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Not another phantom menace

Not another phantom menace
Not another phantom menace

A butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the world and a few days later the resulting storm sweeps over you. The equivalent of Chaos Theory in the digital world is when Google releases any search algorithm updates. And the latest butterfly wing air disturbance to emerge from the Google labs in California is Phantom 2 and the resulting hurricane that is already sweeping over you not only puts content at the eye of that storm but content within the context of the audience journey.

In simple terms, Phantom 2 is the latest Google algorithm to reward brands that prioritise the publication of quality content on their websites. The ‘quality’ is defined by the length of time that people spend consuming that content and whether they go on to click and consume a subsequent piece of content. Crucially, what Google is doing is saying to companies is that they will rank higher in natural search the more they are prepared to publish content that helps consumers throughout their buying journey.

This means that if you are publishing content that only serves that part of the journey that leads directly to a sale, Google will punish you. As changes go, this is one you ignore at your peril.

It will also leave content and digital marketers with the new challenge of needing to map the content journey and ensure that there are links between content to facilitate that journey. So to put this new world into context, it means you need to publish content that will help your prospective customer in their earliest research. The example given by Google’s director of agency performance, Matt Bush, is where a company selling running shoes would provide information on how to run a marathon. In the B2B world, it is simply good old fashioned thought leadership. However, simply publishing that marathon information may help me as a consumer but it is not going to help you as a company if you have not mapped the customer journey from research to sale. And Google will punish you if you simply publish information on running a marathon and then simply push the consumer to go and buy a running shoe.

What Google has done is dictate how companies need to engage with prospective customers. Spray and pray keyword SEO is no more. To perform well from a search prospective you need to be focussing on the needs of your audience and not simply your conversion metrics.

In Google’s mind, this will then force Google Trends and Google Analytics even more to the fore as essential tools for content marketers. However, these tools are not only limited in their ability to help map journeys but they also focus on what your target audience has done on your site, not helping you plan what you want your target audience to do.

For that you need to firstly map the end-to-end customer journey. To do this properly we advocate the psychological journey that we have spelt out clearly here. This takes into consideration not simply how to initially engage with your target audience but then how to progress them forwards with calls to action and pre-consideration requirements that takes into account the fear, uncertainty and doubt, as well as need for proof that your target audience will instinctively express.

And then secondly you need to identify the content needed to facilitate that journey. In other words, what are the articles, videos, infographics and so on that are required at every step of that psychological journey.

Finally, you need to ensure that you have a next-best-content approach in place so that once your target audience has consumed one piece of content, they are offered the next logical piece of content on that journey and/or they are offered content from a different journey that may be more relevant. If mapped properly, your audience will decide their journey for themselves without any need for you to be personally involved.

In essence, Google is forcing the nature of content strategies to expand beyond simple engagement to consider all the content needed within the journey up to a sale. While such interventionism may be unwelcome interference in some marketers’ view, it will actually lead to considerable benefits as the nature of the engagement will deliver greater commercial return. So rather than thinking of Phantom 2 as a menace, embrace it as a new hope in content marketing.