Mastering The Salmon Dance: Why High Quality Content Isn’t Enough To Get Noticed Online

Photo credit: David Cheskin/PA Wire

Have you seen the following interview with Jay Baer (posted on Convince and Convert) in which he talks about the recent changes to Google’s search engine algorithms Panda and Hummingbird?

In this interview, Jay explains why Panda and Hummingbird mean that producing high quality authoritative content is becoming a minimum requirement to getting customer attention.

If you care about ranking on a search engine, that is.

He’s right.

But this is really just short term advice.

Because there’s a massive marketing technology storm coming that will render even the best content worthless – if you’re not prepared for it.

Google Shifts from Keywords to Context

Others have written extensively about where Google is headed with innovations in quality scoringconversational search and semantic search. I won’t bore you with the details here.

Suffice it to say, the future of getting your content “found” online is no longer about keyword stuffing, guest blogging and grey-hat link building.

Google’s recent and rapid migration away from keywords towards understanding user context carries big implications for today’s inbound marketing, content marketing and of course, search engine optimization (SEO) strategies.

With Google’s latest releases (Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird), we are now being forced to focus intensely on the user’s needs with our content. High quality content is the only sure way to rank.

If you haven’t done so already, now is a good time to re-think what you’ve been doing with your websites, your SEO tactics, your marketing platforms and especially, your content.

Producing High Quality Content Isn’t Nearly Enough To Get Noticed

Watching Jay’s interview only crystallized my strongly-held belief that high quality content will soon lose its competitive advantage. 

“Say what? Content marketing is on fire!”, you may be thinking.

I’ve written about this issue before.  I call it “The Flipboard Effect”.

The story goes like this:

As marketers school together and publish ever-increasing amounts of high-quality, authoritative content online, a simple math problem arises that most content marketing pros haven’t addressed (much less acknowledged).

We end up publishing much more quality content than our target audience could ever consume.  

We are literally overwhelming them with quality content.

You might argue, as Barry Feldman does, that continuously increasing your content quality is the way to win this game.

To which I would counter,

Drowning in Champagne… is still drowning.


In the real world, even the rarest of markets can get over-supplied with uber-quality products.

Go ask Ferrari about the early 1990s, for example.

When it comes to content overabundance, the math is easy to understand:

  • the amount of quality content being published & shared online is doubling about every 2 years
  • the growth in online users, human attention span and our ability to consume content are not growing as fast.

This is why publishing better, high-quality content will never be a complete strategy for grabbing the attention of your audience.

I believe that we reached the saturation point on Facebook several years ago, when EdgeRank was released.

On Twitter, the “drowning in Champagne” problem is clear to anyone who follows more than 100 quality accounts.

Have you read ALL of your Twitter stream lately?

In the future, high-quality content will of course be important – but it will be a minimum requirement.

You’ll have to do much, much more to actually get that content to your target audience.

Because new flow barriers keep on popping up.

Mastering The Salmon Dance

So what else do you need to do to reach your market?

You know, to get your content to all of those nice people who won’t take your calls or read your emails anymore?

Well, in my opinion we will have to master three new dance steps to get our awesome content into the welcoming arms of our market.  

I call this 3-step ditty, “The Salmon Dance” … and not just because I like The Chemical Brothers.

(which I do! Bonus music video, below)

Here are the three new dance steps we’ll all need to learn:

Step 1:  make your content stand out in a crowded stream.

No matter how good it is, you must acknowledge that your awesome content is entering a roaring, noisy and fast-growing stream overflowing with similar-looking beasts.

So how do we get noticed?

Well, understand that people are passionate first and rational second. So inject some emotion into your content to get it noticed.

Creativity, heart-tugging headlines, humor and drama have never been more important.

If your team is more business than fun (as most professional marketers tend to be), then hire a professional videographer, a comedian or a screen writer to produce and edit your next line of content. Or maybe even your agency (the horror!).

You know, maybe Miley Cyrus is on to something (ignoring “content quality” for a second).


Step 2: learn how to navigate new, hidden (& fatal) obstacles.


Once published in a million channels, your content will have to make it through a variety of customer media filters that are being built right now between you and your customer.  

