Or how SEO merged with content marketing
I wasn’t much into digital marketing back then, but even I knew that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists could trick Google’s algorithm to make anything pop up on the top results page. Now, this is no longer possible: Google has put an end to SEO as we knew it before. SEO now looks much more like content marketing.
Content marketing can take many shapes, including blogs, podcasts, infographics, videos, webinars, goodies, freebies, guides, eBooks, apps, a service, etc. It has become a tremendously important marketing strategy for all businesses, and the spark that ignited this flame was composed of three major factors:
- Google's search engine algorithm updates
- a paradigm shift in value perception
Google search engine algorithm updates
When Google released the Panda and Penguin updates in their search engine algorithm, drastic changes occurred. The old black hat SEO backlinking tactics were penalized, and good content got higher rankings.
It was no longer possible to focus on a few short keywords and create irrelevant content, or create backlinks to and from shady websites. People needed to change the way they did SEO.
Here is a great explanation video by Rand Fishkin, Moz CEO, to better understand what the difference is between SEO and content marketing.
Now Google’s algorithm takes the quality of the content into account. That’s not to say that it actually reads and grades it, but the algorithm relies on the numbers of views, the amount of time spent on a page, the social shares, the domain authority, and the backlinking from other web pages.
Don’t get me wrong: keywords still matter when writing content. But the author should focus on writing something meaningful for the audience, rather than on creating content primarily patched together around keywords. Moreover, Google no longer delivers search results based on keywords alone, but rather based on the wider topics around these keywords. So, long tail keywords, topics and subjects are now the new standard for content marketing, and for SEO.
The fact is that the end goal of SEO is to drive in high traffic from top rankings, using specific high quality keywords. Google still provides TONS of traffic, but social sharing is now accountable for over 30% of overall web traffic (source: Shareaholic). Facebook alone accounts for a quarter of the overall traffic!
Content marketing has become the new SEO in the sense that it shares the same end goal: bringing traffic (some could argue it is therefore also adding value, but let’s face it, we are marketers). SEO used to be the cheapest way to get web traffic; now content marketing benefits from that status, even though it requires a tremendous effort to create and share great content.
Investing in content marketing today can provide a much higher ROI than ads can, and that is because people are tired of ads. They are tired of being tracked, followed, and constantly having products thrust before their eyes. So they have started using ad blockers; well, not everyone is yet, but the growth rates are currently announcing the death of web advertising as we know it.
Ad-blockers have been one of the hot topics lately, since Apple started allowing ad-blocking apps onto their iPhones. More and more ad-blocking companies are developing new technology to block in-app ads, for example.
Here is a great report by Pagefair and Adobe, providing insightful data about the growth and usage of ad-blockers on the web and on mobile.
I find the following to be particularly critical; that, and the 41% year over year growth:
(MAU means Monthly Active Users of ad-blocking software or plugins.)
Other insightful information includes why people are blocking ads: 50% report feeling that their personal data is being misused to personalize the ads. In other words, they don’t like being tracked and they don’t like that this information is used to push certain ads towards them.
We can safely assume that some people want to be able to consume the content they enjoy, without having to endure ads. But they also want it for free.
A new paradigm for value perception
With the explosion of the Internet, unexpected behavior also increased. One example is piracy. Suddenly, anyone could download any movie, music album, or video game – for free. This trend contributed to what the Internet was to become. People got used to getting stuff for free.
When high-speed Internet became available, streaming was the next big thing. This time, no need to download: anyone could just stream their video and music content for free. Of course this was (and still is) illegal, but people did (and still do) it anyway, especially because at that time, no fee-paying service was proposing a similar offer.
Then, some services and even some video games became free. There are so many free services and sources of entertainment out there! Giving away part of their services to show the value that the full service can provide is a good strategy for SaaS. The freemium model, which provides a service for free, with additional, paid content inside, does work successfully for many online companies.
There is a paradigm shift in the perception of value that is taking place. Consumers have become increasingly demanding, and have got used to getting stuff for free, while meanwhile brands and business are competing to provide the highest value and best content possible, and are always seeking greater growth.
Content drives traffic and business
So companies have also started to produce and distribute content which brings additional value to their customers, for free. But what does that have to do with SEO?
Search engine advertising can become very expensive, depending on the keywords you are targeting. The ROI of this channel may shrink due to competition over keywords.
Content marketing can provide similar results at a much lower cost, and for a much longer time frame. Content marketers know how important it is to create evergreen content, so that it can be shared over the following months. Creating great content that gets shared and backlinked can help you to save a fortune on AdWords.
A recent study by Halverson group about the lifetime value of blog posts shows that 72% of all impressions are generated in the first month, 90% within 300 days, and 99% before the 700-day mark. That means that blog posts can still provide traffic up to 700 days after their publication.
The content that brands provide is essentially an addition to the product or service they are providing. Content can be entertaining, informative, educational, or simply useful.
Another great example of useful content is Unsplash by Crew. Unsplash is a stock photography website, and was a simple side-project. Yet it helped them to revive their startup by bringing traffic back to their website, as well as by increasing brand awareness.
They actually then used this to generate another great piece of content: the blogpost in which they share that experience.
Get serious about content marketing now
To sum up, we can say that SEO has changed tremendously over the course of the past few years, and has now almost merged entirely with content marketing.
Content marketing has become an essential component of any successful brand, product, or service, and ultimately, the quality of the content will determine the success and the traffic it brings you.