Categories
SEO

Fresh Content Helps Your SEO, But Stale Content Can Hurt It

A client of mine had five different websites, all of which had separate blogs with articles. Their websites were closely related with many commonalities and overlapping topics. They wanted to improve their SEO, so my advice was to merge everything and bring all the content under one virtual roof.

Consolidating websites is often considered a best practice among SEOs, and the only time it doesn't make sense is when each site's intended audience and subject matter are completely distinct.

After the consolidation, it created an exponential effect when combined with fresh content. The increase in traffic from consolidating everything not only equaled the total traffic previously going to all websites but also doubled it.

There are several reasons for this.

Improve SEO By Updating Old Content

First, the main website had more domain authority. It was their first, which had the most indexed pages and keywords. Second, the main website had more content authority. It offered products and services but also had a substantial following and the most backlinks.

My client asked if it is a good strategy to review and fix the hundreds of posts on the newly consolidated website, and delete a bunch of redundant ones. That's when I recommended doing a content audit on the newly consolidated website.

This is a practice all SEO consultants and specialists should do from time to time. Performing a content audit is the first and most important step in creating a content marketing strategy. It will allow you to know which pages are truly unproductive, and then whether to delete, merge, redirect, or refresh them.

Of course, if you have a page that's doing well, you don't have to refresh it by rewriting it completely. All pages should be refreshed at some point as content does get stale after a while. At least from an SEO perspective.

To start, it's better to focus on the weakest links first.

Weak content can sometimes be seen as being the oldest ones. But some older content may still be quite productive. The weaker ones are those with the least traffic, the least search impressions, or the least number of backlinks. I’ll go over how to do this later. For now, the question I want to answer is, why.

There are plenty of reasons for updating old content. Non-SEO benefits, too. If you're a busy professional, you have a blog already or existing content, and you don't have a lot of time writing new stuff. So this might be useful.

Even if you choose to outsource your content writing, getting your writers or staff to refresh old content is an equally wise move.

Updated content provides your audience with fresh, updated information, which may be more useful and relevant to them. Or to borrow a term coined by my friend, the late Jay Conrad Levinson, the father of Guerilla Marketing, it's providing users with “state-of-the-moment” content.

Benefits of Refreshing Old Content

Refreshing old content has five major benefits:

  1. You increase the content's quality and length;
  2. You boost the content's stickiness (i.e., dwell time);
  3. You give users reasons to revisit your content;
  4. You invite newer backlinks and brand mentions; and,
  5. You add or widen what's called a content “moat.”

Obviously, the main benefit of refreshing old content is that it can improve SEO. It makes the content not only more timely and relevant for users, but also adds to its length, which offers additional signals.

Remember, word count is not a ranking factor. But longer articles do tend to improve SEO ranking because they help other areas, such as making the content more informative, increasing dwell times, lowering bounces, adding keyword variations, increasing keyword density, and so on.

In short, if you were looking at creating long-form content but don't have the time, expanding on an older piece of content is a viable option.

While content length is not a ranking factor, freshness certainly is.

Google uses different criteria to determine the quality of your content, and recency is one of them. Their QDF algorithm (i.e., “Query Deserves Freshness“) that looks at content freshness is one of their oldest, launched back in 2007, which hasn't been updated much since. (Oh, the irony.)

With all things being equal between two pieces of similar content, the one that will rank highest will typically be the most recent one.

True Evergreen Content is Impossible

Evergreen content is content that can be useful at any time, usable in many instances, or applicable by your audience at any stage. So to use language that's appealing to beginners and with less technical jargon that only seasoned audience members would know.

Content becomes stale over time, even when it's evergreen. No piece of content is truly 100% evergreen. Evergreen content may not need updating often, but they do deserve to be updated and probably more so than regular content.

Furthermore, the date on older content might reduce its stickiness, authority, and what's often referred to as “engagement velocity” (such as how often it's shared, talked about, commented on, etc).

Content is almost always outdated after a certain period of time. Situations change — like a worldwide pandemic, for example — that can make evergreen content a little less relevant. Plus, you may still need to update any of the links, anchors, images, case studies, statistics, findings, etc.

More importantly, updated content is also stickier.

Stickiness is helpful, not just for engaging users but also for SEO as it improves dwell time. When a searcher lands on a page that is obviously outdated (or one they've seen before), they will pogostick back to the SERPs, which tells Google your content is not what they are looking for.

Refreshed content gives users something that may be more relevant to their search. It also gives existing users a new reason to visit. It's a lot like wanting to buy a book that's updated or expanded, even though you have already read it.

Freshness is a Ranking Factor

When it comes to performance, updated content is also proven to be more productive. When a refreshed page appears in Google's search results, or when it's shared on social media, they invite higher clickthroughs. Some do this by appending a date to the headlines, such as:

“Top 10 Project Management Software For SMBs (2021)”

The new headline and content that appear in search results will be more inviting and relevant. But also, the updated timestamp communicates to searchers that your content has been updated.

Content that's more recent tends to be ranked higher. But that's with all things being equal, and you and I know that nothing is ever equal. Some older pages may rank higher if it's more relevant to the search. But other pages that are newer may attract more clicks.

People looking for the most recent results on a certain topic will scan the dates in the SERPs. Take Google's QDF I mentioned earlier. The top results were 2018 and 2019. But I chose one in 2020. How did I find it? I Googled “Query Deserves Freshness” and I clicked on the third result:

Fresh Content Helps Your SEO, But Stale Content Can Hurt It 1 | fresh content
Google results for Query Deserves Freshness, November, 2020.

The last but not the least of all the benefits of refreshing content is that it creates something called a content “moat.”

Freshness Also Creates a “Content Moat”

Just like a defensive moat around a castle that's supposed to dissuade attackers who are looking to infiltrate it, refreshing your old content and particularly regularly updating it makes it hard for others to copy you.

Of course, you should focus on providing unique, difficult-to-replicate content — content that's new, different, and offers unique insights (for example, it contains original research, case studies, success stories, specialized expertise, etc). This makes it hard for others to steal your original stuff.

But if they do, they'll only remind others of you.

Moreover, if your content is original, any duplicate content penalties will be given to the culprit. There are no “penalties” per se, but Google will attribute the highest authority to the original author or creator. Google's software is sophisticated enough to determine who's the original author of a work.

Now, let's say a competitor takes bits and pieces of your content, and perhaps rewords them enough to make them appear unique. Even though it's still similar to yours, regularly refreshing old content keeps you a step ahead of them.

Content, in itself, is easy to imitate. From copying and pasting text to stealing ideas. But content is always unique makes it harder to imitate.

So build a moat around your content by updating it.

Ultimately, by refreshing old content you will not only improve SEO but also stay a step ahead of the competition. The question is, how do you know which content to refresh? If you have hundreds or thousands of pieces, which ones deserve your “freshness” attention?

How to Conduct an SEO Content Audit

Refreshing content is key, but doing so within a defined content strategy will give you the proper action plan on what to update, how to update, and why.

Updating means adding, consolidating, even deleting unproductive pages. It can result in a massive improvement. If you've been posting content for a while, chances are many pages are outdated and diluting SEO signals, and some may create more of a distraction than a positive user experience.

