Google’s Phantom 2 update:

Higher SEO for content mapped to your audience’s full buying journey

By Adam Henderson

It was great to see details about Google’s latest update to their algorithm called ‘Phantom 2’, because it aligns completely with our thinking here at Odyssiant about the need for content to facilitate an audience’s full buying journey and not just a company’s sales funnel.

For those who are unaware, Google’s Phantom 2 update looks at the length of time an audience engages with a piece of content and whether they click to the next piece of content. These two signals are now regarded more important for SEO rankings than just using the right number of keywords or optimising the page title.

In contrast, current thinking and execution in the content marketing world is very company centric and largely split into 2 areas:

  1. High-level brand content that seeks to engage audiences with the goal being to get as many views/shares/likes as possible, which of course helps to raise brand awareness but little more.
  2. The second type of content is more sales focussed and talks about a particular product or service e.g. features and benefits, with a view of getting the audience to convert.

The problem with this approach to content is that it completely ignores the psychological journey an audience goes through when they purchase something. Currently brands create content based on their own agenda and then use all the tricks in the book to get it ranking as highly as possible without actually thinking about where that content sits as part of a wider buying journey and what content their audience actually needs to help them make a decision.

This approach is very much “I want to tell you X and you must listen,” instead of “what information do you need from us to help you decide.” The result to date has been content that may rank highly but as soon as it is clicked on, audiences see that is it not helpful to them and click away (high bounce rate) or they consume that piece of content in isolation and either close their window or go back to search for something else that will be more relevant (drop-off). In this scenario the audience is not really getting all the answers they wanted from their initial search, resulting in a sub-optimal search experience that Google wants to address.

What Google wants to see with the Phantom 2 update is an audience searching for something to solve a problem they have and then clicking on content that they fully engage with (read a full article, watch a full video etc), as it demonstrates the content is relevant to them and genuinely helpful. Not only do Google want audiences to fully engage, they then want them to click on more content from the same site, as it demonstrates it is a source of content the audience is willing to trust to provide them more information around their initial query (through-traffic). This is why the Phantom 2 update actively rewards content that is not just littered with keywords, has a low bounce rate, a low drop-off and a content hub with high number of average page views and through-traffic, as it means the search content and accompanying content is genuinely useful for the audience.

As well as wanting to improve search for their audience, Google also knows from previous research (Zero Moment of Truth) that people engage with on average 11 pieces of content prior to purchase, raising to 18 pieces the more considered/expensive the purchase is. As such they have recognised that audiences start their purchase journey way in advance of any traditional branded content by doing online research first, most of which starts with search that pulls in content from a variety of disparate sites. This results in a disjointed journey for an audience that is far from ideal.

Therefore, by Google now actively rewarding those brands who create genuinely helpful content that is aimed at audiences in the research phase of their journey, Google hopes that brands will start creating more helpful content much further up the funnel. As such, brands will rank much higher in search at the earliest stage of the buying process. And in addition, by being involved at this earlier stage of the journey, companies will gain valuable insight into the pain points and needs of their audience by analysing what they were searching for. This would then enable brands to influence the audience’s onward journey much more than they do now, as most of this top of funnel content is currently created by blogs, forums and news sites of which a brand has little to no control.

The real winners of Google Phantom 2 are ultimately audiences as they will start to see more helpful and relevant content being created by brands and prioritised by Google in a way that has largely been neglected to date. The brands that understand this new update and act promptly to create a suite of content that maps to their audience’s full buying journey, and not their sales funnel, are going to rank highly when potential audience’s for their product or service start doing their research.

At Odyssiant we too realised the current approach to content marketing was not addressing the needs of audiences. This is why we created an approach and content strategy platform that allows you to map out a content journey which caters to an audience in their research phase by acknowledging their current issues and then recommends the next best content based on their pain point – i.e. it maps out a content journey based on their needs and not the company’s. The key part to note is that this journey starts much earlier than most content strategies consider today. Along this journey we help brands to plan the content needed to address the fears, uncertainties or doubts an audience may have about the their problem and what other options they could take before guiding them to a psychological threshold which gets them in the frame of mind to want to start receiving the more focussed commercial orientated content. By adopting such an approach to content, brands can control the journey in a way they never would have do so before and the fact that Google is now rewarding this approach is simply the icing on the cake.

The future of content is about mapping content to your audience’s full buying journey. Google has realised this and it is about time everyone else did too.



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