Sara Taher informs SEOs of the ways that the industry has changed in recent years. She breaks down the three key areas that you need to focus on in 2023: content, context, and control.
Sara says: “SEO in 2023 is very different from a few years ago because there have been several major changes. Now, three things take centre stage: content, context, and controlling how results are displayed in search.”
What is so critical about content in 2023?
“We need to shift our mindsets from keywords to topics and topic clusters. Search volume and keyword difficulty mean less now. Hence, we need to change the conversation to user intent, buyers’ journey, and how our content should satisfy both. We must approach creating content in topics and topic clusters and how these are related and support each other.
Also, it now matters who is writing your content. Producing great content means working with writers who have subject matter expertise. It also means you’ll need to vet your copywriters, which makes producing good content quite expensive. That is where understanding buyers’ journeys and prioritising your content accordingly will come in handy.”
What does this mean for the outsourcing of content? Do you have to get a named writer or can you use a pen name to get someone else to write the content on your behalf?
“If you want the content to be more authoritative and show expertise, you want someone with some experience in the field. For example, if you’re writing about travel, you want a travel blogger or a traveller to share their expertise. It improves the quality of the content and makes it more personal.
When you hire someone, ideally, you want to have the author's bio and link back to their profiles to show their expertise. They don’t need to be the biggest name in the industry, but they must hold some relevance and authority. This gets more important if it’s in medical or finance.”
If you link back to their profile, aren’t there some concerns that you’re taking authority away from the core website?
“Linking back to authoritative websites is a good thing; it shows that you have some references for the information you’re sharing.”
What are the key elements that you should include in your content nowadays?
“Firstly, we often use exact match keywords, but synonyms would also work. You need to diversify the way you use your keywords. It’s no longer about using the exact keywords several times in the body of the content and the titles and calling that great content.
Secondly, structure your content in segments, bullet points, or sections with clear subtitles. While the content is for the user, there’s also a bot that will be reading this. Thus, titles need to be very clear about what the section is about.
All these add up to how you want your content to be. It’s no longer just writing 1,000 words and stuffing it with keywords and ranking.”
Does that mean that you need to identify different sections of content that are, by themselves, distinct ranking opportunities?
“You need sections for two main reasons. First, it’s better for a mobile experience, which covers most of your users. If you have long paragraphs of text, that creates a usability issue.
Secondly, you need to structure the content for both the user and the buyer. You can have multiple sections talking about different things, all under the same topic. For example, if you’re talking about summer destinations, maybe talk about how to choose the best destination for your family and budgeting, all as subsections. It’s vital from a usability and SEO standpoint.”
What do you mean by context?
“First, writing one piece of content on a topic or a handful of issues does not make you an authority. You need a lot of information and more resources to show that you’re an authoritative figure in that area. Plus, even with the target topics, ensure that you are covering them thoroughly.
Secondly: the URL structure. It is big in SEO but not very impactful, according to Google. Many SEOs confuse URL structure with the information architecture of the website. Google has also mentioned several times that it does not specifically need a clean URL to understand the structure of the content on the website. We need to stop asking our clients to change the CMS or hard-coded URLs because the impact doesn’t match the effort. Instead, focus on internal linking, breadcrumbs, and other things that show how your content is structured.”
Suppose that you are putting together a key pillar article and then some supporting articles with related content. Is there an ideal way to link the different pieces to ensure that everything gets indexed and potentially ranked?
“The main guide should link to all those subtopics naturally, when possible. Then those subtopics should also link back to the main topic. Some practitioners say that if you’re targeting different topics - for example, ‘summer vacations’ and ‘winter vacation’ – then you should not interlink them. Instead, you should keep them separated. Although it is a good point, there isn’t much evidence that it is necessary to do.”
What do you think about a circular approach, where each sub-article is linked to the next article in a chain, then back to the pillar article?
“The purpose of internal linking is to show hierarchy. You want to show the pillar piece of content - which is the most important and subtopics. The most important link in that situation is the one from the pillar to the subtopics, and then the one from the clusters right back to the main post. Although it is not as essential, you must show this structure.
We’ve been doing this in the SEO industry for a long time, focusing mainly on blog posts. However, this can be done differently - like with product pages. The pillar page does not necessarily need to be informational; it can be a commercial page. The reason it has been maintained as an informative page is because of the technicalities around the CMS. You are limited in WordPress or Shopify, where you cannot have a blog post URL in a subfolder from a product.”
For SEOs on commercial websites, should they be thinking about building subpages of content on the same domain that link back to key category pages, which would then act as the central hub page for that section?
“They should use that option. Then, at the bottom of that commercial page, they can have resources related to this main page and linking to the top related resources.”
What do you mean by ‘controlling the way results are displayed’?
“How Google displays results has changed a lot and has become so diversified compared to the past. Many things are involved, like images, videos, the People Also Ask section, etc. Plus, we now need to pay big - and the larger part of our efforts is on bringing in traffic.
However, we have somewhat side-lined the click-through rate (CTR). There is more focus on creating and updating content but less on CTR. We need to experiment with schema - getting schema markups and testing titles for CTR. That’s a big chunk of traffic we’re not getting because we are not planning for it. Generally, since SEO is becoming more and more challenging, you need to utilise and leverage every single opportunity.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What is seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“SEO shouldn’t be focusing on and obsessing over search volume and keyword difficulty. What matters is whether the topic will bring value to the business. There are also a lot of other valuable considerations. Zero search volume keywords are essential as well, and should not be ignored.
Secondly, there should be a mindset change around SEO being separated from other marketing functions. SEOs are marketers and need to remember that when dealing with content and working within a marketing team. For example, there’s plenty of opportunity to work with PPC.”
Sara Taher is the SEO Manager at Assembly Global, and you can find her over at sara-taher.com.
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