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2014 Roundup: The Tumultous Year In Content Marketing

By Snap Agency December 10, 2014

2014 was a big year for content marketing. As digital marketing continues to evolve, major changes occurred in not just how content marketing is conducted, but how consumers are shopping online, their purchase path and what – specifically – is making them convert. Building your brand so it’s accessible has never been more important (evident by the 400% rise in tablet and smartphone video views), and Google has never been so leaderlessly gung-ho in making sure you’re following their SEO rules.

Our 2014 predictions called out a few off the list below, so let’s see how accurate we were. From Google updates of algorithms, keywords and authorship, to branding, retargeting and auditing, 2014 has been an interesting year full of ups and owns for the content marketing industry. Let’s find out which changes will affect you heading into 2015.

First of all… Matt Cutts: Will He Ever Be Seen Again?

Google web spam leader and SEO ninja-master Matt Cutts has been on leave from his position since early July. That’s going on close to five months now that the linchpin of SEO + content marketing has been out of the office.

matt cutts missing
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, has been “on leave” since July. Wish my job provided that much PTO.

According to his blog, Matt has been on “vacation.” Maybe he’s riding the perfect wave and surfing into an endless summer? Not really sure if he’ll ever come back, as he alludes to ignoring work email and “unplugging” in general. Whatever the case may be, Matt should let the content marketing community know of his whereabouts, happenings and what-have-yous, so that we can be at ease about the future of our industry. We’ll be keeping an eye out for him, and alert you to the first sign of his resurfacing.

Google Updates Algorithm: Meet Hummingbird

The Hummingbird update from Google took place in August of this year and has huge implications for the content marketing industry. The intelligent algorithm Hummingbird is considered by Google to be the first major update of its type since 2001. The new technology is making it easier for searchers as well, in that Hummingbird is better able to judge context to decipher the searcher’s query intent. Now, when content marketers build their marketing collateral, they should take into account their audience’s needs – not just what they’re looking for. Long tail keywords are finally becoming the norm.

google humming bird update: semantic search result page example
“Semantic Search” is concerned with context, not simply keywords. As you can see, Google wants to get information to the searcher as quick as possible to improve their experience.

The new algorithm has brought about a new change in search. Instead of content managers simply keyword-stuffing their content, they need to be aware of the audience’s needs, satisfying them through thoughtful, conversational material. The age of “semantic search” is upon us with the Hummingbird update. Unlike previous updates, such as 2010’s “Caffeine Update” that focused solely on delivering individual keywords to the searcher, Hummingbird considers the query as a whole to better understand the context the searcher is using the phrase in.

The content that continues to receive the most attention from Google heading into 2015 will be those concerned with natural content that reads conversationally, and not just a homepage that includes the keyword a half dozen times. Make sure your SEO copywriters reflect this in their content by answering questions for searchers, doing their long tail keyword research and building in-depth articles.

Exact Match Keywords Killed by Default

In September of 2014, we saw Google end optional close variant keyword matching exclusions for AdWords advertisers. This may not mean much now, but the long term impact will be major. Exact match and phrase match options are still available for online marketers to use, don’t worry – but Google will now be including misspellings and similar matches to show up for both ad types. This corresponds with the rise of semantic search with Hummingbird.

Adapting to this change, content managers should spend the same amount of time – if not more – generating negative keyword lists, close variation keywords and match types, and setting new rules for bid optimization. Even though Google strives for relevance, we want seamless and ultimate optimization control. That ain’t changin’ despite a shiny new toolbox.

Fall of Google Authorship

Another huge change we saw with Google this September was the systematic killing of Google Authorship. Because of the low adoption rate, the abuse by web authors and the confusing nature, Google has disallowed Authorship.

rich snippet example of saint paul movie times
As you can see, rich snippets quickly determine and display special information for certain search queries.

Rich snippets have now overtaken the Authorship markup of the author photo and name. For any given search query, a rich snippet may pop up. The easiest example of rich snippets is for a movie theater. When the query, “(city name) movie times” is entered into a search bar, Google crawls the pages of movie theaters near you and displays movie times directly on the search engine result page. Remember: Google wants to improve the experience of their customers (searchers) as much as you want to for your customers. Consider implementing this handy feature for the quick questions that pop into your audience’s mind throughout the day.

Increased Focus on Branding

With a 16% increase of online shoppers throughout the past five years, it’s easy to see why the explosion of online businesses have made it hard to differentiate your brand from competitors. Everyone wants their own little slice of the digital pie. That’s why brand strategy will become one of the main marketing tactics dominating content marketing in 2015.

A branding strategy encompasses everything from brand personality, voice + tone, and mission statement, while building awareness around a business or idea. Marketers across the country have been conducting internal analysis of how their brand functions. A deep knowledge of the effectiveness of your brand has been proven to increase company equity and boost engagement with your audience.

Done right, branding creates a mutual relationship between your assets and the consumer’s emotions. Making your brand memorable is tough, but if you can stand out to the consumer by cutting through the competitor’s noise, your brand awareness will shoot up. 84% of B2B marketers said that their top organizational goal was to increase brand awareness; building your brand strategy will be more important now than ever before heading into 2015.

