Google (and other search engines) are all about helping people find what they're looking for by sorting through which sites are high-quality and relevant.
Search engines or Jerry McGuire? Who can tell.
So when you know you've created something amazing, using search engine optimization (SEO) allows the search engines to see your content is appropriate for your target audiences.
I spoke with SEO expert Tom Casano of Sure Oak SEO to get his insight on what can be done to help increase your content's rank and how to use SEO to increase traffic.
In this episode, you'll learn:
- The basics of keyword research
- The importance of keyword variation
- What to consider when making video content
Hope you enjoy!
This podcast seeks to answer your questions about content marketing and digital PR with straightforward, actionable tips. You can find all episodes here.
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Amanda Milligan: Welcome to Ask Amanda About Marketing, a podcast in which I, Amanda, or occasionally a special guest, answer your questions about inbound marketing. Straightforward, right? If you want to submit a question, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you. Let's get right to it.
Tom Cassano is joining us on the show this week and he's here to talk about SEO which is something I haven't really dealt too deeply into or haven't really had any guests on the show who specialize specifically in SEO. So, I'm really excited to chat with him. How are you doing Tom?
TC: Doing great, Amanda. I’m psyched. How are you doing?
AM: I'm great. I'm really glad to have you on the show. So we were talking about how there's really a million different ways. We can go with this. SEO is one of those really foundational—I guess you can say a tactic but something that's really so ingrained in everything you should be doing that there's so much to consider. I think what I love to hear about is along the lines of keyword research because I think that's something that almost everybody is working on and it's just like an ongoing exploration into how to improve.
I know it's something that I've been trying to do with our blog at Fractl too. So Tom, just to get started before we even get into all of that—why is SEO keyword research so important for content marketers? I've heard there have been things online when content marketing was first making its boom like “content marketing is replacing SEO” or “content marketing is better than SEO.” But you and I know that's not necessarily the case, but what would you say in response to people like that?
TC: Yeah. Well, I think we've seen over time that the content marketing and SEO are just becoming more and more integrated over time, as well as like digital PR and branding and all these sorts of things. So there's a lot of parts of inbound marketing and you know, basically having appeal and drawing people into your site for good reasons to help them so that you build a relationship with them.
Then, eventually at the end of its sales funnel whatever you're making more sales, your business is growing. So the two have become very integrated, especially now that you know, Google has just become so much more, for lack of a better word, intelligent in terms of understanding content and sort of like the meanings and the semantics behind it.
So even when we're writing content, it’s just so impactful for SEO and then you know, the reason SEO is so important is because it's inbound traffic to your website. People finding you and it's being able to build a relationship with people. If you think of how many times you search on your phone when you're looking up information, you're typing searches into Google.
How many times a day do you spend doing that? It's a beautiful source of inbound traffic. So I love SEO for a lot of different reasons. But of course, the fact that it's like recurring monthly traffic of people finding you over and over again versus if we're doing AdWords or Facebook ads, we're constantly putting money in today to get traffic today. SEO has a much greater long-term value proposition that you can’t find in shorter-term ads.
AM: Definitely. Thank you for that break down like that was a really good summary. So for on-site content, we're talking about keywords, and I think it's a great point about the whole approach to getting inbound leads, inbound traffic. It's funny when I talk to people who mostly rely on outbound, how relieved they are when they start seeing that inbound interest come in.
It really makes life so much easier and it's really a combination of content and SEO that allows you to accomplish that. So say somebody's thinking about producing some kind of content on some kind of a topic. What's the first thing that you do when you have that topic in mind?
TC: Yeah, it all starts with keyword research because—it's kind of funny when you would assume that people might search for a certain phrase or certain word a certain way that you're used to or you know within your business. This is what it means but then the “laypersons” way of searching that sometimes it is funny the way you know, the phrase has come or how people put it so.
It's really, you know, obviously vitally important to know how many searches are happening per month within if you're targeting a certain country or a local region for a local business or you’re international—you want to know exactly how many searches are happening per month for keywords and all the variations of those keywords.
I've seen it happen where a company is targeting this keyword and it has like, you know, 10 searches a month versus this other one has a thousand searches a month, right? So you want to focus on the highest opportunity areas.
