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

What is “Search Intent” and Why is it Important?

Weeks after my whole family got theirs, I finally got the vaccine. Speaking of which, if you search for “vaccine,” you're going to get different results. It's a pretty generic keyword. Google may only guess what you mean.

  • You may be searching for news about it.
  • You may be trying to learn about the risks.
  • Or you may want to book your appointment.

This is called “search intent.”

To understand why this is important to your SEO efforts, above and beyond “keywords,” let's take a closer look at what it is and how to optimize for it.

Actions Speak Louder Than (Key)words

More and more SEO experts are offering services beyond just Search Engine Optimization. Many offer User Experience Optimization (UXO) and Search Experience Optimization (SXO). The reason is simple: rankings don't matter if the results, such as your content, don't satisfy the searcher's query.

Search engines like Google use machine learning to pay attention to how people respond to search results. They try to gauge if the result meets their needs. For example, if someone types in “how to increase organic traffic to my website” into Google, this may happen:

  • They get a bunch of results.
  • They click on one of them.
  • They visit the page.
  • They scan the content.
  • They hit their back button.
  • They return to the results.
  • They choose the next link.
  • And so on.

This may signal to Google that the link they provided isn't what the user is looking for. So it could be either one of three things:

  1. The content is bad,
  2. The user experience is bad, or
  3. It doesn't meet the user's search intent.

Called “pogosticking,” this back-and-forth process tells the search engine that the site is not meeting the user's needs. It's not providing good content or a good user experience or matching the user's search intent.

You may have great quality content and a fantastic user experience. But what if the content was simply wrong for what the user is looking for? What if it's perfect but delivered in the wrong way (e.g., they wanted video and not text)?

If you rank well, the mismatched intent will deliver poor quality traffic and inflate your bounce rate unnecessarily. But chances are you will not rank well, anyway, since Google uses machine-learning to know what people are looking for and serve results that match their intent.

What are “Long Clicks” and “Short Clicks”?

A bounce rate is calculated based on single-page visits, where users bounce out after visiting one page and without navigating to any other page on your site. Pogosticking may add to the site's bounce rate. But it doesn't mean the content is bad. Users may have read the entire article and left.

That's when the concept of “dwell time” comes in.

High bounce rates are not enviable. But pogosticking is important to pay attention to, specifically because it's indicative that the site is not relevant to the user's search. It doesn't match what the user is searching for.

This metric called “dwell time” provides context and indicates if the content was appropriate. A visitor who clicks on a search result and bounces back after a few seconds is called a “short click.” If they stay a lot longer and dwell longer on the page, even if they do bounce back, this is called a “long click.”

Both bounce rates and dwell times (i.e., short clicks and long clicks) are just two of many SEO signals that tell Google the content is a fit and matches the user's search and intent. In short, content is good, the user experience is adequate, and the result is relevant to their search.

The Three Types of Search Intent

Relevance is based on intent. There are three kinds of search intent (and a fourth, which is a variation). Your content should aim to match either one:

  1. “I want to know” searches (informational)
  2. “I want to go” searches (navigational)
  3. “I want to do” searches (transactional)

The fourth is a variation of the third. When the transaction is a purchase, they are called “I want to buy” searches. Some SEO experts label them as “commercial intent” or “commercial investigation” searches.

However, the intent to buy may not be direct or immediate. The user may be unsure and doing some research. So the search is slightly more informational or navigational in intent (such as looking for sites offering reviews, for example).

Nevertheless, determining search intent is important because SEO relies heavily on how well your content matches the searcher’s query.

Let's take a look at each one with some examples.

Informational Searches

The user is looking for information for educational purposes. They're not looking to buy (at least, not yet). They may be looking for more information about their situation, problem, or challenge. They're only researching this point.

Some of the searches related to your procedures may be:

  • “How long does a facelift take to heal?”
  • “Is abdominal plastic surgery safe?”
  • “Why do my breasts sag after pregnancy?”
  • “What types of liposuction are available?”
  • “Are hair transplants permanent?”

Many informational searches are formulated in the form of questions. But they can also be straight keywords or phrases, such as “lose weight” or “facelift surgery.” But the search intent may not be that clear (I'll return to this).

Navigational Searches

The user is trying to locate something specific, which is mostly a website, a location, or a business/clinic. It might be a URL, an address, a social media profile, etc. It's often based on a name, brand, product, service, or domain entered into a search form instead of directly into their browsers.

Some of the searches related to your business or services may be:

  • “Jane Smith, MD plastic surgeon Toronto”
  • “Dr. John Doe cosmetic surgery clinic”
  • “facelift post-op instructions Smith Surgical”
  • “phone number Dr. Linda Kent new clinic”
  • “nearest hotel to Eastern Surgical Centre”

By the way, the vast majority of branded searches are navigational. This is another reason you want to name your business, your services, and your processes, including your intellectual property. People may have heard about you or seen your name, but they're unsure how to get to your website.

Transactional Searches

This is where the searcher wants to do something, mostly to make a purchase. They've already decided they're ready to make a purchase or do something. So the search is related to taking that action. It can be buying, downloading, calling, hiring, ordering, registering, emailing, etc.

Some transactional searches might include:

  • “book a consultation with Dr. Smith”
  • “buy post-op cream Doe Surgical Clinic”
  • “subscribe to Laura Jackson, MD newsletter”
  • “get a quote for breast augmentation”
  • “download facelift pre-op instructions”

Commercial/Investigational Searches

This is a variation of transactional searches where the user is looking to buy. But the user is unsure and either wants reassurances or wants to investigate further. It can be informational and navigational, too, to some degree.

Since it can blend all three, it's important to match this intent specifically. Sometimes, the answer can be from third-party site. For example:

  • “best bariatric weight loss surgery”
  • “Dr. Jane Doe plastic surgery reviews”
  • “top cosmetic surgeon Rochester”
  • “Botox for crow's feet near me”
  • “Dr. Smith before and after photos”

Therefore, the goal is to offer relevant content and optimize signals — including amplified third-party signals — that aim to help the user decide (e.g., comparisons, case studies, photos, testimonials, FAQs, etc.).

The Key is To Align Content With Intent

Ultimately, When it comes to creating content for any one of these types of queries, the goal may be to answer them directly. But you may have to do more than educate your audience with relevant content. You want content that targets, engages, and invites them, too.

For instance, if a user is conducting an informational search, they may or may not be in the market for your services. The user could be a student doing some research for school. It could be a tire-kicker. It could even be a competitor.

So the goal is to capture, educate, and retain your visitors, the right visitors, as much as possible, particularly if they're potentially ideal clients. For this, you need quality content, user experience, and SEO signals.

But it's also an opportunity to get them to enter your funnel, engage them further, prove your expertise, and invite them to invest in your services.

How Intent Alignment Improves SEO

So how you optimize for search intent? The process of discovering what Google thinks people want is a great tool for SEO research. It is often referred to as “SERP analysis,” where SERP, of course, stands for search engine results pages.

Now, I know you're a plastic surgeon, and you're not an SEO expert. But this is not about search engine optimization in a direct sense. It's about something a bit more fundamental: market research. It's about understanding what users are looking for, why they want it, and how to give it to them.

