We have written and optimized thousands of articles and SEO friendly blog posts for our own blog or other sites over the past 10 years. How can one learn better from past successes and mistakes? We want to share them with you, not just as a Christmas present, but mostly because sharing our insights with others makes us and the people around us stronger and more resilient.
Google's rules and updates have changed far too often for them to be worth counting. The authors of content on this blog have also changed a lot, trying to uncover Google's puzzle box. We lost weight, hair, nerves and money in the process, but believe us, we learned a lot, and mostly the hard way.
So we are going to expose ourselves to a vulnerable matter. However, if this article will save you from repeating some of the mistakes we've made, we'll be happy. ????
The end of the year is usually a time to remember and think about the past time and hopefully gain some wisdom – no matter how small – for the new year. For many of us, 2021 will be different as we probably had to go through this exercise much earlier than the end of the year.
So we decided to look back even further, hoping that the lessons we find address something greater than the general horror of this year.
We have been running an SEO blog for ten years. We learned a thing or two in the process. Here are 13 of them (yes 13 in 2020):
- Optimize everything from urls to conclusions
- Do not accept anything! Check grammar, facts, quotes
- It is difficult to be consistent. It is also the key to success
- Originality is good, but so is content update
- Google algorithms come and go, high quality content is preserved
- Creativity is a lot of hard work
- Questions are more useful than answers
- Forget about academic writing
- Solve your readers' problems, not your dilemmas
- The title of the article affects its performance
- Write less, write better
- Write less, promote more
- Stick to your principles
Optimize everything from urls to conclusions
I know you already understand this: you know you need to have well-optimized content. This means that you have to use your targeted keyword within the title and text content at least ten times and Google has no choice but to rate your content. And when it doesn't, we all know that Google sucks, it's their fault.
That is of course an exaggeration. But there is a grain of truth in it.
With the change in search engine marketing, we've evolved and learned what both our readers and Google expect from us.
We all know that optimized content is the key to success. However, optimization shouldn't stop at the content of the content. You should also optimize:
- The title
- The url
- The meta description
- The snail
- The pictures
- The internal links
- The outbound links
- The text length
- The main picture of the article
We missed some of these things. Or at least we didn't give them the right meaning. So we came to URLs like this: https://cognitiveseo.com/blog/26/the-best-link-building-blogs-experts-and-their-tutorials-from-2011/ or with three published articles one after the other with the Titles: How To Get Links, How To Earn Links, And How To Earn Links.
There is a lot of information on how to optimize all of the above on this blog. So we're not going to insist too much on it here. But here are some resources you might find useful:
SEO writing for copywriters
Internal linking strategy
Influence of title and URL on ranking research
Link building campaigns
How to write SEO friendly titles
Do not accept anything! Check grammar, facts, quotes
Do you know what Euripides and my manager have in common? You are both stuck in my head and repeat this sentence: Ask anything!
While this may be obvious, take a sincerity test: When was the last time you double or triple double-checking a known fact? Even the basic ones like: If you crack your ankles you get arthritis or Eskimos have dozens of words for snow. You know this, so use them in your content without reviewing it again.
Whether it's a well-known SEO fact, a very famous quote, or an obvious grammar rule, double-check it.
Some time ago we published an article about Wikipedia and whether it could advertise on the website of the great encyclopedia. We have offered Gibraltar as an example.
We were very excited about the article and thought it was going to cause a lot of controversy. And it did. The apple of discord, however, wasn't whether you could get advertising, but whether or not Gibraltar was a country. It is a disputed area between Britain and Spain, we knew that, but we assumed it had to be a country if it had its own capital and currency. Well that is not the case and we had to pause and moderate the comment section due to this issue. We changed the screenshot and changed "Land" to "Territory", but too little too late.
We also had our share of "grammar shame" from our users. A few years ago we published some pieces (which we assumed were spelled correctly from a grammatical point of view) and we received some emails from our readers that were not as flattering.
We'd spent so much time researching, documenting, and reading a lot, and what people first noticed was the grammatical errors.
Of course, we were proud enough to assume that we knew grammar and that it wasn't what should have been important first. A few emails from our users later, we decided to work with an English teacher. And that was one of the best decisions we made.
When it comes to grammar, things are a little difficult, we know. If your first language is not English, you will likely need someone to review your content. At least at the beginning, to give you some guidance. Even if you are one of those people who goes overboard in correcting grammatical errors, a fresh eye is always a good idea.
Because you want your articles, research, and blog to become an authority in your market and it would be nearly impossible with any typos or stylistic errors in your masterpiece.
Having someone else reviewing your work doesn't make you any less of a content writer or copywriter. It will make you a better one.
