Have you ever considered Google as a publisher of content? Well in fact they facilitate the publishing of content; but as a result of their overarching power, they have changed the content landscape. Whether that’s for better or worse is now up for discussion.
The current online landscape is awash with paid, owned, earned and shared media. This is thanks, in part, to the role Google have played in placing an increasing amount of importance on creating content. As a result, they have become increasing powerful in creating and evolving a new content environment. That’s why I’ve outlined the changes made to date, the implications of these developments and what they should and shouldn’t be doing in future.
Whether it’s an algorithm update or a tweak to their guidelines, Google have ramped up their efforts in the war against poor content and against using content to game its system. As a result significant changes have taken place. It’s worth taking a look at the headline changes, and discussing the potential implications to see whether you think what they’ve done is right or wrong.
This was a practice whereby content was written and uploaded to a number of article sites. These sites were not specific to a particular industry, and even if a piece of content was well written and indeed offered quality advice, the purpose of the content was more a case of link building for SEO purposes rather than offering value to its readers. Soon enough article sites got gamed, and Google took a stance.
What was the implication/outcome?
This was part of a move away from creating content for content’s sake, just for a link. There was no real backlash other than from those conducting black hat tactics, or from bulk article sellers. It was a move in the right direction.
This involved taking a piece of content, rewording that content using spinning software to create hundreds of ‘unique’ versions which would then get automated and promoted on a variety of different sites.
What was the implication/outcome?
Clearly the intention was not to create something unique, tailored to a specific problem, or something that resonates amongst a community of people; no it was a link for links sake, and was part of Google’s clean-up operation along with article sites. Another positive move from Google.
If you decide to pay an online publisher or a website to have a piece of content prominently displayed on their site for a fee, it’s against Google’s guidelines; purely because you are paying for a link that passes PageRank.For more information, visit Google Support
The most recent and high profile case of this was against Interflora who frequently paid for advertorials in authoritative publications and websites. The result was heavy optimisation of their site through acquiring links that passed PageRank, which ultimately turned sour.
What was the implication/outcome?
Some have complained that Google have taken this a step too far. However, whilst advertorials are an age old media and marketing practice in the offline world, when it comes to online, it’s slightly different. The fact that any links contained therein can be bought for optimisation purposes poses a problem for Google. That said, advertorials can still be used, just make sure you nofollow the link and clearly state it’s a sponsored post. Google aren’t changing the practice per se, but rather how it can be used to game its search engine.
The same can be said of Press Releases. These can be purchased and distributed to a number of high profile industry specific websites and publications. Any links contained therein will pass PageRank and as a result unlawfully help to optimise a site. This is a very recent development in the search engine marketing world, and just like with advertorials, any links must be ‘nofollowed’ to tell Google that the intention is not to game its system.
What was the implication/outcome?
This has really switched the emphasis and made many marketers truly think about the objective of a press release. Somewhere within the SEO world it became the norm to create a press release about, well very little to be honest. Not only have Google ensured that Press Release links are nofollowed, but many PR services have stepped up their own editorial efforts to ensure only truly newsworthy content gets published and promoted. The Press Release is not dead, we just need to use them the correct way, the way they were originally intended to be used.
So what have we learned so far? Whilst these developments may seem a little frustrating at first, the knock-on effect is actually great for the bigger picture of content. Any Content Marketer must channel their efforts into knowing what works and why, as well as what content gets shared and by whom. For us the days of worrying about links, optimised anchor text and so on are over. Google have paved the way for us to concentrate on creating compelling content that gets liked and shared – as well as to acquire links in a natural and organic way.
For tips on how to use some of the content marketing activities mentioned so far and play by Google’s rules, check out Ollie’s latest blog post.
So now we’re getting onto the crux of my main point. Due to Google’s increasing power over what websites should and shouldn’t publish, what more could the search lord be doing? We often hear of predictions as to what activity will be tweaked or updated. So in addition to that, I want to put a few suggestions out there myself, and would love to know your thoughts too.
