The complexity around organic content

Back 10 years ago, organic content used to be more important than today. For then, Google was probably the only trusted source of traffic in the web. People typed a couple of keywords or questions in the search field, and Google would provide back a list of organic search results organized in pages, in which page 1 was the most trusted. In case you were desperate, you would go to page 2. These were the organic results.

Google organized these results according to a powerful algorithm they developed. This algorithm would take into account on-site and off-site elements. For example, if the URL or the title of the page contained the keyword typed by the user, there was a high chance for the website to appear in the search results, not necessarily in page 1. Or if there was tons of links pointing to a single URL, that was a signal of authority and Google would rank it in a better position, closer to the first result in page 1.

Here’s an example. If you type “real estate agent in chicago”, you will see that the first results contain the keywords in the title, the description and the URL:


According to Google, there are probably up to 200 factors taken into account in order to organize search results. Most of them are secret or have been discovered by marketers working in the SEO industry.

But just like Google, we use tons of services that organize information for us. Think about Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. They produce more content in a daily basis than the one we would be able to consume even if we was not doing anything else. Say Instagram. If you follow 500 accounts and a half of them post something new in a single day, you would have 250 pictures to scroll down in your mobile phone in a single day.

But you do lots of things more and you can’t spend all your time in a single app. For that reason, a few months ago Instagram started organizing your feed based on what probably you are more interested. Before that, it was just a chronological timeline, starting with the newest picture posted by an account you was following and ending (?) with the latest one.

The same thing happened years before with Facebook and even Twitter has tried it so, by suggesting us tweets of when we were offline or people we may be interested to follow. If you think about it, we have all that much information outside, that all these services we use develop algorithms that try to remove us from the middle, so we can think less and consume more content (so we spend more time using the app).

Having a non-linear organization of content makes easier for these service providers to serve ads. An ad would be displayed according to a context based on the behavior and interests of the user and not just in the middle of everything, as it used to be in traditional media channels.

Twitter Ads, for instance, are shown at some placement that the user won’t be able to ignore

Do you remember watching the final episode of a TV show you loved and being interrupted in the best scene just to introduce commercials? Well, those TV ads were there because probably would be the moment in which people would pay more attention and also because people watching is the target audience of the product they were trying to sell.

What happens with most of the services we use in our mobile and desktop devices is the opposite: you are not interrupted of whatever you are doing, but ads are displayed in the middle of things you already like so you can’t skip them.

Said this, most of the content we consume nowadays is organized by an algorithm and probably at some moment there will be an ad, trying to monetize our attention. But if you think about it, probably 99% of content is still organic.

By the way, what is organic content?

One first, but not final, definition of organic content would be content that is not promoted. For example a Facebook ad is there because an advertiser is paying for the user to see it. But, everytime you as a user upload a picture to your timeline for your friends and family to see it, this would be considered organic content because you are not paying for that action.

Just like Gary Vaynerchuck says in the video above: “content has always been here” and most of it is what we call organic. When you type a query in Google Search, you will see 4 ads and the rest will be organic results among other information Google shows in some queries like flights, restaurants and public transport. Or if you scroll down in Facebook, most of the posts will be from friends, family or pages you already like. Only a small portion of what you see is sponsored content. Nevertheless, this is possible because in a single day probably you will open up to 20 any of these apps. Every time you open and click anything, you are feeding an algorithm with more and more information.

And this is something that you will see in all social media platforms you use:

At some moment, all these services are competing for your attention, by bringing to you high quality content and serving ads between it, just like newspapers used to do for ages.

Something interesting to consider here is that most of the content we keep consuming is organic. Probably you’ve purchased something after clicking a Facebook ad and then looking for it on Google a few days later. But the reason you was there is that you was engaged with high quality content posted by your family and friends. If content has no quality, it won’t generate engagement. This will make users to not click, abandon the service and at some moment the algorithm will stop showing what users consider not-good.

In a previous post we talked about creating high-quality content for blogs. When I say “for blogs”, it means you can create high-quality content for any available platform. Think about this: people is Instagram willing to find beautiful pictures. Why would you post a one-minute video of a show you attended? OK, probably you will get some engagement, but this engagement would be even higher if you understood how most of the people (and your own followers) interact with the app.

Pay attention the next time you open an app that provides you free content and ask yourself why some posts are in the top, why they got more likes/comments/shares/clicks and see the time they got published. Probably a post is in the top with no likes, but you are just seeing it because the account that published it share with you tons of contacts. All those contacts will see that post at some moment.

Or it may happen the opposite too: you share a link of a very interesting research you’ve just read, but none will see it because according to the algorithm people enjoy posts with just photos or text rather than links. Just a minority click on links and spend a lot of time reading and there is the chance that this people don’t take any action like liking or commenting. And if you see no reactions, there’s no way to know if your content was good (or not). Probably it was, but in the end of the day it was not shown to anyone. Remember this: not shown is different to not good.

As you can see, organic content is as complex as paid content (ads) and this reality is totally different among all possible platforms. Twitter is very different to Instagram and Facebook, to Snapchat. A 140-characters tweets that got tons of retweets and favs probably wouldn’t work if posted in Facebook (people would not even see it). On the other site, a fashion pin in Pinterest showing women clothes probably would work in Instagram. It always depends of the way content is displayed in each platform. In the end, all platforms are products doing their best to show you high quality organic content.

Picture: Beau Lebens in FlickrPictureGuardar