Understand that market research is the core of marketing. When I talk about “keyword research,” it's not about keywords in and of themselves. It's about understanding what your audience is looking for and why they're looking for it.

It's impossible to ask users what they want as they conduct their searches. So keywords are “observable traces” that users leave. They're artifacts, if you will.

Like uncovering dinosaur fossils during an archeological dig, archeologists can only make educated guesses about how dinosaurs lived, what they ate, what their migration patterns were, and what happened to them.

Similarly, keywords don't tell the full story. They certainly don't tell us what's on users' minds when they use them. But search engines are becoming more sophisticated in understanding what people want and why.

Using clickthrough rates and user behaviour (such as click length), combined with the power of natural language processing and machine learning, Google makes educated guesses on the intent behind the search.

So market research, in this sense, is keyword research.

Understand The Desire Behind Queries

Fundamentally, SEO is the process of optimizing your website so that search engines (and therefore users) can find your content. They must be able to read, crawl, and index your content, even before they decide how to rank it.

A tad oversimplified, of course. But that's what SEO essentially aims to do. SEO was (and still is to some degree) a technical process. In fact, if you look up the definition of SEO as far back as 10-20 years ago, you get something like:

“Search Engine Optimization is built on the foundation of information architecture and information retrieval.”

From “SEO: Search & Information Retrieval,” Jeffrey Smith (2009).

Market research, on the other hand, is what will help you rank higher. I often refer back to what my friend and top copywriter David Garfinkel, who said that the key to success in copywriting (and I could easily extrapolate that to SEO or any form of marketing in general) is to ask:

  • Who is your market?
  • What is their problem?
  • How are they talking about it?

If you know who your market is (which you likely do), you know their problem and why they want to solve it. But learning about how they talk about it can be uncovered by studying and reverse-engineering the SERPs.

For this reason, you need to go beyond keyword research.

Meet Users' Needs, Not Their Keywords

Google's goal is to satisfy the user's search and to become more effective at doing so. They're already showing you the results they think will serve the users best. In addition to machine learning, they've done countless experiments, hired many sophisticated engineers, and analyzed petabytes of data.

They've done the research for you. So use it to your advantage.

If you want to improve your rankings, your goal is to know what users are looking for and to give it to them. But it's not enough. You also need to understand the intent behind what they want, i.e., the reason for their search.

Why? Because, as Google tries to identify what people are looking for and why, it serves results that more closely match what it thinks will satisfy searchers. So if your content doesn't align with intent, Google will not give you the time of day — and your users won't, either.

And therein lies the crux of the need for SERP analysis.

Think of it this way: the goal is not only to create content that your audience wants but also for the reasons they want to consume it.

Sounds a tad pedantic, I know. But it's actually quite simple. You can focus on keywords, for example, and try to successfully align your content's title and description (i.e., what shows up in SERPs) that match the user's query. This will undoubtedly increase clickthrough rates.

But what happens once they land on your site?

Avoid “Clickbait-and-Switch”

If they pogostick back to Google because your user experience (UX) is less than desirable, that's one thing. But if it's because your content fails to satisfy their query, even if the content is high quality and presumably what they're looking for, you've failed to satisfy their intent. You failed to meet their needs.

Plus, failing to match search intent can hurt you.

Google has publicly said they don't directly use click signals as ranking factors. However, Google engineers have stated that they do use click behaviour to help refine their search results. (“Refine” is an important hint.)

My personal opinion is that they use it in connection with other factors, such as going to the next result as opposed to conducting a new search (again, “short clicks” versus “long clicks”). How people engage with search results says a lot.

While click lengths may not necessarily impact your rankings, this data helps Google learn more about its users' search intent. It then refines its search results when analyzing what people are looking for in combination with other factors.

The refinement may cost you in rankings — other results that more closely satisfy the user's search will rise to the top. Naturally.

Also, consider that people may seek more than just information but also the format. How they want to consume the information is just as important as the content itself. They may prefer a video, podcast, infographic, or PDF.

Plastic surgery is a visual field. Visuals are key. If your content is only one long article when users are looking for photos, you may not meet their needs.

One of the reasons Google offers many new features, in addition to those traditional 10 blue links, is to provide the user with an idea of what they're getting. It's only my guess, but if Google offers video thumbnails, people know they're getting videos — not a link to a page that “may” contain a video.

Search Intent and User Intent: Why Both?

Nevertheless, if you know who your market is and what their problems are, next is to know how they talk about it, revealing their stage of awareness.

By knowing at what stage of awareness they happen to be, you can then serve them with content that directly meets them where they are and takes them to the next stage — and hopefully closer to becoming your patient.

This goes to the concept of the content funnel I talked about before. It's not always linear or perfectly compartmentalized. For example, it's different for someone who has had other procedures done or who is unhappy with their results instead of someone who never had plastic surgery at all.

But for now, the thing to remember is that a content funnel is based on content that appeals to a certain level of awareness and then graduating the user to a new level of awareness. The way to do that is to understand intent.

This brings me to the differences between search intent and user intent.

  • Search topic is what they're searching for.
  • Search intent is how they're searching for it.
  • User intent is why they're searching for it.

Remember that the stages of awareness are problem-aware, solution-aware, and product-aware (i.e., your solution). When studying the SERPs, this is where you can extract a decent amount of ideas and insights from your target market.

For example, problem-aware searches:

  • What (e.g., the problem, like “how to get rid of excess belly fat”);
  • How (e.g., informational search, long-form article, some visuals);
  • Why (e.g., they're frustrated, doing research, want options).

Next stage of awareness is solution-aware:

  • What (e.g., a solution, like “recovery time for tummy tucks”);
  • How (e.g., investigational search, medical expertise, case studies);
  • Why (e.g., they're interested, considering a solution, want details).

Then, of course, the next stage, which is product-aware:

  • What (e.g., your solution, “Dr. [X] before and after photos”);
  • How (e.g., commercial/navigational search, proof, patient reviews);
  • Why (e.g., they're motivated, taking action, want assurances).

The Case For Long-Tail Keywords

The above are just examples. But you can instantly see how clearer both the search and user intent are when the query is either longer or more specific.

Many plastic surgeons would love to rank well for generic “short head” keywords (i.e., words at the top of the bell curve in terms of demand, volume, and traffic). But ranking for those is extremely competitive and difficult, and the resulting traffic, if any, has no clear intent and may contribute to shorter clicks.

“Abdominoplasty” is a very generic term. Are people interested in getting one? Are they researching it and checking out who, where, and how much? Or are they just looking up the definition?

As you can see, it's impossible to tell. Chances are, if you analyze the SERPs, you might see that Google doesn't know, either, and the results may include a mix of informational, transactional, and navigational intent results.

But with a search like “best tummy tucks near me,” you now know for sure what the intent is and what kind of content will best match it.

Nevertheless, the goal is to research your market.

With a SERP analysis, you can do this by identifying the search topics your market is interested in (based on their stage of awareness), their search intent (what Google thinks they want), and the user's intent (what results come up, what do they offer, and how it helps the user).

Or as SEO consultant Brittney Muller said:

Paying closer attention to search results will give SEO pros a leg up in creating competitive content in the way that searchers desire to consume it.”

