When Google changed up its algorithm a couple of years ago to give prominence to ‘fresh’ content, website updates search experienced a seismic shift
Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013 was crafted to create dynamic search results and make them more relevant on a daily basis. Websites are now rated by looking at their meaning rather than keyword chains or frequency.
Big corporations with large keyword-stuffed legacy websites were asked to create rich, meaningful content updates to guide search customers. For many this was a severe challenge, but some have become clever content publishers and socially adept relationship builders helped by partnerships with creative agencies.
So did Google’s content rich switch level the playing field? In a way, yes. Smaller companies with a coherent strategy and great stories to tell could now square up to big brands. Though standing out from the crowd has always been tough (and now Google’s algorithmic search asks for updated content on a day by day, rather than week by week or month by month basis), by working with local agencies, smaller businesses can reap big rewards.
Freshness is also linked to social proof, so tweets, likes, shares, mentions, comments and the help of supporters is invaluable. Those with extensive social networks, supporters, niche or unique products and services, can (with a little wit and a clear strategy) carve out their niche using video, blogs, photography, live performance or any combination of persuasive micro-media. Wow customers and you will command an audience.
Traditional publishing and media – newspapers, magazines, TV, radio – had a distinct time and place advantage. Read it on the bus, listen in the office, watch it later at home. Mobile fragmented that and continues to do so, the shackles are off. So many commentators now provide focused content online, that virtually any area of expertise or entertainment is at our fingertips day or night.
So how do you create appeal? Well your business is the one thing you do and you are a natural enthusiast about it. You know about trends, and if you don’t then you should. You know the customer journey and how it looks when it all goes well, or badly. You now how to do things the right and the wrong way. You have an origin story and you have ideas about how things will look in future. These are the ingredients you use to build content.
Chief content officer of the Aberdeen Group, Maribeth Ross, told MediaShift that the content revolution is the perfect tool for those who embrace the online lifestyle. The internet generation is so used to finding what they are looking for that they get frustrated when they don’t get it. Similarly when content is hard to understand. “It’s forced marketers to change – to become better at knowing what their buyers need and when they need it,” she says.
“People appreciate real brand stories versus aggressive sales pitches,” says NCR Corporation’s content and promotions manager Justin Rubner. “So you have to create meaningful, high quality and honest content AND have a smart strategy on distribution. Because no one comes anymore if you just build it.”
Rubner, who worked as a business reporter before NCR – probably the world’s largest point of sale transaction technology company – says content is a natural fit for journalists, who are trained as creative storytellers. “I still interview people, tell real stories and don’t always have to focus on selling,” he says. “If you’re looking at hiring a content marketing strategist and are overlooking journalism backgrounds, you’re doing yourself a major disservice.”
Don’t Do PR
Don’t JUST do PR. At the Amber Film Short Documentary Festival in January, one of the filmmakers bemoaned the lack of opportunities available now to capture the kind of generation-defining images in Amber’s ‘Launch’. The sight of the last big ship leaving Wallsend’s dockyard in 1974 stays with you. It is part of the cultural history of the region. But PR has tended to streamline thinking in business marketing to stay away from ‘risky’ strategies like allowing journalists and others to discover the story.
Access to local, regional and national stories is now often policed by PRs averse to straying from the ‘brand image’. In storytelling, people want to hear about adversity, the good and the bad. If you create bland, beige content then your stories shrink. If you leave out the difficult lessons and the learning, then what do your readers, your customers gain?
Ever heard the CEO or figurehead at a successful business say they never made a mistake? People like to hear about vulnerabilities and challenges overcome. It wasn’t the first 10 times we tried the magic formula that it worked, but number 11, that was the one. In a Guardian piece on content ‘dos and don’ts’ the advice to “share insights that you may be a little uncomfortable sharing” has that ‘ring of truth’ to it.
Surprisingly, to me at least, video is still a buzz subject. Yet very few small or medium-sized companies seem willing to try it due to limited budgets. People, this is 2016. There is smartphone video, there are smaller media companies who can help. Cosmetics company Look Fabulous Forever used blog posts and Youtube video (10,000+ subscribers) to build a solid customer base.
Anna Cusden, communications director of Look Fabulous Forever says: “Video is something that’s been central to the success of our business. Our makeup tutorials are made on a very small budget – small studio, real women as models, one cameraman and one makeup artist.”
Signal Snowboards took another cardinal rule of winning video (playfulness) and turned it to good use in an inspired moment of lateral thinking. It’s Cardboard Surfboard made with the help of a friend’s company – Ernest Packaging – resulting in an achingly cool film.
What this super little film also shows is the power of partnership. If you don’t have the budget to do video on your own then why not look at opportunities to work with other companies you are friendly with or you admire. The result could be a viral hit.