Natalie Arney suggests that SEOs in 2023 should be reinforcing the three pillars of tech, content, and links, and getting those pillars working in tandem to make sure your website is as sound as possible.
Natalie says: “My number one SEO tip for 2023 is that, in order to reap the best benefits from a link acquisition campaign, you need to ensure that your site is as sound as possible.”
What does having a sound site actually mean?
“A lot of people think about a site being technically sound, but it’s not just about having good technical SEO. We need to think about the three pillars of SEO constantly working in tandem with each other. That means tech, content, and links working together. You’ve got to have a good technical structure, your content needs to be helpful and of good quality, and you’ve obviously got the links side as well.”
The first pillar you describe is tech, so what are the tech areas that typically trip websites up at the moment?
“It’s a mixture. In this last year, Google has admitted that their indexation - and their reporting of indexation - isn’t as great as it should be, so we know there’s an issue around that.
How do you check that a site is crawlable?
As I previously mentioned, there have been issues this year with regard to Search Console’s reporting of the crawlability and indexation of websites. However, you can bypass Google and use tools to test the site yourself. Google is only part of the story.
Use the tools that you can - whether that’s a crawling tool, a fetching and rendering tool, or another search engine console like Bing or Yandex. These alternate viewpoints can help you to predict what Google may or may not be able to see.”
What crawling tool do you like, at the moment?
“My two main crawling tools are Screaming Frog and Sitebulb. I know that they’re rivals and everyone’s always comparing the two, but I use them in tandem. I like the Sitebulb interface, but Screaming Frog can help pick up certain elements as well. I want to have all my bases covered, and I don’t like missing things. Every now and then, one tool might pick something up that another tool might not.
If the two tools disagree, that’s where I go in and have a look manually, depending on what the issue is. That includes having a look at the code on the site, having a look server side, and delving deeper to see exactly what the issue might be. There are additional tools that you can use to double-check -like ContentKing, Deepcrawl, etc. - however, it is important to delve in and see for yourself, so that you can pick things up in the code.
There are also plugins that you can use in Chrome, and additional tools besides, but it really does depend on the issue and what the crawling tools are disagreeing on. When it’s a page title, a meta description, an H1 issue, or a duplicate content issue, then it’s a lot easier to look for than a piece of code or script that’s not firing properly.”
In terms of the second pillar, content, what are the issues that you’re seeing on websites at the moment?
“I’m seeing a lot of different issues. One thing that’s common is in relation to tech. When the content is not actually being indexed itself, it could be a technical issue, or it could be that it is just poor quality and it doesn’t answer the query or the intent of the user. Making sure that you are addressing the query, and the intent of the query, is incredibly important.
Thanks to recent content updates, a lot of sites are trying to create content to show expertise, but not in the best way. They think that they’re showing expertise and understanding of a topic or a subject, but it’s a little off the mark.
Missing out on the most popular questions that people ask about a topic is a big problem. Make sure that those questions are answered. It might seem obvious to someone who’s on the client side or someone who’s an SEO or content writer, but you need to remember that those questions are there, and your users should be given the answers to them.
When you’re creating a piece of content, you can’t make any assumptions about what people are going to know about the subject. Not everyone has the same specialism, and not everyone has the same understanding. We need to be casting a wide net.”
Do you use a tool to help categorise intent or is determining intent a manual process?
“I use a combination of tools and manual efforts. Whether it’s an in-depth, massive keyword research document, or whether it’s researching the top 5 or 10 keywords for a piece of content, I use a combination of tools, depending on what the client has access to and what I have access to.
Semrush has intent classification in their keyword tool, but I also like using Keyword Insights. It lets you upload keywords, categorise them, and cluster them, but also get intent - and it takes the intent from the SERP. You can put in a small number of keywords, or you can add keywords in bulk, and then categorise those keywords by their intent.
On the manual side, it’s about speaking with the client or with your internal team, and making sure that they’re aware of the intent of the keywords you’re targeting and the content that you’re creating. You need to determine who a piece of content is for and what they are going to do with that piece of content. Are they seeking information at the top of a funnel or is this bottom-of-funnel conversion-point content?
Really discuss this with the client and your internal team. We’ve all been there, where you’ve created a piece of content, and someone has said, ‘Why have you put that on the website?’. As a consultant, when I come in and look at a site’s content, I am often trying to decide whether I keep that content or throw it away. Why did you decide to create that content? What do you want the user to do with it? Do you want them to read it and understand it? Do you want them to go on and convert? Or have you just created that content just to acquire traffic to the site? That’s where you’re addressing intent.”
How do you put a piece of content together? What should it look like and how long it should be?
“Looking at what’s already ranking is always a good idea, but it is a bit of a mixture of things. You need to decide on the intent of the piece of content, what makes sense, and what the reader may want to do with that content.
If you want to create a massive guide, for example, you’re targeting a lot of informational terms. However, if you’re looking for a conversion piece of content, you may want something short and sharp that answers the user’s question and has a really nice, clean call to action. It should tie in with what your CRO team want to do in terms of conversions as well, so that you are supporting one another in that journey.
For a lot of conversion content, you don’t want to be creating a massive piece that may either confuse the user or provide them with too much information. The intent is completely off. It really does depend on what stage of the funnel you’re at, and the whole idea of that content in the first place.
Thinking about the ‘why’ is so important. You don’t want to write a 3,000-word guide for someone that just wants a concise bit of information when they’re ready to convert. If you’re looking at an eCommerce site, you want a brief product description and a few FAQ questions on a PDP. It’s about making sure that you have the right intent for not just the keyword, but the actual purpose of the content as well.”
The third pillar you describe is links. What links work now, and what links don’t work?
“It’s difficult because it is always changing. A lot of the time, it depends on the query and the type of content that you want to link to. If you’re doing a brand activation PR piece, then the type of sites that are going to be linking to your page will be very different from those you would be getting for a really helpful guide that might be linked to from academic publications.
It really does vary but, when you’re building links, intent is key. Do you want to reach mass markets through top-level publications like daily newspapers? Do you want more niche publications? Do you want coverage and sourcing from more academic fields or specialist sites?
Obviously, there are benefits to getting all of those different types of links, and having a varied backlink profile is really important, but it’s about how you create content to acquire those links. You need to make sure that they are relevant to your brand, to the piece of content or campaign that you’re trying to outreach, but also to the topics that you’re going to be writing about.
I hate saying it depends but, at the same time, there’s a lot of variety in terms of publishers, campaigns, and pieces of content. There are the publishers themselves, the niches that those publications are in, and so much more. Targeting the right people and the right publications, with the right content and the right campaigns, is key.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“Stop spending so much time chasing algorithms, because Google says that the algorithm updates day-to-day so we shouldn’t be doing that day-to-day. Also, stop chasing keywords and the rankings of keywords.
Just because a keyword’s ranking increases or decreases in a week or in a month doesn’t mean that you’re not doing well - or that you should completely change course in terms of what should and shouldn’t be done. What’s important is making sure that you monitor relevant traffic alongside that keyword ranking.
I don’t mean that you shouldn’t monitor your keyword ranking at all, just don’t spend hours and hours every day looking at the fluctuation of specific keywords and trying to find the reasoning behind it. You’re better off spending that time actually getting dev fixes actioned, getting pieces of content briefed, or outreaching to specific publications and acquiring links.”
Natalie Arney is a Freelance SEO Consultant and you can find her at nataliearney.com.
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