Search engines (primarily Google) control 90% of all web traffic. Search engine optimization is exactly what it sounds like: helping search engines serve your content to the target audience. As we head into 2020, it’s important to critically evaluate your SEO practices. Countless businesses across the world are vying for a top search engine ranking, the only way to guarantee visibility. From the search engine’s point of view, your content needs to be the best, and the most relevant, if it’s to rank.
Over the past decade, SEO has changed drastically: so much so that many companies have been driven out of business because they failed to adapt. In such a dynamic environment, you need to ensure that your SEO practices are up to date. Going into 2020, here are some of the core SEO issues you need to look at:
Good Content is Still King
Regardless of what you might hear, good content is still at the heart of a solid SEO strategy. Original, informative, and well-structured content, builds your reputation with the audience, won’t be adversely affected by algorithm updates, and will always get you the optimal amount of traffic.
But then the question arises: What exactly is good content? There is a surfeit of average content available on virtually every topic imaginable. It’s not enough for your content to be grammatically sound. Originality, tone, and usefulness are what separate exceptional content from the merely average. Your content needs to offer your audience something new and useful if it is to rank above existing pieces. The way you convey this information is equally important.
Tone matters: different audiences expect different tones. The key is to adopt an authoritative, yet engaging and friendly tone within the context of the subject. Whether you’re writing about pet-sitting or DNA sequencing, you need to convey that you know what you’re talking about, without appearing aloof. It is a fine line to walk.
Focus on Quality, not Quantity
Currently, a major debate is raging over whether or not longform content still works. What’s the real answer? Yes, it does, but conditionally. Longform content still nets the best rankings. However, it needs to be high-quality and address gaps. There’s always more that can be said about a given topic, to add value over existing content.
A general rule of thumb is that the shorter a piece is, the less likely it is to gain and retain a high search engine ranking. News snippets and small posts in the 200-300 word range can rank, especially if they’re about recent events. However, they have limited staying power. Why is this? Search engines assume that users are searching for solutions. Think about this from the user’s perspective. When you search “What is X?” or “How do you do Y?” short pieces that summarize an issue rarely offer usable solutions and insights. If you pump out a large volume of short, generalized pieces, it is possible to rank and gain views in the short-term. In the long-term, however, your piece will be superseded by the longform piece someone else will inevitably write. The answer? Write fewer, but more substantial and higher quality pieces.
Deliver unique content that adds value
Consider a user who wants information on the best tech stocks. As an average marketer, you could compile a list of the top 10 best ones and be done with it. 5-10 years ago, when competition wasn’t as intense, this might’ve been enough to get a decent Google ranking.
But chances are today that users will encounter entire pages of search engine results with near-identical list features. If you want to rank over above the competition, you’ll need to add value to differentiate your content. You could do this by discussing the history of these stocks, alternatives, and the best way to procure them. Understand that search engine users are looking for solutions. Make sure that your content gives them the who, what, when, where, why, and how of what they’re looking for.
Use tools to scientifically track your SEO progress
Marketing tools and resources, from SEMRush and Google Analytics, to Moz and Search Console provide you with a wide range of insights about your campaign. What’s working? What could be improved? Benchmark your campaign’s SEO performance against known KPIs to understand where you are at and where you need to go.
Use a wide range of tools to gain insights into different facets of your SEO performance. SEMRush, for example, is a great tool for keyword research. Use it to identify keywords that users are searching for, then integrate them into your content. SEMrush gives you information about keyword search volume, cost per click, and keyword competition. Moz offers a similar feature set, along with a stronger local SEO toolkit. Google Analytics gives you a detailed overview of who’s visiting your site. Use Google analytics to narrow down your targeted audience in terms of where they’re from, how they arrived on your site, and how frequently they completed goals. Feed these insights back into your content pipeline to generate hyper-focused, relevant material.
Referrals and Backlinks
Backlinks are the currency of SEO. Getting a large number of quality backlinks is essential to your SEO strategy. If you don’t have enough backlinks, no matter how good your content is, you’ll lag behind the competition. But how do you get backlinks?
There’s no straight answer to this, unfortunately. It requires patience and considerable effort. To gain backlinks, you need to consistently deliver good content to your audience and hope it gets noticed. If your content adds value, credible sources will start linking to it. Guest posting is a great way to gain backlinks. But how do you go about it? Let’s take a look:
One of the most straightforward ways to draw attention is by posting an article on a popular website, related to your product. Visit sites like Quora and Google Trends to find what’s trending, what people are searching for. Then, identify the overlap between what’s trending and your product. Content overlap possibilities are virtually limitless--there’s always a way to associate your product with what’s trending. Pitch guest post ideas to multiple stakeholders. Showcasing an existing content portfolio can help get you the green light. Then, judiciously add backlinks to your site content.
Widen your content channels
This goes back to our point about adding value. Different platforms offer different, unique ways for audiences to engage with the same core content. A single piece of content can be adapted to fit different media platforms. You can add tremendous value to a content idea by creating, for instance, a unique YouTube video, Facebook post, Quora answer, and Tweet. Do keep in mind that users are looking for different things on different platforms: Widening your content channels will maximize reach and let you target a large subset of consumers.
Going into the next decade, the best way to ride the SEO wave is to have solid fundamentals: consistently deliver unique, original, high-quality content that adds value for readers. There are no real shortcuts here. In 2020, make top-notch content a priority for your SEO strategy, then reap the rewards.
Hiren Panchal is the co-founder of Litmus Branding, India’s growing Advertising and Digital Branding Agency. He has a strong, multi-faced experience of 22 years in the areas of branding, advertising, marketing, designing and project management. With sound expertise in brand establishment, he has helped strengthen the brand assets for clients like Coca Cola, Payson Petroleum, India Institute of Management (IIM) Udaipur, Haldiram's, Sabi Foods, Almeer Saudi, IRU, and many more.