People are now saying that Guest Posts will be next on Google’s list. Whether they’ll enforce a ‘nofollow’ policy or start to penalise (either manually or algorithmically) sites caught guest blogging on spammy and irrelevant sites is up for discussion, and something that I would even encourage. However, Google need to be more transparent over the types of sites we can guest blog on, as well as where links can be placed – in the main body of the text or in the author bio?
We have our own guidelines here at Koozai as to what sites we should and shouldn’t approach for guest blogging purposes, and it’s very thorough. Whilst we are moving away from creating content for the sake of a link, guest blogging is one activity that’s slightly tricky. For me, if you’ve built up a good relationship with an industry leading magazine or resource and you’d like to create a piece of content to entertain, educate or inspire their audience, then what’s the harm? I’d like to see guest posts left alone, but with a more rigorous framework to work towards.
I get the feeling of déjà vu when I see a lot of time spent creating fairly mediocre infographics which are then promoted on infographic only websites. What did we learn from article marketing? The way that some marketers view this activity seems to me like an expensive version of article marketing. I’ve no doubt Google will start to take action against infographics that are solely promoted on these types of sites, and there’s a lot of talk that these links must be nofollowed. I can totally understand, and I’d like to see this activity still used, but used properly.
This won’t change the landscape too much, but will just ensure that an infographic idea must be well thought-out and planned before execution. Like with all Content Marketing, think quality not quantity. But Google need to start looking at this more and encourage the promotion of infographics on relevant industry specific sites.
As Google are a facilitator of content publishers it’s not really possible to suggest they should incorporate editorial standards. This is really up to the individual publishers – the more rigorous the better in my book. So I can’t see this changing the content landscape too much either. But this is the perfect time to suggest that we as content creators must step up our own editorial efforts. It’s something that has bugged me for a while. We are responsible for the content of our client’s and brands, so let’s make sure it’s not just ‘quality’, but that it’s awesome.
Whether this already exists or not is up for discussion. But something like this could potentially be a game changer for the content marketing landscape, and indeed the SEO landscape. Thanks to Authorship, content creators can link their online content to their Google+ profiles, this helps to create an author for that content which is visible in the SERPs.
Where Author Rank comes into play is the ranking of content based on the authority of the author that has written it. This ensures that as an author, as long as you’re engaging, sharing, writing and providing value to your community of followers, you’ll gain authority. It’s unclear how author rank would work, but some metrics could include:
It’d be great to see authors rewarded this way. Some may argue it’s dangerous and could be gamed, but as long as you’re providing your community of followers with rich compelling content and you’re building up your own authority amongst that community, author rank can be a good idea.
This is the one big criticism levelled at Google. Penalising small business sites for flouting their guidelines is one thing, but turning a blind eye when bigger brands do this is more than mildly frustrating for some SEOs. Whilst Google have made examples of big brands like JC Penney and Interflora, are we just seeing this as some sort of appeasement? After all, these brands were back in the SERPs before you could say ‘black hat’.
In situations like this it would be nice to see transparency over why the action was taken and how long the penalty will last. The online world has given many businesses a level playing field, and so Google should uphold their informal motto of not being evil to ensure they’re doing the same, or at least justify why bigger brands can easily get caught and redeemed within a matter of weeks.
The hegemonic power that Google has amassed has really started to affect the content we can and can’t create. And in many ways that’s a good thing. We’re told they want quality, unique content that engages and keeps your audience coming back for more. And that’s what we’re doing.
Personally speaking, Google’s efforts in cleaning up the SERPs can be frustrating, but ultimately the changes should be embraced. If that means tweaking a few links or changing the way you conduct a certain activity then so be it. For us, the main focus should be creating something that resonates with our audience.
It could be argued that this is changing the content landscape because age-old media techniques such as press releases and advertorials are being phased out. I’ve argued that they are not. I’ve argued that Google should be doing more to use their power and influence and help content creators. And that’s the point, there is so much more Google can be doing, but I have no complaints with what’s happened so far. What about you?