Scrying the Web
This year alone, we’ve seen several major changes to the way Google ranks a page in Google Search. In January, Google incorporated the “Panda” filter into their core search algorithm, giving increased prominence to semantically-driven search (i.e., search based on real human language) and downgrading so-called “thin” pages and repeated content. In June, the “Rank Brain” algorithm shook things up yet again.
In nearly every update, Google has prioritized on-page semantic content—actual words on the page—over more obvious SEO-targeting fields. While keywords in your metadata, tags, and headers still matter, they continue to decrease in importance and are no longer the best way to think about your presence on the web.
Though Google may not own the Internet, by being the biggest gorilla in the room it certainly gets to throw its weight around, and this Queen Kong has roared on behalf of the content.
Rethink content: managing, publishing, and consuming
A good CMS takes years to develop, but a new frontend with new content displays can change very quickly. With Google continuing to revise and update its search methods, you need a site that isn’t just reacting to changes in the digital landscape, but already prepared for the twists and turns we know are coming.
For example, take so-called “mobile-first” design. While mobile-first is a good design philosophy, actually thinking in terms of a mobile display vs a desktop display for your content is already a step behind—Amazon Echo doesn’t even have a display and VR technology like Oculus Rift ensure that new kinds of content delivery are popping up every day. So when your CMS is coupled to a specific display, the display will almost always lag behind what’s possible, and your site will feel stale as a result.
There’s always going to be a tension between design and CMS—i.e., that idea is really cool, and it would be great, but it’s really hard to do. Goodness knows we’ve all avoided updating our website simply because wrangling all the minor changes that a new CMS might generate for the frontend displays can feel like hell. The best way to think about the frontend now is as a multiple: not as the frontend, but as a frontend, one of many for many kinds of display: web, iOS, Roku, Echo, etc.
Thinking about display is great, but everything still has to start with content.
We need to think about not just content strategy, which addresses what you’re trying to say and how you’re saying it, but also content modeling: asking what the underlying structure of your content is and how you can make that content easier to distribute in platform- and display-agnostic ways.
We need to divorce the substance of the content from the presentation of the content. A video may be watched, heard, or read in transcript form. We can’t control what the user does, so we need to think about how to focus on the content itself beyond the presentational wrapper of that content. Similarly, we must design for experiences, not just devices, because we don’t know or get to decide how people use their devices.
What, then, is the future of content? What will become of our notions of frontend vs backend or CMS vs design?
In my upcoming webinar, The Future of the CMS, I’ll talk about the concept of “headless” or “decoupled” architecture as a way to separate the medium from the message. I’ll talk about what’s on the horizon for web design and content management, and I’ll give you some specific insights into our work with content APIs and decoupled CMS for TWiT.tv, and how we worked with NBC.com to build the first-ever Amazon Echo “skill” for a broadcast television network.
I can’t wait to see you next Wednesday!
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