I loved Ben Wills’ thought-provoking post over at Marketing Pilgrim on this topic and have thought a lot about it. Ben says that content marketing is just the latest stage in the evolution of the link-building process. He contends that links still have a role in our marketing and SEO strategies and has some fascinating thoughts about the direction of online marketing going forward. I agree.
But first, how did we get here? How did we arrive at this content marketing-only spot? In the early days of the evolution of search engines, Google’s algorithms viewed links as useful in providing more relevant results to their users. As a consequence, direct link building via directories, link pages or link exchanges was seen as the best way to get noticed. The problem with the practice was that before long you, your competitors and, it seemed the whole of the online world was doing the same and links acquired by traditional methods no longer had the impact they once did. It was all just one big echo chamber.
Google and the other search engines moved on, but they needed a way to be able to set apart the most relevant results for a particular search query. It was soon recognized by Google (and by savvy marketers) that content marketing could provide the solution. Even minimal content marketing efforts containing links were able to set a site apart. We’re several generations of Google updates later and we’ve come to the point where it might be the content that carries the most weight. Links are still important, though. If your top-ranking competitors are there because they have good-quality guest posts or infographic links, you still need to be able to compete with them at the baseline level.
The evolution of search results has progressed and when it comes to SEO, content marketing is king. When it’s done well, it can give you a competitive edge that sets you apart from your competition. I totally agree and love how Ben puts it in his post: “Content marketing is uncommon, valuable, and difficult to execute. These are three things about a tactic that search engines love to measure in order to identify the value of a tactic.” Absolutely spot on, isn’t he?
But will any old content with a few keyword links thrown in do the job? Not anymore. Your content needs to be relevant, consistent and up to date to score a ranking hit with the search engines. Links need to be added thoughtfully so they act as signposts to useful information; “unnatural links” should be avoided to steer clear of a costly Google penalty.
Where is content marketing going from here? This is where Ben’s thoughts get really interesting. He predicts a future where Google harvests a ton more data about how we use the Internet. Not just with analytics, but also from our smartphones and laptops and via publicly accessible developer libraries. He sees a time when they can measure not only how visitors got to your site and what they do there, but also where they go and behave from there. Think about that one for a minute—isn’t it interesting?
Your visitor behavior will tell the search engines a story. In fact, I’d venture a guess that it already does. No longer will it be only links or well-optimized content that give you the competitive edge. That will come from having visitors who love your content so much that they return repeatedly to your site, share your content regularly on social media and visit other search engines less after viewing your content. In other words, they view your site as the final destination in their search for information.
I say this all the time and really believe it’s true: today every company is a media company. And if content marketing isn’t part of your integrated marketing strategy and if you’re not focused on creating content that serves the needs (and the need for information) of your customers and prospects, ultimately, you can expect to pay a price.
What do you think?
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