Focus on Context

We’ve all seen various repeats of “Content is King”, first uttered by Bill Gates in 1996. It was certainly true then, although many people seemed to think (and apparently, some still do) that focusing solely on content was sufficient to achieve success. Mr. Gates, of course, is bright enough to know that the “build it and they will come” approach to marketing leaves a lot to be desired. His mistake was in believing that most people would realize that and fill in the gaps. Some, Bill… but apparently, not the majority.

Taking into consideration the self-induced tunnel vision of the masses, if you add the fact that search algorithms have matured tremendously, perhaps even beyond the point that many thought possible nearly 20 years ago, one can reasonably argue that Bill’s statement is no longer true. Or at least, true only in a more general sense.

The King is Dead (or at least, deathly ill)

Today’s algorithms are significantly more complex than their early predecessors, analyzing not only a host of the old-school probabilistic factors that deal with a page’s usability, accessibility, relationships, etc., but also endeavoring to more fully understand what the page is about. This is an important next step toward TBL’s Semantic Web vision.

The coronation of context as the new reigning king took place quietly and gradually… the exact date is uncertain. And like any monarch, its reign may be temporary (though I wouldn’t bet on it). But for now, it deserves a large portion of our attention (for the tunnel-visioned amongst you, not to the exclusion of all else).

Benefits of Focused Context

The ability of the algorithms to determine the principle context of a page has a few different effects on site owners and copywriters. These should interest any marketer.

Better for Users

Content that is highly focused on a particular topic or theme is easier for users to absorb. It also allows for a more intuitive experience, from search through navigation and finally, to the call to action (as well as allowing more granular analysis of a site’s traffic and activity).

Better for Search Engines

If the content of a page is clearly centered on a specific theme or topic, it makes it much easier for search algorithms to determine which search queries the page is most relevant to. This should be no surprise to anyone… it may be hard to rank a page for crossstitching patterns if your page is also discussing bengal tigers or skateboards.

Better for Teaching the Algorithms

With learning algorithms all the rage, doesn’t it make sense that we want to make it as easy for them as possible? As mere mathematical formulas, they deal with patterns and probabilities, and when content doesn’t touch on a dozen different topics, those patterns are more easily identified and probabilities can be much more refined. This accelerates the learning process, so that the algo moves on a little smarter each time. That, in turn, improves its understanding of the next page it visits, not just on the same topic, but on virtually any topic.

Don’t Take This Too Literally

This doesn’t mean that you can’t mention anything on a page that, when viewed apart, isn’t highly relevant to the topic. With a little imagination, there’s a way to mention bengal tiger on that crosstitching page in a fashion that won’t confuse either users or search engines. It just takes a basic understanding of what the linguistic capabilities of the search algorithms are – and they’re probably more advanced than you think.

The Bottom Line

Knowing that when presented in a manner that is clear and comprehensible to users, content is often also comprehensible to search engines, your job of creating good content is made a lot easier. You can now focus most of your attention on writing to the users (who should always have been your primary target). If you write it well for them, you’ll find it will take very little added effort to optimize it for the search engines, too – just focus on the context.