It seems as though every year content on the Internet changes a bit more. Back in 1991, the first website was launched. It was created by Tim Berners-Lee and ran on a NeXT computer. It was a simple page about what hypertext was and how one could create a web page. It was a simple site without images or anything but text and hyperlinks.
One has to wonder if Mr. Berners-Lee could possibly envision what the Internet would one day become. Now, it is filled with rich content on nearly any topic you can imagine, vivid images, videos, interactive slideshows and so much more. There is no doubt that the Internet has changed drastically in the 25 years since that first website was launched. In fact, these days, it changes rapidly from month to month.
Power players like Google have set the tone for content in the 21st century and for 2016. The face of content is changing. Not only according to Google, but according to many key players in the rankings game.
New Google Guidelines for 2016 (for now)
In November 2015, Google released new guidelines on how to rank better in searches. The guide is made up of 160 pages with topics such as website maintenance, characteristics of high quality pages, and examples of high quality pages.
Takeaway # 1 – Expert Writers
According to Julia McCoy, a VIP contributor at SearchEngine Journal, and someone who studied the new guidelines extensively, the key takeaway from the document is the there is a “need for expert writers to add a true level of authority to the content.”
Google has been leaning toward better and better content in all of their algorithm updates for the last five or six years. The focus is on user experience and value to the user. Of course, they don’t ever really give away exactly how they calculate those abstract ideals of “value”, but those who study the guide and the things that Google experts say in statements can make a very educated guess about what the search engine is looking at when it ranks your site.
Takeaway # 2 – Some Pages Will Be Looked at More Closely Than Others
Google will give particular scrutiny to pages that:
- Offer medical advice
- Sell products (shopping type sites)
- Offer financial planning
- Give legal advice
Takeaway # 3 – You Can Establish Authority
You can establish yourself as an expert, but you have to actually know what you are talking about. Some ways to establish yourself:
- Add credentials to your biography and share those credentials.
- Write for well-respected sites in your niche.
- Comment in forums in a smart way.
- Write only content that is well-researched.
- Use your title strategically. If you have a doctorate degree, use your Ph.D. If you have special training, list it in your bio and on your website.
You can establish yourself as an authority, if you have specialized knowledge. What won’t help is simply slapping the title “expert” next to your name. Google hires evaluators (I did this job at one point, but can’t share specifics on what they do because of non-disclosure). Those evaluators, however, will catch those fake experts and your site may be gigged for it.
Don’t Forget Your Readers
Even though it is important to evaluate Google’s algorithms and requirements, don’t forget your readers in the process. After all, if you keep your readers engaged, they’ll come directly to your site and they’ll tell others about your site. You’ll wind up receiving direct traffic outside of Google searches.
It’s important to understand what drives reader habits in 2016. An article in The Washington Post takes a look at how reading has changed with the digital age.
Social media plays a big part. Readers have gotten used to skimming and scanning for the exciting short pieces of information that is the world of micro-blogging. Twitter is the perfect example.
Those who sign into Twitter skim over the content until something strikes their fancy and then are on to the next thing.
The Washington Post article even points to this occurrence happening with novel readers now. If the writer fails to grab the reader’s interest in the first few sentences, she will likely set the novel aside and move on.
However, not only does the writer have to keep a reader’s interest for the first few sentences (and this goes for all types of writing, from fiction to blog posts), but she must keep that interest throughout the piece.
How is this accomplished? Just like micro-blogging, of course. Quick, easy to digest, bits of information. Of course, that is a simple explanation as writing is more involved than that, but some things you can do to ensure that you keep your reader engaged include:
- Write a fabulous headline.
- Hook the reader in the first sentence and use hangers to keep her reading throughout.
- Use subheadings to break up content and make it digestible or so the reader can easily find the section she wants.
- Use bullet points for quick points the reader can skim over.
- Use photos to help tell a story. As they say, a photo can be worth 1,000 words. Just be certain it is a high quality photo, of course.
One of the best ways to learn how to write excellent content that will rank well and will engage your readers is to study what the top sites in your niche are doing. In my article, Learning to Write Excellent Blog Posts by Tearing Apart 3 Sample Blog Posts, I take a look at what some of the most successful sites out there are doing and how you can repeat their efforts.
Andrew Dillon, a professor in the School of Information has studied the changing trends in reading habits and suggests that they are caused by smaller and smaller electronic devices. This makes it harder for web publishers to attract new audiences and keep their interest. With that in mind, it is vital to make content excellent, engaging, and easy to scan.
Don’t Confuse Scannable and Easy with Short, Though
Some blog owners will argue that short, to the point, content is king. Others will argue that long-form is the way to go. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle and a nice mix of shorter, longer, image-based, and medium content. As long as the information in the content is valuable and you have at least some posts that are more in-depth guides, your site should do well with readers and with search engines. At least for now. Who knows what tomorrow and the changing trends might bring, after all.