— Brittney Muller, from Search Engine Journal.

Bingo.

Categories
Copywriting

Why I Switched From Copywriting to SEO Consulting?

Ever since I stopped accepting copywriting clients over a decade ago, it’s a question that seems to come up again and again. It's understandable as I was quite prominent in that world throughout the 90s and in the early 2000s.

I really didn’t stop writing copy, but I left the business of copywriting and now focus on SEO, particularly after years of being a “top copywriter” — a label my peers often give me, although I never really considered myself to be one.

But the question about my departure has once again resurfaced, particularly after I appeared on a YouTube show talking about the shady side of the world of copywriting. I realize I should probably write something to explain it. So I'm going to answer that question once and for all in here.

To do this, I need to give you some background to put things in context.

If you don’t know my story, here’s a quick summary.

My Copywriting Life in a Nutshell

I got married at 19. My wife had a two-year-old daughter whom I’ve virtually adopted. (She's now in her late thirties and still calls me Dad.)

Being a father was redemptive somewhat, as my alcoholic father abused me when I was young. After my mother left, the state institutionalized him; he had Korsakov’s Syndrome (also known as Korsakoff’s Psychosis), a mentally degenerative disease caused by years of alcohol abuse.

But because of my childhood (or so I thought), I had a tremendous fear of rejection. When I learned that I have ADHD at 52, I discovered that a common symptom among people with ADHD is “rejection sensitive dysphoria” (RSD).

It explains the tremendous fear of rejection and my many childhood struggles. So my father wasn’t to blame. Not entirely, anyway. In fact, ADHD is genetic. My father likely had it, and he turned to alcohol to deal with it.

(People with ADHD are highly susceptible to addiction. Luckily, mine is coffee.)

Around the time I got married, I wanted to fight my fears of rejection and dove into sales to fight them. After all, as Emerson said, “Do what you fear and the death of that fear is certain,” right? You get rejected a ton in sales!

But of course, I failed. And failed miserably.

Working on straight commission, I accumulated a mountain of debt, bought groceries on eight different credit cards to survive, and declared bankruptcy at the tender age of 21. It was a big mistake; I know. But I was young, foolish, trying to be a good father (unlike mine), and desperate to “succeed.”

Back in the 80s, the common practice in the insurance business was selling door to door. I moved to the countryside in a tiny little town where my wife grew up in. So I inherited a sales territory in which I knew absolutely no one.

Naturally, referrals were non-existent. I had to find a better way to get leads.

How I Discovered Copywriting

I tried something different. Fueled by anxiety, desperation, or both, I wrote and mailed salesletters offering a free policy audit. Only a few people called to book an appointment with me. But I was ecstatic. I also had an open door to follow-up to see if they received my letter. So no more cold-calling!

The best part was, I also no longer had to face rejection.

That year, I became the top salesperson in my district and then in all of Canada. It was short-lived as many salespeople in my company crushed my results later on. But for a fleeting moment in my life, it felt as if a door opened up and success was possible. Plus, copywriting piqued my interest.

But insurance was tough. In the late 80s, there was an increasing outcry against whole life insurance policies as more people switched to term insurance.

So a year later, I took a job as a consultant for a hair replacement company that also offered surgeries through a partnership with a hair transplant surgeon. I also worked on commission there, too. But it was a growing industry, and I knew about it as my first wife was a hairdresser.

By applying the same tactics from my insurance job, I wrote direct mail letters, created full-page display ads in newspapers, and even produced 30-minute late-night infomercials on TV. Bookings and sales were skyrocketing. My employer was a happy camper, as was I.

At 22, I made more money than I ever made in my life!

How I Became a Copywriter

I eventually became a “marketing consultant” for other cosmetic surgeons, which became my preferred niche. (The reason I say “marketing consultant” is that copywriting wasn’t the only thing I did, and medical doctors would never hire a “copywriter” much less a “sales consultant” back then.)

In the early 90s, I convinced clients to create a “web page” on this newfangled thing called the “world wide web.” I told them it was like an electronic version of the yellow pages, and it was becoming increasingly popular. Since most of them had invested in yellow pages before, this was an easy sell.

So I wrote copy for the web. This was circa ‘92 to ’94.

A few years later, I designed my first website in ‘95 and incorporated myself as “The Success Doctor” in ‘97. The name came about because I helped doctors become successful. (I also had aspirations of becoming a motivational speaker. But marketing and copywriting was more fun, I later found.)

I eventually became quite busy as word got around. Other doctors hired me, too, including chiropractors, weightloss doctors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, etc. I expanded to include lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and other service providers. But cosmetic surgeons remained my largest clientele.

Over time, more and more clients hired me to write copy for the web, including landing pages, websites, and email marketing campaigns. I guess you can say that this was when I was becoming more well-known as an online copywriter and Internet marketer than a mere copywriter.

But there was a problem.

Clients Would Screw Up My Copy

I love copywriting. But I remember clients messing things up.

Once I gave them my copy, they would put it up on their websites. And it would look awful! The formatting was completely wrong, the layout was atrocious, and the selection of graphics and images didn't fit what I had in mind.

So naturally, conversions sucked. Particularly with projects that paid me with royalties. I was usually the one to blame, even though I believed my copy was good. But my ADHD and fear of failure compelled me to do something.

That's when I included formatting, web design, even landing page development along with copywriting so that my salesletters would look the way I wanted.

So I repositioned myself as a copy “designer.”

I always hated the word “writing,” anyway, because most people think of writing as putting words down on paper. But they have a tendency to neglect the sales and creative aspects of writing. They ignore that it’s about strategy. I spent just as much time on the look-and-feel of the copy as I did on writing it.

I became obsessed with the copy’s performance. For me, getting the right audience to read the copy — one with the right level of awareness and intent — was important. Also, the cosmetics that drive the eyes into the copy, or the copy cosmetics, were just as important as the words themselves.

That's where my work evolved to include other aspects of online marketing.

Enter The World of SEO

I consulted clients on their traffic and demand generation tactics because I wanted some level of control over the quality of the traffic that hit the copy. The market is just as important as the message. So I did a lot of traffic generation, affiliate marketing, email campaign management, and so forth.

Clients increasingly hired me to do SEO (search engine optimization), including SEO copywriting, to help increase their conversions. I also did CRO (conversion rate optimization), which people often refer to as “conversion copywriting.”

So, what does SEO have to do with conversions?

Attracting audiences with the right search intent at the right awareness stage can skyrocket conversion rates. It's about matching the right message with the right market, or “message-to-market match,” as Dan Kennedy would say.

This thinking, along with the way the Internet was evolving, became the impetus behind my writing “The Death of The Salesletter.” Back in 2005, I knew that this is where Internet marketing and copywriting were heading. It was also the beginning of my disillusionment with the industry. (I'll come back to this.)

In my manifesto, I talked about personalization, dynamic content, behavioral targeting, sales funnels (before funnels were a thing), micro-conversions, etc — things that are commonplace today in the world of digital marketing — replacing the long-form, direct sales-driven copy.

I wrote code since I was 11 and designed websites since I was 22, so technology and how marketing was evolving online always fascinated me. Besides writing copy, I also loved developing websites, designing them, doing SEO, and making sure the user experience (UX) was as optimal as it could be.

