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How to Optimize Your Content Without Selling Your Soul to Search Engines

People create content because they want others to see it. For a while, I was a “build it (and build it well), and they will come” type of person. I thought all I had to do was write what I thought was good content, and that was enough. Instead, I heard crickets and felt endless amounts of resentment towards the people who actually promoted their work. Let’s face it. No one wants to spend hours crafting an informative and valuable piece of content only to let it disappear into the abyss of the internet because it gets no traffic.

SEO presented a solution to writers like me who did not want to blast every post they wrote to the masses on social media. I could optimize my articles in subtle ways, and people looking for that information could find it.
At first, SEO allowed marketers and writers to tweak their content in small ways to make it more searchable. But those days are long gone. Modern SEO is a game of algorithm manipulation, where content quality seems to be low on the priority list.

Google has turned content creators into competitors, who are all obsessing over the top spot. “Winning” at SEO means you’re on the first page of Google, and as high up on that page as possible. But winning at SEO doesn’t mean your content is good. The more I work with SEOs, the more I’ve come to realize just how formulaic the highest-ranking content is.

If a site wants any chance at competing with the big guns — the BuzzFeed’s and Forbes’ of the world — they need to stick to the script and beat the algorithm at its own game.
Luckily, I work with people who value quality. I’ve learned ways to help them create meaningful and out-of-the-box content, that still ranks.

Have an opinion

Form your own thoughts. Use those thoughts to present fresh and new ideas to your audience. Do research that goes beyond reading what other people have already written on the topic. Page one of Google is already full of regurgitated, spun articles that are passing themselves off as thought-provoking content. But once you click through a few posts, you quickly realize that there are very few original thoughts to be found.

A lot of times, that content wasn’t even written by someone who genuinely cares about what they’re writing. SEO has made it so that marketers are just looking for opportunities to rank, which leads to mediocre writing on topics that they have no real opinion on or experience with.

Having a unique take on a popular topic will not take anything away from your SEO efforts. It will, however, differentiate your content from all of the other sites you’re competing with. It will also get people talking about your content, which can lead to more engagement and more people linking to your post, which will end up boosting your rankings in the long-run.

Go easy on the tools and keywords

I’ll admit, I’m pretty obsessed with Ahrefs. It’s such a valuable wealth of information that’s helped shape a lot of the work I do for clients. It’s also easy to fall down an endless rabbit hole looking for high volume, low difficulty keywords. These tools are getting more sophisticated with every launch and have optimization down to a science.

It’s tempting when a tool tells you that all you need to do to rank for a term is to include that term 87 times in your text. Resist those urges. I recommend using tools sparingly. Try to limit your use of SEO tools to the research phase, and then as a final check before you publish to see if there are opportunities to make your content better.

It might seem like the more money you spend on tools, the better your chances are of ranking, but tools won’t make your content enjoyable to readers. They might help you get your content to where it needs to be for Google to recognize it, but if it’s boring, unreadable or just bad, readers are going to find another source.

Listen to what your audience wants

Obsessing over search volume and keyword difficulty can cause you to neglect what your audience really wants. There is so much hidden information in your current analytics. The way your audience interacts with your content will tell a story about what they’re looking for, and what will keep them coming back to your site.

It can be tempting to ignore your stats and focus on finding new keyword opportunities. Don’t wander into other areas just because you’ve found an untapped market, or see opportunities to rank for keywords that your audience doesn’t care about. There’s nothing wrong with identifying opportunities or low hanging fruit, but stay focused on the purpose and mission of your site. If your audience is deeply engaged with a particular subject you cover, lean into it and try to ignore the other shiny objects around you.

Consult experts

Rather than using your competitor’s content as research, do your own. If the topic you’re writing about isn’t your area of expertise, then consult real experts in the industry. They will be able to tell you what’s missing from all of the other content in your niche and provide insight based on their real-life experience in the field.

Collaborating with other people on your content can also expose your brand to new audiences. If the expert sees value in your brand and is proud of what they’re contributing to, they’ll likely want to share your content with their colleagues or their own audience.

It might seem like everything you need to know is already in a post somewhere online. But crafting new information from experts who live and breathe your industry will make your content more qualified, more trustworthy, and help you stand out. Search engines might even recognize that you’ve consulted an expert, which adds more credibility to your site than stuffing a dozen more keywords.

Invest in good writers and marketers

I’ll admit, I’ve hired my fair share of Fiverr writers in hopes of saving time and money on the content I don’t feel like writing myself. Cutting corners like this always ends up costing me more time than it would have had I done it right, to begin with. Hiring writers with experience in your industry will cost you more money, but it’s an investment that will continue to serve you long-term.

Beyond just paying decent writers, investing in someone who can be a part of your team, understand your content, and your mission will pay off tenfold. The right person will be able to create a consistent voice, notice trends, and make suggestions that you may not have considered.

Your business and your brand is a reflection of yourself. Even if your face isn’t on it, you want to create something that you can be proud to put your name on. Shoveling out post after post of regurgitated, spun content may work for a little while, but as the algorithms continue to change and get smarter, those keyword-stuffed, unresearched articles are not going to be enough to sustain your brand long term.

Yes, it always helps to have domain authority (aka backlinks) and traffic. And it helps even more to have time and money to invest in building high-quality websites that actually serve your audience beyond providing them with affiliate links to click.

Working fast, and shipping immediately will only get you so for. But investing effort in creating high-quality content that will stand the test of time will help you grow a real audience that respects your brand and your mission. That audience is worth so much more than a short-lived ranking and a few extra clicks.

If you’re struggling to come up with ways to make your optimize your content marketing strategy and reach your audience more effectively. Download my content marketing starter kit for everything you need to get your content marketing strategy to work for you. 

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