But you need to be strategic and plan this carefully as to not lose the momentum you've gained from consolidating your websites. For example, you don't want to accidentally delete a high-ranking page or one that may seem to rank low only because it’s competing with other blog posts.

So before you begin, I recommend following these four key steps.

1. Create an Inventory of All Your Pages

Take an inventory of all your posts and place them in a spreadsheet. This is so you can properly track things and create a plan for them when combining posts, deleting some, and redirecting them.

You can do this by crawling your site with tools like Screaming Frog. I typically copy and paste from the post-sitemap file. This will be the basis for your content audit and the master document you will refer back to.

Next, cross-compare this inventory with pages found on Google and the level of visibility each one possesses. Visit Google Search Console for your website where you will be able to verify the performance of those pages in Google.

(If you haven't claimed your website on GSC yet, do so. In the case of my client, we did a site migration of multiple websites into one. So it might take some time before Google processes the “change of address” and consolidates all the pages. That's why it would have been wiser to do the audit before the move.)

In GSC, go to “Performance” or “Search Results” in the sidebar, filter based on the last 12 months, and export using the “export” button in the top-right corner.

Your spreadsheet will contain several sheets or tabs. Choose the “Pages” tab where you will be able to see the list of pages from your website with the number of impressions and clicks they received.

Note that some pages that are recently deleted and redirected might still show up. You might want to merge these numbers together with the current page. Also note that you should exclude posts younger than six months to a year as they may not have gained enough traction.

2. Determine Your Least Productive Pages

In this next step, you want to determine your least productive content — you might want to ignore key pages like contact or legal pages. By using the GSC performance report, you will be able to filter your posts based on impressions (i.e., visibility), and then sort the list from the least visible pages to the most.

Next, you will need to know the total traffic each page received as well as any backlinks it has. The reason is to determine how productive your pages are. Productive pages or posts are those with:

  1. Traffic (pageviews)
  2. Visibility (impressions)
  3. Authority (backlinks)

Or any combination of the above.

Some posts may not have any rankings, but they may get a lot of internal traffic, traffic from other websites, or direct traffic. Some may have no traffic at all but a lot of backlinks. If they're high-quality links, you don't want to lose those.

Speaking of which, while you're in GSC, scroll down and click on “links” in the left sidebar. These are links from and to your website. Then visit the “external” links page, where you will be able to export once again.

Next, you need to export your pageviews from your analytics (if you use Google Analytics, simply go to “Behavior” in the sidebar, “Site Content,” and then “All Pages”). You can export it to a spreadsheet and cross-compare the results to your early search performance spreadsheet.

Be aware that if you have a lot of content, so you may want to limit to the last 12 months and 5,000 pages at most.

The final step is to bring it all together. Unless you know how to do VLOOKUPs, create a separate spreadsheet where you will list all your pages, a column for total impressions, another for total pageviews, and another for total backlinks.

3. Score The Productivity Level of Each Page

Add another column, which will be your score. Your score will be the recommended action for this page. I simply score each of the three KPIs (i.e., pageviews, impressions, and backlinks) on a scale of low to high. Use the the pages with the highest and lowest numbers for each to guide you.

Each page will have a combination of scores that will determine the course of action. Your spreadsheet will look something like this:

Page (URL)ImpressionsPageviewsBacklinksAction
/blog/url-1/HighHighHighRemain
/blog/url-2/HighHighLowRemain
/blog/url-3/HighLowLowRefresh
/blog/url-4/LowLowLowRemove
/blog/url-5/LowLowHighRedirect
/blog/url-6/LowHighHighReview
/blog/url-7/LowHighLowReview
/blog/url-8/HighLowHighRefresh

Looking at all three scores will tell you to do one of five things:

  1. Keep the page as is (let the content remain);
  2. Delete it completely (remove it, it's deadweight);
  3. Delete it but redirect it to another page;
  4. Refresh it (update or consolidate it with another);
  5. Or review it to see if the content offers value to users:
    • If the content doesn't provide value, delete and redirect.
    • If the content offers value, refresh, merge, or redirect.

If the content gets a lot of traffic but doesn't rank well, see if it's a case of two or more pages competing with each other. Pages ranking for the same search terms may split the SEO signals between them. This is keyword cannibalization, which devalues the authority of your most relevant page.

It's perfectly fine to have multiple pages ranking for the same keywords, as long as a primary page (i.e., pillar page or parent topic page) has all the authority and relevance, and other pages are generating more traffic with other keywords for which they are more relevant.

But if two or more pages are ranking for the same keywords and focus on the same topic, then you may be competing with yourself. One is stealing half the visibility from another. So, you have one of three choices:

  • If the other pages are very similar and cover the same topic, delete and redirect them to the one you're keeping using 301 redirects.
  • If they're different but closely related (such as related topics or subtopics), merge them into a longer page, preferably into the main page you decided to keep. Then delete and redirect the old one to the newly consolidated page. You might need to edit them to make them fit.
  • If they're different and completely unrelated, refresh them with the goal of switching the competing keyword or topic to a different one.

4. Update Underperforming Pages Accordingly

Once you're done with the above, you can start updating your old content. Delete the those slated for deletion, redirect those deleted ones whose backlinks you want to preserve, and update the content where indicated.

You refresh your content by editing it or adding to it. You can make it more timely with updated data, new sources, and relevant information. Add new images and supporting visuals. Above all, pay attention to the structure and update the headings, particularly the main headline (H1).

If your blog shows publication dates and a post is slightly modified, it's good practice to show the last-modified date on the front-end instead of the date it was first published. But if the post has been significantly altered, update the publication date to when you made the change (like today, for example).

This will put the post back at the top of your blog as if it was newly published. Not only does it drive more attention, but it also signals to search engines that the post was updated, forces a recrawl, and above all, updates the date that appears in search results, which boosts clickthroughs.

Now, how you update the content is a little subjective.

You can expand, edit, remove, and/or rewrite where it makes sense. You can either make the content more evergreen and relevant, or modernize the messaging to fit today's trends, context, or your audience's needs.

But if you need ideas, here are some suggestions and best practices.

Apply On-Page (HTML) Updates

If you need to focus on a new topic or keyword, then you need to update the meta-data, schema, on-page assistance tools (like an SEO plugin such as Rank Math or Yoast), and possibly the post's URL to include the new keyword.

(This is assuming you have already optimized these already for a previous keyword. If you haven't, then this is your chance to apply some technical SEO.)

Let's cover these in more detail.

Metadata (Titles and Descriptions)

Typically, this is your title tag and your description tag (often called “meta tags”). Your SEO plugin will be helpful. Metadata is not a ranking factor, but a refreshed title and description often appear in search engine results and can invite better clickthroughs.

Open Graph (OG) Data

Open graph protocol data (or “OG meta tags“) is the content that appears when sharing your article on third-party platforms, such as social media. If you don't have written OG tags, then the platform may arbitrarily pull excerpts and images from your content that may be wrong or inappropriate.

Better not leave it to chance. SEO plugins can help here, too. As with other metadata, OG data won't directly affect your rankings, but it may help increase your clickthrough rates (or CTRs). And higher CTRs have been long speculated to contribute positively to higher rankings.