Then, My World Turned Upside Down

Let me backup a little.

In 2003, as my copywriting career was exploding, I met my second wife who was in the customer support industry. I initially hired her to provide support for my copywriting business. When we realized we shared many of the same clients, we slowly merged our businesses. And eventually, our lives.

But from the news of her cancer diagnosis right before our wedding in 2006 until her passing in early 2015, my wife’s disease grew to become, over the course of our marriage, the center of attention instead of our client work.

I was kind of lucky in that, in 2008, my mother had the same disease as my wife (i.e., breast cancer). It gave me a glimpse into what was to come. In other words, the experience showed me what I was getting into with my wife and helped me to prepare and to grieve before I knew I had to.

In 2011, my mother's cancer became terminal, and we set up a hospice in our home. She passed away later that year on the morning after my birthday.

And sure enough, my wife's health took a turn for the worse a year later. Her cancer came back with a vengeance, spreading to every major organ.

However, shortly before she passed in early 2015 (in fact, it was just a month prior), my father, while still in the institution, passed away, too. His heart stopped during his sleep. The weakening of the heart muscles is one of the many comorbid issues caused by Korsakov’s disease.

So you can say that 2015 was probably the worst year of my life.

But it didn't stop there.

My sister who was my only sibling struggled all her life with multiple ailments, including diabetes. My parents' passing, let alone years of my father’s abuse, affected her deeply and I cannot imagine what she went through. In 2017, she, too, passed away in her sleep. Just like my dad.

Distaste For The Copywriting Industry

I didn't have the headspace or motivation to return to freelancing. So I took a job in a digital marketing agency as an SEO manager and director of marketing communications. We were a Google Premier Partner agency, and I supervised an amazing team of content writers and web developers.

While grief played a role, another reason I didn't want to go back was that I became increasingly disenchanted with the copywriting business. Specifically, I'm referring to the business of writing copy for the Internet marketing and business opportunity (or “bizopp”) industries.

It started many years before then. But it culminated around the time my wife was undergoing her final chemotherapy treatments for her cancer.

I wrote about the scummy side of the business and the reason I left. But long story short, my late wife and I had to deal with a growing number of clients whose business practices were becoming questionable, unethical, and borderline illegal. Even the FTC sued some of them for deceptive practices.

The reason is, they were selling “business-in-a-box” programs.

It's no different from a chain-letter, envelope-stuffing scheme.

They would sell a course teaching people how to make money by creating a business. Sounds legit at first. But they would use the very course people bought to create a business and make money with. When I learned they included my salesletters with their “businesses,” that's when I decided I had enough.

SEO Consulting for Plastic Surgeons

After a few years and being in a much better place, I got remarried, left the agency world, and started freelancing again. But this time, I was doing more SEO work. Sure, copywriting is still a part of what I do to an extent. But now it's about how it can help attract and convert targeted traffic.

I also returned to my roots by working with plastic and cosmetic surgeons. I did it for several reasons. It's an industry I love and have a lot of experience with.

Creating phenomenal user experiences that lead to sales starts with how qualified the user is. SEO is key for that reason. A user's search intent hugely determines their level of awareness and attention prior to hitting your website.

The quality of your conversions is directly proportional to the quality of your traffic, the quality of your content, and the quality of the user experience.

That's where SEO comes in.

Also, being a geek who loves coding and web design, SEO satisfies my dual nature, i.e., both “sides' of my brain — the creative and analytical aspects of marketing. Today, I do 360-degree SEO audits, with technical SEO (coding and hosting), on-page SEO (HTML and content), and off-page SEO (external signals).

All these components work hand-in-hand.

Yes, my work still includes writing copy. But it mostly includes helping my clients generate the right kinds of traffic. In other words, it's about having the right message for the right market — or in this case, the market with the right intent.

Categories
SEO

Content Creation or Content Expansion? SEO Experts Confirm

Last week I was very busy completing a few 360° SEO Audits for two plastic surgeons, and one of them asked a very good question. After I recommended content creation on a weekly basis (about three times a week), he asked: “That's a lot of content, can I add it all to the same web page?”

In essence, what the client was asking is if it's possible to add to existing content instead of creating three new pieces each week.

Here's what I said.


Creating Doesn't Mean “From Scratch”

To clarify, when I suggested creating three new content assets each week as a best practice, it was a recommendation and not an obligation. Moreover, an asset doesn't always have to be a blog post or textual content. It can be a long-form video, an infographic, a podcast episode, etc.

With every long-form video or audio you produce, including those of which you were a part (such as an interview or a podcast on which you were a guest), you can add it to your blog as an embed.

(If they turned off the ability to embed the recording, or if the recording is hidden or walled in some way, you might want to ask permission first.)

But don’t just add the recordings. Transcribe them, polish up the transcripts, add them to the page, and insert internal links to other content in your blog as you would normally do with other content.

A transcript creates additional content you can use as captions for your videos or for creating additional standalone content pieces. I personally use a tool called Otter (relatively cheap). You can also use Descript or Screechpad.

Secondly, “new” content creation doesn’t have to be new content.

It can be a refresh of an existing piece of content. You take an older piece and rewrite it, expand it, update it (e.g., add or update any references, statistics, citations, and supporting images), and add new internal links to existing content (particularly if you have new posts since its original publication).

Finally, redate the piece to the current date so that it brings it back to the top of your blog index and signals Google that your content is updated.

Add New? Or Expand The Old?

Now, as far as the question about whether it's best to add to existing content or create new ones, the answer is that it depend from an SEO perspective.

If it’s the same topic and it makes sense to the reader and improves the user experience, that’s acceptable and even recommended. You are, to a degree, doing the “refresh” that I indicated earlier.

But if they’re widely diverse subtopics, I don’t recommend it — unless you are creating a pillar page and making it as comprehensive as possible.

If the search intent for a subtopic is different from the intent for the main topic, then you risk cannibalizing your content. (Although, that might change with the upcoming passages ranking algorithm.)

With the hub-and-spoke content model, the spokes are pieces of content that help to support the main pillar content, creating a topical cluster. If subtopics are too different, you’re likely confusing the reader (and Google), and you might be diluting the other subtopics on the same page.

The question to ask is, is the topic for the additional content a subtopic of a main/parent topic? If so, you can add it to the main piece. If it can stand on its own (the subtopic can be its own topic), or if it can have more than one search intent, then it might be better off as a separate piece.

Search Intent is The Key

Remember, there are four types of search intents: 1) informational, 2) investigational, 3) transactional, and 4) navigational.

Navigational intent is when people are looking for you, your business, or your website. For the sake of this example, I'll refer to the first three as your aim is to build content that drives people to the site who may not know you.

For example, take “facelift surgery” as a topic. The search intent is likely informational. (I could have used the term “facelift” by itself, but it's a little misleading. “Facelift” is often used in a non-surgical context, such as “giving your website a facelift.” So let's say “facelift surgery.”)

People who search using this term likely want more information about facelift surgery. Any subtopic that falls under both the same topic and search intent can be added to the same page, like “how long does a facelift take to heal?”

