Once upon a time, not too long ago, search engines - namely Google - were overrun by businesses and brands that had learnt to game their way to the top of page 1. Relevancy of search queries to results has always been Google's aim - or so they say - but dark arts were learned and perfected by businesses and SEO agencies allowing for websites to rank, without taking into account the quality of their content or brand message. That has since changed, as is well documented in this look at the history of Google.
Many big brands, including Interflora - and even ebay - have been penalised by Google for poor quality content, legacy link spamming, artificially linking via advertorials and serial guest post blogging. Many suspect that they have had to clean their link profile and disavow the bad links before appealing to Google to have the penalty lifted and regaining their rankings. If you're in that situation, removing a Google penalty can be done, but it's extremely time intensive - and expensive.
So whilst many businesses will need to clean up their act, the key question is; what does the future hold for content? How can brands ensure they avoid penalisation, whilst delivering engaging content that's of value to users?
First and foremost, brands need to look at the playing field: it's currently bogged down, saturated with content. Users are becoming ever-more savvy, and whether (as many marketing experts have predicted) content shock will set in, or not, the bottom line is that people want quality over quantity. Today's web user is loyal: when they find quality content, they come back for more, and engage as they go. More and more users are moving away from publications, portals - and more importantly - brands that sell, sell, sell via banal content.
Moreover, Google more so than ever understands the semantics and usefulness of content to the user, and it is constantly making more developments in this direction (the most recent example being the Hummingbird algorithm update). Ergo, don't just create content, create content that really means something to your audience - Google can literally read between the lines!
The old adage that 'content is King' couldn't be truer, yet very few that preach this mantra actually execute winning content strategies. Creating innovative content that users can interact with is crucial, as is a cogent plan of how to market it to the right audience.
People love to be heard - they adore getting retweeted by celebrities and gain satisfaction from real-time feedback. They want to interact, but not necessarily just via linear or 'traditional' ways. As ostentatious as this may sound, you should enable your audience to feel your content: be a part of it, come back to it, engage with it and share it. Selling should not be the direct goal.
A prime example of innovative, interactive content that informs but offers longevity via user involvement is this piece on Famous World Cup Penalty Shootouts. It captures the imagination of its target audience (football fans) via a game element, compelling people to reuse the content, challenge friends to beat their score via social media and share due to its cool and innovative nature. Those of an age can take a trip down memory lane, and younger users can learn more about the history of the world's biggest global sporting event whilst engaging their senses and getting a feel for those moments in time. As well as wanting to beat their personal best score, users will also be able to use the content as an information source! And who knows, maybe even non-football fans will get involved with this content; after all, the drama of these shootouts grips the nations involved (especially the English, but for the wrong reasons!) and are memorable even amongst those that despise the sport!
Interactive content is safeguarded from outside influences, namely Google: they won't penalise quality content that has been given the vote of confidence by users. It is future-proof, and those that make the brave jump towards this method of user involvement, and create content fit enough to wear a crown, will benefit. Those that stick to tired content methods of advertorials, guest posting and buying links to game search engines will pay the price.
This will only benefit the real Kings: users. And that's exactly why the worldwide web was invented.