The New SEO (Search Engine Optimization) May Offer Refreshed Tactics We Can Use. But SEO Per Se Will Never Stop Being The Best Traffic Source Online.
SEO traffic still tops any other source of traffic to the blogs and websites of solopreneurs who do Knowledge Commerce.
Even though getting Google listings and rankings are getting to be very tough against the competition (because of the many changes in Google’s ranking algorithms), bloggers and content marketers still do need search engine-driven traffic to survive and thrive.
How best can you, as a solopreneur, cream the search engines (notably Google) to get enough traffic and more to your website?
Essentially search engine optimization (SEO) still largely operates by the same rules as it used to. It is still about aiming for high search engine rankings for the most searched keywords in your niche. Traffic generation from SEO also continues to involve doing both onsite and offsite optimization. And SEO is even today about acquiring enough backlinks to your blog or site.
At Solohacks Academy, we believe, however, that although the goalposts haven’t quite shifted drastically, the game has to be played slightly differently than we have all been doing before. Here’s a glimpse of our new attitude to SEO and how we now play the game …
1. Google Has Become Smart On “Search Intent” – And So Must You
Search intent is one of those words a lot of SEO experts in traffic generation talk about. You may even have understood its meaning somewhat. But after you know what it is, how do you use it? Can you too get 677 percent more traffic as Joshua Hardwick, Head of Content at Ahrefs, has said he managed to get? Read on …
a. What Is Search Intent And Why Does It Matter To The New SEO?
Till recently, content marketers were looking for “what” keywords searchers were using. Now, it appears, we have to look for “why” users are using their specific search keywords. We have to unearth the “intent” behind the searches of our audiences.
- Are they searching because they have a question and want an answer?
- Are they searching for a specific website or page?
- Are they searching because they are looking to take some actions online?
- Or, are they searching because they want to buy something?
For example, let’s say someone has searched in Google for “content creator”. Is the person looking for a content creator? Does he want to become one? Does he want to know what it takes to become one? Or is he looking for a tool that helps in content creation?
Why is search intent becoming so important to content marketing? One reason is that we’d all like to write good answers that match searcher queries. That’s when they will click on our Google listings to visit our sites and read.
But search intent is also getting more important because Google now looks at it with hawk eyes. Its Hummingbird and RankBrain algorithms have made search intent very important to Google.
Google wants to serve up perfect and satisfying answer pages and posts to user searches. Google also wants to highlight the best answers to match search intent. It does this through rich snippet results like the Answer Box and Knowledge Panel.
If earlier we were all focused on getting to Page #1 of the Google SERPs, that’s not enough anymore. Now there are people pipping us by being in the rich snippet areas atop of Page #1.
If we too don’t deep-dive into search intent before writing posts, we won’t gain as much by being on that Google Page #1. There will be other guys sitting above us in exclusive boxes. They’ll get all the visibility and the clicks, while we’ll become part of page’s landscape. That’s today’s truth.
Incidentally, search queries are most clear to us and to Google when they are questions. For example, if someone searched for “apple jobs” we’d have less clarity on the intent. But if the query was “How to apply for jobs at Apple?” there would be no ambiguity.
Questions are the clearest form of search intent. When in doubt, go for a question query you can answer, instead of typical “keyword terms”. This is fail-proof!
b. The SEO Benefits Of Search Intent Targeting
For our created content to align with search intent, “2-way relevance” is the key. Our content must become more relevant to our audiences. Better intent optimization must also bring in more relevant traffic to our websites.
This means 6 benefits to us in SEO terms:
- We get traffic boosts to our informational pages … via more clickthroughs on our listings.
- We get improved conversion on our transactional pages …which match what customers need.
- Our bounce rates get reduced … people stay on our pages longer when they get what they want.
- We get more page views … since meeting users’ intent makes them engage with more of our websites.
- Our content may get selected for Google’s “featured snippets” … this is also known and coveted as Position 0 or the very first result.
- We can get wider audience reach … Google may show our content for several keywords with nearly-same searcher intent.
All these are reasons why intent optimization is now so powerful.
