2013 was a pretty dramatic year for marketers when it came to SEO. Between the surprising Hummingbird Algorithm rewrite in August and the sudden disappearance of keyword data in September, it often seemed like major changes were coming at a fast and furious rate. It’s often said that marketers need to be accepting of change, and the last 12 months were clear evidence that the adage couldn’t be more true.
To help you refine your approach and optimize your content creation appropriately in the new year, we’ve looked back over the past 24 months of Google’s updates:
1. Google Authorship Shakeup
Turns out that Google Authorship is not really a given any longer. In 2012, the program was a free ticket to rich snippets in the form of your author headshot in search results - all you had to do was sign up. However, as of December 19, 2013, the search giant dramatically reduced the number of authorship photos that are now appearing in search results:
With estimates of the reduction ranging from 3-15%, it appears that low-quality sites are being punished more than content creators. You may find that your headshot appears alongside results for quality sites, and doesn’t show up next to lower-authority pages:
What it means for 2014 content creation: While there’s no clear evidence that poor quality content is affecting your reputation in the eyes of Google yet, it seems likely that this could occur in 2014. Matt Cutts said himself last year that Authorship should be a tool to gauge “the quality of the author.” Be proud of everything you produce in 2014, and you shouldn’t see your right to authorship markup disappear.
2. Knowledge Graph Expansion
July 2013, the news broke that Google’s knowledge graph had exploded by 50% overnight. This feature is the search function which introduces supplemental information about common queries in the sidebar. Pictured below is the knowledge graph entry for scientist Marie Curie:
Google has been tinkering with this function since it’s introduction in May 2012, and has continued to release new knowledge graph entries at an increasingly rapid rate, including a foray into non-English languages.
What it means for 2014 content creation: Thus far, the Knowledge Graph is only a resource for common searches, The rapid expansion indicates that it could include branded products and services in the future. Be prepared for when the rollout is extended to your industry by ensuring your content creation efforts extend to helpful and thorough website pages.
3. Hummingbird’s Power of Differentiation
There’s no question that Google’s biggest news story in 2013 was the August release of the Hummingbird algorithm. The rewrite represented a step towards semantic search; the kind of natural language processing that’s going to define our future. The search engine is now far more sophisticated at determining the meaning behind every string of words web users type. There’s still years to go before any algorithm is smart enough to determine the context behind every single query, but Hummingbird is a step in the right direction.
What it means for 2014 content creation: Hummingbird’s power of differentiation is something of an untapped goldmine for marketers. Google’s getting much better at determining whether someone’s search query is transactional, research-oriented, comparative, or any number of other factors that can represent the various stages of the sales funnel. This means 2014 is your year to truly shine if you’re able to map your content creation to each stage of the sales funnel. If your competitors fail to create content that meets consumer’s need for middle-of-the-funnel or bottom-of-the-funnel information, you’ll soar to the top.
To learn more about the concept of providing value for all stages of the buyer’s journey, we recommend Does Your Content Neglect the Middle of the Marketing Funnel?
4. Google Tackles Questions
Something that’s closely tied to the idea of semantic language processing is Google’s new focus on answering questions. And frankly, it was a necessary move for the search giant to keep up with rapidly-changing consumer behavior. Today’s consumers are more likely to be researching on a mobile device than ever before, and their queries are becoming more likely to be a question than a string of random words. While in 2012, your buyer persona may have Googled “outsource content creation,” their search in 2013 is probably going to look more like “What are best practices for outsourcing content creation?”
What it Means for 2014 Content Creation: Keywords aren’t exactly out, but Google’s gotten a great deal more effective at identifying the meaning behind queries, and returning results that provide value (not just represent an exact match of the string of words that were searched. This concept is summarized incredibly well in the image below:
In short, it’s time for marketers to shift their thinking beyond creating 600 words of content around a heavily-searched key phrase to explaining concepts that their prospects are curious about in-depth. You’ll derive a lot more benefit from a well-researched article that answers a question than inserting a given keyword into your content perfectly 10 times.
5. Keywords are “Not Provided”
The biggest blow to marketers probably came September 23, 2013, when Google’s keyword data on the queries that were driving organic traffic to websites was suddenly “not provided.” This change represented a major shift in thinking for the smartest marketers who’d (wisely) been relying heavily on these rich insights throughout 2012 and prior years.
What it Means for 2014 Content Creation: There’s no shortage of blogging metrics you can rely on instead - like traffic sources, bounce rate, and social shares. Make 2014 the year you dive deep into your historical metrics to gauge the success of your content based on consumer behavior.
6. In-Depth Articles Released
Google’s in-depth articles release in August 2013 was a sharp departure from any search features introduced in 2012 or prior. For select queries, users are now presented with the option to explore recommended reading on the topic:
While these spots are typically awarded to sites with extremely high authority, Google recommends implementing Authorship and Scheme markups to improve your chances of being selected.
What it means for 2014 content creation: The line between technical marketers and bloggers is increasingly blurred. Developing a professional goal of learning how to apply Schema markup to your XML sitemap in 2014 could win your content creation efforts a coveted spot among in-depth article results.
7. Panda 2.0 Rewards Niche Expertise
While May 2013’s algorithm update that affected approximately 2-3% of search results was nothing compared to Hummingbird, it was still significant in it’s own right. Google punished spammers, and rewarded sites that demonstrated deep expertise within a given vertical. This “authority boost” was primarily linked to in-depth content, a continuation of many of the same concepts the search engine worked toward in 2012.
What it Means for 2014 Content Creation: As the amount of information on the internet continues to burgeon, your brand isn’t going to derive much benefit from light and fluffy coverage of topics your competitors covered first. You’ll benefit from diving really deep into your niche, and staying there. This means you’ll need to identify how your organization can differentiate, and perform original research and analysis within this vertical.
Eager to learn more about SEO best practices for content creation in the New Year? Check out our recent blog, How to Optimize Your Blog Posts for SEO: an Easy-Peasy Guide.