Audience & Algorithms: How to Optimize Your Content Strategy for 2019

AudienceAlgorithms_960x400 According to a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute, 91 percent of B2B brands and 86 percent of B2C brands use content marketing.

That’s a lot of content being produced — and not all of it is good

As marketers, we get bombarded with cold sales emails, follow-ups on those emails, sponsored LinkedIn messages, invitations to events, and newsletters — tons of newsletters (especially on Thursdays).

Realistically, we aren’t reading all of the content we’re seeing. And chances are, our prospective clients or customers are also missing out on relevant content we’re producing. There’s a vast sea of content on the web, now well over 100,000,000 gigabytes in size, and it grows by the minute.

Just as content marketers work to produce relevant content for their audiences, Google faces the challenge of determining which pieces of content are worthy of coveted top rankings.

Google has been making strides to improve its algorithm to filter the noise and present the most relevant and useful content for each query. In 2015, Google introduced E-A-T quality guidelines and has now stated that it is one of their top signals for page quality.

E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness. More specifically:

Expertise: Content should be written by an expert in your industry, be useful and add value to the reader.

Authoritativeness: Your audience should be able to trust that your content is accurate, reliable and true. Authority can also come from your writers’ credentials and in the quality of the comments or reviews on your site.

Trustworthiness: At a very basic level, your site needs to be secure, with an SSL certificate, and abide by an easy-to-read privacy policy. Your audience needs to be able to trust the content and company information on your site.

E-A-T is especially important for sites and pages that are considered related to Your Money or Your Life (YMYL).

These pages include:

  • Financial, medical or legal information pages. Also includes articles providing advice.
  • Shopping or financial transaction pages where users make purchases or pay bills.
  • News articles or public/informational pages (e.x.: disaster response services, government programs, social services, news about important topics relating to international events, science, technology, etc.).
  • Other topics, such as car safety and child adoption information, that the public relies on as being accurate and true.

So, how do you adapt your content strategy to address this? Here are five tactics you can use to ensure you are producing high-quality content for Google’s quality guidelines, but more importantly, for your audience.

Write for Humans

If you’re creating content to educate your audience and build trust, write with them in mind.

Start a conversation, keep your content straight-forward, and provide takeaways. Content should be written in natural language, as if someone was speaking rather than writing, with minimal jargon. And if you must include buzzwords, explain them. Don’t make assumptions about what your reader does or doesn’t know.

Search engine algorithms are becoming smarter. At the same time, users expect more of technology. People are searching on-the-go, using voice assistants and mobile devices, and using natural language when making queries.

As of 2018, 52 percent of global online traffic was generated on mobile devices. It is also expected that 50 percent of search queries will be voice-based by 2020.

Keep in mind that queries also exist beyond the search bar. Your audience may be using social media, image search, YouTube, and even eCommerce platforms to do their research. So, make sure you’re creating and customizing content suitable to different audiences and platforms.

Either way, advancements in machine learning —  combined with access to big data — impact user experience (UX) twofold: changing the way content is served up, and increasing user expectations.

This means we need to adapt the way we approach keyword research, and adjust the way we write our content accordingly. Think of keywords as topics, rather than long-tail-keywords. Page titles should reflect what someone would ask out loud rather than a typed query.

It’s always best to commission actual writers, instead of companies that use AI to mass produce content. Hundreds of badly written articles will not appeal to readers, or to Google, and will definitely not help your brand. Think about it: writers can provide perspective, expertise, and relate to your audience in a way that cannot be matched by a machine, even if it’s a smart one.

Tips & Tools

Google keyword planner is useful for identifying search volume and determining topics, but here are other useful tools to optimize your content for mobile and voice search:

  • Google Trends to see search trends over time.
  • Answer the public for examples of questions using natural language.
  • KeywordShitter mines Google auto-complete, providing infinite results.
  • People also search for/ask & Related searches in Google search results.
  • Search Console to see search queries that people use to come to my site.
  • Q&As from Google my Business will show you what your customers are asking.
  • Twinword Ideas is a visual latent semantic indexing (LSI) tool, to help you find related words for your content (and potentially replace your thesaurus).

Optimize for Machines

In 2018, Google rolled out several algorithm updates. Most notably, mobile-first indexing, the mobile speed update, Chrome security warnings, and the Medic Core update in August. The commonality here is the user.

These are user-first updates, improving the mobile experience, user safety, and the quality of content in the search results.

Balancing your high-quality content with technical SEO best practices is key for an optimal UX. At a very high level, site speed, security, responsive design, and implementation of structured data are key for top performance. Here are the elements you’ll want to prioritize and address:

Speed

You need a fast site if you hope to rank. This could involve upgrading your server, as well as enabling caching and compression on your site. Defer render-blocking javascript and CSS. Create a canonical AMP version of your site. Each of these tactics will help your site load faster on mobile.

Security

Site security is more salient than ever in 2019. Add an SSL certificate to make your site secure (HTTPS) and validate that there are no security issues in Google Search Console.

Responsiveness

Your site should be designed with a fluid grid that adapts based on screen size. Design mobile-first, and then adapt the design for desktop. Include larger fonts, scalable images, and a mobile menu.

Structured Data

Add structured data on your site to help Google (and other search engines) categorize and index the content on your site properly, so that it serves up the best results for each query. If implemented correctly, your page(s) could qualify for rich results. A few examples include the knowledge panel, rich cards, videos, ratings, and most importantly featured snippets, where voice assistants usually pull their results from.

