When it comes to SEO tools, I use tools that help improve E-A-T signals (i.e., expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) from Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines. These SEO signals are vital when it comes to the content offering expert advice from a professional.
My industry is definitely targeted. As a medical SEO consultant specializing in plastic surgery, search engines highly scrutinize my clients’ websites because many of them contain medical information.
A good example of this is May 2020’s algorithm update, where Google’s attempt to fight disinformation after COVID started had created some havoc with some medical information websites that lacked E-A-T.
Many cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons were affected. In fact, I’m currently working with a new client who saw a drop in traffic after that update.
What I Do to Help E-A-T Signals
There are many ways to improve EAT signals.
For one, I add structured data to my clients’ websites. Structured data, supplied by code called “schema markup,” is data that only Google (and Bing) can read. It offers additional information about the page beyond the content users see.
Google wants to make sure medical content is written or reviewed by someone with authority and expertise — not some tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy blogger dispensing home remedies to fight life-threatening diseases transmitted by alien lizard people bent on population control. 😉
I use TechnicalSEO.com’s schema generator to create custom structured data — data that helps identify the site owner, content author, and/or medical information reviewer (using the “reviewed by” schema, for example).
I also use schema code to highlight:
- Their profession (such as “physician,” “clinic,” and “plastic surgery”);
- Their credentials (like research papers, published articles particularly in peer-reviewed medical journals, and plastic surgery industry awards);
- And their affiliations (such as with medical and plastic surgery associations, hospitals, universities, and so on).
Moreover, structured data is more than just adding “local business” schema. I use advanced and custom structured data to include review schema, how-to schema, and local citations, such as BrightLocal.com, as there are many.
All of these help create and amplify E-A-T signals.
Content and Intent Alignment
Above all, the key to SEO is to align content with search intent and user intent (i.e., how people search and why they need the information they’re searching for). So I focus on creating and marketing higher quality content that more closely matches the user’s wants and needs.
Search intent is about what the searcher wants. They either want “to know” (informational), “to go” (navigational), or “to do” (transactional). Some SEOs consider another one, “to buy” (commercial), but that’s another type of transactional intent and more applicable to ecommerce SEO situations.
Search intent is less about the user and more about what Google thinks the user is searching for. Why is this important? Because Google may think a user’s query has informational intent. But if you’re optimizing for transactional intent, it’s like trying to swim against a raging current. You’ll never get any traction.
The way to align your content is by doing two things:
- Create content that solves your audience’s pain points.
- Or create content that answers your audience’s questions.
To find ideas for these, I start by learning what kinds of questions people ask. I often refer back to my friend and copywriting coach David Garfinkel, who said that the key to success in copywriting is to ask:
- Who is your market?
- What is their problem?
- How are they talking about it?
These three questions apply to SEO (or, more specifically, content writing) as they do to copywriting. As a plastic surgeon, you certainly know who your market is and what their problems are. But you want to know why they want to solve it. To do that, the key is to learn how they talk about it.
So I pay attention to discussion forums and Q&A sites — like Reddit, Quora, Answers.com, and social media groups. I then use question aggregators like AnswerThePublic.com and AlsoAsked.com. They curate questions people ask, categorize them, and drill them down further.
The types of questions are clues to the user’s intent. For example (and this is not meant to be exhaustive), the purpose may be for:
- Education (“To Know”)
- “Who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “which,” “how to,” or “how much.”
- “For,” “by, “to,” “from,” “at,” or “in” (followed by an adverb above).
- (Contains) “near me,” “nearby,” “here/there,” or “close to/by.”
- “In,” “on,” “at,” “around,” “through,” or “under/over” (location).
- Comprehension (“To Understand”)
- “How is,” “how will,” “how are,” “how can,” or “how do/does.”
- “Why is,” “why will,” “why are,” “why can,” or “why do/does.”
- (Contains) “for example,” “so that,” “perhaps,” or “maybe.”
- Confirmation (“To Verify/Validate”)
- “Were,” “will,” “might,” “may,” “is,” “did,” “am,” or “can.”
- (Verb followed by) “with,” “without,” “for,” “not,” or “since.”
- (Contains) “about,” “regarding,” “quite,” “just,” or “indeed.”
- (Adverbs like) “really,” “exactly,” “precisely,” or “absolutely.”
- Evaluation (“To Assess/Consider”)
- “Describe,” “show,” “list,” “explain,” “compare,” or “tell me about.”
- (Contains) “like/or,” “between/and,” “versus,” or “as opposed to.”
