Google is placing greater value on recent content and making other changes that will force content marketers to think more current and more social.
Call it search engine optimization, search engine marketing, or just plain old content marketing -- the idea is the same. In order to attract eyeballs, marketers create content for Websites that is loaded with the keywords most often associated with the products and services they are trying to sell. They then proceed to create as many in-bound links as possible to that content as part of an orchestrated effort to improve the search engine page rank of the Website.
The outcome of all these efforts to manipulate search engine page rankings has been a lot of stale content sitting on the top of almost every search result. In fact, it's not uncommon now for savvy users of a search engine routinely to ignore the first five results of a search result simply because they know the content is often going to be less relevant than items six through 10.
None of this has escaped the attention of the companies that build search engines. Google has been steadily refining its search engine algorithms as part of a concerted effort to push the most recent and relevant content to the top of a search result. This effort is obviously still a work in progress, but the implication for marketers is pretty clear. Google perceives that the most recent content tends to be the most relevant, so it's starting to push the most recent content higher up the page-rank listing. That means that the days are coming to a close when marketers could drive links back to a few static pieces of content loaded up with their keywords.
A blunt instrument: Page rank has always been a rather crude judge of the value of a piece of content. In fact, an over-reliance on page-rank algorithms has created a significant problem for Google. As people surfing the Web have become less satisfied with search results, many of them increased their reliance on the recommendations of their peers on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. In partial recognition of that new reality, the page-rank algorithms used by Google seem to favor pages that have lots of inbound links from social networking sites, which in part helps explain why Google is investing so much in its own Google+ social networking platform.
The last shall be first: So marketers need to spend more time generating buzz on social networking sites. Beyond that, the new page-rank algorithms also mean that marketers have to spend more time and money refreshing content on their Websites. For example, assuming that all social media activities are relatively equal, a piece of content created a year ago is not going to rank as high as one created a month ago.
In general, search engine algorithms are getting more sophisticated. The days of spending time and money to optimize content around a particular keyword will soon be over as algorithms get better at associating different words with particular concepts. So instead of making a marketer optimize a particular piece of content for the phrase "datacenter," the algorithms will understand that "server" and "data storage" are all related terms to "datacenter."
Optimized for people: That will be a positive development from a marketing perspective. When content is optimized for machines, people tend to find that content to be less relevant because it comes across as either simplistic or pedantic. That's not a sentiment marketers want to create as they struggle to get a prospective customer to respond to a particular call to action.
Obviously, search engines still have a ways to go. Slowly but surely, however, the underlying algorithms are getting more sophisticated, so it's only a matter of time before these changes have a material impact on content marketing strategies. In the meantime, marketers would do well to remember that the words "latest" and "greatest" are often closely linked. And they will become even more tightly linked in the months and years ahead.
— Mike Vizard is a veteran technology journalist. The CMO Site is an executive social network that provides CMOs and other marketing executives from the world's leading organizations with a real-time, online venue where they can convene to discuss how they're delivering on the most critical marketing priorities. Join us!