Posted by randfish
With updates like Hummingbird, Google is getting better and better at determining what’s relevant to you and what you’re looking for. This can actually help our work in SEO, as it means we don’t have to focus quite so intently on specific keywords.
In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains how focusing on specific kinds of people and the topics they’re interested in can be even more effective in driving valuable traffic than ranking for specific keywords.
Whiteboard Friday – Building SEO focused pages to serve topics and people rather than keywords and rankings
For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard:
Howdy, Moz fans and welcome to another edition of “Whiteboard Friday.” This week, I want to talk to you a little bit about the classic technique of building SEO pages for keywords and rankings versus the more modern technique of trying to do this with people and topics in mind. So, let me walk you through the classic model and show you why we’ve needed to evolve.
So, historically, SEO has really been about keyword rankings. It’s “I want to rank well for this keyword because that particular keyword sends me traffic that is of high quality. The value of the people visiting my site from that is high.” The problem is, this doesn’t account for other types of traffic, channels, and sources, right? We’re just focused on SEO.
This can be a little bit problematic because it can mean that we ignore things like social and content marketing opportunities and email marketing opportunities. But, okay. Let’s stick with it. In order to do this, we do some keyword research. We figure out which terms and phrases are popular, which ones are high and low competition, which ones we expect to drive high-quality traffic.
We create some landing pages for each of these terms and phrases. We get links. And we optimize that content so that hopefully, it performs well in the search engines. And then we measure the success of this process based on both the ranking itself. But also, the keywords that drive traffic to those pages. And whether people who visit coming from those keywords are high-quality visitors.
And then we decide “Yeah, I’m not ranking so well for this keyword. But gosh, it’s sending great traffic. Let me focus more on this one.” Or “Oh, I am ranking well for this. But the keyword is not sending me high-quality traffic. So, it doesn’t matter that much. I’m going to ignore it because of the problems.”
So, a lot of times, creating these landing pages with each particular term and phrase is doing a lot of unnecessary overlapping work, right? Even if you’re not doing this sort of hyper, slight modifications of each phrase. “Brown bowling shoes,” “red bowling shoes,” “blue bowling shoes.” Maybe you could just have a bowling shoes page and then have a list of colors to choose from. Okay.
But even still, you might have “bowling shoes” and “shoes for going bowling.” And “shoes for indoor sports,” all of these different kinds of things that could have a considerable amount of overlap. And many different topic areas do this.
The problem with getting links and optimizing these individual pages is that you’re only getting a page to rank for one particular term or maybe a couple of different terms, versus a group of keywords in a topic that might all be very well-served by the same content, by the same landing page.
And by the way, because you’re doing this, you’re not putting in the same level of effort, energy, quality and improvement, right? Because it’s an improvement into making this content better and better. You’re just trying to churn out landing page after landing page.
And then, if you’re measuring success based on the traffic that the keyword is sending, this isn’t even possible anymore. Because Google has taken away keyword referral data and given us (not provided) instead.
And this is why we’re seeing this big shift to this new model, this more modern model, where SEO is really about the broad performance of search traffic across a website, and about the broad performance of the pages receiving search visits. So, this means that I look at a given set of pages, I look at a section of my site, I look at content areas that I’m investing in, and I say “Gosh, the visits that come from Google, that come from Bing, that come from Image Search, whatever they are, these are performing at a high quality, therefore, I want to invest more in SEO.” Not necessarily “Oh, look. This keyword sent me this good traffic.”
I’m still doing keyword research. I’m still using that same process, right? Where I go and I try to figure out “Okay, how many people are searching for this term? Do I think they’re going to be high-quality visitors? And is the competition low enough to where I think my website can compete?”
I’m going to then define groups of terms and phrases that can be well-served by that content. This is very different. Instead of saying “Blue bowling shoes” and “Brown bowling shoes,” I’m saying, “I think I can have one great page around bowling shoes, in general, that’s going to serve me really well. I’m going to have all different kinds, custom bowling shoes and all these different things.”
And maybe some of them deserve their own individual landing pages, but together, this group of keywords can be served by this page. And then these individual ones have their own targeted pages.
From there, I’m going to optimize for two things that are a little bit different than what I’ve done in the past. Both keyword targeting and being able to earn some links. But also, an opportunity for amplification.
