seo sem

SEO vs. SEM: What You Need to Know

If you’re in the online writing or content marketing business, you may have heard the words SEO and SEM thrown around.

You may have even casually sprinkled them into conversation yourself while quietly panicking at the thought of someone asking you to explain further.

SEO and SEM are common marketing terms, but does anyone really know what they mean?

First things first, SEO and SEM do not mean the same thing.

Let’s clarify that now so that you don’t use them interchangeably. Both SEO and SEM aim to increase a website’s visibility.

One of the main differences, however, is that SEM includes more paid search tactics while SEO is a process of using organic techniques to build credibility for search engines.

That clarifies things, right?

Not so fast.

Let’s dive in to today’s topic.

seo sem

What is SEO?

SEO is defined as search engine optimization. It is a process that uses various techniques to make a webpage rank higher in search results. Increasing your search ranking will also increase the traffic to your site.

Basically, great SEO = more visitors = more customers = more sales.

Google is constantly changing their algorithm, so it is a task to keep up with the best search engine trends. Unlike the quick return of some paid SEM tactics, SEO takes patience. It is a steady process that shows progress with time.

Main Components of SEO

SEO is comprised of two main components: on-site optimization and off-site optimization. These are also referred to as on-page and off-page.

Some on-page optimization tactics include:

  • Keyword incorporation into titles, headers, meta descriptions and content
  • Creating high quality blog posts and page copy
  • Optimizing page load speed by resizing embedded photos
  • Formatting proper URLs

Some off-page optimization tactics include:

  • Back-linking, or having other authoritative sites link back to your webpage
  • Posting on social media
  • Managing local listings

All of these strategies establish your site as a credible source in the eyes of a search engine. While SEO is a more organic way to optimize your site, it still takes hard work and expert knowledge to utilize the full benefits.

What is SEM?

SEM refers to search engine marketing. This type of online marketing involves both organic and paid strategies to optimize a site. SEO can be thought of as one component of SEM, but in a larger sense, search engine marketing is working to drive traffic to your site immediately.

(Now, SEM is something I’ve never personally used at Express Writers. Instead, we use foundational inbound marketing and do things like publish 1,000 blogs to bring in our leads.)

If your boss is looking for a quick boost in website analytics, paid search engine campaigns could be the way to go.

Some paid SEM strategies include:

  • PPC (Pay-per-click) listings and advertising campaigns
  • Ad campaigns designed to reach a target demographic
  • Hiring a copywriter to create relevant ad copy using selective keywords
  • Managing metrics like impressions, cost per click and click-through rates

The most popular SEM strategy is pay-per-click campaigns (PPC).

You’ve probably come across these ads without even realizing what they are for.

PPC is just fancy terminology for paid search results. Search engines like Google sell ad placement to the highest bidder. These ads will show up first when someone searches for matching keywords. It’s likely they’ll click the ad just because it’s the first thing they see. Honestly, who goes past the first page of search results on Google?

Every time the ad is clicked, the business pays a fee to the search engine.

Just try it. I searched “tires in Austin” to look for places to replace my flat tire. At the very top of the list there’s an ad for Good Year Auto Service. I click, they pay.

This type of targeted marketing helps increase your site’s visibility in a shorter amount of time. But it must always be turned on, like a faucet, with revenue – without revenue, it shuts off.

Rules to Follow for SEO and SEM

Maybe you’ve started a website without even considering online marketing strategies. Don’t rush to change everything just yet! The ins and outs of these terms can feel overwhelming but you’ve probably incorporated some key components without even trying. One major part of ranking high in search engine results is creating high quality content. Everything else is icing on the cake.

The Do’s of SEO

  • Develop a content strategy before writing and posting content
  • Focus on engaging, well-written and high quality content
  • Include links back to your website
  • Research keywords and incorporate them naturally
  • Insert links to credible and original sources
  • Find your voice and have a consistent tone throughout your site
  • Include a call to action (CTA) that is relevant to your brand
  • Incorporate photos, videos and GIFs that are labeled for reuse and resized to optimize the page’s loading time
  • Customize your meta descriptions to speak to someone searching for your content

The Don’ts of SEO

  • Avoid keyword stuffing. Don’t overuse your keyword in a way that negatively affects readability
  • Pay for links. They usually do not add value to your content
  • Repeat the same content or use the same titles and meta descriptions for different articles

The Do’s of SEM

  • Take advantage of SEM tools
  • Analyze the sites of your top competitors
  • Know and continually research your audience
  • Share your content
  • Check your quality score and ad relevance
  • Pay attention to A/B testing to figure out what ad copy is most effective

The Don’ts of SEM

  • Forget to utilize ad extensions to make it easier for customers to interact with your site
  • Write content for only one group of people. Instead, write different content for different demographics
  • Use excessive punctuation. Capitalizing every letter or adding extra exclamation points doesn’t emphasize your point. It just comes off as irritating

Where Should I Start?

Now that you know the difference between SEO and SEM, the first thing to do is to use terms correctly. You can even bring up the topic at a dinner party. Okay, maybe don’t go that far. At least you will no longer be confused.

The next step is to figure out how to implement SEO and SEM strategies to optimize your website.

If you already have a website you can start adding new content that incorporates keywords, links and calls to action. If you haven’t set up a website yet, now you have the guidelines to start building the most successful one yet.

CTA strategic ROI content


The Scoop On Backlinking & Content: How Should “Getting Links” Fit Into Your Content Marketing Today?

Question to all of you awesome content creators.

Do links matter? If so, how do we “get” them?

The resounding answer to the first question is yes, absolutely.

The second part is a little bit trickier.

You need to use them correctly, and recognize what you should be doing compared – along with what you need to avoid.

Let’s discuss what needs to be done to encourage the right ranking factors as you put your content into content marketing. (And the links, too.)

backlinking in content

How to Think of Backlinking & Creating Authoritative Content

Rand Fishkin of Moz has said: “Don’t build links. Build relationships.”

I 100% agree with that statement.

Google has gotten smarter about links, and ultimately changed how rankings are related to good and not so useful links.

Back in the day, there were shortcuts that would lead to higher rankings in search engines. Link builders could manipulate the way search engines indexed your pages and your content to raise your visibility in places like Google.

The ability to do that has gone to the wayside as only quality backlinks have become a standard part of SEO.

Quality backlinks add to your authority and credibility, making your content more relevant to search queries. When they are appropriately used, link building will raise your reach and rankings organically, even if it does take more time than link building from yesteryear.

Some people think backlinks are dead, but recent data proves that link building tactics are alive and well.

linkbuilding tactics

The Way Backlinks Have Changed Over the Years

Link building, or backlinking, has changed a lot since it began. Years ago, the standard was to focus on what was known as low-influence linking to build up your credibility.

Low-influence links were links that pushed domain diversity even if they were not necessarily links that were perceived authorities in a given sector. The idea was to amass hundreds of links that pointed to domains all over the place that would lead back to your site and raise your ranking.

Domain diversity would theoretically lend itself to credibility and therefore boost your overall visibility. It worked once upon a time, but in the end, domain diversity proved to be fruitless as opposed to lucrative.

Links like that are not the way to go today. Instead, you want to focus on quality over quantity, but what exactly does that mean? We are glad you asked.

The Differences Between Quality and Quantity

As was stated, it was common practice to link to hundreds and hundreds of low-ranking sites to raise your rank, but over time, it made more sense to work smarter and not harder.

That means working for quality links compared to the quantity of links.

In other words, you wouldn’t want to include a link to a power tool company when you are reading an article about nutritional well-being, right?

On the other hand, if you wrote an article about post-workout foods that help you recover faster, then you want to link to studies from credible and well-established sites that support your claims.


Quality links point back to relevant content and trustworthy websites. You want to focus on the best links that are relevant to your content and that go to top ranked sites.

Cultivating quality links takes an extended amount of time to build credibility, but once it is established, it lasts compared to the low-influence links of the past.

Know Where to Place Your Links

There actually is a way to place your links into your content. They’re not randomly set – there are rhyme and reason for every single link you see in the material you read every day.

Have you ever noticed that there are links both in the content you read as well as the bottom in the footers or navigational areas of different pages?

The first example is a screenshot of an article from political site ThinkProgress. You can see that ThinkProgress has a relevant link to Business Insider within their content.

The second example is from an iOS app production company, Tapbots. With Tapbots, the only way you’ll see links to click on is to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page.

Looking at the two examples above, which one do you think is more effective?

Links that are in the content work better because they are seen directly by your audience and will be considered editorial links.

If you put links in the footers or headers, they have less weight since they aren’t relevant to the content and they are not immediately visible to your audience.

Recognize Less Than Stellar Ideas When You See Them

You know that quality links are a good idea, and you may be tempted to try expediting the process to increase your ranking and visibility.

