- Search is… hard: for users, search engines, and content creators
- Reason 1: We’re regimented by nature, and our regimens bias toward creating, not refining
- Reason 2: the way Google thinks of content “quality” serves experts at the article level, but hurts them at the site level
- Google thinks users should decide what “quality” at the site level is
- The second class of site level quality indicators relate to things like pages produced with “great care” and “attention to detail.”
- Emails to your list repurposed as blog posts is like gasoline on the “low quality” dumpster fire that is your site’s content
- You are so much closer to relevant traffic on your site’s content than you think.
Most experts seem to think getting meaningful traffic on their website content is out of reach.
The returns of claps and views on Medium, or dopamine hits of likes and retweets on social are better, the thinking goes.
And so, short-sighted and undifferentiated, experts congregate in these places instead of getting their own sites to be a curated array of easy to find high value content assets.
Meanwhile, those you seek to serve are in a constant state of looking for what they want and need. There is no more qualified traffic than users in the moment they are seeking an outcome. And that traffic, traffic from search is still the largest source of internet traffic to websites.
So Google (and country-dependent, other search engines) is not only the most qualified source of traffic, but also the largest source of traffic.
And yet, you don’t get that traffic. Why?
Search is… hard: for users, search engines, and content creators
- Users are not good at finding what they’re looking for.
- Search engines are not good at interpreting what users are looking for, let alone, measuring, weighing and prioritizing the millions of possible results.
- Experts are not good at organizing their thinking, or your web content would have good wayfinding for users or search engines alike.
Maybe you’d disagree with that last one.
But to that I’d ask, why does it take people a year to write a book? Do you not know your area of expertise well enough? Can you not write 50,000 words in a few weeks?
Of course those aren’t the bottleneck.
The bottleneck is refining thinking into content to a point of sufficient quality, with the right level of granularity, organized in the most impactful, easiest to consume way for an intended audience.
And because the expertise part is hard for those teams paid to write web content, and the organization part is hard for those experts reluctant to invest in improved quality of web content, the content we do see when we run a search is shitty, formulaic, designed for search engines by enterprises with deep content marketing pockets and the know-how to use cheap content labor to exploit users’ cognitive biases with simple tricks, resulting in a web flooded with “the 7 things you need to x.”
The hygiene content rat race is the result of:
- Google giving users what they think users want instead of what you know users need.
- Your competitors not having the time or energy to cultivate the expertise or do the thinking to provide the rich insights you provide.
- Your unwillingness to put your best content forward in aggregate and actively compete with the trash content that is out there.
To me, your competitive advantage is clear, if you would only seize it.
Okay, so organization for accessibility by users and search engines is hard.
Why? Why are experts bad at organizing their thinking and content effectively?
It would certainly make it easier for search engines and users to find that relevant content in that key moment.
Reason 1: We’re regimented by nature, and our regimens bias toward creating, not refining
Experts are good at habits. Thinking habits. Writing habits. “Marketing” habits. This exacerbates the problem for experts wanting to get their content seen. Habits that influence how content gets created, resulting in patterns, some good and some not so good.
As content on your site grows, it increasingly becomes a place where stored content is harder to find.
Creating without refinement is not exclusive to experts. It happens at scale online, so the amount of content grows on the web, doubling every few years, making it harder for search engines to surface content they can trust serving as a top result in a situation when other safer, clearer alternatives exist.
Rather than signaling trust and authority on your subject matter, your website’s content become obfuscated, and in the context of millions of other websites, inevitable inconsistencies weaken the signals search engines rely on to determine what should rank where.
For Google, it’s safer to return incumbent results, or results incrementally better than those results.
Reason 2: the way Google thinks of content “quality” serves experts at the article level, but hurts them at the site level
TL;DR on the rest of this post: experts are good at the hard parts of page-level quality, like expert, trustworthy, original. But bad at site level, because no organization means no quality control, and thinking by writing means results in too much similarity.
The way Google defines content quality is multifaceted, but predictable. Here is a cheat sheet if you’d like to learn more about site level and page level measures of high vs low quality.
For our purposes here, Google’s idea of article level quality are things that experts with content should be good at, almost by default: expert, trustworthy, unique, valuable, original, “complete.”
BUT site level measures of quality are different, and can be broken down into two distinct problem areas for experts.
