Digital marketers always talk about content. How good is to have useful content, and how any website can benefit from it. Then, we go on, and fill e-commerce websites with quasi encyclopaedic text no one wants to read.
Since I last wrote here, a lot of stuff changed in the search market… It’s funny how the SEO industry swings. Either it’s dead or, suddenly, everyone and their grandma is an SEO expert.
I’ve seen, and dealt, with all shades of SEO work for years — from dirty black hat SPAM, to squeaky clean white hat SEO. In general, I like to talk with most people I interact within the SEO industry. I listen to their side of the stories, their issues, and discuss ideas and opinions. Nevertheless, a big majority of Internet Marketing professionals, still have common misconceptions that seem to refuse to die. Let’s start from the beginning.
Relevance, reputation and the overzealous mother
Everyone knows that, in a very simplistic way, Google relies on 2 main pillars to rank a website: Relevance and Reputation. It’s the bread and butter of SEO (RR == BB, easy). The basics to understand these two factors are: Relevance is what you say about yourself; while Reputation is what others say about you. This is how SEOs see optimisation; they look at something, and try to assess Relevance and Reputation. Without touching these 2 very basic factors, the outcome usually becomes a little less attractive.
As in real life, too much of something can be harmful. We need food to live, but if you ingest too much of it, you’ll likely get fat (or poisoned) and, in some cases, even die. We need to maintain a balanced diet, and eat healthy to keep us going. Whenever I explain SEO to my clients, I like to compare it to a Nutritionist’s job: While a Nutritionist will give you advice about food and how it impacts your health; an SEO will give you advice about how changes on your website will be reflected in search engines. The outcome for both, depends on how the system metabolises what you put inside. Both SEOs and Nutritionists work in a very similar way: they look after keeping you healthy and avoiding serious problems.
But not all SEOs are good Nutritionists. Some are almost like overzealous mothers that overfeed their children… They just want good for their children, but end up not having a clear vision of the consequences. And this is where most SEO misconceptions step in! Either by lack of research, proper use of common-sense and logics, or by trying to achieve an aggressive result in a way that’s harmful and not sustainable.
Quality and useful content
The fact that we ignore logics and self-criticism when we work in SEO, is what dooms most attempts to turn something bad into something good. Unfortunately, many times SEO professionals end up turning something bad into something worse. How many websites had to be trashed just because some “expert” said stuff like:
- “Hey! Let’s make it a flat architecture”
- “Hey! Let’s write a bunch of keyword-ish text and slap it on all pages”
- “Hey! Let’s plant as many links as we can shake a stick at”
- […] You got the point…
When was the last time we stopped to think in a critical way? Do we understand what quality content really means? — This is a discussion I often foster between my team and clients for years now.
We all know (or at least should), that all user searches are filled with intent. Whenever a search is performed, a user is trying to fill a need. These needs can have several variants, we know them as query types (I last wrote about this in my post about Bounce Rate):
- Informational: When we want information about something, e.g. [speed of light]. The person that performs this kind of search, probably wants to know more about that subject;
- Transactional: When we want to buy something, e.g. [Nikon D800 price], a transactional query usually includes terms like: cheap, price, buy, online, etc.;
- Navigational: When we want to find a specific site, e.g. [amazon] or [apple];
- Local: Nowadays, thanks to smartphones, in some cases we can include a fourth type of search intent, the local search, e.g. [Pizzeria in San Francisco] is a query with strong local intention.
We also know that, people make broader (head) queries when they are at the top of the funnel. And slowly move towards more specific (long tail) queries when they are closer to converting.
Informational queries are strongly tied with awareness and interest, while transactional queries are more tied with desire and action. So, why don’t we take advantage of this when we are planning a new architecture (and layout structure) for our websites?
SEO misconceptions: Content vs Keywords
Do you know what’s the worst thing for a search engine user? — No, it’s not the absence of results… The worse experience for a user that just performed a search is irrelevance; i.e., finding a result that doesn’t correspond to their search intent. Many users prefer the absence of an answer, rather than be given an irrelevant answer. That’s equivalent to the editorial content you want to shove in all those transactional pages. You know… Because keywords!
For years, many SEOs keep confusing content with text and keywords. I keep reading and hearing stuff like “Hey! Let’s make unique descriptions for those 100.000 products”, or “Hey! Let’s write content for all our categories” which in SEO dictionary means, “Hey! Let’s put together a bunch of different keywords that no one will find useful or will want to read”. I can only think that, we still didn’t quite grasp what useful or quality content really means.
Most questions I get when auditing, or consulting for a business, revolve around architecture and content quality. No one is shy to brag about that “unique and quality content”, they produced on a dime by hiring a team of 200 freelancers… Then, when confronted with questions like “would you take time reading this if it wasn’t your site?” and “Do you honestly find this content useful?” the answer is a resounding “NO”.
Editorial content VS commercial content
Not all content needs to be editorial, or commercial. But all content definitely needs to be useful. How do you make useful content? You solve a problem, or fill a need for your users. But you need to solve the right problem, or fill the right need; one that’s aligned with your vertical and the user intent at the time of search.
If a user has different search needs and intentions throughout the research and buying processes, why are all your pages crafted almost the same way?
Not all content is or needs to be text. Useful content can adopt many forms. It can be a graphic, or a series of small graphics; a (very) short video, or even an audio excerpt. As humans, we are primarily audio-visual creatures, and we will prefer the type of content that requires the least effort to process (e.g. most people will prefer watching a video than reading a whole interview). It’s the SEO responsibility to make this content as usable and accessible as possible, without losing its purpose, functionality and, mainly, its usefulness.
So, if you have a transactional website, you don’t need to write an academic essay on pages that have a transactional purpose. Instead, try to make those pages as easy to use as possible. Focus on conversion (obviously, without harming relevance). On the other hand, for broader categories, where users with a broader search intent might land, try to transform them into an immediate and appealing display of the various options at their disposal. Your job here is to try and disambiguate as much as possible the user intent.
Let’s stop being in the keyword business and move towards the creative and useful content business. Your users, will likely be much happier. And you, will likely achieve much better results in the long-term.