SEO (Mostly) Doesn’t Matter. Focus on the Audience Instead (Part II)
In Part I of this article, we discussed why thinking about SEO is mostly a distraction. In this part II we talk about how to create and implement a viable alternative strategy.
How do I decide on a strategy?
It took me years to get to the epiphany that the essence of good marketing is helping people. Everything else follows from that.
When it comes to marketing, you need to:
- Decide who you want to help (which defines your audience),
- Understand their needs (which gives you the topics),
- Provide them with high-quality articles on a regular basis.
Let’s get into a bit more detail.
How do I decide who I want to help?
Deciding who you want to help is the most difficult part.
Your aim should be to become an authority in a specific niche. You want to be a big fish in a small pond.
It is of critical importance to find a niche of the right size. If you are a family doctor, you’re not going to have every patient with any ailment in the world as your audience. Patients with long COVID would be a more realistic audience, and patients with long COVID in Germany probably even better.
How do you know if you found the right niche? By talking to your audience. Start blogging and attend conferences. If all you hear is crickets, you got either the message or the audience wrong. Assuming that you know what you’re talking about, the issue is most likely the size of your niche.
How do I find relevant topics?
Once you have defined our audience, you need to decide what to talk about, which is a great deal easier.
Talking to people is a great start — at events, conferences, in online groups and communities.
Let’s use the audience of patients with long COVID in Germany as an example. Let’s say that you hear a lot of stories from patients with respiratory issues. That’s a huge topic right there. You can interview people, do some small-scale research to see if there are possible common factors, you can keep them informed about the latest science. You could probably write tens of articles on that topic alone.
Once you engage with your audience, you’re unlikely to run out of topics. In addition, there are always scientific publications that you can write about, or new insights that you gain from thinking about the topic. You can write about the same topic multiple times, based on what you learned, or simply from a different angle.
Services like Ahrefs and Semrush can be of great value as well. These services tell you what people are looking for in search engines, and how often. If you see lots of people searching for “short of breath after COVID”, and you can find no more than a handful of useful articles on the web addressing that issue, you’ve just found yourself an opportunity.
How do I write high-quality articles?
By writing a lot. Practice makes perfect!
Do not worry about the number of words. Again, don’t think of pleasing Google, just think of what serves your audience best.
Before you start writing, frame your goal with the article. Put it into words, e.g.:
- a long-form post based on interviews with long COVID patients with respiratory issues,
- an instruction video with light exercises for patients with respiratory issues,
- a short article sharing an insight that someone shared with you at a conference,
- a “pillar post” listing all your articles on a given topic, with a short introduction and a link to each individual article,
Instead of writing about a topic once and tweaking it to please the search engines, write about the same topic multiple times, from multiple angles, or with new insights.
How do I reach out to my audience?
Engage with your audience as much as you can – during events, on social media, wherever they hang out.
Do not forget to build a mailing list and share updates at least once a week. Not only is email an extremely effective way to engage with your audience, it also makes you less dependent on changes in search engine algorithms, which can cause your rankings to go up or down. Diversification is your friend!
What about podcasts and video?
Blogging, podcasting and vlogging are all great ways to reach your audience.
I would say, pick whatever option most appeals to you, and get going. Whatever communication channel you choose, doing something is better than doing nothing!
How do I achieve a good user experience?
Even though writing great copy is important, you need to think about the user experience as well.
This is a very large topic that we can’t fully cover in this blog post, but let me just mention a few important points:
- Legibility. Choose a good typeface, a good size and line height, and have enough contrast between type and background. And lines should be between 45 and 75 characters wide.
- Navigation. Make it easy for people to get to the home page, find related articles, or contact you. Also make sure to add links between your articles.
- Layout. Your web pages need to be structured and organised in a way that makes its contents easy to understand.
- Performance. Your web site needs to load quickly. The most important measure here is to use a CDN (content delivery network) like Bunny CDN, Cloudflare or Amazon Cloudfront.
- Accessibility. Optimise your website for people with a physical limitation.
In addition, you need to think of ways of notifying your audience, as well as inviting them to sign up for the services that you offer (monetisation) — two other big topics that merits their own posts.
And finally, yes, you need to add a tiny sprinkle of SEO fairy dust.
What SEO techniques do I actually need?
Not many, really!
The most important things you need to take care of are:
- a sitemap to make sure that search engines find all articles on your web site,
- if you post an article through multiple URLs or on multiple sites, a canonical url on the original article, so that search engines know to rank the original higher than the duplicates,
- social previews so that articles from your site renders nicely on social media,
- structured data to help search engines create previews of your articles such as FAQs, featured snippets, image carousels and so on.
Once you have published your site, make sure to at least submit your site to Google and Bing.
To make sure that you don’t overlook anything important, you can use Lighthouse, a tool from Google that checks your web site for all important factors in terms of SEO, accessibility and performance.
Search engines have become smart to the point where they no longer like to be pleased. No matter what technical trickery you throw at them, they won’t be impressed, or worst case, might even penalise you with a low ranking.
That’s actually good news, because now we can stop worrying about SEO and focus on writing great copy.
The playing field has levelled. Now let’s start writing and do some damage!
- How to write clearly (Tom Albrighton, ISBN 978-1-8380545-9-5), is a great book to help improve your copywriting skills.
- Nielsen Norman Group has good articles on usability, writing for the web and persuasive design.
- web.dev has great resources on the so-called core web vitals and accessibility.
- On Web Typography (Jason Santa Maria, 978-1-9375570-6-5) is a nice, concise introduction to web typography.