There are so many suggestions out there to increase link building, but be wary of the options that get presented to you and steer clear of anything that sounds too good to be true.

In doing your research, you may come across the prospect of buying links. Horrible idea. Don’t do it.

Buying backlinks has been a bad idea from the beginning, but people continue to do it because they think that it will increase ranking in the long-term.

The truth is that it will hurt your site’s ranking because if you happen to get caught using unethical link building tactics, your rankings will drop quickly. It will be hard to come back from that.

There are many examples of this happening after buying backlinks.

In one instance, a blogger thought buying backlinks was a good thing and his traffic report seemed to prove him right.

While his visitors apparently went up in a short time, his visibility and rankings earned before purchasing backlinks were utterly lost when the effect wore off.

His site had been penalized because Google knew that his backlinks were not genuine as well as being irrelevant to his content.

Something else to remember is that press releases don’t do much to improve your rankings either.

The occasional press release is okay, but you should never use press releases as a central pathway to link building because they don’t have a direct effect on your credibility.

Google’s Penguin and Hummingbird algorithms devalue press releases, so you don’t want to use them for much more than spreading brand awareness and generating referral traffic.

Something else to remember is that link building does not have to be expensive.

In a survey analyzed at, it was found that more than a third of business owners have a budget of less than $1000 set aside for link building every month.

Disclosure: I’ve never budgeted a penny! I’ve always believed in “good content,” and the links followed.

Recovering from Bad Backlinks

Google understands that shady companies encouraged terrible ideas at one point, so it is possible to improve after bad backlinks.

All is not lost, even if you have already made poor choices, so long as you work to fix them.

You will want to remove all links that are not beneficial to you and your content. That means contacting site owners and requesting removal. If that doesn’t work, disavow the links.

Disavowing is a relatively straightforward concept – you’re basically asking Google not to associate those links with your site.

You will also want to check for bad backlinks that lead to error pages as error pages do nothing to raise your ranking at all.

The downside is that with fewer links, your traffic will likely drop, but if you follow the right way to incorporate backlinking into your content, you will rebound – eventually.

Your last option would be to start over from scratch with a clean slate and a fresh site, but only consider doing this if you have been penalized and you can’t do anything to change the perception of your site.

Also, most agencies include link building as part of a packaged deal, so if you see extraordinary amounts for link building alone, you should probably steer clear of that offer.

Pages with Fewer Links are Ideal for Backlinks

If you’re planning on creating backlinks on your own without an agency, it’s a good idea to evaluate high-quality links to ensure you get the effect you want by backlinking their page to yours.

Consider the image of pouring a concentrated food dye into a cup full of water.

More water dilutes the color, while less water keeps the color more intense, right?

The number of links on a page that your content is backlinked to is like water to dye – they dilute the quality of the link that you connect to.

You want to connect to a high-quality link that has fewer outgoing links on its page to get the best influence on your ranking in a more organic way.

When in Doubt, Google it Out

Google webmasters have created precise guidelines as to what is suggested and what needs to be avoided when backlinking.

While you shouldn’t necessarily aim for Google’s idea of perfection, as long as you avoid all of the things Google does not like while also focusing on business building strategies like high-quality link building as part of your content marketing, you’re golden.

If you aren’t sure quite how to make that happen, request a consultation to help you get your content planning underway.


seo content trends 2018

5 Major SEO Content Trends to Expect in 2018

Search engine optimization is going to look waaaay different in 2018.

It’s true.

We’re forging into the future, and that means search has to change to keep up with technology and user habits/needs.

But what do “they” (the Big G) want? And, where is technology going – and how does that tie in to the search algorithm?

For starters, more people want to ask their virtual, voice-enabled home assistants questions – and get good answers. In addition, more people want to use the internet on their smartphone versus a desktop.

Just look at the market share for mobile vs. desktop five years ago, and then compare it to today.

In 2013, mobile was barely making a blip:


But look at where those numbers fell in 2017:


Mobile is now edging out desktop, and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

That means big things for SEO.

So, what’s going to (really) happen?

Let’s dive into the biggest SEO trends for this year.

We’ll conjure up a good idea of what it all means for your online presence.

seo content trends in 2018

5 Impactful Content & SEO Trends to Watch for in 2018

1. Mobile-First Indexing Is Happening

In 2016, mobile surpassed desktop browsing as the most popular method.

More and more people are turning to mobile for their browsing needs, whether they’re on-the-go or at home.

Plus, 80% of people who use the internet also own smartphones.

Google is working to accommodate this shift and will soon roll out their mobile-first index.

This means that the search engine will prioritize mobile content in its rankings.

“Soon” is a relative term, however. According to a Search Engine Land report, right now that means sometime in 2018, but it could get pushed back.

Google has also promised not to spring the roll-out of mobile-first on unsuspecting site owners. Instead, they have pledged to be “proactive” about talking to webmasters as it happens. Gary Illyes even told people not to “freak out” at the SMX Advanced conference in June 2017.

Bottom line: If you’re sitting pretty with a website that has a responsive design, you have no worries. If you still only have a desktop-friendly site, now is the time to make some upgrades.

Here’s what that looks like across devices, via W3Schools:


2. Context Will Matter More Than Ever for Content

If your content isn’t contextually relevant to the topic you’re writing about, forget it.

Forget about ranking, let alone ranking well in 2018.

As Google gets smarter, repeating keywords in your content matters less and less for SEO.

Google is no longer a toddler in terms of tech. It’s now a wise-ass teenager who knows way more than you think.

Hence, SEO for content going forward is all about context. It’s about relevance. It’s about diving deep into a topic and leading your readers far beneath the surface information.

According to experts who contributed to SEMrush’s #semrushchat, content may be THE most important ranking factor today.

Not just any content, though – “relevant, well-structured content”:


Of course, this is nothing new.

However, you can expect to see this continue to grow in importance in the months ahead.

The need for high-quality content for outstanding SEO is going nowhere.

3. Voice Search Optimization Will (Continue to Be) a Big Deal

Voice search technology is getting better all the time.

And, as it gets better and easier to use, more people are flocking to nab their own virtual assistants like Alexa on Amazon devices, Siri on Apple devices, or Cortana on Microsoft devices.

According to a recent study from eMarketer, the number of Americans using voice search jumped up by 128.9% from 2016 to 2017.

By 2019, 39.3 million millennials are expected to adopt this technology and use voice search, according to the same study.

It’s easy to see why voice search optimization will continue to grow in importance for SEO. It’s gotta keep up with the lightning-fast speed at which users are glomming onto voice-enabled technology.

4. Sites Will Be Jostling for Spots in Featured Snippets

According to The Next Web, snippets are the new #1 position on Google.

These snippets appear at the top of search results and give searchers instant answers.

For instance, what if I need to know how far away the moon is from earth? Observe:

Before I can even scroll to the number one search result from NASA, Google hands me the answer in the featured snippet.

Needless to say, it’s prime real estate. Sites that manage to get featured don’t even have to rank #1 to be on top.

Instead, Google pulls text from your content to provide the answer and links to your page – above the number one search result.

Awesome, right?

Plus, voice search results are mainly pulled from featured snippets. If you can get your content featured here, you could really go places.

Because voice search is getting bigger, expect featured snippet spots to get pretty competitive, too.

5. Lazy Guest-Blogging = Not Cool with Google

If you’re guest-blogging with no other intention than link-building, you’re doing it wrong – and Google will punish you.

Google recently pointed out that this behavior is basically in violation of their guidelines. Specifically, it falls under the shady link schemes umbrella.


Search Engine Land has speculated that this announcement signals a warning for webmasters. They say it’s likely that an algorithm update may be coming that targets “manipulative guest posting.”

To avoid a hit on your rankings in 2018, review guest blogging mistakes to avoid and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons: to provide value to users, and to help you grow your list with quality leads.

The Main 2018 SEO Trend? Search Engines Are Getting Smarter

I think you’ll see one overarching trend for 2018 and SEO: Search is getting smarter, better, and more intuitive.

Of course, we can never stay static for long. We can’t get too comfortable. If we don’t change along with the changing times, we’ll get left behind.

Look forward to these trends this year, and be prepared. Your rankings and site visibility will be better off, and, quite frankly, you’ll sleep better at night.

Win, win.

And if you need great SEO writers, remember, your friendly team at EW is always here for you. Contact us today to talk about your content needs.

Google meta description length

Google Has Increased Meta Description Snippet Length: What It Means, Plus What to Do Next

No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Meta descriptions in Google search results ARE longer.

These descriptions show up right underneath the link to each search result. Google calls them “snippets,” and they’re a big deal.

