In Eric Enge’s recent interview with Matt Cutts, a few important points were illuminated that deserve further discussion, if only because he spoke so plainly about Google’s mission when it comes to evaluating content and links.
Matt’s closing statement was perhaps the most illustrative:
“The main thing is that people should avoid looking for shortcuts. In competitive market areas there has always been a need to figure out how to differentiate yourself, and nothing has changed today. Think about how you can create compelling content or a compelling experience for users.”
This is a message that we find ourselves consistently reiterating to our clients and our peers. If you expect to produce long-lasting results, you need to see your work from a specific vantage point: are you providing added value to your visitors?
Build for People, not Robots
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: content should be created for audiences, not computers.
One way of gaining the correct perspective is to imagine that no Google algorithm exists. Instead, imagine that all the search results and rankings are curated by a human being, hand picked based on their merit and ability to add to the larger conversation.
This small change of perspective gives you a simple filter to pass any marketing or SEO efforts through. Keep asking yourself and your teams:
- Is this good for my users?
- Am I adding value?
- Am I doing something special people will like?
Build your Online Business like an Offline Business
Non-virtual businesses understand the inherent need to differentiate themselves from the competition…
Without doing something special, the Mom & Pop coffee shop can’t survive with the giant Starbucks down the street… and they know this. The online world should be viewed the same way. The same is true of online businesses, though it’s often forgotten. Given two highly similar websites, Google’s has failed if both rank.
In order for the Mom & Pop to survive, they absolutely have to innovate. They need to offer a product Starbucks doesn’t sell, or offer superior service, or a more appealing ambiance. In other words, they have to set themselves apart as a valid alternative or they cannot compete.
Differentiation needs to become a singular goal, not only because this makes good business sense, but because Google has the same goal. Google has been explicit in its mission to identify and rank those sites that create something extra and give their users something they can’t get anywhere else.
Google Ranks “Special”
Your content is what makes you special…
In a virtual world, content is your tool for differentiation. Use a variety of different types of content toward a very clear end goal: to establish your brand as a destination that offers more value than the competition.
There are many ways to do this, through a variety of content mediums, but the goal remains the same: give your audience something that nobody else is giving them.
On this blog, much of what we create adds value in one of the following ways:
- Offer a more thorough resource
- Synthesize and analyze data in a new way to create enhanced meaning
- Contribute new insights from experts and respected thought leaders
- Offer a unique perspective that provides deeper understanding or provides context
- Use visualizations to illuminate complex ideas more clearly
- Provide real world examples, stories, or helpful anecdotes that contribute to better understanding.
Links are the byproduct of doing something special
It’s unwise to think about link building as an isolated endeavor, or as ad hoc to a marketing strategy…
This perspective is distracting and can become a slippery slope because it encourages you to find shortcuts. It changes the goal. If link acquisition is paramount, your efforts switch from business building activities to finding methods for optimizing link acquisition. In other words, if your only goal is links, you’ll work toward finding faster ways of acquiring cheaper links.
It’s important to remember the ultimate goal of providing value. From this perspective, it’s easy to see the true purpose of links (which happens to jive with Google’s perception of links), which is that links are given voluntarily based on merit and inherent value. Links are a byproduct of creating something others want to share.
In Matt’s words:
”It’s important to think about producing something excellent first. If you have an outstanding product, world class content, or something else that sets you apart, then you can step back and start thinking about how to promote it.”
Over time, Google is likely to integrate social signals much more heavily into their links-driven algorithm. Fortunately, social signals such as sharing and commenting are also a necessary byproduct of great marketing. In fact, there is a high correlation between links generated and the volume of shares a post has across social channels.
Whether Google continues to concentrate almost exclusively on links or begins to heavily integrate social metrics, content strategies aimed at providing value for audiences will continue to work well.
