Olga says: “Stop forgetting about your users; you need to remember that they come first. Google has been pushing us towards the users a lot lately, but they’ve been saying this at least since the Panda update in 2011. We’re very focused on technical SEO fixes, following best practices, and the technical odds and ends on the site. We keep forgetting that Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it accessible and useful. Accessible and useful have been the two key words forever.
Google’s users are our users. Whenever you have someone coming to your site, you need to be helping them solve their problem. You need to be answering their questions and giving them something useful and accessible that’s well-designed, legible, and enjoyable. That’s what you should be doing. If you do that for your users, they will appreciate it, and they will buy, subscribe, or do whatever you want them to do.
Conversely, your users are also Google’s users. If you give them useful and accessible content, Google will appreciate it and rank you higher. A big part of everything you’re doing should be focused on that. It shouldn’t be about fixing the speed or getting a perfect score on Core Web Vitals. That is important, but if the content on the page is not really useful - and you’re leaving your users hanging by not giving them the entire answer that they’re looking for - then having the perfect score and speed won’t solve your ranking problems.”
Is speed something that SEOs are focusing on too much?
“It has been, mostly since last year. We’ve been talking about this with our clients for years, but Google has recently been pushing toward user experience a lot more. Since last year, with the user experience update and the new Core Web Vitals, everyone suddenly got into a craze about fixing their speed.
It is extremely important, I’m not saying it’s not. All the technical fixes that we’re doing, the XML sitemap, the robots.txt files, the small optimisations that we do for the titles and meta descriptions, schema, etc., are all important. However, if we don’t think about solving the user’s problem first, whatever you do technically won’t solve your issues. It won’t make Google like what you do.”
Can you positively improve SEO and improve things for users at the same time?
“You can, but it does depend a little bit on your capacity, and who you are. If we’re talking about a small business, then you probably can’t do everything on your own. If we’re talking about a big business with a marketing department, or a full agency working for them, then you can probably do both at the same time.
What I’ve been stressing to most of my clients for the last three or four years is that they’re focused on doing the technical things, but they’re not as focused on the other part. They think that the technical things will save them, and that’s how they will rank higher.
It’s about not forgetting your users. We keep forgetting about the easier aspect: thinking about your users, making sure to have FAQs, having simple to-the-point content, etc. We start doing keyword research and stuffing keywords on a page, just because it’s going to bring more people to the site. Even if the keywords are there, if the content itself is not actually helpful then it doesn’t make sense.”
Why do SEOs tend to forget about the user so often?
“I may be biased because I’m mostly on the agency side. We depend on a lot of things from the client themselves. We’re not in their company and we don’t know everything about their company, but we see what they need to be doing. We point them in the right direction, but they need to actually be doing the work on their own. It’s not that SEOs don’t know what’s important, but it always depends on the business owner and whoever else they’re working with.”
Should SEOs be pushing more to be involved in content strategy meetings at the beginning of the year and being a part of setting that?
“That would be very useful. I think all SEOs are slowly going towards that, especially since the helpful content update. It’s easier to explain this to your clients now because it’s right there in the title: Google is telling you that you need to have helpful content and not just content that has the keywords, or that’s generated in bulk by AI.
What everyone knew was the idea that content is king. Write content, write articles, put the keywords in there. That’s something that a business owner understands, but SEO is complicated to explain sometimes. When you’re trying to push them towards a different direction, but they’re not 100% sure about what that direction is or they think that the technical side is more important, then you get into conflict.”
Does helpful content have a measurable positive impact on SEO?
“Helpful content is not actually a ranking signal - we’ve read that in articles and you will see people mentioning it if you follow the Google Twitter account. However, user signals like bounce rate, new engagement rates that you see in Google Analytics 4, time on page, click-through rate from search, etc., are all signals that you can see improving with more helpful content.
Essentially, these are signals that Google is looking at. Nothing is verifiable, obviously, but if you look at old tweets and old communications from Google, you will see that they keep insisting that SEOs should focus on that. It might not be a ranking signal 100%, but if it’s improved, then your rankings will improve. It helps your SEO overall.”
How do you go about creating great content for users today?
