Content marketing is the new buzzword among marketing types. While the push for quality content is a step in the right direction, many buy into the misconception that there’s not much else they can do to optimize their content for search engines such as Google because of fundamental changes that have been made to the way searches are carried out.
It’s true that Google’s Hummingbird update has been a complete re-write of the search algorithm, but when it comes to SEO, “if your brand was doing [it] the right way in the first place – using quality content and amplifying it through genuine channels – then your brand won’t have been drastically impacted by these changes,” says Lee Mancini, managing director of search optimized content marketing agency, Sekari.
According to him, all Google has done is “wipe out the cheap spamming tactics used by many SEO agencies in the past to deliver low quality content and low quality high volume links to a website to increase its rankings.” Google has constantly strived to improve its platform so that searches deliver more accurate results to websites with authentic content.
The Hummingbird update has been a natural evolution of the search engine based on how people Google today. With more users going mobile and shifting towards voice-activated search, the nature of their queries has changed. “They tend to ask longer questions, such as ‘how do I get there’, or ‘where can I find this’. Google now responds with far more pertinent answers that are not only drawn from websites with certain key phrases in them, but the search engine actually ‘thinks’ and connects knowledge to the answer.” Mancini explains that search focuses on finding meaning behind a question, so that when people search for ‘what’s the closest place to buy an iPhone 5,’ Google knows to look for a bricks and mortar store in Dubai and that ‘finding an iPhone’ may also require price comparison among multiple stores.
What impact has this had on how SEO? For one thing, it’s more important than ever. Only recently, Define Media’s Marshall Simmonds said that a review of 48 billion page views across 87 sites showed that search is still driving 41% of page views, compared to just 16 % from social.
At the same time, simply using key words to build links doesn’t work anymore. Instead, “agencies need to be thinking about the topic and how topical silos of content can interconnect seamlessly together to provide a network of deep and valuable content,” says Mancini.
Guest blogs, which were all the rage in 2013, have also been devalued – a fact that was highlighted by blogger Matt Cutts in January when he said “Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.” Regionally this has been even more problematic, according to Mancini, seeing as there is already a lack of content in Arabic and a lot of the material out there is in the form of blogs and forums. He explains that even though guest blogs have less value in terms of link building, this doesn’t mean they have no value. “If the story is good enough, that’s an important enough reason to still do it.”
What works in today’s content marketing world? People are increasingly looking for dynamic content and to be engaged in a conversation. “Brands have to become publishers in the sense and to look at their website as a more dynamic opportunity to deliver content on a regular basis,” explains Mancini. However, rather than creating content in silos and placing it on a blog or sending it out through an email, there has to be an integrated approach so that the brand emerges as an authority on a particular topic, which will help drive traffic back to the website. Social media can be useful in promoting content, but that should just be one aspect of a structured content outreach program.
In the MENA region, there are over 100 million searches and 50% of these queries are in Arabic, notes Mancini. “However, only one in four top 100 brands have Arabic content. This represents a lot of potential for brands that are prepared to invest in content and a structured approach to maximizing returns from that content.” There is also an ever-growing need to localize content even further and even in Arabic, there are differences in the markets in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and UAE.
Despite the evolution of how SEO is approached, brands continue to gain value by optimizing content to drive more traffic. Undoubtedly content plays a huge role in this new era of marketing, but it’s more than apparent that SEO is far from dead.