Categories
SEO

What SEO Tools Do I Use With Plastic Surgery?

When it comes to plastic surgery SEO tools, I use tools that help improve E-A-T signals (i.e., expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) from Google's Quality Raters Guidelines. These SEO signals are vital when it comes to the content offering expert advice from a professional.

My industry is definitely targeted. As a medical SEO consultant specializing in plastic surgery, search engines highly scrutinize my clients' websites because many of them contain medical information.

A good example of this is May 2020's algorithm update, where Google's attempt to fight disinformation after COVID started had created some havoc with some medical information websites that lacked E-A-T.

Many cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons were affected. In fact, I'm currently working with a new client who saw a drop in traffic after that update.

What I Do to Help E-A-T Signals

There are many ways to improve EAT signals.

For one, I add structured data to my clients' websites. Structured data, supplied by code called “schema markup,” is data that only Google (and Bing) can read. It offers additional information about the page beyond the content users see.

Google wants to make sure medical content is written or reviewed by someone with authority and expertise — not some tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy blogger dispensing home remedies to fight life-threatening diseases transmitted by alien lizard people bent on population control. 😉

I use TechnicalSEO.com’s schema generator to create custom structured data — data that helps identify the site owner, content author, and/or medical information reviewer (using the “reviewed by” schema, for example).

I also use schema code to highlight:

Moreover, structured data is more than just adding “local business” schema. I use advanced and custom structured data to include review schema, how-to schema, and local citations, such as BrightLocal.com, as there are many.

All of these help create and amplify E-A-T signals.

Content and Intent Alignment

Above all, the key to SEO is to align content with search intent and user intent (i.e., how people search and why they need the information they're searching for). So I focus on creating and marketing higher quality content that more closely matches the user’s wants and needs.

Search intent is about what the searcher wants. They either want “to know” (informational), “to go” (navigational), or “to do” (transactional). Some SEOs consider another one, “to buy” (commercial), but that's another type of transactional intent and more applicable to ecommerce SEO situations.

Search intent is less about the user and more about what Google thinks the user is searching for. Why is this important? Because Google may think a user's query has informational intent. But if you're optimizing for transactional intent, it's like trying to swim against a raging current. You'll never get any traction.

The way to align your content is by doing two things:

  1. Create content that solves your audience's pain points.
  2. Or create content that answers your audience's questions.

To find ideas for these, I start by learning what kinds of questions people ask. I often refer back to my friend and copywriting coach David Garfinkel, who said that the key to success in copywriting is to ask:

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

These three questions apply to SEO (or, more specifically, content writing) as they do to copywriting. As a plastic surgeon, you certainly know who your market is and what their problems are. But you want to know why they want to solve it. To do that, the key is to learn how they talk about it.

So I pay attention to discussion forums and Q&A sites — like Reddit, Quora, Answers.com, and social media groups. I then use question aggregators like AnswerThePublic.com and AlsoAsked.com. They curate questions people ask, categorize them, and drill them down further.

The types of questions are clues to the user's intent. For example (and this is not meant to be exhaustive), the purpose may be for:

  1. Education (“To Know”)
    • “Who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “which,” “how to,” or “how much.”
    • “For,” “by, “to,” “from,” “at,” or “in” (followed by an adverb above).
    • (Contains) “near me,” “nearby,” “here/there,” or “close to/by.”
    • “In,” “on,” “at,” “around,” “through,” or “under/over” (location).
  2. Comprehension (“To Understand”)
    • “How is,” “how will,” “how are,” “how can,” or “how do/does.”
    • “Why is,” “why will,” “why are,” “why can,” or “why do/does.”
    • (Contains) “for example,” “so that,” “perhaps,” or “maybe.”
  3. Confirmation (“To Verify/Validate”)
    • “Were,” “will,” “might,” “may,” “is,” “did,” “am,” or “can.”
    • (Verb followed by) “with,” “without,” “for,” “not,” or “since.”
    • (Contains) “about,” “regarding,” “quite,” “just,” or “indeed.”
    • (Adverbs like) “really,” “exactly,” “precisely,” or “absolutely.”
  4. Evaluation (“To Assess/Consider”)
    • “Describe,” “show,” “list,” “explain,” “compare,” or “tell me about.”
    • (Contains) “like/or,” “between/and,” “versus,” or “as opposed to.”
    • (Contains) “best,” “top,” “rated,” “review,” “most,” or “proven.”

