Eva discussed a three-step framework for creating a sustainable content strategy for search and how to analyze content that Google favors.
How do you approach content creation in today’s SEO space?
Viola Eva (VE): Two things that I really care about, is actually data-driven SEO and mindful marketing.
What I think today is, there’s no such a thing as SEO content. Good content is content that is well-researched, provides value, solves a problem or satisfies a need.
And that’s content that users love and that Google also loves.
That being said, I do think a lot of people forget their homework in terms of content creation, especially some brands that have a really strong message or story to tell.
They sometimes forget to do their SEO homework – getting their on-page SEO right.
What are the areas of content creation that you focus on?
VE: In my opinion, there’s a three-step framework for creating a sustainable content strategy that satisfies quality as well as the user.
- What you want to communicate.
- What people are searching for.
- What Google favors.
If we can get all those three parts right and navigate that space, then this is where engagement, rankings, and – ultimately – business success happen.
How do you balance this if content creation was outsourced to you?
VE: I really like working with companies that have a style guide, a tone of voice, or an understanding of who their target audience is. It does really help to create a certain style and hit the point with the content.
I often also work with my clients. They share materials, articles that they like, or research that they’ve done. It allows me and my team to create more precise content. And that’s something that I would always recommend.
This allows brands and business owners to have that input and bring in that insider knowledge, that sometimes content writers don’t have from the start.
Brent Csutoras (BC): Is that something you set up from an expectation standpoint right from the beginning or is it just nice to have?
VE: It’s something that I’m pushing for quite a lot because, in my experience, external content creation does not work out if you don’t have that in place.
What I do in terms of setting expectations, I’m very clear that creating the first one, two or three content pieces, normally takes a lot more work, than creating the 10th, 15th or 20th. Because with the first couple content pieces, you’re really trying to refine the style and just get it right.
So people know that when they work with me, that probably, in the beginning, they have to do a bit of the heavy lifting in content creation.
And then as we get to know each other, as the process smoothens out, then content production gets easier and more efficient. And we’re just smashing out more and more content.
Should people be writing less?
VE: It really depends on the stage in which your website is at.
If you’re having a brand new website that you just created a few weeks ago or a few months ago, I do think that you should be pushing for content creation really hard and scale that up…
It’s different with enterprise-level, aged and big websites. In that case, I’m very much a fan of upgrading and reworking content, migrating content pieces into one, etc.
It really depends a little bit on where the website is at.
BC: Long-tail is not the same. To be honest, Google’s pretty much got this figured out. They’re not looking for you to help them anymore.
VE: With the long tail, I think it’s exactly right. Today, a content piece can be ranking for so many variations, so many long tail keywords.
Where five years ago, you would be writing five different blog posts, now you can cover them all in the same.
And it leads to the topic of keyword cannibalization. My philosophy is always, one page per keyword cluster.
If you’re writing, say underground techno clubs, Berlin, and two years later you have the same content idea again, I recommend updating the first post, making it better, fresher and longer instead of creating a second one that competes with the same keyword string.
What’s your approach to figuring out what people are looking for?
VE: Firstly, I’m still a massive fan of keyword research. I think it’s not overused. It’s beautiful and magical. If you’re creating content without keyword research, you should definitely be doing it.
I think today, obviously determining search traffic, and how much search volume is in what type of queries is still super relevant and a necessary step for building up a content strategy.
I do think a tool, for example like Ahrefs, they now have an estimated traffic metric which accounts for the appearance of maps, ads and featured snippets. That’s the second metric that I would recommend including in the keyword research today to give you a bit more of an understanding of what an organic position one really means, for that monthly search volume.
Generally speaking, I’m a massive fan keyword research and spending a good amount of time on that, before just actually diving into the content production.
What would you say are some of the good tools and sources for keyword research?
VE: I think the 80-20 of keyword research still is monthly search traffic and then keyword difficulty.
For example, if all the keywords that you’re ranking on Page 1 for, all have a keyword difficulty of let’s say in Ahrefs, between 20 and 30, you know that you can easily choose new target keywords in a similar keyword difficulty range because you’ve proven yourself for that difficulty keyword.
If you have a very young site, I would always start super long tail, super low difficulty.
There’s this interesting saying, which says, “It’s not Google that’s ranking your website, it’s your competitor.”
This means that every keyword has a different [level of] competitiveness and difficulty, depending on how well the rest of the page is optimized, the harder or the easier it’s going to be for you to compete with that.
This is why studying Page 1 (which is kind of the third part – what Google favors) and also keyword difficulty is extremely relevant.
It allows you to understand where the sweet spot is and where you’re actually going to have an impact.
The last part that you were talking about was looking at what Google favors. Can you explain a little bit more on that part of the process?
VE: So Google’s algorithm is an algorithm. It sounds overly simplistic, but in a way, it’s really true.
When we’re creating all this content, we’re hoping for it to rank. And in order to rank, we need to understand what that means. What Google wants to return to Page 1 is the most relevant answer.
Now Google has an algorithm, which means it can not process content the way we do. It processes content mainly based on ranking factors. And the more ranking factors you optimize, the more relevant you are in Google’s eyes.
This is why it’s so important to do your SEO homework once you’ve written a great content piece. I still believe that boring, mundane tasks, like updating your H1 in your page title, are crucial.
At the core of it, Google’s algorithm is an algorithm and it estimates relevance based on ranking factors. That’s a very complicated and convoluted process and we don’t really understand what’s going on and how the algorithm works.
So my hypothesis is that you don’t really need to understand the process of how the query is being processed, how intent is being matched, how it’s being filtered.
You don’t really need to understand the entire process. But what you need to understand is, input and output. Cause and effect, right?
We already know what Google wants to see. People always think SEO strategy is somehow a secret. But if we look at Page 1, we can already see what works. We can already see what Google finds relevant for that specific keyword.
We can actually use a very scientific mindset of build-measure-learn, and then play and experiment with what we’re currently seeing on page one. See if we can make it better, tweak it more and then outperform the existing competition.
BC: I think it’s a really good point you’ve hit on, that if you’re looking at what’s already ranking that’s what Google thinks should be there.
VE: If your link profile is amazing and your content and on-page SEO are really deficient, I still don’t think you’re going to be as successful as if when you get your content and on-page SEO right.
I do think people underestimate the leverage and impact that a good on-page SEO strategy can have. This is why looking at Page 1 for a very technical perspective is so interesting. It’s looking at things like:
- What’s the average word count on Page 1?
- How many images and videos are people using?
- How many sub-headlines are they using?
- What kind of keywords and variations are they using and how often?
You’ll realize that some mundane tasks, like updating page titles and headlines, are still ultimately relevant and you can make that part of your habit. Using data-driven decisions to turn your beautiful content piece into something that Google really likes, too.
BC: I think it’s really good for people to know that you’ve actually tested this. It’s not just a theory, right?
VE: Absolutely. And I tested it based on the same premises, right? There are a lot of tools that allow you to make data-driven decisions and analyze Page 1. They’re called correlational SEO tools because they correlate what those pages on Page 1 are doing right.
To listen to this Search Engine Nerds Podcast with Viola Eva:
Think you have what it takes to be a Search Engine Nerd? If so, message Loren Baker on Twitter, or email him at loren [at] searchenginejournal.com. You can also email Brent Csutoras at brent [at] alphabrandmedia.com.
Visit our Search Engine Nerds archive to listen to other Search Engine Nerds podcasts!
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita