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How to Update Your SEO-Based Content Marketing Strategies for RankBrain

Posted by Erica Herbert on October 14, 2016

PR2020_SEO-Content-Marketing.jpg“SEO is no longer just about 200 ranking factors," according to Gianluca Fiorelli, SEO and web marketing consultant. “SEO is about making our websites become the sources Google cannot help but use for answering queries.”

How do we, as content marketers, focus on making our websites these undeniable sources for answers? First, we need to understand how Google operates in 2016, and where Google is headed. From Penguin to Possum, in what direction is Google heading now?

Continue reading for an update on Google’s current state, why SEO is important and how marketers can tailor SEO strategies for a sustainably high-ranking future.

Why You Should Care About Google’s Newest Algorithm

Google dominates search share volume, with around 63% of desktop share and a whopping 94% of mobile search share in July 2016. Marketers have no choice but to keep up with Google's ever-maturing ranking factors. 

You may hear a lot of algorithm names thrown around by SEOs, like Panda, Possum, Penguin and Hummingbird. So, which one should you care about now?

Hummingbird, implemented about three years ago, is the search engine’s algorithm as a whole, which encompasses other algorithms. However, last October, Google introduced a machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) technology called RankBrain. This AI has changed and continues to change the world of SEO. This is what we need to keep an eye on.

How RankBrain Changes Content Marketing

SEO is crucial to the success (or failure) of our inbound campaigns and is often the reason we turn to content marketing in the first place. Content creation builds upon our sites’ ranking signals for Google, which include:

  • Fresh content
  • Keywords
  • Linkbacks
  • UX metrics
  • Click-through rates

These specific signals have historically been important drivers of rankings. But, RankBrain is changing the game.

While these are still ranking signals, RankBrain is leading us into a more intelligent, contextual future. Some SEOs theorize that different signals have started to, and will continue to, hold differing weight across various queries. SEO will be dependent on how helpful your content is and how well it answers the user’s query. Optimization is no longer a cookie-cutter process.

Optimizing for Google’s Present and Future

RankBrain has altered the way we create strategies around known ranking signals. Let’s briefly go over some of these ranking factors and how to adjust your content marketing strategies appropriately.

Keywords

Moz admitted to finding increasingly lower correlations between on-page keyword use and rankings in a 2015 SEO study. This appears to signal that Google is better able to associate related keywords, synonyms and close variants. Matching user intent is becoming more important.

What Can Marketers Do About This?

Use natural language and focus on user intent. When you do conduct keyword research, use this as a starting point to find the popularity of the topic. Don’t take exact-match seriously. Overall, develop a thorough understanding of your persona’s pain points, and aim to provide helpful content in a format that matches their search intent. 

If you do need keyword ideas, conduct sematic keyword research. You can start by searching through ad groups in the Keyword Planner, rather than searching for individual keywords, to get a sense of what words Google considers related.

Inbound Links

“Number of links” was identified in the Moz study as the top “non-keyword, non-link metric.” Gleaning inbound links still appears to hold a high level of clout for page rankings.

What Can Marketers Do About This?

Linking strategies have been important to SEOs for a while, and still hold weight. The first thing we need to focus on is creating helpful content, worthy of linkbacks from credible sites. That should be a no-brainer. 

Also consider outreach link building, in which you reach out to bloggers, journalists, directories and other credible sources for links to your content. First, create targeted content that addresses a specific pain point for your audience. Once the content is created, identify outlets that could benefit from sharing your content. There are several strategies behind identifying these outlets, from flat-out research, to tactics like the moving man.

User Experience (UX)

Most UX elements have an impact on your search rankings indirectly. From your click-through rate, to load speed and mobile friendliness, Google’s algorithm watches for these details. Make sure visitors are having a positive experience on your site.

What Can Marketers Do About This?

First, you need to ensure your title tag and meta description are eye-catching, but also thoroughly capture what your user expects when he or she clicks on the link from Google. All of the meta data and on-page elements need to align.

It’s also important that your website is simple, easily navigable and offers value for your target audience at each stage in the marketing funnel.

Also be aware that there is sometimes a tug-of-war that happens between UX and SEO. This is not often, but it can happen. For example, you might see this in your on-site navigation. SEO folks tend to want more links within the navigation in order to build a robust internal linking structure. However, UX experts sometimes argue that this can crowd the navigation section, and users should be able to use intuition to locate a page within a particular section.

Crawl Errors

Let’s get a bit technical for a minute. In order for your page to rank, Google needs to be able to crawl your site first to figure out what exactly your site or page is offering.

What Can Marketers Do About This?

There are a few easy things marketers can do to ensure Google can properly crawl your site or page. First, make sure you are using appropriate status codes on your site. For example use 301 redirects, rather than 302 redirects, when redirecting a page or site, because 302 redirects don’t instruct search engine crawlers that a page has moved.

Google also offers a crawl errors report, which helps you easily identify any missteps in your code that prevent Google from crawling properly.

If you want to take your crawl-based SEO a step further, you can also block certain pages from being crawled using robots.txt. Each site has a crawl budget, and blocking pages that don’t need to rank, such as a login page, will leave room in your budget for more important pages.

How to Adjust Your Overall Strategy with RankBrain in Mind

RankBrain is unlike any algorithm we have seen. There is no longer one process for all search queries. RankBrain operates on an interpretation model, and it will continually change and improve. We must be constantly testing our content marketing activities and adapting to our audience’s needs 

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