Will 2019 see the death of ‘SEO content’?
It really, really should.
Let’s play a game.
Oh, it’s not a particularly fun game — no Hungry Hungry Hippos, for sure — but it’s a game nonetheless.
Below are the introductory paragraphs for the respective ‘credit cards’ pages of three major lenders in the UK: Halifax, Tesco Bank, and Barclaycard.
See if you can guess which piece of ‘SEO content’ belongs to each.
Content example 1:
A credit card can be a flexible way to borrow money. With the right credit card, you could take control of your finances, spread out the cost of the things you’d like to buy now, or earn rewards on your everyday spending. You’ll usually be charged interest on what you borrow, unless you clear your balance every month or have an interest-free offer.
Content example 2:
Compare our great range of credit card products, deals and offers, whether you’re looking for a credit card to make every day purchases, to do a balance transfer or just a simple to use credit card. You can use the table below to see if there’s a card that’s right for you.
Content example 3:
Compare our range of credit cards
Looking for a credit card to suit your needs? Whether you want to transfer a balance, get help building your credit score, or spread the cost of a big purchase, you can find the card that meets your needs here.
- Tesco Bank
Still with me?
It’s certainly a difficult game, which is precisely my point.
These are large corporations with sizeable marketing budgets. It is likely that they each believe their credit cards page to be very important in achieving their business goals.
In advertising, we are told, the point is to stand out; to have a USP; to draw an ‘X’ when the competition draws an ‘O’; zig when they zag.
However, here we see three competitors all talking the same impenetrable toddler language.
We learn nothing about the company, its products, or even why we should read any further.
Now, imagine these answers are read out by a digital assistant. The content in the image below comes from a genuine query for [should i get a barclaycard credit card].
No brand voice, no literary flair, no passion in sight.
Why is it so banal, so meaningless, so… SEO?
Blame SEO for SEO Content
There is a distinct style that denotes ‘SEO content’.
This uninspiring phrase arises when a company gives responsibility for their on-page content to their SEO specialists, on the proviso that the latter are also content marketing experts.
The company will pay close attention to all marketing assets to ensure they fit with the brand, but this content is treated differently.
Its purpose is to help the page rank for profitable keywords through search engines; any negative impact on the user experience is offset by an increase in SEO traffic.
The output is monolithic, comprised of keywords arranged in blocks, strung together by platitudes.
Undoubtedly, there is a knack to using so many keywords to say so little.
‘Get the best credit card for your needs’, they say, clambering for the ‘correct’ keyword density. ‘Find the most suitable credit card for you online’, synonyms the following sentence.
Brands accept the below-par content on the understanding that the SEOs know how to talk to Google. Google, presumably, responds only to the mundane repetition of queries with >1,000 monthly search volume.
The focus is set on what is said — and how many times it is repeated — but never how it is said.
We have seen such nonsense as ‘Latent Semantic Indexing’ add a pseudo-scientific sheen to what is nothing more than an anachronistic tactic that should have died with directory listings.
It’s probably about time SEO caught up with other marketing disciplines.
Branding shouldn’t stop when it gets to SEO
“Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the brand image.” — David Ogilvy
We all know the GEICO gecko.
If you don’t know him, he’s a gecko and he’s on all the GEICO ads in the US. He has an English accent, for some focus-grouped reason.
Below, we see him getting up to all sorts of shenanigans, chowing down on buffalo wings, drinking a cup of mud, turning into a plush toy.
There’s plenty of scope for him to develop his range, too; the insurance company is the biggest advertising spender in the US.
His verdant visage awaits us on the GEICO homepage:
And then, click on a link to go through to the car insurance page and you get more of the dreaded ‘SEO content’.
Just try reading the below:
There are discussions about whether AI could take over content creation from people.
I welcome our new robotic overlords — they couldn’t write worse.
I know how it happens, too:
‘SEO content’ isn’t fit for purpose today
The search landscape has changed and so too have audience behaviors.
Although there is a persistent lack of clarity on precisely which queries users type, speak, and tap, we do at least know that the variety of queries has increased.
Research from Ahrefs (image below) shows that 92% of all queries have a monthly search volume of 10 or lower.
Of the 1.9 billion queries in their research data set, just 0.01% had a search volume of over 10,000 per month.
For every brand and every industry, this pattern is at play. For example, for a finance company, there will be significant search volume for [credit cards], but also for thousands of significant variations thereof.
Search is no longer about sitting at a desktop computer, typing short queries like [buy sneakers] or [car insurance].
That means we need new content to cater to a more sophisticated range of demand states.
Of course, some would counter that it is still worth targeting the high-volume head terms, as their gains would outweigh the traffic a site could gain from hundreds of long-tail queries.
That would be acceptable logic, if search engines still worked that way.
Google’s Natural Language Processing technology is smart enough to understand the nuances of our language and has evolved significantly since the launch of the Hummingbird algorithm. Content does not need to contain identical keywords to match the query in order to rank.
Moreover, search is an increasingly visual experience. This is partly in response to a new consumer journey where younger people tend to find their information through social media:
In response, Google has made a host of announcements about the visual features that will soon adorn its search results.
Amazon and Pinterest are both at pains to encourage “discovery beyond the search bar”.
Meanwhile SEO agencies are pumping out mass-produced landing pages, replete with keyword-laden title tags, descriptions and intro paragraphs.
This is from the Google SERP for [credit cards] in the UK:
It will look very different very soon, and this monotonous content will be shown up for what it is: an attempt to coerce Google into putting the brand on the all-important page 1, rather than providing value to customers.
And if the only way to rank is to say exactly what the competition says, is it worth taking the hit?
The way forward
SEO created this situation, and it could clear it up very profitably too.
The search engine results pages are more competitive than ever. Space is at a premium and consumers are impatient.
SEOs know what it takes to get onto page one, but they aren’t always in the industry of creating high-quality content.
SEO is directly linked to branding today, where perhaps it was once about capturing the demand generated elsewhere.
82% of people will click on a search result because they know the company. This means the SERPs are now important branding spaces, containing text, images, videos and, in the not-too-distant future, audio too.
These results are fed by the brand’s content assets, typically from their website but also from their app and any entities contained in the Knowledge Graph.
HR software company Teambit provides a great example of how this can be executed in a simple, persuasive manner.
The homepage contains numerous content assets that could be served through search, including text, images, and reviews. The text displays the company’s personality rather than focusing on the keyword count. This improved user experience will, at least indirectly, benefit SEO too.
The opportunities are there for all brands who understand how technology is enabling new interactions with consumers.
This insight can shape a much more adventurous and successful strategy that sees brands engage in a dialogue with their intended audience, facilitated (rather than shaped) by search engines.
Want more? Full presentation below.