Content Marketing Overtakes SEO as Google’s Quest to Be “Human” Continues

by Marcus Sheridan

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Matt Cutts gave us a little preview recently about the direction of Google and search in general. While attending the mother of all digital conferences SXSW, Cutts was asked this question:

“With so many SEO companies showing up claiming to do SEO, a lot of markets are getting saturated with optimized content…What are you doing to prevent, for example, if you’re looking for something, and the first page is just optimized content, and it’s not what you’re actually looking for? Are you pretty much out of luck if you’re not optimizing your site but it has relevant content? If I’m a mom or pop and I’m trying to optimize a site by myself, I’m going to get beat by people paying thousands of dollars.”

Ahh yes, a dang good question indeed—one that drives mom and pop stores all over the world crazy as they struggle to get a website up and produce content—much less do it in such a way that gives Google a warm-fuzzy.

Write for “Normal People”

But here is where Cutts made more than one eyebrow raise when he said sites would be penalized if they:

“throw too many keywords on the page, exchange way too many links, whatever they’re doing to go beyond what a normal person would expect.

Surprised anyone?  Many were with Cutts’ remarks but the only thing I could think when I read this was, “Of course we should be writing for normal people. Who the heck else are would we write for?”

The Humanization of Google

Google is moving towards being so good at search that they are almost able to read a page and its content  as if they were a literal person, so much so that if they smell a rat (over-optimization), they’re going leave. (or in this case, penalize the site)

Speaking of penalties, I was reminded of an article I wrote a few months back about “How to Build Inbound Links without Selling Your Soul to the Devil” when I read here how Google put the ultimate beat-down on “Build My Rank”, a tool that has been used by many, many folks to build (in a rather non-organic way) inbound links and ultimately search rankings to their websites.

Oh, and as for all those sites that used the tool? Yep, many of them have now been Google-slapped as well and could be in serious trouble of staying in “search purgatory” if they don’t fix the error of their ways.

You know, I’ve read about these types of tools many, many times but I’ve always come back to one thought:

If Google was a real human being and knew these links were crapola, would they be pleased?

Fool’s Gold

In other words, as marketers we have got to stop thinking we can “game” Google. Their search algorithm is getting better and better with each new update. What many thought was earth shattering with “Panda” will look like chicken-feed five years from now.

With some of the smartest people in the world heading up their search department, it’s fool’s gold to constantly look for shortcuts and shady methods of building links and stuffing pages with keywords in an unnatural way.

The Age of Great Content Marketing

But the solution to all of this is the same thing it has been since the search engine was invented by Alan Emtage in 1990—produce great content that people care about.

Or, as Cutts put it at SXSW:

“Make a compelling site. Make a site that’s useful. Make a site that’s interesting. Make a site that’s relevant to people’s interests…”

Well look at that…No mystery. No grand scheme. We just need to produce content that doesn’t stink.

And how do we do this? For an in-depth look, you may want to read my list of the 50 habits of the best business blogs in the world that was written a few weeks ago.

But for the shorter version, here are some thoughts:

Answer people’s questions. All of them. And don’t try to be smart. Just be real. Think like a teacher. Embrace honesty. Seek transparency. And make this a culture that lasts as long as your company is living and breathing.

Make sense?

SEO has it’s Place

Am I anti-SEO? No, of course not. I strongly believe we should target keywords as a business. I also believe we should put Google in a position to understand our stuff by providing sensible titles, URLs, meta descriptions, etc– things that are just components of a solid content marketing strategy.

At the core, we should write content as if we’re talking to a friend sitting next to us in a coffee shop.

In other words, we need to be real. That’s it.

By so doing, there is a very good chance Google (and the rest of the search engines) will take notice. And when all of our competitors are crying the blues that their website rankings keep falling, you can laugh all the way to the bank as your exceptional content continues to carry the day.

Your Turn:

I think we can all agree that although Google is still an imperfect search engine, they are certainly headed in the right direction in terms of judging quality content. I’m curious—How long do you think it will take Google to be practically “human” when it comes to search? 1 year? 5 years? Never? And do you think that most people will eventually stop trying to “game” the system or do you feel that will always be a part of the digital age?

Your opinions matter here folks, so take a look ahead with me and add your thoughts below.

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