The online space is changing – again. This time, though, the change is not so much about what websites are saying, but about what they’re not saying. They’re saying less. And it’s not a “text vs. graphics” shift, as much as it is a fundamental rewrite of how we define “content.”

Rewind to the late 90s and early 2000s and website content was about one thing: the keyword. Words were important and words were king. Even when photos were at play it was still about naming those photos, alt tagging, adding description, embedding keywords. Words, words, words. And don’t get me wrong. These things are still important. But what do you do when someone is rambling? When someone is carrying on and on and on? You tune them out. You look for something more interesting in the room. The same is happening online. Lauded and boastful keywords are being silenced by two elusive items even more important: experience and meaning. And Google knows this.

The Huffington Post published a great article earlier this year, “What the Internet Looked Like in 1999.” Text, text, text. To be fair, technology has changed tremendously over the last decade to ALLOW for more rich media. Streaming audio and video add a wealth of value to websites that simply wasn’t possible. But now, such advanced features are a reality, and websites that still rely on text and keywords as the main source of search engine rank will soon need to reconsider.

Google knows that technology has changed. And more than technology, the way we search has changed. We now search with expectations, desires, entitlement.  When it comes to small business websites, what we’re seeing is a shift away from providing objects and information, to experience and meaning.

Companies must now begin to think of websites in the same manner we think of offline, brick and mortar retail establishments. Why? Because that’s good business. When you walk into a store, you have expectations of what the sales experience will be like. We want to easily navigate the store, find our item, not be bothered by overbearing staff, and have a smooth and quick checkout process. The same is true online. Our definition of “content” now extends beyond the text to encompass the buying experience. Are buttons easily visible, are menus easy to navigate, was the checkout process seamless? What was once a landscape dominated by keywords, search engine ranking is beginning to consider the overall experience and usability of a website.

But experience only gets us halfway to a conversion – to an online sale. With the sea of online stores and companies continuing to swell, buyers are narrowing down their choices to a few stores before purchasing, and price alone is not the determining factor. The new wave of millennial buyers are looking for meaning. We don’t have to get deeply philosophical here, either. Meaning at it’s core is simply making a connection. Is your website speaking to your target audience, or to everyone? The more we think like our target audience, the greater our chances of making a connection.

As you evaluate your business, think like a consumer. Think of how you like to shop. Think of how you like to find information. Flowery text will no longer entice.  Online business – like any business – is about being authentic and making a lasting connection. Increase your search engine rank not by keywords, but by being you.

Stephen Palacino