When I used to actively write on Medium, my stories used to receive thousands of visits every day - most of them from Google. The initial traffic for most of the stories was seeded because of some publication they were published on, but in time, the traffic from Google outshadowed every other channel.
It has been 4 years since I stopped writing actively on the platform, and even today, I get four digit traffic from Google to my stories. And at no point in time, was any story written with a focus on SEO. No story started with the goal of ranking on Google for specific keywords or search queries. I was just writing what I believed someone would find helpful.
And that is what I want to talk to you about.
A serious intent to produce content that is helpful to your audience will add far more value to your business than any SEO focused content will, and we are going to try to understand why.
First, am I suggesting SEO is a waste and no one should do it?
No. That would be quite a statement though :-p
SEO is meaningful. You want to rank up on Google for queries your customers perform on Google. At the very least, you want to be in the first page of the search results.
But. Just ranking up isn’t good enough, you need to retain that rank. The competition is always fierce, and whether or not you are able to defend your position would be less dependent on you, and more dependent on your customers. When your customers find you in their searches, are they checking you out. When they do, are they liking what they are seeing? Do they find it valuable? Are they intrigued? Do they stick around to find more?
The answer to all these questions is what constitutes your customer engagement, and Google has been laying more emphasis to customer engagement than any other parameter in deciding how to rank the search results. The algorithms have changed, and they will continue to do so, but one thing that has remained consistent (and I don’t see that changing any time soon) is this deciding criteria of customer engagement to rank content, pages and websites.
And how consumers engage with your content and website has got very little to do with the keywords and a lot to do with your content. Is your content interesting enough? Valuable enough? Insightful enough? Intriguing enough? And over all, does it address (to some extent, at least) the user’s query. All of that will be decided solely by your content.
That is what I mean when I say I want you to stop worrying about SEO, or obsessively focusing on it.
Early stage companies - if you outsource your content creation, try outsourcing as little as possible
Do not get charmed by agencies leveraging the illusiveness and allure of a successful SEO presence for your business to get you on a retainer. In my experience, unless they are accountable for actual quantifiable results (and not just vanity metrics), all you are going to receive is a bunch of random optimizations and noisy content replicating the content your competitors produce. That’s simply not healthy.
If an agency or an overzealous marketer is talking about optimising your site structure, meta data and content planning, stop them right there and ask them to come up with a content plan that would be helpful to your audience. Then put yourself in your customers’ shoes and try visualising if that kind of content is what you would have been looking for.
And most importantly, if you can avoid outsourcing it, I would strongly encourage you to do so. :-)
Start writing yourself. Don’t worry about creating masterpieces, don’t worry about writers’ block, and don’t worry about how you have never written before. Remember that you do not need to be Hemingway to create content that’s valuable to your audience. You just need to address the topics that are important to them, and you need to address those well. Your customers will ignore and forgive a misstep in your composition and sentence structure as long as they find the overall content valuable and contextual.
So if you are not to focus on writing, what should you focus on? Well, we already addressed the value of the content. Other than that, sincerity. Your content should clearly reflect a sincere attempt and desire to be helpful - to your audience, and the community in general. And sincerity cannot be faked. Which is why I would strongly recommend you writing yourself, instead of offloading the task to a freelancer or an agency. After all, who can be more sincere at helping out your customers than the person who started a business to do just that.
What should you write about?
So far we have settled on the fact that valuable content trumps keyword based SEO every time.
Naturally it is time to address the first question about content creation now.
How do you decide what to write about, and how do you write it?
Have an opinion.
Don’t simply lay down facts and trivia for your customers. Have an opinion. Laying out facts is cheap, having an opinion and explaining the rationale behind that opinion is what makes a content insightful. If you have a strong opinion on something, don’t be afraid of sharing it across with conviction, no matter how controversial it may be. You want your customers to find you credible, and perceive you as someone who understands the domain, and possibly a subject matter expert. You would need to give them a reason for them to feel that way.
Answer questions no one else is.
The most basic rule of content marketing is understanding and answering the questions of your audience. Unless you do that, you won’t have a clear view of who you are writing for, and as such, the contextual score and relevancy of your content would always be low. Once you start identifying the questions your audience has, come up with answers for them.
Fight the urge to encapsulate as many questions as possible under one broad topic. The more broader you go, the less deeper your content would be. Whenever it makes sense, stay on point and answer a precise question instead of trying to cover as much ground as possible with every single piece of content.
Be unique. Answer questions in a way others aren’t
Any query you make on Google will throw you a dozen results that look and read the exact same. Keep aside the top few results, and where the chips of clicks (Heeeyy, that rhymed) may fall is anybody’s guess. Try approaching answering the question from a different perspective. Throw a new light on the subject. Be different from others. Stand out in that crowd of similar looking search results.
Listen to your customers to get ideas for your content
Be available to your audience. Listen to their needs, answer their questions. As you do more and more of those, you will start identifying content ideas embedded in those conversations. Questions that come up again and again, in different conversations are a surefire way to get exponentially higher search engine traffic. When you are in your early stages, conversation with your audience will help you out on all fronts of business, but it will pretty much define your content marketing strategy. So do it with all seriousness. Set aside actual quality time for it.
Write Early. Write Often
Don’t wait for your product to get ready, or perfect to start creating content for your audience. Start as soon as possible. And write frequently. The less you write, the less your writing will improve, the more writer’s block you will come across and the less contextual you would be able to get.
SEO is important. Focusing on SEO before content isn’t
Will I focus on SEO? Yes, of course. At some point. I am just not too worried about at this stage. We are at too early a stage of our business to start worrying about SEO.
My focus - now, and even when we do start looking at SEO for our presence - has been, and will always be on my customer and my customers alone. If I am adding value to them, they will add back far more value to my business than any amount of SEO can.
So when, if at all, I would start focusing on SEO?
When the business has grown to a significant benchmark - whether in terms of daily traffic, DAU, or pure MRR/ARR. What that significant benchmark would be is something we will talk about. Some day.
Safe to say it is far enough at this moment for me to put a pin in it for at least foreseeable future.
Struggling with your content strategy? Trying to figure out how you should do what you need to do? Shoot me a message. I’ll help you formulate a strategy that would work for your business. Executing it will always be on you, but hey - I can help you get a headstart. ;-)
That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.
Subscribe to Benne Analytics Blog
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox