Jill Whalen, one of the most recognizable and respected names in search, announced she was moving on from SEO last week. Her reasons for doing so are varied: Her passion for it isn’t there, she has new interests  and, according to Jill, Google has finally put its money where its mouth is by rewarding sites that invest in quality content and great user experiences.

As Jill put it, her work here is done.

While you shouldn’t expect to see hordes of SEOs picking up their stuff and going home, you can understand the sentiment. Things have changed; they’ve actually gotten better. While it was once an SEO or marketer’s job to push clients toward better search engine optimization techniques or to convince them an investment in content marketing or user experience was important – today we’re not having those conversations as much. Because clients know. They understand. And they understand because they’ve been told, often directly from Google itself.

In this world of not-provided, well-built user personae and where site trust and authority take center stage, clients have new incentive for doing things the right away.

Marketing just became the most important game of fundamentals you’ve ever seen.

User Personae & Audience-Tested Content

When Google took away SEO’s keyword data, we were sad. Or, more accurately, we yelled and screamed and hollered. Keyword analytics and referrer information are what SEOs have long used to understand user intent and to develop linkbuilding strategies. It told us the queries visitors were using to land on our site. It told us how long visitors searching a specific keyword stayed on our site, how engaged they were, bounce rates, etc. This information was incredibly helpful in determining the terms most profitable to our business. We tweaked pages, wrote new ones and killed some based on this information.

And then it went away.

But you know what? Maybe it was for the better because now we have to get to know our audience the right way. By actually getting to know them.

Without our keyword cheat sheet, more clients are investing in true customer research. We’re studying our analytics and other available data sources, but we’re not stopping there. We’re doing customer surveys, we’re interviewing employees of the business, we’re getting third-party data and then we’re using all of this information to create detailed personae around the people who make up our actual audience. And then, THEN!, we’re able to create content and an experience based solely around these personae. And it’s worked better than plain keyword data ever did.


Throw Pages At Keywords, No

Build Topical Authority, Yes

The loss of our keyword data and the introduction of the Google Panda update have also created a shift in the content creation process. Our content marketing strategies are now less about driving traffic and links at a specific keyword, and more about demonstrating proven authority around a certain topic area. We’re at the point where writing for users and writing for search engines is now one and the same. As a content creator and someone who respects both words and people I can’t tell you how awesome THAT is.

With a clearer emphasis on quality content written to demonstrate authority, it’s not enough to throw pages at keywords. Instead, you have to brainstorm content ideas around your target audience, use social media and quick content wins to vet out which topics are sticky, and then build real relationships to help that content spread to the right audience. To be seen as an authority, you have to actually earn your salt and become an authority.

It’s what you should have been doing all along, except now, you don’t have a choice.

Move Towards Real Content

Five years ago, this was considered good content.



I know, it’s painful to see, but the above is what many SEOs and business were creating and slapping on their websites. It was thin, shallow content that taught you nothing, explained nothing, solved nothing and didn’t even have the courtesy to make you laugh while otherwise wasting your time. But Google has caught on, deciding this doesn’t serve its users and therefore deserves no place in its algorithm. Google unleashed Panda to encourage you to stop creating shit low value content.

And it’s working!

To compete today, brands are focusing on creating:

  • Words that address problems and then solve them
  • Videos that simplify and engage
  • ebooks and interactive games
  • Mobile applications and podcasts
  • Whitepapers and tools
  • And, oh my, SO MANY TYPES OF CONTENT created from the personae you’ve already put together.

The difference between the content of then and the content of now is that today’s content requires true research, planning and understanding of not only your audience, but how that content will be used, where it will sit and the requirements it must meet. It has to be sound enough to stand on its own, while integrated into everything else your brand is doing. It takes not an editorial calendar, but an editorial strategy.

Serious content has become serious business. I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

Creating Experiences of Users

This is it. This is the core of your marketing challenge in 2014. It’s not about keywords or links or what’s sitting in your metadata. It’s about crafting pleasurable experiences for your users. Experiences that are backed in research and in understanding who your audience is.

It’s about user-centered design.

It’s about giving a gift, instead of closing a sale. It’s about repeating the right call to action, instead of dropping it once and walking away. It’s about targeting the right user instead of targeting everyone. It’s about keeping your page focused, not linking to every possible action. It’s about GoodUI (I love this site).

Again, user experience (UX) isn’t a new concept. It’s simply one getting more attention and involves creating decisive interactions and seamless translations on your site and everything else that touches a user. What is UX design? It’s really just good marketing

It’s about knowing who your market is, knowing what is important to them, knowing why it is important to them, and designing accordingly. It’s also about listening after you’ve designed and adjusting to the changing marketplace: improving the experience of those in your market.


Without a user-centric experience, your great content doesn’t matter. Because no one will stick around long enough to read it.

The Web is changing. Smarter algorithms and smarter users have collided to create a world where brands must earn their authority and their rank by putting users first and focusing on their needs. It sounds back-to-basics, it sounds like fundamentals, but it’s everything marketing has lost in recent years. And it’s time to get it back.