Are We Making SEO Too Complicated?
Content and links — to successfully leverage search as a marketing channel you need useful content and relevant links. Many experienced SEOs have run numerous tests and experiments to correlate backlinks with higher rankings, and Google has espoused the importance of “great content” for as long as I can remember. In fact, a Google employee straight up told us that content and links are two of the three (the other being RankBrain) most important ranking factors in its search algorithm.
So why do we seem to overcomplicate SEO by chasing new trends and tactics, overreacting to fluctuations in rankings, and obsessing over the length of our title tags? SEO is simple — it’s content and it’s links. Now, this is a simple concept, but it is much more nuanced and complex to execute well. However, I believe that by getting back to basics and focusing on these two pillars of SEO we can all spend more time doing the work that will be most impactful, creating a better, more connected web, and elevating SEO as a practice within the marketing realm. To support this movement, I want to provide you with strategic, actionable takeaways that you can leverage in your own content marketing and link building campaigns. So, without further ado, let’s look at how you can be successful in search with content and links.
1. Building the right content
The point is, everything in SEO begins and ends with content. Whether it’s a blog post, infographic, video, in-depth guide, interactive tool, or something else, content truly rules everything around us online. Content attracts and engages visitors, building positive associations with your brand and inspiring them to take desired actions. Content also helps search engines better understand what your website is about and how they should rank your pages within their search results.
So where do you start with something as wide-reaching and important as a content strategy? Well, if everything in SEO begins and ends with content, then everything in content strategy begins and ends with keyword research. Proper keyword research is the difference between a targeted content strategy that drives organic visibility and simply creating content for the sake of creating content.
2. Start with keyword research
The concept of keyword research is straightforward — find the key terms and phrases that your audience uses to find information related to your business online. However, the execution of keyword research can be a bit more nuanced, and simply starting is often the most difficult part. The best place to start is with the keywords that are already bringing people to your site, which you can find within Google Search Console. Beyond the keywords that already bring people to your website, a baseline list of seed keywords can help you expand your keyword reach. Seed keywords are the foundational terms that are related to your business and brand.
3. Expanded keyword research and analysis
The first step in keyword research and expanding your organic reach is to identify current rankings that can and should be improved. For example, the first page results for [how often should you change your toothbrush] in google search engine. As expected, the results are hyper-focused on answering the question how often a toothbrush needs to be changed, and there is a rich snippet that answers the question directly.
The title of the page isn’t optimized for the main query, and a simple title change could help this page earn more visibility. Rather than answering the question of how often to change a toothbrush concisely (like the page that has earned the rich snippet), the content is closer to ad copy. Putting a direct, clear answer to this question at the beginning of the content could help this page rank better. And that’s just one query and one page!
4. Earning real links and credibility
The other half of this complicated “it’s content and it’s links” equation is… links, and while it seems straightforward, successful execution is rather difficult — particularly when it comes to link acquisition. While there are tools and processes that can increase organization and efficiency, at the end of the day link building takes a lot of time and a lot of work — you must manually email real website owners to earn real links.
However, you can greatly improve your chances for success with link acquisition if you identify which pages (existing or need to be created) on your site are link-worthy and promote them for links. Converting pages certainly have a function on your website, but they typically have limited opportunities when it comes to link acquisition. Instead, you can support these pages — and other content on your site — through internal linking from more linkable pages. So how do you identify linkable assets? Well, there are some general characteristics that directly correlate with link-worthiness:
Usefulness — concept explanation, step-by-step guide, collection of resources and advice, etc.
Uniqueness — a new or fresh perspective on an established topic, original research or data, prevailing coverage of a newsworthy event, etc.
Entertaining — novel game or quiz, humorous take on a typically serious subject, interactive tool, etc.
Along with these characteristics, you also need to consider the size of your potential linking audience. The further you move down your marketing funnel, the smaller the linking audience size; converting pages are traditionally difficult to earn links to because they serve a small audience of people looking to buy. Instead, focus on assets that exist at the top of your marketing funnel and serve large audiences looking for information. The keywords associated with these pages are typically head terms that may prove difficult to rank for, but if your content is strong you can still earn links through targeted, manual outreach to relevant sites.
Ironically, your most linkable pages aren’t always the pages that will rank well for you in search, since larger audiences also mean more competition. However, using linkable assets to secure worthwhile links will help grow the authority and credibility of your brand and domain, supporting rankings for your keyword-focused and converting pages.
5. Putting it all together and simplifying the message
Now before we put it all together and solve SEO once and for all, you might be thinking, “What about technical and on-page SEO?!?” Technical and on-page elements play a major role in successful SEO and getting these elements wrong can derail the success of any content you create and undermine the equity of the links you secure. Let’s be clear: if Google can’t crawl your site, you’re not showing up in its search results. However, we categorize these optimizations under the umbrella of “content” within our content and links formula. If you’re not considering how search engines consume your content, along with human readers, then your content likely won’t perform well in the results of said search engines.
Research your keywords and niche – Having the right content for your audience is critical to earning search visibility and business. Before you start creating content or updating existing pages, make sure you take the time to research your keywords and niche to better understand your current rankings and position in the search marketplace. Analyze and expand keyword opportunities – Beyond understanding your current rankings, you also need to identify and prioritize available keyword opportunities.
People can wrap their minds around the simple process of creating good pages that answer a specific set of questions and then promoting those pages to acquire endorsements (backlinks). When we talk to potential and existing clients, colleagues, executives, etc., let’s keep things simple. If we focus on the two concepts that are the easiest to explain we will get better understanding and more buy-in for the work we do (it also happens that these two factors are the biggest drivers of success).
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