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The Future Of Content & SEO: How To Stay On Top
Longing for the simpler SEO of yesteryear? How to take advantage of today's tools and resources to tell engines about your content.
Do you ever look back on SEO and long for the simpler days?
SEO has always been content-driven, but the meaning of optimized content has changed drastically over the years. Previously, we usually viewed content as a separate thing from SEO; the two existed in separate silos, only to come together for a brief moment in the optimization phase.
Back in these “old days,” optimizing your content for search engines involved keyword research, on-page optimization and a handful of other tactics. SEOs would often take content provided by a separate writing team and sprinkle a few keywords here and there (especially in prominent locations such as the headers and title tag) as well as a few well-placed anchor text links.
Later, we declared that “content is king,” shifting our focus from keyword-driven content to high-quality content. Search engines began cracking down on “over-optimized” content and shady link-building tactics in the hope of surfacing better results for users. The idea behind this shift was that great content should be rewarded, and that it would naturally garner valuable shares and trustworthy inbound links.
Content Optimization Grows Technical
These days, content optimization has shifted even further, into a more technical realm. Now that we have merged the SEO and content silos to create high-quality, search-friendly content, we have to consider how both users and machines are accessing that content.
A good user experience across all devices — smartphone, tablet, and desktop — has become an important consideration in search engine optimization, along with semantic markup that helps search engines to better understand the meaning of your content.
While the search results are arguably better now than they were years ago, and the search experience is much more advanced, the convergence of content and SEO is now more technical than ever.
In this post, I will discuss two areas where content and technical SEO have converged. It’s up to brands to figure out how quickly they want to adapt their experience to that convergence and stay on top of the game.
Content & Mobile
Sixty-two percent (62%) of organic searches today show different results depending on whether the search was performed on a desktop or a smartphone. This is according to BrightEdge research earlier this year for its 2014 Mobile Share Report, and is an indicator of search catering your content to the device.
With the mobile surge (remember when Google’s Matt Cutts said he wouldn’t be surprised if mobile queries surpassed desktop this year?), how your content is displayed for mobile users is a real concern for brands.
Smartphone penetration is forecasted to be at 74 percent in the U.S. by the end of the year, according to a report by comScore. Thus, the time is now to figure out how content and mobile should exist on your site.
This decision starts with the method of content delivery (your mobile configuration) and moves into the personalized message for the device (how will the message differ?).
“It’s surprising to still see people just digitize content, but not actually tailor it for mobile,” Google’s Darren Pleasance said in a recent interview for the BrightEdge blog (my employer). “There is a new phase of content development forming with in-app and mobile experiences.
Content is being developed and tailored for device types that fundamentally improve the overall experience.” To prepare for the mobile content revolution that’s happening as we speak, first focus on the following:
- Ensure That Content Can Be Accessed Via Mobile Device. If your users have a poor mobile experience, they won’t stay on your site — and your site might even experience lower rankings in mobile search results.
- Choose Your Mobile Configuration Wisely. Not all mobile solutions are created equal, and certain mobile configurations can cause more technical implementation problems than others.
- Decide Which Content Should Be Displayed On Desktop Vs. Mobile. Your mobile users may have different needs than your desktop users. Work to uncover what their goals and intentions may be, and decide how your content will cater to them.
For further reading on how to prepare your content for mobile, dive into this post I wrote for Marketing Land titled, “Going All Responsive Is Not Always ‘One Size Fits All’ with Mobile.”
Content & Structured Data
As if content weren’t enough, more and more companies are starting to hear the message around marking up content, and taking an action towards it. This is a future-proofing tactic that will serve websites well.
The above quote from Bing’s Duane Forrester suggests that brands should be prepared for the evolution of semantic search. Many in the SEO community refer to this concept as “things, not strings,” which is illustrative of how search now works to identify entities, not just keyword strings within web documents.
Over the past year or so, we’ve seen search engines like Google make strides in semantic search. With improvements to Google’s Knowledge Graph (launched in 2012) and the infrastructure update of Google’s search product (dubbed “Hummingbird“), we’re at the beginning stages of another revolution in SEO.
But remember, things move quickly. As many of us know, “optimization” no longer means “putting keyword X here.” Optimization of content pulls in a myriad of technical SEO tactics that ensure search engines better understand the content so they can serve it up to the end user.
To prepare your site’s content for the progression of semantic search, consider:
- A Process For Implementing Schema.org Markup. Devise a plan for marking up your site’s existing content; then, develop a plan for marking up new content so that it’s built into the publishing process. This markup not only helps the search engines, but can deliver a better experience for the searcher (think “rich snippets,” for example).
- A Better Understanding Of How Semantic Search Works In General. Although semantic search is being talked about in technical SEO circles, there’s still a lot of work to be done for brands to understand and adopt it. Read up on this concept so your brand can start to plan for the future.
A few great resources on the topic include:
- Semantic SEO: Making from Strings to Things by Aaron Bradley at SEOSkeptic.com
- A Deep Dive into Google’s Image Carousel and Knowledge Graph Results by Tom Schmitz for Search Engine Land
- Knowledge Graph Optimization by AJ Kohn at BlindFiveYearOld.com
Forrester said it best in his interview with BrightEdge: “As engines ramp up how they use that marked up data, richer consumer experiences emerge. The winners from all those experiments in UX, SERP shuffles, etc., will stick around long term. But you’ve got to be marked up to play.”
Keeping Pace With Content & SEO
Those who understand the mechanics of search and the goals of the search engines have always been on the leading edge of SEO. And while the SEO of yesteryear may seem simplistic today, remember that SEOs had far fewer resources to learn about and implement these tactics back then.
What we do know for certain is that the constant in SEO is the experience — and that experience stems from the type of content a brand creates and how it delivers that content.
(Stock images via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.