Tips & Tools

Check out the Google Search Gallery to see how structured data can produce rich results. To avoid penalties, always make sure to use the Structured Data Testing tool to test that Structured Data has been applied correctly.

Think About Formats

“More than half of people say they look poorly on brands with mobile sites that are not designed for use on a smartphone.”

- “4 Insights Into How Shoppers Use Apps and Mobile Sites,” Google, 2017.

Quality content is all about UX. If your customer has even one bad experience with your brand, they may not come back. Your site design and overall experience needs to be on point. All visual assets should be on-brand so that your audience recognizes them as your content. Assets should also be created for mobile-first and optimized using alt tags and metadata to ensure they can be found using image and video search.

Here are a few examples:

Images

Images should have the right balance of resolution and file size. Aim to make them as light as possible without losing quality. Images should be formatted to adapt to different screen sizes, device types, and for rich results (snippets). Always remember to include alt tags and image titles — image search is going to be huge this year!

Videos

Spend a little more time and budget to plan for multiple formats including horizontal, vertical, and square (for specific social media platforms and website requirements). Add music, but make sure that the video can be watched without sound. Include subtitles and title screens. When deciding on the length, think about your audience and the purpose of the video. Add meta descriptions to help people find your videos on YouTube and Vimeo.

Infographics

Interactive or animated infographics have the best UX, especially on mobile. However, sometimes you may be up against budget constraints, or requests to repurpose content that was originally designed for print. When this happens, create a mobile version that’s long and skinny, with increased font size (18 to 20 pts) that can easily be viewed on mobile.

Tips & Tools

Have you heard of Adobe Spark? It’s a great tool to help marketers create visual assets in a plug-and-play interface. It’s useful for creating social media posts and videos without a designer.

Accessibility considerations: Include closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. Educate yourself on color combinations to avoid for the colorblind.

Consent & Communication

Last year, the EU rolled out GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), requiring everyone who communicates with Europeans to adopt new privacy policies. Canada has similar laws, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the world soon followed.

As the Director of Marketing and Growth at a global content marketing and communications company, I understand how much impact this can have on your business. We took the opportunity last spring to reevaluate our privacy policy and fine print. And although our newsletter subscribers had consented previously, we did a major cleanup to remove contacts with low engagement. We made sure to reach out to them by email before unsubscribing them.

By reducing our newsletter distribution list by 23 percent, the open rate increased by 22 percent and click rate increased by 27 percent.

Even though our list shrunk significantly, the silver lining is that our engagement stats increased, as our list now consists of people who are interested in reading our content. This may be a hard sell for brands that care mostly about reach and the optics of a large distribution list. But it could be a selling point to companies that are more interested in connecting with their niche audience.

It is in every brand’s best interest to introduce stronger privacy and data protection protocols for their businesses and for their customers. It is imperative to create clear opportunities for customers to opt-in or provide consent to receive communications, as well as easy ways of opting-out. This is part of building strong trust relationships with your audience.

Tips

Your fine print and privacy policy should be clear and concise. It shouldn’t be excessively long, and it should be written so that anyone can understand it. Aim to use the same tone of voice as your main content, and whenever possible, use examples.

Frequency: Less is More

If you’re struggling to meet your social media schedule, it could be time to rethink your content strategy. If that means only posting once or twice a week, do that. Use your data to find the best day and time-of-day to post, and then align it to create a content calendar that makes sense for your business and resources.

The cadence of your content is also important. The ratio of curated, promotional, and original content you publish will help establish trust with your audience. Original and curated content lets you showcase your brand’s expertise and authority, while the promotional pieces will give your prospects clear and relevant calls-to-action relating to your recent campaigns.

There are several different ratios that brands use. Generally, it is a best practice to share more of the curated and original pieces, and less of the promotional posts. The best approach for your brand can be found through testing.

Newsletters are an easy way to share your best work. However, if you are currently sharing all of your content by email, you’re doing something wrong. Depending on your business, reducing the distribution frequency of your newsletter can provide several benefits, including:

  • Reduction of clutter in your readers’ inboxes.
  • Providing you with time to check your stats and share only the best performing posts.
  • Providing you with time to segment your list and share targeted content based on your readers’ interests.
  • Impress your readers with really amazing content that they will love and be inspired to share.

Tips

Spend less time creating content and more time distributing it, analyzing results, and fine-tuning your strategy. Don’t post anything and everything, just post your best stuff. Take a look at your stats to see what your audience likes, shares, and engages with. Use that data to refine your content for future campaigns.

Recap

Not only will 2019 be the year of high-quality content, it will also be the year where content is created for the way people search, whether it be on mobile devices, voice assistants, image search, communities, reviews, social media platforms, or YouTube.

By using data to better understand your consumer, what interests them, and where they live online, you can create content specific to their needs and customize it for the channels they visit most often. These tactics will not only extend reach and increase visibility, but also lead to credibility, engagement and loyalty.

The gap between what appeals to readers and what pleases search engines is quickly narrowing. Google’s E-A-T is a perfect example of that.

It may seem that following these guidelines will be time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember, less is more. Save time and resources by creating content that is of a higher caliber at a reduced frequency. And, spend those extra hours on your strategy, analysis, adapting your content to various formats and distributing your content on the right channels.

Your audience will thank you for it.

 

Joelle Irvine
Joelle Irvine
Joelle is the Director of Marketing and Growth at Bookmark Content and Communications, a full-service global marketing company that brings together content and communications. In addition to digital marketing and SEO, she also loves travel, pop culture, gadgets, and tech.