It is difficult to be consistent. It is also the key to success
Have you ever wondered why so many TV shows that sooner or later run forever show a significant loss of quality?
Having a good idea can happen to any of us. A good idea every week for years? It takes more than creativity.
It takes hard work and discipline and accepting the fact that some weeks will be a lot harder than others. But the most important thing is to keep going and wanting to keep doing a good job. Things won't always be straight forward. Difficult times are followed by better ones. And sometimes the best rewards come after a period of fighting and assertion.
See the screenshot below? It's pretty nice growth, isn't it? It's a screenshot of the visibility of cognitive SEO from our Site Explorer.
The following table looks so good because we did two things:
- We published all the time (we published at least once a week)
- We tweaked everything mentioned in the previous chapter, from urls to conclusions.
(I admit that I look at this table from time to time when my motivation is gone or I hesitate too much.)
Yes, we also used our Content Optimizer a lot and it worked great for us. But above all, we were consistent.
We have published frequently and optimized everything for each article, be it an in-depth research or a brief case study.
And it paid off.
Originality is good, but so is content update
Developing original ideas is undoubtedly the key to progress. But also updating existing ones although they are less glamorous.
Knowledge is acquired in small and uncertain steps rather than large steps. Part of the process is to refine and test existing knowledge. Because of this, we have often chosen to update articles and research rather than starting from scratch.
And it turned out to be a very good decision. We even wrote an article on how content optimization has significantly improved our SEO visibility.
The results are summarized in the following table.
You surely have articles that are no longer relevant. Or research that you worked so hard on but now it doesn't get anything in terms of traffic.
Try to revive them instead of letting them rot if it makes sense. You will gain more traffic and improve your overall blog quality.
In the worst case scenario, this strategy won't get you much more traffic, but at least you'll have your blog articles up to date.
Google algorithms come and go, high quality content is preserved
This is similar to the one-hit wonder music bands.
We all remember the musical hit, we sing it at birthday parties for a while, but we probably won't buy the album just for that tune.
The same thing can happen with your content. If you want your readers to view your blog / brand / name with respect and put you in the trustworthy content category, make it a habit of delivering quality.
As the saying goes, we are what we do repeatedly.
Excellence is not an act, but a habit.
Have you written a blog post and have thousands of parts and appreciations? That's great. This one-off achievement won't keep you at the top for long, however. On the contrary, once you've set the bar high, you need to keep up with the pace to get killer content.
And yes, Google updates are a harsh reality. However, we have thousands of readers, customers, and users and it has seldom happened that very good quality content has been penalized.
We're not saying it didn't happen. Unfortunately we have seen that good quality is punished. However, take this as a preventive measure.
If a cop stopped you in traffic, would you be very confident that you didn't do anything wrong, or would you feel a little panic knowing that you probably broke a few rules here and there?
The same applies to content and updates. I know it's easier said than done, but try to write content so that if a quality update comes out you won't be afraid.
But don't take our word for granted. Here's what Google says about what you should do when they update their algorithm.
Creativity is a lot of hard work
Famous American television and radio host Larry King told his audience a very funny story about his father.
He says his father, of Ukrainian descent, came to the United States thinking America was the greatest country of them all, with even the streets paved with gold. However, shortly after his arrival, his father realized three things:
- The streets were not paved with gold.
- The roads were not paved at all.
- He was the one who paved the streets.
It's a dangerous stereotype that creativity is the kind of lightning bolt in a bottle. Young, hip creatives stay late at night and come up with wild ideas out of nowhere. And that's … definitely a more exciting version than reality.
But the truth is that creativity so often is time and patience and gradual progress.
And it's a collective rather than an individual effort. Ultimately, you discover that the adage that spontaneous things take a lot of preparation is true.
Don't put yourself under 100% pressure to be creative. You could be creative most of the time without realizing it.
And we know it's easier said than done, but even when you don't feel like it, start writing. Just start and the rest will follow.
Larry's King father was a great man, we're sure of that. As inspiring as these success stories are, they remain: stories.
Not all of them, of course. Inspiration exists, but it has to make you work.
Questions are more useful than answers
We have asked many questions over the years and have not always been able to answer all of them.
Understanding the right question is usually the harder task.
Accessing large amounts of data is no longer a serious problem. What to do with the data will largely remain one for the years to come.
So if you want to do some research or work out some statistics, please remember: it's not just that statistical interpretation and analysis require certain skills. Strategic and sometimes even ethical decisions have to be made as to how the results should be designed or what should be considered at all.
Over the years we've examined billions of data points. And no, there is no exaggeration here. Billions of data points in the truest sense of the word.