However, if someone searches for “top facelift surgeon near me” or “best facelift surgery [city],” that’s investigational search intent. The person is now past the information stage and they’re thinking about having it done.

Since the intent is different, adding a piece around that subtopic to the main page would be confusing and possibly counterproductive. It may better to write a separate piece, either about an award or survey where you were voted as the best, or about tips on how to find the best surgeon for one's situation.


What Other Expert SEOs Say

I believe this is the best approach. To be sure, I conferred with other SEO experts for their input. I'm a member of an SEO mastermind community called Traffic Think Tank, which is frequented by some of the world's top SEOs, including SEO directors from companies like Shopify, HubSpot, LendingTree, Moz, and others.

Their thinking seems to be in alignment with mine.

Even some SEOs on Twitter responded, and this is what they said:

As they said, cannibalization is less of an issue if the two or more pieces, vying for the same keyword, target different search intents.

And then, Britney Muller, someone I've been following for a long time who is a senior SEO data scientist and worked at Moz, added this:

Finally, one thing to keep in mind.

Is Long Content a Ranking Factor?

There’s a lot of debate about content length with SEO. Some say longer pieces rank better. But Google has expressly stated that word count is not a ranking factor. Any benefits are typically correlational and not causal, because long-form content will likely increase the incidence of keywords, tags, links, etc.

Not only that, but also long-form content tends to offer “more substantial, comprehensive, and complete information on the topic,” which is what Google looks for according to its Quality Raters Guidelines.

So from a user experience perspective, the argument can be made that sticking with existing content can provide more comprehensiveness to the article.

I also surmise that the upcoming passages ranking, where parts of a page (such as subtopics) will rank differently than the page itself, is going to make it easier for a long-form piece of content to serve multiple intents.

We will have to wait and see.

For now, the point remains: when it comes to content creation, it is always better to provide comprehensive information on a topic — whether it's in one long piece or it's in multiple pieces that are properly interlinked to indicate a relationship (i.e., a topical cluster).

Either way, more content, and better content, will always serve you well.

Categories
Audits

Quick SEO Audit of HairTransplantation.com

Time for another mini SEO audit on a random plastic or cosmetic surgery website. But this time, I want to focus on hair transplants. If you don't know, hair restoration was the very first type of client I worked with back in 1992.

In trying to find a website as randomly as possible, I did the same thing as last time: I turned on my VPN, chose USA as my country of choice, and Googled “hair transplant surgeon.” I then clicked to page four of the SERPs (search engine results), I scrolled down a bit, and I selected a site at random.

Site Selected For This Quick SEO Audit

As strange as this might sound, I literally clicked on a result without paying attention. The URL I clicked on is HairTransplantation.com by Dr. John Kiely. (Talk about a keyword-driven domain name! Let's see if it helps him.)

Remember, this audit will be brief. My 360° SEO Audits go far beyond this. But it might give you some insights you can apply to your own website.

So without further ado, here we go.

Quick SEO Audit of HairTransplantation.com 2 | quick seo audit
Mini SEO audit on HairTransplantation.com.

SEO Crawl and Overview

A crawl with Screaming Frog's SEO spider, I found 108 pages. However, 16 are redirects and six are 404s (page not found errors). At first glance that might look odd or bad, but a closer look reveals that the redirects are from a few pages that have trailing slashes to versions of the pages that don't.

That's actually a good thing, and here's why.

A trailing slash is the slash at the end of a URL. The jury is still out on whether trailing slashes help rankings. But the important thing is to choose one protocol and to be consistent with the rest of the website.

Consistency is key in SEO. With different versions of the same URLs, if they're not canonicalised (i.e., a canonical tag is piece of code that tells search engines which URL is the definitive address for that page), you risk having Google index multiple versions of the same page and cannibalizing your rankings.

Specifically, the result is that this will either confuse Google or force it to split ranking signals across the various addresses, diluting the ranking power of what really is just one page. For example, look at the 12 URLs below:

http://www.domain.com
http://www.domain.com/
http://domain.com/index.php
http://www.domain.com
http://www.domain.com/
http://www.domain.com/index.php
https://domain.com
https://domain.com/
https://domain.com/index.php
https://www.domain.com
https://www.domain.com/
https://www.domain.com/index.php

All these URLs are pointing to the same page.

That's why adding redirects and canonical tags is crucial. But in a perfect world, there shouldn’t be any redirects at all. Use redirects only for pages that no longer exist — pages you renamed, moved, or deleted. Don’t use redirects internally when a simple search and replace can do the job.

Of course, have redirects if other sites link to the wrong URL (which is one the reasons I recommend setting up a Google Search Console account), so you can find out if any backlinks are leading to 404 errors. But when doing an internal crawl like I just did, there shouldn't be any redirects.

Back to the audit.

Regardless of redirects to pages without trailing slashes, there doesn't seem to be a predominant protocol because I can see that the site has pages with trailing slashes and some without. It's not terrible but it is confusing and may also lead to issues down the road, such as when adding pages or links.

Location, Location, Location

The 404 errors seem a little odd, which prompted me to investigate further. The URLs of the missing pages seem to be similar to pages that already exist on the site. They have the same titles but with different city names appended to the URLs (e.g., “hair-loss-baltimore” and “hair-loss-washington-dc”).

Now, this tells me three things.

First, the site is trying to optimize for multiple locations. There's nothing wrong with that. But I think the clinic may have moved or switched from Washington-Baltimore to Rockville-Townson at some point. So the crawl found lingering links to older locations (or removed pages) that they have not yet updated.

Second, I manually visited pages similar to the 404s (e.g., “hair-loss-rockville-md” and “hair-loss-townson-md”). They seem to be the same page but with two different cities. This means there are duplicate content issues, which are not good for SEO. This may indirectly penalize your rankings.

To confirm my suspicions, I looked up other pages:

Quick SEO Audit of HairTransplantation.com 3 | quick seo audit
Duplicate content will hurt your rankings.

Every page has keyword-based links that lead to duplicated pages for different service areas around the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. Duplicate content is the bigger and more important issue, but keyword stuffing and repetitive internal location links are far from good practices.

Let me be clear. Building out multiple pages for each service area is actually a good practice, and I recommend it, too. But each page should be different. They can be similar but they should not be exact verbatim copies.

Think of Your User, Not Google

Also, there's no need to stuff entire site with location links, too. Just have one master location list or page with links to individual locations. If you link to the location list or the master location page on an indexed page (or in your sitemap), Google will find it and crawl all the subsequent location pages.

For example, a website could have a page called “locations” such as:

/locations/ (listing all locations)
/locations/location-one/ (first location)
/locations/location-two/ (second location)
/locations/location-two/sublocation-one/ (e.g., district)

Like the example above, you can create sublocation- or community-specific pages, as long as you serve those areas and put unique content on them.

(Remember, they only allow you one Google My Business listing per physical location, not service area. But you can create landing pages for each area.)

Just optimize each landing page with specific information about that area. If you can, add reviews or testimonials from people in that area. If you can add directions from that area to your clinic, add them, too.

There's no need for duplicate content. To quote Moz.com:

There's a real danger of putting up a bunch of weak, silly content for every city your company serves, and this would downgrade user experience and the overall quality of your website. Rather, come up with a plan for making those landing pages incredibly useful and persuasive, so that they truly do serve users, while also signalling to search engines that you have relevance to this target community.

