Ian Helms believes that quality over quantity will matter more than ever in 2023, so you need to be hyper-focused on delivering the kind of quality that Google is actually looking for.
Ian says: “Lots of junior content-focused SEOs and agencies make the mistake of focusing too much on output and reaching a certain quota. With the news of the helpful content update starting to roll out from Google, we should be hyper-focused on crafting high-quality content. Avoid just churning out content to get quick keyword rankings.”
Are you referring to everything or specifically zeroing in on content?
“It’s a little bit of everything. There is a technical side to any content that you create, but there’s definitely more on the on-site content-focused side of SEO. It’s important to dive a little further and not just churn out content that includes keywords for a random topic.
You should think holistically about how organic search can fit into your broader, integrated campaign. It’s about aligning your keywords with user intent and targeting what your customers need. Tie your unique perspective and business values into offering something more helpful, relevant, and genuine. For example, if you’re writing that water is wet just because it’s a highly searched keyword, that’s an ill-advised approach. Focus on establishing proper breadth and depth on a particular category so you can demonstrate your expertise and authority around the topic.”
Regarding high-quality content, is there any particular length or content type that Google prefers?
“It’s a cliche of me to say, but it depends. Whenever you’re creating a new piece of content or looking to launch a campaign with an SEO component, you should always look into the terms you want to target so you can get an overview of the landscape. You can then see exactly what Google says users are looking for.
Google will always try to prioritise ranking the best content on page one. By looking at what’s ranking - whether that’s a How-To, listicle, specific opinion piece or other - you can model the content you create on what you find there.”
Let’s say you visit Google and discover a listicle in the Google SERP. Would it be a mistake to build a different form of content that targets the same keyword phrases?
“It’s probably best to avoid doing anything different. What works best for the user when they get to your site will vary depending on the line of business you’re in and what you’re talking about. Think about the primary piece of content and align the quality of your content to what Google is showing. Then you can think about different iterations and other formats that your content can take.
For example, there might be a downloadable aspect that you can link to from that page. There might even be a different form of content that you can link to from that listicle. Use Google as a guide - as a ramp to divert traffic based on what you think the user will be looking for. Your audience might resonate with types or formats of content that are outside of what Google suggests.”
If Google is already listing a certain type of result for a certain keyword phrase, will going against Google make it harder to rank?
“Yes, but it’s not always as simple as that with some SERPs. Some results pages have many different types of content. When the search landscape changes as it has over the years, some forms (like category or shopping-focused content) may no longer perform. Google can show more results on the editorial side, like how to style a particular type of clothing or the best materials for the type of clothing a user wants to buy.
When you align on a topic and content format, remember it won’t be a set-it-and-forget-it type of situation. There are many ways that content can fit into other pieces or related keywords you’re targeting. Continually check back and see whether something is doing as well as you’d hoped. You should also look at whether Google has changed the way it assumes or determines that people are enjoying the content. You can then evolve your strategy from there.”
How often should you check back? Also, how often should you use some kind of formal analysis on the type of SERP that exists for your target keyword phrases?
“This can be done based on either the amount of content you’re creating or bandwidth. Time is always a luxury that we have at a minimum. You should focus on performing a yearly overview of retroactive content performance. If you churn out content for the sake of churning out content, you’ll get lost in the shuffle of project managing 1,000 pieces of content every month.
If you don’t take the time to do a yearly reflection and look back at how well your content is performing, you’ll keep going down the wrong path. Google will not reward you for what an SEO doesn’t benefit from, regardless of the situation you’re in. Quarterly content is great too, but when it comes to diving into the content you’re touching, creating, and involved in, a yearly minimum review should come into play.”
Regarding the intent you mentioned earlier, is the type of SERP result also an indication of the likely intent of a keyword phrase?
“It’s certainly not perfect in most cases. Tools like Semrush have launched new intent-based keyword markers for when you’re doing keyword research. However, they’re rarely perfect. If you’re targeting a broader keyword, you could shape the intent with some of the secondary and tertiary keywords you’re writing about. These might have a different intent than the broader keyword topic you’re writing about, which can shift the narrative and guide people down the journey you want them to take on your site. Also, once they’re stuck on your site and you keep them there, you’ll be pivoting them to an area where you’re getting them to do what you want them to.”
How can SEO more effectively work in line with other forms of digital marketing?
“Just start a conversation. A lot of SEOs get siloed or they feel scared about going over to the paid side. Why? Because of the way paid media teams are treated differently - their budgets vary, and their preference is more short-term than long-term. By having those conversations, you can reach out, extend some olive branches, and secure testing opportunities.
Some of the most successful campaigns are fully integrated across teams. You should assess situations by, for example, recognising that 10,000 people are looking for something on a monthly basis and working out the structure your content should take. You can incorporate internal links to get visitors to stay on-site. You can then request that paid search teams use these landing pages as a starting point to create a remarketing tool. Also, paid social can get your content in front of people who aren’t searching but could be interested because there are so many people proactively searching.
On the email side, it’s kind of twofold, depending on if you’re emailing prospects or existing clients. It also depends on whether it’s a loyalty or acquisition style of play. Think about what email nurtures are already in place, like the welcome series on the email side, and identify ways your SEO content can fit into that.
This is a really great way to build bridges between teams for greater success, excitement, collaboration, and integration. Then you won’t be looking at things purely from an SEO perspective. You’ll be able to zoom out and say that this category content ended up influencing our organic search rankings, and drove this much social media, this much email traffic, and this many conversions. You won’t just be siloing yourself. You’ll be breaking down the walls and preferably getting extra buy-in and more priority. From an SEO perspective, prioritisation is the next big thing to achieve.”
Does email send signals to different platforms that say your new piece of content is getting views and is worth being considered for organic rankings?
“Absolutely. Email has always been one of the more difficult channels to work with, especially on the agency side. Why? Well, often email runs sales content, or is really trying to get people to convert on the bottom of the funnel. However, the content you create from an SEO perspective is usually on the top-of-funnel side. Therefore, your content won’t always naturally fit into the strategy. There will often be times when you don’t get the positioning for proper visibility. Your content could look unsuccessful just because it’s hidden at the bottom of a really long email or something.
The other challenge is when you’re trying to do a regular newsletter and you don’t have the content output. This goes back to the notion of quality over quantity. If you’re not going to churn out five or six blog posts a month, you’re not going to have to fill out a newsletter either. That’s when you can get to thinking about whether there is evergreen content you can mix in with new content. Repurposing existing content is a great tactic. It’s not always about new content but thinking in a retroactive way. What content can you redo, that is already performing well but could be distributed on other channels?”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“People are starting to chop up old content from their sites or get rid of content they don’t feel is relevant anymore. However, it’s not as simple as that. When it comes to your organic search, visibility, and rankings - if you declutter your site by deleting entire sections, this could easily have a negative impact on your rankings.
You should look at things objectively and focus on repurposing, refreshing, and updating content. Old content often has good bones and was written with good intentions. Reassess the original intention behind a piece and think about where the content falls short. You can then work on fixing it (perhaps in line with SEO best practices) instead of just getting rid of it in a way that potentially damages your site or keyword rankings.”
Ian Helms is the Director of Growth Marketing at Q.Digital and you can find him over at ianhelms.com.
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