We’ll go more into defining how it’s a “big deal” soon, but here’s a look at the old length vs. the new:

The change in meta length just happened across the last month of 2017 (less than a month ago).

Here’s a chart from RankRanger showing the SERP changes:

So, first, why do Google meta descriptions matter so much?

They are instrumental in describing the page that’s linked. Reading the snippet can thus help searchers understand whether the search result is relevant to what they need.

If the meta description is optimizing, clear on what to expect from the content, AND enticing (SEO, clarity, creativity), you’re more likely to click on it. The click-through on the organic ranking gets higher. That’s a lot to do in one meta.

You can see why great meta descriptions are so important.

Here at EW, we write meta descriptions all the time for our clients. It’s a fine art, because you have to cram the essence of what a page is about into a limited amount of characters. Then, you have to make it sound awesome.

With the character limit increased, this gives us a little more room to be creative and really speak to the reader. In turn, this gives you a higher chance of getting clicks and conversions for your content.

Let’s discuss the change, including exactly when it happened, and why this is great news for your business.

Google meta description length

Why Google Upped the Character Limit for Meta Description Snippets

Search Engine Land was able to confirm the meta description change with Google in December.

Here’s what Google said:

“We recently made a change to provide more descriptive and useful snippets, to help people better understand how pages are relevant to their searches. This resulted in snippets becoming slightly longer, on average.”

The snippets grew from around 160 characters to an average of 230 characters.

The official maximum character count allowed is now 320.

Why Does the Change Matter?

When you’re trying to write a description of a page for the search results, double the amount of space makes a huge difference.

Let’s be clear, though: The meta description has no effect on your page ranking. This was true before and it’s true now.

Instead, this snippet of descriptive text is for users, for their benefit.

As we said, the snippet could make a user want to click on your page in search results over a competing page. It may sound more tempting because it’s a better description, it’s persuasive, or both.

That said, Google won’t always use your meta description in the snippet.

Depending on the user’s search query, the search engine may instead pull snippets of content from your page.

John Mueller goes into this in detail on a recording of a Google Hangout that streamed on December 12, soon after the changes occurred. This topic starts up at about the 29:41 mark:

Here’s the tldr; –

  • Meta descriptions are important to get right.
  • They help describe your pages for users.
  • Google will sometimes (but not always) pull your meta description to use in the snippet that shows up with your link in search results.
  • Google will pull your meta description if they think it’s a more accurate or relevant summary than any text they could pull from your content.
  • If your description is accurate, relevant, concise, and well-written, you may have a better chance of nabbing click-throughs.

Most importantly, Google still recommends including a meta description on each page of your site.

Google highlights the importance of high-quality descriptions, specifically:

Besides the benefit to you when you create good descriptions for each of your web pages, it’s simply a good usability practice to follow.

What to Do Moving Forward

You get that you should be creating unique, high-quality meta descriptions for each of your pages on your site.

But what about the descriptions you already have in place? Should you go back and lengthen them just because you can?

Not necessarily.

Don’t Lengthen Old Descriptions – Unless They’re Critical Pages

According to Google, they’re still looking for relevance and conciseness when they consider text to use in snippets.

Lengthening your meta descriptions won’t necessarily make them better in either of these areas.

Instead, think of this change as a chance to make your meta descriptions going forward even better. You have a little more wiggle room for creativity and persuasiveness to sprinkle into a highly relevant summary of your page.

One exception would be critical pages of your site – the most important content pieces, landing pages, etc. that get the most search traffic. Moz, in particular, recommends going back to these and reoptimizing the meta descriptions.

Don’t just lengthen them though – rewrite them with the new limits in mind. You may come up with something completely different, but even better than before.

What Are Best Practices for Meta Description Creation?

For meta descriptions, striking the balance between appealing to users and still giving a great summary can be tricky.

Because it can be an art form, here are some best practices to follow to help guide you:

  1. Always include the focus keyword and the top secondary keyword in the description. This helps establish relevance right off the bat.
  2. Use the focus keyword as early in the description as possible.
  3. Use action-oriented words to describe the benefits to users if they click on your page. For example, start with words like “discover,” “find,” or “explore” – i.e. “Discover how to write fantastic meta descriptions.”

Of course, this is just a primer on writing meta descriptions.

Great ones don’t always follow a formula, but they do accurately entice readers with hints about what’s waiting for them when they follow a link.

Not a Meta Description Wizard? No Worries

If creating snazzy meta descriptions that bring in the click-throughs is a bit daunting for you, Express Writers can help.

We regularly write descriptions that sing the exact tune searchers want to hear. If you need some assistance with wordsmithery, let us write your meta descriptions for you.

google fred

Google Fred: The Biggest SEO Update Affecting Content That Rolled Out in 2017 & How it Can Affect Your Content

Google has become increasingly cagey about its updates. If there is one, unless it’s gargantuan, you probably won’t hear about it from the search engine.

Take a look at some of their communications on Twitter via their spokespeople, John Mueller and Gary Illyes:

It’s like it’s physically impossible for them to come out and say it.

Because of this secrecy and caginess, marketers and webmasters have to play a game of detective whenever they notice changes to search. This “volatility,” as it’s commonly termed, shows up in their automated statistics, particularly those for SEO visibility. From there, they have to read the clues and compile data to come to any conclusions.

The most recent Google update waves that rolled through the internet happened in March 2017. It’s now simply known as “Fred.” (Gary Illyes jokingly said all the updates should be called Fred, and it stuck for this one in particular.)

There was no announcement, no forewarning. SEOs and webmasters noticed the “volatility” affecting their stats and their rankings. Then they compared notes, which all lined up.

Here’s a good example from Glen Gabe, the marketer in front of G-Squared Interactive. He shared how Fred affected a site that had heavy advertising:


Overnight, the site lost almost 60% of its organic traffic from Google.

That’s a huge amount. Lots of other sites reported traffic losses just as deep, but Google kept mum about it.

So, that begs these questions: What did Fred do? What kind of sites, exactly, did it affect? How do you stay on Google’s good side if they won’t offer guidance about their algorithm updates?

And, perhaps most importantly, what does the biggest Google update in 2017 mean for you and your site? Let’s delve into this topic together. Grab a tea or a coffee, and join me!

google fred content

Google’s “Fred” Algorithm Update: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

This update sent shockwaves through the internet.

Some marketers discovered their traffic had been hit hard (down anywhere from 50% to 90%).

It was obvious that Google had done something big, but they wouldn’t cop to it outright.

This tight-lipped response was nothing new, but it understandably rankled the SEO community, and not just because it was/is frustrating. Not just because it was/is frustrating, but also because Google’s zipped lips are no help in the face of huge chunks of organic traffic gone overnight.

Kristine Schachinger for Search Engine Land summed up the frustration in her column:


Here’s What Fred Tweaked

So, we know that Fred was mainly a quality update – but what aspects of quality did it affect?

SEOs analyzed the stats from hundreds of affected sites to figure out what it did. They found that this update mainly affected content sites whose goal was revenue (as opposed to providing value to users). Specifically, Barry Schwartz termed these sites as “ad heavy, low value.”

These sites had features like:

1. Heavy Advertising

One of the defining features of all sites badly hit: ads. Each and every one had heavy servings of advertising. Or, they had generous helpings of affiliate links sprinkled into their content. These ads were liberally integrated, pushy, and deceptive. Lots looked like on-site links but actually took you elsewhere.

2. Redundant or Non-Expert Information

In most cases, sites that suffered an organic rankings dive also featured redundant, non-expert, or rehashed information. This was thin content – not well researched at all, stuff that merely skimmed the surface.

3. User Experience (UX) Interference

The user experience is how easily a visitor can navigate your site, click around, and find what they need. This is a big factor for site quality because a poor UX can totally impede that information-gathering process.

Here are some examples of roadblocks to a good UX. Glen Gabe calls these “low-quality user engagement problems”:

  • Disruptive pop-ups that take over the whole screen
  • Confusing navigation and site hierarchy
  • Too much advertising – so much so that it drowns out the content
  • Problems viewing the site on mobile

4. “Jacks-of-All-Trades, Masters of None” Content

Another common feature was that most of the sites with traffic hits had a content format, like a blog. However, topics covered a wide range of information without any rhyme or reason.

Some of these hit sites publicly shared their URLs. Here’s an example of a few posts from one of them:


The content was not published to inform users; rather, it only served as a vehicle for advertising. In particular, the above blog featured useless information that Wikipedia or the “help” section of a product website already covered better.

Here’s How to Keep Fred Happy

Now that you understand what the Fred update did and who was affected, you can keep your own site compliant and Fred-friendly.

This will be important for the future because Google is never going to stop throwing out updates. In fact, it’s pretty much a standard monthly thing these days.