Remember, “search” intent is based on what they're searching for (or, better said, what Google thinks they're searching for). But “user” intent is based on understanding why users want what they're looking for.

Knowing this provides some great insights into their level of awareness.

Look Beyond The SERPs to Dig Deeper

Finding questions is only a starting point. They give me ideas about content the audience is interested in. But now I need to know how Google interprets the query, which will help me choose specific topics (and not keywords).

This is a bit of a backward way of doing keyword research. Rather than looking for keywords to write content around, I find out their pain points or questions first. Next, I create a content plan that meets those needs. And then, I match the content with specific queries. Let's call it user-focused SEO.

So before I create the content, I type those questions directly into Google or use search engine results (SERP) analysis tools like Ahrefs.com. I want to see what top results come up. Those are my competitors — they may or may not be direct competitors, but they occupy positions I'm aiming for.

It also shows search intent. This is critical because you don't want to swim against the current. Google's results may be for a different query, aimed at a different awareness stage, or filled with fierce competition.

For example, the term “facelift” is also used in home renovations and car engineering. It would be utterly useless trying to optimize for such a broad term.

Another example: larger educational sites (like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and Wikipedia) may dominate the top results. If so, the competition will be tough to outrank. Granted, it may be a viable query to optimize for, but it will also be extremely challenging to outrank these highly authoritative competitors.

Instead, I look for variations of the same question (or a longer-tail question) and repeat the process until I find a question that has potential. Often, the SERPs provide a ton of clues that go beyond the traditional blue links.

Using Google I can see, at a glance:

  • Search suggestions (e.g., autocomplete suggestions in the search form, “related searches” at the bottom, “people also asked” near the top, and “people also searched for” below the right knowledge panel); and,
  • Search features (e.g., ads, featured snippets, image carousels, videos, maps, knowledge panels, podcast episodes, news stories, product showcases, business listings, reviews, and so on).

Reverse-Engineering and Skyscraping

Google offers a good indication of what they think the search intent is. If the query is viable, the competition is easy, and the intent is right, Google will guide you in what type of content to create and the format to create it in.

By looking at the top results, I review their content length, style, and format, which can be a number of things (e.g., videos, visuals, documents, listicles, checklists, Q&As, tutorials, guides, roundups, and so on).

I also want to see what makes my competitors rank and try to outrank them. It's called the “skyscraper technique,” as if you're adding on to a skyscraper or building a new one that's taller than your competitors.

But I also use the term “skyscraping” to mean building better content or user experiences (UX). It makes sense: what if the competitor's content is quite long already? Studies show that length is not as important as you think.

I also want to see why a certain competitor is getting a lot of traffic. By using SEO tools, I can see all the keywords for which a competitor's site is ranking and all the other pages that are performing well.

This is where I do a gap analysis. I want to see if there are any content gaps in my client's site or gaps in the competitor's site my client can exploit and build content with. Are they ranking for any keywords that my client is not?

Don't Forget Your Own Backyard

Finally, one of the most important steps in SEO is to look at what you already have. Outranking competitors is the goal, but you don't necessarily need to create new content. You can see if your existing content is good enough or underperforming by conducting a content audit.

I use Ahref's plugin to determine what I need to refresh, consolidate, or prune. For example, with each piece of existing content, it tells me if I need to update it, merge it with another (to reduce keyword cannibalization, among others), or outright delete it (i.e., it's deadweight and diluting SEO signals).

Finally, I use my favorite WordPress plugin, RankMath.com. It helps me to add schema code to each page I create (both automatically and custom), suggests internal linking opportunities to build content relationships, creates sitemaps (including video and location sitemaps), and so much more.

But the driving feature of this plugin is its content SEO scoring system. It guides me in optimizing content by offering a checklist of items to optimize for.

I don't follow the score too strictly. It's only arbitrary, and doing so can make your content feel robotic or unusable. I'd rather focus on my audience and on delivering good content.

But it's a great reminder of on-page SEO elements I can optimize beyond the content itself. For example, it reminds me to add alt-text in images, insert internal links, write better meta-descriptions, add a table of contents for longer posts, use short paragraphs to help readability, and so on.

Bottom line, I use many tools to help me, but they are only tools and not meant to be exact processes to follow. In fact, some of the best SEOs out there who have a history of producing astonishing results tend to have their own set of practices and processes using a combination of SEO tools.