If our content is intent optimized, we will see much more qualified traffic. That is far more precious than notching up a huge quantity of mismatched traffic.
c. How Google Decodes Search Intent Through LSI
Slowly, over time, Google (and the other search engines) have grown to understand search terms better. No longer is Google just a machine. There is now great intelligence (called Latent Semantic Indexing or LSI) working behind the scenes, whereby Google understands the intent behind a searcher’s keywords, and supplies the right answers to satisfy that intent.
For example, if Google saw a search term like “light weight summer salads”, it may make the connection that a possible “fitness-or-slimming-concerned-person” may be searching … and you may find Google giving priority of listing to articles related to the health and slimming value of garden-fresh organic salads.
This therefore suggests that if we, content marketers, are too keyword-literal, we will miss the traffic that Google can send our way. We too have to think about “topics of interest and searcher intent” rather than just the searched keywords.
Now comes the big dilemma for content writers who used to look for profitable keywords to inspire their posts and articles. Taking a keyword literally makes sense no more. Neither does writing your article after finding a suitable keyword to write about.
For instance, it won’t do any more to just list some salad recipes in your article for this keyword search term “light weight summer salads”. If, on the other hand, you were to write an in-depth article for the health and slimming value of salads, along with salad recipes, Google would obviously rate it high …
… but then, again, which would be the search term under which you would be listed? Would it be “obesity diets” or “slimming foods” or “organic salads” or “health and fitness” or “light summer food”? Or all of these?
Naturally, as our articles get more in-depth, they will qualify to be found under many related search terms, wouldn’t they? So what then do we do to see if we are going to reap traffic from the profitable keywords or not?
2. Choosing What To Write About And How To Find The Matching Searches
There was a time, in our early days, when we used to first hunt for “long-tail keywords” with good popularity and less competition, and then write articles for these keywords. That was the way we could hope to get Google to rank our posts against what people were searching for. But then we, at Solohacks Academy, began to see a change in Google’s behavior, after search intent became more of an issue than mere keywords match. That’s when we changed our SEO strategy completely upside-down. Here’s how we do SEO now. And it works.
a. The Way We Now Do Keyword Research – Upside Down
To have some control over how and where Google ranks you (under which keyword search terms), the old tenets of keyword research have now to be abandoned.
Earlier marketers would first look for keywords in their niche that were “highly popular” and “low on competition” and then they would write articles to fit these keywords. Now marketers need to work the exact opposite way … they have to see what “topics” would be of great interest to their niche target audiences and write those articles first, as if they were least worried about keywords.
They should then look at their articles and see what the “dominant concept” behind the article is, and look for possible keywords that best match these dominant concepts, while also offering the best combination of popularity and competition. Having found the best concept keyword to use, they should then tweak their articles to use that keyword wherever the dominant concept of the article demands it can be used.
Let’s say, we have done no keyword research, but have written an article on salads for slimming because we are in the fitness niche and our audience is people who want to lose weight. We have decided on the article we want to write, and we know we are going to write in-depth on the subject and include loads of theory and practical tips.
After we write the full article, we look up keywords in the related areas of slimming, fitness, salads, obesity and weight-loss. From among the choices we find, we then pick the best keywords with the ideal combination of popularity and competition.
We may, for example find “weight loss foods” to be a very competitive keyword, whereas the keywords around “slimming foods” may be a better choice (good enough traffic, less competition). We can therefore tweak our headline to sound more like an article on “slimming foods” and use the idea of slimming and lightweight foods more often in the text to re-orient our article more towards “slimming foods” than “weight loss foods”.
The moral of the story is therefore this: Article first and keywords second. No more of keywords first and article second.
b. The Importance Of Site Structure And Internal Linking
The days of keyword-stuffing are thankfully over. We now do not need those plugins that count how many times we have added the keywords into our posts and then tell us to add another ten variations of the keyword in bold text, underlined text and italicized text. In fact, indiscriminate use of a keyword in a post is a negative, and Google will sharply deduct brownie points. So try not to overdo keyword usage, even if old habits die hard!
What do you need to still do for on-page search engine optimization to stay within Google guidelines and get the best prospects of good traffic from Google? Here are seven things to do …
1. Your page title: Make sure you include your keyword in the earlier part of your page title, if possible.
2. Your first paragraph of text: Again, make sure the dominant concept keywords are near the beginning of the first text paragraph.
One more tip: See if you can link out to an authoritative site in your niche using words in your first paragraph that are not your dominant concept keyword.