Moz.com Staff

Don't Overoptimize

Finally, there's the third point. Looking at other pages, I noticed something peculiar. The site has over-optimized pages with location-stuffed content. This reminds me of old-school SEO with keyword-stuffed content that makes the page unreadable and kills the user experience.

Here's an example:

Quick SEO Audit of HairTransplantation.com 4 | quick seo audit
Over-optimized content is a sign of poor SEO.

Every page seems to have this issue. Every page seems to have an introductory paragraph that's stuffed with keywords, including locations. This type of SEO doesn't work anymore. Or better said, it's no longer necessary. Google is now intelligent enough to understand the context and content of the page.

Of course, it's helpful to include pointers that help Google along, such as schema code, alternative text for images, proper internal linking, appropriate descriptions (without repeated keywords), and so on.

But filling the site content with locations is bad for the user experience — and your rankings. Avoid stuffing your page with too much of the same thing (e.g., the same links, keywords, locations, photos, whatever).

Redundant Pages

In that initial crawl, and based on my discovery above, I wanted to see how similar or dissimilar was the content. I found several redundant pages.

Here's just one example.

There are five topics (e.g., hair loss, hair restoration, hair transplant, hair transplant clinic, and hair transplant surgery), which are obviously used as keywords. But each of the five has nine separate locations. All nine appear to be the same duplicated page with maybe just one distinct paragraph.

Therefore, there are 45 pages in total when five pages covering the five topics, and perhaps nine for each location, would have sufficed. This means there are 30-ish pages that are redundant and useless, diluting ranking signals and likely causing the site as a whole to lose rankings.

After removing all the redundant pages, duplicate pages, 404s errors, and redirects, I'm left with 31 total pages. Some are very thin in terms of content, too. In my experience, this is inadequate. This site needs more content.

In fact, the blog shows only 10 blog posts that are over five years old. Frequency, recency, and consistency are three key SEO signals that help Google to notice, crawl, and hopefully rank your content. Fresh content posted regularly and often (at minimum one new post a week) is a good practice.

SEO Analysis Estimate

I don't have access to this site's Google Search Console to determine if the site is getting poor traction because of the issues I mentioned above — such as duplicate content, stuffed locations, over-optimizations, and so on. But looking at their estimated traffic in Ahrefs.com, I can make some fair assumptions:

Quick SEO Audit of HairTransplantation.com 5 | quick seo audit
HairTransplantion.com gets only 56 visitors monthly.

The site only gets about 50-60 visitors a month on average.

This is relatively low for a plastic surgeon's website (which typically averages around 500-2,000 visitors monthly in my experience). It may be because of content that's over-optimized, duplicated, unusable, inadequate, or something else. However, I'm certain the issues I've discovered are not helping.

One final thought about locations.

Having multiple locations can be a good practice for a service provider having a large enough demand within those areas and offering a repeat service. For example, plumbers, exterminators, restaurants, car dealers, even dentists may benefit from ranking for specific locations.

But it's not so much the case with plastic surgeons, particularly a surgeon who only does hair transplants. It unnecessarily reduces visibility.

In my experience, the best and most renowned surgeons have patients that come from near and wide, even well outside their main geographic areas. Some fly from all over the world to receive treatments from these experts.

When claiming your Google My Business listing, you can only claim your actual, physical location. This will help rank your clinic or practice in the local pack (i.e., the pack of Google Map listings that sometimes appear at the top of on search results). But location-specific pages can rank in the main results.

By focusing all your pages on specific locations, which can be helpful for many service providers, can be limiting and counterproductive (particularly if you want to expand your reach), and may hurt your rankings in other locations.

Conclusion

I'll stop here since I've covered so much already.

In essence, the initial crawl revealed some major issues, and this site needs work. I recommend a complete revamp with a new content architecture to fix all the issues I found, along with properly rewritten content.

Short of redoing the site architecture, I recommend creating a location listings page and area-specific landing pages, and killing off all the redundant ones. I suggest fixing all the redirects, removing the 404s, choosing a single sitewide protocol (i.e., trailing slash), and removing all the repetitious content.

Finally, I recommend adding more quality content — both to the main pages to beef up the thin content and as articles to the blog section.

Again, please remember that I base my recommendations on just an initial crawl. I didn't do a keyword audit, a technical SEO audit, or a competitive audit. There's so much more that I could analyze, which I typically do when I perform a comprehensive 360° SEO Audit service. But hopefully this was helpful.

Categories
SEO

When Moving Your Site, Don’t Leave Your SEO Behind

A recent client has hired me to audit their SEO. The main issue was pretty clear from the start: they had recently undergone a rebrand and moved their site to a new domain. But they failed to redirect the old site properly to the new one. In short, the SEO site migration was poorly executed.

The result is a significant loss in rankings and traffic.

Often, moving to a new domain is perfectly fine, provided you do it carefully and plan it properly. The reason is to ensure there's no loss of traffic, authority, and rankings. Otherwise, it can lead to irrecoverable losses — not to mention the loss of your audience's trust and goodwill.

If you're planning on redesigning or rebranding your site, particularly if the purpose is to improve your SEO, here are some things to consider.

First, the simplest way to move your site is to do a domain-to-domain redirect. It will carry over any URL parameters to the new site automatically. If someone tries to reach domainone.com/page for example, they will easily go to the same page on the new domain, i.e., domaintwo.com/page.

But sometimes, it's better to do a page-by-page redirect, simply because you may wish to keep parts of the old domain active, reuse the domain in the future, keep certain functions (such as mail servers), or move to a new architecture where you plan to rearrange and/or rename pages.

In the latter's case, however, I don't recommend doing it all together.

Migrate Your Site in Stages

Some plastic surgeons prefer to do it all in one fell swoop: they want to move to a new domain, do a rebrand (and redesign the site to match the rebrand), and switch to a new content architecture — particularly if it's recommended for SEO purposes. They want to get it all done.

However, in my experience, it's better to first move to a new domain that maintains an identical architecture, and then launch the new site.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. It's easier to do a bulk domain-to-domain redirect, which reduces server load. You can do this with regular expressions (RegEx) that simply tell the server to redirect and load the same folder/file on the new domain.
  2. If there are too many redirects that point to different pages, and/or if there are too many new pages appearing at once, Google may interpret that as a completely new site, and you might lose rankings and traffic.
  3. Above all, if you move to a new domain and revamp the architecture simultaneously, it will be difficult to determine the reason for the losses in traffic (i.e., whether it was the migration or the change in architecture).

If you absolutely must, then do so. But I recommend you do any changes to the architecture after the move. This way, you can start by pointing the old domain to the new one first, and then do internal redirects to new pages on the new domain either after the move or once you relaunched the site.

Thus, if someone tries to access a certain page on your old domain, they will go to the same page on the new domain first, and then the internal redirect will load the new page based on the revamped architecture.

But if you can do it in stages, do so. It will be more effective, more manageable, and less risky. In fact, I suggest you either clone the site to its new domain or switch the domain name. Then activate a domain-to-domain redirect.

This way, should anything go awry, switching back is easy.