Here’s how to stay on Fred’s (and Google’s) good side to keep your chances of getting blindsided by any future update slimmer.

1. Recommit Yourself to Quality Content and Good SEO Practices

If you’re already on top of your on-page SEO and content quality, good. Keep going. This commitment is one that builds on itself in terms of positive gains. The longer you stick with it, the better the results you’ll see.

If you’ve cut corners, tried some “shortcuts,” or are just plain unsure about where you stand, you need to recommit yourself to quality. That means you should start making improvements to your site and content right this second.

The sooner you start, the sooner you can get on your way to climbing the ranks, not falling into a black hole of Google penalties.

2. Pay Attention to UX

UX (user experience) is the first determiner of your site’s quality. If your UX is terrible, your visitors won’t be able to read your content at all. That’s a big no-no.

To keep things up to standard, first look at the basic structure of your site. Approach it like an average visitor would. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it easy to read?
  • Is it easy to navigate and/or find what you’re looking for?
  • Do your pages use SEO properly?
  • Is the page layout clear and logical?
  • Do all the links point to where they should?

You need to make the user experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Using disruptive or deceptive site design, on-page advertising, or links will do the opposite. Google will penalize you.

3. Rethink Your On-Page Advertising

Ads are fine to use on your site – within reason. For example, the Fred update targeted sites who used ads so aggressively, they messed with the UX. When ads get in the way of somebody gleaning the information they need, Google has a problem with it. You should, too.

If your focus has been on monetizing your site, think again. Cut back on ads, especially ones that break up or interfere with content. Make them less intrusive, and try to improve your advertising for the user. This often means getting rid of most of your ads and making the ones you have left more intentional.

4. Check Your Old Content

When your site-wide experience is optimized for your audience, then you can move on to your content and link quality.

First, critically analyze your blog posts and content pages. If they’re thin, badly organized, or full of errors, you’ll get penalized. Rewrite them, improve them, and add depth and value.

Going forward, it will help to have a set of quality guidelines in place for each and every piece of content you create. Rigorously adhering to these will help you keep publishing top-notch content and improve your rankings.


Via Google

5. Look at Your Backlinks

To stay on the right side of Google, check on who’s linking to you. Make sure your link profile is made up of relevant, quality sites.

If sites with zero value are linking to you, this can hurt your rankings. However, there are ways to rectify the situation.

  • Just say no to link schemes, including paid links and spam.
  • Check the quality of your backlinks with tools like Moz, Monitor Backlinks, or Google Webmasters.
  • Contact sites with low quality and ask them to take down your link.
  • When the above fails, disavow all links that negatively affect your site. This tells Google to ignore them when it assesses your site for quality.

6. Stay on Top of Google Announcements (and Non-Announcements)

Yes, Google is notorious for keeping quiet about updates, but they do still announce a few (sometimes). It’s important to keep your ear to the ground so you know about important changes as soon as possible.

As for unannounced important changes, keep yourself in the loop with the help of your social network. Many SEOs and marketers take to Twitter when they see something fishy going on. Other major sites like Search Engine Land will post updates and attempt to confirm the situation with Google.

Follow these blogs and fellow marketers so you’re always in the loop:

Check out my list of recommended SEO and content marketer bloggers here.

To get almost instantaneous SEO updates, one marketer who stays on top of updates like none other is Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick).

7. Avoid These Practices Like the Plague

Link schemes aren’t the only bad SEO practices to avoid (there’s a reason it’s called “black hat SEO”). There’s a host of others out there. They may sound like great shortcuts to ranking, but they’re actually ethically unsound in Google’s eyes.

  • Cloaking – This technique presents one page to human visitors and another to search engine crawlers in order to deceptively boost the site’s rank.
  • “Thin” content – Thin content has no meat to it. It’s shallow, short, vague, rehashed, or unhelpful information that provides no additional depth to a topic.
  • Content scraping – This is the web equivalent of plagiarizing. It involves taking content from another site and passing it off as your own. You can do it with old-fashioned copy-and-paste, but lots of people employ software or special programming language that does it for them.
  • Automatically generated content – Perhaps the laziest black hat technique on this list, automatically generated content is created through programming. It gathers paragraphs of random text interspersed with keywords.

Google has an even bigger list of deceptive, spammy, confusing, or manipulative tactics they have targeted. Sites who use them will get penalized – so not worth it.

Stay Ahead of Google’s Update Waves and Ride the Tide to Great SEO

Here’s the bottom line about unexpected yet gargantuan Google updates like Fred.

To avoid equally huge penalties that hurt your business, you have to attempt to stay ahead of the curve.

This means committing yourself to only producing and publishing high-quality content. It means never engaging in link schemes. It means focusing on your site users, first and foremost, rather than monetization, A.K.A. lining your pockets.

It can definitely be frustrating when Google pulls the rug out from under you with a big update they won’t confirm. You’ll be less worried, though, if you know you already have great policies and standards in place for your site and your content.

In fact, websites with this commitment to quality often see a boost in traffic after an unannounced update. This is the ideal scenario, no?

Many times, after an algorithm change, with the amount of organic content on our site we’ll see an increase in rankings. Our SEMrush rankings show steady growth with some decrease here and there. Here’s a typical month of position rankings for our site (screenshot taken of September 2017 rankings):

semrush september express writers

If all of this information seems overwhelming and leaves you wondering where to go from here, the answer is simple. Start with your content, make it better, then work outward from there.

If you need help, we can write quality content that will make a difference. Our authority content level is one of the best ways to stand out on the web! 

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related keyword terms

How Much Content Should You Create When You Have Closely Related Keyword Terms?

Two keywords.

Both alike in dignity, in fair content marketing, where we lay our scene.

Dramatic Romeo and Juliet references aside, this is a scenario that will come up – if it already hasn’t – when you’re targeting keywords in your content.

The question is, what do you do with closely related keyword terms? Do you keep them together? Or do you split them apart?

These are common questions for the SEO content marketer, and rightly so.

When you have two keyword terms that look very similar – either regarding wording or their underlying ideas – it can be hard to know what to do with them.

Here are some of the specific details you may be wondering:

  • “Should I create content for both keywords?”
  • “Can I target both keywords in the same piece?”
  • “How much content should I create for each keyword?”

Before we jump into the answers to these questions, we need to decide if the keywords in question are about the same topic or two different topics.

In other words, are they both Montagues? Or is one a Montague and one a Capulet?

This has everything to do with whether you’ll target them both in one shot, or separate them with your targeting.


Will you break up your two star-crossed keywords, or keep them together forever?

related keyword terms

For Closely Related Keyword Terms, Divide (or Add) by Topic

Look at your keywords closely.

You’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking “I’ve already done that – that’s the problem,” but bear with me.

You need to do some research to determine whether they fall under the same topic. You can’t know this offhand; you need to go to the source to figure it out.

Let us hence, as Shakespeare would say. Open up Google. We’re going to follow a great strategy from Orbit Media.

[clickToTweet tweet=”How much content should you create when you have closely related keyword terms? @ExpWriters breaks it down!” quote=”How much content should you create when you have closely related keyword terms? @ExpWriters breaks it down!”]

1. Search for Both Keywords in Google and Compare the Results

Since Google is the main search engine we’re writing for, we need to see what Google says about the keywords in question.

If the related keywords are about the same topic, they will show similar results in Google. If they’re different, there won’t be much overlap at all.

Orbit Media compares “deck addition value” with “how much value does a deck add.” For our purposes, we’ll look at the differences (or similarities) in Google for the terms “how to make spaghetti” and “spaghetti Bolognese recipe.”

2. Check for Similarities or Differences in Results and Key Terms

Here are the results for “spaghetti Bolognese recipe”:


And here are the results for “how to make spaghetti”:


As you can see, although both key phrases have the same word in each, “spaghetti,” they have zero overlap in Google search results. These are two different topics, and we can create different content that targets each.

Simple, right?

But, what if your key phrases have lots of overlap? Take a look at this tweaked example using “how to make spaghetti” and “cook spaghetti.”

The “how to make spaghetti” results don’t change. Here are the results from “cook spaghetti.” I’ve highlighted the overlap between each keyword’s results:


There’s enough overlap to determine that Google sees these two keywords/phrases as belonging to similar topics.

With this information, we can skip creating content for each phrase.

Instead, we can target both keywords in the same piece of content. Here’s how.

How to Target Two Different Keywords in the Same Content Piece

We can create a blog or article that’s optimized for both “cook spaghetti” and “how to make spaghetti.” It’s a good strategy for killing two birds with one stone when you have two very closely related overlapping phrases about the same topic.

Here are the steps to follow for targeting two different but related keywords:

1. Make Sure the Keywords Share a Few Words

If the keywords share some main words, they’re perfect to target in the same content piece.