In the end, this Tweet from Dave Gerhart sums it up pretty nicely:

Categories
SEO

Can Some Words Stop You From Ranking?

In 2002, I wrote about how words can change the meaning of a sentence. In it, I explained that choosing certain words, including formatting, can help give a sentence more impact and even change its meaning completely.

I titled the article: “It's not what you say but how you say it.”

At the time, I wrote it as a copywriter and from the perspective that words give meaning, and that your choice of words can change that meaning.

But since I've shifted from copywriting to SEO as my primary focus, I applied much of what I know about copywriting to SEO. They share a same goal: know your audience, the questions they're asking, and how to answer them.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that this morning an interested thread on Twitter started by some very respected SEOs regarding the use of “stop words.” Stop words are words like “in,” “at,” “the,” “this,” “and,” “ever,” “more,” “only,” etc.

For years, many SEO experts advocated the reduction in stop words to help rankings, such as their removal from URLs. And for while, this was true.

But with today's algorithms, I'm not so sure anymore.

Stop Words Impact Retrieval, Not Understanding

First, writing for SEO is simply writing for your user. SEO is no longer about stuffing keywords into your content, but about understanding your audience and writing for them. By giving them what they want (in the way they want it), you give Google what they want, too. SEO expert Alan Bleiweiss said it well:

Removing stop words can trim excess words and highlights keywords. But removing stop words can also make your content feel robotic, unreadable, disjointed, keyword-stuffed, and annoying.

Back then, the SEO reasoning made sense: search engines look for keywords and use information retrieval processes that look for and pay attention to them, such as TF-IDF or “term frequency and inverse document frequency.”

Without getting too technical (I may be a geek but I'm far from being a technical engineer), it means the number of times a keyword appears on the page, and how important it is in relation to all the other keywords on the page (and across a set of pages, such as the rest of the blog, for example).

That's where things like “keyword density” have become common practice.

TF-IDF is still important (to help in the extraction of keywords, for example). But it doesn't help to understand their meaning. The growing popularity of machine learning (or “artificial intelligence,” although that's misleading) has helped to improve the search experience by understanding keywords.

I've mentioned before that stop words are important for SEO. They give adjacent keywords context and therefore the sentence (or phrase) meaning. Sometimes, a stop word can completely alter the meaning of a keyword.

It's All In The (Search) Intent

Remember, SEO is about matching the reader's search. But while writing content that informs the reader is one thing, doing it in a way that specifically satisfies their search and provides value is another.

That is what SEO is becoming.

It's about matching the intent behind your patient's query and not just the query itself. It's what Google wants and the way Google is growing, as we see with its increasing sophistication in information retrieval and processing using natural language and machine-learning algorithms.

In plain language, it simply means that Google is getting better at reading and understanding information like a human being. Therefore, it makes sense to write for human beings, too, and forget all the search-engine trickery.

So, are stop words important in SEO? They should be, because we, as humans, use them all the time in natural speech. Will it help your rankings? Not directly.

But they likely have some influence.

The greater the match with the user's intent is, the greater the relevance given to a result will be. To determine this, Google pays attention to “implicit user feedback” such as user clicks and dwell times. This feedback helps feed machine learning, which, according to Google, influences ranking factors.

In short, we went from keyword-driven SEO to intent-driven SEO.

Use Natural Language. Naturally.

Back when the web was young, people were slowly adopting the Internet (and computers, too). It made sense to type in keywords into search forms because a) people were learning how to type and b) machines were rudimentary. Searches were entirely keyword-driven for this reason.

But today, we live in an Internet-connected, mobile-first world. We use smart devices, type in complete sentences, use auto-complete suggestions, or dictate queries using voice search into Google, Alexa, or Siri.

So stop words are now more important than they've ever been.

This is where search is going: retrieving content not based on keywords but based on user intent. Since stop words can alter the meaning (and therefore, the intent) of the query, it goes to reason that stop words have a role to play.

Here's an outstanding example.

Similar to my article about how formatting can change the meaning of a sentence, my favourite writing tool, ProWritingAid, just tweeted this example of the way stop words can completely alter the meaning of a sentence.

Can Some Words Stop You From Ranking? 1 | stop words
How stop words can alter the meaning of a sentence.

Provide great content that satisfies your patients' search and user intent, and you also provide a great user experience. In fact, creating keyword-stuffed gibberish you think Google wants will only kill the user experience.

So don't let stop words stop you from writing good, meaningful content for your users. Most times, they're more like “start words.”