Hundreds of millions of people today are using new personal media curation platforms to uncover the most relevant content from their fast-moving streams – and to filter out the crapSome of the more popular ones used today include Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Feedly and Flipboard (90mm users).

The dance step you need to learn here is simple: learn how to optimize & publish your content so they shine in these platforms.

For example, Flipboard accepts optimized RSS feeds, so your articles can look and feel like they were published in a magazine.

Step 3:  turn new technology into a competitive advantage

In addition to dealing with changing audience behavior, you will also need to learn how to publish content that will naturally rank well in the new search models and algorithms that are coming online, right now.

If you don’t learn how to adapt to this sea change in search technology, then your content risks being ignored – even if it’s awesome.

Magnetic fields draw salmon to spawning grounds...Embargoed to 2200 Monday December 1. File photo dated 14/09/2008 of an Atlantic Salmon jumping in the Could on the Ettrick river near Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Issue date: Monday December 1, 2008. One of nature's greatest mysteries could be about to be solved after scientists today revealed a new theory on how salmon find their way home. Salmon and some species of sea turtle migrate vast distances back to the places they hatched in order to reproduce. Marine biologists on the study propose that once turtles and salmon reach adulthood they use the magnetic field and the imprinted magnetic memory of their birthplace, learnt in infancy, to navigate home in a process called natal homing. See PA story SCIENCE Salmon. Photo credit should read: David Cheskin/PA Wire

New Search Algorithms

Among the more important hidden forces you’ll need to turn to your advantage are new search algorithms that Google, Apple and Facebook are building right now.

For example, consider latent search.

Latent search is what happens when Google doesn’t wait for you to enter a search query, but instead relies on environmental data (mobile apps) and historical data (your cookie trail) to know what you’re doing right now and recommend an action or content that might be helpful… without requiring you to lift a finger or enter a query.

To crunch this data, Google uses machine learning, semantic markups and natural language processing – to name a few.

The most important thing you need to understand about latent search is that it prioritizes content based on user behavior, user context & entities – not keywords.

Latent search also uses data collected on our mobile devices, a trend that is growing very quickly.

Latent search algorithms are more complex and harder to understand than Page Rank. And, if Google’s most recent change to keyword visibility is an indication, we may soon have to navigate these currents with even less information than we have now.

Clearly, old-style SEO tricks won’t cut it anymore.

According to Google, to rank well in their search platform, you will need to build content that:

  • addresses a specific problem or otherwise provides significant value for the user
  • is formatted to work on the user’s device (e.g., if for mobile then it should be short & to the point, load fast, responsive, etc.)
  • relates to entities (not keywords) that the user cares about

To learn more about this subject, check out Eric Engel’s great Copyblogger article that describes how Hummingbird, semantic search and context are changing the face of search – and why quality, helpful content is a prerequisite for ranking high.

Mobile and Wearable Computing

If you think your audience has attention deficit problems today, then you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The wide variety of mobile & wearable computing devices coming to market now will soon account for more than 1/2 of online impressions.

Each type of device – smartwatch, eyeglass, tablet and smartphone – fills a different role in our lives, which argues for a future in which different types of content may be required for each. 

And, clearly, high-quality blog posts aren’t the answer for mobile/wearable computing. Long-form posts don’t work on a smartwatch.

There are some common “content themes” emerging for mobile devices, however. 

Most mobile & wearable devices provide a lot less screen space to engage people, and they are used mainly when people are time-pressed, so they average less viewing time.

This argues for a future full of bite-sized chunks of content delivered as-needed, in a highly personalized way.

Google Now is a real product that provides a glimpse into the way online marketing might work on mobile/wearable devices in the future:


Think:  bite-sized, actionable, alert-like, personalized ways to answer a question or deliver an answer.

Here are a few more mobile-related technologies that are coming soon that you should start learning about now – before they impact your journey upstream:

  • cookie-less ad targeting
  • mobile-ready content: useful, minimal and responsive
  • in-app publishing (Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP)
  • click-to-call marketing (back to the future – with phone calls!)
  • wearable computing apps (smart watches & Google Glass)


Is your content ready to master the “Salmon Dance”?

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