Paige Hobart shares her frustrations with creating content for content’s sake and implores SEOs in 2023 to have a more focused idea of exactly what you are producing, why you’re producing it, and what it is supposed to be doing for you.
Paige says: “My tip for 2023 is born out of a little bit of frustration from the past few years. It’s to better understand your SEO content - and make sure you actually understand what you’re producing and why.”
Why do you think the word ‘content’ is massively overused?
“I hate the word ‘content’. Some of you might know me from the SEO SERP Features Glossary - I’m all about trying to help beginners and experienced people in SEO all use the same language. If we’re all speaking from the same hymn book, we all understand what we’re trying to achieve and what we’re producing.
The word ‘content’ is too broad; it describes too many things. I have been asked to ‘do content’ by many clients over many years, and every single one will have a slightly different understanding of what it means and what they actually want from that. I want us all to really dig down into what ‘content’ is, why you’re producing it, and what it’s supposed to be doing for you.”
What’s a better word for content?
“Get more specific. When you’re talking about website pages: Is it a product page? Is it a category page? Is it timely content? Is it a guide? Yes, it’s all content, but dig down into what it is, why you’re producing it, and what it’s supposed to be doing.
A lot of the time it’s rankings. We’re SEOs. We want that content to rank for a certain keyword or group of keywords, or we want that content to convert (we want that user to buy that product, to be inspired by something, etc.) - or we don’t want it to do any of those things. We might just want to be able to put something out there that shows that we’re experts in our industry, that we have an opinion, and that we should be a thought leader. That’s valuable too. It might not rank for anything, but it’s still inherently valuable to us as SEOs.”
How do you map out what you’re creating and prioritise what you’re doing?
“I actually created a map. It’s slightly based on something that you’ve created, David, because I took a lot of inspiration from your Pump and Funnel model. I produced a white paper when I was still working for ROAST about what content is (that you’ll find on the ROAST website).
In there, I made a map where you put into boxes how the content that you’re producing fits each of the descriptions. You can really dig down into what that content is and, more importantly, what its KPI is. What’s it supposed to be doing for you?”
Is it possible to measure the KPI of every piece of content?
“I think so. Some KPIs are softer than others. Rankings, conversions, coverage, views, links, etc., are all KPIs. They don’t have to all do the same thing - and they shouldn’t all do the same thing - but there should be at least one goal that a piece of content is trying to achieve.”
How does SEO get itself involved with content across the entire business, and does it have the right to do so?
“I think we have to. Shifting from agency to in-house has been a huge eye-opener for how inherent we are in every single element of the business.
I am currently writing a webpage - just one page for the entire website - and I’m speaking to the sales team, the implementation team, the client success team, and the product team. Everybody has a right for that website to work for them. The SEO’s goal is to tie it all together in a way that makes sense to users and search engines, and make sure that content performs and hits those KPIs.”
What kind of conversations have you had with sales teams? How do you initiate them and what information are you seeking?
“For this example, I’m looking at one page and just one feature of what we sell - which is the employee app feature. I’m asking the sales teams: ‘What are the common questions that you’re getting asked? What are the prospects asking you about this particular feature?’
Then, I’m asking the client success teams: ‘How are your clients doing? What problems have they fixed by using this feature?’ Ideally, I can take a nice little quote to boost those CRO scores on the page and show that we have really cool clients that have really succeeded using this.
For the product team, I’m asking: ‘What are the key features? What are people looking for? Is it something that integrates with iOS and Android? Then let’s make sure that that’s front and centre’, etc. As an SEO, I don’t know all of this information, but I can bring it all together in a really optimised way.”
What happens if your sales or client success teams use phraseology that doesn’t get significant search volume? Do you use what the sales teams suggest, or different phraseology with the potential to drive more traffic from your keyword research tools?
“Phraseology is such a common issue for SEO - where the phrase that’s being used internally is not the language customers are using. We have to be educating the teams and helping us all to sing from the same hymn sheet.
Make sure that we’re all using the same language, and guide people by saying, ‘We might call it that, but the customers are still calling it this’. You should be able to get that buy-in from people like the sales teams by asking ‘What are your customers asking you, as opposed to what you’re saying to them?”
Should you be creating more generic sales pages first, or higher search volume content (like the questions that your typical customers ask)?
“I think it’s all the same thing. I want my sales page to contain those common questions, and cover those common FAQs. If you’re thinking about that specific feature or that specific product, you’ve landed on that page. It’s not efficient for them to then go through to the sales team and ask the same questions all the time.
