In this episode, Katie and Chris discuss the evolution of SEO and where it’s going, where AI and machine learning fit in, and what trends to be aware of as you create content and optimize it for search in 2023. Tune in to learn more!
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What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.
Christopher Penn 0:00
In this week’s In-Ear Insights, let’s talk about SEO, search engine optimization as we head into the remainder of 2022.
And into 2023.
There’s a whole lot that has happened in the last 369 12 months.
In SEO, we’ve seen new models come out from Google at plenty of announcements, huge algorithm changes, like the Google helpful content update.
And one of the things that we’ve been talking about internally a Trust Insights is how much SEO expertise you need.
Now, Google just released yet again, some brand new guidelines.
And they’ve they’re actually much simpler than they used to be.
So there’s two parts, one, make sure your site works.
And to his list of things not to do, and it was all, you know, spammy stuff, basically things that were like working SEO tricks 15 years ago, that aren’t any more.
So Katie, when we talk about SEO, and and doing SEO, and whether you need to be an SEO expert, what comes to mind first for you.
Katie Robbert 1:11
I mean, the first word is optimization.
You know, and so it’s, you know, the basics that I usually go through when creating content is making sure that I have a focus keyword, making sure that the content is formatted correctly, that it’s long enough that it saves during the question being asked, and that if there are backlinks to include I include them or if I have a way to get other people to backlink to our content that I do that.
So I make sure that all of those things are in place.
So that in my head is, you know, if I’m doing those things, then I’m at least checking the boxes on basic SEO, I’m not going too deep, but I’m not ignoring it.
Christopher Penn 1:51
I’m gonna suggest, actually, what I would like you to do briefly is, could you recap, in general, the five P’s?
Katie Robbert 2:02
The five P’s are purpose people process, platform and performance purpose being? What is the question being answered? What’s the problem? You’re solving people? Who’s involved in it both internally and externally process? How are you doing the thing? Platform is what are you using to do the thing and performance is? Where are you successful? What is your measure of success?
Christopher Penn 2:28
For people drink SEO, because of the nature in which Google’s AI models now work.
Beyond the technical basics, you know, make sure the site works, doing all the usual housekeeping stuff, the most important thing that you can do, as a content creator, is build a sort of a five page checklist for the consumer.
So what is the purpose of the content you’re creating? Like what you know, to your point? What questions Does the content answer? Who is consuming the content? We’re the people that are reading the thing that you want to have for you? The process? How do people consume your content, right, which dictates the platform? Do people want to read your content? They want lots of cool pictures, do they want video? Do they want audio? All of these modalities that Google now supports in its enhanced AI models? And then performance what? What is the next step for the customer? After they’ve consumed the content? Now, obviously, as marketers, we want them to like, hey, buy our stuff.
But realistically, should there be other performance measures? So from that perspective, Katie, when when you when you take a look at your average blog post that you’re working on, walk through how you would think about the five P’s with a piece of content you’re working on, from the customer’s perspective,
Katie Robbert 3:44
from the customer’s perspective.
You know, I would I mean, the the first four P’s purpose, people process and platform, I think you have those pretty well covered.
It’s the performance, the measure of success, that I think you need to get a little bit deeper on.
And so you said that the measure of success in that example was some sort of taking an action? I would say even prior to that it’s Did you reach people where they’re at? Did you create content that people actually want it? And that comes through, you know, different metrics, such as impressions and clicks and engagement, and return users and you know, that page being one that contributes to conversions.
And so making sure that you’re looking at your measures of success from all angles, because if your measure of success is purely, I want people to take the call to action from where I sit, I feel like that’s too vague of a measure.
It doesn’t really tell me if we were successful, because let’s say the call to action is a contact form.
Well, guess what? That’s not the only piece of content that leads to the contact form.
So I need to understand was this particular piece of content helpful? And so that goes back to what is the purpose of doing this whole exercise in the first place? Well, the purpose is to create a piece of content that people will find helpful and will then lead them to take some kind of an action.
