Search and the (re)emergence of quality content

Few insights in content marketing are as valuable as this: Google isn’t interested in you. Think about the business model of any search engine: what is its alignment of incentives? If Google is to be a credible search engine – and to turn a buck on the back of that credibility – it must play to the interests of searchers. If you’re a business shouting for attention, that’s simply not you.

If this logic sounds binary, it’s not by coincidence: Panda, one of Google’s core search algorithms, is by nature a black and white animal. Since its inception in 2011, Panda has shaken the tree of search, and has put readers at the core. Google announced the birth of its latest Panda (version 4.0) in May 2014: but the DNA that defines the species is the interest that readers have in quality content.

In short, Panda aims to reward:

– Original content, by eschewing sites that duplicate content throughout.

– Readability, which means fewer, yes fewer, SEO terms and keywords.

– Engaging sites that people will read, link and return to. In other words, build a site that people love.

The corollary to these three is that there is no shortcut a company can take in promoting itself in the organic search results. Some fairly big internet beasts have been affected already (step forward eBay).

To any mature content agency, this should come as welcome news, and a return to a familiar world they used to inhabit. Back in 2002, before the age of back-links and promoted tweets – a time when content marketing agencies still called themselves customer publishers – all we were judged on was the quality of our work. There were few meaningful metrics for success (that were independently acknowledged) other than how a client felt about the outcome. Other than voucher codes and coupons for some retailers (along with some qualitative reader research), whether editorial output reached the intended audiences, or had its desired impact, was of muted consequence: it was the known unknown of publishing. But there was still a genuine belief that reader engagement mattered most and it therefore preserved the quality of editorial.

And then Google became dominant, arguably wielding a power it had no responsibility to. Quantitative results pushed quality under the water, and where a company ranked in Google’s search became more important than what a company said. As content publishers, our jobs in helping companies reach audiences via quality editorial has felt at times in recent years like a case of pulling the wool over Google’s goggles. Wretched SEO keywords could ruin the nuance of a great opening paragraph or intro and in many cases pumping something out rapidly was better than drawing out material that had spent longer in the brewing.

Through no fault of its own Google distorted content through prioritising the job of being found, by whatever means. To customer publishers, the world had changed. No longer was the quality of their editorial paramount. Editorial had become content whose purpose to entertain was locked away with keywords and SEO terms. Everybody claimed to have found the magic formula for search ranking. Few really had, but what mattered more was that Google was gameable, a facet that to this day is reflected in the (again binary) parlance of SEO (link here to A-Z of SEO), with ‘black’ and ‘white hat’ techniques of search engine optimisation. The former consists of tricking Google into ranking a site highly, typically through back links and over-use of keywords. The latter is basically doing content right.

All of which brings us neatly back to Panda. Is your company doing content right? It’s a closed question that begs a yes/no, black or white answer. The good news for everyone with a love of strong, engaging and dynamic editorial is that Google is placing more emphasis on that than ever. As I mentioned recently in the press, new technologies mean that firms previously unable to engage in quality content marketing, can now do so. Innovative solutions such as Content Cloud, make the job of creating quality content simpler and cheaper.

But it’s not quite a return to the good old days. Where claims of the power of editorial were previously in the known unknowns, they are now more clearly than ever in the known category. Analytics and social media reactions mean that all content is now trackable and measurable.

Whether that makes it better or worse than the old days is down to you.

Visit Content Cloud to sign up as a creator, or commission the content your business needs

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