Want to build an SEO strategy that can withstand algorithm updates, growing competitors and industry fluctuations? Columnist Jeremy Knauff explains how to do this by rethinking your approach.
Do you want an SEO strategy that goes beyond incremental growth? One that is defensible by being inherently more difficult for your competitors to replicate? And one that sets you apart from your competitors? Then you’re in the right place, because that’s exactly what we’re going to outline here today.
First and foremost, you need to understand the difference between a strategy and a tactic. Don’t feel bad if you’re unsure of the difference, because I frequently hear smart people use both words interchangeably despite the fact that they have completely different meanings.
Here’s an easy way to remember: a strategy is a plan to achieve a specific competitive advantage, while a tactic is a method used to achieve it.
If that’s still a little confusing, let’s use Google as an example. Their strategy was to become synonymous with search in order to dominate the market, and today, it’s clearly evident that they’ve been successful. Some of the tactics they used to achieve that included:
developing a more effective link-based algorithm that, at the time, was less susceptible to manipulation than simple algorithms based on content alone.
funding their growth via AdWords, which simultaneously put their brand in front of more eyeballs and got more people (especially website owners) involved with their products.
releasing Gmail as a free service to compete with Microsoft’s Hotmail, which put their brand in front of more eyeballs and got more people involved with their products.
acquiring Urchin and renaming it Google Analytics, which gave them significantly more data points to refine their algorithm. It also put their brand in front of more eyeballs (website owners again) and got more people involved with their products.
Are you seeing a pattern here yet? Every major business decision (tactic) made by Google played a direct role in achieving their goal (strategy). As a result, it’s been years since any other search engine has even put a dent in Google’s market share of search.
Now that we’re clear on the difference between a strategy and a tactic, we’re going to explore three strategies you can use to dominate your market, along with the tactics necessary to do so.
1. Banish conventional thinking on keyword research and content development
It’s easy to think, “I sell widgets, so I want to rank for ‘widgets.’” But it’s also lazy to stop there. Sure, if you sell widgets, you absolutely should work to rank for the term “widgets,” as well as variations of the term, such as:
[color] + widgets
[brand] + widgets
[size] + widgets
But no matter how many variations you include, you’ll only scratch the surface of potential topics to drive organic search traffic. That’s why it’s essential to go beyond conventional thinking and identity a greater number of lucrative, relevant topics — many of which will deliver organic traffic faster, with less effort, than the obvious keywords that everyone else is competing for
Here are a few unconventional tactics to diversify your keyword research and content development.
Ancillary products and/or services
Do customers use your widgets as a part of another machine? Do they need a specific tool to install or use them? Do your widgets require other products, such as lubrication or calibration devices, to function property? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you’ve just multiplied potential topics exponentially!
Writing about the products and/or services that support or are highly relevant to your own opens a whole new realm of keyword phrases. To be more clear, the concept of “keyword phrases is dead,” as I explained in a recent article on the role of artificial intelligence in SEO, so perhaps a better word would be “topics.” Think of it as buckets of topically themed words.
There are a few hidden benefits of producing content on ancillary products and services:
These other companies aren’t in competition with you, so they will be more likely to share and link to your content — especially since it helps promote them.
You will attract visitors at an earlier stage in the buying process.
Providing more information across a broader range of topics within your niche will help you appear more knowledgeable and authoritative.
Let’s use the SEO industry as an example. In this case, ancillary products and services for which you could produce content will mostly be marketing-related. These products/services might include:
premium WordPress themes and plugins
website backup services
email marketing services
social media tools
podcasting services and equipment
Interview industry leaders
Unless you’ve spent the last few decades working as a contract assassin for the CIA, you’re probably excited about having your name mentioned in the media. That’s true whether it’s Forbes, The Huffington Post, or even a tiny industry publication, and that feeling almost never goes away.
You can use this to your advantage by interviewing industry leaders, which gives you a way to produce amazing content, and the best part is that your interviewees produce most of it for you! It also makes you appear more trustworthy and authoritative in the eyes of your audience, because they begin to associate you with the leaders in your industry. An added benefit is that you actually will rise to their level faster, but the benefits don’t stop there, because it can also help you reach a new, larger audience because the interviewee will share and/or link to their own interview. And this tactic gives you a way to add value from the beginning of the relationship, which separates you from the majority of people who contact them asking for something.
