Kevin Gibbons gives SEOs in 2023 a series of steps on how to have a clear content strategy, making sure that your content is actually engaging your customers in the right way.
Kevin says: “My number one tip is to have a clear content strategy. Since we arranged this interview, Google announced the helpful content update, which further solidifies the importance of this. I’ve always been a strong advocate of having a very clear content strategy, investing properly in how you produce your content, and making sure that you’re doing everything in a way that can attract potential customers across the journey.
Having the right content strategy, for me, means you carry out a full content audit. Don’t create content until you know what you have already, and how well it’s performing. Also, carry out a gap analysis against competitors, and understand where the opportunities are for you to grow. Then, you really invest in content to make sure that it’s working for you.
It’s not a tick-box exercise – where you are just creating pages about a topic. It’s thinking about how your content is actually engaging with your customers. Invest in content so that it works for your site in the right way.”
In order to carry out a gap analysis, how do you establish who your competitors are?
“We use some in-house tools that look at a set of keywords and, depending on the brand in the niche, that could be a hundred keywords up to tens or hundreds of thousands. Based on that analysis, you will start to see trends for which competitors rank highly and have the strongest visibility for those keywords.
There are also external tools on the market that you can use, to show visibility and how that ranks versus competitors, who is most relevant, and where the overlap is against your competitors. We normally do that based on the keyword set that we want to rank for, and then we build outwards from there.
If you don’t look at the keywords, you might rule out competitors. A lot of people say that Amazon isn’t a competitor, for example, because they do everything. Actually, Amazon often is a competitor. If you sell trainers, so does Amazon. You don’t want to compare your own performance against Amazon for everything that they do, obviously, but if you have a niche product and Amazon is ranking number one, why would you discredit them? If your research is done on a keyword basis, you’re looking at the visibility of those keywords and the brands that are most relevant and performing highly for those keywords.
That’s the first step and then you can build outwards. Start with keywords - and at scale so that you can notice the trends. Equally, you might find that you have multiple product lines, and you have different competitor sets across those product lines. If you’re a fashion retailer, you might sell jeans for men, and you might sell dresses for women, for example. There would be some competitors that do both of those as well, but you’ll also have competing brands that are more niche and specific. You have to factor that in, from the top level down to the product level.”
What’s the best content to start with? Is it content that there are gaps for, or are you better off writing about the key content that is directly related to what you do as a business?
“I wouldn’t start with the gaps; I would start with your customers. What are the most important topics for them? Google Ads is still something that I would go to in the early stages because you can see how much revenue you’re making on a keyword level. There’s much more data available around that versus organic search. You can also understand, from your own analytics and from an organic perspective, which pages are making you the most money. There are ways to link that up to Search Console and get keyword data as well.
Start with your own audience. What is it that you’re finding converts the best? If you think of it in terms of the awareness, consideration, and conversion stages of the funnel, I would start backwards. That means starting from conversion. What is it that’s going to drive sales? Quite often that would be branded keywords or product keywords, which people overlook. You might assume that you will be number one for your own product or brand, but that’s not always the case. Start by making sure you are number one, and also secure number two and some featured snippets around that, if you can, to maximise and own those pages as much as possible.
Then, start to look at what your top converting keywords are - the ones that are going to drive sales and revenue. That way, your content strategy becomes prioritised by value in terms of the revenue that will be brought into the site. Then, you can start building out into awareness topics.
There will be some gaps. You probably haven’t 100% nailed what your customers want to be finding you for, or what you may be relevant for, but I would start with understanding what you have already and how well it works. Look for any gaps between your own PPC and your SEO because, if those keywords are performing well, you might have content for some of the best opportunities already, it’s just not doing enough. If it’s on page two and you can take it over to the edge onto page one, that’s a great initial starting point. You might already know it will convert – if you’ve got data that shows that traffic to those pages (or for those keywords) always converts highly - and you just want to get more traffic from what you already have. Invest in that content. Build it out and make it as strong as possible versus your competitors.
The metrics can be a bit flawed as well. It’s not just about traffic and it’s not just about rankings, either. It could be about improving the click-through rate from your existing pages, improving your conversion rate, lengthening your average time on site, reducing the bounce rate, etc. Investing in content from a user perspective, and a customer perspective, is really important. Conversion rate optimisation would overlap here, as well. It could be that you can turn a page into more revenue without actually increasing traffic.
There’s a lot to look at in what you have already. You can go on to the gaps afterwards, but don’t create any new content until you audit and understand what you have already. It’s quite possible that you will already have pages around the topics that you need to be writing about, it just might not be working to its full effect.”
What software do you use to have a look at seasonality trends and what are you looking for?
“Google Trends is pretty good, and having Google’s own data is useful. Certainly, if it’s a client, we would look at their analytics and what trends we can see from a traffic perspective. We do some market research insights for the eCommerce sector where we understand what the trends are, and we’ve actually done an interview with the head of retail at KPMG so that we can understand seasonal and economic trends that could be coming for different sub-sectors.
