Content is king.
There it is. That deeply flawed slogan of the white hat SEO community — the ultimate over-simplification of what it takes to drive traffic to your website. Virtually every marketer under the sun has parroted this jargon at some point or another, ad nauseam. These are the words of a guilty man.
We treat content as if it were some furtive MacGuffin — hiding in plain sight, capable of unlocking the secret kingdom of Google. Speaking as someone who authored some truly inspiring works on dental and plumbing services — downright award-worthy — I can tell you: This simply isn’t true.
Search engine optimization is a game of inches. There is no silver bullet. Telling me the answer to all my burning questions about optimization is simply ‘produce great content’ — that seems woefully inadequate. It’s like shouting ‘follow the North Star!’ to someone stranded at sea; thanks, but those generalized directions only help so much.
Let’s get specific. Here’s a bigger picture on how to boost your traffic.
Earning organic traffic for a newly created website is serious work — but what about a site that’s been around for a few years?
There’s a good chance older sites rank for some valuable keywords just off the first page of search results. Those keywords and their subsequent pages should be your top priority.
Noted SEO expert Joe Laratro suggests these pages can easily be nudged in the right direction with 3-5 targeted external links. How you earn those links is entirely up to you — links from low-quality sources probably won’t cut it.
Use a tool like SEMrush to see your current keyword rankings. You’re looking for anything just off the first page (positions 11-20).
I suggest using this data to create your own resource to track this project. Mine looks like this …
After you gather 3-5 links for that page, set up a reminder to check on the page’s rank in search results about two weeks later. This should be enough to reach the first page of search results in many cases, depending on the level of competition there. Obviously, scale accordingly.
Refresh Your Content
That publish date at the top of your content is hugely significant. I mean … probably (that’s my working theory).
The more often you update your content, the more often your site is crawled, increasing your opportunities to rank. While Google has yet to come right out and declare that fresh content will springboard you into first page results, there’s plenty of evidence to believe that’s the case.
Let’s consider this from a Google’s perspective. Search results are trending more real-time — for example, Google now regularly displays tweets and topical news whenever they apply.
What does this mean for your site in Google? Perhaps it’s best interpreted like this: If your page doesn’t offer the latest and greatest information, you’re probably not the best source to provide an answer to my question. Expect to rank accordingly.
This isn’t true across the board, of course. Search for something like ‘US Constitution’ and you’ll almost certainly receive the same results time and again. The base information for a topic like this doesn’t change all too often (if ever).
Beyond observing trends, there’s some empirical evidence to suggest ‘freshness’ matters in SEO. The first bit to consider comes directly from the source: the Official Google Blog.
In a post originally published in 2011 — in regards to Google’s Caffeine search index — the blog states, “Different searches have different freshness needs. This algorithmic improvement is designed to better understand how to differentiate between these kinds of searches and the level of freshness you need, and make sure you get the most up to the minute answers.”
There’s some complexity here — as some case studies suggest, there’s more to consider than simply updating the publish date of your blog post. Cyrus Shepard illustrated several examples of how fresh content may influence Google rankings. To summarize a few key takeaways:
- New content receives a freshness score which decays over time
- The amount of content refreshed in the post matters
- Changes to key areas of the content are most significant
While some pages of your site stand to benefit more than others, refreshing your content keeps it from gathering cobwebs and provides an edge in organic search.
Take Control of Your Index
“If you want to win the lottery you need to buy a ticket.”
That’s a quote from Eric Enge which reflects his personal philosophy on indexing the contents of a website. Taken apart, what this essentially means is every page matters.
Perhaps that’s an extreme view to take but more webmasters should really take this virtue to heart. After all, how many websites have you encountered that weren’t making use of Search Console? Many businesses have yet to take their site’s index into their own hands.
Whether this is blissful ignorance or something entirely different, the consequence is the same: your optimization greatly suffers. Ignoring the technical side of your website is a bit like ignoring routine maintenance on your car. Getting your oil changed regularly isn’t a friendly suggestion — it’s required.
The first step to taking control starts with utilizing the full power of the Google Search Console. Among its many benefits, Search Console allows you to:
- Verify that Google can access your pages
- Instruct Google which pages to crawl/avoid
- Ensure the overall health of your site; check for crawl errors
Make sure to read Google’s guide on managing your website with Search Console for more information.
Content Still Matters
Why is content so widely touted by search marketers as a sovereign authority in SEO? I personally believe it’s because SEO more closely resembles content marketing in recent years. Although this viewpoint helped ebb the rising tide of low-quality spam content, it’s similarly responsible for placing too much emphasis on a single aspect of SEO. That kind of tunnel vision isn’t helpful.
This ‘content above all’ logic essentially maintains creating the most compelling and informative piece of content results in top rankings. The problem with that is not everyone is capable of just churning out a New York Times Best Seller — and Google certainly doesn’t expect that either.
Okay, so content isn’t quite king — but it still matters a great deal. You don’t want to mail it in here if you truly value organic performance. Here are a few golden rules to keep in mind:
- Content should be written for users first
- Depth matters; shoot for 800-1000 words in your pages
- Don’t hesitate to link out to relevant sources; it might even help you receive reciprocal links
- Keep it mobile-friendly
Need more help in this department? Learn more about optimizing your content for SEO the right way — make it a regular habit.
Content is not a cure-all for the ills of search engine marketing — it’s simply a cog in the greater machine, helping spin the wheel. For those of you that can’t be considered the Larry King of HVAC articles, hear this: You’re absolved. There are many avenues to success in the realm of SEO. Diversify your strategy and you’ll inevitably find your way.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!