There may be other nice words in the first paragraph of your text that let you link out to a great site that’s of high domain authority in your niche. This sends signals to Google upfront that you like being bracketed in the company of the greats in your field. But it also does not link out using the keywords dominant for your own article, which is very important, because you don’t want to show Google that on this keyword topic you think other sites are better sources than you.
(I don’t know how far this is all true, but I was told on good authority from someone inside Google, and it works well for me!)
3. Your subheadings in the text: It would be a good idea to make the first subhead directly related to the main concept keyword of the article. After that, use some other related keywords in your subheadings to show that you’ve covered your topic nicely.
If you take our main dominant concept keyword to be “slimming foods”, for example, the first subhead could be about “slimming foods and their value to a rounded diet” and the next three or four subheads could cover all the related ideas we saw during keyword research … like “obesity and foods that really help”, “why weight loss in summer is easier”, “which foods really help slimmers lose weight without fatigue”, “what is the new definition of weight and fitness” etc.
See how we can cover the possibilities of getting good rankings for all these kinds of topic-related keywords by enriching our subheads with terms closely connected to the broader slimming foods topic!
4. Your SEO title and meta description: Big tip here: Use the Yoast SEO plugin for your WordPress site for there is no other as good as Yoast! For the SEO title and meta description, use the main concept keyword close to the beginning.
5. Your body text: You should ABSOLUTELY not stuff your keywords here, but you can use a few variations of the keywords.
For example, instead of always using “slimming foods” you could use “foods that help you stay slim”, or “dishes safe for slimmers”, and other similar variations that sound like naturally written language. In other words this paragraph below is how NOT to do it:
“You need slimming foods because slimming foods help you lose weight and further slimming foods also help you stay healthy, provided you eat just the right quantity of SLIMMING FOODS and no more than your daily quota”. That’s the old way. Thank God, that era has gone!
6. Your images and their alt tags: It’s still a very good idea to make your image alt tags directly about your dominant keywords, for the very first image on the page … but if there are more than one image, use variations of your dominant keyword concept. Avoid naming the alt tags like this: “Slimming-Foods-Pic-1”, “Slimming-Foods-Pic-2” and “Slimming-Foods-Pic-3”.
7. Interlink your pages: Now this is a whole new science so read this carefully. Your site structure should be like this image below where you have chosen certain main topics connected to your niche, and made some important topic clusters.
Image courtesy: Matt Barby
Each cluster should have a main pillar page that is really in-depth. The pillar posts can be connected to a collection of related posts that use ideas or keywords that add further depth to the main topic. Now after you have the cluster formation in mind and have created the posts accordingly, you need to interlink the posts in each cluster so that they all link between themselves and with the pillar post and are thus a tightly knit interlinked cluster.
One more thing: Google expects to see pillar pages always fresh with content. So make sure to add a lot more new content every so often, both to the pillar post itself, plus also adding to the cluster of posts around it.
c. The Case For And Against Aggressive Backlinking
One of the main signals Google previously counted on to check the quality of webpages it ranked high was the number of backlinks the site had from other sites of high authority. When a lot of quality peers in your field were linking to you it showed Google you too were a noted “somebody” and worth ranking up there on listings pages.
But now the question has arisen: If articles are more in-depth and broadly written around topics rather than just specific keywords, and if these articles can be ranked for many related keywords, then how much do backlinks count for anyway?
For instance, if your article was ranked for “slimming foods” which had good popularity but also high competition, the number of backlinks you have would help you pip the competition to Number One spot on the listings page.
But if the same article also was ranked for “obesity reducing salads” where there was not so much competition and yet there was a good amount of traffic, you’d need no backlinks at all to be at Number One listing – because the competition may be very poor in matching the intent of that keyword and your article depth!
So what this means is that the same article may struggle to get rankings for some search terms, and not struggle at all for some other search terms, even if it had zero backlinks!
That said, I would still aim to get a few good backlinks to my site and internal pages, because I would want to be in the running even for the more difficult search terms. The difficult search terms are probably where the masses of traffic are to be had.
But I sure wouldn’t be as fretful as before if I couldn’t get a minimum of 1 million backlinks! That sort of backlink-anxiety is no longer needed. You may not need as many backlinks as before, so focus on quality instead of quantity.