(I typically use Cloudflare for this process. Adding all domains to Cloudflare, I can do a site-to-site switch within the DNS records as easily as flipping a switch. Plus, I do bulk domain redirects using Cloudflare's “page rules.”)

Of course, once you're done, do a search-and-replace sitewide and within the database to ensure to canonicalize the URLs with the new domain. (Go back to my SEO migration checklist for more details. A post-move crawl can identify any old remaining URLs that you need to switch.)

Telling Google You're Moving

If a site moves and no redirects are in place, this creates several issues. When Google notices 404 errors, at first it will do nothing. It suspects that this may be temporary. It will wait for a few days to see:

  • If the cause of the missing pages was a glitch;
  • If the site owner submits a change of address; or,
  • If the site eventually redirects the missing pages.

Over time, if Google doesn't encounter any redirects, it will consider your pages as dropped, which will lose your rankings and any momentum you've gained.

So after putting the proper redirects in place, I also recommend submitting a change of address to Google to make sure there are no losses. You can do this by registering both domains with Google Search Console. Once the move is complete, start the process under “change of address” in settings.

GSC also gives you a list of all the external incoming links (i.e., backlinks) you will need to update. It's above “settings” on the left sidebar in the above screenshot.

Often, an incoming link points to a page that has been long switched, renamed, or moved, and, unbeknownst to you, leads to a 404 (“page not found” error). Therefore, GSC will allow you to create any additional redirects you may need.

Change-of-Address Benefits

Doing a site move signals Google that the site is now on a new domain. Not only does GSC offer tools and reports that help you track your move and measure its performance, but also it helps to identify and fix issues that may occur.

A site move is much like an insurance policy. It will preserve several things:

  • The integrity of backlinks;
  • The site’s current rankings;
  • Any potential domain authority;
  • And the user experience (UX).

With domain authority, the age of the domain (i.e., how long the domain existed and remained with the same owner) is an important ranking factor. You will lose some of that when moving to a new domain.

As for UX, if someone searches for your old brand name (i.e., a navigational search intent, such as someone searching you to find your site), Google will list the new domain in its search results instead of the old one.

Speaking of ranking factors, Google ranks sites based on several factors. Key signals influence some of these factors, including E-A-T signals (i.e., expertise, authority, and trust). EAT is not a ranking factor per se. But it can influence your rankings as it influences the perception of the site's experience and quality.

  • Expertise mostly comes down to the content and its quality — the quality of your content, your knowledge, your credentials, and so forth.
  • Trust mostly relates to user experience (UX), such as site security, page load speed, navigation, user journey, and so on (i.e., signaling that the site is trustworthy and not a scam).
  • But authority comes from signals outside the site, such as backlinks, brand mentions, and other external signals that prove authoritativeness (such as links from social media, Google Maps, industry and business listings, reviews and reputation signals, and more).

Backlinks are vital to SEO and page errors are bad for UX. So preserving those links and the integrity of your site is important. There are also brand mentions, also called “implied links,” which include your brand name and even unlinked domain names. Site moves will help preserve those, too.

Remember that moving a site requires planning. There's no one perfect way to migrate a site. But there are plenty of ways to screw it up. Just remember that Google is also there to help you. So use them to your advantage.

Categories
SEO

Visual Content Marketing Starts With SEO

When it comes to creating content about plastic surgery, writing blog posts (i.e., articles) is the easiest way. But visual content is just as important, if not more so. In addition to written content marketing, visual content marketing is a critical component to a medical aesthetic professional's online success.

Any content is important. As a plastic surgeon, you're an expert in your field, and prospective patients want to make an informed decision. When it comes to SEO, as it should be with the content itself, the fundamental goal of written content is to help the people you're targeting.

However, most plastic surgeons or their staff create visual content, such as videos, photos, and graphics. And they should. Most of them post these on visual channels (like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc.) instead of their own blogs.

So how do can you do SEO when your content is not text-based and it's published outside your blog or website?

1. Metadata is Your Friend

Every piece of non-textual content you create (or better said, capture) has metadata attached to it, such as time, date, location, equipment used, etc. Most digital recording devices nowadays automatically add metadata to your captures, whether it's a $3,000 camera or a $500 smartphone.

But many recordings today can have additional metadata added. Most of the time, it's done when the recordings are added to another medium — such as when it's uploaded to Google Photos or YouTube, for example.

Incidentally, if you turned off metadata (such as location) for privacy purposes, you should turn it back on. Some people hate being tracked, and I understand that. But this information is ideal for SEO.

For example, when uploading it to Google My Business or Facebook (Business), it adds more pseudo-content for local SEO purposes. When people type “plastic surgeon near me” into Google, your photos may appear (or your listing with a lot of geotagged photos may appear) more often as a result.

Nevertheless, you can add more metadata. On a blog, those things include alternate text (called “alt-tags”), titles (or “title tags”), captions, and even the filename itself. For instance, when adding content to a website, rather than uploading it directly, save it, rename it, and upload it with its new filename.

It's not about stuffing keywords in either the metatags or filenames. It's about including descriptive information for accessibility so that search engines know what the file is all about. So include keywords in the graphic, photo, or video, both in their filenames and tag data.

But don't force them. Just be descriptive. Be helpful, not robotic.

Like all forms of SEO, metadata comes down to helping your audience and giving them what they're looking for. You want to describe your visuals in order to help — not outsmart the search engines.

Remember, metadata is about the user and aims to make the visuals better understood by users. Yes, they're for search engines, too. But search engines aim to help users (your users) by giving them better information — and therefore, a better experience. Stuffed text will only work against you.

2. Channel-Based SEO

The second-largest search engine in the world is YouTube. Just like Google, YouTube has its own search queries, topics, keywords, rankings, velocity (i.e, based on how much traffic, engagements, and likes a video gets), and of course, audiences. So it needs its own SEO, too.

In fact, almost every content sharing platform is a search engine itself. So whether you're uploading photos, videos, clips, graphics, or stories (like Reels, LinkedIn Stories, Twitter Fleets, TikTok, or any visual asset you upload to the web), you will also need to optimize those, too.

Optimize their descriptions, tags, labels, comments, and more. So be descriptive, add keywords, insert links, use hashtags, and so on.

Every channel needs its own form of SEO, from Twitter to Google My Business. Pay attention to the content you add, from the bio of your channel's profile to each asset you upload. Include keywords and links (especially links back to the website) to double your amplification (I'll come back to this).

Create new content with SEO in mind, whether it's the title, the description, the filename, or the surrounding content (including headers, copy, links, additional keywords, etc). In fact, there are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Keywords don't have to be broad or popular with high search volumes. They can be long-tail, indirectly related, or ultra-specific keywords.
  2. Focus on the user, not the search engines. Don't stuff your content with keywords. Focus on topics and what users want, and describe it to them.
  3. Include your name and brand names (such as proprietary names of your services, products, or processes, which is my number-one SEO tip).

Incidentally, content in proximity is just as important as metadata or descriptive data. For example, when uploading content to a visual platform, remember that you have the ability to add descriptions, comments, even tags and related content — such as linking suggested videos or other related posts.

This information also helps to expand your visibility, too.

