For years now, content has been considered the “king” of Internet marketing. The strategy started with writing pages and including keywords, evolved into including keywords on press releases, and then moved towards writing short blog posts on the targeted keyword and sharing across social media networks. That was a content strategy fit for a king.
Along Came Google’s Hummingbird Update in 2013
This update introduced a change in the way search terms were interpreted by Google’s software. Instead of looking at the keywords used in a search and then finding the pages full of these keywords, Google found a way to interpret the underlying reason behind why the search was made. Search became about looking for meaning, not just keywords.
Take, for example, a search for ‘rock salt’ (shown here). Before the Google Hummingbird update, the search would have just returned the pages that had the most information about rock salt. Now, after Hummingbird, Google is inferring information about my location (Philadelphia) and that perhaps because of all this winter weather I could be looking to buy salt – thus showing ads for purchasing rock salt to melt some of this winter wonderland.
Other recent Google updates to provide more informative and personal results include the Google Knowledge Graph, answers within SERPs, and “____ near me” (shown here).
What Does this Mean for Your Business?
With these recent updates, businesses have started to ask what it means for them, and what they can do to stay ahead of competitors.
While there are many paths to a successful website, it is important to consider that if content was king before, a robust content strategy now only solidifies its reign. Take that “content is king” pre-Hummingbird approach when the search “rock salt” found pages relevant to “rock salt.” Now pages can be relevant for “rock salt” or “buying rock salt” or “learning what rock salt is” – and thus Hummingbird has tripled the amount of relevant content to just that one search.
The increased amount of relevant content that is able to rank is a great opportunity, if your site has that relevant content. Here’s where we develop the case for a personalized, robust content strategy.
Let’s take a look at one method for understanding our visitors and developing the relevant content to get them there.
Develop a Map of Your Audience (a.k.a. the Content Matrix)
To build the foundation of a robust content strategy, map your audience/customer and their needs to the services you provide by developing a content matrix. Audience mapping is useful to target long tail searches because it connects individual searches (your customer’s needs) with unique content (your services) that is further down the sales funnel, so that they find your site when they are considering taking action (buying a product, submitting a form for more information, etc). This connection of content-answering-consumer-needs provides higher engagement on your site (positive factor for Google) plus the secondary benefits of more social shares and potential links.
Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz.com, gave a Whiteboard Friday presentation last year that helps provide context for this strategy. While he touched on a number of subjects in the presentation, his example for understanding your audience was particularly insightful. Here’s our summarization:
Rand says: Imagine that your business sells chicken coops. You have lots of content about chicken coops, sizes, shapes, prices and comparisons, but you are being outranked by blogs that only talk about chicken coops.
“How could that be helpful to those who would be looking to buy a chicken coop,” you wonder, and “Why doesn’t my site outrank theirs?”
Google’s quest for relevancy to your potential audience comes into play here – and here are some of the factors to consider:
- Trends in Pop Culture. Urban farming has been a topic on the rise and so there’s increased general interest in learning about handling of livestock in an urban setting.
- Trends in Farming. As the pop culture trend of urban farming is spreading, this is driving increased interest for those in urban settings to try out farming – so people are looking for what they can raise in their backyards.
Combine the pop culture trend with the farming trend and the Hummingbird update now gives ranking to blogs talking about backyard chicken coops, urban chicken raising, etc. Your site needs the content that targets visitors’ intentions in the most relevant way possible to beat ranking competitors for appearance on the first page of Google search results.
Why Does this Content Strategy Work?
Exploring the technicalities behind this, audience mapping is successful in identifying and ranking for long tail searches. Long tail, as Google has often mentioned, is a very big proportion of web search traffic. Anywhere from 20% to 50% of all the queries on the Web are in that long tail bucket.
Audience mapping fuels the development of unique and valuable content for long tail keywords that yields more ranking URLs. More ranking URLs relates to more ranking opportunities and exposure for your website. Additionally, if you’re targeting the long tail searches with quality content that is popular, you will soon gain trust and authority to put you in competition with those coveted short tail keyphrases.
As David Brown of AdAge says, “Relevance, as defined by the consumer, is the most important driver of engagement.” It is time we build the content that will engage our customers as the first step in our SEO content strategy – we’ll provide insight into just how to do that with a Context Matrix in our next blog post on this topic.