All you want to know about search but are afraid to ask

With the pressure to cut ad budgets looming ever larger, and Google’s latest algorithm update, now is the time to ensure you have your SEO in order. Here are seven things to think about for the year ahead…

All you want to know about search but are afraid to ask

1. What does it take to produce a piece of content that gets a top-three ranking?

A top-three keyword ranking has to be laser-focused on search intent, and consider factors like format, how in depth to go, and whether to write for an introductory or advanced audience. That information, as well as crucial intel on what competitor content includes, can be found with SERP (Search Engine Results Page) analysis.

“Quality is much more important than quantity,” says Kyle Byers, director of organic search at SEO software provider Semrush. “It might take three or four times as much time to create as the number 10 ranking piece of content, but you’ll get 10 times as much traffic, or more.

“Take the top-rated piece of content for ‘cost of solar’ keywords. The main search intent is, ‘How much do solar panels cost?’ But to get into the top three slots, there are a lot more sub-topics you’ll need to cover, such as “Should I buy solar panels?”, “Are there any reasons not to buy solar panels?”, “Are they a good investment?”, “Where can I buy them?”, and so on. All of these subtopics get addressed by the top three ranked pieces of content, and are not typically covered by lower-ranking content. So, if you want those top-ranking spots, you need in-depth, quality content.”

2. How much traffic does a number-one ranked page on Google get compared to position 10?

While every piece of content that appears on the first page of a Google search is considered to be a top-ranked piece of content, the difference in traffic numbers between the content that appears at the top and bottom of the page is stark. And by being a top-ranked keyword, traffic will likely flow in from other areas.

“Everyone knows that higher Google rankings lead to more traffic, but how much are we actually talking about?” says Byers. “It makes a huge difference. The number one ranking for a given keyword tends to get about 10 times the amount of traffic as position 10.

“But more than that, the top-ranked content frequently ranks for many more secondary keywords. So, you often see that the number one ranking page might get 30 times more traffic than number 10, maybe even 50 times.”

3. How can I achieve “speed to value” with my content?

People have notoriously short attention spans, so you don’t have long to grab the reader’s attention. Content needs to get to the point and quickly show readers that it can answer their questions. This means keeping intros short and free of fluff, getting straight to the valuable content or answers. Some of the best SEO content producers have even started introducing content into hero banners, making the speed to value even quicker.

“We’ve had people ask if improving speed to value will cut time on-site and affect SEO performance, but that’s not really what Google is looking for,” says Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko, the SEO training and link-building strategy company. “What it really doesn’t like is people coming to your page and hitting the back button. That’s a sign to Google that your page isn’t doing its job. The proof is in the pudding; Investopedia and Healthline are two of the market leaders, and their time to value is some of the shortest.”

4. Should I write for bots or humans?

This is a conundrum that has been around since SEO was a consideration. You’re writing for human beings, but Google’s robots (or spiders) will determine how high or low your content is ranked. As with many SEO topics, the answer is not crystal clear. But Google’s Helpful Content Update – released in August 2022 – has given content writers some helpful guidance.

“The answer is both, but humans first,” says Dean. “Many people think it’s just humans, or some just starting out will only write for Google, as they believe [that] if they don’t, nobody will read their content. But increasingly, Google is optimising based on what’s useful to people. As long as you’re thinking through keyword usage and hitting technical SEO factors, it’s generally best to think about users and humans as you’re writing your content.

“The Helpful Content Update said that Google is looking to elevate ‘original, helpful content written by people, for people’. That’s content that demonstrates first hand-expertise, and a depth of knowledge, and will help readers achieve their goals.”

5. What is more effective - writing new posts or refreshing existing ones?

A complete SEO audit of your site will always include both, and it’s generally a good idea to update your content, especially if it’s more than a year old. But if you have to choose between updating an older post (especially one that doesn’t convert especially well) and creating a new one, the latter has more upside. 

“In general, it is better to write new content,” says Dean. “For most sites, there will be keywords you’re not targeting, and it’s really easy to use Semrush to find those keywords and find out keywords your competitors are ranking for, and have potential. If you dig really deep, you can find low-volume keywords that you can target. Producing new content for those keywords with super-high buyer intent is more effective than refreshing an old piece of content with a really low conversion rate.”

6. Has there been recent search volatility?

Any change in Google’s algorithm can cause volatility. While there was some volatility felt in 2021, Semrush’s The State of Search 2022 report found that volatility reached higher levels in 2020. By device, rank volatility deviation decreased by 13.7% on desktop and 11.2% on mobile, meaning volatility swings were less extreme than in 2020.

On volatility, the report concludes: “While the baseline levels of everyday volatility were higher in 2021, the deviations were not as extreme. So, higher peaks won’t necessarily mean greater instability because one may now expect higher average levels of volatility than in a previous year.”

7. After Google’s recent Core Algorithm Update, what should I focus on for 2023?

Google’s Core Algorithm Updates always make waves, and September’s was no exception. But your approach to developing SEO content shouldn’t verge wildly off-course. Quality content remains the best route to traffic and sales.

“It’s rare to see an update from Google that comes as a big surprise; it doesn’t tend to pivot what it’s looking for too much,” says Byers. “What Google is looking for is user satisfaction, so SEO content and pages need to deliver on the promises they make, and the goal [that] users are trying to reach by searching those keywords. If you’re able to address that really well, then for the most part, you’ll be protected from future updates, and you’ll often see your pages performing better because of it.”

Kyle Byers and Brian Dean were giving their thoughts during Semrush’s recent “How to Create Content Both Google and Humans Will Love” webinar, which you can view here.


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