Every time we started having a question we wanted an answer to it. Yet almost every time we found that we had asked the wrong question.
That is, of course, the beauty of research. But don't be too proud in doing your research. Even if your computer hangs up after opening dozens of Excel documents, and even if your statistics software crashes, you should never ignore the other questions that come up while doing research.
Take this research on the impact of titles and URLs on rankings for example. The original plan was to analyze a few hundred article titles and determine whether and how a title can affect the ranking.
In the end, we analyzed 35,000 keywords in both titles and URLs, realizing that we should look for the meaning of a keyword's appearance in a title, URL, domain, subdomain, and URI.
And as you can see in the table below, in some cases … well … this huge amount of analyzed data didn't tell us anything relevant. Still, it was worth discovering.
Forget about academic writing
We'll be brief. When we talk about academic writing, we don't necessarily mean academic articles.
But there is a certain rigor in this writing that may not appeal to the general audience. That's not to say you should be doing things stupid.
There is a simple, two-step approach to achieving this:
Read what you wrote aloud. If some parts don't sound like something you would say to a friend in real life, change them.
Solve your readers' problems, not your dilemmas
Much of the content arises from the desire to exchange experiences. You know something that most other people, including those in your field, may not know. You are happy about it and want to draw their attention to your newfound wisdom. The most important thing is that the focus remains on sharing and not on you as the source of wisdom. That doesn't mean that your opinion has no place in your letter, on the contrary.
But always ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Will this information help my readers understand the topic better?
- Will this information help my readers better apply this knowledge to do something practical?
- Will this information help me look cool but not add anything of value to this piece?
If the answer to the first two questions is a resounding “yes,” then be sure to include this information on your copy. If the answer to these questions is "no" and the only "yes" comes from the third question, you have a pretty good conversation opener for the next party.
The title of the article affects its performance
We're not just talking about the fact that keywords used in the titles of your copy are very important. We conducted a study in which the appearance of keywords in the title made a significant difference between rank 1 and rank 2. But also about the “catchiness” factor. And no, I'm not talking about click-bite titles, but titles that are relevant to your industry.
We've published so much and some content has seen success and some not, but one thing is for sure: if the title has anything to do with Google, it will work pretty well.
If you compare a study, study, or opinion article that we've published to an article that has "Google" in the title, chances are that it will get the most traffic, shares, links, and so on.
So you might be thinking, why not add "Google" to all of your titles? And now we come back to the points mentioned earlier: We don't want to just do click bait. We want to be relevant, offer our readers quality and respect.
When creating the title of your content, you should really think twice as the title not only needs to be relevant and attractive, it also needs to be SERP friendly.
Write less, write better
I'm sure you've noticed this for years too: fluff content in most industries (especially digital marketing).
There seems to be very little focus on SEO, audiences, conversions, and how articles / content will be helpful to readers. All of these things should be found out before writing anything. It's obvious when something is written with an SEO goal in mind.
Without value, lint content won't help you, even if you ranked well for it.
There's no reason to create content just for you to have it. You need to plan each piece of content based on what audience (s) you want to reach, what goals you have for each piece of content, how you will use it on social media to achieve your goals, and how you hope to achieve a rank.
It takes a lot of time and effort, but it's better than wasting time and resources on content that won't do your business. Without showing the ROI for your work, your job becomes dispensable.
Write less, promote more
Don't neglect content promotion. You may be focusing too much on content marketing processes. And it's definitely a good investment!
However, many content marketers tend to skip the steps related to promoting content. We know we did.
Without advertising, most of your work will never reach your target audience.
We recommend writing less and spending more time promoting content. Start your content plan by writing a list of channels and influencers that will help you reach more relevant users and get traffic and leads from each post published.
Stick to your principles
There will be many instances where you may be tempted to click-baited or just write articles with no real value.
Because you will look at your competitors and see that they can get results even with less quality content. You invest time, money, and nerves in well-documented exams that don't always work the way you want them to. You get angry and swear you won't spend another night bringing quality to the internet world.
I'm sure this happens to every content writer at least once. However, if you stick to your principles and invest time and quality in every article you write, it pays off. These are not just empty words. The long effort involved in writing content pays off.
Don't write anything that you wouldn't read.
Indeed, there are no easy wins. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to performing well over the long term.
You may have read this article carefully, or just searched through the main titles and said to yourself: I knew that. Knowledge is power. But what matters at the end of the day is what you do with that knowledge. All of the actions you take on a daily basis define who you are as a person, a marketer, or a business owner. So make sure that your actions have an impact on something, no matter how big or small.
Canadian writer Margaret Atwood once said that The internet is 95 percent made up of porn and spam. So let's make sure that 5% is damn good.