Content is King & Other White Lies We Tell Ourselves

liesWith the infamous Google Penguin and Panda updates dismantling and devaluing various link building strategies, many SEO professionals have immediately jumped ship to content strategy.

Using quality content to better the web, especially from a SEO perspective, is a noble task, but it comes with a number of decisions that aren’t always readily intuitive: where to publish, on what platform, and to whom? These are questions that concern “community.” While the decisions made are often those in the interest of increasing traffic or traction, the actual value of answering these questions seems problematic at best.

Content, and the strategy that surrounds it, can be a tricky and wonderful thing – but it isn’t the be all, end all.

The idea of “community” has already taken hold in social and content strategies. Influential blogs, profiles, pinboards, and Facebook Pages are recognized as well-established, with followings in the tens of thousands to the tens of millions.

Any competent SEO knows that a strong content strategy is integral to today’s digital marketing campaigns, where social signals and Google authorship are beginning to affect rankings. But while we can identify content’s weight – its significant role in SEO – the communities built around sharing and authorizing this content seem a bit hokey.

That’s right. Not quite a hoax, but hokey.

Community First, Shrine Later

Craig Mod recently published his thoughts on online communities in his article, Our New Shrines. The post details a process where a Facebook Page can be the starting point for a “shrine,” his moniker for “product.” Not the other way around.

The article explains how a growing community of 4 million users has formed around this page, seemingly in wait for a product or service to emerge. Mod excitedly deems this mode of marketing – community first, shrine later – a novel solution to building a digital empire.

The problem is that these online communities can and will continue to be defrauded. While Facebook has assured that they will improve spam detection, as a result of a startup alleging 80 percent of their traffic was sent from bots, we might begin to feel skeptical of these online communities – these systems. Because really, how can “content be king” when its kingdom is unruly? I’m not entirely convinced, and you shouldn’t be either.

But there is something alluring about Mod’s idea of focusing on a strong community before promoting, perhaps even creating, a product or service. So alluring that it goes beyond social promotion, beyond content strategy, where community is commonly thought to reside. With such an emphasis on community in modern digital marketing, it might be best to address where exactly communities can be built, or better yet, where communities already exist.

Heads up. The gap between online communities and communities themselves is narrowing.

Remembering Community

When we talk about online communities, I’m distracted by the real world – by real communities. Those online are understandably there to validate, share, comment, critique, respond and contribute to content.

But it isn’t always these same communities that are necessarily searching for content. Real people are. On their PCs, their tablets and their mobile devices. They need not register or follow; pin, friend nor like. And the thing is, they are searching spontaneously – on whims – from the comfort of their recliner or out and about in public.

Google recently released a market analysis stating that 80 percent of mobile searches are conducted in the spur of the moment. Meaning, a significant amount of queries – 34 percent of searches are conducted on “the screen that’s closest,” likely a smartphone – are caused by something extraneous.

While it isn’t the year of the mobile yet, it looms. And behind it comes the importance of local search.

Usurping the Crown

Spontaneous and local search necessitate context: where people are searching from, and why. While these characteristics might be uncontrollable, understanding them will help craft SEO, make it more meaningful and closer tied to content.

Instead of asking, “What, where, who?” we need to broaden our scope as to why, and which communities are seeking our content or services out. As more searches become localized, so too must be the way we approach SEO.

Without advocating to abandon online communities altogether – hokey Facebook Pages are but one example – SEO professionals need to look beyond users who are seemingly active within these systems. While Google is obviously narrowing its sights on link building, the ways in which content is propagating are questionable.

Take these ideals about community and apply them to your other digital marketing strategies. Remind yourself that people are out there – neighbors, not bloggers – searching. And they’re searching for you.

Jack Allen of NVI contributed to this post.

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