Is content still king?

Is content still king?

Yes, but it’s no longer a simple question of just having ‘content’.

The internet, and Google in particular, is moving on from simply ‘content is king’ to ‘great content is king‘. The recent announcement on Matt Cutts blog should be heralded by users and genuinely ‘good’ websites and media companies as a great advancement in internet search.

So what’s going on? In short, Google is changing the ways in which is sources which content should be delivered as a search result when individuals search for everything from ‘baby clothes’ to ‘hotels in Vietnam with a view’ to ‘vintage motorcycles’.

The recent change “noticeably impacts 11.8%” of Google queries, according to Matt Cutts blog, and “is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

Back in 2009, Randfish wrote a blog piece titled “Terrible SEO Advice: Focus on Users, Not Engines” – and at the time he might have been right, in that the search engine algorithms were easier to deliver to and with just the  right amount of backlinks, and pages of content peppered with just the right amount of specific keywords and metadata, including exact match and close match keywords, as well as short and long tail keyword matching and to get search engines to deliver results that seemed to be more relevent to the user. This, coupled with cleverly optimised metadata that hit all the right algorithm buttons, was often enough to get specific content pages to the top of Google and therefore in front of the eyes of millions.

Randfish, has been at pains to ensure he isn’t misunderstood: he’s not suggesting that SEO should ignore the user, but he does highlight the sheer volume of work required to optimise for both users and search engines:

“I want to issue an apology for that now and set the record straight – SEO is a task that requires paying close attention to the needs of both users and engines. You can’t be an effective SEO without it.

Just think of all the specific tasks we perform that we’d never do if it weren’t for search engines:

  • Title tags: We might still make them, but agonize over keyword usage and positioning, uniqueness and flow? I doubt it.
  • Meta tags: Nope. No reason to even bother.
  • XML Sitemaps: I’m pretty sure no human has ever visited this file in an attempt to sort out the pages on your site.
  • Webmaster Tools Registration: Without engines, there wouldn’t be any.
  • Keyword Research: I think this practice would be more like advertising copy – think Mad Men.
  • Keyword Targeting: Why worry about keyword placement for anything other than conversion rate optimization?
  • URL Canonicalization: No need – visitors are getting the content either way.
  • Accessible Link Structures: So long as you’re not worried about the >2% of visitors who can’t see Flash, go ahead and build rich applications to your heart’s content.
  • Robots.txt & Meta Robots: No engines, no reason to direct engines.
  • Link Building: Unless it’s specifically to draw in relevant traffic, why bother?
  • Creating Vertical Search Feeds: That’s going to be time wasted.
  • Information Architecture: While there’s good reasons to do some of this for users, a significant portion of the accessibility and link hierarchy arguments are made moot.
  • Redirection: Without engines, we can use whatever method is convenient – javascript, meta refresh, 302 – it makes little difference to the user.
  • Rel=”Nofollow”: Internally or externally, it becomes a pointless attribute.”

So where does this leave us, the digital marketer? Well it leaves us knowing that the future – at least until Google changes again – is what most of us always knew is should be, and what we know we should be delivering: better, genuinely useful and engaging content, designed with an editoria-type styleguide and built to suit a target audience. There’s always room for marketing flair and panache, but delivering content that is genuinely better, more thoughtful, deeper, more empowering and usable will achieve your true goals: consumer interaction, bigger databases and higher chances of conversion.

Image source.

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