AM: Do you think that typically the best approach is to have a mix of that type of volume versus competition ratio? Like to have some of the higher volume but maybe less relevant and then some that are like lower-middle volume that are more targeted to your audience or where's the balance there?
TC: Yeah, exactly. There's always a sort of trade-off or like a spectrum where on the one end you can have them super high volume searches, but maybe that person is not ready to buy or they're just kind of like we mentioned they're more like a newbie. We had spoken about one of our last conversations, like what is content marketing.
Maybe you're not really targeting that person but you want to maybe want to build that relationship or you know, so that down the road when they're ready to move forward with content marketing—So on the one side you have the high volume.
On the other side, you might have very low volume but very high user intent. So that person is Googling something where it's like “buy X now” or “hire this consultant now.” That person's obviously much more likely to convert if you're selling or offering that kind of product or service or you're trying to generate leads for a business, but usually, the search volume can be lower.
And then the other variable in all this, of course, is how competitive it is, because sometimes you'll find obviously the most high-value keywords like, “buy sweaters now” is going to be very competitive because every e-commerce site selling sweaters wants to be on page one, right? It's a zero-sum game. We can't all be position one.
So, you know, it's much more competitive and then you find lower hanging fruit where people will be searching like “what is the best kind of sweater” or “is a wool sweater better than—” you know, I don't know that much about sweaters, but you get the idea. There's sometimes these less competitive lower hanging fruit opportunities where you can create an authoritative and extensive piece of content that no one else is really looking at and then you kind of get in these little nooks and crannies that maybe the competition is overlooking and then you're starting to get that traffic and kind of get people more to your site, build a brand awareness and into your sales funnel.
AM: When you talk about that low-hanging fruit, aside from just guessing and looking at the keywords that have good volume or low competition, how do you find those opportunities?
TC: So of course when I approach this, I'm doing it really extensively so I'm finding like tons and tons of keywords, you know, maybe thousands of keywords for a website. To identify ones that are less competitive, there are metrics out there that you can get from service providers, like for instance SEMrush or Ahrefs might tell you the keyword difficulty metric for this keyword is, you know, “X” on a scale of zero to a hundred but often that's not extremely indicative.
A better way to test it is to open up an incognito window in your Chrome or whatever your browser is, do that keyword search, and then start looking through the first three to five search results and checking them out and seeing like, is this really helpful? Is this content extensive?
Then we start looking through what's actually showing up of the first three to five results, you might find this isn't really like great content or this isn't really providing me this awesome answer it, which is a very manual way to do it. So it could be time consuming if you're going to sit there and kind of manually audit 20 of these keywords, but some of them are valuable enough to your business that it's worth taking a look and seeing wow, like these guys already wrote like 3,000 words of the most amazing guide ever and you say to yourself, I don't know if I could really compete with that.
Or you might look further down on the page one results and say, maybe by the fourth or the fifth result, there's more of an opportunity. So the best way to do it is manually but it's more time consuming. So the quick way to do it is by the keyword difficulty metric from third-party data providers.
AM: I think that's a great point, those tools help you so much in making those initial decisions on what to analyze, but sometimes manually is the only way you're going to get a really good look into what's going on. I think that's a great thing to bring up. So once you have maybe a list of keywords, maybe you've even built an entire editorial calendar based on all the different opportunities you see in keywords.
When you're going in to write the post and you have this keyword in mind, do you have any strategies or tools that you use in terms of making sure you’re optimizing in the best way? Like, I know I use Yoast plugin on WordPress and you know, there's some of the basic things where you make sure you have it in the headline and subheaders, but what else do people need to be considering?
TC: Yeah, Yoast is funny because I think it is a helpful sort of training wheels—not training wheels, I don't mean to put it that way but you know what I mean, like it's a good sort of guidelines of like the green and the red and yellow lights to make sure you're using it in places, but I find sometimes it's misleading because you're getting these red lights and you're like, oh geez, like I must be doing something wrong here.
I think it could sort of misguide you in some ways. But to give you an overview, for optimizing one page on a website for one keyword, the four most important places we want to use those keywords are one—in the page title, two—in the URL slug (so domain.com/ and then the keyword), three—is in the headers like you mentioned, and then four—is in the body text.