Skyrocket Rise of Retargeting

With the influx of businesses trying to build brand awareness, the subsequent need for an online retargeting strategy has made it necessary for brands to know their audience segments and how to keep track of them via analytics. Retargeting isn’t a new tactic – but doing it online is tricky.

Retargeting is simply placing an ad in front of someone who has already interacted with your brand. Many brands, especially the trendy subscription-only type, i.e. Jackthreads have been utilizing this marketing tactic throughout the past year or two. (Fun fact: even celebrities like Pharell are getting into the subscription box business. Like we said, everyone’s trying to get a slice of the pie.) Using analytics, you can set conversion goals and tracking code to monitor people that have already interacted with your brand. Once you know who these people are, you can use social media, display + banner ads, or even email to touch base with them again.

jackthreads retargeting example on facebook
A perfect (sponsored, see below) example popped into my News Feed after I visited Jackthreads.com

Let’s say you’re shopping Jackthreads for some new clothing. In order to browse the selection, you need to sign up (or sign in with Facebook/Twitter). Once they have that information, they’ll retarget the hell out of you. The next time you’re browsing the web, you’ll notice Jackthread ads pop up everywhere – I guarantee it – because it happens to me all the time with not just Jackthreads, but Warby Parker, Target (no pun intended!), Best Buy, even Facebook. (It’s also most likely happening to you as well with brands you have interacted with online).

Anyway, retargeting must be a strategy that’s worth pursuing: Web site visitors who are retargeted with display ads are 70 percent more likely to convert (software advice) on your Web site, and many of the big companies are investing money into the strategy. We’re excited to see the path retargeting takes in the upcoming year.

Content Strategy More Important Than Ever

A beautiful website just doesn’t cut it anymore in today’s digital marketing landscape. You need an entire content strategy to get your company’s numbers to skyrocket. We know the importance of having a content strategy, and as we wrap up 2014, we’re now a little older, a little wiser, and a lot better at developing these documents.

our content strategy process

Your content strategy should encompass the who, what, why, when and where of your content marketing efforts. Decide on an audience, uncover what interests them, and develop + publish creative, unique content that won’t just appeal to consumers, but show up for designated search queries as well. But, that’s simply not enough. In 2014 we added a huge section to our content strategies, also known as…

The Rise of Content Auditing

Now that it’s almost 2015, the Internet is officially grown up and growing into a more mature entity. As such, marketers, content managers and web designers are having to deal with old, irrelevant, poorly-made content clogging up their targeted channels and hurting their SEO rank. So to adapt, we added the tedious process of content auditing to our all-encompassing content strategy, in order to “slash + burn” the poor-performing content, and improve upon or repromote the already high-performing content.

raven site auditor summary page
An example of content issues on a client website after a content audit, done through Raven SEO.

If you have a site that’s been around for a few years now (especially pre-2010), you should definitely consider conducting a content audit. When Snap completed the audit and cleared out the crap, we saw impressions take a mediocre dip (as is expected when removing posts + pages from your site), but engagement flew through the roof. This showed us that a content strategy with select, tasteful and targeted material will perform much better than a strategy focusing on blasting out piece after piece with no regard to performance.

Facebook Makes it Pay to Play for Brands

This past month, Facebook announced that it is making a major change to it’s News Feed algorithm beginning January 2015, coming off the back of a consumer lash-out against page posts feeling “too promotional.” This change will significantly decrease all brands’ reach on the social media site, as the amount of non-paid promotional posts seen in any given user’s News Feed will become much more restricted.

Hmm.. but for some reason, “this change will not increase the number of ads people see in their News Feeds.” Seems fishy, Facebook – we can see through your BS. This means they want you to continue paying for ad placement on the site, but they don’t want to just give organic ad space away for free in users’ News Feed. Smart business move in the short term – but maybe too bold for those that have been with Facebook from the start.

dropbox sponsored post on Facebook
If you’re on Facebook, check out the first couple things that pop up in your news feed. This was the second post displayed in mine.

Facebook insists that your brand can still succeed on the site with decreased reach. While you won’t be able to make your brand’s Facebook content “go viral” anymore, you’ll see “much greater value if you use Facebook to achieve specific business objectives, like driving in-store sales or boosting app downloads.”

Looks like it’s time once again to get those creative juices flowing. Sometimes, the only way to break out of a box is to be forced into one. There’s never been any challenge in the online space that a content marketer hasn’t risen above; it will be fun watching brands figure this one out (and hopefully how they exploit it).

The Year in Content Marketing Wrap Up

It’s been an interesting year in the world of content marketing, full of ups and downs. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve lost hair over Google’s changes. But with all that strikes us back a few notches, we still continue to dream up better content day after day. From SEO, to content strategy and social media, smart marketers need to create an all-encompassing plan to boost their brand online in 2015.

As we head into the new year, remember to put your brand’s message at the forefront of your content marketing strategy, and base every decision around that central idea or goal. We’ll see the amount of online shoppers surpass 200 million in the upcoming year – if we haven’t already reached that point. With that it mind, keep churning out conversational, topical and all-around interesting content that gives value to your reader and your brand will be rewarded by both search engines and consumers.