In our example, “how to make spaghetti” and “cook spaghetti” share a word.

If we wanted to make it even better, we could tweak the second keyword. “Cook spaghetti” could become “make spaghetti.” This way, we have two similar phrases representing broad and narrow ends of a spectrum.

2. Target Topics, Not Keywords

You have your keywords, but you shouldn’t be worrying about keyword density.

Instead, you should be aiming for a good overview of your topic. The keywords should come naturally and fit effortlessly into the flow of the text.

If you’re doing it the other way around and counting keywords, you’re doing it wrong.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Wondering how to target two different keywords in the same content piece? @ExpWriters has some advice!” quote=”Wondering how to target two different keywords in the same content piece? @ExpWriters has some advice!”]

3. Write Up Your Post with Good SEO Practices

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use good SEO when you’re writing about your topic.

Absolutely go ahead and use the great tips and tricks you know for boosting your content with search engine optimization. This should include strategic keyword placement in headers, the meta description, title tags, and in the body of your copy.

Use a primary keyword in the main header, meta description, and H2s. Use your secondary keyword in H2s and H3s.

I repeat: This is not about counting keywords. This is about the future of SEO, which is the semantic web. It’s about meaning, not about exact keyword-matching.


How Much Content Should You Create for Related Keywords?

Another great question about closely related keywords has to do with how much content you should produce for each (or either).

The content creation question has been much-discussed in the industry, in general. A couple of basic rules to follow have emerged from the conversation. These definitely apply to your related keywords.

1. Quality Trumps Quantity Every. Single. Time.

It’s better to have one exceptional piece of content for a keyword rather than dozens of sub par to downright-bad pieces.

In fact, Content Marketing Institute says your content should be “epic.” If you’re putting that much effort into each piece, your production volume will naturally go down.

Guess what? That’s fine. (Breathe a sigh of relief.)

Always focus on quality over quantity when you’re deciding how much content to create. In fact…

2. Don’t Focus on an Amount to Hit at All

Getting as many pieces of content targeting a keyword out there as possible is not the way to rank. The amount doesn’t matter as much as consistency.

As long as you’re continually updating your site with fresh content that’s high quality, you’re fine. The total amount you put out – whether it’s twice a week, once a week, or once every few weeks – won’t make a difference.

Steadily build your content volume – don’t flood the internet and people’s feeds in a short amount of time. Lots of content will help you, but only if each piece has great value.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t do that with your clout, either.

The Key for Similar Keywords? Common Sense Combined with Strategy

Now that you understand how to approach similar keywords, you can take that knowledge and run with it.

A couple of basic principles apply in every scenario. First, do your research – rely on Google to tell you what’s what. You can target keywords that fall under the same topic can in one piece. Keywords that end up being about two different topics can each get their own limelight.

Second, remember, for your content creation to go anywhere, you have to set up a balance of quality and quantity.


This slide from a! presentation shows how important that balance is.

The amount of content you produce for closely related keywords doesn’t matter as much as what you produce. You need strong, epic posts that strive to be the best on the internet for that topic.

A few epic posts are worth more than tens of lazy, filler posts that have little or no value for the user. Epic posts additionally don’t lean on keyword density. Instead, they use keywords naturally and smoothly with some strategic placement as the cherry on top.

Finally, don’t expect magic overnight. Building your presence and rankings takes time, effort, patience, and determination.

It can be hard to create epic content that uses keywords the right way. That’s what Express Writers is here for. We take care of the work so you can cta express writers

keyword search volume

Why Keyword Search Volume Doesn’t Matter When You Choose Your Keywords (& What Does Matter)

If I asked for a show of hands to see who researches their keywords by highest search volume, I’d see a pretty unanimous answer.

If you’re a true nerd / geek / SEO’er, you might have even had dreams of climbing the search results to #1 by optimizing for those keywords.

(Kind of like a new pop artist who hopes to crack the Billboard Top 100 with their first single.)

When you pick a keyword, what do you go by?

Are you using the best metrics?

Every business wants to show up at the top of the SERPs (search engine result pages).

But knowing how… that’s a skill that involves, at the core fundamental, knowing how to pick out a great keyword. And not everyone has that skill.

Keep reading for an in-depth guide on what matters most when you’re choosing best opportunity, high-ROI keywords. (The answer, surprisingly, is decidedly not keyword search volume.)

what matters with keyword search volume

Keyword Search Volume: The Skinny

Everyone wants that coveted top organic #1, #2, or #3 hit in Google.

However, what you may not realize is top brands have already cornered those keywords. This includes multi-million-dollar corporations. These are brands you are not going to be able to compete with, especially if you’re a small business.

What do those top-ranking keywords look like?

Nine times out of 10, they’re broad keywords – short phrases that aren’t specific. For example: “cake,” “baking,” and “baking cakes.”

If you’re a small-town baker and you try to rank for these terms, you’ll be out of luck. Instead, you may find yourself competing with the likes of Cooking Light, Food Network, and Epicurious.


Let’s face it – you’re never going to win, here.

So, what can you do, instead? What’s the smarter strategy?

For good results for your particular business, you don’t need high traffic from high search volume keywords. Instead, you need the right traffic.

right keyword

Forget Search Volume – Get the Right Traffic with High-Converting Keywords

Throw search volume out the window for now. Yes, it was once the be-all, end-all of keywords, but nothing in this world is static, right?

I’m not saying search volume is completely irrelevant. But, I am urging you to look at other avenues for driving people to your site.

Let’s start by defining what we mean when we talk about the “right” traffic.

You’ll have an easier time converting customers if they’re in an ideal state of the buying process. This is the “right” traffic – the people who are looking for you, but don’t yet realize you exist. If they knew you existed, they would be ready to jump on board and fish for their wallets.

Broad keywords do not drive this kind of traffic to your site.

What will?

Long tail keywords!

Long tail Keywords: Specificity and Relevancy for Search

Long tail keywords are just that: longer, more specific, and relevant to the customer’s needs.

For instance, a person who needs a specific type of cake will not search for “cake.” Instead, they might search for “wedding cake chocolate swirl Rhode Island.” Or, “birthday cake yellow with sprinkles.” A search string that is becoming even more common might look like this: “Where can I get a yellow birthday cake with chocolate frosting in Rhode Island?”

All of these have a few things in common, though they vary in subject matter. The people searching know what type of cake they want and where they want to get it. If you’re a baker and you optimize your site for long tail keywords like this, you’ll strike gold.

Why? Because long tail keywords have less competition than their broad counterparts. You have a far better chance of ranking for “wedding cake chocolate swirl Rhode Island” than “cake.”

Plus, customers use long tail keywords like this when they have a higher buying intent. They know what they’re looking for, what they need, or what they want. If you have it, there’s a very good chance you’ll close the deal.

Basically, these keywords fall right into your sweet spot for driving traffic.

Sweet Spot - Keywords

Take a look at the brands who have successfully ranked for the above long tail keyword example. There’s only one multi-million-dollar corporation on this list (Ben & Jerry’s). The rest are small bakeries or boutique shops. That’s the power of the long tail keyword in action.


How Do You Choose the Right Long Tail Keywords?

According to Search Engine Journal (SEJ), one of the keys to driving conversions from search results is to engage people at the perfect time. It’s a two-way street. Their intent needs to match up with the keyword, and the keyword needs to be relative to their intent.

This is that sweet spot we mentioned earlier. Hit it, and you’ll see ROI.

Here are some other keys for choosing the best long tail keywords for you. They have to do with relevancy and uniqueness.

1. Relevancy, Relevancy, Relevancy

When a keyword is relevant to you, it ties back to your particular brand. This includes what you do, who you are, where you’re located, or what you sell.

The relevance of your keywords is the brunt of what makes long tail types work. If you’re not using relevant long tails, you won’t be taking advantage of their conversion power.

2. Use What Makes You Stand Out (Your Differentiation Factor)

A highly unique keyword could net you a buyer every time someone searches for it. Wow! That’s a BIG deal.

At the same time, that particular keyword could have next to no search volume because of its uniqueness.

Fact: this is common for keywords with good opportunities.

In other words, it’s not a problem because the conversion value is so high. The more unique your keyword, the more you’re targeting a specific buyer – the one looking to pull the trigger and make the purchase!

These types of keywords don’t work well for everyone – but they work great for you. The opportunity is personal, and that’s a big bonus.

Why Broad, Short Tail Keywords Are on the Way Out

Short tail keywords do have their uses. They haven’t gone the way of VCRs and rotary phones – they aren’t relics quite yet.

They’re good for optimizing basic pages on your site. Your “about us” page is a fine example. Over time, your long tail keyword content can help improve your rankings for those general terms. Your content will build authority, and that can give your general pages a boost.

