Witness the mad scramble to create content that pleases the Google mothership, enhances SEO, and inbounds us to glory! Build me some awesome, search-friendly content with lots of long-tail keywords and kaboom—show me the money!
Heck,Hubspot has a billion-dollar valuation that’s built around creating and monetizing content that Google has decided we all need to have on our sites.
It’s worked out pretty well so far, but what's next? What's up Google’s sleeve? What rabbit hole will we be forced to go down this year?
Let’s count the ways we’ve become slaves to the mighty Googleplex and the gyrations we go through to please them.
1. We started out with our helpful content strategy to improve the lives and business outcomes of our readership and clients. We built trust with our keyword-rich content and generated goodwill with potential customers. We guided numbers of them down the sales funnel from top to bottom, where some honored us with a decision. We were on our way to gold country! But then we zigged and zagged a bit, chasing the latest wrinkle in Google’s ever-changing algorithms. We needed a way to get prospects to our websites, eBooks, and other content assets, so they could convert into customers. But then Google rearranged the furniture and our stuff stopped showing up in organic search results!
2. We became slaves to things like PageRank, which counts the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of our website’s importance.
3. We learned that Google would pounce on us with penalties if we violated the webmaster guidelines, so we became obsessed with making sure our content didn’t run afoul of the rules. These penalties could drop the ranking for every page of our sites, for specific keywords, or specific pages of our sites. Any rankings drop would produce a major drop in traffic, and these penalties could come from a manual review by Google or automatically through an algorithm update. Yikes!
4. When the Google Panda algorithm emerged in 2011, CNET reported ranking surges for news websites and social networking sites, and drops in rankings for sites containing lots of advertising. Panda aimed to lower the rank of low-quality sites while putting higher-quality sites near the top of the search results. Google even tried to help, providing 23 bullet points for what high quality was in their eyes—that was a real beaut!
5. Google Penguin was the 2012 algorithm update that aimed to decrease search engine rankings for websites that violated their now-famous guidelines (surprise!) through black-hat SEO techniques that artificially increased site rankings through the manipulation of links (link schemes) pointing to the page. More rules! Beautiful!
6. Finally, Google started using Hummingbird to tweak search results in 2013, but significantly changed the algorithm again last fall, downplaying the importance of specific keywords in search results in favor of semantic-searching. This officially brought the keyword era, our previous master, to an end, ushering in the reign of meaning of intent, our newest master.
Hummingbird meant the “inferred ‘meaning’ of the search would be more important than the exact words composing the query,” explains Jay Baer.
Semantic-search had been in the oven for years, but natural language processing capabilities just weren’t up to the task. Enormous troves of data from Android and Google Voice now help Google interpret what we really want, even if we don’t phrase it well. This affects the way we create content (ta-da!) because many searches are now conducted hands-free, which differs from how we search using typed phrases.
“If you create great content, answer questions well, and provide resources that real people love, Google will reward you. If you continue to believe that you can find a shortcut to search-referred traffic, Google is closing that loophole forever. Don’t just make content, make content that matters,” Baer adds.
Ok, Baer—my head’s spinning, but ok.
“While page rankings are still many brands’ holy grail, Google is showing that keyword optimization through content management systems (like Wordpress) is taking a back seat to all of the human interaction that actually proves your brand is front-of-mind with consumers,” echoes Lucy Leiderman.
I’ll take your word for it, Ms. Leiderman!
I leave you with this—even if you were the perfect Google slave, that new piece of amazing content you just produced—however awesome—is one of 60 trillion indexed pages, Chris Moody points out, which is comparable to your average odds of winning the Powerball (1 in 175,223,510):
“After a bit of math, that makes the average visitor to Google search 341 times more likely to win the Powerball than to find your piece of (amazing) content,” he adds, highlighting the importance of promoting and creating content in a Google world, where relevance is the new king.
Have you found your tail yet?