Recently I went to an interesting lecture by Bill Belew, one of the leading content marketers in Silicon Valley.
Bill gave a good overview of the content marketing landscape and a brief introduction to his approach for marketing blogs and other websites.
One overarching point of his presentation was based on an extraordinarily simple concept: search engines can count, but they’re not that smart.
In this post I’ll talk a little about my thoughts on that concept.
Yes, Search Engines Can Count
Search engines are incredibly good at counting and pattern detection.
There’s no denying that. It’s what they have been engineered to do. The debate comes up in terms of what that statement actually means.
In the past, this knowledge has led content marketers to create large amount of spammy content, because they knew the search engines were just counting the words on the page, the number of times different keywords appeared and how many times statistically related keywords appeared on the same page.
They also counted other things, like the number of inbound links you had coming into a site, and how many of the keywords on the linking page were related to the page they linked to.
That meant that search engine algorithms used to be really easy to game. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore, and they’ve gotten a lot smarter.
This leads me to disagree with the second part of Bill’s statement: that they’re not that smart.
Search Engines Are Smarter Than You Think
Computers are way smarter than you think they are. All of the computational methods we have are based on processing sequences of bits, which are the 0-1 representations of binary code. These are literally just high-low signals inside a drive in a computer somewhere.
From counting those bits and processing patterns within them, however, computers are becoming increasingly intelligent. This is because there are very sophisticated algorithm that track large, statistical correlations between elements humans would never even think to consider.
Google can show you relevant advertising based on your search history. LinkedIn can guess who else you might be friends with. Target can guess pretty accurately what you’re going to buy next and when you’re going to buy it.
This means that search engines, too, are pretty good guessers. They can know with a high degree of certainty whether or not your site has spam content or whether it is a legitimate attempt to provide valuable information. They also know what other material it’s closely related to, and, increasingly, what that content actually means.
What this Means for You
So what does all of this mean for you as an internet marketer? It means you should focus first and foremost on providing high quality content that helps your reader solve a problem.
If you can do that consistently, you’ll be on your way to building a sustainable business designed for the long term.