Time, however, is the clincher here. For keywords with tough competition, it may take years for you to crack the top 100, let alone the top 50.

Ranking shouldn’t be your main concern, anyway.

Ranking for broad terms may drive traffic, but it won’t drive traffic that converts.

Instead, you’ll get a mix of people at all different stages of the buying cycle. Some, if not most, will not need what you’re offering. Neil Patel has an excellent chart that shows the difference:

neilpatel_visitor intention
As the chart shows, people who are looking to browse will use the broadest keywords of all: “Las Vegas,” “spyware,” and “television.”

Meanwhile, the people looking to buy tend to use the most specific terms possible: “Panasonic 43’ Plasma TV HVD3002 best price.” That’s one hefty long tail. You can tell this buyer is locked and loaded.

Draw the Locked and Loaded Buyer – Not the “Just Browsing” Variety

According to Forbes, a few years ago, most businesses online attempted to target small numbers of “sort-of” relevant keywords. These were traffic-drivers alone, and it worked well enough.

Now things have changed. There are millions more people online, and close to a billion websites. The competition to rank for broad keywords is more cut-throat than ever. In fact, it’s nearly impossible unless you’re a huge corporation or you pay.

You can rank well, and organically, for long tail keywords. These aren’t searched as often, but the people who do are far more likely to buy from you.

Who would you rather guide to your site – the casual browser, or that buyer who’s locked, loaded, and ready to whip out their credit card, because you’ve got what they need?

So, when it comes to keywords, redirect your focus.

Switch your tactics – shake things up.

The times, they are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan so eloquently put it. Pretty soon, short tail keywords may be thrown out with the bathwater.

The long tail is the future of keywords.

Are you ready?


To start building your path towards more high rankings with long tail keyword-optimized content, Express Writers can help. Take a peek at our custom blog plans or content planning to see what we can do.

art of writing cta

What Attracts Readers to Your Content? 7 Facts You Need to Know About the Intent Behind User Search

How do we rank at the top of search engines?

And then, when we do that, how do we get people to actually read our content and share it with the world?

And then, after we’ve achieved all that, how do we get the people that love our content to actually convert?


Loaded questions… to say the least.

Entire books have been written that attempt to answer these questions. Yet still, there are no universal answers about how to check all the boxes.

But, at the end of the day, every part of the process, from ranking in search engines to converting users, comes down to focusing on people first.

And fortunately for us, people are predictable.

Their intent when they search follows a familiar path that, when understood, can be used to inspire our future content. Let’s discuss!

user search intent guide

7 Facts You Need to Know Right Now About the Intent Behind People Searching for Your Content

Let’s dive in and take a look at a few facts about user intent when utilizing search engines.

1. Users Follow Similar Principles When They Interact With Search Engines

Understanding how the majority of people interact with search engines is absolutely vital to your success in content marketing.

Moz outlines this perfectly in their detailed beginner’s guide to SEO.

interacting with search engines

Creating great content that gets results can seem like an insurmountable challenge.

As Moz shows, most people follow similar principles when they use a search engine.

First and foremost, they’re there to find an answer, solution, or piece of information. They then formulate that need into a string of words (keywords) and type it into the search engine.

Knowing these principles alone should serve as a guideline for every piece of content that you create.

If your content isn’t answering a question, offering a solution, or providing useful information, it serves very little purpose to users.

But you can’t just provide bland and unsubstantiated answers, solutions, and information.

As you can see with the 7th principle, users will return to the search results if they’re unsatisfied with their initial results.

Knowing this, your focus should be on identifying why users are finding your content and ensuring that you satisfy their needs when they get there.

2. How Users Search is Based on Their Stage of Awareness

We’ve already identified that, when a user performs a search, they’re generally attempting to find an answer, solution, or piece of information.

The one they search for is almost always determined by their current stage of awareness.

For this reason, when you’re writing content, it’s always a good idea to think like a copywriter.

You want to focus your efforts on determining the user’s current stage of awareness and use your content to walk them through to the next stage.

Legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz laid out the five levels of awareness like this:

Eugene Schwartz five levels of awareness

Let’s use the example of a 40-year-old man who lacks motivation.

He understands that this is affecting his life and is currently in the problem aware stage.

He decides to go to Google and find a solution, so he types in how to get motivated.

The results look like this:

getting motivated

He sees a few solid options, but the article about How to Get Motivated When You Don’t Feel Like It sticks out. He clicks on it and sees this:

James Clear

As he reads through the article, he begins to see that he isn’t alone in his lack of motivation and that there are solutions to his problem.

So he’s now in the solution aware stage.

The author understands this and, once the reader has finished the article, offers up an email opt-in that promises to help the unmotivated user even more.

motivation email capture

The man enters his email, receives the ebooks, and is now in the product aware stage as he knows that the author has also published books that he can purchase to help him even further.

Since the initial content, and the ebooks, provided the solution he was looking for, he doesn’t return to Google to check out other potential solutions.

The author begins sending content through emails that slowly works him into the most aware stage where he is ready to make a purchase.

This example shows the power of understanding how users interact with search engines based on their stage of awareness.

Use it to your advantage and optimize your content to work users to the most aware stage.

3. Your Users Want Landing Pages

We know that users search based on their stage of awareness.

But, if this is the case, why isn’t all of the content we create based on walking visitors through to the next stage of awareness?

This is a great question, and one that many content marketers can’t answer.

To solve this problem, Search Engine Land puts it in the most simple terms possible: businesses need to look at every page as a landing page.

They advise that you ask yourself three questions when creating content. These are:

3 questions seo

As you answer these questions, you arm yourself with the necessary information to create content that gets visitors to say, “This is exactly what I need right now!”

By doing this, your content doubles as a landing page and can directly contribute to conversions for your business.

And isn’t the goal of content marketing to serve as an avenue to generate revenue?

[clickToTweet tweet=”Wondering what attracts readers to your content? @ExpWriters is sharing seven facts on user intent you should know!” quote=”Wondering what attracts readers to your content? @ExpWriters is sharing seven facts on user intent you should know!”]

4. Long-Tail Keywords are Used in Searches More Often

The data shows that about 70% of search traffic is through long-tail keywords.

long tail keywords

And, if you’ve been following along so far, this makes sense.

After all, if a user is typically looking for an answer, solution, or information when they use a search engine, they’re generally not going to find what they’re looking for by using a single word.

Let’s go back to the example of the unmotivated 40-year-old man. His search was “how to get motivated.”

Had he just typed in “motivation,” he would have seen this:

motivation results


I’m guessing he already has a pretty firm grasp of the definition of motivation.

And, because this isn’t what he was looking for, the principles of user search interaction tell us that his next step would be to go back and reframe his search to something more specific.

But not only is the utilization of long-tail keywords important because of how users search, they also make a huge difference when it comes to search rankings and conversion.

long tail seo


As you can see, attempting to rank for a one-word phrase comes with a whole lot of competition and high costs. Not to mention the low probability of conversion.

Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are low cost, have little competition, and have a much higher probability of conversion because the user is almost always in the problem aware stage when they’re searching for them.

If your goal is to satisfy the needs of your users (which it should be), then utilizing long-tail keywords is clearly the way to go.

5. User Search Queries Are Becoming More Conversational

Another important reason that long tail keywords work so well with user search intent is because searches are becoming more conversational.

In mid 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai mentioned that voice searches now account for about 20% of all mobile searches.

Think about what you say when you use voice search. If you own an iPhone and want to find out how to cook boiled eggs, you’d likely say, “Siri, how do I boil eggs?”

You see the digital assistant as someone you can have a conversation with, and therefore ask them the same way you would ask an expert on the topic.

And with the continued improvement of digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Google Voice, Amazon Alexa, and others, the number of people using digital assistants is expected to continue to rise.

statista chart

The shift to conversational search queries is also causing a change in how people are creating content.

Content creators are beginning to avoid the journalistic approach and are instead using their content as a way to have a conversation with readers.

Think about mega influencers like Neil Patel and Seth Godin.

They emphasize the need to speak directly to their readers within their blogs. And, judging by their success, their readers appreciate and trust them for it.

6. Users Make the Decision to Click Based on the Headline

You know that headlines are important. You probably also know that 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 out of 10 will move on from there.

But just how important are they when a user is performing a search?

According to UpWorthy co-founder Peter Koechley, “The difference between a good headline and a bad headline can be just massive…When we test headlines, we see a 20%, 50%, or even 500% difference.”

500% difference?!? That’s huge.

Let’s take a look at an example of the impact of intriguing headlines.

If you were to search for “how to make money blogging,” your search results would look like this:

Headline Example

As you look at these four results, How to Make Money Blogging: How This Blog Makes $100K per Month clearly sticks out.