Now, of course, we don't need to reuse the keyword like a bajillion times because that's keyword stuffing and that looks unnatural weird and Google catches on to it and it backfires is bad for you. But I would say the one place that I think people really miss out on opportunities is if there is a keyword like—I don't know, “how to lose weight,” right?
If you start looking at all the variations the different phrases that different people are familiar with long tail keywords, then there's different synonyms. And so the same kind of meaning or the same kind of intent but different phrases, different words—we start to find and unravel like dozens of the same kind of thing that people are searching for but they're just putting it in different ways.
So what we want to start doing is actually rather than you know—I'm very much a fan of this go the same concept goes by multiple names so Rand Fishkin from Moz calls it “10x content,” Brian Dean from Backlinko called it “skyscraper technique,” Yoast calls it “Cornerstone” content, and Fizzle and Corbett Barr calls it “Right Epic—” bleep.
So basically they're all after like, you know—create this amazing content that's not out there, a really extensive, complete, comprehensive guide. So, you know, I look for like three to twelve thousand words of content and when we're doing them like I'm saying we want to get all these variations and different phrases in there. So it's really good to start unearthing what are the other phrases or synonyms and variations of people are searching for.
You can never get all of them but you can even look at some content you have in Google search console or Google analytics and you can see some of the phrases like I just shared with you a little while ago, all these crazy different variations that are all searching the same thing just in different ways.
To give you some examples, I was looking at one for like “how to find yourself.” So people search for “finding yourself” or “feeling lost,” “how to find myself,” “lost in life,” “I feel lost,” “how to discover yourself,” “how to find myself again.” And this long list in front of me of all these variations.
So rather than optimizing for one keyword, there's all these variations that we can naturally put within the text. We can go back later and edit it in.
AM: Speaking of going back later, I've always been intrigued in how to best optimize a post for SEO after it's already been published. So say six months down the line you're looking at the content that's performing well, or you or you've identified content that hasn't done well. What are some things you look for to either improve the way a piece is performing, maybe there's some SEO tweaks you can do to it then? Or how you can give it a boost when it hasn't been performing as well as you had hoped.
TC: Yeah, and you know while we're talking about the keywords and optimizing in the content, we can, of course, forget about the value of building backlinks, authoritative trustworthy relevant high-quality links coming to the site. At the end of the day, that's the primary driver of your ranking for your pages on your website. It's the most heavily weighted ranking factor on Google's algorithm.
So we can create the most amazing awesome content in the world, but if no one's finding it and linking to it regularly from authoritative trustworthy sources, I don't want to say it's all for naught but it's like it's kind of fighting an uphill battle. Right? So we're kind of assuming that we have some really good PR and backlinks and that sort of stuff.
So sorry, going about going back to your question, right? So how do we optimize for that? We can look in Google Search console or Google Analytics to see some long tail keywords that maybe it’s on page two, maybe position 13 for this phrase and maybe if we just use that exact phrase one time, that'll just bump it up to like position eight or seven or six. Or maybe we can talk about that little concept or that phrase or that other piece of it and more of like a paragraph or if it's a question.
Like “how do I do X”—maybe we have that exact question, that exact answer, and then it might eventually become like a featured snippet. So, you know when you're searching on Google and Google gives you the answer box on top it could become that.
So we can kind of look at keywords that it's sort of ranking for but not so well and optimize more towards that because we'll get more data from Google Search Console than we would get from Google Keyword Planner. The other way is of course, we could put it into Google Keyword Planner as a landing page and Google will spit out suggestions for us, as well as we could look at similar competitor pages and see, you know through third-party data providers like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, and figure out, okay, here are the other keywords that are still relevant or similar, you know, there's Google auto-suggest at the bottom.
When you search down the results page of Google you see what people also search for and you see those other ones. There's lots of like tools and ways that we can come up with these ideas to try to test and see what are the actual similar related keywords for this piece of content that people are searching for.
AM: Yeah you’ve been doing this for a while. You're a strategic SEO expert, you work at Sure Oak SEO and if you're giving us all these tips, are naming all of these tools, what are the tools people have to use? What are your favorite things to use? What do you think is the most effective in terms of doing this kind of analysis?
