SEO is a cost-efficient, valuable strategy, but every business in the world with an online presence knows it. It’s a competitive landscape out there, and you’ll need to improve your optimization strategy if you hope to rank.
Google’s prerogative is to give users the best possible online experience, and that means giving users exactly what they’re looking for. Most of us use Google to find information, so the businesses that provide the most valuable and relevant information are the ones who will earn the highest rankings. Rather than stuffing your posts with keywords or trying to cheat the system by tweaking individual words and links on your site, it’s more effective to simply provide more information that your audience is looking for. One of the easiest ways to do that is to find questions that your users are asking (the more specific the better) and provide in-depth answers to those questions.
If you’re thinking about this strategy in terms of keywords, stop. After several years of updates and adjustments from Google, keyword-based optimization is practically dead. While Google will look at your words to determine the overall message behind them, it will not measure the frequency of their appearance, and it will not pair the keywords on your page to keywords in a user’s query.
For example, if your goal is to answer the question “How do I thaw a frozen lock?”, your article should be a thorough examination of the ways to thaw a frozen lock, not an excuse to fit the exact phrase “how do I thaw a frozen lock” into your content three or four times. Keyword stuffing is no longer an acceptable practice, and will do more harm than good for your campaign.
Google has continually refined its ranking algorithm in order to weed out black hat practices like keyword stuffing and link spamming. The Panda update, back in 2011, did a lot of good to fight back against the unnatural overuse of keywords in onsite content. But it wasn’t until the Hummingbird update, in 2013, that keywords stopped being relevant altogether.
Hummingbird introduced a concept to the search world that is becoming increasingly more familiar: semantic search. Semantic search is a search strategy that attempts to understand the meaning behind a user’s inquiry, rather than picking the query apart into individual words and phrases. For example, an older algorithm might dissect a complicated phrase into three or four chunks, and seek out material that happens to include those same three or four chunks. Through semantic search, a computer will work to understand what the intention of that complicated phrase is, and then find content that meets that intention. Put simply, the search algorithm is smarter, and it’s going to find the most appropriate content for incoming user search queries no matter how many keywords it contains.
Domain authority, external link profiles, and social media activity are still important factors that play into what Google determines to be the most relevant articles, but if you’re going to be found by searchers, you have to first present information that answers their questions.
The best articles on the web are the ones that are valuable and unique. Valuable articles will earn you the greatest amount of traffic possible, while unique articles will eliminate your competition. Therefore, to achieve the greatest working efficiency, you have to provide answers to questions that are both valuable (attracting large volumes of search queries) but also unique (so users aren’t bombarded by hundreds of articles serving the same purpose).
Let’s consider two articles as examples of what not to do. The title “how to tie a tie” answers an important, common question, so writing an article from it may seem like a good idea. However, a search for “how to tie a tie” returns more than five million results. This is an example of a question that is valuable, but not unique at all. Your article would get buried in the millions of similar articles that already exist.
On the other hand, the title “how to perform backflips while submerged in jello” has the opposite problem. It’s a unique question which won’t face any competition whatsoever, but at the same time, there won’t be an audience to search for it.
Your goal is to find questions that strike a middle ground—questions that serve the needs of the many while still distinguishing themselves from the rest of the field. It can be hard to find such questions, but there are a handful of strategies that can help you brainstorm.
Research your competitors
What are your competitors writing about? What kinds of questions are they answering? Obviously, you don’t want to copy your competitors’ strategies directly, but you can and should draw inspiration from them. For example, maybe they answer a great question about how to care for a young bearded lizard, but they neglect to follow-up with an article for how to care for an adult bearded lizard. It’s an opportunity for you to swoop in with a related but unique piece of content.
Log onto industry forums and see what people are talking about
Look for threads with uncommon titles that have only generated a handful of responses. These tend to represent customer concerns that are significant enough to post about (or write about), but ones that haven’t generated much attention yet (making them perfect opportunities for a unique perspective).
Ask your customers directly
Finally, you can go the easy route and just ask your customers directly what they’d like to read about. Ask your followers on social media what kinds of topics they’d like to see, or conduct regular reader surveys to highlight customer interest and see if there are any specific questions they’d like to see answered on your blog.
Once you’ve got your editorial calendar full with questions you’re going to analyze, you can start writing. Remember to adhere to all the best practices for traditional content posts, including writing a strong title, breaking down your article to be easily skimmed, and keeping it an appropriate length. In addition, you’ll also want to post an accompanying image or video, possibly documenting the answer to the question you’ve posed. There are several benefits to this.
First and foremost, your post will be seen to have a higher relevance. Google views articles with accompanying images and videos with more authority, so if you’re competing against a similar article that doesn’t have any visual aids, you’ll likely outrank it with ease.
More click bait
If you host your video on YouTube or if your image is tagged with an appropriate phrase, your visual content could be shown off along the top ranks, before your content is even seen. It serves as an extra channel to generate clicks, giving you more visibility and a higher click through rate.
External link attraction
Finally, posting valuable images and videos about an important subject is bound to attract external links. Competitors and businesses in related fields will cite your work to support their own content, giving you credit in the form of backlinks which will naturally and effectively increase your own domain authority. Ultimately, that means you’ll rank higher on each of your posts and you’ll have a new route for traffic to come back to your site.
If you’re still using keywords as the basis of your blogging strategy, it’s time to abandon ship. Instead, write articles that answer the important questions your users have. If you create articles that provide valuable, unique information to your users, you’ll get the search visibility you want, and you’ll even get the added bonus of improving your reputation as an authority in the field.