You want to know, from a search volume perspective, what’s popular in different areas. Some are more obvious, particularly for recurring seasonal events. Christmas is pretty predictable, in terms of when people are going to start shopping. There could be others, however, that are more of an economic trend. With COVID, for example, DIY, home and garden furniture, and online groceries had a big spike, whereas luxury fashion may have gone the other way.
You need to be aware of not just the seasonality of what happens year-on-year, but also potential changes in the economic climate. Then, you can factor that into your prioritisation. This is key for seasonal products, of course. If you’re a fashion brand in the northern hemisphere and you’re advertising winterwear in May, you’re probably not going to be doing particularly well. Equally, you don’t want to leave it too late when it does come around.
It’s important to prioritise when you focus on these so that you can secure the rankings in the right way in order to get traffic. Invest in that content at the right time. Think about the people. If your blog is full of content about winter fashion in summer (because you’re trying to secure rankings ready for winter) then who’s going to read that? You’ve got to think about the timing from a customer perspective, instead of just lining everything up for Google.”
What does a content strategy roadmap look like and how often should it be revisited?
“Through a combination of the audits and gap analysis, you can create a forecast. That’s where you see the potential upside of actually doing this. Quite often, brands won’t know how much to budget, or they might have a fixed budget, but it might not be right. You could take a fixed budget, and build your roadmap around the best way to get value from that budget, or you could present it as an opportunity to grow and what you achieve will depend on the budget that you’re given. That would factor in the roadmap as well.
If you’ve got a low budget, and you want to create tens of thousands of pages, that’s obviously not going to work. You might have to look at the 80/20 rule and focus on getting the most bang for your buck. Then, you would build that roadmap prioritising by value first, and looking at the revenue opportunity of different pages and topics. Once you know what that revenue opportunity is, you can overlay seasonality. You don’t want to be waiting 12 months for that to turn into revenue - you want it to have a shorter-term impact.
You need to understand the capability that you have, and the budget that you have on the production side. If you create a full content strategy that looks at absolutely everything you could do, but you don’t have the internal resource of copywriters (or budget externally) to create that content, then you’re wasting your time. Build a forecast and build a case for what you would do if you had an uncapped budget versus what your budget actually is, and how you can use that in the best way possible. Then, you can prioritise.
Also, think about how you are going to invest in the right way to make sure you’ve got content that is good enough to rank against your competitors. It’s not just about how far the budget spreads to create as many pages as possible. Then, you’re playing a game of ‘how much content you can get for the budget’ and, in that game, the cheapest copywriter wins. On Google, however, the highest quality content usually wins. Make sure that you’re aligned in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
How do you forecast how long it’s likely to take to achieve the rankings that you want to get?
“It will be based upon the difficulty of achieving that ranking against competitors. Take Amazon. If you’re a startup with a lot of other competitors, and you’re trying to outrank them for book titles, then it’s not going to happen overnight. However, if it’s a more niche product and the competitors are fairly light (maybe outside the top two or three), then you would factor that in and potentially aim to be on page one for those terms within six months, and in the top three within twelve months.
Take your competition into account. Fashion is a great example. In our eCommerce report, I think we have about 50 brands just for fashion retailers alone, and trying to become part of that top 50 is really difficult. Ranking for the most competitive terms, like ‘black dress’, ‘blue jeans’, etc., is not going to be easy.
The sweet spot to aim towards is finding the highest volume where you have a realistic chance of winning over the next six to twelve months. Think long-term, but you need to be able to show progress toward that. You will have to start to show an ROI against your efforts and your work, so that you can prove that it is working, it’s on the right track, and it’s sustainable from a budget perspective - because you’re self-funding and reinvesting the profits from your work into getting you into higher positions longer term.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time but ultimately counterproductive?
“I think SEOs can often get too tactical. You have to start with a strategy. I wouldn’t look at any tactics until you know the strategy of where you’re going. SEOs can focus too short term. You need to be aware of algorithm updates but, equally, know what has value to the business, and understand what it is that you’re trying to achieve.
If you’re looking to maximise revenue, then look at how you can focus on top-converting keywords. It’s not necessarily always the tactical items. Focus on a longer-term vision, and a plan that works towards that in the short, medium, and long term. Don’t get too distracted by everything that’s happening in terms of the tactics around it. Understand what you’re trying to achieve and work backwards.
Going back to the content strategy perspective, there are two ways of doing things. One is to maximise traffic, and the other is to can maximise revenue. For me, maximising revenue is easier because you’re focusing your effort on what’s going to work for that brand, not just what’s competitive and popular in Google.
Don’t get too distracted by what everyone else is talking about and focus on the business metrics. This will certainly help to delight your clients because you’re making them money, and that’s the most important thing. Keep focus and, on the flip side, don’t lose that focus.”
Kevin Gibbons is the Founder and CEO at Re:signal and you can find him at resignal.com.
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