Chasing algorithms vs great content: No contest

I’ve recently had the pleasure of talking to two businesses about two different projects. One project was to create content for a brand’s social media properties – primarily their Facebook page. And the other was to create content for a brand’s website.

In the first case, I had to field questions about which content formats would ‘generate the most engagement and reach’. In the latter, about what content would ‘drive the most traffic’.

Notice something similar here?

In both cases, an algorithm is in control. Facebook uses Edgerank to determine how content appears in user’s feeds; while Google’s algorithm needs no introduction.

For years, marketers have tried to game Google’s algorithm, trying to reverse engineer how it works and then stuff their sites with dodgy content and backlinks to convince Google of their relevance to the consumer. And lots of marketers try to do the same thing with Edgerank. But you know what? It doesn’t work.

The mistake made here is that marketers become obsessed with trying to develop a check-list which, if followed, will guarantee page one search results, and massive reach and longevity on Facebook. The recent kerfuffle around Google’s Penguin update and the ensuing conversation around SEO vs Content is just another example of marketers desperately trying to reduce their job to a checklist of rights and wrongs. Unfortunately, there is no such checklist.

As has always been the case with all forms of marketing and advertising, the stuff that works is a mixture of art and science. A bit of science – media planning and data analysis to understand the way your audience behaves, what they want and when they want it – and bit of art – using gut feel and raw creativity to really engage with your audience. And it’s no different with content creation – whether you’re pushing it out on social media or on your brand website.

Put the consumer first. Understand them. Do some audience analysis. Segment your audience and build up detailed personas based on observed behaviour. Understand what each audience segment likes and what it doesn’t. Understand that what it likes may change, based on season, based on time of day, or simply based on mood. Don’t assume that because it works for a competitor it will work for you. Don’t assume that Google insights will be your silver bullet. Remember that there are no universals. Understand that chasing ever increasing reach and ever increasing traffic from your content is a fool’s errand – that you can optimize but, because you cannot entirely predict human behaviour your site and your page will never be optimum.

When you’ve done all of this, you can start to create your content – and remember who you’re making it for. Make sure that your content deserves your audience’s attention – that it is worth watching, worth reading, worth sharing. That it is useful to them, or entertains them, or surprises them or delights them.

This is not a simple thing. For years, we have read books by great authors, magazines and newspapers created by professional journalists, films made by film-makers: directors, storytellers. Whether for entertainment or to learn something, we have reached for content created by professionals. And suddenly marketers are expected to be able to fill up Facebook feeds and websites with content that will engage customers. Suddenly marketers are expected to be writers and photographers and film-makers. It’s a brave new world, but it’s important to face up to it and make sure that you have access to these skills – whether within your business or without.

And, every so often when you’re busy creating your fantastic content, throw out your audience wisdom, ignore your profiling and your data, and throw something up on your page or your website because you think it might work. Chance your arm. Innovation and breakthrough is often the result of a happy accident.

And if you can do this, you will find that, magically, Facebook and Google open up to you. That your content gains huge reach and massive engagement levels. That it ranks fantastically for the keywords that matter. That when users arrive at your site, they don’t leave because they are disappointed with the thin gruel that is your content, but continue onwards, discovering ever more relevant and useful content to feast upon.

It’s all pretty obvious, really. Isn’t it?

Richard Parker is head of strategy at content marketing agency Edge, where he works with brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel.



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