Professional marketers are coming to terms with the fact that overall visibility and semantic signals trump keywords and links.

Google’s efforts to create a web with semantic meaning didn’t come from the company’s desire to make things more organized online, although that certainly is a side effect of Hummingbird. Instead, search ranking updates are being driven by user demand. As Brafton reported, “how-to” searches shot up this year, indicating users are looking for sophisticated answers to complex questions.

Professional SEOs are catching on, and they are shifting their approaching to content marketing campaigns to concentrate on semantic answers rather than keywords and backlinks. According to the 2014 BrightEdge Search Marketer Survey, 71 percent of SEOs cite the link between search results and social sharing as the most important ranking factor in 2014.

Brands are also embracing the end of organic SERP dominance. The second-most essential ranking factor is Google Universal Search results – 57 percent of respondents felt appearing in any kind of results list, including video and images, was an important goal.

Positioning businesses in front of customers

If the majority of companies have recognized producing engaging and compelling content is the best route to SEO success, what edge can marketers gain? The answer is simple: produce the most engaging and compelling content. While there are certainly tactics companies can take to make their content more Google friendly (schema markup, posting to Google+, etc.), the bottom line is that the search engine trusts itself to find the most useful information.

This may also be why businesses are having so much trouble understanding how social signals affect Google rankings. It’s a case of the answer staring them right in the face: The content that appears in SERPs also sees fast and thorough organic sharing because of its inherent value to readers.

If there was a way to engineer posts to spread like wildfire on Facebook, Twitter or even Google+, brands would have figured it out by now. In the meantime, while businesses are trying to exploit social algorithms, the brands with engaging video, fascinating news stories and personal blog posts are cornering their markets and owning specific semantic search terms.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.