Search Engine Optimization. The very term conjures up images of the dark arts – a kind of sorcery wielded by shadowy specialists who sell you the secrets of algorithm manipulation to make your brand appear in Google search results. And SEO worked, to the extent that it did make it easier for brands to connect with audiences. Too easily, in fact, because brands could use SEO trickery to be included in search results, so that Google would unwittingly link audiences to websites and content that weren’t necessarily great experiences. In this scenario, people lose faith in Google and switch to Bing. Google wisely decided to change the game.
Since 2012, Google has been retooling the algorithm that determines whether a brand’s content appears in search results, and where in the list the content ranks. Brands can no longer rely on keywords in their content and websites to catch the attention of search engines. Brands that pay for links to their websites are penalized by the new algorithm, which assigns them a lower ranking on the list or even kicks a brand off the list entirely. What does this mean for brands?
SEO as a vertical discipline will soon evaporate. Today brands should think about their digital activity as a key deliverable of their overall marketing strategy. Brands should welcome Google’s new rules, because even factoring in the initial investment needed to improve the digital experiences they deliver, brands will become far better equipped to anticipate needs, transform desire, generate involvement, and evolve – naturally and responsively – to shifting trends.
How does Google Search – and more specifically, its algorithm – determine the quality of your brand’s website experiences and content? It’s all about Brand Signals.
Brand Signals reflect, in a unified fashion, three key measures: the quality of your content; the validity of links back to your website; and the level and sentiment of your social media activity. Let’s take a closer look at what constitutes quality content.
The quality of your content is determined by its freshness and relevance. As you would expect, fresh means the content is up-to-date. How frequently your brand refreshes content is up to you. Just know that when content becomes stale, Google notices. And it penalizes your brand with lower search ranking positions.
Relevance refers to how meaningful your content is to your audience. To be relevant, content must not only be on topic, it must also align with your customer’s journey. For instance, where in the purchase cycle is the reader? Are they considering a purchase, or are they considering purchasing the extended warranty?
Validity of Links
Inbound links need to be earned, ideally from authoritative sources. Buying links is likely to get a brand penalized by Google. Your brand is sending stronger signals when thought leaders provide their readers with links back to your content.
When the quality of your content and audience experiences is high, it follows that more people will endorse, Like, retweet and +1 your content in social media. Google is looking to users to help it determine what is and what is not great content.
The best audience experiences are characterized by strong signals in all three of these areas. Now it’s up to brand owners to meet Google’s new requirements. How do brands tackle such a seemingly insurmountable challenge? Content strategy.
The overall purpose of a content strategy is to give you clear guidance on how to deliver the right story to the right people, at the right time and in the right place. It ensures your brand’s values, strategy and vision come alive in your everyday communications. More specifically, a content strategy helps you integrate and activate your content over a specified period of time. It is the regular release of smart content to keep your brand top of mind. Through this process, brand and business insights are rigorously crafted into communications that continually engage your audience on topics that drive consideration. Think of it as adding a publishing department to your brand – one that starts productive, timely conversations about your brand through shareable mediums: social media, blogs, video, infographics, rich email, and more.
A content strategy requires investment, but it will pay off tenfold. Matt Cutts, Programmer for Google, encourages brands to stop focusing on search result rankings, and instead commit to creating a “fantastic website that people love and tell their friends about and link to and want to experience.” That’s the real secret to getting the higher, sustainable rankings brands want so badly.
Put your content strategy to work and let the magic begin.