Then and Now: Understanding How SEO Content has Changed

July 7, 2014

If you spend any time in internet marketing circles – whether in discussions with colleagues, through social media, or by following the top bloggers and forums – you’ve no doubt heard a lot of talk about the “new era” of content.

In terms of Internet marketing, and especially with regards to SEO, content used to be a seen primarily as a  vehicle for delivering keywords to search engine crawlers. Internet marketers focused largely on creating content into which keywords could be integrated, rather than focusing on simply creating content for content’s sake. At the time, using content in this way was an effective approach, because it allowed sites to describe to search engines–and by extension users–exactly what the site was about.

It was a strategy that worked well, when executed properly, but search engines quickly realized that content was being created with the main goal being to game the system, rather than for the purpose of informing, engaging or entertaining site visitors.

Marketers hired inexpensive freelancers to create a high volume of content where the central focus was keyword density, and in most cases, this was reflected in the quality of the content that was created. This kind of content developed was often repetitive, forced, unnatural, and delivered very little actual value to the reader.

A search engine is only as strong as the results it returns. When engines like Google began updating their algorithms to address issues like these, more focus became placed on the quality and nature of the content, rather than the actual words which it contained. This ushered in a wave of changes to search engine algorithms, in the form of updates such as Google’s Panda update. Such changes placed much greater emphasis on the content itself, using various cues to determine whether content was organically useful, such as how long users spend on a page, whether other sites link to internal content pages, and various other signals (many of which are secrets closely guarded by the search engines) that indicated whether the visitor found the content to be useful or not.

What Content For SEO Looks Like Now

While the engines began changing the way they comprehended (and ranked) content, the definition of content itself began to shift simultaneously. Where content was once generally considered to be website copy, blog content, and long form articles, the term “content” now also includes a wide array of media.  Videos, images, social networking posts, content contributed to other sites, and so on are not only examples of content that can attract an audience, they’re crucial elements that enhance your site’s authority, impact your rankings, and should be factored in to any truly comprehensive SEO strategies in 2014.

Search engines are looking for sites that host a wide array of content, and not just the keyword-stuffed kind of text old SEOs used to sneak in hidden the bottom of the web page. Today, it is the site that is actively engaged in social media, that creates compelling content in the form of videos or images, and that provides a steady supply of fresh content such as regular blog posts, sends a strong signal that it is actively contributing to its industry, however niche or broad it may be.

So if we’re to define “new content” simply, we might put it like this: new content is the content that people want to use and share. Content that is informative, entertaining, or otherwise useful will naturally be returned to and/or shared by the visitor and through related sites via channels such as social media, third party blogs, and content-based links on other sites. If your content is shared, even if by only a few visitors, the search engines see that as a strong sign that the content was useful, relevant,  and of high quality.

While this new age of content development may pose some challenges to site owners and marketers,  in the end, everyone wins. With high quality content earning legitimate rankings and establishing a sense of trust and confidence in visitors are both possible–which can have a significant impact on a site’s bottom line.

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