TC: Yes, so funnily enough, I don't actually depend on tools too much other than—the one I use the most is Ahrefs, but of course like I keep mentioning there's SEMrush and there's Moz and there's other stuff like that but really for doing keyword research, the ones I'm using are Google Keyword Planner, which is free and if you have if you're running an AdWords campaign, you can get closer to the real data versus these big ranges because Google started like giving you these big 1,000 to 10,000 searches a month for this keyword which isn't really helpful and then I will use tools like Ahrefs to spit out some suggestions as well.
And what's the other one? There's all these different tools. I have them kind of all around but yeah, it's kind of like less about using fancy tools and more about doing the research and plugging your competitor sites or similar pieces of content into Google Keyword Planner, getting those ideas out as well, as like to sit in there and brainstorming, right?
So if we're selling wool sweaters, I'll sit there and write out like 50 variations of—and I'm totally guessing—what people might search. I'll take those 50 ideas and then put them into Google Keyword Planner and see what real kind of searches people are doing and what's related. So there's just like all these different places that we can be searching for keywords that might be relevant to this content.
AM: I think that's a great point because some people might think that you can almost like automate this process or you know, SEO is a really technical thing. But the fact that you do a lot of the manual work and you're doing the brainstorming just goes to show like how SEO is not just about, okay. we're just going to make put this keyword in here and that's the end. You know, like we call it a day. It's all about how people are really searching and really connecting with other human beings. It's just figuring out the language that they're using and we need to be involved in order to do that. We can't kind of automate the process.
TC: Yeah, totally and I think one of the big takeaways is, rather than thinking of it that you're optimizing a piece of content for one keyword, I want to approach it with like a massive, extensive, amazing, piece of content that's optimizing to that one keyword and then lots of variations. So I think that's where people really miss out an opportunity because you start adding up all those variations and different phrases and synonyms and stuff.
It's a huge mass of opportunity that's so worthwhile to incorporate that because you're already writing this content. If you're writing a piece of content over a thousand, two thousand words, you might as well know what people are actually searching because it's like product-market fit. So you just want to be able to answer directly people's questions and what they're actually looking for.
Another tool, I just found that I forgot to mention is Answerthepublic.com. It's another one of these tools you can put it in. There's all kinds of—if you just Google Keyword tools, you'll find all kinds of, you know, free things out there. You can mess around with and get ideas for.
You were mentioning that the variation in keywords is a big missed opportunity in your years of doing SEO for different clients. Have you noticed any other trends and big missed opportunities or things that people tend to overlook?
TC: I think, you know, being smart about your internal linking—so if you have a page you really want to rank, you know, if you can link to it from your home page from your other authoritative pages on your site, that's going to help go a long way. As well as the anchor text, which you can control. So whatever you're going to highlight, whatever words you're going to highlight to link to it. Again, you don't want to be weird or spammy, but you can be using some of the relevant terms of that keyword in there.
What else do people miss out on? So many things. I mean, Google's algorithm has over 200 ranking factors. And so I think the challenge for most businesses that I see that are doing SEO is to really know where to focus. There's all these little tiny things that sound like they are meaningful or sound like they're impactful but at the end of the day, they're really not. So what I do is I just focus on the three most important ranking factors, which are you know, external backlinks coming to the site that are authoritative, trustworthy high-quality and you know, and obviously having a good number of those. Really having your content well optimized again in a natural, normal way. It's helpful for the users.
It's actionable because user experience, user engagement is super important. Even the design, look, and feel of the site is good for your SEO. Google is tracking the time on the page, the bounce rate, like everything you can imagine. They own Chrome. They own Android. So any data Google wants to have they can basically have.
Then the third thing is the content and while we're sitting here talking about content marketing there's still an opportunity to create amazing content and it's hard because it takes time and takes investment. It’s work, you know, if you're going to make a piece of content that's really going to be amazing and helpful to the user in a way that's not currently being done, you're going to put blood, sweat, and tears into working on that, having visuals to go along with it, or if it's GIFs or video or other multimedia happening with it and you're all too familiar with this, you know what goes into it, right?
