If you’ve written for the internet for almost any length of time, you’ve been taught to develop content in ways that search engine crawlers will like and rank. This game of chicken between the search engines – and, let’s be honest, when we mention search engines, we really just mean Google – and web developers and copywriters has gone on for years. Burying SEO copy in page footers, keyword stuffing, rephrasing the same thing six different ways; none of this is good practice, let alone best practice. It’s all trying to appease the almighty crawler.
Google’s “helpful content update” is the beginning of the end for clumsy, SEO-centric writing. For those of us who cut our teeth and honed our craft in English comp classes and the broader humanities only to find our way into marketing and content strategy, this shift in approach does not come too soon.
Much has already been made of helpful content; you can read Google’s announcement in August on it here. The big takeaway is that Google is now essentially capable of and comfortable with recognizing and prioritizing quality (read, helpful) content. We’ve reached cruising altitude: you may now feel free to write content for human readers.
This announcement, likely not coincidentally, comes only a few months after Google made updates to its conventional crawling and ranking based on core web vitals. Google has been vocal about placing emphasis on site speed and performance for years, but its last update released in Spring 2022 had a considerable asterisk: they failed their own page speed test. And, in an era post-net neutrality where ISPs can favor or de-prioritize traffic at will, speed and optimization can neither be the the most important factor nor can crawlers necessarily conduct accurate analysis of a website’s speed in rendering.
The way Google future-proofs itself, then, is by going back to square one: How good is your work?
Now, this isn’t to say that the guidelines from the conventional school of content development should be thrown out entirely. At this point, there’s no clear signal for how this emphasis on helpful content actually determines good content from bad. There is still work to be done on the periphery: focusing on an idea and keyword, leveraging structured data and good markup practices, using keyword research and analysis to inform phrasing and editorial position. The SEO team here at Kuno is locked in on SEO fundamentals; we stay on top of developments in the space and are well-versed in advanced SEO practices.
Nevertheless, the future of SEO has now been telegraphed by both top experts in SEO and by the behemoth itself: Google has placed new value on quality, quotable, authoritative content that moves needles and generates conversation. They’re actively putting a ghost in the machine.
Those of us steeped in the humanities remember all too well how much emphasis was placed on being able to articulate ideas. I think I can speak for many of us who found our way into content marketing when I say, What took you guys so long?
It’s not enough to be able to throw up a website for your product and service, hammer all the keywords, structure all the data and expect a first-page ranking. Those of us who are Inbound marketing advocates already understand this: your product or service is secondary to knowing your audience, either through brand personas, ideal customer profiles or past and present client insights. Your company exists to provide value to those in your sphere of influence, and your web content should reflect that, not just as a best business practice, but now for ranking reasons, as well.
Delivering value means providing relevant, timely, accurate information to your visitors, leads and clients. If you provide a solution in manufacturing automation, for example, this could mean well-researched and well-constructed blog posts or social content on recent, germane economic headlines or tech innovations. A human resources professional services organization could do annual or semi-annual research of their clients on workplace attitudes and trends toward a whitepaper or a podcast highlighting their findings. The team here at Kuno Creative has partnered with clients in both these efforts in particular just this year, and with resounding success.
The beautiful part of this kind of effort is that it can – and should! – also inform your operational and marketing strategies. There’s no better way to learn than through teaching, right? As it turns out, Google seems to agree.
Now, in fairness, this could easily go two ways: something can be quotable, while something can also be quotable for all the wrong reasons.
Good, well-developed content should have a pace or flow to it that lends itself to quotability. While ideas should be developed and well-structured, they should also be capable of being distilled down to something snackable and shareable. All the goodness of what you have to offer while 1) not being overbearing, and 2) encouraging the visitor to come back for more.
Fun size content, if you will.
Quotability might be the easiest way to move the social needle. We see this in action all the time, from the Simon Sineks and Gary Vees of the world down to your meme-proliferating relatives on social media.
Search engines are beginning to recognize momentum-generating content through social media activity. The combination of quality, quotable content is only going to grow more potent as AI moves away from algorithms and toward genuine machine learning.
The work you do should reflect the effort put in, but if you’re just writing for your website and social platforms, helpful content isn’t going to do much for your SERP standings. As noted above, standard approaches to technical SEO still matter, and helpful content is – for now – one of numerous automated signals Google uses to determine value and rank. Both and, not either or.