Google thinks users should decide what “quality” at the site level is
Once class of site-level quality measures mean things like “topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site,” “users would recognize site as authoritative source on topic.”
But, expert content is not automagically compatible with what noobs are looking for.
I’m reminded of this bit of transcript from a research interview with one expert with a lot of content:
SEO has been a mild focus, although honestly it’s a bit tricky with my kind of blog which is less “resource you would search for” and more something someone else would recommend to you.Research interview participant
This expert quoted above is describing a facet of the problem without realizing it. Someone has to say to the user, “Oh. You have this problem? You should check out this solution.” And yet, search is designed for the user, with all their limitations and biases to get the answer they think they are looking for.
When Google defines content quality as driven by “genuine interests of readers”, that’s a big problem because users looking for answers are by nature not the best judge of authority on those topics. Maybe they are hobbiests, but they are not experts. But alas, this is the data Google has and user metrics are the master it serves to determine quality.
This is where you need to be better at meeting users where they are. They search “wrong” and so you need to be there at the wrong door to direct them where they really want to go.
The second class of site level quality indicators relate to things like pages produced with “great care” and “attention to detail.”
More indicative of site level quality is what Google deems as low quality at site level: “no quality control on content”, individual pages “don’t get as much attention or care”, “duplicate, overlapping, or redundant” pages with “same or similar topics.”
Does this sound familiar yet?
I am doing this right now! This post is a mishmash of thinking that I explored in a few other posts. There is redundancy in that.
I wrote a post last week with pretty much the same name and gist as a post I wrote a few months ago. I’ve found about 6 examples so far of that and I’m not halfway through.
You, too, are more forgetful than you may think. We bake remembering into our content creation processes for our own sake and our audiences’ sakes.
You have lots more near duplicate content on same topics than you likely think. You have thought and written about the same things for months, at least as far as laypeople and search engines can tell.
You also should be repeating yourself. Because people are forgetful. Because audiences need to become familiar with an idea before being willing to try it.
We are in a constant state of having the same conversations to convince the same approx. group of people of some thing. The bigger the transformation we seek in our audiences, the more repetitive we have to become.
But on your website, this repetition hurts site level “quality.”
Because the process of creating expert content is so at odds with the process of refining that content for layperson consumption, you need to become better at that second part, the transition.
Emails to your list repurposed as blog posts is like gasoline on the “low quality” dumpster fire that is your site’s content
I am doing this right now! We all do this.
Because of the way we try to leverage content across multiple channels given resource constraints like time and money.
We all have nice things, but they are scattered and in piles in our homes, because real life isn’t a staged home in a magazine.
And yet, to get your website to excellence, to a point of uncontestedly strong signals that you should rank in Google for a concept on which you are an expert, which you have thought more about than most anyone else, that you have better answers around, there is no room for all the nuance and fragmented array of thoughts across your site’s pages in a world where time is money and millions of other results are more on the nose with stronger signals and quicker takeaways for users.
You are so much closer to relevant traffic on your site’s content than you think.
So what should you do? Where do you start?
I think you have two options. Go it alone. Resolve to be better. I will provide some tips for this in the upcoming weeks.
Or get a content audit.
What is a content audit?
A content audit is the first step to developing a content strategy. It is the beginning of going from where you are to where you want to be, by more deeply understanding where you are right now.
You see where you are right now to get pointed in the right direction with confidence and clarity.
Without answering, “what do I have here?” right now, you literally cannot create a strategy.
“We’ll just flank them on the sides, Commander.” How are you going to flank? You don’t even know how many healthy horses you have.
We first need to count the horsies.
In a content audit, we:
- take an inventory of your existing content to collect available data in an accessible, queryable way.
- combine it with data from other tools to enrich indications of characteristics of your content, like quality, subject matter, and how your pages are connected, layering in competitive and technical website considerations when applicable
- analyze it to get clear on your content, measures of quality, and the context in which your content exists
- convert that connected data into insights, and sort to provide a list of initial recommendations for improvements
I want to make taking this first step as easy as possible for you with three options:
- read my upcoming emails and set aside some time to implement incremental changes to your site
- spend $2,500 for a standalone content audit (price expires at the end of the week)
- sign up for $500/month ongoing content recommendations, (6 month minimum commitment, price will not increase for rest of the summer)
Hit reply for details and if I can help, I will send you a sign up link.