The major update in the Google search algorithm, Hummingbird, is not only going to affect the SEO/SEM profession and the online media industry, as I wrote about last week. It's going to have a major effect on branded content development within corporations.
As things were under the old search technology, the branded content movement put current and former advertisers in direct competition with the media supporting their industry for audience engagement. A reader could put in a few keywords and would find links to both media and corporation content and the reader would have to guess at which was the most appropriate. That won't work anymore.
As I have been saying for several months, keywords mean nothing now. The context of the searcher means everything. Google has been collecting data on users for over a decade now and the Hummingbird algorithm takes all of that into account, along with the data of each user's sphere of influence that ranges from family members to everyplace they may have worked. The contextual web we've been talking about for several years is here. Time to get with the new paradigm (and I highly recommend you pick up "The Age of Context" by Scoble and Israel as soon as possible).
So when a searcher types in a word in the search bar, Google isn't going to be looking for that word. It's going to be looking at that word on the basis of what the searcher has looked for in the past, what has been shared/liked/plussed, what has been discussed, what has been dwelt on for several minutes and then responded to. Searchers are not going to be typing in corporate messages, or tag lines or product names in the beginning. They are going to be moved to concepts. Similarly, if an online publication keeps it's content from being readily available on the web, the searcher isn't going to find it, as I said last week. The searcher is going to find the content that the publisher (be it media group or corporation) makes available widely and with knowledge of what the market is searching for.
I realize this is a very hard concept to get. A company I'm advising right now about content development gave me a list of subjects they want to make content about. I asked them how they knew the customers wanted to know about these subjects. "We have no way of knowing that," was the reply. This same company had been given an overall grade of C in a study on the best uses of social media. They are using every single, potential avenue for pushing out content, but they are not taking advantage of the measurement tools to adapt their content to what their audience wants. In some cases, they don't even have the options to comment or share content available to their audience, which means they actually don't know what the audience wants.
Much marketing strategy in almost every industry is sheer guesswork and, in the past, that was the best you could do. Hummingbird changes that. The web is now more collaborative than competitive and your content strategy must have an element of collaboration in it. You have to start paying attention to the context of your customer base because one of your competitors is going to figure that out really soon and is going to bury you.