Take your website positioning content material past acquisition
- The typical advice on just improving the content that's already at the top of the SERP is fundamentally flawed.
- SEOs often limit their content options by looking at SEO content from a purely acquisition perspective.
- Viewing content from a branding perspective leads to differentiation and aligns with Google's focus on current expertise and authority.
- The emerging AI writing technology may not be symmetrical with Google's evolving algorithm.
I need to get an idea of how our industry thinks about content. In general, I think we often don't appreciate what good content really is. I also don't think we're thinking about what to do with creating great content. In particular, I would like to question the notion that all content is “acquisition content”.
I don't just mean landing pages, but blog posts as well. Right, not all content should be created with the goal of getting more conversions or even more traffic to your website.
Does that sound strange? Maybe. But when you finish reading you might agree with me. (While we're honest, you probably won't.)
SEO from a branding perspective
I often think of SEO from a branding perspective. I know you're probably thinking, "Well, that's a crazy statement right there!" As fancy as it sounds, thinking about SEO in terms of branding has a huge impact on how you view "SEO content". Why? Because in terms of mindset, content creation and branding are very similar.
Let's replace "your brand" with "your website" because your website is your brand to both users and search engines.
Think of your website as your brand. Just as you think about your brand's identity and perception, so should you think about your website because that's how Google will see it.
We as SEOs may refer to this as "trust" and "authority" of your website. When you break down these concepts in depth, you are really talking about how your website is perceived based on what it is supposed to do (i.e. its identity).
In other words, what would be the fundamental problem with a website offering cancer treatment advice while selling payday loans? It would be the perception that the health council is "corrupt" at best. Even if the website weren't "run down" and offered both cancer treatment advice and investment advice, there would be a serious lack of identity.
In many ways, things like E-A-T and brand identity (and then perception) are the same thing.
So let's ask if you want your brand to be perceived as trustworthy and authoritative. How would you write your content? What would your content look and sound like?
This type of content would need to be substantial, nuanced, and detailed. Above all, it should be unique. Having a brand identity borrowed from another brand is at odds with having your own brand identity. This would apply to anything from an in-depth blog post to a product picture or description. Brand identity and differentiation go hand in hand. Differentiation and nuance go hand in hand. Do you see where I am going here?
Is that what your "SEO content" sounds like? Do we focus on differentiation?
But on the contrary. Much of the basic advice you can get for writing “good SEO content” relates to replicating what the top websites are already doing.
The typical "content for SEO" is annoying
The typical advice for creating “SEO” content runs counter to content with a unique identity and brand value. This is because it often asks people to see what is on the top of the SERP and make sure the topics that are covered on the top websites make it to your content. Differentiation is doomed.
Worse, this advice is often aimed at new SEOs and comes with no indication that the story has more to offer here.
Of course, it's a good thing to look over the top pages and take away some ideas. However, no unique value is created. Skyscraper content, as it is often called, doesn't help you differentiate your content much.
For those of you who are sticking to the idea of simply upgrading your current ranks, I'd like to ask you if you would take the same approach with your brand.
Would you be happy with a brand identity that just picks up on the identity of another brand? This type feels a bit cheap and isn't a really effective branding strategy.
Why is your content different?
Will digging in what's already out there help make your content stand out or become memorable? (The answer is no, in case you really asked yourself)
There is one fundamental flaw in this approach, by the way. It is based on the assumption that what is already there is the best it can be. Isn't it entirely possible that Google prefers content that looks at the subject from a completely different angle? Isn't it possible that the content that has already been classified is not the best, but simply the best that Google currently has? What if you took a new approach or introduced new relevant subtopics that other sites don't have? Is there no chance that you will get a rank and not these other pages?
However, if you only look at content that is already ranked, you will not be thinking about the content that people really want and need that doesn't yet exist. This is possibly a great opportunity that you would be missing out.
Why is this tolerated? Why are we spreading the idea that it just takes a little bit of keyword research and a survey of the ranking websites?
I think it depends on the mindset. We generally consider content to be an acquisition and that's a bit of a problem.
The problem of viewing content as purely acquiring
If you regard content as purely acquisitive, You will be blinded by the drug that is acquisition. If your only goal is acquisition, don't think about things like:
- What is really good for the user?
- How do I differentiate my content?
- What does my content say about my brand?
The idea that content is acquired is not in itself problematic. Content should attract new users, generate traffic, generate revenue … but also do more.
The content should help to give your website identity. It should create relationships with users. It should add a touch of authority and expertise to your site. (We'll be back to the whole E-A-T thing in a moment, because branding and E-A-T are two peas in one pod.)
However, we do not live in a world of identity, relationships, and authority. Our world consists of clicks, traffic, conversions, sales, etc. In return, we distort content which, in the opinion of this author, is not fundamentally about acquisition, but only about acquisition.