Also make sure that you get more editorial backlinks that are naturally written as part of text in other articles, and don’t get into a lather to churn out dismal guest posts just for backlinks. Google has said clearly that guest posts are good for branding but not for backlinks – and if Google thinks guest posts are getting too spammy (as they already do) they may start discounting all backlinks coming from author bios (if they aren’t already doing that).
In the final analysis, try everything you can do to get organic (i.e. free) traffic from search engines. Beyond doing what you can, you have to hope and pray, I’m afraid.
As Brian Clark of Copyblogger had written once about Google, it’s wrong to think Google will give you popularity and traffic. On the contrary, Google rewards traffic to those who are already popular (well linked-to for their quality of content).
So don’t count on Google lifting you out of the morass of mediocrity into the heights of stardom.
You have to make yourself a star with consistent eye-catching high-quality content that people will rush to link to – and then the Great Google will maybe think about placing a small crown of traffic on your expectant head!
3. Our Three Buckets Of Blog Posts Approach
There’s one more important change we made to our content writing for SEO which came from an insight we suddenly got one day. We saw that the posts that we wanted to write for stamping our brand authority (something Google respected) were not exactly what people were searching for.
And again, what our customers were searching for on Google (their search queries and their intent), was not what attracted influential bloggers to link to us (influencer backlinks were also respected by Google).
We realized that we need to create blog posts in three separate buckets so that we wrote different kinds of blog posts for these different SEO objectives.
a. Bucket 1: Blog Posts That Build Brand Authority
Before we began to write posts for our customers we needed to clarify all that we stood for and how we were different from the competitors we had. So our Bucket One was for all the blog post categories we thought should include as an authority site in our niche.
For instance, we evangelize the concept of “Knowledge Commerce”. People aren’t yet searching enough for “knowledge commerce” as a concept that they want to know more about. They may search for parts of this idea – like “how to start a business selling my knowledge” or “how to build online courses” or “how to teach what you know and make money”. Nevertheless, we felt we wanted to ingrain the idea of our brand with the term “Knowledge Commerce” – so that it would indelibly become associated with our brand.
It is a gamble we have taken with a long-term view of arrogating the idea of Knowledge Commerce to ourselves. Maybe today there won’t be many spontaneous searches for this concept, but over time we are fairly sure it is likely to get its demand. Already more people are looking up this term than they were when we started out.
As an investment into building “Knowledge Commerce” into our brand differentiator for the future, we continue to write a number of posts educating people on how to approach the idea of Knowledge Commerce, what its benefits are, how it works, and so on. These posts we do, to get brand-authority in a specific area we have chosen as our specialization niche, go into our first SEO bucket.
We know we are sowing the seed in Google for our concept. We also know this is a slow-growing tree and won’t burst into bloom for quite a while. But blog posts in this first bucket, we have no doubt, will help grow a very tall tree for us in the fullness of time. We are willing to bet on it.
You too may have a niche where you may need to educate people on an idea they are not yet searching for in droves. A lot of searchers tend to look around an idea, even if they don’t yet know what the idea is technically called. If you have a concept niche, you too may strongly feel that your brand will gain eventually, because your idea’s time is likely to come, sooner rather than later.
There are many new names for old or hybrid topics in the online world, that are seldom searched for in large numbers. Yet you have to write about it if you are such a sphere … treat it as an investment in time and effort to build a brand. Posts like this are what should go into Bucket One. Also, don’t forget to track your SEO for these blog posts. You never know when they will climb to the top of the SERPs.
b. Bucket 2: Blog Posts That Build Backlinks
If only you could rank on Google without backlinks, life would be wonderful for most of us marketers. But as long as Google still values backlinks, you have to find a way to get them, albeit without feverish anxiety.
There are some types of blog posts that act as “link-bait” – in other words, they are a good bets to get you links from top influencers, if you are persistent – and those are also the kind of backlinks that count for a lot with Google. Link-bait posts are what you should write and pop into Bucket Two.
Among the link-bait category of posts are all these types of posts:
- Top List Posts: These are the posts with titles like “Top Twenty Twitter Influencers With The Most Retweets” or “Best Seven CRM Apps For The Newbie Marketer”. The idea here is to compile a list of a number of top people or resources in an area allied to your niche, from whom backlinks would be invaluable. Do the post and then reach out to these people saying they can link to your post to share it with their site visitors. Many may just give you some social sharing, some may give you backlinks.