That amplification can come from links. It could come from email marketing, it could come from social media. It could come from word-of-mouth. But, regardless, this is the new fantastic way to earn those signals that seem to correlate with things ranking well.
Links are certainly one of them. But we don’t need the same types of direct anchor text that we used to need. Broad links to a website can now help increase our domain authority, meaning that all of our content ranks well.
Google certainly seems to be getting very good at recognizing relevancy of particular websites around topic areas. Meaning that if I’ve done a good job in the past of showing Google that I’m relevant for a particular topic like bowling shoes. When I put together custom, graphic-printed, leather bowling shoes pages, that page might rank right away. Even if I haven’t done very much work to specifically earn links to it and get anchor text and those kinds of things, because of the relevancy signals I’ve built up in the past. And that’s what this process does.
And now, I can measure success based on how the search traffic to given landing pages is performing. Let me show you an example of this.
And here, I’ve got my example. So, I’m focusing beyond bowling shoes. I’m going to go with “Comparing mobile phone plans,” right? So, let’s say that you’re putting together a site and you want to try and help consumers who are looking at different mobile phone plans, figure out which one they should go with, great.
So, “Compare mobile phone plans” is where you’re starting. And you’re also thinking about ‘Well, okay. Let me expand beyond that. I want to get broad performance.” And so, I’m trying to get this broad audience to target. Everyone who is interested in this topic. All these consumers.
And so, what are things that they also might be interested in? And I’ll do some keyword research and some subject matter research. Maybe I’ll talk to some experts, I’ll talk to some consumers. And I’ll see providers, they’re looking for different phone providers. They might use synonyms of these different terms. They might have some concept expansion that I go through as I’m doing my keyword research.
Maybe I’m looking for queries that people search for before and after. So, after they make the determination if they like this particular provider, then they go look at phones. Or after they determine they like this phone, they want to see which provider offers that phone. Fine, fair.
So, now, I’m going to do this definition of the groups of keywords that I care about. I have comparison in my providers. Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T. Comparison of phones, the Galaxy, iPhone, Nexus, by price or features. What about people who are really heavy into international calling or family plans or travel a lot? Need data-heavy stuff or doing lots of tethering to their laptops.
So, this type of thing is what’s defining the pages that I might build by the searcher’s intent. When they search for keywords around these topics, I’m not necessarily sure that I’m going to be able to capture all of the keywords that they might search for and that’s okay.
I’m going to take these specific phrases that I do put in my keyword research. And then, I’m going to expand out to, “All right, I want to try and have a page that reaches all the people who are looking for stuff like this.” And Google’s actually really helping you with search algorithms like Hummingbird, where they’re expanding the definition of what keyword relevancy and keyword matching is really meaning.
So, now, I’m going to go and I’m going to try and build out these pages. So, I’ve got my phone plans compared. Verizon versus T-Mobile versus AT&T versus Sprint. The showdown.
And that page is going to feature things like “I want to show the price of the services relative to time over time. I want to show which phones they have available.” And maybe pull in some expert ratings and reviews for those particular phones. Maybe I’ll toss in CNET’s rating on each of the phones and link over to that.
What add-ons do they have? What included services? Do I maybe want to link out to some expert reviews? Can I have sorting so that I can say “Oh, I only want this particular phone. So, show me only the providers that have got that phone” or those types of things.
And then, I’m going to take this and I’m going to launch it. All this stuff, all these features are not just there to help be relevant to the search query. They’re to help the searcher and to make this worthy of amplification.
And then, I can use the performance of all the search traffic that lands on any version of this page. So, this page might have lots of different URLs based on the sorting or what features I select or whatever that is. Maybe I rel canonical them or maybe I don’t, because I think it can be expanded out and serve a lot of these different needs. And that’s fine, too.
But this, this is a great way to effectively determine the ROI that I’ve gotten from producing this content, targeting these searchers. And then, I can look at the value from other channels in how search impacts social and social impacts search by looking at multi-channel and multi-touch. It’s really, really cool.
So, yes. SEO has gotten more complex. It’s gotten harder. There’s a little bit of disassociation away from just the keyword and the ranking. But this process still really works and it’s still very powerful. And I think SEOs are going to be using this for a long time to come. We just have to have a switch in our mentality.
All right, everyone. I look forward to the comments. And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of “Whiteboard Friday.” Take care.
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