We reside in a digital world of 301s, 404s, anchor text, link building, and keyword metrics. Search engines continue to evolve and become smarter and more efficient at deterring would be SEO-bandits, and the people keeping up with this knowledge are doing everything they can to stay relevant, and keep up with the changes.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as there is immense value in being up to date with the latest trends and tactics, but let's be completely honest with ourselves -- it is exhausting.
So how can we possibly take on the task of spearheading and maintaining an organization's marketing efforts and be on top of the ever-changing SEO landscape? Take SEO back to the origins of what search engines are really created for: human beings.
The following is a simple flow chart that I write down for all my customers when the topic of SEO comes up:
HUMAN >> SEARCH ENGINE >> CREATE
If you follow this logic every single time you create content, you can ensure two things:
- You're creating quality content, because you're providing value to your audience through your content.
- Because Google's goal is to provide value to their audience -- and value for a Google searcher is finding the highest quality content they can surface -- you're helping to future-proof your SEO. Google's algorithm tweaks have always been to help better achieve that end.
Let's take a look at each step more in-depth.
Back in the mid 90s when search engines first started gaining traction, they really served one purpose: to help people find stuff. You hop online and conduct a search for something, and these search engines would go and find things online that they felt were related to that query.
It wasn't until businesses found they could monetize this type of technology that people began to find ways to exploit search engines and "trick" them into displaying their websites higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Shortly thereafter, SEO devolved into myriad different cheat tactics just to get content ranked. In other words, most digital content creators started writing for search engines, not people.
In the early-to-mid 2000s, Google started to gain popularity and by the mid-2000s, Google reigned supreme as the search engine of choice. Around this time, they also started taking action to give SEO back to the people.
If you follow the history of algorithm updates closely, you've probably heard terms such as Penguin, Hummingbird, and Panda. These are all significant changes Google made to their search algorithms, and each of them played a big part in stopping bad SEO practices. Cramming meta keywords in your code to rank number one for 150 different terms? Forget about it. Stuff random keywords in white color in the background of all of your website pages? Never again. The modern day search engine is smarter than it used to be -- it can look at all the elements of your website pages, as well as offsite elements, and use that information to draw contextual clues to understand if your content provides value based on the query at hand.
People get so obsessed with SEO and all of the associated entities that contribute to it, that they actually forget what is possibly the most important step: creating the content. (Note: Technical SEO is also important so your site is crawlable and indexable, but that's a story for another day.)
Using content to improve your SEO really relies on you and your team committing to creating helpful content on an ongoing basis that addresses your target persona's needs. That's really what it boils down to. Think of the human at the other end of the screen first, consider how search engines will read the content you create second, then: go create it.
And then do it again, and again, and again.
Putting Theory Into Practice
So now that we've looked at each of the three critical components, you may be asking yourself, "What's the best way to approach this in practice?" It's a good question, so let's look at an example together.
For our example, let's use a website for a private dinner club in Boston called Schnitzel Saturdays. To provide some context, Schnitzel Saturdays hosts private dinner gatherings in Boston, and it's their goal to become established as an authority in German food in the Boston area. So let's imagine us going through the process of writing a new blog post for them. We'll start with a keyword we might use for them:
Here we are looking at the performance metrics for the keyword "holy schnitzel." To someone concerned with SEO for a site that's just starting out, the metrics here are truly a gift. We have a monthly search volume of 1600, and a difficulty of 44. Let's see how it fits in with the flow chart:
- Human: Does it provide value to the human on the other end of the internet searching for information on German food in Boston? No. Why not? Because the reason there's search volume around the term is that there are a bunch of restaurants called "Holy Schnitzel" -- but this Schnitzel Saturday group has nothing to do with any of them. Sure, you could blog about it a bunch and try to rank for it, but it wouldn't do the readers any good to get to your site for a branded term that's unrelated to Schnitzel Saturday's.
- Search Engines: Does this keyword work in our favor with search engines? Yes, it does because the monthly searches are high and the difficulty is low. However, we didn't satisfy the "human" requirement first, so we cannot proceed.
- Create: If the above two were satisfied, then we can move to this step and actually write the blog post. But, since we didn't, we'll move on.
Let's look at the other side of this equation and see how this can work in our favor. Here we have a completely different keyword, "German food Boston."
- Human: Does this keyword phrase provide value to the human on the other side of the internet looking for German food in Boston? Yes. This keyword phrase provides the opportunity to deliver value to the searcher, because it's much more relevant to the site, which addresses things like German food stores in Boston, recipes for German food, and information on the Boston chapter of the dinner club, so chances are anyone searching for that term will find valuable content on the website.
- Search Engines: Does this keyword work in our favor with search engines? Yes. Though the search volume is not as astronomical as it was for "holy schnitzel," it's still valuable. That searcher is looking for a pretty specific set of information, and if you can deliver it through your content, you're getting some pretty qualified traffic to your site. And you know what they say about qualified visitors -- they're much easier to turn into leads, and easier to close into customers.
- Create: You found a topic that will help your audience, and a keyword that could help your SEO -- all that's left to do is create the content and engage your audience!
Somewhere along the way, SEO practitioners lost their way. But it's our duty as inbound marketers to take set it back on the right path through thoughtful, persona-based keyword research. So go forth, simplify your SEO plans, and go create remarkable content for your audience!
Originally published Apr 2, 2014 11:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017