‘2013 has proved to be an extremely turbulent year for search engine optimisation professionals,’ says one marketer.
Google tends to throw digital marketers into a complete spin every few months. Some run around proclaiming that the end of the world is nigh, while others write long and erudite blog posts on how to make a living after Panda, Penguin or Hummingbird. Others wonder if there’s a hidden message in the animals getting smaller and faster, and growing wings.
Sure, Google made more changes in 2013 than in any previous year, and that might make it tempting to forget about Google and work harder at producing epic content. Epic content? Yes, or at least awesome content, but that’s another story.
A quick look at how we got here
Back in 2011, Google launched the Panda algorithm update to penalize scraper sites and content farms (places churning out derivative content) and reward sites that served up original and relevant content. Since Google wants to stay at the top of the search engine pile by showing us the most relevant results for our searches, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Last May’s Penguin 2 update was designed to reward marketers who produce in-depth content for specific audiences or communities. That is, if you’re a thought leader and produce insightful content that your audience likes and shares, Google will send you more traffic. Google's author rank obviously plays a role here as well.
What about Hummingbird and keyword encryption?
The bird is a new search engine that brings us closer to the semantic web we’ve heard about for years. Now that the bird is humming, Google can recognize full-question searches instead of just parsing specific keywords. That means you might get sensible answers to long-tail questions at long last. And it’s faster as well, of course.
Google’s decision to encrypt all keyword data caused much more consternation. How on earth would we figure out what search terms people used to find our websites and landing pages? Others couldn’t stop laughing when Google explained that it was just protecting the privacy of its users.
Search is the carrot, advertising is the stick. Google is the world’s biggest advertising agency, so it comes as no surprise that Google still shows keyword data for PPC searches. Yes, pay us and we’ll tell you what you want to know. No doubt, we’ll get to see more cards in Google’s hand in 2014.
What animals will Google offer us in 2014?
While Google causes fear and trepidation whenever it clears its throat, Matt Cutts explains the facts of life to us boys and girls like a kindly teacher at our local school. As Tom Schmitz points out in Search Engine Land, ‘assume that anytime a Google spokesperson reveals something about their algorithm or suggests a best practice, it’s done with an agenda in mind.’
He adds that Google’s spokespeople are carefully prepped on what they will or will not say. ‘It’s the perfect example of a company whose employees walk into a room with individual ideas and opinions, then walk out parroting only the agreed upon message.’ There’s the answer: Google won’t give anything away that it doesn’t want to give away, and that makes it hard to know what’s coming next year.
What Google will do in 2014 for sure
The search engine king will continue to refine its search algorithms, and the focus will continue to be on serving Google users the most relevant content. What we will see less of is major algorithm update announcements of the kind we saw these last two years. At the recent Panda update, Google signalled that future algorithm tweaks would be made gradually over time instead of all at once.
This became clearer when Google told marketers that people had been using the new Hummingbird search engine for over a month, and that no one had noticed. That’s what Google would have us believe, anyhow. It does point to a new stealth modus operandi at Google though.
The message: focus on your content
SEO professionals are right to worry about their future, while the outlook for content marketers is improving all the time. That won’t change in 2014, at least in the land of Google. It doesn’t mean you can just ignore search terms – you still need to understand the questions your prospects are likely to ask, and you need to make sure your content delivers on the promise of your email headlines and landing pages.
The message from Google is: Forget epic content, focus on useful content instead; content that is helpful and relevant to your target audience. Listen to the concerns raised there, the issues that keep your prospects awake at night. Share useful information and helpful insights, show them how to solve their problems. Then work on how you present your content (videos, infographics, slide shows, white papers, e-books and more), how to make it more interesting, more entertaining, more readable and more sharable.
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