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Bottom-Up SEO Strategy: Why Keyword-First SEO is Wrong

Pain point SEO focuses on solving a problem the user may be facing. An SEO strategy that doesn’t take a keyword-first approach may be what you are missing.

I use tools for SEO audit research all the time. But one of the best ways to do research for SEO (and I’ve said this before but it bears repeating) is to go directly to the source: Google itself.

By using Google, you can do a search and find out what Google thinks you want. Tools help make the process efficient, but if you want to see quickly what Google thinks, going straight to the source gives you a ton of great information.

I mention this for two reasons.

First, Google actually tells us what they want.

It’s called the Google Search Quality Raters Guidelines. Now, it’s only a guide. It doesn’t tell the full story as Google doesn’t want to give away the store for fear black-hatters find holes they can exploit or ways to game the system.

But the guide gives us a great understanding of some of the key metrics Google is looking for.

I’ve said before that, to rank well, you need to create quality content. But how you define quality is based on relevancy and value to the user. It’s not about just posting a piece of content you think is good. It’s about posting a piece of content that’s good in the eyes of your audience. Not Google.

For example, according to the rater’s guidelines, Google has human raters who measure the effectiveness of the search results using two criteria: Page Quality (PQ) rating and Needs Met (NM) rating.

That’s what I meant by “relevance” and “value.”

Your content is considered “quality content” if it’s relevant to the user who did the search on Google (i.e., it matches their search intent and therefore meets their needs), and it’s valuable to them (i.e., it’s helpful, insightful, actionable, etc). The more value it offers, the greater its page quality rating will be.

Quality, in terms of the raters guidelines, is based on a host of factors and subject to interpretation. That’s why “quality content” is subjective. The only way to measure it is to ask, “Does this content match what the user is looking for and really helps them?”

To rank on the search engines, the goal is simple: aside from user experience (UX), simply provide good content — content that users find relevant and valuable. And to rank higher on the search engines, simply provide better content — content that’s more relevant and more valuable than others.

No, it has nothing to do with length (e.g., number of words). It has nothing to do with sophistication (e.g., academic-level language). And above all, it has nothing to do with keywords (e.g., forced inclusion or keyword stuffing).

So the two things that you need to pay attention to that will make a world of difference in your SEO audit, as a plastic surgeon or aesthetic practitioner, are these:

  • User search intent (UI),
  • Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT).

Understanding and matching your content to UI adds to its relevance while providing content that has stronger EAT adds to its value. The better these two are, and the better it can do so in relation to other results that come up for the same queries, then the better the chances of ranking higher will be.

The second reason is that it turns SEO upside down.

Last week, amid all the Black-Friday/Cyber-Week hoopla, I watched two videos that I suggest you watch, too.

The first one was an old presentation from 2016 by Google Engineer Paul Haar who discusses how Google works. The part of his talk I liked best is when he discussed “scoring signals.” It’s a great peek “behind the curtains” (just a little) to see how queries are rated over at Google.

But what struck me from that talk is that human raters are not the only ways they gauge the quality of a result. They use live experiments. Specifically, they conduct A/B split tests. All. The. Time.

When you consider that there over 3,000 queries per second, split-tests can reveal a lot of information. And when we use Google, we are not only tapping into the Internet Zeitgeist but also getting a better understanding of how users use Google and what they want.

Google does a lot of different split-tests, but the one that caught my attention is when they do it is to serve two different results for a query.

They see how many people click on one result in the top spot for a certain query. They swap it for another for the same query and compare clickthrough rates (CTRs). One getting more clicks than the other may indicate that one result more closely matches what people are looking for.

The second video was more recent.

Grow and Convert are SaaS content marketers and SEO audit experts, and they really focus on content and the quality of your content when it comes to optimizing for the search engines and boosting conversions. I like their approach because I despise backlink begging, which is the riskiest part of SEO.

Their approach, which I’m a big fan of, is called “pain-point SEO.”

Typical SEO does this:

  1. Find keywords based on assumptions,
  2. Select highest volume keywords, and
  3. Create content around those keywords.

But Grow and Convert flips that on its head.

  1. Find out what pain points users have,
  2. Create content around solving them, and
  3. Find keywords to map content to user intent.

I absolutely love this approach.

Granted, they use this for SaaS companies. But this could very well apply to plastic surgeons and cosmetic medicine, too.

Prospective patients conduct a lot of research before approaching a cosmetic surgeon. They’re trying to fix a problem, gauge the effectiveness of various solutions, choose a solution, and find the best provider of that solution. These are part of the stages of awareness (i.e., my OATH formula).

Here’s the video that I’m talking about. It’s an interview with Bernard Huang, the co-founder of Clearscope. Bernard describes a simple truth: that different queries deserve different optimizations that appeal to the user.

He reveals how to rank using this flipped approach, which drives the concept of creating quality content over other SEO audit approaches like keywords or backlinks.

In essence, it’s user-first SEO audit rather than keyword-first SEO audit — the way most SEOs have been doing it for ages.

User-first SEO is also the way I’ve been doing SEO and the approach I’ve been trying to hammer so often through my own content. In fact, watch the video. It’s amazing. Bernard shares his desktop and does live experiments to prove his point. You also get to see how a user-driven SEO expert thinks.

Now, he does get a little geeky, but the point is this.

You can learn what users want (and what Google thinks they want) by looking at what Google is doing and paying attention to what results it provides (and in the order it provides them) to determine intent-driven topics to write about.

Simply, it’s a bottom-up approach. And it’s better.

In short, create good content users want and provide a good experience users appreciate, and you will have patients beating a path to your door.

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By Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is an SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor. For the better part of 30 years, he helped hundreds of thousands of professionals and businesses increase their online visibility. He is the Director of Search at seoplus+, an award-winning digital marketing agency in Ottawa, Canada. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.