2013 was the year that we heard the expression “content is king” approximately every 8 minutes. It was high time that the web turned away from spammier practices and started taking quality content seriously, unfortunately many online marketers started approaching online content marketing in precisely the way they had previously approached link building.
Pump it out and get it online is not the way to make content work for you on the web and, as online content marketing comes of age, it becomes clear that quantity over quality is just plain silly. In 2013 Google’s Hummingbird update subtly and quietly changed the game. In 2014 our approach to content marketing needs to grow up to keep up. Here’s our two cents…
Write for real people, not robots
Smarter conversational search is the key Hummingbird-related change to the way Google works. Instead of relying on individual keywords like “dance lessons Milton Keynes”, Google has made it much more accurate for searchers to ask questions like “where can I learn to waltz in Milton Keynes?” and find the answers they’re looking for – ideally right there on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
This should have a big impact on your approach to content. We’re not saying that you ought to forget about keywords altogether (although the rise of ‘not provided’ is making using them increasingly hit and miss), but start thinking of them as an afterthought. Instead, take the time to think carefully about how you can create content which will help or be of interest to people who may require your product or service. Start writing and creating content which genuinely helps your target audience, rather than content which helps you to convince a robot algorithm too boost your rankings.
Get into your target audiences head
Let’s say you’re running an SEO campaign for a dance school in Milton Keynes. Start thinking about how you can create content for people who might want your service. They’re going to have all sorts of questions and these will vary depending on the person. They may have never tried to waltz before, for example. They may be a more experienced waltzer but could have recently moved city. Perhaps they’re looking for a new teacher. Break your customers into groups and then put yourself in their (dancing) shoes to create content that is valuable to them, and to your business.
In the case of your newbie, for instance, they’re going to be looking at dancing schools all over the area, they may need some new clothing as well, they might want to know more about whether they need to bring a partner, how high the standard of the class is, what steps they will be learning first and where they can use their new skills recreationally.
There’s all sorts of content you can create around a newcomers’ questions and concerns. Build up a helpful compilation of resources which lists all of the best places for buying dance shoes in the area, profiles the area’s best dance clubs and provides guidance on the first few steps (perhaps via video content) – all of this is useful and will be naturally rich in conversational search terms – just don’t forget to make your links open in a new tab to keep visitors on your site.
Why the change?
Well there are a few reasons, but it ultimately comes down to Google wanting an even bigger slice of the action. The more helpful the search engine giant can be to its users and the longer it can keep searchers on a SERP and hypothetically the more they can make from paid ads.
Google are also hell-bent on trouncing Apple’s Siri and taking the Android offering to the next level. The recently revamped Google Now is an in-phone personal assistant which features impressive voice recognition. Now, instead of typing “buy curtains Dudley” you can ask Google Now: “Where can I buy curtains in Dudley?” and the freshly conversational search engine will deliver the goods. Ensuring your content answers the important questions is essential.
And, as Google Now is infinitely better connected than Siri, if you’ve hooked up all of your Google accounts including your calendar, you can ask: “What time is my booking on Thursday night, where is it, and show me how to get there” and it will tell you. If that’s not a step closer to world domination, we’re not sure what is.
What does it mean for you?
Aside from creating cleverer content which provides real value, do you need to worry? Not really. Everything seems to be O.K. out there in search engine land. In fact, when the Hummingbird update hit, nobody noticed it for 2 whole weeks. Nothing too drastic is going to happen but, if you want to stay on top of your SEO over 2014 you need to stay on top of content, creating plenty of it, but above all ensuring that every piece is helpful, as unique as possible and relevant to your target markets.
Looking ahead, it may be useful to bear in mind that Google have referred to Hummingbird as a ‘platform’. The thing about platforms is that people tend to build on them. If Hummingbird is just the start, it’s important to keep up to date with where the algorithm is going next over the coming year. Focus on quality, audience-tailored content and your rankings should be safe and sound – but do make sure you check back in with our online marketing team to stay abreast of developments throughout 2014.