Infographics and building your reputation
One of the major headlines to come out of Eric’s interview with Matt was his exclamation that links generated via Infographics could potentially be devalued in the future…
Matt’s reasoning deserves some addition attention because it drives our point home. If your content is truly valuable, Google intends on rewarding you with improved rankings. However, if your content provides nothing new, Google will search for ways to give you little or no credit for that work.
Low-quality, poorly researched infographics shouldn’t help webmasters rank better. They simply don’t deserve it based on their merit. In instances where they do, Google is likely to assume the links have been earned for reasons other than their inherent value.
Creating something truly valuable means more than tying up old ideas or old information in a pretty bow. If you’re going to produce an infographic, it has to bring more to the table. It has to be something people want to print and hang on their wall.
Done properly, infographics can be used as an invaluable tool for building your brand’s reputation — not just to enhance your position as a thought leader, but also as a purveyor of high quality content.
Set up strict guidelines for quality, and hold yourself accountable:
- Build in a process for fact checking
- Rigorously examine your infographics for spelling and grammar mistakes
- Be careful of your sources, especially with regard to stats and figures
- Don’t get in over your head. If you don’t understand the data, don’t attempt to visualize it.
- Not every topic is right for the IG treatment. Use infographics to tell a story the written word can’t.
- Experiment with data visualization. Find ways to use data to tell a story that nobody has told yet.
- Be the definitive guide. Tie up all the loose ends. This is a great example.
- Delight people with new technologies. Use them to tell stories better.
- Make a complex issue easy to understand. Use visual content to become an educator.
Don’t trick people
Infographics should be an extension of your brand…
Another important point Matt asks us to consider is the inherent potential for abuse that comes with content promotion and syndication. He reminds us that Google needs to consider this potential in order to properly evaluate links. If a link is not earned based on the overall merit and perceived value of its destination, the link is not a reliable indicator for Google.
The best targeted and most effective infographics will form a “trifecta of relevancy.” When sites share an infographic (or any content) that is topically relevant to the site they link to, the site publishing the infographic is topically relevant to the infographic they created and it’s surrounding text, and the sites linking to the infographic are finding interest in it because it’s topically relevant to them. The problem with infographics is that when they’re done poorly, they can still gain traction… just not in the right spaces.
Infographics should be used as a tool for demonstrating the value of your brand to an audience. Every piece of content you create serves as a vector for people to interact with your website and your business. When your content is shared and syndicated, the links back to your site should be earned based on the combined merit of the syndicated content itself, but also because your site is a relevant and valuable destination to visit.
For this reason, it’s important to create relevance between the infographic content you create and your brand. Use infographics:
- To tell a story related to the goals of your brand
- As a tool to demonstrate your ability to create really awesome things
- As a taste of all the additional engaging and fascinating content that can be found on your site
The main takeaway from the Matt Cutts’ interview should be this: no matter the medium, if your content is completely irrelevant to your brand and low quality, it will be devalued.
Before Google even existed, AltaVista based rankings on meta tags. When companies realized this, they would stuff keywords onto their pages just to get traffic, even if these keywords had nothing to do with their business. As search engines evolved and penalized this behavior, these tactics became extinct (and the sites using them no doubt suffered greatly).
In the present day, this is still applicable. Going off topic of your business just to try and get traffic will never be a sustainable strategy. You shouldn’t be creating irrelevant content just as companies shouldn’t have been stuffing their sites with irrelevant keywords. Even if something works for a short time, it won’t last…
The only thing that is sustainable for long-term success is creating content that is high quality, unique, and relevant to your business. Google will never devalue links from truly valuable content.
Neither infographics nor any other single form or content are a magic bullet for content marketing. The best content strategies use a mix of content mediums, with infographics serving as one weapon in the content marketing arsenal. Each content medium — from articles and infographics to video and kinetic typography — offer different advantages for telling a particular story.
The tool you choose should depend on the message you’re trying to convey. The uniqueness, relevance, and trustworthiness of your message is what makes all the difference to Google, not the mode it’s conveyed.
How are you creating content that is both relevant to your brand and unique? Let us know in the comments below.