Search Engine Watch talks about how for many years the perfect word count for a blog post was thought to be around 500 words. It was true that this length was very popular and seemed to help sites rank well. Then, in 2013, Google changed their algorithm (and many times since). The new algorithm looked at how in-depth articles were.
People trying to break the algorithm code suddenly flooded the Internet with 2000+ word articles. However, as the article points out, long isn’t always “good”. What Google really wants is content that has meat and substance and answers the questions readers have.
You simply have to approach the creation of this content in a way that understands that some readers, or maybe even most readers will not read the entire long-form content in one sitting or perhaps even at all. Subheadings, bullet points, and scanability come into play again.
So, yes, it is smart to have a mix of long and short content. However, both forms should be easy to skim over, full of well-researched advice, and well written.
Although the research is a few years old now, serpIQ completed a study that looked at thousands of keywords and which sites ranked better than others. They put in the keyword and looked at the top 10 results that came up. They then averaged the number of keywords for each of those results. The average was over 2,000 words per post. The takeaway is that longer content seems to rank well.
2016 Predictions from a Slew of Experts
In order to see what some of the smartest people in the industry think about upcoming trends in content, I interviewed a number of experts. They have some valuable advice that is well worth listening to. A special thank you to The Content Council for putting us in touch with Georgia Galanoudis, Bree Sporato, and Michael Grier.
Tip # 1 – Collaborations
“With wide-open opportunities to innovate at the intersection of content and user experience, the next big thing will be to reinvent how content gets developed. We’ll see marketers move away from traditional linear project management to a more collaborative, iterative process with editorial, design and UX at the core.” – Georgia Galanoudis, Managing Director, Imprint
Ms. Galanoudis has hit on a key point.
Collaborations can drive not only new traffic to your site, but it can make you strive to be better, understand your audience better, and give you more eyes on your work, which results in a better finished product.
Tip # 2 – Personalize
“Personalization will win the day. Consumers are increasingly savvy about vetting content, and find it deeply compelling when an article or ad speaks directly to them. Success for content marketers means truly understanding your customer and the stages of their journey, and targeting messages that speak to their needs in a meaningful and timely way.” – Bree Sposato, Senior Editor, Story Worldwide
We’ve often touted figuring out your target audience and developing a user personas for them here on WHSR. Understanding your target demographic and personalizing your website experience to that typical site visitor will help your site grow. You will retain those readers as loyal fans. So, instead of losing those leads you work so hard to build, you will keep them and continue to grow as word-of-mouth spreads.
Tip # 3 – Visual Communication Is Key
“Everyone is talking about video, and they should, it’s the official disruptor of broadcast! For marketers, video only solves half the problem, what about other forms of visual communication and storytelling? It’s time to source emerging talent and creativity in order to tell amazing stories.” – Michael Grier, Business Development Director, Globe Edge Content Studios
Mr. Grier’s prediction is backed up by the way people are changing the way they communicate and absorb information. For example, more than 1.8 billion people are active on social media now. Social media has changed in recent years to include important bits of news and information as well as those photos of your great aunt Sally’s new puppy rescue.
Tip # 4 – Build Targeted Content
Mr. Grier had some additional advice for WHSR readers about how to increase profits in 2016:
“Some bloggers are playing in broad spaces even within their categories. Travel is probably the most vibrant community, if bloggers could build targeted content (even campaigns), they would find more marketers interested in participating in their blogs. Second, you can’t beat optimizing your site, even consider making the investment to improve your rankings. Finally, the most underrated value on the web with respect to experience is “speed”, improving the performance of your site will have a direct impact on traffic and bounce rates ( https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/).”
Tip # 5 – It Isn’t Just about Profit
When asked why bloggers should not only focus on profits when building a blog, he had this to say:
“Bloggers are influencers, and have an opportunity to become Journalists of the Future. Journalistic best practices should be learned and applied habitually by bloggers: why, what, where, how are the simple questions that support trends, insights and data analytics. Building an influential profile is the first step, nurturing it with viable, relevant content is an important part of your personal brand.”
Tip # 6 – It’s Collaboration (yes, again!)
Mr. Grier also pointed to collaboration in 2016, saying:
“Bloggers should consider partnering with mature publishers; they have the consistent audiences that are willing to pay for content. The model between prominent blogger and traditional publisher is converging as the price for high quality content continues to be at a premium. Conversely, publishers should consider “testing” blogger content for its viability. It is not difficult nor risky for a publisher to do this and they may find a diamond in the rough!”
Tip # 7 – Avoid Press Release as Content
“I predict that 2016 will be looked back upon as the year that press releases did not quite die but certainly were placed on life support. The major search engines now penalize websites for running content which is the same or even substantially the same as content run on other websites.