Structured Data (Schema Markup)

Often called “schema markup,” structured data tells search engines about the type of content (such as an article, a product, an event, a place, a recipe, and so forth). Again, most SEO plugins do this for you. But there are other schema-only plugins and tools to help you create and add code.

Page URL (or “Permalink”)

Rewriting your post URL or “permalink slug” isn't always necessary. There's also a lot of debate among blog SEO experts regarding how much weight URLs provide if any. But including your main keyword in the URL can let Google know what your content is about and also provide eye gravity in search results.

If you have updated the slug, don't forget to 301-redirect the old URL to let Google know of the post's new location so it won't lose any rankings. I use my SEO plugin's redirection feature, but there are several others, too.

One common SEO tip is to use shorter URLs and removing stop words (e.g., articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, etc). While shorter URLs are still important, stop words can help. Reason is, the natural language processing software that determines intent relies on some stop words for context.

Update and Refresh The Content Itself

Obviously, you can add more up-to-date information, rewrite it to fit a more modern context, and choose to make it more timely or evergreen. For example, some of my decade-old posts discuss websites that are now defunct or have moved, or practices that have fallen out of common use. (Google+ anyone?)

But if you need some ideas or inspiration, here are a few.

Rewrite Headline (H1)

I typically do this only after I updated my content. I may have a better headline in mind, or I may have slightly changed the content's angle. This is true if I have a new keyword, too, which I want to include in the headline. If the content is timely, I may want to add the date or the word “updated” in the headline.

Update or Add Headings

Breaking your content up and adding headings throughout provides three significant benefits: 1) it makes the content more readable and easier to pull in scanners; 2) it adds blog SEO potential by including keywords; 3) and it gives both search engines and users an idea of the content that follows.

Keywords and Topics

Optimize your content around the keyword or topic, particularly if you have chosen a new one. The goal is not to stuff your content with keywords but to focus on the topic, the relevance, and above all, the user. Add content around subtopics, related topics, or semantically related keywords where appropriate.

Statistics and Data

Statistics change regularly. There are always new regulations, studies, research findings, etc. So if you have statistics or research data in your content, is it still relevant? Are there newer, fresher, better ones? If you don't have any, consider adding supporting data, research, or statistics to your content.

Sources and References

Add any helpful references to support your content. Always cite your sources, obviously. If you used references previously, it might be wise to update your references and sources, too. They may have moved or changed, or the links might be broken or redirecting to a newer version.

New Research Findings

Adding your own research is just as important as adding external references, if not more so. Google looks for original research in content with their quality guidelines. So if you've done previous research but have new findings or need to update your conclusions, now's the opportunity to refresh them.

Quotes From Other Sources

Add quotes that support your content or argument. Quotes give your content 1) confirmation, 2) credibility, and 3) commentary. They support your arguments while adding additional content. If another expert supports you, quote them. It adds recognition and emphasizes your authority.

Use Cases and Case Studies

Social proof is the most impactful form of substantiation. Don't be afraid to add them. Testimonials and results are great, but case studies are the most believable, even when they're anonymous. The reason is, they provide context and are more measurable, quantifiable, realistic, and time-bound.

Supporting Visuals

Adding visuals help SEO, whether they're graphics, images, screenshots, portable media, or multimedia. They create anchors that stop scanners. They improve dwell times and CTRs. Above all, they require readable data (called “alternate” or “alt” text), which can include relevant content and keywords.

Calls-to-Action (CTAs)

Of course, keeping your readers means you also need to be engaging them — and not just educating them. If your content alludes to products, services, or subscriptions you offer, or suggests other content on your website, then directly or indirectly ask your audience to take action

Internal and External Links

Internal links are critical for your SEO. Since the time you've originally published the older content, you may have posted new topically related content that may make sense to link to. For link suggestions, some plugins and SEO research tools can show you linking opportunities.

Or you may have external links that are outdated, broken, or redirected on the other end that you might need to update. I use a broken link checker to identify broken links. There are WordPress plugins and a few free tools online.

Ultimately, refreshing old content may not only breathe new life into them but also have a few major side benefits, such as increasing the content's SEO that may even end up surpassing its previous performance. But it raises your authority, keeps you relevant, and strengthens your content “moat.”

Categories
SEO

How to Get Backlinks? Stop Chasing Them

As an SEO professional, I'm not a big fan of building links or, better said, chasing them. I know; this is one of the most utilized methods in SEO. Most SEO experts out there talk about building backlinks as immensely important to SEO.

They're 100% right. Links are important.

But building them can be a risky business.

Google's John Mueller outright said that most attempts at building links are unnatural and despised by the search engine. Asking other websites to link back to yours seems a little sleazy to me. Granted, there are ways to do this ethically, of course. But it's still risky.

Most reputable SEO experts agree. Bruce Clay, the grandfather of SEO, outright said that building links unnaturally runs the risk of being penalized by Google. I've worked with many clients whose rankings dropped as a result of being engaged in questionable link-building practices.

The solution is to earn and attract links back to your site naturally.

That's where content marketing comes in. After all, it makes sense: post a really good piece of content on your own site, and promote that instead of links. If people like it, they will link to it.

Not only that, but it will create a compounding effect. People will talk about it. They will share it. They will post their thoughts about it. They will write their own articles sourcing it. This, in turn, will reach other people who have never heard of you, and they will talk about it and link to it, too. And so on.

In fact, Google also pays attention to “mentions,” sometimes just as much as they do backlinks. Also called “brand mentions, they are often referred to as implied links. (I'll come back to this later as it is important.)

But there's one important side benefit to content marketing.

Content Amplifies Your Credibility

Content marketing is often called “content amplification” in SEO circles. The reason is, by amplifying content (e.g., promoting it, sharing it, advertising it, repurposing it, spoonfeeding it, etc), you not only reach a wider audience, but also it helps to amplify SEO signals, too.

But content amplifies a lot more:

  • It establishes you as an authority in your field.
  • It creates more awareness of your brand and your business.
  • It attracts ideal prospects, patients, and clients to your business.
  • It helps to prequalify your prospects before they approach you.
  • It advances the sale and lowers buyer resistance.
  • It creates less cognitive dissonance once they buy from you.
  • It cuts through the clutter and bypasses ad blockers.
  • It distinguishes you as a trustworthy thought leader.
  • It communicates and solidifies your value proposition.
  • It positions you above your competition in the mind of your market.
  • It attracts opportunities for creating strategic marketing alliances.

I could go on and on. You get the picture.

All this amplifies something essential in SEO, especially with plastic surgeons. And that's credibility. Because of Google's quality guidelines of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, or E-A-T, credibility is crucial.

In 2006 at the height of the dotcom boom, when all people cared about was traffic and conversions, I wrote about the third missing element in marketing (i.e., building credibility is just as important as building traffic and sales).

A few years later, Google cracked down on less-than-credible websites with its updates (called “Panda” and “Penguin,” which devalued poor content and poor backlinks, respectively). Literally, millions of websites lost traffic and rankings overnight. It killed many businesses, too.

Back then as today, it made sense to me that trying to game the system in any way, shape, or form is going to come back and bite you.

This is why as an SEO consultant, I believe that…

Building Credibility > Building Links

You can work hard at building traffic and sales. But if you don't build credibility, your practice will not grow as fast as you wish, you will stagnate, or you will be virtually non-existent ⏤ let alone crushed by competitors.