Why? Well, for one, because it’s specific. The user is searching for how to make money blogging, so they obviously want to generate income.

Smart Blogger’s headline is telling the user that, if they click on the link, they’ll learn how to make $100K per month. The other three headlines, on the other hand, fail to be specific enough to intrigue users.

While this is a simple example, it shows that taking the time to create great headlines is absolutely crucial if you want to stand out.

7. Users Process Visuals Faster

By now, you’ve probably read and heard plenty about how important it is to include visuals in your content.

But as search engines are getting more sophisticated, images are providing a way for websites to stand out there as well.

The reason for this is simple; people process visuals 60,000x faster than text.


Because of this, having an image alongside your headline, URL, and meta description sets you up to be the first thing a user sees when they browse search results.

Take a look at this example when we search for “how to boil eggs”:

Visuals example

If you’re like most people, your eyes were immediately guided to the two pictures of the boiled eggs.

And, because of this, you’ve become more likely to click on one of those links.

Now unfortunately, Google doesn’t actually let you upload an image directly into search results.

Instead, you have to first put yourself in a position to have your image picked up by Google’s images index.

Here’s how you can do that:

adding an image to google

While it’s a bit annoying that this is a “wait and hope” scenario, the power of having an image featured makes the process well worth it.

Using These Facts to Inspire Better Content

Armed with these facts, you now have the ammunition you need to start creating content that is made for users.

Focus on your audience, understand what stage of awareness they are in, and hone in on long-tail keywords.

And, if you want to skyrocket your conversion rates from search results, optimize that headline.

Do these things and you’ll be well on your way to creating content that ranks at the top of search engines and generates clicks from intrigued users.

If you’d like some assistance creating user-focused content for your website, our team of experts would be more than happy to help. Get in touch with us today!

express writers

google rankbrain header

Google RankBrain, The Rise of Machine-Learning, and The Future of Search

The past six months have seen a spike in interest in artificial intelligence (AI). Most of this has been focused on the increasingly widespread application of the technology behind what makes AI work: machine-learning. While the impact of machine learning is being felt in industries all over the world, from manufacturing to advertising, where it affects all of us equally is in the realm of Google search.

The web has become such a part of everyday existence that we barely question it. Google is supplying us not only with the answers to all kinds of queries, but also providing us a globally accessible portal for business and commerce. Google’s success can be summed up in one word: relevance.

These algorithm updates are designed to help Google realize their mission to be the best search engine in the world: by being the most relevant.

Of course, in order to achieve this, Google has to collect and collate data on virtually every topic imaginable, while scaling an ever-expanding Everest of information, and managing billions of requests for directions to extremely specific locations. A near impossible task for even the most skilled engineers. So, Google introduced RankBrain!

But what exactly is the Google RankBrain algorithm update, how does it affect SEO, and what are the key things online content creators should know? Find out in today’s infographic on the topic. Did you learn anything, or have an extra point on the subject to make? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to share this infographic!

[clickToTweet tweet=”#Infographic: Google & the rise of machine-learning, AI and #RankBrain” quote=”#Infographic: Google & the rise of machine-learning, AI and #RankBrain”]

google rankbrain infographic

What is Google Rank Brain?

Very simply, Google RankBrain a machine-leaning AI system that forms part of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update.

Hummingbird is all about semantic search, or in other words, contextual relevance.

Google handles over 2 billion searches every day, of which 15% (or 450 million) the search engine has never seen before. RankBrain sorts these unique queries into contextual “entities,” chunks of language that have meaning, rather than simply returning results based on keywords.

RankBrain translates unique queries, ambiguous sentences, and more obscure “long-tail” keyword phrases into mathematical vectors, which it then uses to search for patterns in the gigantic pool of data that is the web, in order to sort and return the most relevant pages and results for the searcher.

It essentially searches for common queries and relates the more complex ones to them, based on context, and then refining its abilities to make similar connections in the future.

It is this aspect of RankBrain that makes is so powerful.

Each search is an opportunity for it to learn. After processing each query, the machine-learning engine makes slight adjustments to itself, essentially updating its part of the algorithm automatically as it makes connections and relates complex searches to data about similar or related searches it has collected in the past. It then revises search results based on this new information.

RankBrain, then, is the part of Hummingbird that makes the algorithm so powerful and effective at fulfilling Google’s mission.

Why Does It Matter?

After the devastation the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates caused online marketers, SEOs (and their clients) in 2012-2013, the entire landscape of online marketing and business has been on edge about any major announcement coming from Google about their new algorithm updates.

Part of why RankBrain caused such stir when it was announced in an article published by Bloomberg in 2015 is that it was revealed that out of the 200+ ranking signals Google currently uses to rank pages, RankBrain was named as the third-most important.

(The first and second most important are links and content, in case you were wondering.)

However, what is most significant about RankBrain is that it is not a ranking factor that can be “gamed” by SEOs. In fact, it encourages Google’s prime directive of extreme relevance by forcing best practices in content production and link-building.

This is not to say that traditional SEO doesn’t matter anymore. In fact, RankBrain interacts dynamically with Google’s other ranking factors to return relevant answers – factors like social shares, bounce rate, time on site, etc. Part of what it does is read data from how other users interacted with a particular site related to a specific query, and uses that data to rank search results.

So the reason RankBrain matters is because it is geared towards improving the overall user experience of Google search, by affecting search results. But hopefully for the better.

How Google Rank Brain Affects SEO

RankBrain is primarily designed to handle the 15% of Google searches that are uncommon, so the impact on SEO is minimal.

What is crucial to understand, however, is that RankBrain represents a significant step forward in Google’s use of machine-learning and AI to sift, sort and filter search results.

What this means in practice is that SEOs and marketers looking to rank highly in search results need to pay attention to where Google is going.

In 2015, Rand Fishkin declared that Google is a “two algorithm world” and that the major impact of the future of Google on SEO was the fact that optimization had to account for ranking inputs for machines, as well as user outputs for humans.

So as well as ranking factors like keyword targeting, quality and uniqueness of content, being spider friendly, having excellent UX, and multi-device optimization, user output factors like task completion success, relative CTR, and content gap fulfilment are now a much more significant piece of the SEO puzzle.

This seems to be the very essence of RankBrain, which is the first major step toward the refinement of Google’s evolution into the realm of machine-learning.

For now, however, what is important to know is, firstly, sticking to SEO best practices means that RankBrain won’t affect you too much. Secondly, instead of being concerned with the effects of an algorithm update on your SEO, you should focus on building your page and creating content for search engines and human users.

Here’s what that means according to the wizard of Moz:

  1. Onsite SEO has to be optimized for more for clicks, less for keywords
  2. Go for better engagement by:
  • Making sure your site is as fast as possible
  • Providing content that satisfies searcher needs
  • Having excellent UX across all devices
  • Including features that draw users deeper into your site
  • Leaving out features like pop-ups and auto-play videos that tend to annoy visitors
  1. Fill content gaps in your visitors’ knowledge
  1. Earn more links and social shares, and encourage visitors to return
  1. Create content based on user task fulfillment

Most of this advice is pretty standard, and will take you to 80% of ranking success. Points 3 and 5, however, is where you have the opportunity to provide searchers with that vital 20% which will put you head and shoulders above the competition.

Fishkin calls these essential success factors “10X” content and they are 100% in line with where Google is headed in the future.

Here are Fishkin’s criteria for 10X content:

  • Delivers an exceptional user experience through visuals, layouts, and general design
  • The content should be “meaty,” unique, authoritative, and trustworthy
  • Content should evoke a positive emotional response
  • The content has a viral quality about it, or at least has been shared enough to make it part of the wider conversation in a market
  • Content that solves a problem or provides an answer in a way that is complete, comprehensive and actionable

What All of This Means For You

These criteria are already being held up as the gold standard for content marketing success, and users are being trained to expect this higher quality of content from online businesses and marketers.

This kind of “10X” approach to content creation is going drive the gap separating the winners and the losers online wider and wider as we move further into 2017 and beyond.

So what can you do about it?

First of all, you can’t approach anything related to content marketing online today without a well-developed strategy. Anything less than a professional, committed approach is going to deliver mediocre results.

Here are my top 5 suggestions for creating content that will help you win in 2017:

1. Get specific

As I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this post, Google wants the most relevant, accurate and content rich results to be delivered to searchers. One of the best ways to do this is to get specific.

The major problem with most content out there today is that it is too broad, which is the result of not knowing your audience well enough. Find out what their most pressing concerns are and create ultra-targeted content pieces that address those very specific problems. You can also take a specific angle or perspective on an issue, make it your own and deliver a unique solution for your market.

2. Get visual

It’s a given these days that you need great design for your website. But as the web becomes more visual and users get used to having a multimedia experience, no only should you start including more images in your blog posts, because online video is more popular than ever, you should also look to post video content and repurpose your most popular written content as videos.