- (Contains) “best,” “top,” “rated,” “review,” “most,” or “proven.”
Remember, “search” intent is based on what they’re searching for (or, better said, what Google thinks they’re searching for). But “user” intent is based on understanding why users want what they’re looking for.
Knowing this provides some great insights into their level of awareness.
Look Beyond The SERPs to Dig Deeper
Finding questions is only a starting point. They give me ideas about content the audience is interested in. But now I need to know how Google interprets the query, which will help me choose specific topics (and not keywords).
This is a bit of a backward way of doing keyword research. Rather than looking for keywords to write content around, I find out their pain points or questions first. Next, I create a content plan that meets those needs. And then, I match the content with specific queries. Let’s call it user-focused SEO.
So before I create the content, I type those questions directly into Google or use search engine results (SERP) analysis tools like Ahrefs.com. I want to see what top results come up. Those are my competitors — they may or may not be direct competitors, but they occupy positions I’m aiming for.
It also shows search intent. This is critical because you don’t want to swim against the current. Google’s results may be for a different query, aimed at a different awareness stage, or filled with fierce competition.
For example, the term “facelift” is also used in home renovations and car engineering. It would be utterly useless trying to optimize for such a broad term.
Another example: larger educational sites (like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and Wikipedia) may dominate the top results. If so, the competition will be tough to outrank. Granted, it may be a viable query to optimize for, but it will also be extremely challenging to outrank these highly authoritative competitors.
Instead, I look for variations of the same question (or a longer-tail question) and repeat the process until I find a question that has potential. Often, the SERPs provide a ton of clues that go beyond the traditional blue links.
Using Google I can see, at a glance:
- Search suggestions (e.g., autocomplete suggestions in the search form, “related searches” at the bottom, “people also asked” near the top, and “people also searched for” below the right knowledge panel); and,
- Search features (e.g., ads, featured snippets, image carousels, videos, maps, knowledge panels, podcast episodes, news stories, product showcases, business listings, reviews, and so on).
Reverse-Engineering and Skyscraping
Google offers a good indication of what they think the search intent is. If the query is viable, the competition is easy, and the intent is right, Google will guide you in what type of content to create and the format to create it in.
By looking at the top results, I review their content length, style, and format, which can be a number of things (e.g., videos, visuals, documents, listicles, checklists, Q&As, tutorials, guides, roundups, and so on).
I also want to see what makes my competitors rank and try to outrank them. It’s called the “skyscraper technique,” as if you’re adding on to a skyscraper or building a new one that’s taller than your competitors.
But I also use the term “skyscraping” to mean building better content or user experiences (UX). It makes sense: what if the competitor’s content is quite long already? Studies show that length is not as important as you think.
I also want to see why a certain competitor is getting a lot of traffic. By using SEO tools, I can see all the keywords for which a competitor’s site is ranking and all the other pages that are performing well.
This is where I do a gap analysis. I want to see if there are any content gaps in my client’s site or gaps in the competitor’s site my client can exploit and build content with. Are they ranking for any keywords that my client is not?
Don’t Forget Your Own Backyard
Finally, one of the most important steps in SEO is to look at what you already have. Outranking competitors is the goal, but you don’t necessarily need to create new content. You can see if your existing content is good enough or underperforming by conducting a content audit.
I use Ahref’s plugin to determine what I need to refresh, consolidate, or prune. For example, with each piece of existing content, it tells me if I need to update it, merge it with another (to reduce keyword cannibalization, among others), or outright delete it (i.e., it’s deadweight and diluting SEO signals).
Finally, I use my favorite WordPress plugin, RankMath.com. It helps me to add schema code to each page I create (both automatically and custom), suggests internal linking opportunities to build content relationships, creates sitemaps (including video and location sitemaps), and so much more.
But the driving feature of this plugin is its content SEO scoring system. It guides me in optimizing content by offering a checklist of items to optimize for.
I don’t follow the score too strictly. It’s only arbitrary, and doing so can make your content feel robotic or unusable. I’d rather focus on my audience and on delivering good content.
But it’s a great reminder of on-page SEO elements I can optimize beyond the content itself. For example, it reminds me to add alt-text in images, insert internal links, write better meta-descriptions, add a table of contents for longer posts, use short paragraphs to help readability, and so on.
Bottom line, I use many tools to help me, but they are only tools and not meant to be exact processes to follow. In fact, some of the best SEOs out there who have a history of producing astonishing results tend to have their own set of practices and processes using a combination of SEO tools.
In the end, this Tweet from Dave Gerhart sums it up pretty nicely: