The Innovative Marketer's Blog

Google’s Judgment Day: Post-Keyword Guide to Inbound Agency Survival

Posted by Max Traylor

Inbound agencies, welcome to the end of SEO as we know it.

For those of you who have not noticed the steady decrease in keyword data coming from Google since October 2011, Google has taken another HUGE step toward destroying an industry it helped create: SEO. The company recently confirmed that it is making moves to hide 100 percent of keyword data. As of Sept. 22, 2013, this number was about 73 percent, according to this fantastic article from Search Engine Land, which gives more background on Google’s recent announcement. For inbound marketing agencies that have been avoiding making a fundamental change to the way they approach creating “valuable” content, this move by Google forces a decision: adapt and change or curl up and die.

google hummingbird content seo

There has been an explosion of articles and outrage from thought leaders in the SEO industry, including one of my favorite and most admired minds in SEO, Rand Fishkin, CEO of MOZ, formerly SEOMoz (did Rand see this coming and hence the name change?). All of these articles come to a similar conclusion: Google is a monopoly, it wants to make more money with PPC, and this is bad news for marketers who just want to create great content and get found. Just listen to Rand’s latest whiteboard Tuesday on the subject. SEO companies, and by association internet marketing agencies, have been reacting to Google’s updates for years, updates that make the task of increasing organic traffic more and more difficult. But this update hits SEO where it hurts: measurement of keyword performance. You can hear it in Rand’s voice; this one was painful. The fact is most internet marketing agencies woke up to a terrifying reality.

This article is written to help agencies better understand the choice they have to make: play by Google’s new rules and discover what it means to create valuable content that your clients’ prospects actually want to read, or continue to try and milk the pile of rubble that is “SEO services.” If you want to continue playing a game that gets harder and harder, go watch Rand’s Whiteboard Tuesday. If you want an alternative, some actionable tips on how to create valuable content that will attract the right buyers to your clients’ websites, read on.

So what is valuable content anyway?

Remember when Google first started? Do you remember what their mission was? Search engines circa 1999 were basically big directories, yellow pages full of ads, for those who remember what those are. For people who wanted helpful information, answers to their questions, or simply didn’t want to be solicited by advertisements while browsing, search engines – pre-Google - were a big pain in the you-know-what. Google stepped in and took it upon themselves to provide the most helpful answers to a user’s questions with a clean, simple interface. They took over the market because they were the only ones who wanted to provide value, rather than make a quick dollar with advertisements and paid postings. Google has come a long way, and done its own balancing act with ads, but two things have remained constant throughout all their algorithm updates:

  1. Google continues to dominate the search market.

  2. Google’s mission is still to provide the most helpful search results.

Why did SEO change?

From the day Google started matching questions with answers, marketers have found ways to game the system. Once they figured out how Google was ranking the answers, they came up with services to artificially tell Google that their content was the “most valuable” for certain keywords. SEO was born from a marketer’s ability to trick Google. (Remember loading pages with white keywords on a white background?)Sure there has always been a more new seo no fooling googleholistic side to SEO but let’s face it, the dark side has always been more profitable.

Over the years technology has evolved faster and faster. As big data graph technology allows Google to get better and better at identifying “quality,” the marketer’s ability to understand the algorithm and manipulate results diminishes. You have seen SEO get more complicated, more expensive and more competitive over the years haven’t you?

How has big data changed the way Google looks at content?

In the “good ol’ days,” Google would look at content and make a decision about which keywords the content would be valuable for, and how valuable it was based on things like keyword density and number of inbound links, the simple things. Big data has allowed Google to look at the relationship between real people and content, and make a decision on how valuable that content is, and for whom, based on how real people interact with the content. Think of it like this:

  • In the past, finding good content was like finding a good movie when all you have to make a decision was previews. Ever seen a GREAT preview that turned out to be a garbage movie?

  • Today, Google looks at how real people react to your content before making a recommendation. Some people’s opinions are worth more than others, like esteemed movie critics, but reviews and comments from real people are what is going to tell you which movies are worth your time.

  • Then, Google categorizes the interactions based on what it knows about the users’ interests. If you are an action movie lover, would an action movie review by a drama critic be as valuable to you as a review from an action movie critic? I didn’t think so. Google holds the same view.

  • Keep in mind that most people look at a critical review and then look at how many other people like the movie. Point being there are two criteria: the opinion of an expert and the consensus of the masses. Google is also doing the same thing with “social sentiment”, which, in this recent study was shown to dominate search ranking factors.

June 2013 Google Search Ranking Factors resized 600

This means two things for content marketers:

  1. A searcher’s personal behavior (search history), as well as their social media activity will be used to provide them with personalized search results (good for the searcher, but bad if you base your service performance on individual keyword rank).

  2. Marketers will have a hard time faking human activity. (You can’t fake a human reaction.)

The NEW SEO: How marketing agencies can create a business around producing valuable content for their clients

There is still a lot of money in online marketing and SEO isn't really dead. But remember: no more tricks. Instead of thinking of “marketing,” which is defined as the act of promoting and selling products or services, SEOs need to be thinking about how they can deliver the best possible experience for their subject — the visitor. You must create content that is actually valuable to your target audience, at the point when they experience a problem in the industry and search for information on how to solve it. That is when they go to Google and look for answers to their questions, where your helpful answers should be waiting with open arms. Google's job is to understand the intent of a person conducting a search. The Hummingbird algorithm is Google's first step in discerning the intent of your content and matching it to the intent of a searcher. Searchengine Land's  talks more about the concept of semantic search in his post Future SEO: Understanding Entity Search.

To attract your target audience with helpful content you have to follow a few basic rules:

  1. You must understand the problem your target audience is having (their need for information).

  2. You must have an answer to their problem (solve their need for information).

  3. You can’t promote yourself! (If the searcher feels like they are being sold to, the credibility of your answer disappears – no matter how well written it may have been).

  4. Don’t be repetitive (Lots of people have figured out how to write content that follows rules 1-3, but they answer the same questions over and over and over again. Google has already started to crack down on repetitive content – so you need to find something NEW to talk about).

Now, here is a simple formula for creating a sustainable valuable content service for your customers that will attract their target audience, build trust, and won’t become repetitive.

Formula for Valuable Content:

(Buyer Persona Question) + (Expert Answer) = Concept

Concept + Direction = Value

In this formula, a concept can be created from your clients’ knowledge of their prospects’ problems, the questions prospects will be asking when confronted with those problems, and your clients’ ability to answer those questions as industry experts. Eventually you will run out of concepts. There can only be a finite number of problems that your clients are solving, and there can only be a finite number of ways to solve those problems.

To overcome the problem of a limited number of concepts for a particular client, you must add a level of “direction” to your content if you are committing to a sustainable content strategy. Direction could include industry trends, a client’s personal experience, and news, any information that is relevant, dynamic and interesting to readers.

Take this article as an example:


How can I create great SEO content?


The formula above


Google’s recent announcement that it would be hiding all keyword data

In the future, I can still talk about this same question and answer pair, but I will need a new direction. Luckily there will always be a new trend or something in the news, in any industry, that you can use as direction. That’s how you provide a sustainable content strategy as a service.

A practical way to create valuable content that gets found

So how do you put this into practice? Create a list of concepts using the process outlined above. Then, be on the lookout for direction related to each of your concepts. When we do this for our agency clients who use our Content Marketer’s Blueprint, we use a technology called SocialEars to curate relevant directions from a specific topic space and deliver them each week. We can use this dynamic information to always keep our clients’ content fresh and relevant to the issues that are influencing their target audience (think semantic search).

social direction drives valuable content

Whether you choose to adopt this formula or create one of your own, the fact is that that keyword-driven content strategies are (almost) gone. How are your content strategies and services going to reflect Google’s announcement?

Please weigh in on the challenges you have faced while creating valuable content for your clients and how you have overcome those issues.

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Blogging, Content Marketer's Blueprint, Analytics, Content Marketing