3. Be original

This means not only having a unique perspective, angle or opinion on your industry or topic, it also means being able to deliver original research as part of your content. Talk to your audience, survey your email list, and mine insights from influencers in your niche. Then create stellar content around it.

4. Go Social

This goes without saying in 2017, but to maximize shares and earn quality, natural links you need to be proactive about promotion. Instead of focusing on pumping out reams of “good” content all the time, pour that energy into creating fewer, more valuable content assets and promote them relentlessly.

5. Be Influential

OK, we all know this is way easier said than done, but if you approach your content marketing with this intent in mind, you will make very different choices before you create, publish and promote your content. Look at how the influencers in your market position and promote themselves. How can you take a fresh perspective on the major issues in your market? Is there an opportunity to segment the audience and become the top influencer in that sub-niche?


While Google RankBrain represents a breakthrough in the application of machine-learning, what we have seen up to now is just the beginning of a new way the algorithm behind search is operating.

What this intelligent algorithm will evolve into remains to be seen, which means the best we can do for now is to keep a close eye on Google in 2017.

As far as SEO goes, the best advice from top SEOs is this: stop trying to trick Google and follow where the search giant is going by optimizing for the future, because the future of search belongs to the machines.

Ultimately, what ranking highly comes down to is simply what Google has always wanted – fresh, natural, relevant content that solves searchers’ problems and gives them comprehensive answers to their questions.

If you haven’t been doing this, well, here’s your opportunity to up your game. In fact, this is all in line with the top trends in content marketing anyway.

If anything, RankBrain is a wakeup call to us as marketers that the web has finally grown up and now it is simply time to get serious.

What steps can you take today to make your site more relevant?

Let me know in the comments!

engagement cta

keyword research

Why Keyword Research is Vital to a Strong Content Presence Online & Our Favorite Tools

Ongoing, consistent keyword research is critical to a strong online presence.

While keyword research has seen its share of changes over the years, it remains a useful part of content creation.


Keyword research is online ROI. 

Real, true, return-on-investment: find the right keywords, and you can create content with the potential for high Google rankings inside the next year (remember, content is a long-term investment). Using the right keywords allows you to use the direct terms of your customers and target audience.

Keyword research is the tool you use to spread your message and stand out in your field. Every content developer worth his or her words knows it is a piece of the bigger picture when it comes to ranking and reaching.

Understanding why, and how, will add vitality to your brand’s presence. Skimp here, and you’ll find yourself stuck in the same place with the same results. But there is a way to dive in, find the right keywords, and strengthen your online presence. Let’s discuss!

keyword research and discovery

Why Consistent Keyword Research Is Fundamental to a Strong Online Presence

Let’s dive in with three big reasons why keyword research is vital to a strong presence.

1. Consistent keyword research helps you get to know and understand your ideal target persona.

Focusing too much on specific keywords without a focus on the user behind the screen is a big mistake.

Keywords are the words we are trying to rank for, but your buyer persona doesn’t really care about the “keyword” itself. What they care about is finding the best results for their search term.

When you type something into a Google search, you have a purpose. Your goal is to find out more information about a new restaurant, read a news story, or look for a local service.

This means that one simple change in a word can produce far different results.

It’s all about intent.

Example: When someone searches for “hire a gardener” on Google, the first results are fairly generic and include results from sites like Home Advisor, WikiHow, and Gardens Illustrated. These are general how-to guides aimed at anyone who wants to know how to plant a flower, when to weed, and what type of fertilizer works best. The results are not specific to location or service type.

google general results

But change that search to “hire a gardener in Austin,” and the results are much different.

google search on gardeners

With the addition of just a few more words, we see the best gardeners in the Austin area based on reviews from other customers. These are meant for those searchers who are far into the process and want real answers.

There is intent behind this specific search.

By understanding how a user will search, you can narrow your focus and dive deeper into keyword research, rather than just stringing words together. This will allow you to craft focused content, target your persona, and see results.

Content creators often make the mistake of spending too much time on specific phrases and terms while neglecting to understand the user intent behind the words. Rather than try to guess what your audience means by a search query, keyword research helps you understand the intent behind the language.

2. Consistent keyword research keeps it natural.

How we search on the web has changed significantly over the past few decades. The rise of voice search and advanced technology has contributed to the way we look for everything from pizza delivery to books on Amazon.

Today, users are more likely to phrase a search as a question, as if they are talking to a friend, rather than searching with just two or three words.

Or in some cases, they search online the same way they ask Alexa or Siri a question. It’s natural and less stuffy.

This trend toward more natural language is due to a few factors, including:

Search engine capabilities: No one wants to sit and string together a bunch of keyword combinations, especially as they search through a mobile device. We are searching quickly, and we don’t have time to wait around for an answer.

Search technology: Google welcomes complex questions, as explained in this blog post, and the search engine understands more specific queries. Technology is keeping pace, and the faster it answers, the faster the user expects it to be.

Search through digital assistants: Ask Alex, Cortana, or your smartphone, and you’ll get an answer. Here is what Will Oremus from Slate had to say about the future of search in the wake of these popular devices:

In the beginning, computers spoke only computer language, and a human seeking to interact with one was compelled to do the same. First came punch cards, then typed commands…the 1980s brought the mouse click and the graphical user interface to the masses; the 2000s, touch screens; the 2010s, gesture control and voice. It has all been leading, gradually and imperceptibly, to a world in which we no longer have to speak computer language, because computers will speak human language—not perfectly, but well enough to get by. And the implications…will be tremendous. (Slate)

Using long-tail keywords in a natural way will reach your audience quicker as they search, which will make your communication more effective and specific. 

3. Consistent keyword research brings relevancy and leaves an impression.

When content creators take the time to find the most relevant and meaningful keywords for their target group – which happens when we understand our audience – it changes everything. Relevant, long-tail keywords contribute to successful SEO and more qualified traffic.

Here is the truth: if someone is searching with a long-tail keyword in the form of a question, and you have optimized for shorter keywords that don’t hold meaning, your results will not be as relevant.

We can challenge ourselves here to go even beyond just relevant content and strive to produce amazing content. Relevance combined with amazing equals results that will go beyond our expectations.

How do we find relevant terms, those that our target audience is searching for? With consistent keyword research.

3 of Our Favorite SEO Search Tools

When you’re ready to dive into keyword research, here are some of our favorite tools you can use right now. Check ‘em out!

1. SEMrush

This killer SEO tool performs keyword research, tracks keyword strategy used by your competition, runs an SEO audit of your blog, and looks for backlink opportunities, just to name a few of the features. SEMrush houses a database of over 46 million domains and 120 million keywords while tracking the organic position of a domain and competitor analysis.


 2. KWFinder

This keyword research and analysis tool offers real-time keyword SEO difficulty and generates long-tail keywords related to your niche that your competitors may be missing. Perform a search on a keyword and the site will analyze, providing you with an SEO competition score out of 100, giving you the keyword difficulty based on comparison across the market.

Also, one reason I love this tool is the absolutely gorgeous UX. I mean, what other tool is this pretty?

 kwfinder 2017

3. AnswerThePublic

This cool search tool grabs and maps keyword suggestions and predictions with a free visual report. The common Google and Bing autosuggest reports show you what is actually being searched for based on the keyword you enter.

A recent AnswerThePublic search for “online content writing” resulted in this visual and alphabetical list.


The site works to automate the gathering of questions related to your keyword, creating a visualization of the data so you can answer more effectively. The insight you can gain is invaluable and may serve as a jumpstart to relevant long-tail keyword creation for content writers.

answerthepublic 2

Of course, you can only use this tool if you’re comfortable doing so while having a stranger stare at you and, at times, pick his teeth. 😉

Are Keywords Still Relevant? The Big Ticket Question Discussed

 When it comes to keyword research and its effectiveness for online content, the opinions are as varied as a can of fruit cocktail.

I talk about this question more in-depth in my recent post, Is Keyword Density Dead?

TL;DR: keyword density is certainly dead. But keywords themselves are certainly not.

While keywords may not be the only factor we now consider, they remain an important part of content development in a world of ever-changing SEO and technology.

In fact, long-tail keywords (those with more than four words) still account for 50% of search queries, which reminds us that it’s important to use them in page titles and content, in internal links, and in user-generated reviews.


Keyword research has changed, but the goal of creating quality content remains the same.

When brands and website owners commit to understanding their audience, keeping the word flow as natural as possible, and staying relevant, the results will be a solid offering that meets the reader right where they are.

Are you ready to build the cornerstone of great content? Our Content Strategists are trained to do just that in our Keyword Strategy service! Connect with us today and let’s get to work.