I know for a fact that I am not the only one who gets frustrated with the state of SEO in the current day. It isn't that I don't see the benefit of any of the updates Google has implemented since 2012. I remember back before that point and the other issues that crept up as a result, like keyword stuffing and general shady practices. Each one of those less than scrupulous "marketers" made the job for those of us following the rules harder.
With each new algorithm change, it gets a little more difficult for even the most line-toeing of us to keep up. And those shady practices are still in effect, coming in under the radar while updates like Fred comes in from the underbrush and throws everything into chaos.
That isn't the reason for my irritation, however. What I am really frustrated about is the amount of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) around the way search engine optimization should be done these days.
With these complaints in mind, I am still an avid Google fan. I have used every service they have released and implemented it into my strategy as much as possible until they are discontinued. I still miss Google Authorship and I love the current featured snippets that many of us are still learning to utilize.
Google is the gold standard. They have earned their spot at the top through innovation, invention and power of will. SEO is very much dependent on success through their algorithm, which is why when I speak of optimization, it is more or less entirely based around Google services (search and YouTube, in particular).
Regardless of who is on top and what that means in both the pros and cons categories, I still firmly believe that content and optimization of that content for search engines is the most important focus for marketers as it is the foundation of success. It is as much the case now as it was ten years ago.
The Redefinition of Content in 2018
First of all, let's look at what constitutes content in 2018. I don't have to tell most people reading this that the category has become increasingly broad.
Content is anything that aims to tell a story or connect with an audience.
There are multiple forms of content and platforms it can be publicized at but the purpose is almost the same: Inform, help, connect...
Why do I find it necessary to emphasize on the goal of content marketing?
Simply because it's very different from where we started: A decade ago content was created for search engines, to catch every single search query variation and give search bots something to crawl.
That mindset got a lot of websites in trouble. First with Panda updates, then with Fred update, low-quality made-for-SEO content was buried in SERPs and lots of sites saw gradual decline in rankings. The majority of those websites still struggle getting back into Google's top 10 positions as of today.
It is much easier and faster to lose your rankings than lift those Google's penalties and rankings. Therefore focusing on long-term goals and focusing on giving value is a much smarter marketing approach than aiming at fast gains.
With that in mind, search engine optimization is still part of content strategy. So how to optimize your content these days?
1. Forget About Keyword Strings: Optimize for Concepts and Entities
I have to admit, I used to do this back in the day. I would get completely hung up on single keywords to the extent that I didn't focus on any secondary words or phrases. I just saw the risk of Google claiming it was keyword stuffing to be too great and besides, targeting one phrase kept things focused.
Optimizing for a single keyword string used to work well giving you higher rankings across the board.
Yet Google's algorithm got much smarter and so should we.
These days Google understands concepts, related entities and context. Look at the below search result page, for example: Notice how Google isn't trying to match the query verbatim, but instead it shows the variety of results on the implied topic:
To adapt to this algorithm change, use the following tactics:
1.1. Organize keywords into groups by relevancy
To find underlying concepts, cluster your keywords into groups by relevancy. Tools like Serpstat can you help with that. It analyzes Google SERPs to identify overlapping results: The more URLs two sets of search results have in common, the more related the search queries are. This helps identify underlying concepts and optimize your content for the group of keywords instead of one specific keyword string:
1.2. Extract concepts and entities from competitors' content
Research your competitors' content as well as Wikipedia articles to make a list of concepts and entities they cover. Watsona Natural Language Understanding is a great experimental tool for that. Run any text through it to see concepts and entities that are either mentioned or implied in it:
1.3. Research natural language context
This will come in handy for both generic keyword research and mobile search optimization (more on the latter below). Seeing what other people say, how they put it, which questions ask and answer is crucial for better optimization strategy. Both Twitter and Quora work well for that, so make it a good habit to browse them any time you plan your content editorial calendar.
Keyhole is a good tool to get a better understanding of natural language context: It extracts text from tweets and shows you related keywords:
1.4. Finally, make keyword research and content planning a single event
How productive is your strategy for researching them? Are you killing two birds with one stone, the way you should be? Because when you are putting together that list of phrases you want to corner, you could be building up a strategy for content posting and creating an editorial in one single move.
When organizing your keywords and researching natural language context (see 1.1-1.3 above), put together lists of primary, secondary and tertiary keywords, while finding related ideas for content that makes it so much easier to plan content for the next year.
Integrated approach is the key to today's marketing success. Everything needs to be inter-connected: Social media process, keyword research, content planning and conversion optimization - all parts of your marketing strategy should be talking to and inform one another.
2. Diversify Your Content Formats to Optimize for Featured Snippets
The next issue is featured snippets. These have become one of the most important focuses of search optimization thanks to their crucial nature in attracting audience attention and their placement.
Hubspot did a study on their own featured snippets and found an increase of more than 10% on their click-through rate, as well as a net positive impact on post traffic. That is with an already impressive Google ranking as one of the industry's leading authorities.
The best way to get a featured snippet is to research and answer niche questions. This goes back to providing real value and helping real users, so it aligns very well with our initial long-term goal I explained above.
Furthermore diversifying your answer formats is another great way to optimize your content for featured snippets: For instance:
- A paragraph that answers a specific question someone may ask should provide a very concise answer. Try to provide an exact answer within two-three sentences.
- A bullet list is more likely to get a snippet than a block of text (especially when a list is implied, e.g. when you list steps, types, species, etc.)
- When it comes to comparison, a table is a great way to give a useful answer and get featured
3. Don't Forget Voice Searches
Voice search is a thing. It is a very big thing, one of the fastest growing search trends around. Experts claim as many as 55% of teenagers are using voice search every single day. Comscore estimates that by 2020, 50% of ALL mobile search will be voice. With mobile search becoming so common, it isn't at all a shock.
Have you been optimizing for voice searches? Searching by voice is very different from typing keywords into the search box. People tend to be much more "circumlocutory" (i.e. using more words than needed) when talking than when typing. It has been found that when pronouncing the search query, people tend to use at least 7 words (while they usually do fine with 2-3 when typing).
You need to be asking yourself what questions people are going to be asking in voice and how that differs from what they might write, instead. Searches through voice assistants, such as Apple's Siri, is a good place the start.
Try searching yourself, experiment with your team and collect feedback from your customers. These are all good steps to start better understanding voice search behavior and where your content fits in.
Optimizing for featured snippets helps here too: After all featured snippets were made to make searching more optimized for voice (when voice searching, users see and hear the featured snippet read to them first), so start paying attention.
Looking at "People Also Ask" results in Google (these usually go hand in hand with featured snippets) is a great way to better understanding how people put those queries when speaking:
Optimizing for voice search means:
- Consumer-focused content strategy: Collect questions from your customers, listen to what they struggle with, focus your content efforts around addressing their needs!
- Using tools to collect and organize the data
- Integrating customer support and sales team into your content strategy: Both teams can provide valuable insight into your audience interests.
Further reading: SEO in 2018: Optimizing for voice search
Do you have a tip for optimizing content for search engines in 2018? Let us know in the comments!