Content marketing has always been about more than just organic search. When it comes to getting content you’ve created in front of the right audience, what that audience is typing into Google is just one of the channels available to you.
Your content marketing strategy is likely to include paid search, email, social media, sponsored posts and any number of other tactics for boosting your chances of winning the clicks, eyeball time and engagement that your content deserves.
But while a Google search is far from the only show it town it remains a hugely important part of what many brands are trying to achieve online.
As a result, content marketers need to stay up to speed with new and forthcoming changes in search so that they can make sure their content avoids getting slapped with a penalty or losing ground on key competitors.
So, with everyone slowly ramping into 2016 here are 3 organic search trends to watch out for in the coming months…
1) Keywords will become less important as Google turns to AI to handle more search queries
Keyword lists as the starting point for search marketing campaigns have been on the decline since Google released its Hummingbird algorithm in 2013.
In the post-Hummingbird world, individual keywords are much less important than they once were. Searches are longer, the percentage of searches that are unique is on the rise and access to reliable data on keywords that send visitors to your site has reduced dramatically.
What we’ll see in 2016 is a continuation of this trend making where your site ranks for particular keywords an increasingly unreliable means of judging the success or otherwise of your content marketing strategy.
This doesn’t mean keywords are of no use. A list of priority terms that your audience uses in search can provide really useful direction for the content you create. But the days when you could get your site ranking just by mentioning your priority keywords over and over again are numbered if not already done.
In response to this more nuanced, more diverse reality Google is turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to help its algorithm continue to serve results that will keep its users satisfied and away from potential rivals, such as Facebook.
Google said in October last year that 15 per cent of queries were being handled by RankBrain, which uses AI to answer first-time search queries. As faith in Google’s abilities and the use of voice search continue to grow, it’s likely that RankBrain, or its successor, will be playing an even bigger role in search by the end of this year.
2) Knowledge-based trust and more Panda updates will reward weightier editorial content
Early last year researchers at Google released a report on some internal testing of a potentially important algorithm adjustment.
Knowledge-based Trust (KBT) sifts through editorial content and attempts to identify facts. These facts are then checked against Google’s vast and ever-expanding Knowledge Vault.
The idea is to find ways to reward sites that produce editorial content that is genuinely fact-based rather than just a collection of buzz words and then lightweight fluff to fill up the rest of the page. Fact-based content should be more useful to the reader and therefore represents a better result for Google.
If KBT or something like it is incorporated into the main search algorithm this year brands investing in weighty, well-researched editorial content should see a positive bounce in their organic search results.
But even without KBT specifically, Google has made it clear that it will continue working on a whole range of quality signals and that content that provides a better experience for users will be rewarded in the future even if it can’t work how to do that algorithmically right now.
With that in mind we’re likely to see more Panda updates or at least more algorithm tweaks aimed specifically at encouraging brands to put more time and effort into their content creation.
3) What Facebook does will matter more to Google (and to content marketers)
Competition between Facebook and Google is nothing new. Whether it’s wooing the best engineers or landing the juiciest acquisitions the two biggest brands in the new online space butt heads on a regular basis.
It’s important of course to remember that Google is many times larger than Facebook, so we’re not talking about an equal match-up here. But in 2016, expect to see what Facebook does having an increasingly noticeable impact on the world’s largest search company.
Last year, a number of enhancements to Facebook’s offering clearly caught Google’s attention as the two companies battle it out for eyeball time, especially on mobile devices.
A good example is Facebook’s Instant Articles, which is an initiative designed to standardise the experience for Facebook users when viewing some third party content on a mobile. Publisher partners provide exclusive articles for Facebook rather than their own digital properties and get a share of the ad revenue in return.
Google, which is also a strong advocate of an improved user experience on mobile, has hit back with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). The project has been described by some commentators as an open source alternative to Facebook’s Instant Articles.
As Facebook continues to roll our new products and tweak its own search algorithm its path will become more and more intertwined with Google’s because ultimately the two companies are after the same thing.
For content marketers this trend should be a positive thing because it drives innovation and leads to new opportunities to reach audiences. AMP could be a particularly good example of that.