the top, middle or bottom of a funnel?
Melissa: Yeah. So if you’re like a B2B company, I would recommend going to your sales team and figuring out what sorts of questions your existing customers are asking. Because those are probably questions that people who are looking for your product are also asking.
When I talk about my SEO strategy, we tend to do a lot of top of the funnel content. So people who like don’t really know what they’re trying to get information for, they’re sort of asking questions and we need to buy those answers.
A lot of the times if you have more transactional keywords, which are much shorter, people kind of know what they want. For example, sunglasses, if someone is typing in sunglasses into their browser, they’re probably ready to buy and you should probably give them some sort of buying guides for choosing like the best sunglasses for them.
But maybe someone doesn’t know if they want polarized sunglasses versus non polarized, or prescription versus non-prescription. That sort of going further and further away from the bottom of the funnel and then you can cater content towards them. So I guess it’s putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and identifying what the workflow would be for them to get from point A to point B, and sort of crafting content along the way for them.
Rich: That’s interesting. So years ago I did some SEO research for a wig company, of all things, and they were talking about hair restoration and hair replacement. And I used Google Trends, which is one of my favorite tools, to see which one actually was a better performing term. And they both were about the same. And then I decided to throw in “hair loss” and all of a sudden hair loss crushed the competition.
And that really was a top of the funnel search term as far as I was concerned. Like when you are just starting to see a few hairs are circling the drain, like that’s when you’re thinking about hair loss. But when you get to hair restoration or hair replacement, it tells me that you are ready to make a buying decision. You’re like, Holy cow, I need to get on this yesterday. And obviously that’s the kind of people a lot of companies would want to be in front of.
So if what I’m hearing you say is some of this just comes down to your knowledge of your own industry and where people might be, what kind of questions they would have depending on where they are in that customer journey
Melissa: Definitely. And you had mentioned Google Trends. Have you started to use Pinterest Trends at all? Because I find that so much more helpful.
Rich: Interesting. I have not. So I’ll have to check out Pinterest Trends as well. This is fantastic.
Pinterest: Pinterest just released their Top 100, which are all the biggest trending topics and keywords from the past year. And a lot of it are things that you would never even think about. So like “sustainable travel” for example, people are really interested in how they can be more sustainable when they’re going to different locations. And Pinterest actually provides keywords that are growing like a thousand percent year over year, so that you can then utilize those certain themes and create content around. So if you want to visit it, it’s trends.pinterest.com.
Rich: I’ll definitely check it out. But on the Google Trends, I can throw in any search terms I want. Are you saying that Pinterest is only released their top 100 or that they just released a report on their top 100 to get people excited, but it’s like the Google Trends and I can search for anything?
Melissa: So it’s kind of both. So it’s like Google Trends in that you can search for a specific keyword and it will show you when it’s popular on Pinterest and related terms. But what I really like about it is that it’s surfacing certain trends for you. So it might surface things that you wouldn’t even think to do research on.
Rich: Alright. Where do you see, or do you see YouTube in terms of using videos or creating videos for SEO? Does that fit into your model at all?
Melissa: Yeah, definitely. Video SEO has has been a talking point for years and it’s something that we’re starting to break into on the Smarter Travel team for both our jesetter.com website and our smartertravel.com website.
And what we really wanted to hone in on is can we make money from monetizing ads on the YouTube platform itself? So we like video because it’s a unique way to tell our stories. And we know that Google likes multimedia, they like videos and images to be within your content and those videos can also surface in Google search results so it can drive traffic to certain pages of your site or your YouTube channel. And we, we use it to essentially drive that average time on page up on our content sites, because the more time people spend on our pages, the better that signal is sending to Google and the more display ads they see and all this kind of stuff.
So I definitely think that YouTube is a great platform to hone in on and dive into. There are certain techniques and tactics that you can really leverage to sort of expand the visibility and viewership of your videos on YouTube. So for example, if you post something on YouTube, you have 48 hours to make sure that you get as much visibility as possible. So lining up with your social media campaigns, CRM campaigns, paid campaigns, and blasting it out at the same time will help increase the durability of that video in search engine results on YouTube. So small little tidbits like that are super important when you’re looking to optimize that YouTube video and YouTube channel.
Rich: That’s cool. But also what I’m hearing you say is putting videos – whether they’re yours or somebody else’s – that are contextually relevant to the content on your page could get people to hang around longer on your page or post, which then sends a message or a signal to Google that this is really valuable content. And that might get you better rankings. Cool.
So as you look forward into the rest of 2020 and beyond, what are you seeing as some of the most important trends in your opinion?
Melissa: Okay. So one of the major changes that took place in Google search results in January, 2020 was the addition of the fab icon in search engine results. And essentially what this is doing is making users blind to ads. And what Google is trying to do is get people to sort of ignore that fab icon so that when they see the little ad symbol, they ignore it and they click it, which essentially gives Google more money.
Now essentially this is going to hurt SEO in the long term because less click throughs are going to those organic results and more click throughs are going to the paid ads. And they’ve made a lot more changes to the search engine results over the past month or so to make sure that essentially less click throughs are going to organic results. In the travel industry specifically, we’ve been hit pretty hard by Google Trips. So anytime you Google like “all inclusive resorts in Bermuda” or “the best places to travel in Mexico”, Google will show their own hotel results and bring you into their own trip experience called Google Trips, which used to be an app but it was moonlighted in August of last year and they sort of integrated it in the search engine results.
So what we’re trying to do is combat these loss in clicks with our informational content. So maybe someone doesn’t know the best places to go in Bermuda, we’re trying to craft an article that says, “Here are the top 10 destinations for you to go to on your all inclusive Bermuda trip”.
So lots of changes going on in the Google search results. I think it’s going to continue happening and the industry is trying to make sense of all the algorithm updates and what’s going on. There’s multiple algorithm updates a day, so some are some hit harder than others. So it’s just trying to understand what’s going on and what Google essentially wants.
Rich: Makes a lot of sense. Melissa, this has been great, eye opening. Cannot wait to dive into some of the tools that you mentioned. If people want to learn a little bit more about you and what you’re up to, where can we find you online?
Melissa: I recommend following me on Twitter at @Mel_Arroics. It’s my last name backwards. It just happened, I don’t know why I did it. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s where I’m tweeting about all of my industry updates and find articles that I love.
Rich: Awesome. Melissa, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a blast and I appreciate you stopping by today.
Melissa: Awesome, thanks so much for having me.
Melissa Sciorra uses her SEO superpowers to excel in her role at Smarter Travel Media. Follow her on Twitter where she shares insightful tips and up to the minute digital and content marketing strategies.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.