These days, even the acronym SEO has become a little hackneyed. Of course, companies are still optimizing their websites to rank highly on Google, and maybe some of the other alternative search engines, but they're no longer engaging in quite a few of the practices that defined search engine optimization throughout the early days of the Internet.
As the Internet grew, the use of keywords was a primary part of getting visibility for a site. Companies had to analyze search keywords and echo them back in site design -- in text, in titles, and also importantly, in metadata. In many cases, the technical keyword use tended to crowd out the actual quality of the page content, giving readers a somewhat unsatisfactory result on many corners of the web.
In a nutshell, Google has gotten serious about promoting quality over technicality. Updates like Panda and Penguin have changed the landscape of the Internet by ceasing to reward rote keyword use, and instead pushing ‘optimizing’ toward good content – organic, insightful articles, and catchy headlines that make sense.
Here's a concrete example -- many digital news outlets are talking this year about whether long tail keywords are still useful in pay per click campaigns, or whether they are becoming obsolete. The data-driven approach to long tail keywords makes a point, but misses another more fundamental point -- that in a sense, the Internet has now gone beyond blunt uses of keywords to promote a result.
Instead, today's SEO, while still working to position sites on some technicalities, includes the pursuit of building content-rich websites -- places where readers really want to go to get information that they need. Many of the best examples of these sites look a lot like something that's created through a newsroom model. You'll have investigative or long-form reporting on an industry, thoughtful opinions on how to best accomplish goals, and other forms of content typically thought of as thought leadership. Thought leadership for the web is an idea that really came into its own within just the last few years -- and it's quickly reinventing the ways that we think about inbound marketing on the web.
The content marketing world is one that’s driven by a particular pair of elements: words representing ideas.
College students taking English or history classes might look at a syllabus and see something like Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres being used as a springboard to talk about the general purpose of rhetoric and its popular use in past centuries. Wikipedia identifies rhetoric as “the art of discourse, wherein a writer or speaker strives to inform, persuade or motivate particular audiences in specific situations.”
Rhetoric was important in the centuries before we had digital discourse. That's why De Tocqueville is now a household name, or at least, commonly heard in the classroom.
At the same time, the practice of creating good digital content leads toward an era of online writing that will be similarly discussed and dissected hundreds of years from now.
Many forward-thinking marketers are seeing this trend and responding to it. Every time a company creates a powerful, long-form thought leadership piece and promotes it through a content marketing funnel, they are reclaiming a little bit of online territory from the array of independent magazines, newspapers and other publications competing for readers on the web. And that’s valuable work when it comes to branding, visibility, and more.
With all of the current focus on rich, organic digital content, there's also another big controversy based on a whole different way of making an end run around natural organic human thought.
Essentially, machine learning and heuristics have finally delivered computers capable of creating pretty natural-sounding digital content. A New York Times article shows how savvy readers can still pick out most instances of computer-generated text -- but just barely.
However, it's harder for computers to really turn out digital copy in what you might call the ‘rhetorical’ style. Computers are good at aggregating facts, and even putting them into proper grammatical sentences in a certain language. They're not as good at echoing the kinds of quirks and idiosyncrasies that flow from the human brain when transcribing thoughts onto paper.
One could argue that the nascent practice of using computers to write content is already doomed in the same way that the old practices of keyword SEO have been -- that the inherent limitations of technicality show through and that audiences demand “real talk” from companies.
So how does this work, exactly?
First, companies have to build credibility online. That means getting every word and every letter right. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors will quickly cause web users to “change the channel,” or more aptly, to click away into someone else's website. So clean copy is important.
Beyond that, it's also important to develop that thoughtful style of writing that computers can emulate and that only skilled writers can produce. That's why a lot of companies are now investing in using professionals who can tie ideas together in an illustrative way -- who can, for example, show how a celebrity's recent analysis of a musical album generally relates to the use of customer relationship management software, or how desperate homeowners might call a plumber or an HVAC technician in the middle of the night and what they can expect.
There is a trend going around in today's content market, of human writers trying to sound lofty without taking the time to really put ideas together in a coherent way. It often looks like this – a scrawled-off reference to some piece of pop culture, such as a movie or popular song. Then a jarring switch into some technical topic -- a few half-baked sentences about how a technical system should work. Then another headline from the pop-culture piece, and some vague tie-in to the emotions and principles that should drive technical work.
The bottom line is that good content needs to really make sense, not just in a grammatical way, but in a rhetorical way. The best companies use the power of logic to really change audience outcomes and reach people through the Internet.
Bristol Strategy is an inbound marketing company with the skills and experience that companies need to innovate their customer experience. Using our services, clients can change their online model, from something that’s only average, to a set of campaigns that achieve results. Ask Bristol Strategy about how to renovate a web project to really take advantage of the above-mentioned principles of sound content marketing.
Bristol Strategy is a full funnel inbound marketing agency and inbound sales agency offering the full complement of Inbound Marketing services that enable our clients to surpass their business objectives by transforming the way they engage with their buyer on-line. Reach out to us to learn more about how our experience and capabilities can help your business grow.
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