And then you start to go back through well, who are the people? We want to take the action? Who’s the person who needs to create the content? What is the process for getting the content created? What is the dissemination process? And then the platform? Where is this disseminated? Where is it hosted? How easily can they access it? Is it gated or not? And then you go back to performance?
Christopher Penn 5:31
So you have the five piece of the marketers perspective, and the five piece from the consumer perspective.
And one of the things that that I heard you say, was taking a look at like your keywords and stuff when you’re when you’re creating content? Again, let’s flip that around.
How would you take a keyword phrase? And how would you create a customer user story around that take something like marketing mix as as your keyword phrase, how would you turn that into a user? What is the user story? And how would you turn that into a user story?
Katie Robbert 6:01
So a user story is a simple sentence that has three parts to it as a persona, I want to, so that so the as a persona, the persona is the person, the audience, the I want to is the intent, and the so that is the outcome.
And so basically, the formula is you create these user stories to help get organized, so that you have the audience you have how you’re going to do it, and you have what the outcome is.
So in this instance, so marketing mix was the key word, right? Yes.
So it’s, as a marketer, I want to understand what the marketing mix is, so that I can apply it to my current marketing plans.
So that’s a very straightforward user story, but that then gives you the roadmap of, okay, now I know what my content needs to be about for this marketer, I need to explain what marketing mix is and how to use it in their marketing.
Christopher Penn 7:01
Right? And from what you were saying, then how does that apply to the performance from that, from the users perspective? How would you measure the performance of that piece?
Katie Robbert 7:10
So I would measure the performance of that piece by the amount of traffic that it gets the amount of reshares that that piece of content gets? Because those are indicators that people have found it helpful? And that answered the question.
Christopher Penn 7:24
So when we talk about upgrading our SEO practices, one of the things that you’ll note is that there’s not a whole lot of technical fumbling around here, other than, you know, make sure your website works, you’ve got, you know, a logical progression.
But for the most part, it’s about creating helpful content.
And that is something that, you know, maybe you should you can talk about is you’ve expressed frustration in the past that a lot of our keyword lists and things that various tools generate aren’t super helpful by themselves.
And I was wondering if that’s because we don’t attach user stories to the keywords.
Katie Robbert 8:06
I find our list unhelpful, because it’s because of its redundancy, because of its limited, we’ve expanded our keyword list to a few 1000 keywords.
So it’s not a small list.
But the way in which we look at it in terms of, you know, we use a predictive forecast to understand the popularity of any given search term during the course of the year, but then we also look at it in terms of volume and difficulty.
And what I get frustrated with is that I keep coming back to like the same half dozen keywords over and over again.
And so I start to move down the list in terms of, well, nobody’s really searching for this thing.
But we could create content around it.
And is that then become a waste of time, because nobody’s really searching for this thing? Or are they not searching for it? Because that’s not the way that they would talk about it, or we don’t know what questions they have about it.
And so I find keyword lists limiting and frustrating for those reasons.
Christopher Penn 9:08
Do you see people or when you read people’s content content, that is decent content? Do you see the use of the user story in implicit in the content itself?
Katie Robbert 9:22
You know, I don’t know I’ve, I’ve never looked at it from that perspective.
Because a user story in some ways, in terms if you think about it in terms of content, you have a basic framework of, you know, what, why and how.
And so you could map a user story back to that in terms of what is it? Why do I need it? How do I use it? A user would be, you know, who needs it? How do I use it, and what is it? You know, and so in some ways, good content, does map to user story, just not in that exact way.
It should answer the what why and how.
Um, you know, but understanding the intent of the end user.
So what did they want to get out of the content, we can tell them how to apply it to their marketing, but maybe that wasn’t their intent.
Christopher Penn 10:13
Right? I guess on this angle, because there’s still a lot of folks in the in the search engine optimization world that are looking for the next technical trick, the next shortcut, the next magic button to make SEO easier or faster, or whatever.
And given the complexity of the AI models that power SEO, nowadays, the days of the easy tricks are done.
I mean, they’ve been done for a while.