If you run a press release on your site without making substantial changes, you’re almost guaranteed that dozens and perhaps hundreds of other sites will do the same and you’ll all end up being penalized by having your pages appear lower in the search results than if you didn’t run the press release at all.” – Steven Rothberg, president and founder of interactive, recruitment media company College Recruiter
Mr. Rothberg hits on something that has been ongoing for years but that people tend to forget over time. You can’t just copy a press release. Even deeper than that, however, as an editor I see a lot of articles where writers will quote from various articles. The problem isn’t with quoting from an article here and there. The problem comes in when there is so much quoted content that there is little analysis or content of your own.
You may have noticed that even though the quotes above are unique and were gathered via direct contact with the experts, I still went in and added my own thoughts and analysis, backing up some points with additional research. There are two reasons I did this. First, some of the points needed additional information to back up the prediction and show you why these experts are spot on. The other reason was because this is a unique article written just for WHSR and my goal is to add as much value as possible for the reader. That means exploring every topic as in-depth as possible.
It’s certainly okay to base your article on a press release. Just don’t make the press release the article. Make it unique. Give it your spin. Add to it.
Tip # 8 – Strike a Balance
“The relationship between SEO and content has never been more intertwined. Whether it’s the material on your website, blog or social channels, it’s important to strike a balance between being SEO-mindful and generating authentic content.
In 2016, the deluge of content marketing material on the web will continue to rise, and those that ensure that keywords are skillfully integrated into copy of any kind will see the best impact with regards to driving traffic. From an audience’s perspective, this means that as a reader you are being pointed in the right direction and are benefiting from relevant content that truly engages you.” – Shawn Pfunder, Editor in Chief at GoDaddy
Mr. Pfunder hits on a key topic with his predictions. People are going to continue to try to figure out algorithms while Google will continue to change and perfect their algorithms. Your focus simply must be from the audience’s perspective and whether you are meeting the needs of the reader searching for that keyword.
Some Examples of Excellent Content
When learning what you should do to make your content better, a good place to start is studying what others have done before you and what has been received well. Yes, standards will change over time and 2016 will see new trends emerge. However, some basic standards will always remain the same. In fact, some things haven’t changed since the dawn of writing and journalistic standards, such as covering the who, what, when, where, why and how.
Sample # 1 – Research Reports
Research reports can provide some excellent content. Since people are hungry for facts, being able to break down a lengthy white paper into more digestible copy can be extremely popular with readers. The key here is intense research combined with readable copy.
A great example is the Internet Trends Report by Mary Meeker. Notice in the screenshot below how her content is easy to scan. She actually presents it in Slideshow format so you can scroll quickly through the key points. She also includes charts and graphics to help you see the facts at a quick glance.
Sample # 2 – Long Form Guides and eBooks
As mentioned above, long form content helps with rankings. A perfect example of the use of this is here at WHSR. Jerry Low utilizes an excellent balance of content, long form content, guides and ebooks. For example, you can sign up for the newsletter to receive a free copy of How to Build a Successful Blog.
However, you can also directly access guides, such as the one pictured below on called the VPS Hosting Guide. Notice how Jerry Low uses a mix of easy to read text, subheadings, charts, and images to keep the reader’s interest. The content is longer, but it is easy to read and skim.
Sample # 3 – Sponsored Content
Contently did some studies and found that many readers are still confused over what is sponsored and what isn’t. Although everyone involved encourages bloggers to have transparency on this topic, apparently we aren’t all doing a great job with this. About 40% couldn’t decipher what was sponsored and what wasn’t. 62% felt there was less credibility with sponsored content.
Don’t get me wrong. Sponsored content can be great for your site (in moderation). It can bring in extra monetization opportunities for your site and help expand your reach. However, Google recently began looking at sponsored posts and is very likely to start looking at this even more closely in the coming year, so be smart and share sponsored content honestly and with some unique twist to make it all your own and unique from what ever other blogger is doing. Also, be sure to offer it in moderation. Not as every post on your blog.
However, this can also be a form of collaboration, which two of the experts interviewed pointed toward for 2016. One great example sponsored content is on the blog of one of our WHSR writers, Gina Baladaty. Gina is a mommy blogger who writes about gluten-free living and parenting topics.
Her sponsored post about living dairy free was sponsored by Silk. Gina tells us right up front that the post is sponsored by silk. But she also lets her readers know that the opinions are still her own. She also fills the post with valuable content a reader looking for a dairy free lifestyle would find useful.
As with most years, many aspects of content will remain the same for 2016 as they did in 2015. Excellent writing will always be appreciated over grammatically incorrect or confusing wording.
However, some things are going to change, such as the preferred length of content, that people writing should be an expert on the topic, and that people will continue to want their information digestible in faster and faster ways.
It will be interesting to see where these predictions take us as we move through the year. Who knows, in 2017 we may find that some of these standards have flip-flopped a bit and new standards have taken their place. In fact, you can count on it.