Bad content has been prevalent since the beginning of the web because search engines have, until recently, rewarded it — whether they intended to or not (they didn’t). In fact, the Internet is unique in that it is likely the first medium in history to reward content based not on quality but on quantity: things like density, co-occurrence, and volume. This is because early web content was the first popular content to be evaluated primarily by algorithms and only secondarily by actual readers (or users, as the case may be).
In no other popular medium in history has human language been measured not on its ability to persuade humans — but rather its ability to persuade machines. We are still recovering from this trend. The switch to 100% (not provided) traffic is a nudge in the right direction. Now that referring keywords aren’t the ultimate measure of success in an organic campaign, inbound marketers can stop being small time with their strategies. It will be a challenge at first, simply because inbound marketers will have to learn how to stop being small time.
Keywords Don’t Make Good Content
Imagine Shakespeare as a 21st century poet and blogger, trying to get some web traffic to the blog where he publishes all of his sonnets. Imagine, for a moment, a reality in which Shakespeare, our language’s greatest poet, cares about keywords — or worse: a mid 2000s Shakespeare that cares about keyword density. Sure, the Bard in his day did a little bit of keyword stuffing, but it was always for the rhetorical effect: “More than that tongue that more hath more express’d”; “Put out the light, and then put out the light.”; or my favorite, from Hamlet: “Buzz! Buzz! Polonius” (perfect for social media strategy).
But SEO’s emphasis on referring keywords has been a major factor in preventing us from getting buy-in to really go after big ideas. Because how much more micro-focused can you get than monitoring referring keywords for bumps or dips in traffic? That said, inbound marketers have traditionally had little to do with the sort of work that really builds a brand. They’ve just been garnering traffic for the people who do that real brand work. Small potatoes, even if you are making money.
That said, a lot of people have made a lot of money doing it. Referring keywords were a really easy success metric. Clients loved them. If you could make the numbers move, you were in business. But traffic has never been all that. Especially when so many organic campaigns have cared so little about the user’s experience once they land on the page. Inbound marketing can’t be disconnected from user experience any longer. Organic content has to be central to the brand, and be able to not only draw traffic but also convert users. Marketers that will continue to do well after 100% (not provided) rolls out are the ones that don’t really care about (not provided) anyway.
Exclusive keyword targeting has been a boon for inbound marketers to the detriment of the the brands they promote.
Optimizing for keywords has never made a brand stronger. Discovering audience needs through keyword research has. Designing content that’s only purpose is to serve as a potential landing page for a longtail query has done nothing to push our industry forward. Using a persona-driven keyword research process to create content that actually resonates with a brand’s users has.
But It’s Not Just About Content
Learning to market after being spoonfed keywords from Google is hard. I get it. The go-to answer is one that surely everyone is getting tired of hearing: it’s all about creating quality content. Sure. That’s great. Content is king, or whatever. But here’s the reality:
Content does nothing for your brand. But systems of well-promoted, well-organized, properly tagged content make your brand unstoppable.
Creating good content isn’t the hard part. People have been creating great content for a long time. It’s an ancient art. There are a lot of people who are really good at it. You just have to actually pay them. But preparing that content to succeed, to be found, to be amplified — that’s the hard part. (Not provided) doesn’t keep me up at night. Mobile does. I’m unlikely to wonder for hours on end what my client’s top keyword referrers are. I’m worried whether my client’s site is prepared for the technologies its users (remember them?) are adopting at an increasingly high rate. I’m worried about what Schema.org markup will actually be beneficial for my site. I’m not just worried about page titles and meta descriptions (I think we’ve mostly figured those out). I’m worried about creating taxonomies and systems of metadata that will allow a brand’s content to survive a technological transition it is already a decade behind in addressing.
Don’t Fear the Dinosaurs
When Jurassic Park came out I had nightmares for weeks. I was terrified dinosaurs were going to rip apart my house and eat me. And the scariest part was that I couldn’t see the dinosaurs, but somehow I knew they were lurking. But why was I so scared? Because I was five. And things I couldn’t see frightened me. But 100% (not provided) doesn’t mean we’re operating in the dark. It’s worth quoting Mike King’s recent (not provided) deck again: “There’s way too much data out there for us to be crying about it…Google giveth more than it taketh away.”
The transition to (not provided) represents the slow death of an outdated marketing technology. That is is yesterday. In fact, now that we don’t have to worry about the performance of individual referring keywords, we can begin to create content that speaks to the users we discover through forward-looking avenues like market research. 100% (not provided) just means we get to implement more fun, interesting, risky campaigns as marketers, rather than the same ol’ thing.
The switch to (not provided) has done nothing to harm the actual discipline of inbound marketing. It’s only managed to trim the fat of SEO. It represents the maturation of Google, and hopefully the maturation of our industry as well (since we are the plover in the mouth of the crocodile). This move severs one of the final connections between old SEO and new inbound marketing. If we can’t measure with precision the success of keyword targeting, we’re now forced to measure the success of concept-based content — rather than simply tracking the incremental ups and downs of individual keywords. That’s a good thing.
Want to learn more about the strategies iAcquire is using post keyword referral data? Join iAcquire’s webinar, How We Solved (Not Provided) on November 6th, 3-4pm EST.