Content is King in SEO: The Truth
You often hear the phrase “content is king” in SEO (search engine optimisation) when speaking to an SEO Professional, but – to a great extent – this has never really been the whole truth, even when the expression was first used years ago. Here’s the real truth behind the saying.
Although many SEO agencies use this expression with their clients, it has never been the standalone factor that will gain you rankings. There is no single factor that will achieve this, no matter how much you hear it. Yes, content is an important factor that will help reach your natural search goals, but it is only one component of a very large machine. Even well-structured and well-written content that supports your SEO content strategy can’t win you rankings alone.
Content is only one part of the equation. There are almost too many other elements in the SEO mix to mention, but here are just a few other factors:
- Technical SEO (inc. values such as having an SSL certificate, page speed, correct redirection of URLS, no broken links etc)
- Maintaining content that is up to date and fresh
- Backlinks to your website from authoritative, trustworthy sites and authors (use Google’s ‘EAT’ acronym as a base)
- Allowing Google to index your site properly
You can write the most amazing, on-point content and post it, but it will remain elusive to those you want to read it unless you back it up with these and many other intrinsic SEO factors.
In 2021, your content needs to be hyper-relevant to your audience. Imagine you are about to start typing in your search query into Google. Essentially, what Google does is find the most relevant answers to your query – and serves them up in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
The other aspect to your search query is this. Let’s say you hypothetically find a below average piece of content hovering around the #1 spot on Google’s SERPs…and you go ahead and click on it. If this piece of content turns out to be weak, irrelevant, uninformed or just badly written – you’ll likely bounce off almost immediately after landing on it. So will hundreds of other people who click on it as well, and they’ll leave the site before they’ve purchased anything or subscribed to anything.
This, in turn, will mean that Google’s RankBrain component of their Search algorithm will notice and will subsequently rank this site much lower down the SERPs listings.
Still think content is king in SEO?
From a user perspective, how old the content is also affects our perception of its hyper-relevance. If, for example, you type into Google “what is content strategy” – look at what comes up on Page 1 of SERPs. While some of these listings have no date, there are some from 2018, some from 2019 and others from 2020.
So, when you’re looking at the listings and you see different dates, many of them more than a few months old…you’re naturally going to want to click on the most recent one that’s also the most relevant match to the ‘intent’ from your search query; even if some of the listings have equally enticing headlines.
This is because, in the ever-evolving world of SEO, the way Google approaches rankings and the sheer volume of updates it does to its algorithms means that older content that still matches the user query may well be outdated advice. Things change so fast with SEO, that the very latest articles are likely to be the best source of knowledge, incorporating the most up-to-date practices.
Not only that, but Google itself is constantly on the hunt for fresh, new content to serve up in SERPs.
With good quality content, you are looking for the ‘sweet spot’ – that intersection between your area of expertise that you have some authority in and exactly the type of content your audience wants and can’t do without! When it comes to thinking about your content for SEO, you need to first come up with a good content strategy.
Something even more important than well-constructed content in 2021 though, is ‘engagement,’ especially ‘user engagement.’ This really challenges the mantra of whether content is king in SEO. User engagement allows a visitor to any of your digital platforms to take action rather than to merely browse or even bounce off (exit) your website in search of a more relevant source, for example. Often, simple giveaways of real value to the user can entice them to engage by way of actively following that business on social media etc, but – more importantly – engagement should be earned.
Where possible direct, two-way communication between the SEO Pro and a potential or existing client should be encouraged to nurture the interaction (often occurring in real time), which can enhance the profile of the client in order to better understand their needs. It can cover a number of different mediums from email, web form downloads, social media platforms and even VAs (virtual assistants).
There are a few types of engagement, which I’ll expand on here:
- Click-Through-Rate (CTR)
- Outside Sources
- Dwell Time
CTR is the most basic level of engagement – especially in the world of SEO – and is often the result of a click on your SERPs listing, enabling further engagement to take place. Numerous SEO tactics will have been implemented to get the listing to rank high up on Page 1 of the SERPs and to not only provide the best answer to the user’s query, but to back it up with hyper-relevant content that they’re searching for.
Optimising the content titles and meta descriptions to stand out so they encourage the user to click on to your website by being the most eye-catching and specific to their search query, is going to give you a higher CTR. Again, this needs to be backed up by solid, user-focused content.
Often, some of the best engagement actions come from other sources that are away from your site. As inbound links continue to be one of the main ranking factors for SEO…even in 2021, these can be a good outside source of engagement. Here are a few external sources:
- External parties linking to your content
- Sharing your posts etc on social media platforms that ‘amplify’ your voice / reach
- Driving more traffic to your website
- Enabling users to interact and engage using different methods
Whenever you receive an inbound link, it shows that someone values your content as having authority on the subject matter. The more people share your content on various social media platforms, the more it encourages visitors and more traffic is driven to your site, with higher conversion rates.
Completing a web form, subscribing to a feature newsletter, sharing a post, liking / following, commenting etc are all examples of user engagement that happen off-site, but can, in turn, augment your digital footprint.
