by LISTON WITHERILL

We live in a world where the message matters most. Where helpful information matters more than metatags, Google’s algorithm or the ease of robot crawling.

A keyword-first SEO strategy is misguided, misplaced and misinformed. It misses the point. Here’s why.

Your website is a deadly weapon. A surgical instrument that can move your business from obscurity to esteem. So of course you want to rank highly to get more people to see your business and your offer.

If you do a good job on your SEO strategy you’ll attract traffic like your website is fly paper. It attracts a swarm of passersby to see what you have to say and what you have to sell. It demonstrates the problems you solve and how you solve them. It shows why you do what you do.

Your fly paper won’t be sticky if your messages don’t matter. And you’ll be 100% focused on the wrong thing: getting a big crowd instead of getting the right crowd and being truly different.

That’s generally the state of SEO. Look to drive large amounts of traffic by exploiting less competitive keywords, or more competitive keywords with brute force (see: a firehose of bad and irrelevant content).

What you should focus on is high quality long-form content that makes a difference for everyone who reads it. It’ll position you as an expert (or at least as a credible source of information) in your field and increase your chances of inbound links and social shares. Your content will always matter to readers in a dynamic, customer-first sales process. And you’ll solidify a unique position in the marketplace.

There are 5 key reasons why you should immediately drop your SEO-first content strategy and focus instead on what your customers want. They are:

  1. Content Should Be Helpful, Not Self-Promoting
  2. Sales Ain’t What It Used to Be
  3. People Share Great Stuff
  4. Make It Timeless
  5. Search Isn’t Really a Moving Target

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1. Content Should Be Helpful, Not Self-Promoting

Remember those old, glossy, tri-fold pieces of paper called brochures? Or the stacks of photo- and graph-laden sales sheets? You’re right — they were all totally self-serving. Fodder for the recycling bin at best.

These days it’s different: your average buyer has done 57% of their research before making it to your doorstep. They know a ton about your business and what you provide, but they probably won’t have the insights that you can provide. The old SEO strategy model was to rank highly first — throw resources at obtaining links to make it onto Page 1 of SERPs. Keywords guided content production first, and valuable information was created insofar as it furthered the keyword strategy. Times have changed.

High search rankings are still hugely important, but it’s a very slow process. And if you produce fantastically helpful information, you’ll start to rise in the rankings as people share your content and spend more time on your page. Your competitors are probably solution-focused. That is, they’ll find a square problem and make a square peg. But you can go a step better: you can ask if the the square problem is the right problem to focus on in the first place. Or you can put a microscope on the square problem and find the contours and nuances around the edges so your prospects can understand the problem like never before.

Now you’re making something helpful that none of your competitors could do quite the same. That means you’re different. And different means you have a higher chance of converting a casual visitor into a lead, and a lead into a happy repeat customer. That last part is a bit tricky since sales has changed so much.

2. Sales Ain’t What It Used to Be

The whole reason you (and I) go to the trouble of developing all of this content and useful information is to make sales. Of course it is. But readers don’t look at your website or your content to help you make sales. So you should be asking: how do people make decisions to buy? That’s not an easy one, but a few ground rules are helpful. For starters, we can check out the Buyer’s Journey as a useful model for how people approach their buying decisions:

  1. Awareness of the problem
  2. Awareness of the solution
  3. Research + compare
  4. Decide
  5. Refer + buy more

In the old days, sales took place anywhere in Stages 1–4. Nowadays, most people do a ton of homework before they ever raise their hand and say they might want to buy.

In fact, 94% of B2B buyers and 81% of consumers research before their purchases. SEO is still a way to cast a big enough net to capture some of those potential buyers, but if you rely strictly on SEO strategy you’ll die a fast cash flow death. It takes way too long to be your main marketing strategy in your early days.

Instead, make sure your content is absolutely awesome so that every reader is wowed by it. Align content with different stages of the Buyer’s Journey so that it can be used in your sales process as well. If your content is good, people will share it and love you forever.

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3. People Share Great Stuff

Every time you share something, you have:

  • Proven yourself as someone who knows about cool things
  • Specifically thought of the person before sharing with them
  • Created a social obligation for the person you shared with

It’s no wonder we’re all driven to share stuff daily. And that doesn’t mean “sharing” in just the social media sense, it means sharing generally. Social media has just done a really good job of taking our offline behavior online.

Sharing content online is just like swapping books or magazines, except online sharing is fast and frictionless. That means the barriers for someone to share are relatively non-existent, so if you have something good then it’s likely to be shared.

7 out of the top 11 on-page ranking factors for SEO are social factors, so you’ll get an SEO boost for lots of sharing. And I can almost guarantee that social sharers don’t care too much about keywords. Certainly keywords won’t be the first thing on their minds.

And if so many SEO ranking factors are dedicated to social indicators of quality content, you’d be better served to think about what is share-worthy rather than keyword-driven content.

4. Make It Timeless

Keywords are a moving target. Today’s “cheap hotel san francisco” is tomorrow’s “affordable hotels bay area.”

But the page with the best information on affordable hotels will always be relevant. Your content should follow the same thought process.

So snap out of that short-term thinking that makes you ask “how can I get more traffic in the next X months” and instead ask this one:

How can I become the go-to source for information on ____________?

It’s a tall order, sure, but it can be done. And to truly make it evergreen — meaning it’s always fresh and interesting — requires a focus on the timeless aspects of your customers’ and prospects’ problems.

That focus allows you to build a library of information on your website that’s always relevant and interesting through market, technology and taste changes.

You’ll also produce some timely information, of course, but the more evergreen you can make your content the more you’ll be able to reuse it.

Which introduces the final point of evergreen content — it can be forever leveraged in multiple ways. Blogs can become slide decks, white papers can become videos and short posts can be brought together to make ebooks. If the content is good and relevant, you’ll be able to use it in countless ways.

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5. Search Isn’t Really a Moving Target

Every search engine continuously updates their search algorithm. They have to because the black hats force their hand. More on that in a second.

You regularly hear how SEO strategy is a moving target. Like here, here and here.

But is it really?

Let’s think about it for a second. Sure, Google discouraged you from guest posting because it may indicate that you’re the scum on the ‘net. That doesn’t really count for reputable posts in reputable places.

The reason is simple: the job of a search engine is to deliver information that is relevant to theperson typing in the search query. That will never change.

The only thing that will change is how the search engine determines if information is relevant to the searcher.

I’ll go out on a limb here: evergreen content with lots of shares and reputable links will always be an indication of great information.

So just produce great content and don’t worry about the “moving target” of search because it won’t affect you all that much.

Conclusion

Your content should be driven by value, not keywords. And the more great content you produce, the more opportunities you’ll have to educate and influence your readers.

If you educate, you’re positioned as an expert. And who wouldn’t want to buy from an expert?

Get a jump on building your authority and expertise with your SEO strategy content checklist.



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