Interactive Content 101

5 Myths About SEO and Interactive Content

By Ashley Taylor Anderson May 7, 2015

Digital marketers today know that content and SEO are total besties. Search can (and should) inform what topics you cover in your content, and well-executed content that’s been optimized for search can help drive more eyeballs to your website—which will hopefully translate into more leads for your funnel.

While most of us content marketers have a pretty solid grasp of how SEO plays out in static content, we become squeamish when it comes to interactive content. After all, the rules we’ve learned don’t play out the same way when it comes to an animation or video; sometimes, we’re not entirely certain when and how the rules even apply.

In this article, I want to walk through 5 common myths about SEO and interactive content, and give you the real scoop on each one. By the end, I hope you’ll see that interactive content is actually one of the most powerful tools to have in your SEO arsenal.

Myth 1: Interactive content is bad because it doesn’t include indexable text.

Many marketers are scared to create interactive content because, unlike your run-of-the-mill blog posts, landing pages, and eBooks, interactive experiences don’t render text in a way that search engines can read and index.

If this line of reasoning sounds familiar, it’s time to kick your fears to the curb. Google and other search engines have moved beyond purely looking at text and markup. They’re starting to place a heavy emphasis on engagement with your site content, regardless of what format that content happens to take.

For example, let’s say you have a PDF eBook you’re hosting on your website. This content is getting indexed for search because you’ve optimized the text, title, keywords, and other factors. However, people are likely to leave your page after a few seconds because PDFs don’t render well in a browser and are pretty much illegible on most mobile devices.

PDF eBook on mobile

Eventually, this eBook URL will have a high bounce rate and fall within search rankings.

Alternatively, if you created an interactive eBook that keeps people on site for 6 minutes instead of 30 seconds, and renders nicely across all devices, you’re much more likely to have your content rank well in search—even though it doesn’t have indexable text. This is because Google cares about how people are interacting with your content in addition to what that content contains and how it’s structured.

If you’re still concerned about creating interactive content that isn’t indexable, you can usually get around this using NoScript HTML, which allows you to convey text separately from your visual presentation. This allows you to take the content from your interactive piece and put it into the traditional tagged structure that search engines are used to consuming without displaying this text to the end user. As long as you don’t abuse this system by keyword stuffing your NoScript HTML with a bunch of junk unrelated to your page, this solution should keep both robots and readers happy.

Myth 2: It’s more important to optimize content for search engines than for people.

While this may have been true 10 or even 5 years ago, the times they are a-changing. Google and other search engines are constantly learning from the way people engage with websites, and as a consequence, they’ve concluded that the more their results can reflect how people behave, the more valuable they will be.

If you’ve been a marketer for any length of time, you’ve seen this truth play out. We’ve all spent time optimizing the hell out of a page that still flops because the content sucks, it looks crappy across browsers and devices, or it gets buried under a ton of other pages that cover the same topic in the same way.

Conversely, you can totally ignore SEO and still have your content kill it in terms of rankings. For example, take Contently’s interactive eBook, How to Build a Brand Newsroom.

Unoptimized search result ranks #1

You’ll notice that the top search result has absolutely no optimization—the page title doesn’t match the title of the piece, and there’s not even a meta description. And yet, because the piece got such high engagement and shares,  it still appears as the top result, beating out  optimized pages even from top digital publishers like The Huffington Post. This speaks volumes on the power of great content—and Google’s willingness to serve up that content, even when it doesn’t adhere to optimization best practices.

Myth 3: On-page SEO is way more important than off-page SEO.

I’m not saying that you should ignore on-page optimizations—not at all. If your content is poorly tagged and organized, it’ll be hard for either humans or search engines to understand it. But as search algorithms evolve to become more people-friendly instead of just robot-friendly, off-page SEO factors are becoming more and more important.

Some of these factors include:

  • Social signals: Metrics such as how many followers, content shares, and mentions your brand receives on major social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ fall into the social signals bucket.

  • User metrics: The two factors that Google and Bing look closely at when determining rankings are click through rates from search engine results pages (SERPs) to your site and dwell times (how much time a user spends on your site before returning to search).

  • Domain authority: This Moz-created metric calculates how content from your domain will rank on average in search engines based on a variety of SEO-related factors such as link counts, trust scores, and individual page ranks.

Myth 4: Interactive content hosted on a non-native domain is bad.

When creating interactive content using a third-party platform, that content often lives on a subdomain of the provider instead of your own domain.

Does this setup automatically lead to bad SEO? Not necessarily. Advanced platforms give you the ability to include a rel-canonical tag that pays forward all of the SEO juice from your interactive content to a page on your domain. This tag tells search engines that their content should be treated as if it were a copy of a page on your domain and that all of the links and content metrics applied to the third-party page should be credited toward your domain’s URL.

To avoid the whole rel-canonical issue altogether, many platforms also allow you to embed the interactive content you build into your own site so that all of the linkbacks, engagement, and shares go directly to your domain.

Embedded interactive content

This is the standard solution if you’re building a homepage carousel, infographic, or smaller interactive content piece that makes up just one part of a larger webpage, but you can also embed a full page or microsite into a blank page on your domain as well.

Myth 5: Interactive content is hard to update, and search engines like fresh content.

Okay, so this myth isn’t always a myth. If you’re working with an internal production team, it can be difficult to get updates into the queue, depending on the bandwidth of your development team. Not only do they have to take the time to swap in your new content, but then they have to retest that content across browsers and operating systems to make sure that everything still works before they redeploy. It’s a pain, and understandably, many companies limit iterative content development—or make it impossible to do at all.

However, if you’re using a third-party platform to create and publish interactive content, it’s much easier to swap in new images, text, videos, and animations—all without having to change the URL of your page. Not only does this make it much easier to update content, but it also gives you the ability to optimize your content based on real-time engagement data. It’s a rare dev team that would be able to make constant tweaks in a timely fashion.

The Bottom Line

Interactive content is great for SEO, as long as you implement it in the right way. Search engines are getting smarter about recognizing content that readers love, and they’re rewarding companies who create that content with improved search rankings.

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