You don’t need to be Oprah to effectively interview the leaders in your industry. Here are a few things you can ask them about to get the ball rolling:
Their background, education and work experience
How and why they chose to do what they do (The why is especially important)
Books they’ve written or recommend
Their mentors, heroes or role models
Podcasts they host or recommend
Events they speak at or attend as guests
Publications they contribute to
Products or services they recommend
From a technical perspective, I recommend recording the call so that you don’t have to worry about keeping up as you type or write. Just let the software do the work, then hire a transcriber on Fiverr to type it for you. This helps you to be efficient and respectful of the interviewee’s time.
Review competing products/services
It may sound crazy, but writing content about your and their products and/or services can create tremendous opportunities for you, as long as yours are superior in some way. In fact, this tactic was the foundation for one of my most successful SEO campaigns early in my career.
It’s important not to bash your competitors, because that will just make it look like you’re trying to overcompensate. Instead, clearly and objectively explain the differences, highlighting the pros and cons of each choice, allowing visitors to make an educated decision based on the facts.
When using this tactic, you’ll need to produce two levels of content and build both internal and external links to that content. What I’ve found to work well is creating a parent page that provides a general comparison of your products/services to those of your competitors, followed by child pages comparing each feature individually. Each of these child pages should contain an internal link to the parent page, as well as to the other child pages where relevant. I wrote a blog post on how to set up WordPress permalinks that explains this exact structure in detail, so you can use that as a step-by-step guide.
Consider how customers will search
Thanks to familiarity with technology, proliferation of mobile devices and the growth of artificial intelligence, the structure of searches has changed dramatically. Today, instead of opening Google and entering the search phrase “home builders,” a searcher may literally ask Google, either through their Android device or Google Home, “Which home builder in Tampa builds modern-style homes between £300,000 and £500,000?”
This offers tremendous value, both for searchers and for business owners. Put yourself in the shoes of the searcher for a minute — do you really want to go through several pages of blue links to find a handful of home builders who provide what you’re looking for? Now put yourself in the shoes of the home builder — do you want to answer inquiries from a bunch of people who are looking for a different style of house than you build?
When you produce content, do so with the understanding that searchers are using longer, more complex queries and search engines are using artificial intelligence to analyze the content on your page, along with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of additional data points to provide the single answer most likely to satisfy the searcher.
To accomplish this, you need to get out of your own head and into the heads of your customers. Find out what questions they have. What words do they use when talking about your industry, products or services? How well do they understand industry terminology? Go beyond the keywords themselves and get down to the thought process that would bring someone to your website.
For example, while an HVAC company would certainly want to rank for the term “air conditioning repair,” especially since we’re approaching summertime here in Florida, a query that would bring a potential customer to them earlier in the buying process might be something like, “why does my ac smell weird.” When a searcher finds out that the smell is caused by stagnant water and they’re already on the website of the HVAC company that answered their question, who do you think they will call first?
2. Build your industry’s hub
This is going to take a lot of time and effort, because it requires you to build an entirely new website and fill it with loads of outstanding content in order to become a hub for your industry.
When it’s executed successfully, you’ll have the opportunity to hold multiple positions in the search results, you’ll have a powerful and relevant website to link to your primary website from, and you’ll have an independent platform to further improve your own authority, expertise and trust. It’s important to mention that you must be extremely careful when linking from one website you own to another website you own, otherwise you risk being flagged for manipulative linking practices, potentially damaging both URLs.
In order for this strategy to be successful, the new website needs to become the absolute authority on your industry. The idea here is that while continuing to improve your primary website, you will simultaneously build a second website that will contain information and resources like:
industry specific business advice
laws that pertain to your industry
interviews with industry leaders
forms, templates and other documents
resources and tools
trade publications (web, print and audio)
trade organizations and networking groups
Basically, you want visitors to be able to find anything related to your industry here. In order to maximize this strategy, you need to give visitors a reason to return frequently and to send other people there. A members’ directory is a great way to do that, and a social network is an even better way. Imagine if you could create your industry’s version of LinkedIn or Facebook, so that visitors can friend their industry contacts and receive updated on their activity — how powerful would that advantage be over your competitors?