Build content. Build more content. Build good content. Do so and you will build credibility as a byproduct, which is far more powerful. You will attract backlinks naturally. More importantly, you will attract better backlinks, too.

This brings up an important point: another reason why building credibility is more important than building backlinks is the issue of quality versus quantity.

Does the quality of inbound links matter? Quantity helps, for sure. But a site with less but higher quality backlinks will almost always outrank one with a ton of lesser quality backlinks. By focusing on building credible content, you will also increase the likelihood that more authoritative sites will link to you.

The more credible you are, the more credible your backlinks will be.

One of the most common tactics for SEO, which many SEO experts swear by, is to build as many backlinks as possible. In fact, some of the most prominent SEO agencies out there (I won't mention names, but they have a popular YouTube channel) tout that building backlinks is the most important SEO strategy.

However, I disagree.

Backlink Quantity or Quality Backlinks?

There are two SEO schools of thought on the subject of backlinks:

  1. Having a higher backlink quantity is more important;
  2. Having higher quality backlinks is more important.

Some SEOs will say both are just as important, while others will say it's neither.

Before we go further, let's define “quality.”

What is a quality backlink? For some, it's a backlink from a site with a lot of high rankings, a lot of traffic, or a lot of backlinks itself — in fact, some SEO research tools offer scores based on these and similar factors.

But these scores are just guides created by these tools and not Google. Regardless, some will specifically chase a backlink from sites with a high “domain authority” score, like one with a DA score of 50/100 or higher.

For example, here's mine from Ahrefs as of today, where UR or “URL rating” is 52/100 (i.e., the home page), and DR or “domain rating” is 55/100. (And yes, I get spammed by these link-seekers all the time.)

MichelFortin.com domain authority score and SEO backlinks profile.
MichelFortin.com domain authority score and SEO backlinks profile.

But is it better to focus on getting top-rated backlinks? Or on as many backlinks as possible, regardless of score? Are you of the SEO school of thought that says it's better to have 50 authoritative backlinks than 5,000 more-or-less good ones? Or are you of the other that says the converse?

Either way, you have to do what I call “backlink begging.”

What I consider to be “quality” are backlinks from authoritative websites with great recognition and rankings. In other words, they have credibility. Often, backlinks from a credible website will provide (or, better said, pass on) that credibility to the site it's linking to.

Speaking of which, there's the issue of “dofollow” and “nofollow.” Meaning, should backlinks be “dofollow” so that the SEO signal (or “link juice”) is passed on to its destination? It's basically a link telling search engines to please “follow and consider this site to be as credible.”

Google has often said that links that are less than natural — which is a major point of contention among SEOs — are fine as long as they are set as “nofollow.”

Break Free From The Burden of Backlinks

My contention is that focusing on backlinks can chain you down.

I understand that some SEO experts have dissected this to a science and have weighed on either side of the spectrum. I also understand that links, in general, are good SEO signals, regardless of where on that spectrum they happen to be.

But there is something to keep in mind: links are signals. They are not indicators or gauges. They only suggest to search engines and users alike that the content being linked to is valuable, relevant, and worthy of consideration.

I'm of the SEO school of thought that backlinks are dying (or that their signals and importance are dying). While Google has never outright stated this, we see more and more evidence of this through something called “inferred links.”

For example, there are a growing number of websites ranking with little to backlinks at all, and some just as successfully as sites with high-quality backlinks, a high quantity of backlinks, or both. What gives?

I do believe that links are still an important ranking factor, but they are only one of many hundreds of SEO signals. A strong and increasingly important signal nowadays is UX (user experience), which explains the emergence of UXO (user experience optimization) as an SEO strategy.

The latest changes in algorithms and new ranking factors from Google (called “Core Web Vitals“) is a tell-tale sign that Google is paying more attention to one thing in particular: quality, namely quality content and quality experience.

Why Backlinks For SEO is Losing Ground

There are four main reasons why backlinks are falling out of favor.

First, other signals are becoming increasingly important.

Backlinks may be a signal of authoritativeness. But they are not quality-centric signals. They do not contribute anything to the determination of a site's content quality or usability. Internal links can help because they create relationships, provide context, and help navigation. But not external links.

Second, Google is becoming more sophisticated.

With the help of machine learning and natural language processing, the authoritativeness of a site's content can be determined through context, topical relationships, and brand mentions, and less on hyperlinks.

Third, backlinks can be easily manipulated.

People can sometimes buy backlinks, which is frowned upon and can even cost you dearly down the road. Most of these links tend to be of low quality, too. Keep this in mind: no authoritative site would ever directly sell links.

Fourth, backlinks can also hurt your rankings.

If you follow the quantity philosophy, you could end up with toxic backlinks from spammy sites, hacked sites, and black-hat sites (i.e., sites with scraped, stolen, or useless content created for the express purpose of farming links).

In my opinion, as search engines become smarter, backlinks are going to become less relevant. We see this happen with each algorithm update that decimates ill-gotten rankings through attempts at manipulating backlinks.

Chasing Backlinks is Soul-Sucking

I remember 10-20 years ago, ranking high with just a few tactics (that were not considered blackhat yet) was incredibly easy. Back then, link-building SEO companies — some of which still exist today — thrived on selling these tactics.

Their services ranged from doing outreach (mostly by spamming, begging for links, or guest posting) all the way to creating private blog networks (or PBNs) for the sole purpose of manufacturing backlinks.

But many of these tactics violate Google's guidelines. After a few “Google slaps,” I also witnessed countless businesses go belly up as a result. Some of them were in the millions of dollars in revenue, too.

SEO and content marketing expert Jim Thornton wrote a recent piece on this very topic. In it, he explains that hyperlinks are dying, and context and relying on other algorithms (including UX mentioned earlier) are better signals.

As Jim pointed out:

Central to their web spam mitigation strategy, engineers have been working for over a decade to get away from dependence on link signals. Now it’s 6+ years after that announced experiment. I think they’ve got it figured out.

Jim Thornton in “Links are Dying”

Links are only good (or becoming only good) for finding new pages. Meaning, they can let Google know a page exists. There's a chance they might index it and rank it; there's a chance they might not. There's a chance they might not even respect the “dofollow/nofollow” directive and only see it as a suggestion.

So all this to say two important things, which I will leave you with.

Beware of “Backlink Bilkers”

If you have someone approaching you offering you SEO backlinks for cheap, often with a “brand new secret method” that can get you “top rankings overnight,” don't walk, run from these folks.

They are risky black-hatters, spammers/scammers, or “pump-and-dumpers.” Similar to stock market fraudsters, they pump your site with ill-gotten signals that, in the short term get you positive results, but eventually will get you penalized and banned by Google, which can cost you dearly.

Never buy a backlink service (or any kind of SEO services, for that matter) from spammers. Buy from reputable SEO experts or firms.

Think of it this way: if someone has to spam you to sell their SEO services, why would they need to spam you if they themselves had practiced good SEO?

It's pretty telling.

Either their own SEO is terrible or they're lying.

It's no different than buying knockoffs or stolen goods from questionable street vendors. It may look legitimate, but it's not. You know it's not. Others who know will know it's not. If they do know, you've just lost all credibility and perhaps gained the attention of authorities, too.

Now, does that mean that you shouldn't buy backlink SEO services? No.

But keep in mind that reputable firms don't buy or beg for links — let alone use deception. Legitimate, reputable firms tend to work on creating a link-building strategy that's focused on producing high-quality content, doing genuine outreach, and earning authoritative links. Naturally.

Build Brands, Not Backlinks

Part of the evolution of SEO signals is the growing importance of something called “implied backlinks.” An implied link is a brand mention, in other words. When other websites talk about you, your product, your service, or your brand, Google picks up on it just as they would an actual hyperlink.

Rand Fishkin, one the OGs of SEO and founder of Moz, wrote a recent piece on the power of inferred links, saying that someone mentioning your brand, without linking to it, is vastly superior (i.e., more credible) to actual links.

More importantly, Google and other search engines are becoming increasingly sophisticated to the point that backlinks are going to become unnecessary.

In the past, the kinds of sophisticated, nuanced analysis necessary to make an inferred link superior to a direct link were lacking. Today, they exist. In the future, they’ll get better, cheaper, and faster. Even if links rule today, I can’t see that model lasting much longer.

Rand Fishkin in “Inferred Links Will Replace the Link Graph”

That's why branding is so important.

I have talked on numerous occasions about the power of naming your product, service, or process. Productizing your services, and putting a name on them (if not at least naming your unique process or approach, even if everyone else does the same thing), creates the perception of expertise and uniqueness.

But the side (and possibly even greater) benefit is that, when people talk about your brand, your “thing,” or your business (your name, for example), they are creating implied signals that tell Google your site is recognized, authoritative, and worthy of their consideration.

It goes without saying that, if you create content that people talk about, engage with, and share, you're going to increase your brand mentions almost naturally.

So don't chase backlinks.

Focus on creating link-worthy content instead.

Backlinks are not dead. They are still important. But they are not as important as they used to be, and they're becoming less so over time. As I've said before, build your credibility, which is far more important than building links.

Credibility attracts credibility, including credible links.

Categories
SEO

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

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.

Categories
SEO

What is SXO (Search Experience Optimization)?

Search engine optimization (SEO), in the sense most people think about SEO, is becoming less about optimizing for the search engines and more about optimizing the user's search experience (SXO).

It's called “search experience optimization” or SXO.

SXO is not a new concept.

I've said that SEO boils down to creating quality content on a website that delivers a quality user experience. But this is nothing new. It has been a topic of discussion among SEO consultants since the early 2010s.

The issue is, how do you measure quality? Quality is subjective. What you think is “good” may not be good according to your users. Good content goes beyond just matching the user's query. It needs to meet the user's expectations, too.

And that goes beyond SEO.

SEO, in its purest sense, is optimizing your website for the search engines. Meaning, you make sure your website can be found, crawled, indexed, and used. In short, it meets Google's guidelines to be included in its index.

SEO, in the marketing sense (the way most people think of it), is optimizing your content to increase your chances of having your website come up in search results. You do this by creating content around search terms and topics that matches the user's query.

But how well does it match the user's expectations?

That's where SXO comes in.

Your website may be ranking well because you have good content. But it also has to be relevant and valuable to the user. And the more relevant and helpful it is, compared to all other alternatives, the higher you will rank. But high rankings don't always translate into quality traffic.

The way to look at it is, give quality content and a quality user experience (in consuming that content), and you will attract quality traffic. But to get more quality traffic, you need to meet their expectations. And you need to do it better than all other alternatives.

This is where you need to think about how your users search. You need to understand your users, what they're searching for, and how they search.

So good old market research, in other words.

From Google's perspective, these things are determined by a number of different metrics, such as analyzing click behaviors. For example, clickthrough rates, dwell times, pogosticking, “next clicks” (when people bounce back to Google and choose a next listing), and a host of other metrics.

Matching search intent is the key.

Doing so will provide the best search experience to your user. The greater the match, the greater the signals. But it doesn't end there.

A greater user experience affects search experience, too. If your content is top quality and, in essence, presumably satisfies the needs of the searcher, but the user bounces back because the site is unusable, unreadable, or unsafe, it will affect the search experience.

Therefore, the quantity (and quality) of your traffic will increase in proportion to the quality of your content and your user's experience. Again, “quality” here is defined by how well it matches the user's query and their expectations.

So how do you optimize the search experience (SXO)?

First, look to match the search intent and the user's level of awareness. Both are important. In other words, ensure your content responds to the kind of search they're making and meets them at their current stage of awareness. (For more on this, visit my OATH formula on stages of awareness.)

In other words, your content may be educational and the user does an informational search on the topic you're covering. But if your content is intended for a product-aware (hurting) audience when the user is unaware of the problem or the solution (oblivious or apathetic), they'll leave.

Second, make sure the process of finding and consuming that content is smooth, unhindered, and easy. Usability is more than just having a “good” website. User experience (UX) is a major ranking factor and Google is paying more attention to signals than ever before.

In fact, UX signals (like page speed, mobile-centric design, HTTPS security, obtrusive interstitials, safe browsing, etc) are not only going to help SEO, but they will also affect SXO, too.

Google has introduced a new set of UX metrics called Core Web Vitals that you will need to be aware of. Google will soon be implementing a new algorithm called “Page Experience Update,” rolling out in May 2021, that will affect rankings and CTRs across the board.

Google will add warning labels to its search results telling users if the sites have a good or bad SXO page experience.

As you can imagine, people seeing a not-so-good warning beside your link will avoid it or hesitate, even if it's ranking well. So this will eventually affect CTRs, which in turn will affect traffic quality and rankings.

But it can also affect their perception of you.

Think of it another way.

If your website has a bad experience (or a bad experience warning), the traffic you will get may well be perfectly qualified for the content and even for your business. But the bad experience will make them think twice or create a “horn effect” (I call it the ketchup stain) that will impact their perception of you.

In other words, a poor search experience will create cognitive dissonance that will affect their perception that will pervade other areas, including the decision to buy or recommend you. Conversely, a site with a good warning will likely create a more favorable perception.

Here's the best advice I've heard when it comes to SXO:

Aim to end the search.

Doing so takes into account that you have good content on a good website that matches the user's intent and expectations.

But don't just give the user no reason to go back to Google. Give the users a reason to stay, too, which will increase dwell times.

Optimize for the search experience, not just the search engines.

Categories
SEO

Dealing With Negative Reviews: SEO Tips and Action Steps

Reputation management is becoming such an important service that many digital marketers and agencies are offering this singular service. For example, there's Reputation.ca, a Canadian digital marketing agency that specializes in reputation management and SEO services based on it.

They offer negative content suppression services, review management, corporate communications, and internal reputation management (such as managing employee reviews). They even offer services related Wikipedia profiles, libel issues, and crisis management.

But of all the reputation management steps you can take, responding to reviews is the most important. Both good and bad ones.

Negative reviews can influence your customers' decisions and hurt your business. Like it or not, ignoring reviews is the worse thing you can do.

Studies show that customers often view companies more favorably when they respond to reviews. Your responses can even become more influential and impactful than the reviews themselves.

Sadly, however, it's often an ignored or missed opportunity.

Imagine being on page two or three in Google results. As the joke goes, “Google's second page is the best place to hide a dead body.” But imagine being on page one for no reason other than the preponderance of negative reviews. This can be worse.

I've heard one professional say, “Talk good about me or talk bad, but either way, talk about me.” Or, “Love me or hate me, there's no money in the middle.”

That's all well and good, and the purpose of that quote is to understand that you can't please everyone. It's important to stand for something than trying to be milquetoast by trying to appeal to everyone. And you shouldn't.

But the issue is that negative reviews show up as a score (such as a star rating). When your two or three-star review shows up on the first page of Google alongside competitors with four or more star reviews, you are not only losing traction but you're also helping your competitors through the power of contrast.

So the goal is to respond to reviews, and there a few steps you can take to optimize the process.

1. It's all about customer service.

Reviews are often an indication of customer service and support. If your reviews are predominantly bad, you have a support issue. Granted, you need to be offering quality products and services above all. Bad reviews are great feedback and can often tell you what needs fixing.

But how you engage with your clients online says just as much about you and your services than they do about what you offer.

2. Setup Google alerts and other “listening” tools.

Claim your listing on review sites and business directories. This way, you will be notified of any reviews that come in. But reviews can also appear on other, less well-known sites, private blogs, or socia media.

So set up alerts to be notified each and every time someone talks about you. You can get notified when any keyword you specify shows up — including names (yours, your brand, your business, a product or service, staff names etc), your address, your suppliers, and even your competitors.

3. Take note of what clients are saying and want.

Clients are giving you precious feedback. Responding to their reviews is important, but noting what they're saying, educating them if they missed anything (by being genuinely helpful and not snarky, sarcastic, or passive-aggressive), or letting them know how you will act on their feedback.

4. Respond to reviews. All of them.

Thank the reviewer for their review. Even the good ones. Your responsiveness is what makes you look good, and not just what kind of response you give. But with the bad reviews, unless they are defamatory or fake (and even then), be sure to keep a polite and professional stance.

5. Apologize sincerely and sympathize.

Negative reviews will happen from time to time. Because, as I said earlier, you can't please everyone. But be professional, courteous, and helpful in your response. Acknowledge their issue/pain, and let them know you are listening and how you will make it right.

6. Move the conversation offline.

Offer your contact information and the name of the person they can speak with directly (you or a member of your team, preferably someone in management) so they can vent in person, discuss their problem in depth, and refrain from adding more hostility to their already negative review.

7. Keep it short, sweet, and simple.

Don't go into detail and drag the conversation further. If you post too much, your reply will be a) overlooked because it's too wordy, b) seen as defensive (or desperate), and c) give the negative reviewer more ammunition they can use against you. Just stick with one short paragraph, no more than five sentences.

8. Use your name in responses to positive reviews.

Using the business name, product name, or service name will give your response to a positive review an extra SEO boost, which will hopefully bring positive reviews up to the top.

For example, you can say, “Thank you for reviewing [business name]. The team here is thrilled to read your feedback, and we're proud to be one of the most helpful [business category] in [city].”

But with negative ones, refrain from using names or keywords. You want to avoid giving the negative review any kind of SEO juice.

9. Add some marketing and ask for action.

You can thank them for their review and offer them a gift for their feedback, such as a free newsletter or a free report. And suggest the next step, such as call, fill out a form, subscribe to a newsletter, or refer friends to your business.

10. Ask for a retraction or update.

If the complaint has been dealt with, and your response was appreciated and positively received, have the reviewer remove, or better yet, revise their reviews. This is not only a desirable outcome, but the response to a negative situation can actually make you look better than a positive review will.

Some final thoughts.

These steps all assume that the reviewer had a legitimate gripe, and their review was not fraudulent, fake, or malicious in any way. Malicious reviews need to be dealt with differently, and each platform has a proper procedure for dealing with these situations.

At the bottom of this article, you can find a step-by-step process and template in dealing with and removing misleading reviews on Yelp, Google, and Facebook — the three biggest review sites.

In the end, remember that reviews are increasingly being used as decision-making tools when clients and customers are choosing your services.

Taking the time to focus on how you appear, what others say, and how you respond will always work in your favour — or at the very least, it will make you look responsive and much better than if you were to ignore them.

Categories
SEO

Outsource SEO Content Writing With This Simple Template

The other day, a client asked me about my content outsourcing process to create content for SEO content writing purposes. I explained the various steps and enclosed a content writing template. I realized that this might be helpful to you, too.

Before I fill out this template and order content for my clients, I first conduct a complete audit, keyword research, and topical pagematch.

The pagematch document helps me to map topics to specific pages on my client's website. Sometimes, they have all the pages already that simply need to be refreshed, massaged or edited, or rewritten entirely to fit the matched topic.

But other times, we need to create new content from scratch. This is where I fill out a content order form that I send to content writers to whom I outsource.

Now, if my client is a good enough of a writer (or they prefer writing their own content), I still fill out the order template as a way of guiding them. It's to suggest the kind of content I recommend for their blogs in order to achieve the traction they want, and the things I want the article to include.

More often than not, however, I will have the content reviewed and edited by SEO content editors. It's not about diluting the content's value by stuffing it with keywords. It's about adding all the other elements that go into the article, such as tags, images, links, formatting, etc.

I'd rather have quality content that's useful and relevant to the audience than SEO-driven content. As it should be with you, too.

SEO Content Writing Order Template

Here's a look at what I typically include in my content writing orders. Using “cosmetic surgery” as an example, an order form can look something like this:

  1. Tile (60 characters maximum): 5 things to consider when choosing a cosmetic surgery procedure
  2. Topic: cosmetic surgery
  3. Primary Keyword: cosmetic surgery procedure
  4. Secondary Keywords (comma separated): plastic surgery, cosmetic surgeon, plastic surgeon
  5. Links: anchor texts must include primary keyword in one of them.
    • https://www.webmd.com/beauty/ss/slideshow-cosmetic-surgery
    • https://www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org/patient-resources/cosmetic-surgery-vs-plastic-surgery/
  6. Inclusions: photo of a woman in her 50s looking in the mirror, contemplating doing something about her appearance.
  7. Size: 1,200 words
  8. Additional: include in content pricing considerations, doctor credentials, importance of before-and-after photos.
  9. Description (160 characters maximum): write meta-description and include primary keyword.
  10. Headers: include 2-5 H2 tags with secondary keywords, and add them where they make sense.

Explanation of Each Content Order Item

  1. The title is both the title tag and H1 HTML tag unless specified otherwise. Title tags are no more than 60 characters in length. Either I write the title for them or give the writer an idea of what I want as a title.
  2. The topic is the main topic of the article. Typically, it's the core idea or theme (e.g., topical cluster or parent topic), which can sometimes be the blog category that the article will be filed under. But not always.
  3. The primary keyword was determined while doing research with my tools, either Ahrefs or SEM Rush. Using Rank Math plugin in WordPress, for example, it's labeled as “Focused Keyword.” It's also the word that the tool uses to measure its SEO score and offer suggestions for.
  4. The secondary keywords are variations of the primary keyword or keywords that fall within the same topical cluster. They could also be other non-related keywords but that support other posts, or keywords for creating context and internal links.
  5. Any links, either internal links to other blogs on the same website or external links to supporting documentation, articles, or related reading. A great tactic is, if you have an FAQ on your site, you can link to a question and answer regarding a term that may be unfamiliar to the reader.
  6. Inclusions are anything I want to be added to the article, such as images, embeds (video or audio), graphics, quotes, snippets, or scripts.
  7. Size of the article. Pretty self-explanatory.
  8. The additional section is anything else I want the writer to include, watch out for, or avoid in their article. For example, “Do not talk about [this] but be sure to describe [that].” (If the content is for a licensed professional, I'll add critical instructions to avoid breaking any regulations or to respect any ethical boundaries.)
  9. The article description is meant for the HTML's meta-description, which is up to a maximum of 160 characters. It's also perfect to add as the article excerpt and content to be used when social sharing. Again, Rank Math offers this ability, where you can include the exact content you want to be used when readers share your post on social media.
  10. Any headers throughout the content, either written for them or instructions on what they should involve.

