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Marketers had better get to grips with content marketing, quickly

It’s easy to talk about content – everyone does it. “Content is King”, people shouted about ten years ago, before promptly continuing to spam article marketing databases with the same article a hundred times… because it worked. And it’s precisely because of spam that Google has turned the digital world on its head and has started to apply what it calls “Agent Rank”, but for simplicity’s sake, we will call “Author Rank”.

What is Author Rank?

Author Rank is much like PageRank, Google’s age-old calculation of the potential of a website and web page to rank. A high PageRank would mean, logically, better rankings. Author Rank is similar, but it does not include the website in its calculation – it essentially gives the author a score for the quality of his or her writing.

How does Google know what a quality article is?

Already, we are noticing signs that Google is looking at ‘dwell time’ on an article. For example, if you visit an article by a specific author and spend more than two minutes on it, and then hit the back button on your browser, Google may give you further articles by that author – potentially from other websites.

Equally, social data is easily acquired, so the number of shares, retweets, likes and plus ones will have a direct impact on Author Rank. Google has started to give Authorship data in Webmaster Tools, showing that it is collecting this kind of data and interpreting it – there is nothing to stop Google, therefore, from promoting popular articles within the rankings, almost regardless of PageRank.

What’s the future like, then?

Well, the past has seen anonymous spammers pollute the search engine rankings, and the future that Google wants to see is a quality list of search engine results that keeps people coming back. Therefore, the inclusion of trusted, quality authors ensures that people keep using Google, and keep trusting Google. So, regardless of the website the article is published on, an article written by a trusted author should rank well.

This means that authors whose work has been shared, read in full and commented on, should be given priority over authors whose work has not been shared, has not been read in full, and has received no comments. Or indeed, the work of real people should be promoted ahead of the work of anonymous people (or spammers).

How do B2B marketers take advantage of this?

The key is not to think of this as purely a content challenge. It isn’t – it involves everything you already do, and bringing it together in a concerted effort.

1)   Find your influential people: most businesses have an expert lying somewhere deep within the organisation. Someone, somewhere will hold a professional qualification, and if you’re lucky, they’ll go to industry groups, conferences and meetings. They may even speak at them.

2)   Tap your influential people: get them writing – or at the very least, tap them for information. They know what’s happening in the industry, and they know what’s going to happen, so get them to contribute to your blog or your newsletter regularly.

3)   Get your influential people online: If they don’t already have social media profiles, set them up and use tools like FollowerWonk to build up their followers with relevant, similarly influential people. Help them build up their online presence so that when they do write an article, it’s visible enough for other influencers to share. Equally, ensure that your Google+ mark-up is working – it’s technical to an extreme, but it does mean that Google will start linking authors to their work.

4)   Establish a long-term content schedule: The key here is to look at your long-tail keywords (which are naturally easier to get ranked in search engines) and mix that with your marketing plan. What’s happening when, and how can you improve online visibility of articles using long-tail keywords at the right time? Plan your requests for content ahead of time, and you’ll also achieve greater buy-in from your authors.

5)   Publish, share and interact: Most people have got the first two right. They publish an article, they tweet it, they put it on LinkedIn, and they hope for a few mentions, likes and retweets. The key is to use those influential peoples’ profiles in order to get further traction from their work. Start conversations and debates, start a poll or create an infographic or even a video that will spread even further. Use the content as an anchor around which you can increase visibility of your author, and your organisation’s thought leadership.

6)   Leverage the authority of your article: This is a quick win – use internal links within your article to your key sales pages. Use descriptive anchor text, and keep it relevant and contextual – the more authoritative your article is, the more important that internal link becomes, spreading some authority across your website and helping you improve rankings for those key sales pages.

7)   Now, follow up on your article: Now’s the time to take your influential people away from your site, and get them blogging on other influential blogs as ‘guest bloggers’. Respect their guidelines, respect their audience, and take a tangent from the initial article, providing them with something new. Remember to include the Google+ mark-up in the author bio, so that Google recognises the author, and everyone benefits – you benefit by including a link to your original article, and the blogger benefits from unique content from an authoritative author.

What should happen next is what naturally happens today, when an article is popular: it attracts links because people have shared it, and more people have seen it. Bloggers will have read it, and will have linked to it, increasing its authority and visibility in the eyes of the search engines.

The difference is that the article, now being attributed to a real person, authentified by having a Google Plus account linked to every article, is not necessarily the most important thing – it’s the author. A popular author can raise the authority of a whole website by contributing quality content.

That’s the new web. It will undoubtedly be spammed by unscrupulous black hat SEO companies who will probably be able to ‘boost your authorship’ using underhand tactics and fake social profiles. Google will undoubtedly respond with a tightening-up of its algorithms, so at all times, remember to stay authentic, remember to interact as much as possible, and add value: add value to your site, add value to other people’s days by giving them something new and valuable to read, and add value to other people’s websites by giving them new content that helps them.

You may not have been rewarded in the past, but you will now.