What was the focus of the project?
The focus of the project was to experiment and discover the best practices in content development that incorporate Google’s stated preferences—and likely metrics for—quality content. We developed and tested a procedure for keyword development and content management built from published preferences, and demonstrated its execution.
What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc.?
The ultimate goal was to find the most cost-effective strategy to create and promote online content. We wanted to find the most work and cost-efficient content operation steps that aligned to best practices as defined by Google’s algorithm structure, especially with regard to behavioral changes engendered by increased mobile phone use. We also developed a strong behavioral tracking process that adheres to current understanding of Google’s RankBrain algorithm.
What were your findings?
Almost all internet phenomena are shaped by the nature of the network—what Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz called “large scale, small-world networks.” We found that the word choices audiences make are also shaped by network structure. One typical finding is that 80% of searches for a specific topic will use only 20% of the keywords associated with that topic. As you would expect, the competition to advertise using those few keywords is very intense. What we developed next was the most economical strategy to use both high and low-cost keywords in content optimization, in conjunction with social media and paid promotion. We tested the strategy by developing a complete content optimization plan for a client in New York City and measuring outcomes.
What do you think are the implications for the discipline/profession?
The industry has known for a long time that digital platforms are redefining how people find, consume and pay for media. And innovators are always trying to add new channels and platforms for media delivery. We believe that professional communicators must have integrated and strategic approaches to manage the way media and content are distributed and monetized, and this research was an attempt to begin systematically building and improving a strategic management framework.
What do you think are the implications for the general public?
Ultimately what we’re trying to do is make sure that the people who are vested in quality content creation—who are devoted to building “skill in the arts of expression”—have a significant say in what content the general public sees and consumes. One of the biggest challenges for online content creators is that Google is constantly modifying its core search engine algorithms to better reflect the changing desires of end-users, but also to fit their secret ideas about what makes good content. We want to give the best content creators the best chance to reach the many different audiences who use digital media.
If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?
Innovation is constant in digital media—we like to say that it’s called New Media precisely because there is constant renewal. That means the model we developed must be regularly tested and updated to reflect what we think we know about the quality of content, and the audience data that drives its value.