Quick and Dirty “Reverse” SEO Hack

A final comment, and it's related to the last point (#10). A really cool technique is to reverse engineer content that's outranking you by using winning content as a way to add more content or to improve your existing posts.

Steve Toth, owner of SEO Notebook, describes this process as follows:

  1. Google the main keyword you want to rank for.
  2. Open the top ranking blogs and note their H1-H3s.
  3. Rephrase the headings/topics that you like.
  4. Write 200 words of copy for each new heading.
  5. Do this for 3-5 headings (creating a new 1,000-word post).
  6. Publish the post and submit it to the search engines.

Remember, earlier I said you can edit and refresh older articles to make them more palatable and SEO-friendly. Well, if you're a bit more of an SEO geek, here's a way to use Steve's technique above but with existing content:

  1. Open up Google Search Console.
  2. Find a keyword with high clicks and impressions but not ranking well.
  3. Copy the link to your article that's associated with those results.
  4. Google the keyword and look at the first 3-5 top-ranked search results.
  5. Visit them, and look at their H1, H2, and H3 tags. Note them somewhere.
  6. Compare them to the headings you already have in your article.
  7. Select 3-5 topics you haven't covered that have decent search volume (either check them with your SEO tool or use your intuition).
  8. Go back to your article, rephrase and include the headings you've selected where they make sense.
  9. Write 200 words for each of those topics and make them H2s.

According to Steve, he used this technique by adding these new sections even at the bottom of the article, and it was quite effective in doubling traffic to existing content. If you want to use this technique, Steve has graciously offered a link to his Blog Accelerator Technique with more detailed instructions.

Categories
SEO

Stop Writing For SEO, Do These 3 Things Instead

On ClientCon, hosted by Liston Witherill, presenter Margo Aaron gave a great presentation on writing for one's audience. An Inc.com contributing writer and talented copywriter, she had a lot to say on the topic.

During the Q&A at the end, an audience member asked about writing for SEO when trying to write for one's audience. Her question was:

“There seems to be so much emphasis on writing stuff that will have better SEO, but that’s not really what I want to write about and I get stuck there. Any tips? I just want to be recognized as a trusted advisor in my niche.”

Margo's response was spot-on.

She said to write for the user, not the search engines. You can go back and edit or “massage” the content to fit SEO later, and I agree.

But to that, I would add this:

Writing for the search engines is actually old-school.

It’s the way we used to write content. We would stuff the content with keywords as we write, refine the jargon to match exact keyphrases, and even rewrite and twist it so much that it compromised its quality, comprehension level, and intent just to appeal to search bots.

(Margo herself mentioned this was a common occurrence at Inc.com, where they would edit her articles into something completely different than what she initially wrote, which diluted some of the points she was trying to make.)

Yes, there is a certain level of SEO that's intrinsic to the content. But it’s mostly related to signals, and to the assurance that those signals are captured.

Now that is true SEO. 

You want to make sure the content is crawlable, readable, and understandable by the search engines. It's what SEO is meant to do. A part of it is technical, and another is subjective to the degree that the content is contextually relevant to and authoritative enough for its intended audience.

Simply, SEO should not and never be the focus in your writing. At least not in the first draft. Both you and Google serve the same customer. So always — always! — write for the user, and you will automatically write for Google, too.

It's not about keywords, stuffing content, or making content click-worthy.

Google’s algorithms no longer rely on keywords alone. Its machine-learning algorithm, called Rankbrain, focuses on the topic, relevance, and authority of a piece of content. Its natural language processing algorithm, called BERT, focuses on patterns, context, and intent.

So keywords and SEO hacks are becoming less relevant. Content, particularly quality content, is more important. And context, which helps to match the content with the user's search intent, is equally important.

So write as an authority on the subject matter and write for your audience.

The rest will fall into place naturally.

In other words, if you write for your audience first, your SEO will be halfway there.

To echo what Margo said, saying “write first, edit later” is not just applicable to content, style, or grammar. It also includes SEO. If you want to improve the SEO, you can apply tweaks after you’re done writing.

As she said, go back and use better keywords, include headers, add images with proper tags, etc. (But even then, these things are minimal and secondary.)

If you focus on the quality of your content, which means the content is relevant, authoritative, and valuable to your audience (i.e., it’s useful or meaningful to them), Google will send more traffic your way as a result.

What you want is to focus on the signals, not the content.

In other words, when your content is done, and if it's good, then focus on getting it noticed — not on what it says. That’s why, when I create an SEO strategy for my clients, I typically focus on the following three key areas:

  1. The quality of the content,
  2. The quality of the user experience, and
  3. The amplification of the signals to both #1 and #2.

I already talked a lot about the first two. Signals communicate to the search engines that your content and user experience are of high quality. They can be internal and external. They include things like (and this is just a partial list):

  • Content quality signals (e.g., credentials, author bios, citations, references, supporting research, fact-checking, article length, website age, etc).
  • Content validation signals (e.g., audience engagement, external reviews, backlinks, social proof, brand mentions, domain authority, etc).
  • User experience signals (e.g, site architecture, navigation, bounce rates, security, page speed, usability, accessibility, mobile responsiveness, etc).
  • Search intent signals (e.g., schema markup, headers, formatting, images, HTML tags, meta information, topical relationships, content proximity, etc).

And so on.

Signal amplification is where you increase the signals so that the search engines can find, determine, and rank your content for its relevancy, authoritativeness, and valuableness.

For example, to increase social signals, you want to share your content on social media, and get others to share your content and engage with it.

Doing so, you are telling Google that your content may be worthy.

In some cases, paying for amplification, such as boosting your content on social media, for example, can help maximize the exposure to (and invite the amplification of) those signals. It’s a kickstart, but not always necessary.

You can also target and engage with specific people, profiles, pages, or personalities (such as influencers and micro-influencers in your niche) to engage with your content and, hopefully, reshare it, too.

Let’s not forget groups, forums, and communities, too, like Reddit and Quora. Answering questions on them and pointing to your content for added support or further learning will also boost its amplification.

You can do it through repurposing, too, such as offering the same (or parts of your) content through email courses, drip campaigns, hosted videos, podcasts, interviews, infographics, carousels, guest blogs, press releases, and so on.

Ultimately, the goal is to increase signals alerting Google that your content is quality content. Often, the best way to do that is to leverage other people’s efforts and assets to amplify your content.