And as a result to to reach the next level of content creation, you’ve got to step up to actually helpful content, even things like your AI generated content.
When we look at the outputs of these things.
They don’t really fulfill user stories, like they sound good, they sound coherent and readable.
But there’s a reason why Google has come up with an algorithm to adjustment, like the helpful content update, because a lot of the stuff that machines are repurposing and sort of regurgitating isn’t super useful.
It doesn’t, when you read a piece of machine generated content, it’s pretty clear, there isn’t a user story embedded, it’s just a regurgitation of some some basics.
Katie Robbert 11:24
Well, and you know, to sort of step backward, this was one of the reasons why I wanted to create a framework like the five Ps, because what I was seeing was a lack of emphasis on the people and the purpose.
And I felt like those were steps that were missing in, you know, digital transformation, or in, you know, artificial intelligence, it’s implied that people have been taken into consideration, but it’s not really, you know, demonstrated that they’ve been taken into consideration.
And so I have started my one person revolution, to change that, in terms of the five P’s and, and putting people and the purpose right up front.
Because ultimately, at the end of the day, people are the ones consuming this content, people are the ones who need to do something with this content, people are the ones who are programming, these AI models and these algorithms and all of these things, and it tends to get overlooked and forgotten.
And so there’s a real person at the end of the line, either on the internal or the external side of it.
How do you
Christopher Penn 12:37
keep marketers from being too self centered, because one of the things that is likely to happen as the mark is right, I’m gonna read to us the story of this piece.
As a marketer, I need 500 visits on this content piece so that I can generate 15 leads, which is a valid user story.
But it doesn’t help the customer.
And Google is focused on helping the customer not helping us the marketers?
Katie Robbert 13:01
Well, that’s why you need to be creating user stories from the perspective of the customer.
It’s an exercise that tries to get you to step into the shoes of your end user.
And it’s so I would say, in that case, you know, it’s not as a marketer, it’s as the end user, I want to find content that answers my questions about marketing mix, so that I know how to use it in my marketing planning.
And so is this roughly the same user story, but by starting it with as the end user versus as a marketer, which is a little too vague.
Someone else who might be reading that user story might go, okay, but you’ve still made it about yourself.
Because no end user is going to say, as an end user, I want to read content that’s going to get me to click on things 15 more times.
That’s, that’s not a realistic user story.
Christopher Penn 13:57
But how do you get people out of that mindset of, I’ve got to make this thing about me, I’ve got to, I’ve got to make my content about me, I got to get people to click on my stuff.
Katie Robbert 14:09
I mean, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him put on a bathing suit.
And so if you are working with someone who is stuck in that, let’s call it the narcissistic mindset of it’s all about me and what I need, then their content is going to fail.
Because if they’re just writing content from their perspective, then it’s just for them.
It’s for nobody else and nobody’s gonna want to read it.
So in some ways, it’s a lesson they have to learn on their own when the content does not do well.
Christopher Penn 14:40
Okay, but what my job is contingent on the content doing well, and my boss doesn’t understand is like, no, no, this means like 10 more links in there.
10 more buttons called 10 more calls to action, make the logo bigger
Katie Robbert 14:50
than it you know.
It’s a really interesting question, and you’re asking me about human psychology.
versus just creating content? You know, I don’t have a quick answer for you like a quick, snappy answer.
But it’s something that takes time.
It’s something that takes, you know, consistent examples of what’s working and what’s not working.
And there does need to be some failure built in so that people can understand this is why your approach needs to be, you know, modified.
You know, it’s, I could ask you the same question like, Chris, how do you get, you know, how would you make me less selfish? And it’s not something that like you’d be able to do overnight? I would imagine.
Christopher Penn 15:37
No, but I think your piece of advice in there about having a book of examples like here’s content that does really well go into the SEO tool of your choice, pull out putting your keyword like marketing, mix, whatever, pull out the top performing pieces, and go through them qualitatively, one by one and say, Look, how many calls to action, there aren’t in these pieces, right? Look how long and in depth as please go over to like, or media studios, Andy Crestodina.
