One of the most common topics for discussion within SEO is about content and its importance in creating a strong online marketing presence. Unfortunately lots of cute-sounding sound bites like “content is king” and “don’t focus on good content, focus on great content” have been thrown about too much and now the whole thing has started to lose its meaning. We are aware that content is vital, but do we really know what it is or what it does?
With most SEOs on the constant lookout for that black and white menace, Panda, the enduring focus would naturally be on content. But why is content such an important factor for Google?
Google needs to see some written content to be able to “read” what your website is about and determine what to rank it for. However, if having just enough content was all it took to rank well, then there would be nothing to worry about. The problem is, Google doesn’t know what good or worthwhile content is, not really.
If you don’t believe me, why do some sites with virtually no content rank well, and others with, which are awesome struggle? It’s a bit utopian or naïve to believe that the good stuff will float to the top naturally. No matter how good an algorithm is, content can never be judged purely on it’s subjective merit – it is only ever a piece of a much larger and more complex puzzle.
In the beginning websites were ranked on the number of inbound links (PageRank), the trust of the links (TrustRank), the quality of the content on the pages (Panda) and the quality of the links to those pages (Penguin). Now we draw closer to a time where social signals (likes, shares etc) will play an increasingly large part in what ranks well in Google – if the picture wasn’t complex enough!
SEO, up until this day, has been all about the numbers and now the emphasis has started to be placed upon quality and relevancy once again. It was Panda and Penguin that were to undo the damage done by PageRank to refocus webmasters and encourage them to spend the time and money on their own websites, rather than buying links – and to an extent this has started to work. But Google still doesn’t know what content is, not really.
Content is Something
So what is content? Put very simply, it’s something. Seriously. For all intents and purposes content is something that people can consume, take in, and process in some way. So whether it’s a blog, poem, or prose, an essay, joke, an image or illustration, a video, song, game and much more besides, it’s all content.
Google, however, still isn’t very good at recognising the breadth of different content and types of experience it can bring. It can’t understand images, but it can recognise similarities in shape and colour, it can’t watch a video but it can transcribe and parse any speech. It can recognise words, be taught grammar and semantics and can “know” what is gibberish or poorly written SEO copy is.
Truth is, it can measure content against a defined set of rules to see if it conforms to what is “correct” or what is “accurate” – but it doesn’t know what is good. But that’s alright, we couldn’t expect lines of code to really get this – cultural critics are still constantly arguing what “good” is, so an algorithm doesn’t stand a chance! But to give Google its credit, they are looking for other ways of judging value, social signals in one sense or another, so rather than making that value judgement themselves, they’re looking at what the people think – lots of likes = good content (roughly).
The wider problem here is that many people don’t often know what content is either, not consciously enough to produce it for their own website anyway. For too long now the focus has been on producing just enough to get by, in a box ticking exercise to appease Google. And whilst people can get away with this, they will – and you can’t really blame them! This isn’t enough though, not forever; with social signals becoming more and more important, Google is finding ways to identify good content, so isn’t it time we do too?
That Special Kind of Something
So what makes the cogs whir in your audience, what gets them going and then coming back for more? This content should speak to your audience and it should know its purpose without being overly conspicuous, but most importantly it should be offering something of value. Quantifying this is difficult, but a great place to start is asking yourself the following questions:
- What is the content doing? Is it describing a product, starting a discussion, inspiring the audience to find out more, strengthening the brand or inviting a sales lead? None of these are mutually exclusive, however, if you aren’t sure of what your content is doing, your audience probably won’t either.
- Why would your audience care? Is there anything special about your content, does it do anything which will make anyone care about the product or service you’re providing? If you can’t work out why anyone else would care, this is a possible worry – go back to the drawing board and work out what your unique selling point is, make it your mission to convey this through your content.
- Who should care? Your audience, your customers, the people who you are targeting, who is it that you are speaking to? This will be one of the greatest factors in the content production process as it will heavily define what it is you actually do. What is your market and where do you have to go to find it? For some industries posting images to Facebook is a lucrative and worthwhile content strategy, in others it’s woefully misplaced and a waste of time and money; think about the “who” and the “where” and you’ll be on the right track.
- What types of content can I produce? We take it as a given that the written word is needed, after all without it, Google can’t see what you’re doing! You should see this written content as the foundations to be built upon and the minimum, but what else can you give? Be daring and creative here, whilst content production generally leads to expenditure, this is your business we’re talking about, if you’re not willing to invest in it, why should anyone else? Videos, a regular blog, whitepapers, ebooks, web applications, images, games and anything else besides – don’t just consider what may work for your industry, what can you make to work for you?
- When do I make it? The clichéd answer to this would be “RIGHT NOW!” and whilst it is true that sooner is often better, striking the right balance between “planning” and “doing” can be tough. A poorly planned content strategy will often fall flat, however, if all you do is talk about your content strategy, it’ll never happen.
We know that Google wants (needs) to see a reasonable amount of well-written and descriptive copy which contains your main key words and focus – this is the bare minimum and what will help you weather any future content (Panda or otherwise) based updates. What you need to do now is be aware of the value in your content for the audience and produce something that can really stand out and have the power to attract the positive attention and interaction that you need.
With AuthorRank as good as outed as the next form of ranking amplification and social signals becoming a leading factor in the onset of personalisation, one day Google will start to become at recognising good (or great) content better than we can – what will happen then? Will you be ready for the change?