Content optimization is nothing new. It started thousands of years ago when people started curating content for discovery in libraries.
About 2,300 years ago, the famous Greek poet and scholar Callimachus built the first Google – a thematic catalog of the holdings of the Great Library of Alexandria.
No surprise – helping people find information today requires a very different approach.
Organizing a library provides a standardized way for users to quickly find a large amount of information when they know what they are looking for. But this style of organization makes less sense for content designed to engage audiences and introduce new experiences.
Think about it. You wouldn’t walk into a library with the goal of becoming smarter about the future of business. Yet marketers often fail to organize thought leadership like a hierarchical library.
Worse still, many catalog it by content type. I have seen so many B2B Resource Centers curated at the highest level in the form of e-books, white papers, videos and short articles. It forces the public to choose their content experience before choosing a topic or question to answer.
Modern Content Optimization Framework
To meet the needs of the public in 2023, you must optimize content for search engines, social channels, vertical channels, industry channels, and (yes) even the humans who end up browsing to your content. It’s a delicate balance in deciding what to optimize.
Historically, marketers optimized by logical hierarchy because it was optimal for search engines. But with AI and other technologies, such as personalization and targeted content, coming to the fore, I wonder if it’s time to look at new ways to organize your content.
A framework can help you think through each attribute of a modern content optimization model:
- Internal context
- External context
Let’s look at it one by one:
Understand your audience intent is almost more important than who they are. Think about it. If you have 1,000 new visitors to your website, what is the most valuable thing you can know about them? Are they who they are? Or is that why they came to surf your content? You should place great importance on optimizing your content in a way that helps you understand their intent – before you ask them who they are.
How are you doing that? You can intelligently organize and create your content. For example, you might be organizing by task or desired outcomes rather than content type. Or maybe provide more detailed content titles? For example, you might have a white paper titled: “Visions of a New Future for Our Industry: What You Need to Know When Considering Change”. I went above that title to make the point, but you get the idea. Someone downloading a white paper is NOT a qualified prospect at this point.
At this point, the goal should be to make it easier to find the information that matches their intent.
When you develop your content – whether educating, inspiring, entertaining or simply providing instruction – authority matters and details matter. Depth matters. You cannot provide authority in a single piece of content. Instead, it’s communicated through your content library. These attributes include linkingby attaching and delivering relevant details and more in-depth content, so your content consumer never needs to go anywhere else.
Instead of organizing your content to house a virtual box full of PDFs, images, PowerPoint presentations, etc., create cross-experiences that serve the “next best” experience so audiences can go further.
The inner context attribute is about meaning. It could be your brand’s view of the world or its unique vision or solution to a problem. This may be information you provide in conjunction with other information.
Organizing your content by views is similar to organizing it by intent. But you don’t do this based on tasks or questions, but rather by presenting a full argument for the stories you tell. For example, a tech company focused on cybersecurity might organize their resource center around the brand’s perspective on the future of AI and include another section on the future of financial security in a digital world.
The clear, consistent, and differentiated point of view and/or meaning of your content makes it stand out when people search for answers. The way content is displayed also communicates context, which can deepen engagement.
I call this the rule bar problem. Someone in a bar asks, “What’s the answer to that question?” You reply. They search and find the answer to confirm what you have provided. Usually the questioner nods, puts their phone in their pocket, and moves on.
What if your answer sparked more interest? It intrigues them, so they read it aloud to their friend, “Did you also know that…” Maybe they even mark it for future reading. It is the internal context that you want to achieve.
Technology and AI-based solutions also come under optimization to help with conditional contexts – how content will be temporarily organized at a user or account level. Or it can be organized based on a mobile vs desktop context.
You can determine that first-party data, such as location, purchase history, content consumption, and device type, will inform the organizational appearance of content.
Additionally, you can use this data to decide what content to put on social media, vertical sites, and other interfaces where you don’t control posting.
Directly related to external content, providing multiple ways to organize your content is gaining in importance today. If the external context allows the consumer to see content displayed based on their behavior, “described” organizations create content that describes your content – to help audiences filter (or automate), categorize, measure, personalize and activate the content. This content generally falls into three categories:
- Descriptive metadata – Categorical terms about the piece of content, such as audience personality, stage of the buyer’s journey, author, or supported product category.
- Administrative metadata– content management elements, such as publication dates, expiry dates, rights management, legal or compliance categorization, etc.
- Structural metadata– details that help connect one piece of content to others, such as a set of data that reacts to a prompt like “If you like this, you might like this too.”
Come out like a new Callimachus – the media company
I wouldn’t recommend trying all of these, but there are several approaches you can include to revamp your content management. The web, search, and artificial intelligence will likely evolve beyond static, hierarchical, library-like ways of delivering information.
Start by optimizing for humans. When you understand your audience and their intent, you can optimize content to find them. Once you have authoritatively created in-depth, valuable, informative, and engaging content, you can bring out the best meaning in your content and create better internal context.
Once this is achieved (or in progress), you can move on to the technical side of optimization with external contexts, such as mobile, search, social media, etc. You can describe this content so that machines can understand it and do more with it and use technical solutions. to present it optimally.
In simpler terms: you are Callimachus and the mogul of modern media. Your brands aren’t just poets and storytellers; you are the media companies. You’re here not just to provide a resource, but to engage and guide people to the best stories when they need them.
It’s your story. Say it well.
Updated from a June 2021 article.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute