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Automating content marketing SEO – our ongoing work

Our work to remove the burden of manual SEO from content marketing

 

The inner workings of Google’s search engine ranking algorithms are kept so deliberately secret that it often feels like even Larry and Sergey are kept in the dark. But what everybody in the SEO world can agree on, is that a steadily updated stream of relevant content works wonders for organic rankings compared to the somewhat static content experiences most enterprise organisations end up delivering.

Providing that steady supply of content and technical updates however, can prove costly both in time and money as content has to be written and edited, webpages deployed and website caches cleared. All tasks that often get de-prioritised on a wider marketing to-do list.

Content and SEO automation

A question we’ve asked ourselves over the years and one we regularly revisit, is what if adding relevant, indexable content was quicker and easier, almost automated?

Our StoryBoards have always allowed this quick updating and addition of content through sourcing and publishing workflows, but we’ve been building in the background in preparation for changes elsewhere that would make this idea of easy optimisation more achievable.That starts with continued testing from our side.

Previously, search engines have been unable to index content loaded by JavaScript, as they have traditionally used only the page’s initial HTML source and read its contents there. Over the past few years however, Google has massively improved their methods of scraping web pages and, using their own Search Console tools, you can view your webpages ‘as Google sees them’.

These developments mean we’re now able to optimise our content displays to an even greater extent with faster feedback mechanisms.

How Google sees StoryStream content

As we use our own technology on our website, it gives us a readily available example for illustration.

When we put StoryStream.ai through the Search Console tools, and request scrapes after publishing new content items, we can see that Google happily reports back to us that it has read and understood the newly added content.

More importantly, we can now see this in effect on Google itself. The screenshot below shows our case studies landing page, where all case studies are added via a StoryStream Storyboard. You can see I’ve underlined ‘Porsche’ and ‘Formula E’ on the first case study:

content marketing SEO with storystream

The second screen shot below shows Google’s results:

automation of content seo - image 2

You can see in the top position that Google has indexed the text from our Storyboard, capturing a range of key topics that are present on the page within the meta description by default.

While this is a simple example, it gives some insight into the iteration methods we use to constantly optimise content displays for our customers so that the most important and relevant keywords within their content can be easily picked up by Google.

Optimising for the challenges of modern content marketing

Like many web developers, the Engineering Team here at StoryStream is always trying to improve the load times of our JavaScript. Over the past few years there has been a real focus within the web development community over load and execution times. As Internet speeds and device processors get faster it’s tempting to just throw more bytes on to a webpage because it feels like users can handle the extra page weight.

However, this doesn’t take into account users on slow mobile networks and older handsets and given that 98% of China’s web browsing is done on mobile handsets it’s more important than ever for SEO performance to make sure content loads quickly and correctly.

To combat this, a focus for us has always been to make sure to minify our JavaScript – a process of removing white space, unnecessary characters, and shortening words to reduce our file sizes by up to 40%. We also compress them further on our servers using GZIP compression to reduce the size by a further 35%, all meaning our files download to users’ browsers as fast as possible.  

Mobile experience

Our StoryBoards were built with mobile in mind from the beginning and increasingly so in today’s mobile first economy. Using something called CSS media queries, we can always make sure the layout of our content is setup to be responsive across all device types exactly in line with how the rest of the website adapts to different screens.

Not only does this help the user interact more with the page, which is a critical Google metric itself, but it benefits SEO rankings to an additional extent as there’s no need for a separate mobile version of StoryStream content. That lightweight approach is something that’s very important to us.

Images usually make up most of a webpage’s weight and they are something we have concentrated a lot on to ensure we serve the user the most appropriately sized images for the screen size they are viewing our StoryBoard on.

If a user is looking at a StoryBoard on mobile then we don’t want to be serving them desktop size images as this will slow the page down unnecessarily and use up their data (if they weren’t on WiFi). We are also exploring the addition of WebP image format support which is a new image format created by Google that reduces image size (without any loss of quality) by around 25%.

content marketing seo on mobile

Why we’ll continue to build with Javascript

All of our StoryBoards are written in JavaScript rather than using outdated technology like iFrames, which are unfortunately still used to deliver content by some platforms. That matters because it means all of the content from our apps is completely attributable to the webpage it sits on, so the website on which the content is published will benefit in terms of better organic rankings.

The issue with iFrames for example, is that they work by pulling content from one URL and showing it on another, the one the user is engaging with content on. While this can let developers get content displays built quicker, it comes at the expense of customer experience. Passing information through an iFrame, such as whether or not a user has accepted a cookie policy, can be unreliable at the best of times – leading to frustrating experiences like needing to double accept opt-in notices or inconsistent image sizes and rendering.

Overall, the extra development challenges of building with a dedication to Javascript is something that we strongly believe to be worth the time and effort. The payoff for customers is a content delivery system that supports their important but often underserved objectives of improving organic search presence, an area in our roadmap that will increasingly be a factor as we move into 2020.

If you’d like to hear more about how StoryStream can support organic presence for your content, get in touch with our team today.

Andy Taylor

Andy is StoryStream’s Engineering Team Lead. He runs the engineering sprint team, works on new features, ensures upcoming tasks are properly planned and specified, and helps our developers learn new skills.