Imagine someone is saying “Content is vital for SEO.”
The statement would have made sense if it was 2014 or 2015. But in 2016, it’s most likely to be considered as an understatement.
Because Google has promoted content marketing inasmuch as it is now the bottom line of SEO.
On the internet, you can find hundreds of blogs, which are coming from self-proclaimed online marketers. What I find lacking in those blogs is they don’t take in stride the transition of content from the first-among-the-equal to being synonymous with SEO.
Even five years ago, content marketing was only a crucial part of SEO. But the transition has made it equivalent to SEO.
The factors that contributed to this transition include:
The need to quantify quality
As readers, we can separate a high-quality content from a poor or average quality content. Since we do that intuitively, we don’t always consider the technical aspects. But a search engine lacks human intelligence (and intuition too), which is why it aims to interpret quality as something tangible. That’s possible if the technical aspects are defined and used as parameters.
Social sharing, according to many, is one such parameter. A recent study done by BuzzSumo tells us 50% articles on the web get eight shares or less. How will Google interpret this? Google will probably interpret this as 50% articles on the web are of poor quality.
Note, the original study only supplied some data, which search engines can use as innuendos of quality. Search engines are taking a leap by turning mere data into quality indicators. The role of such indicators in this transition is they keep the ranking process competitive. Without them being at play, every John Doe could guarantee a top ranking on a SERP.
Google’s featured snippet is a tool through which Google interacts with searchers. The more inputs Google receives from searchers, the better becomes its understanding of what they want.
For dummies, when you search something on Google, information are displayed above the organic results with the link to the source website underneath, and the clickable text Feedback at the bottom. When you click on Feedback, a virtual window pops up requesting you to share with Google what you think of the information provided. Something like this:
The keyphrase used in figure 1 is “automobile industry.” In the featured snippet, we can see the source website is Wikipedia.
What does content marketing have to do with this? It’s the content quality that determines whether a site gets a featured snippet for any of its pages. Google may display two different results for a search query with an interrogative expression and the same query without the expression.
When I searched on Google with the keyphrase “mortgage insurance,” Google used content from Wikipedia to feature the snippet:
But when I searched with the key-phrase “what is mortgage insurance,” the following is what Google displayed:
Figure 3 shows the source website is FHA.com. The use of “What is” changed the source website from Wikipedia to FHA.com.
A content marketer’s takeaway from this is anticipating interrogative variations of original search queries, and then formulating the onsite content as their answers. The secondary search queries may not be as competitive as the original ones, and ranking against them may be easier.
Getting a featured snippet depends entirely on content quality. The target pages need to have plenty of additional information aside from the direct answers to queries. The content on a page needs to be well-researched, lengthy and informative. The payoff could be more rewarding than expected. An analyst called Ben Goodsell articulated how his client’s site witnessed a whopping 516% increase in organic sessions after getting a featured snippet.
Mobile SEO is a challenge for digital marketers. The screen being small and of low resolution hinders searches from scrolling down to the bottom of a page, let alone be going to the next page.
Most use their first fingers to tap on the virtual keyboard. Tapping relentlessly to type search queries pains the finger, so they tap on the suggestions provided by Google instead. The suggestions, more often than not, are competitive keywords, against which, it’s difficult to rank a website.
The search interfaces have subtle differences. Voice search hardly has anything in common with conventional search. Voice searching apps can forestall searching on browsers. App marketing is a bumpy road though and users rarely tap on referral links.
Content marketing is the only thing that can overcome the challenges. A report from Smart Insights shows mobile media time leaves behind desktop media time.
This finding implies if marketers create skeuomorphic element dominated multimedia content, exclusively for handheld devices, a decent level of user engagement can be triggered.
The good news for marketers is Google has already started to display app content for mobile searches, and sources indicate more such integrations are on the cards. Such developments can function as leverage for mobile SEO, provided the app content is high-quality.
The absence of a hard and fast definition of content allows for cross-genre experiments. Infographics, explainer videos, vlogs are products of such experiments. Visual images entertain users whereas written content provide them with new information. Infographics, which is the cross between the two, do both. The same applies to explainer videos.
Content marketers can harness the power of hybrid content. Alongside posting blogs on a company website, they can create stellar infographics and optimize the ALT attributes and image names, so Google and other search engines index them, and they rank on image search.
Many YouTube clones have mushroomed lately. Marketers can host videos on those sites and share them elsewhere. Posting explainer videos, which offer information loaded with entertainment on YouTube and other video hosting and sharing sites can boost branding.
The best part of cross-genre experiments related to content is they help to explore hitherto uncharted territories of content marketing, and tap into their true potential. Besides, infographics or blogs with podcasts focus on getting visitors and brand engagement, rather than building links, something that’s endorsed by Google and other search engines alike.
Panda 4.2 as core ranking algorithm
Google has recently confirmed that Panda 4.2 is now a core ranking algorithm. Since Google is tight-lipped over its core algorithms, we probably won’t hear anything about Panda’s future overhauls. For the same reason, a Panda recovery would be difficult.
Are marketers supposed to fly blind? No. Panda was all about content quality. So, marketers need to create content in which site visitors find some value. That’s possible only when an article is long, well-researched, opinionated and has a numbered title that captures the attention of readers. Sites with such content are likely to rank. I searched on Google with the key-phrase “Losing weight at home” and this is what Google displayed:
Figure 4 shows the top search results all have numbered titles. They also have words like “Fast” and “Easy.” Such words make the title look interesting and catchy, and increase the odds of searchers clicking on those titles.
The ideal length of an article is 1500-2000 words. A study done by a publishing platform called Medium reveals the relationship between content length and time spent on a site.
The graph above shows visitors take approximately seven minutes to read an interesting blog post, and they read 200-250 words a minute, which means the optimal length of a blog post is between 1400 and 1800 words.
If the article is of 500 words, the author doesn’t have enough scope to embed information, articulate the information, and then present his opinion. In case of a lengthy content, readers are most likely not to delve deeper into the data, assume it’s a high-quality content, and share it with their contacts.
Hence, in the wake of Panda’s inclusion to Google’s core ranking algorithm, producing lengthy and informative content is a must for a marketer.
The transition again
SEO’s journey to a technicality driven practice of giving priority to the subject-matter elucidates how content marketing fits the bill. As the web is becoming more interactive and conversational, content marketing will see bigger duties resting on its shoulder in the future.