On YouTube, your videos will show up as related videos on other people's videos. On Instagram, it will be recommended as part of the “Explore” page. On Google, your Web Stories will be suggested in “Discover” (i.e., the personalized content feed on Android devices, Google pages, and Google apps).

For videos, one tool I recommend is TubeBuddy, which allows you to do keyword and tag research, on the fly, as you upload your videos. On Instagram, make sure your photos are properly described, tagged, and captioned with keywords — and don't forget the advanced settings (hidden alt text), too.

3. Bring it Back Home

Finally, remember that your goal is to get people back to your website (or at least to come forward and book an appointment with you). But for SEO purposes, it's to attract qualified patients to your practice or clinic.

While your goal is to use other platforms as a way to share and amplify content from your website in order to increase signals back to your website (and hopefully earn authoritative backlinks), you can also do the converse — i.e., amplify your third-party platform content through your website.

In other words, you can bring content back to your website. You don't need to duplicate everything. Many of these websites allow you to embed their content, which allows you to add a piece of code and incorporate content from their platform back on your website.

However, some may offer you the ability to embed carousels or galleries. That's not what I mean. Embed either one or a few select pieces on a blog post, but add surrounding, descriptive content. Offer deeper, richer content — perhaps a story behind the visuals. Above all, include links to other pages.

For example, one plastic surgeon often posts on Instagram. He uploads videos that are either before-and-after clips, patient testimonials, or videos of actual surgical procedures. He then takes a video from IG, embeds it on his website, and describes the procedure in depth with additional content around it.

He turns it into a case study to describe that specific patient's situation (e.g., what was their issue, what makes them a candidate, what results to expect, etc). He also links anchor texts back to his main service page — the one that describes the procedure (like “breast augmentation,” for example).

This process creates strategic internal links, signals to his key procedure pages, and topical clusters, which all help SEO — including the social media signals.

If you do this with videos, transcribe your videos (using a tool like Descript, Otter, or Screechpad), which will then fill your blog post (and therefore, your website) with keyword-rich and/or topic-focused content that will add SEO as well as bring more context to the visuals (and vice versa).

Ultimately, these are some ideas that will help use non-text-based content and third-party content for SEO purposes that will enhance your visibility, drive traffic, and increase traction with ideal patients.

So with visuals and third-party platforms, don't forget metadata, keywords, and links to each other for bilateral amplification and stronger SEO signals.

Categories
SEO

How to Come Up With Great Ideas for SEO Content

When it comes to plastic surgery or medical aesthetic SEO, the best SEO content is content that answers the questions people ask — people who are within your market. It will generate the most qualified traffic, in other words.

The more you know your market, the less you will have writer's block. Because knowing your market well enough will always provide you with many content ideas — such as commonly asked questions you regularly answer.

Questions are great for FAQs. But they're also tremendously valuable for developing content that search engines (and its users) will love.

If you've been a plastic surgeon or clinic owner for some time, chances are you will have a good grasp of the types of questions your patients and prospective patients ask. But sometimes, even with the best of us, writer's block can happen. Maybe we have an idea but we don't know how to express it.

That's where content ideation can help.

Content ideation exercises may provide you with actual content ideas to write with, or they can provide you with the inspiration you can draw from. In my experience, especially from when I worked as an SEO director at a local agency for a few years, there are three methods that I've resorted to with success.

  1. Question words;
  2. Numbers and lists;
  3. And idea generators.

Question Words

The easiest way to uncover questions you can answer is by looking for those based on question words. They're questions that start with “who,” “when,” “where,” “what,” “why,” “how,” “how long,” and “how much,” as well as with verbs such as “can,” “does/do,” “am I,” “is/are,” “will/would,” and “shall/should.”

For example (and these are actual questions people ask):

  • When does eyelid surgery bruising go away?
  • What are breast implants made of?
  • Why are botox injections better than surgery?
  • Which nose job should I get?
  • Where are facelift scars located?
  • Who is the best plastic surgeon in Chicago?
  • How effective is laser skin resurfacing?
  • How long does it take to recover from surgery?
  • How much does it cost to have a butt lift?
  • Can a facelift help with acne scars?
  • Am I a good candidate for liposuction?
  • Are hair transplants permanent?
  • Will a facelift get rid of wrinkles?
  • Would a breast reduction help back pain?
  • Should I get a chin implant?

You can search Google by typing in a question word along with a topic, such as “why facelift” or “does breast implant.” You will get a list of results — either in the search results themselves, in the search suggestions (before hitting “enter”), or under the “people also asked” panel further down the search results page.

You can also use a keyword tool, like AnswerThePublic.com, AlsoAsked.com, or KeywordTool.io. With the latter, type in the topic (e.g., breast implants), and click on the “questions” tab to get a list of questions people ask. I also use tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs, which I've mentioned several times before.

Numbers and Lists in SEO Content

People love numbers and lists. I suspect it's because numbers are specific and allow the reader to know, beforehand, what they're about to read. Plus, lists are great as they help simplify the content by arranging them in bite-sized chunks.

You can simply type in a number, a list type qualifier, and the topic into Google, and you will get a ton of ideas. For example, “15 questions,” “16 things to know,” “Top 5,” “8 trends,” etc, followed by the topic. For example, when I typed in “top 5 facelifts,” I get the following results:

  • Top 5 reasons to get a facelift
  • Top 5 cosmetic surgery procedures
  • Top 10 most common plastic surgeries
  • Top 5 advantages of a minilift
  • 5 best plastic surgeons in the USA
  • Top 5 most common myths about facelifts
  • 5 top things you need to know when choosing a surgeon

You can change either the number or the qualifier (or both) to get more results, like “20 questions,” “8 things,” “7 best,” “11 trends,” etc. You even drop the number to see what comes up, like “questions facelift” or “trends lip injections.”

However, the problem is that it might be too generic and the results might be all over the place. So, qualify it more, like “questions to ask doctor,” “common questions about facelifts,” or “questions people need to ask.”

Either these will give you a brainstorm of ideas to write about, or you can use the same idea but outrank it by using the skyscraper technique. In other words, write something similar but add more content, more research, more insights, more photos, more tips, etc. By doing so, your article might rank better.

Idea Generators

Third but not least, you can also use idea generators. There are quite a few of them out there, and they're mostly free to use. For example, there's:

Now, these are not idea generators specifically, but they are idea goldmines. For example, look at question-and-answer sites like Quora.com, Answers.com, reddit.com, and social media in general.

There are plenty of niche-specific forums and groups on social media where people can join, ask questions, and provide answers. While the objective in many cases is to become a helpful participant and gain exposure, I like to use them to get ideas. Just sitting on the sidelines can become a goldmine.

Let's not forget the comments section on social media public pages, especially those of your competitors, where people ask questions either from one another, from the page owner, or from the original post author.

The most popular medium for plastic surgeons is currently Instagram. It's relatively easy to follow plastic surgeons, look at their posts, and read the comments. Sometimes, it can become a goldmine of content ideas.

For example, I follow (and tell my clients to follow) hashtags related to their field — such as #plasticsurgeon, #plasticsurgery, #medicalaesthetics, #facelifts, #breastaugmention, and so on. Look at posts that use these hashtags and read the comments. They will give you a wealth of ideas.