A Google Guide to Content Marketing?

For a company that is notorious for keeping big secrets and selectively sharing information, the release of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines is a BFD. At this point, I am living in a fantasy world where Google has given us the golden ticket (and the most delicious chocolate bar) to digital marketing nirvana. For now, I’ll ignore the whole question of intent.

The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines are well developed, informative, and helpful – albeit not very aesthetically pleasing. This format echoes a core note from Google regarding functional page design,

Some pages are “prettier” or more professional looking than others, but you should not rate based on how ‘nice’ a page looks. A page can be very functional and achieve its purpose without being ‘pretty’.

While I enjoy a beautiful, stunningly inspired website as much as the next person, I can’t help but applaud Google for making this note an “Important” one. As a content marketing strategist and copywriter, I have become quite fond of words and what they can do, especially in a digital environment. Words [read “text”] build(s) websites (HTML anyone?), and hail Google to stop and take a look around on a page. Ultimately, I see these Guidelines to be the foundation of developing an amazing content strategy for a website.

The Foundation
Google generously outlined the “Characteristics of High Quality Pages;” so it only seems reasonable to start there. Besides having a reasonable amount of high quality main content, Google demands that the page and website follow E-A-T (Expert, Authoritative, and Trustworthy) standards for their content, and can establish that they are – or have employed the services of someone who is – an expert on the topic at hand. Supplementary content should be of the same quality as the main content, but presented in a way that delivers it as supporting content. Make sure your website stays current and well maintained. Odds are if your content strategy works in tandem with this foundation, you are off to a great start.

Understanding the User

One of my favorite things about Google is that it’s a company that really has the user experience at heart. You can trace every move made – business and otherwise – back to making the user’s experience [read “life] better. The word user – including plural and possessive forms – is used 1300 times in the 160-page Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. I think it’s safe to say this is kind of important. Google broke down the types of queries and the user intent behind them:

  • Know query – User wants information on a topic. These questions can be broad or specific, but the ultimate goal is to get information and get it fast.
  • Do query – User wants to do something. Device actions are part of this query, which includes making your phone do what you want it to do – make a call, look something up, play a song, etc.
  • Website query – User is looking for a specific page or website. The user knows where he or she wants to end up, but isn’t quite sure how to get there.
  • Visit-in-person query – User is looking for specific business or organization. This is where the big “near me” search comes into play. Stores, restaurants, and event venues are what the user wants to know.

Do these sound familiar? These are Google’s four big micro-moments: “I-want-to-know,” “I-want-to-go,” “I-want-to-do,” and “I-want-to-buy.” By understanding the user intent, you can start to create an example buyer journey to better understand how a user might get to your website or page. With this information, you can start forming buyer personas and developing your content to address those personas along all stages of the buyer journey. Highlighting these micro-search moments brings us to another content marketing consideration …

The Internet Fits in Your Pocket
Today, you can search the Internet from almost anywhere. You don’t need to connect to Wi-Fi (cell phone service providers would prefer you didn’t, anyways), you don’t need a computer or wires, and you don’t have to worry about disrupting your sibling’s incredibly important conversation with that cute someone from class. The content on a desktop is (almost always) the same as the content on a mobile device. Your content strategy must accommodate for people searching, finding, and reading from all devices.

Mobile clearly matters, so be sure to think of your content strategy with multiple devices in mind. To ensure an enjoyable mobile user experience, Google introduces the Needs Met Rating Scale – a completely different rating scale than the one used for desktop search experience. Not only is the search result taken into consideration, but so is the user’s query. Combine this scale with E-A-T standards, and you’re ready to assess the search quality of your website on a mobile device.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about a mobile search quality evaluation is the inclusion of local and user location. For some queries, regardless of your location, you won’t get different answers (“Who was the fortieth U.S. president?” will always be “Ronald Reagan”). However, ask Google, “What football player was named MVP in 2000?” and someone searching in the England will get a different result than someone searching in the United States. If the query is a website or visit-in-person query, user location and locale becomes even more important, so making sure you have local optimization and NAP consistency is critical.

So … Now What?
I’m trying really hard to not guess motivations behind this great gift, but suspicion continues to creep in. For now, Google has answered the big SEO query: “What do you want from us?” This version of the Guidelines is by no means Internet Law that will never change. But that’s how this goes, right? Everything is in a constant state of flux. Google has taken away some of the guess work – the company wants you to succeed.

For now, enjoy the chocolate, and take this opportunity to poise your content strategy for success next year. You basically just got a ride in Google’s Glass Elevator, and only the authentic SEOs will get the SERP they want and –rightfully – deserve, while everyone else will get the rankings they actually deserve.