Has your blog posts, and look how many sales pitches there aren’t in these 10,000 word pieces that are designed to be helpful, and then look at content that is clearly self centered, even just the language I mean, a real simple exercise is to go through and just count up how many times you say I or we versus how many times you see you in your writing, right? How are you writing to the person on the other end of the screen? That when we when you have that right mindset, you’re going to start changing the behavioral metrics that again, Google takes into account things like pogo sticking, do you go into a listing, and then pop right back out? like, Nope, that didn’t answer my question, next results, and so on, and so forth.
How much time do you spend consuming content? Do you look for related content on a site? All of these things are behaviors that Google obviously can track with Android devices, and Chrome browsers and stuff, as well as their own servers.
And we know that they do play a participating role in the ranking of sites as to how helpful something is, if someone pogo sticks into a piece of AI content.
They’re like, wow, this was totally unhelpful.
It does weigh against it.
So to to answer the question, it would be showcasing the metrics of here are the pieces that we know do well.
And here are the pieces, here’s our stuff and looking at the language that use between the two and say, like, yeah, we need to be talking less about us, and more about you.
Katie Robbert 17:32
Or you tell that content writer, congratulations, you’ve been promoted to the sales team.
Is there is there is a place for that kind of content.
But you need to be clear about what your intention is with that content.
And so if you say, this is a sales pitch, people expect it to be all about you.
Versus this is a piece of helpful content to educate you than they expect it to be about them.
And so either type of content is fine, as long as you’re clear about the intention of what it is.
Christopher Penn 18:04
Right? And that goes back to having the user story.
Yeah, so the reason we bring all this up is because we’ve been talking to some folks in the in the content in the SEO industry over the last few months, as we’ve been out and about at all these different events.
And some folks who have some more, I guess, behind the scenes inside lines have been saying that the changes that happen in 2022, they’re not one and done.
These are continually evolving changes in how search engines rank content.
And we know that Google’s your multitask, unified model, that’s the fancy name for the new one is continuing to evolve is it’s not just rolled out in that’s that it is learning as it goes from all the data that’s being generated.
So the more unhelpful your content is, the more it doesn’t have a user story, the less well, it’s going to do over time.
It’s been very interesting looking even at the you know, our own metrics, the Trust Insights, metrics, we started doing repairs on just some basic stuff.
Back in August, we saw, you know, slight nudges upward here and there.
And then, in the last couple of weeks, as the latest core algorithm rolled out, our numbers went really high.
And in terms of, you know, search traffic, it’s, you know, search has moved up from like number five and our attribution model to like, number two, in terms of channel importance.
And I suspect it’s because, as we’ve, you know, we’ve been creating helpful content trying to create helpful content for a while, but now the algorithms are more aligned to the type of content we have.
And so for us, our next steps, I think, would you know, is we start planning out content more for the coming years is to say, Look, maybe we do need user stories, particularly if we’re going to subcontract with anybody.
You know, having that user story at the top of the creative brief, probably would be super helpful for works?
Katie Robbert 20:01
It, the purpose of a user story is to keep focus is to make sure that every action that you’re taking, you know, aligns back to the overall goal that you’re trying to reach.
And so that’s what a user story is meant to accomplish, it’s meant to make sure that you are involving the right people, is meant to make sure that you are taking the right actions.
And it’s meant to make sure that you are answering the question being asked whatever that question may be.
And so, you know, we include user stories in reporting, in terms of what is this report meant to do, I don’t see why we wouldn’t include it in a piece of content, what is this piece of content meant to do is essentially just another version of an outline that you would give to a writer,
Christopher Penn 20:43
it’s really interesting that you mentioned that because when I think about when we create content, we don’t necessarily define the first part of the story as a, you know, ecommerce manager or marketing CRM or whatever, we typically will have a key word and a topic, but not necessarily a person in mind that because you could then take that same user story of the same topic, like marketing mix, as a CMO, you know, marketing mix would be different than as an E commerce manager, we very different content with the same keyword, but a very different user story.
