Here's Why Google Should Reward Content Marketers (And SEO Practitioners) For Less Content, Not More
For a long time there's been a love-hate relationship between SEO practitioners and and content marketers and, sadly, isn't going away anytime soon. But, there may be a solution and Google is front and center. But, first, let's take a look at the history between SEO practitioners and content marketers.
Throughout most of the '00s, SEO and quality content were fighting an all-out war. All SEOs could think about were keywords, keywords, keywords. Content creators were driven by advertising, PR and branding considerations saw keyword insertion and other SEO tactics such as padded word counts as self-defeating ploys guaranteed to render published content unreadable, unpersuasive and undermining of the company brand.
At this time, SEOs were not without their arguments. They were not to blame if Google's algorithm rewarded these "ploys" with high organic rankings. They were also quick to point out that without organic search visibility, a company's content would not receive enough views to generate a dial-moving number of leads, no matter how brilliantly it was written.
As the '10s have proceeded, SEO and quality content have found a good deal of common ground:
Google's algorithm has improved its ability to identify and reward high-value content, which Google defines as being useful and informative, more valuable than useful than other sites' content, credible, high quality and engaging.
Google, primarily (but by no means exclusively) through its Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates, is taking aggressive and decisive steps to eliminate manipulative, SEO tricked-up content from its organic results.
The rise of content marketing as a self-standing, high-value marketing discipline has brought more attention to quality standards for online marketing content. Content marketing is now a global research lab for creating innovative content strategies and techniques -- some in the service of SEO, and some not.
The quality content camp can now take comfort in knowing that SEO maneuvers such as vacuous, 500-word press releases announcing a new brand of coffee filters in the headquarters cafeteria is now as useless for Google as it always was for humans.
The SEO contingent is also relieved to have a content quality camp at its disposal. Google's algorithm updates have eliminated most non-content forms of optimization, leaving high-value content as the main weapon in its optimization arsenal.
Despite all of the progress, tension will continue between SEO and quality content. Here's why:
- Word counts still matter. A recent study of one million Google searches reveals the average Google first-page result has close to 2,000 words. Quality-minded copywriters with a 1,000-word message still have a problem.
- Keywords still matter. While precise keyword matches between a search query and on-page content are less important than before, keyword themes and placement still influence rankings, so keyword considerations -- and there are a great many of them -- cannot be ignored. Quality-minded copywriters cannot shoo those pesky keyword flies quite yet.
- Pressure to publish is increasing. Because backlinks remain a huge factor in Google's algorithm, SEOs continue to embrace a quantity-over-quality mindset: To obtain backlinks, SEOs must publish a lot of off-site content linking back to the company/client website. And because content marketers with or without an SEO interest are right alongside publishing like mad, each side has little choice but to publish or perish -- with users being bombarded with content, SEOs and pure content marketers can succeed only by staying visible.
Tomorrow: An Alliance Against Google?
Looking ahead, SEOs and the quality content camp may forge an alliance based on their common goal of reducing the pressure to publish.
The common enemy: Google.
The best way -- maybe the only way -- to truly harmonize SEO and quality content is for Google to reward LESS content rather than MORE content in its algorithm. For instance, why not reward publishers for publishing 10 off-site articles on a given topic rather than 100, or reward them for producing five truly enlightening infographics and taking the other 500 offline?
My guess is, algorithmic considerations such as those would appeal to Google search engine users -- users growing tired of sifting through repetitive drivel to find truly useful and relevant content. Google is not beholden to SEOs or content marketers. But if an algorithm shift to reward less content suits its users, there is a chance it could happen.
For now, SEOs and content marketers can only hope.
This guest article was written by Brad Shorr, Director of Content Strategy at Chicago SEO agency Straight North.
Editor's note: And, yes, the irony of this article bringing Google juice to Straight North has not escaped us. But think about this argument for a minute because it is a worthy one. If Google did, in fact, reward for less content rather than more, wouldn't the world be a greater place for everyone? I think so.