The Mayan calendar ended this month. Contrary to the “predictions,” it wasn't the end of the world, just the end of Mayan content. To avoid having your company come up short on content, let's take a quick look at the history of web content and trends for 2013.
The Development of SEO and Content Marketing
The web has been based on two things – text and links. As with any new idea or product, the initial iterations were easy to abuse, fake and duplicate.
Many of us remember the early tricks: fonts the same color as the background, hidden text, and keyword-stuffed pages. Early Google updates, like Florida, forced webmasters to create content instead of text.
Links were easy to place, but they still needed a vehicle. Content writing sites developed to meet webmasters' and SEOs' needs for link-carrying content. During this time, links were the name of the game, and SEOs were looking for the best balance of cost and quality.
In February 2011, Panda fundamentally changed website creation and promotion. The quality and depth of the content of the site came under attack. Webmasters and SEOs who were used to thin content were pushed to include more meaty pieces.
Site developers who were used to slow rollouts and random content updates found a renewed importance in consistently developing readable content. However, since there were a variety of standard, functioning link-building tactics, SEOs focused on pumping out content and using those networks while they could. The number of content creation companies and providers exploded – along with the need for higher quality content.
In April 2012, the other side of the SEO equation, links, came under fire. Paid links, link wheels, blog networks and other strategies for easily spreading content suddenly were penalized.
SEOs had learned that content had to be good; now the question became, “Where do I put this stuff?” Without the clear strategies to promote content and get links, content creation requests slowed as SEOs reconsidered their entire content marketing plan.
The Future of SEO and Content Marketing
So now what? The data shows that SEOs have learned that low-quality content won't cut it, not with the current link building situation. High-quality content can bring in links with little effort, but there is a high risk of these strategies being abused.
The recent ICOA press release fiasco shows that even a process that has been successful for more than 50 years has its flaws and weaknesses. The key here is to find sustainable, quality strategies for long-term brand building.
Yet, we enter the paradox – the easier a strategy is, the more likely it will be abused and lead to penalties. Harder strategies aren't as scalable and profitable. So SEOs will have to balance that fine line between using strategies that work for now and long-term, non-scalable solutions.
What does this all mean for the future of content? We can glean five clear trends from recent years.
1. Quality Content Rules
Clients are shifting not only to higher-end writers, but to subject matter experts. In 2013, demand will increase not just for good writers, but for good writers who know their stuff, to increase in 2013.
2. Content Needs a Voice, Personality, or Branding
Panda's push for meatier content has led to many players covering the same low-hanging fruit. Add in Google's preference for big brands, and companies face the challenge of separating themselves from similar vendors.
The mere presence of evergreen content will no longer rank for your keyphrase because your competitors have the same content. Marketers face the challenge of separating themselves from competitors not by price but by brand or personality.
3. Longer, More In-Depth Articles
The easy stuff has already been done, often to death. Longer articles tend to get more interaction according to SEOmoz, which helps with link building efforts. The insight represented by those pieces builds brand authority, builds trust with your clients, and improves conversions.
The trick with longer articles isn't the word count but the ideas and concepts delivered. A concept or argument that adds to the knowledge graph will usually result in a longer article simply by its nature.
4. Social Media Grows in a Link Building Role (Especially With Bing)
The multiplicity of platforms means adapting or prefacing content for each social media platform. While this doesn't necessarily fall in an SEO's traditional bailiwick, agencies can help their customers out by preparing social-ready content.
Instead of creating just a piece of on-site content, have a tweet and a preface for Facebook or Google+ ready. That way, when you deliver, the client can easily promote the content. It can be as simple as asking your writers for a short summary or teaser.
5. More Multimedia
Recent studies have shown that photos boost post interaction. Videos have a similar but smaller effect.
Ensure that your visuals have the proper textual corollaries to be found. Use alt tags, captions and descriptions to enhance your visual content and improve accessibility. Videos should have either a script, edited for readability, a transcript, or at least a summary.
Some are already proclaiming infographics as passé, but there is still a case for these visual content pieces.
Together, we see the need for an overarching content strategy that coordinates written, video, and visual content pieces with social media that fully engage audiences and add to the knowledge graph.
Image Credit: BizarroComics.com