The King is Dead. Long Live the King.
There's an old adage online, by now so used up and tired I'm surprised how often it's still envoked: content is king. I heard it whispered in 1996 by the pioneers, when it was still a fresh and novel concept, when it held promise and hope; when the web was still tiny. Content is king they said, when Google came on the scene with that clean, empty search box and bubble gum logo. They said it again when the web grew larger and noisier, when it got more difficult to get noticed. They said it before the content mills started to churn, turning out their feckless (and wreckless) acres of worthless words every hour. High quality content is king they said, once Panda lay her surprisingly deft paw on those capitalizing on Google's vulnerabilities (and a few hapless good actors caught in the middle).
For the first time, I saw this axiom get turned on its head. Amit Singhal responded to a persistent barrage of pointed questions from Danny Sullivan about Search Plus Your World. The kernel he kept uncovering was that content is only part of the picture.
"...it’s not just about content. It’s about identity, relationships and content." - Amit Singhal
Content WAS king. Now Content is a knight at the round table along with Identity and Relationship.
This marks a seminal change in the way Google (and the web in general) are moving: towards the social graph. The social networks are the link profile - and the PageRank - of the future. The problem is, the social graph is splintered, proprietary, and held by competing forces. Forces holding tightly to data that will never be open to Googlebot's crawl.
More from Amit,
"There’s a lot more. It’s not just about content. It’s about identity, and when you start talking about these things and what it takes to build this, the data needed is much more than we can publicly crawl."
The ironic secret is that, while Google has the marketshare in search, Bing is already in possession of social data from Facebook and Twitter, and blends it into their results. Without a social platform to call their own, Bing blends social well using data from the category leaders. If users truly want social integrated with their search experience, then shouldn't we all be using Bing instead of Google?
Then again, when Google set a honeypot for Bing and claimed the latter was stealing their ranking data, I bet they didn't realize the future benefit of pushing Google+ so hard in search was getting it featured prominently in Bing's results!
I kid because I love. Bing is a good search engine. It's also got a long way to go if it hopes to displace Google. But boy, we need it now more than ever.
It's Not Just About Content
So what does this all mean, anyway? Is it just a scrabble of ramblings from a slightly cynical SEO? I'm still trying to figure it all out, myself. But I'm pretty sure the stuff Amit told Danny is important. Something about the fact that "it's not just about content." Something about identities and relationships. As online marketers we need to look closely at social and link relationships (yes, links aren't going away). We need to form alliances with important people and organizations, and we need to create content that is so stunningly spectacular that it gets attention from the influential identities out there.
Identity and relationships are fundamental to search, according to Amit. Identity and relationships are just as important as content. But identity and relationships cannot be found in a link profile, per se. You can spot relationships in that data, but you can't know identities (apart from authors, and isn't it interesting how Google's pushing those?), and you can't know influence outside of the domain authority or brand. Domain authority is associated with the link profile, and brands are how you "sort out the cesspool" as Eric Schmidt famously quipped.
Google wants Twitter and Facebook data, but only if they get signficant access to the data, enough to understand relationships, influencers, hubs, etc. They need the link profile of social media; they need the social graph. Think Facebook will give that to them, for any price?
- Content isn't king anymore. Content used to be king. Now it's a knight in the king's court. The king is the user. Content serves the king (the user) with valuable writings, videos, images, graphics, resources, or whatever else Content should be. The best content wins. Anything else rolls downhill collecting at the base of the Mountain of Mediocrity, which makes the web. The best content wins, because the web is built with mediocrity.
- Relationships are another knight. Relationships allow us to connect with important people, companies, and organizations online. They are what the web (and the world) are built on, too. Consistent contribution makes healthy relationships possible. Consistency is key.
- Identity is the last knight. Identity grants "known-ness" to those lucky enough, smart enough, talented enough, or hard working enough to wear that crown. Identities can be powerful allies on the web, in the never-resting tussle for attention.
Focus on gaining attention from strong identities online (the influencers). Do this by leveraging relationships (your social network), and by producing content of distinction. Stunning, uncommon, exceptional content.
Easier said than done? Of course it is! But the recipe is right here. It's up to you to execute, to stay ahead of the curve. This is where Google is headed. Don't believe me? Then listen to Amit:
"A good product can only be built where we understand who’s who and who is related to whom. Relationships are also important alongside content. To build a good product, we have to do all types of processing. But fundamentally, it’s not just about content. It’s about identity, relationships and content. Anything else trivializes a very hard product."