While you will have to produce a tremendous amount of unique content for this website, you can recycle at least some of the research conducted for content on your primary website, but I would recommend assigning different writers for each website to reduce similarities.
3. Become an influencer
I know, you’re probably thinking it’s easier said than done, right? But you can do it if you’re willing to put in the hard work that most others won’t, and it’s well worth the effort, because once you’re a recognized leader in your industry — especially within your target market, you won’t have to work nearly as hard to earn exposure and links. In fact, when done well, you can actually get your target market to help promote you and your company.
I’ll share a perfect example.
I’ve been in the digital marketing industry for 18 years, so I’m well known here, but I’ve recently started focusing on providing our digital marketing services to businesses in the construction industry, where initially, no one knew me. I set out to change that, and as a result of my efforts, I was asked to become a contributor for two large construction publications and was recently quoted at length in The Huffington Post about how military veterans are helping to solve the construction industry’s hiring challenges. I was even able to get that reporter to include several influential people I knew from the construction industry in that article, which created tremendous exposure for them in a top-tier publication.
I didn’t ask them for anything. I didn’t say, “If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you.” I simply encouraged the reporter to include them because their opinions on the topic were relevant and valuable. It improved the story for the publication’s audience.
But here’s what happened as a result — I immediately became more valuable to those people, and they immediately shared the article with their contacts. (Remember we talked earlier about how everyone loves positive media attention?) Now, instead of me telling people in my target market how great I am, the people they already know and look up to are doing it for me. Here’s the counterintuitive part — I didn’t even talk much about my company or what we do in the article.
And that particular article only scratches the surface, because in addition to being quoted regularly by business publications like Forbes, The Huffington Post and Fortune, I now have the opportunity to regularly demonstrate my expertise to my target market through their own trade publications. You simply can’t buy that kind of trust.
So, how do you become an influencer?
I’ve been at this for a long time, however, when I reach out to someone I don’t yet know, the process is still exactly the same as it is for someone who is starting from scratch. The key is to add value early and often.
It’s all about building relationships and adding value long before ever asking for anything. I personally know a lot of the people you would consider “famous” in our industry. They know they can ask me for help any time they need it, and often, when I hear they’ve run into a problem, I offer to help. It’s not a “do this for me and I’ll do that for you” thing, it’s more a matter of liking the people in my industry who I work with often. And they would do (and have done) the same for me. I’ve known some of these people for over a decade before ever asking for a favor, and I’ve known some longer but have never asked for anything.
That even applies to a lot of people who are technically my competitors. Last year I was interviewed on Webcology, and between me and the two hosts, Dave Davies and Jim Hedger, there were three different digital marketing agencies on the show.
Within an industry, people talk, so if you become known as a genuine person who always seeks to add value, you tend to get a lot farther a lot faster. Plus, it’s the right thing to do, and it makes you feel good anyway.
Now let’s get down to the details…
The first step is to create a list of the influencers you admire and respect — don’t just look at the size of their audience. Select influencers who are relevant to your target market and who share views similar to yours.
Next, follow them — but not in a creepy way. Subscribe to their blog and email newsletter. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks. If you want to be thorough, you can even set up a Google News Alert for both their name and company name.
Then start engaging with them. If they share a piece of content you think your audience would find valuable, share it. Encourage your audience to follow them. Ask them questions and answer theirs. Be the first to post a worthwhile comment on their blog posts (not “Nice post!” or any other such nonsense). Link to their posts from your own.
I think you get the idea.
Once you’ve established a relationship with the influencers on your list, you can build a new list and start this process all over, but continue nurturing the old relationships, too. It’s important to remember not to look at the influencers on your list like a goal to be checked off. While you do want them to engage with you and share your content, if that is your only goal, don’t waste their time or your own. People will realize you’re using them, and that will will hurt both your personal and company brand.