“Try to give it a more personal twist. Do the keyword research, of course, because you need to see how people are searching for things, and you have to think about search intent. It’s not just about the exact keyword. If someone searches for ‘SEO services’, they probably want to buy SEO services. If someone just searches ‘SEO keyword research’, however, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to buy it - they might just want to learn how to do it.
Search intent is very important. You need to know: ‘Are they looking to buy so can I use it on a service page? Are looking for information so can I use it in my content?’ Structure is also important - having a legible article with lots of spaces, small paragraphs, etc.
The most important thing, though, is to make it more unique. Don’t just gather information from everywhere else and repeat the same things that everyone is saying. Try to write content where you actually have something new to say, because of your experience or because customers have asked something. You have a business, so you probably talk with people all the time, like customers and employees. There are ways to give it a more personal twist, and that’s what makes it unique and more helpful than the next article.”
Is keyword search volume less important than it used to be?
“I don’t think it’s less important, but I’ve always thought that keyword volume is a little dependent on who you are. If you’re a small business selling a SaaS that’s very expensive, you might get a keyword that has 100 searches per month, but those 100 people actually trust you because you’re the expert, so they come to you. You can build your brand like that, and people will buy.
Even a small volume can still result in a good conversion rate, in the bigger picture. I’m not saying it’s not important, but it depends on what niche you’re in, what kind of business you are, and who you want to attract. The numbers can be a bit irrelevant.”
Do you think that the SEO role is changing, and SEOs are having to become either more technical or more creative?
“I don’t think SEO is changing. Everyone follows the rules when it comes to SEO, but Google has been saying the same thing since 2011. They are just trying to push more toward that now, and it’s become more clear.
SEO is still a bit of both. You still need the technical. If you can do everything at the same time - you can write four articles every week that are great and creative, with unique media and schema all over your site - then go ahead and do it. I don’t think that has changed. Anyone who can actually do that will still be doing it. I don’t think it’s about taking a specific direction between one or the other, Google is just making it more clear what you need to be doing.”
Is Google sending everyone in the right direction or are there still techniques that work that Google wouldn’t particularly recommend?
“There are some things that they don’t want you to do, especially with technological advancements like AI. Their algorithms are becoming more and more advanced, though, so there are fewer opportunities to cheat.
I don’t think AI content by itself is a good idea, but it can assist when you’re a little bit stuck with getting content out. It can help you to get started with something and get what you have in your mind out there, but it needs to be an assistant, not full-on AI content generation.
I like writing as a hobby, but as a marketer, I struggle. I find that AI can be very helpful for giving me a little push to write the blog that I want to write, or something else. It can give you inspiration - there are tools using AI that will give you things like headlines, for example, so you can definitely get something creative from it. However, you always need to think about whether it’s actually something new.
Don’t just take everything it gives, and don’t rely on it to write a creative piece for you. I haven’t dived too much into AI, but if everyone is asking about the same content, how unique can it be? You will start to generate the same things over and over again, and you won’t be offering a unique perspective.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“A big part of what you shouldn’t be doing is forgetting about the user, as I’ve said. We’ve also already talked about AI-generated content, and that’s a big no-no for me as well. Use it as an assistant, but don’t generate content for the sake of content. That won’t be useful at the moment, especially with the helpful content update coming up and Google handing all the AI content down.
The thing that I have found hardest to pass on to my customers is the idea of creating helpful content for users: you need to be an expert on what you’re doing and demonstrate the EAT factors of expertise, authority, and trust. Don’t just get someone to write content and put the keywords in there if that person is not an expert, even if that content is unique. We need to know who the author is, so we can know who to trust. The person is important, but at least the brand behind it should be authoritative in that niche or on that topic.
Many of my tips would be the same as we’ve always had. Don’t buy backlinks, don’t buy content from people that are not experts on your content, etc. Don’t do everything just because the rules say you have to - because there are no rules. There are some best practices that we believe are working, but nobody knows exactly what Google is doing. The one thing that Google has been clear about is the user. Focus on the user and give them helpful content. Why would we not be following the one rule that they’re actually clear about?”
Olga Tsimaraki is a Marketing Consultant and COO at Zima Media, and you can find her at thebuddingmarketer.com.
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