So, you know, I'm usually looking and thinking on the scale of thousands or tens of thousands of words of content, all around that topic area because it makes the website that rich in content and Google can get a sense of the semantic relevance and the usefulness and helpfulness of the content.
So it's sort of focusing on these three areas and especially the off-site link building which again, Fractl does an amazing job of. These are the most important factors for SEO.
AM: Yeah, that's a great break down and the point about content needing to be of a certain quality is so important because you can optimize something—you can keyword optimize something forever and do it extremely good job of it, but if your content is not up to par people are going to bounce. Like you said, there's all these other metrics that Google has access to where you can't just get them to the page and then think that you've succeeded you have to get them to stay and have found value there.
Speaking of different content types, I'm curious as to your opinion on the best way to optimize for video, since video continues to trend as one of the more popular types of content that people want to be consuming on social and other platforms. When somebody sets out to create a video, what are some things to think about in terms of ranking not only on Google but on sites like YouTube? I feel like there's a lot more going on here than with other types of content like infographics or articles.
TC: Yeah. So the challenge is today, you and I know exactly how important video is and other forms of media because that's what we're really consuming so much more today than we were even a few years back. The problem is right now if we're optimizing for just old-school Google SEO, Google's algorithm is not really taking that into account.
What I mean by that is if you have a web page with an amazing video, and let's say there's not really much written content on it and there are not really many links to that page. Google has the technology today that they can understand what's in that video because you've seen them do like automated closed captions and Facebook and do the same thing. So it's basically like listening and writing out the word even though it's wrong like half the time it knows what it's about, right?
The problem is their algorithm doesn't really give any impact to that or weighting to that. So if we were taking a video today and embedding on a website, we want to put a content version of that what's in that video on that page. So I would recommend one way to do it is to have the video near the top at the top above the fold and having written content below and I've seen lots of times people do like the transcript.
If you think about it from our readers experience, reading a transcript basically sucks, It's not as interesting and I’m spreading my opinion and again, sorry if I'm hurting anyone's feelings out there, but I'd much rather read the summary or the bullet points or something like that.
So having that content on the page will help Google—when it's crawling and reading the website to understand what this page is about, what maybe that video is about. Now, if we talk about ranking that video within YouTube, it's so interesting because it becomes SEO for a totally different platform. Which you and I were talking about ranking in iTunes for the podcast, right?
So there's SEO and all these different areas. There's SEO for like app stores and for Amazon, so I don't know if I mentioned to you even for clarity.fm, I was doing SEO to try to rank higher in there. Every algorithm—even Facebook's news feed algorithm—has their own way and weightings and rankings the way they're doing it. So every algorithm will have its own sort of weightings and way that it's deciding on what to put at the top.
For YouTube, it's sort of a little different but very similar. So you want the description to be at least two or three hundred words in there. You obviously want to use some keywords in the title. You want to have the tags that are relevant to you know, what you're trying to rank for. So there's a whole like art and science as well just for YouTube SEO and it just goes on from there.
AM: I think everything you just said lends itself to the big lesson here, which is nothing works a hundred percent across all these different platforms, whether its content or SEO strategies. Like you said, I also find it boring to read transcripts. It's almost like you know that's not the intent of that content. I mean, it's literally a transcript. It's like, this is really a video but here it is in text form.
It just feels much less engaging and I think that's something really important to consider across the board for content, even how you approach people on social. How do you approach SEO on all these different platforms is it's not going to work perfectly across the board. You have to adapt to your audience, how they work, how they're consuming the content, and how you're going to try to promote that content because they're using different sites in different ways. So I think that was a really great point to make.
TC: No, I'm a hundred percent with you and I think that's something that Gary Vaynerchuk has talked about through social media because if you're on Facebook and you're just linking to a YouTube video, it's not the ideal user experience. In Facebook, you'd want to natively upload that video into Facebook.
Then you know the first three seconds you want to capture attention versus YouTube video. Maybe you'd spend like the first 10 seconds just showing your logo and slow introduction. So just like you're saying just to your point about like the transcript, to every sort of medium that you're kind of presenting content through, you have to sort of optimize it to how that person is going to engage and experience it so that it's the best for them rather than the transcript is just the easy way to do it because you could pay someone cheap to transcribe it overseas. I didn't mean to sidetrack us, I was just agreeing with your point.