Because, by doing so, you are piggybacking on and leveraging the credibility, clout, and seeming objectivity of third parties (through their backlinks, brand mentions, and engagement levels from their audiences, for example).

Categories
SEO

What Google Wants With Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)

As a professional, your content is your beacon. It’s your magnet. It’s what gets people to notice you; it gets them to learn more about you; and it gets them interested in you, in what you have to say, and in what you do.

But your content alone is not enough.

Google, in an attempt to curb spammers and dubious content, updated its database in August of 2018 with an algorithm that both awarded good content providers and penalized poor ones.

Called “EAT,” which is an acronym for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, the update focused on the three pillars upon which Google evaluates a piece of content, and the content's validity and veracity.

Also dubbed the “Medic Update,” because medical and health-related sites were the ones most affected, it also applied to anything related to your money or your life, also called “YMYL pages.”

Lots of acronyms, I know.

Basically, any page with content that could potentially negatively impact the quality of a person’s health, happiness, finances, or safety is targeted in the update. This includes content related to law, health, nutrition, finances, news, safety, jobs, shopping, fitness, and so on.

Obviously, professionals fall into that category.

Everything a professional does is related to YMYL in some way. Even when professionals are in B2B, it still applies, as people are still the ones making purchasing decisions and not businesses.

Professionals most affected are doctors and healthcare practitioners, but the update also affected dentists, chiropractors, accountants, financial advisors, lawyers, nutritionists, personal trainers, engineers, consultants, and so on.

In short, if you offer any advice that's meant to help people but also runs the risk of hurting them, too, your content is affected in some way.

With the rise of fake news and the manipulation of search results, it’s no wonder Google wants to deliver the best and most relevant content to its users. But it also wants to give them the most reliable results, too.

Results that users can trust.

Because, when you think about it, after someone gets bad advice or has a bad experience with a website they found on Google, the user will blame Google to some degree. Even if it's indirectly or unconsciously.

So what can you do to improve your content’s EAT?

Ultimately, Google wants websites filled with content. But it wants content written or reviewed by experts.

But how does Google evaluate expertness?

If you have published books and articles that are reviewed, particularly peer-reviewed, and if you have profiles and credentials on your website as well as other reliable websites, all these “signals” and more leave a digital footprint that Google uses to validate your expertise.

In fact, Google has published its guidelines, which are freely available.

It’s a long read, but there are some quick things you can do to optimize for YMYL. Here’s a partial list, which should give you some idea:

  • Make sure your content is clearly marked as written or reviewed by an expert, which is done through a variety of on-page signals:
    • “About the author” section at the bottom.
    • Author schema markup in the code.
    • Proper citations or links to references.
    • Supporting resources if necessary.
  • Have online profiles and bios of the content creator or site owner with demonstrable expertise:
    • Credentials (e.g., education, experience, certifications, awards, etc).
    • Other relevant published content on other trusted websites.
    • Expertise related exposure or work, such as speaking at conferences, guest lecturing, giving expert interviews, having media mentions, etc.
  • Make sure your content is factually accurate, and run it by Google, too.
  • Add plenty of data that support and backup your claims, and make sure that the data comes from reputable and trusted sources, too.
  • Add case studies, testimonials, and valid social proof, such as seals of approval, third-party validators (e.g., security seals), and certifications.
  • Obtain and collect reviews, ratings, and recommendations from reputable sites that validate your content and/or your website.
  • Make sure your NAP (i.e., name, address, and phone) are indicated on the website, in the schema markup, and on directory and business listings to demonstrate that you are a real business with a real location.
  • Finally, avoid offering any advice in which you have no expertise, or citing or linking to advice from poor sources; doing so will harm the EAT of the website as a whole, even if other content is valid.

Remember, this is just a partial list. There are plenty of other things you can do.

What’s important is to ensure EAT is applied across the entire website, and not just on content pieces or YMYL pages. Because search engines will evaluate your content not only by itself but also according to the website as a whole.

Categories
SEO

Kickstart Your Results With an SEO Keyword Audit

My SEO approach is simple, as it should be with you. Serve your audience first, focus on quality content, attract natural links, and structure around topics.

More content doesn't always mean better. Sometimes, the benefits of refreshing existing content outweigh those of creating new content. The goal is to match the audience's search intent as best as possible to improve ranking. The more you do, the higher the quality traffic and conversions you will generate.

To do that, you need to carry out an SEO keyword audit.

If you have a website and it has been live for at least six months, chances are Google has crawled and indexed it. If so, here's a tip that I encourage every professional to do. Go to Google, and type in the following:

site:yourwebsite.com "keyword(s)"

Google will list what it thinks is the best page from your website that matches that keyword or keyphrase. If your search turns up many pages, the topmost one is the one Google has determined to be the most relevant

You can do this right now if you have a good idea of who your audience is, what they're searching for, and what stage of awareness they're at.

But if you don't know what topics your audience is searching for, you can conduct some keyword research to get an idea of the topics you want your content to cover. With the tip above, you will see if you currently have any pages that match any topics you're after.

In SEO, we call this technique “pagematching.”

The goal is to find the page that best matches the keyword and the user's search intent. If the top page Google thinks is the best is either irrelevant or not the best match, then you have one of three choices to make:

1. Find and edit a page that matches it better.

You may find a more relevant page that appears further down. For example, you're a dentist. You type in “best price for dental crown” as your keyword. Google gives you 12 search results from your website. And result number seven may be the most relevant page.

Take that page and edit it to focus on that topic more. It's not about keyword stuffing. It's about matching the topic and the user's search intent.

Either that or you can edit the less relevant ones(s) to downplay the topic. This might be a lot of work if you have several pages outranking the most relevant one. But it might help if those pages are similar and stealing traffic from the best one through keyword cannibalization.

2. Deduplicate and redirect less relevant pages.

Speaking of similar pages, look at the list of URLs Google is giving you, and see if they're duplicates. Determine the primary one and delete the others.

But be careful.

There's a difference between “duplicate” and “related” content. If the goal of each piece is the same or similar, they're likely dupes. But if the goal is different, then they're related. Kill the dupes, not the related ones.

Also, before you delete anything, check to see if there's any content you want to keep. You can take out paragraphs that you can merge into the primary one. Add them where it makes sense and edit for flow. Then delete the dupes, and redirect them to that primary one.

As a quality assurance step, see if any of your other content links to the dupes you've deleted. Make sure they now point to the consolidated one.

3. Write a new, more relevant piece of content.

If Google shows no result for your keyword at all, it will say “no results found” and show broad matches. Using the previous example, you might have articles that match “dental,” “crown,” and “price,” but not in that exact order.

Look at the results of those broad matches. They may be synonymous or contextually related. Are any of these pages relevant to the search? If yes, go back to step one or two (i.e., edit or merge). If not, write a new piece of content focusing on that topic.

Finally, you might want to create an inventory of all your existing pages and match them with the keyword (i.e., “focus keyword”) they should rank highest for. And then list the URL of the page that actually does rank highest based on the previous exercise.

Do they match? Are they similar? Is one more relevant than the other?

If your website only has a few pages, this list should give you a good idea of which pages to fix, merge, or delete. But if you have quite a few, you might want to pull performance reports from Google Search Console and compare it against your analytics.

But that's for another day.