If I can put those questions front and centre on that page, and make everybody’s life a little bit easier, we’re going to have more qualified leads and save the sales teams time.”
Should you integrate content the business produces in other areas, that’s not necessarily crawled by search engines (hardcopy content, copy for trade shows, etc.), and ensure that the phraseology and style are matched across the organisation?
“I think you should, particularly when you’re talking about technical features. However, it all goes back to those KPIs. What is that piece of content trying to achieve?
If it’s thought leadership, and you’re using a few lofty terms, then that’s fine. It doesn’t always have to match - you can have a bit of freedom, depending on what the goal of that is.
If you want it to rank and you want it to convert and be really clear, then make it really clear. If you want it to be thought of as something loftier, then you can be a bit more creative.”
If an SEO in an organisation receives pushback from sales teams and creative teams, what is the best way to get buy-in from those conversations?
“I was recommended a few books to read before I went in-house. There’s a really good book by Eli Schwartz about product-led SEO that you should all read (Product-Led SEO: The Why Behind Building Your Organic Growth Strategy). It really helps you understand internal thinking.
I’m lucky where I am, in that collaboration is something they are really pushing as a culture. I am always inviting people to give me their opinions.
Everyone’s got an opinion. Although they might not see it come to fruition in the way that they’re thinking, by at least giving everyone the opportunity to voice that opinion you’ll always get something. Even if it’s not hugely helpful, at least you’ve engaged with those people in your team and your company.”
Has the SEO job role completely changed nowadays, becoming more like internal consultants liaising between different departments and less technically focused?
“I have worked in an agency for over seven years, so consulting is kind of what I’ve always done, but now I’m really in it. I’m under the skin, as opposed to this external insect buzzing around going, ‘Please do this! Please do this!’ and not seeing anything once it goes inside.
It’s really interesting coming to the ‘dark side’ of in-house (as some of my SEO colleagues would have said). I get to actually put a webpage together, go into the CMS, build it, mock things up, bring people into conversations, and go and find people to talk to.
An in-house SEO is a very different role from an agency SEO, but we don’t have to be less technical. Tech should always be the foundation of what you’re doing and why, because you’re going to need to use that to back yourself up. If people say, ‘That doesn’t look very nice, though.’ you have to say, ‘Well, you’re gonna need it anyway.’
As an agency SEO, you’re saying: ‘You’re paying me for my opinion, here it is.’ Clients won’t always implement that - or they’ll implement some things but not other things. Most agency SEOs will find that very common and incredibly frustrating. It’s a big change going in-house.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“Content for content’s sake. It’s such a frustration when people just publish. There’s still a lot of the ‘I have to do a blog post every day for SEO’ mentality. No. Stop doing that. If you’re publishing every day, but your industry does not need you to do that, then you’re not saying anything of genuine interest or anything genuinely helpful.
It’s just the same churned-out rubbish that everyone else is talking about, like the same old top 10 lists that everybody does. I just want everyone to think: ‘What am I doing? What is it trying to achieve? Is it genuinely helpful to my users or my community?’
It’s not that the days of an opinion-based corporate blog are numbered, you just have to actually have an opinion. Stop being bland. I like to use Martin Lewis from MoneySavingExpert as a perfect example. What a spokesperson! What an author, for your EAT signals, to be out there having an opinion and talking in the press. That’s an SEO’s dream, to have an author on your website that is that prominent. Let’s all be more like Martin Lewis.”
Can you train someone to write like that?
“I think you have to find those people in your organisation that are willing and confident enough to do that, but also create a safe space. I was that person at ROAST for many years. I would go out to events, I would represent the company, and I would stand on stage and give people my opinion.
Even today, I’m giving my opinion, because I’ve been brought up in the industry to feel that it’s okay to do that. Especially in SEO, everyone tries stuff. Not everything works out for everybody, but it’s a safe community for us to have those conversations and build on each other’s work.”
Paige Hobart is SEO Manager at Unily and you can find her over at unily.com.
If you like to get up-close with your favourite SEO experts, these one-to-one interviews might just be for you.
Watch all of our episodes, FREE, on our dedicated SEO in 2023 playlist.
Maybe you are more of a listener than a watcher, or prefer to learn while you commute.
SEO in 2023 is available now via all the usual podcast platforms
Opt-in to receive email updates.
It's the fastest way to find out more about SEO in 2024.