It's not difficult to see how a mentality about seeing what's already working and replicating it dominates our industry. Things like identity and consumer confidence are marketing concepts. What do they have to do with SEO? SEO is about traffic. Let's create content that brings in that traffic, no?
Except, I'd argue, SEO isn't at all. Search engines study who your website is and what it supposedly is (and whether the content you have matches it). They assess your expertise and your authority. You want to match the user with helpful content that aligns with the query intent.
Search engines don't care about your traffic and conversions. They care about users much like a more "brand-centric" look at SEO would care about how a user perceives a website.
What should content be created for if it's not generating more sales or traffic?
So if you're not writing content for purchase, who and what are you writing content for? I don't know how about your audience or potential audience? (I'm referring to creating content for the user, so cliché I know.)
There are several starting points when thinking about content that will serve users. One of these is to think about yourself and your website and how the content you create represents you. Because once you have done this, you will certainly not want to come up with anything wrong with you.
I don't want to get into the entire "is keyword research dead" debate (it's dead, it's not really a debate). Do what you want with your keywords. I don't care about your keywords, I care about your content.
You are your content. The content that you have on your website is who you are for the users who visit your website. Their content is branding. There's no way around it. While you've been focused on removing every topic and sub-topic that you may get from your competitors, your users are wondering (can we call them readers?) Why your content looks and feels like all other content on that they encounter. Congratulations.
(By the way, I personally believe that search engines are most likely saying the same thing. That is, what is the real worth of ranking this page above what is already there, if they are basically the same?)
Traffic and growth and conversions or whatever you want to frame this is not a linear equation. Driving more traffic or getting more conversions is a complex and messy endeavor. You can't just think about what's right in front of you. How users feel about your website and how they perceive your brand over time is an important part of the equation. The content your readers consume, be it a product description or blog post, defines you and your brand. This can determine whether they will come back to your site, recommend your site, link to your site, mention your site, and so on.
Isn't that part of SEO? Because when this is the case, it only happens if, for example, you are thinking about content from the perspective of “perception” or “branding” (or whatever you want to call it).
Obviously, when you look at your content and website as a whole from a brand authority perspective, your current focus is sharpened. It forces you to create rich content that reflects well who you are. And as I mentioned earlier, this current focus gives your website identity to both users (in the form of branded identity) and search engines (in the form of "Hey, this website covers this topic extensively across multiple posts, let's rate it). for this topic across the board ”).
However, this only happens when you step back from the acquisition mindset and look at your content from a broader and less rigorous “traditional SEO” perspective. This only happens when you are writing sophisticated content that focuses on quality rather than making sure you cover specific topics to cover a specific topic.
I'm trying to say that content is inherently closer to branding than search engine optimization (at least search engine optimization as many of us know it). If you don't look at your content from a branding / perception perspective, you're basically missing out on what content is.
This, in turn, means that creating strong, high quality content will be an uphill battle for you. And that means that long-term ranking will be an uphill battle for you too as Google continues to refine language writing and website profiling.
Instead of asking, "How does this content get me more traffic?", Ask yourself, "How does this content make me look at my users?" With that you are well on your way to writing unique, helpful content.
GPT-3, it's a trap!
I could end the piece here, but I still have one “concern” that needs to be addressed. AI authors.
Do I think AI writers, namely GPT-3, are good at writing a product description? Yes I do. I think AI writers will end up doing a wonderful job with something like a product description.
Do I think AI writers, namely GPT-3, are good at writing something called “A Speculative Criticism of Relativity from a Quantum Physics Point of View”? Absolutely not. Do you?
As this field is developing rapidly, I would like to warn you: don't fall into the trap. Don't think that you can get away with GPT-3 to write a deeply nuanced and nuanced article or blog post.
Yeah, I think people will try to do just that. Why? I used to complain because of the same attitude towards acquisition. When it comes to bigger content, an AI writer just can't deliver the nuance and quality you need to make a difference.
In my view, there is a danger that it will be easy to delve into new technologies and go all-in. Remember, Google is an emerging technology too, and much of what the algorithm does is at odds with fully adopting AI-written content.
While the advent of AI writers may make content creation easier, it allows you to create exactly the content that Google doesn't want. And while something like GPT-3 works fine on a landing page, all things being equal, the content it creates for a topic your blog covers may need more nuance and depth.
All of this, of course, depends on having a world of content beyond just acquiring fluff. (If you love lint, GPT-3 will kill you yourself.)
Feel the pressure of perception
How do users perceive your website? How do they feel about you after reading the content of your website or interacting with your website? Thinking about the perception of your website can be a way of creating content that is substantial and ultimately effective (and I mean from an SEO perspective).
The problem is when we're so involved in linear metrics that we don't even feel that pressure. When SEO content creation becomes a rush that surpasses anything currently at the top of the SERP, perspective is sacrificed. That perspective can mean the difference between some other piece of the same old content and something that both users and search engines appreciate.
End the rush.
Mordy Oberstein is the SEO community liaison at Wix.