While content has always been ‘king’, it now plays a central role in search engine optimisation and social media management. In this five part series, Grant Arnott outlines why and how online content has become a powerful online tactic for achieving commercial goals. [PART ONE OF FIVE]
In internet years, 1998 was centuries ago. Before Y2K fever gripped the planet, a novel new search engine with a cute name entered the transformative realm of the internet.
In its formative years, Google promised to be nothing more than a superior quality online search engine. The clean white homepage devoid of all but the colourful logo and a search box raised eyebrows and won users’ hearts across the planet. At that time, Google was David to Yahoo’s Goliath, but it wasn’t long before the former’s vastly superior search methodology and engineering left all in its wake.
Built upon the premise that a site’s number of backlinks was the primary signal of relevance, Google’s phenomenal success in delivering quality results spawned an industry. Search engine optimisation existed pre-Google, but by the turn of the century, when ‘Googling’ was part of the vernacular, it became a major digital industry.
For businesses, the quest for favourable Google rankings became a frenzied pursuit, and remains so. Higher rankings translate into greater traffic and authority, and the competition is fierce in every category. Indeed, no media in the world wields greater influence over as many businesses as Google does.
A drop in rankings can prove catastrophic, and consequently a raft of ‘black hat’ search techniques developed over the years with the specific aim of manipulating Google’s search methodology to improve discoverability. All fair, all within ‘the rules’, but at odds with the quality user experience Google always intended to deliver with its unique approach.
In 2011, Google began to bite back at those seeking to game its algorithms. The first Panda update was the most significant ‘line in the sand’ moment, declaring that the quality of a site’s links, not the quantity, would matter more in determining a site’s relevance. Google penalised sites that relied too heavily on backlinks from article and content farms like About.com and Ehow.com. Panda also targeted sites with thin content, and the SEO world was suddenly turned on its head.
Sites that had been successful in building high rankings with thin content and low quality links suddenly found themselves plummeting at frightening speed, losing millions of dollars in revenue.
A few months later, Google delivered a second whack to poor SEO practices with the Penguin update, penalising sites for keyword stuffing, over-optimisation and duplicate content. The message now is clear – the days of dodgy SEO practices were over, and the secret to achieving higher Google rankings was finally revealed.
Want to know that secret?
Of course you do. I’m prepared to give it you now, on Anthill, for FREE!
The secret is… there is no secret.
Google has reclaimed its rightful territory and the recent crackdowns are all about delivering one thing – a high quality, relevant search experience for every user. As it should be… and according to Google, the way to gain favour is to deliver fresh, relevant, original content written to enhance the experience for users, not for search engines. Here’s a snippet directly from the Google Webmaster Guidelines:
‘Google will take action against domains that try to rank more highly by just showing scraped or other auto-generated pages that don’t add any value to users… It’s worthwhile to take the time to create original content that sets your site apart. This will keep your visitors coming back and will provide useful search results.’
Great news for businesses who are customer-focused and providing great content, but finding themselves outfoxed and outranked by competitors who engage suspect SEO practices to get ahead.
For digital marketers, it ushers in a new era with a greater than ever focus on content as the key means of driving traffic and increasing conversions. The biggest question marketers are asking now is: “Is my content link-worthy?” If users are naturally inclined to link to your content because it is relevant, creative, interesting and informative, congratulations – you have gained a competitive advantage.
Not only does quality, original content stave off the dreaded Panda, Penguin and whatever other zoo animals may materialise in future iterations, it also improves your chances of converting visitors into customers.
There are no shortcuts to good rankings any longer. The search engine gods have spoken – quality content begets search traffic and higher conversions. E-commerce businesses are shifting their SEO focus more and more to content marketing, relying on blogs, social media, descriptive information, helpful tips and buying guides to increase online authority and attract more customers.
And it’s working… Next, we’ll dissect the anatomy of good content for e-commerce businesses to give you a tactical advantage. Sign up for the full series here.
Grant Arnott is a business media veteran with over 12 years experience, and a sought after expert on e-commerce and content marketing. He is publisher of the E-Commerce Leaders’ Playbook, Power Retail, Power Content and also serves as chair of the Online Retailer Conference and judge of the Online Retail Industry Awards.