‘Dwell Time’ is defined as the duration of time someone spends on a webpage having clicked through from a link on SERPs, but before clicking back to the SERPs results.
This measurement effectively helps search engines evaluate whether a user’s needs were met by the search engine’s results displayed in response to their initial query.
Inherently, searchers will remain on a site that meets all of their needs – posed by their query and then selecting (and clicking on) a high-ranking result.
It is one of the measurements of the effectiveness of search engines; RankBrain, in the case of Google.
It’s important to note here that these measures I’m about to list below don’t have a direct effect on rankings. They are still key engagement metrics for web administrators to track, predominantly using Google Analytics:
- Unique / New vs Returning Visitors
- Top Content
- Bounce Rates
- Time on Site
- Conversions / CTR
While the above do not directly affect rankings, dwell time is a ranking factor and search engines use this in addition to other engagement metrics to establish whether they are doing their job efficiently and effectively, by serving the user with results that they’re searching for.
As has been the case for a few years now, it is much better to create and package content that is specifically aimed at the user…as opposed to simply trying to create content that you think is what search engines want.
One overarching way to achieve this is to carry out audience research as part of your content strategy and actively target your audience with hyper-relevant information that adds true value and you that you know they’re interested in.
Technical Ways to Increase Engagement
- Check and Resolve Any Technical SEO Errors
There’s nothing more frustrating than clicking on the link or webpage that you think will answer all your problems, only to be faced with a screen saying, “This page no longer exists – 404 Error.” We’ve all had it happen to us. Chances are, you’ll bounce off that site and head straight for one of their competitors’ sites – never going back.
- Increase Page Speed
Speeding up your individual pages and website as a whole is crucial for any SEO Pro – and will be highlighted in any good SEO audit. If your pages take too long to load, you will lose potential visitors (up to 50%). It’s that simple! Users will almost always stay on your landing page or site longer and are more likely to make a purchase when they don’t get frustrated by slow load times.
- Make Your Site Responsive
In 2020, this is a given. At the very least, your website should be designed using responsive web design, so that your site renders well on virtually any device, window or screen size that a user chooses.
- Give Users Multiple Ways to Engage with Your Content
We’ve all heard the expression “each to their own” (although this can be said in different ways depending on which country you’re in). In this context, different people have different ways that they learn. Some are more responsive to visual, some to tactile, others to auditory. To reach everyone within your target audience, it’s a good idea to provide them with options, as we all digest information in different ways.
Using a combination of text, video and audio content will certainly help each individual to choose their preferred format in which to engage with you.
To expand slightly:
- If you are creating a video for your site, use a text transcription to branch out or record your posts in an audio format for them to listen to while commuting to work, for example
- Create an infographic to visually represent a chart or sequence to help people who are highly visual
- Produce Content That Offers Real Value-Add (Then, ideally, share as a Free Giveaway)
There’s no better way to entice someone to engage with your business than if you create a piece of content that’s rich in depth of subject matter knowledge and is usually something that you’d charge for…but you give it away for free (e.g. a white paper, or a Free SEO audit checklist). When it’s on-point, the user will feel like they’ve gained something of true value – and being free is just a bonus.
- Optimise Your Navigation and Site Design
As your business inherently grows, so does your website. While this is always welcome, due to the increased focus on the business, your site can often become a dumping ground for all the new files and pages added hastily. This can lead to a poor user experience for your customers and messy navigation, so it’s wise to set aside some time (or get someone to do it for you) a few times a year to check that it passes a simple user-friendly test.
- Optimise Internal Links and Blog Posts
Tidy up your site content by auditing internal links and posts. Whenever you mention something that has previously been published on your website, link to it – so users can easily and quickly click onto the relevant piece of information. Use short, targeted and easily identifiable anchor text with your links to help visitors navigate around your site.
- Include a Site Search Function
Generally, for medium-sized to bigger sites…adding an internal search function helps users find exactly what they’re looking for much more quickly than having to navigate through dropdown menus, for example. If they can’t quickly and easily find what they’re searching for, the chances are they’ll exit and go to one of your competitors.
- Nurture Your Leads
When engagement with a prospective customer or client develops, progress that lead to the next stage. Keeping up communication (while being mindful of frequency) and providing them with the content and tools that they want, will most likely keep your business top of mind for when they’re ready to purchase or subscribe.
- Store Email Addresses and Engage By Email
Email addresses are like gold dust to an online marketer, even to an SEO Pro. Whenever possible, collect email addresses from an opt-in campaign or other method and use them to engage with your audience. These truly are invaluable, as through opt-in – you know that they’re already warmed up to your product or service offering by giving you their address in the first place. There are a few different ways that you can collect their email addresses:
- Capture their details on a free checklist giveaway
- Web form query about a product / service
- Pop-up on your website
- Subscription form for a newsletter
To conclude, when considering whether content really is king, it has never been the absolute king. Rich content – well-written and expertly targeted – is still crucial in 2021, but it cannot work its magic all by itself. Along with the other key SEO factors that you’ll need to help you rank, engagement now sits on the throne as the most important aspect. Ensure that any links follow Google’s EAT guidelines.
See our other SEO blogs here for more trends.