Expert Interview: Eka Vankova, Global Content and PR Lead at William Russell

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Global digital marketing managers must think ‘big’ as well as ‘small’. They must continually take into consideration the international growth plans of various organisations and pay attention to local audiences’ languages, customs and habits – especially in the most competitive health and finance-related sectors.

Thinking big and small is especially important when creating successful and valuable websites, content strategies and SEO plans, and managing multilingual content and SEO projects on an international scale. However, it is not an easy task for most organisations.

This interview with Eka Vankova, Global Content and PR Lead at William Russell, explores the role of content, and most importantly how to create a successful international content strategy driven by SEO.

William Russell is a leading provider of health insurance, life insurance and income protection – three niches that are among the most competitive in SEO.

All three come under the umbrella of Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) content that, to protect the public, Google scrutinises most closely for reliability and quality. For this reason, Eka’s insights make for important reading.

1. How do you feel the role of content is changing in SEO, if at all? Why?

Content has become more important than ever. You can't succeed in SEO these days unless you produce original, helpful, and actionable content (and build links around it).

Content is a large part of our everyday life: it keeps potential and existing customers informed, tells us the brand story, answers our questions, entertains us, and guides our purchasing decisions at the end!

Website performance is important (not only for SEO reasons), but as a ranking factor, it is significantly less important than a clean concept, helpful content, and external verification through links, mentions and brand searches.

I like this increased role of content in SEO because it allows SEO professionals to have an impact on more business decisions and be strategic. Of course, it's still a long-term channel, but it influences business performance and increases profits. If done right, it can generate a lot of value to brands at the end.

2. For companies with many products and services, what are the essential elements of an effective content strategy in SEO terms?

SEO-led content strategy should be product and data driven. You should also understand your target audience really well and match their search intent.

Ideally, you want to make sure you cover subjects that have strong business potential for your product. This means that your ideal customers cannot solve their problem without your product.

If you create an informational blog article that is close to the awareness stage of the customer journey, your product should be mentioned there in the most natural way.

Here are the main elements of a successful content strategy driven by SEO:

  1. Know your audience and their main pain points.
  2. Understand what the main goal of your content is. For us at William Russell, it is to become the most trustful source of information on moving and working abroad.
  3. Research your competitors and do thorough keyword research.
  4. Set up your KPIs and track results.
  5. Learn quickly and keep optimising further.

3. Do larger companies have an easier time when it comes to taking advantage of SEO opportunities, or are there areas where challenger brands have the upper hand?

With larger companies, the competition is tougher, too. Yes, they have a lot of resources, but they are very rarely agile. In a smaller company you do not have the protection of the big brand, and some doors might seem to be closed for you, but there is a lot of opportunity because you can make a real difference and can use creativity to deliver value.

There is also less red tape in challenger brands and they are more likely to innovate.

4. Do you welcome or worry about new Google updates? Why?

That’s the beauty of working in SEO and content: every day is different. While it’s sometimes frustrating that the search results are owned by Google and there are so many updates happening maybe too often, at the end of the day, I’m proud to be part of the industry whose mission is to ‘organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’

This is especially true in YMYL vertical, where people make important financial and health decisions based on the content we put online.

5. With Google raising plans to dynamically rewrite title tags and the like, do you feel SEO and content experts should push back?

It’s not an entirely new thing. I feel like by rewriting titles, Google puts users in a better position, as it produces more readable and accessible titles for pages and connects users with content publishers, creators, and businesses even more.

6. What are the best tools for marketers to measure the performance or reach of their content?

This depends on your goals and metrics you prefer; for me personally, it’s definitely Google Search Console. I’m also a big fan of Ahrefs and SemRush. And of course, Screaming Frog.

7. Is there such a thing as intrinsically 'linkable' content? Are some brands better positioned than others to organically earn links?

When creating content, ‘linkability’ should guide your briefs. Links are one of the main ranking factors by Google, so building ‘linking triggers’ such as unique data, survey results and helpful tips makes content more newsworthy, and media may naturally pick it up. And yes, some industries and verticals are less competitive when it comes to getting high quality links from publishers and other relevant websites.

8. What do you feel will be the major content trends for brands in competitive niches in 2022? Will any specific industries be doing things differently?

I think the main trend is Google’s focus on machine learning. Artificial intelligence (BERT, MUM updates) is clearly the future. Google will increasingly be able to establish connections and answer questions itself.

Website operators can’t do much more than watch and adapt to the changed circumstances. For our international SEO and local websites strategy, it means that there is a tougher challenge of producing even better content than the local websites do.

9. If you could give one piece of advice to a young person looking for a career in content or SEO, what would it be?

Allow yourself to dream big. Imagine the results of your work, how they might impact the business and how much value you can bring, and then create an actionable plan on how to achieve it. It’s a very rewarding career, and it’s never dull.

In summary…

The best content keeps customers informed, builds trust and communicates the company’s brand.  These elements combined lead to customers not only purchasing the product or service, but to a re-purchasing stage - making them loyal brand advocates.

Eka rightly pointed out that the right content strategy can generate a lot of value for brands long-term. Eka also clearly laid out the methodological process of developing an international content strategy driven by SEO efforts.

By focusing on the five points mentioned above, a marketer can develop an effective content strategy on a local and international scale - keeping in mind the need to continually optimise the content to maintain relevancy.

Elements such as content ‘linkability’ and YMYL guidelines play an important role in any SEO plan, whether it’s onsite, offsite, or technical SEO.

Creating SEO strategies with naturally linkable content that communicates expertise, trust, and authority (EAT) is an extremely important component of an SEO plan in highly competitive areas like health.

Furthermore, Google is becoming much more sophisticated in its search capabilities, and global content managers have the challenge of creating better content than the local websites. There is also a greater need for accurate marketing translation and localisation.

In summary, the role of a global content manager is varied and, as indicated in this interview, there are a lot of elements that are incorporated into a profession of a global digital marketer. However, as Eka stated, it can be a very rewarding career and no two days are the same!