- Topical RoundUp Posts: These are usually posts written around a topic related to your niche. You write to, say, 25 top influencers in your sphere, and ask them for short (100-200 word) answers to an interesting query, and get their answers. You then publish their thoughts as quotes from them that give different angles of thought-leadership on your topic. Here again, you can outreach for backlinks from the people you have quoted in the posts. Some will share on social media, and some will give you backlinks.
- Best of XYZ’s Posts: This is a variation where you take any one influencer and go through all his blog posts and pick out his best thoughts on a variety of topics. You then publish your collection of his best works as a tribute to him, and then outreach for backlinks.
I have to admit a few things here in case you think getting backlinks is a breeze. People normally find it easier to share your post on social media than to give you a link. Secondly, most people think if they give out links to sites below their own grade, they will lose their status and rankings. Thirdly, most people will always ask themselves, “What in this for me?”. If the reasons aren’t compelling enough, getting backlinks are more difficult than extracting teeth. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
Another class of posts that could get backlinks more easily are guest posts you write for other websites who call for good posts from good writers. That too is getting tough to maneuver though, because people are getting over-cautious or finicky about the kind of posts they want, or they stipulate that they will only link to your home page, or they say they will give you only one editorial link as part of the text etc. Some ask for money to use your guest post and give you a link (steer clear!).
Whether it’s all worth the trouble is for you to think. Anyway, all blog posts that are in the category of link-begetting should go into Bucket Two.
c. Bucket 3: Blog Posts That Answer Searcher Queries
Bucket Three is the most valuable bucket if you want traffic that will convert more quickly into customers. Let’s take the example of our website built around the concept of “Knowledge Commerce”. As I mentioned earlier, people are not looking for this term specifically.
But, on the other hand, search queries abound around related topics like “how to publish my own ebooks”, “how to teach what I know as a course online”, “how much can I earn with a membership site”, “how do I find target audiences for my consulting services”. Since people are searching for these types of topics, and these can be directly related to our niche of “Knowledge Commerce” we would do well to write blog posts on such searched topics of good demand.
Notice here that it’s a surer bet if these search queries are in the form of questions – because the search intent then is very clear and we can write to-the-point answers that people will find very valuable. These types of blog posts go directly into Bucket Three.
When you write blog posts for search questions that have good demand, it pays to check out the kind of competition you may face on the Google SERPs. Check if other sites have answered the searcher questions in-depth and without rambling around the topic. Check if the blog posts are instructional and implementable. See if the serious competition is from sites with a lot of backlinks.
If the competition is full of thinly-backlinked folks, and those who have not quite answered the search intent well, you have a great chance of hitting the top of the page on Google quickly.
One more important point here is that people like to get their search queries answered in actionable steps or points. So make sure your posts are formatted to look like a series of steps to take, or a list of factors to consider. This template makes the post look immediately practical.
Also if your topmost competitor has done a list of 12 points, see that your blog post has 20 points. In other words, deliver more value to the reader than the other guy, because that pleases Google also.
Further, when you choose all your sub-points to list in the article, make sure to use a lot of LSI keywords (related phrases that Google sees as supporting the search intent). A good tool to use to see what points to cover in your blog post is the LSI Graph tool. It gives you lots of related words you can use liberally in your blog post to give Google cues that you have dealt with the topic in much greater depth and breadth than anyone else.
In Summary …
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will never stop being the best traffic source. But check if your tactics are outdated.
- Search intent is one of those words a lot of SEO experts in traffic generation talk about. But after you know what it is, learn how to use it.
- Earlier marketers would first look for keywords in their niche that were “highly popular” and “low on competition” and then they would write articles to fit these keywords. Now it’s articles first and keywords second.
- Internal linking is key. Your site structure should be built around chosen certain main topics connected to your niche, each interlinked with its subsidiary topic clusters.
- With search intent dominating, backlink-anxiety is no longer needed. You may not need as many backlinks as before to rank for some non-dominant keywords, so focus on quality of backlinks instead of quantity.
- Follow our “Three Buckets Of Blog Posts” Approach. Write different types of posts for building brand authority, for backlink-begetting, and for wooing searching audiences.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.