AM: No, no, I think it's a really good point and something that people don't often talk about. It is important to get different types of content out there because people do lie consuming content in different ways. I talked to Shayla Price about this on a previous episode where that's something that's often overlooked like people forget that.
I’m actually a very visual person which is ironic because I have a podcast but I like videos a lot and I like to—even if somebody's talking—I like to see them and that I just absorb information more that way. I can put this podcast on a video and put some text on there but it was clearly right meant to be a video, you know, like I'm not gonna absorb it the same way.
So it's something that is so important when it comes to strategically planning your content. I do think that's something that's underutilizing content, but do you think that the diversity in platforms is something that people don't take advantage of in SEO? Because like you said, Google's obviously the big one in the most important, but there are so many other sites that have their own ranking factors like YouTube or Etsy if you're in e-commerce, you're selling your own stuff or whatever it is. Pinterest. They all have their own system. Do you think that's something that people are taking advantage of?
TC: Yeah, I think it's a really good point because like you mentioned, you know, Google is the number one search platform and then you have Youtube being number two and then it just goes on from there. So depending on your business is really how you want to optimize for, you know, what channels, what platforms people might be looking for you on and then putting your efforts on potential there.
So obviously if I'm an e-commerce store and I'm selling sweaters, you know, I could do it through Google and someone searches, you know “buy a wool sweater.” It's great if I'm ranking there and getting traffic there and driving conversions the sales there. But obviously, on Amazon people are looking to buy sweaters on Amazon. And so I want to optimize towards Amazon and really work on what I think are the biggest most important ranking factors on Amazon and like you said if it's Etsy and I'm making and hand-crafting these at home, right?
One way people find things is to search it, and not just through Google or YouTube but through any platforms, it could be through iTunes for a podcast. It could be just about any platform right, on Facebook, on social media you can search—but I don't think that that's a big thing. I don't think people are spending a lot of time searching on Facebook versus just scrolling through your news feed. So yeah, you really want to optimize for whatever platforms or ways that people are looking for your type of business or product or service through that platform.
AM: Awesome. So I know we've been harkening back to previous conversations we've had and I just want to let everybody know. It's because I just recorded a podcast with Tom on his upcoming podcast was the Sure Oak podcast. So Tom if you want to say a little bit about that go for it.
TC: You know, it was fun. We just recorded pretty recently and I'm excited to publish it that podcast is going live, you know a few weeks from the date of this recording going live. So, you know, feel free to listen to the Sure Oak podcast. Yeah. That's all I can think of.
AM: I think they tie together pretty well too. Yeah, a lot of the same concepts came up because content and SEO are so intertwined at this point that doing one without the other just feels not fully comprehensive and you’re not taking advantage out of what you're doing and that's obviously what everybody wants to do, is get the most ROI.
I love everything you're putting all of your resources into so I think they kind of make a good combo pack.
TC: And you know, I'm a huge lover of Fractl, and I really admire what you do at Fractl, because it just so important and impactful and it's also integrated like you're saying. It's not only you know, content and backlinks and keywords and all that stuff, but then there's even like user experience and then conversion rate optimization and then there's branding and building trust and it all becomes so much more holistic.
I think the challenge is you know, you want a specialist or somebody to be able to really like conquer that area specifically but they all tie together. So it's hard to have one without the other, website design. It just goes on forever.
AM: Yeah. Absolutely. There are so many different goals you can have and they all tie together, but I'm very much looking forward to your podcast and I'm very glad that you took the time to be on my show.
TC: Thank you so much. This has been fun, and I want to chat more and yeah, I've had a blast. You’re amazing, and it's been really fun. We should, you know, just continue our chat somehow.
AM: Then we'll just have to have a reprised episode, that's all. Yeah, great. Thank you so much.
TC: Thanks, Amanda.
AM: Thanks again for listening. If you enjoyed this episode click subscribe. Don't leave me with the realization that I'm talking to no one and please rate and review on iTunes so I can keep making this podcast better and your lives easier. Take care.