Will the Rise in Content Marketing be the Demise of Search as We Know It?
The Golden Rule of Search
As content marketers, we work to create content with utility that’s optimized and strategically distributed so that people can find it across the web. We do this because we truly believe in the power of content to help people better live their lives. And, as search professionals, we’ve embraced content marketing because it’s in-line with Google’s golden rule: create content for users, not search engines.
Can We Trust Google to Choose What’s Right for Us?
As allwebcafe has built out its Content Marketing offering over the last 18 months, I’ve been keenly aware of the increase in quality content on the web. This is due in part to the algorithm changes ranking quality content much higher. And also due in part to my obsession with discovering awesome content experiences. That said, as more and more great content is created, how will Google determine what content is best related to a user’s search?
We get it - there are over 200 factors that Google’s algorithm uses to rank a single page, from links to social signals and technical crawlability, to personal information associated with a Google account and search history. But when the playing field becomes a bit more even and there’s a lot of great content, how will Google choose what content to serve?
The Battle Against Big-Box Sites
I have a client whose website is a user’s dream. It’s a patient-facing website where users can determine if they have sinusitis, effective treatment options, and whether their insurance will cover a certain procedure. There are discussion guides to share with your doctor, video testimonials, clinical result studies, and education as far as the eye can see. If you do a Google search on “sinus surgery,” my client used to rank in the top three positions on Page 1. Now we rank on Page 2. After extensive efforts to regain digital market share on Page 1 through tactics like adding organic landing pages, updating website content, and increasing social content shared, there was zero movement in rankings.
My client’s website is exactly what so many people suffering from sinusitis would LOVE to find to help them figure out the best course of action for their sinus problem. Instead, Page 1 offers users WebMD, Wikepedia, John Hopkins, Health.com, NPR, and five other big-box sites. None of the ten options provide a great user experience. In fact, most of the sites are blatant old-school SEO plays with a page of scrolling content that is not offering any real value to the persona who is desperate to rid themselves of sinus pain once and for all.
Goodbye Page Authority. Welcome Content Authority. Perhaps?
So what do we do when we’re all working really hard to develop personas, create great content, and embark on a content marketing strategy so we can deliver the right information to the right audience - and while in this pursuit, we are competing against the WebMD’s and Wikepedia’s of the world that Google still seems to favor in search results?
If Google means what it says and is all about serving up the most relevant content to a user’s search, then in the age of content marketing, perhaps “relevant” needs to be redefined. This goes beyond the algorithm updates to weed out web spam from the SERPs. It’s about how Google will build intelligence into its algorithm to rely less on Page Authority and identify a method to determine content authority.
Google: Your Personal Concierge
It’s true that content authority is subjective and quite personal, but as Google moves toward a more private search environment, as seen recently with encrypted keyword data, Google could be making a very strong case for securely leveraging user’s data to completely reconfigure the search environment based on individual’s needs. Perhaps the SERPs page will transform into a personal concierge of results, where big-box sites will be noted, but as mere suggestions that such encyclopedia’s exist alongside websites, web apps, and resources that offer greater content experiences and utilization.
There have been a lot of changes to the personalization of SERPs recently. Just look at the image above of a search for "sushi" that includes local results sorted by price and user rating, image results and News articles all in prime real estate on the page.
Content is Certain. The Future... Not So Much
We know the semantic web is upon us. And we know that we need to focus on our target audience and providing them with great content. It’s the output of that content and the uncertainty we’re experiencing right now in Search as Google appears to have big changes on the horizon.