If your company is involved or affiliated with local, regional or national trade organizations, there are several ways these connections can be beneficial in the brave new world of helpful content.
Think pieces are great, but with helpful content, there is a clear movement toward subject matter featuring credible experts. As a business owner, stakeholder or marketing director, you can and should be your own SME, but as with evidence in a legal proceeding or in academic inquiry, the ability to corroborate ideas is now viewed by crawlers as a significant nice-to-have.
The real beauty of this is that it doesn’t have to be a formal, structured interview (although it certainly can be as warranted.) Leverage your professional network and have a conversation with a respected peer or colleague in the space on the topic at hand. This opens up possibilities for quotes, insights you might not have had, insights you did have and weren’t quite keen on sharing or even considering new avenues for content development. Some of the best podcasts out there started as conversations between friends and respected colleagues!
If your work is only appearing on your blog or in your email newsletters, you’ll do a fantastic job maintaining your audience. And maintaining your audience is important! You should be marketing to people, especially those who want to hear from you!
At the same time, we’re seeing a new signal coming from Google: your byline not only on your own collateral, but appearing in outside publications, on podcasts or featured as a guest speaker, panelist or contributor. The thinking here takes the concept behind backlinking a step further: if you appear on a trade organization’s podcast or as a guest speaker for a workshop or conference breakout session, that appearance is the organization endorsing your authority on a topic and, by extension, your company’s.
Similar to being a featured contributor to a conference or in a publication, riding the wave of a larger initiative or campaign is also gaining weight as helpful content.
For example, a Kuno client affiliated with one of the major organizations in the waterworks industry is highlighting an ambitious effort toward diversity, equity and inclusion in the sector and water conservation and ecological stewardship. For our own part, Kuno team members attended and are developing strategic content around our time at HubSpot’s INBOUND 22 and CMI’s Content Marketing World.
Being out there, engaged and participating in what’s happening on a broader level within your industry or sphere can and will help with search results, as well as show readers that you’re committed to staying on top of industry trends.
One thing that helpful content doesn’t change is that, as with anything, good work takes time. Thoughtful, intentional SEO requires sustained practice and execution. As eminent SEO expert “Macho Man” Randy Savage once opined, the cream rises to the top.
The shortcuts to strong SEO have largely already been closed off by the search engine giants, but as a general rule, anything that could yield a quick boost up search engine ranks can just as easily come crashing down. Helpful content indirectly speaks to good, healthy SEO practices – if you’re focusing on quality, quotable, authoritative content, you’re also likely to be contributing your insight on a regular basis and thinking with a long-term mindset already. Essentially, Google’s helpful content update rewards companies and outlets that place a premium on good content strategy and insist on best practices every time.
As an example, one of our more recent clients, an independent insurance agency in the Midwest, wanted to see improvement in their search ranking for specific keywords and organic traffic. Our SEO team, along with a dedicated marketing strategist, dug in and went to work looking for natural ways to optimize for crawlers in addition to value-rich, relevant content we were already publishing for them.
The results of doing careful SEO curation while leaning into an Inbound marketing-minded, helpful content approach? Organic traffic increased by over 1000% after six months, while keyword SERP enjoyed a 700% lift.
As we continue to monitor site performance and keyword research and maintain our content cadence, we don’t expect to see these kinds of eye-popping drastic changes, but we do fully anticipate continued, consistent improvements in both rank and traffic as weight placed on technical SEO gradually gives way to helpful content. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, as true now for SEO as it was in your high school physics class.
The team at Kuno Creative is committed to doing Inbound marketing the right way.
Our strategists take the time to get to know our clients and the sectors in which they operate. Our content team is full of experienced copywriters and editors with experience in journalism, editorial strategy and research, and we leverage SEO strategists with deep understanding of search engine algorithms and keyword research, keeping on top of the latest trends and developments, to make sure the work we partner with you to do has real impact on your business and those you want to draw into your gravitational pull.
If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Right? See the difference for yourself by scheduling a consultation with one of our strategists to review your overall content marketing strategy and see how we can help you meet and exceed your content marketing objectives in an ever-changing digital environment.