Katie Robbert 21:15
No, and that’s true.
And, you know, when I write content, I think I write for the general marketing space versus a, you know, specialty or, you know, an executive level.
But I do think that there’s definitely something there in terms of you no one.
So this could sort of go back into like the usefulness of a keyword list.
And making sure that you’re not cannibalizing yourself trying to rank for the same keyword in a bunch of different things, but different flavors of the same topic.
For different audiences that are related, you know, the CMO, the marketing director, the Marketing Associate, so on and so forth, and creating the kind of content that they might necessarily care about.
And so this construct, feed into your hero hub help content plan, you know, the, the hero being as a CMO, the hub being as the marketing director, and the help being as the Marketing Associate.
Christopher Penn 22:16
Definitely, and also the, you know, to kind of what you’re saying about unpacking user stories? It’s sort of the why, what and how, the how is very much that that helpful content, the hub is where the what is the thing? And then the hero content is why are we even talking about this? Why is do I need to focus on this? Last week, when we were doing our own internal reviews of some of our marketing data? You know, we were commenting that things like the private social media communities, paper that is very much a y thing.
Why is what is this thing? Why do I need to pay attention to this? It is not, it’s not a how to document at all.
And having a content plan that incorporates all three.
I think if you were to unpack a user story about it, because I don’t remember one thing.
So when I was doing this, he actually made me write out.
Katie Robbert 23:02
I did, because I was struggling to see the intention of the content, like I’m sure you had it in your mind.
But in order for me to help, you know, edit, and polish it I needed to understand who is this content for?
Christopher Penn 23:19
You? Yep, I’ve got another piece of content I need you to take a look at later.
But it sounds like that, as you’re building out a content calendar, if you’re stuck with the same old keyword list, maybe writing out user stories for your top 10 keywords would make it more specific, and then you’re no longer beating a dead horse.
Now you’re you’re digging down to specific audiences.
One of the things that I love the Andy Crestodina, set, marketing process, B2B form and a content marketing was its specificity correlates with conversion, the more specific that something is, the higher it tends to convert.
So if we take something like change management as a very generic term, and we build out a user story for change management for a very specific role, yeah, 90% of people are like, yeah, that article is not for me.
But for the 10% people are good or bad.
That’s for me, they will eagerly dig in.
Katie Robbert 24:13
Well, in what’s interesting about change management, is, you know, the user story is the anchor of change management, because in order for change management to be successful, people need to understand how they specifically are impacted.
And so that then, you know, translates into, how am I specifically impacted by this piece of content? How am I specifically impacted by this measurement plan? And that’s why putting people upfront in this process is so important.
And so the user stories I do believe should be detailed.
You know, you can have it from the perspective of your stakeholder from the perspective of yourself from the perspective of a prospect or you know, a repeat customer and just trying to understand from their lens, what do they need out of this thing? And how does that change it?
Christopher Penn 25:05
So it sounds like, Yeah, unfortunately for for me and my love of toys, it does not sound like the future of SEO and 2020 is gonna be awesome new models, although it might be in some ways, some small part.
It doesn’t sound like new, new techniques or gadgets.
But it does sound like the use of user stories and the five P’s framework would dramatically focus people’s SEO efforts to to generate more the content that the audience is actually want.
And is this fair to say if you’re struggling to create a user story for pieces of content, you probably don’t need to write that piece of content because there isn’t a there there.
Katie Robbert 25:47
I would agree with that with the caveat that you can, you know, always dig a little bit deeper.
But yeah, I mean, that’s the whole point of user story.
If there’s no user story for it, if there’s nothing that logically makes sense, this probably needs to just go back into the you know, backburner pile, and you can revisit it later.
You know, in a real example, so I made you create that user story for the dark social, the communities, the private communities, paper, not dark social, I apologize to the private communities.
And so I would imagine that the next phase of that is, okay, so you’ve created the why, like, why do we care about this thing? How can you use that same content and repurpose it for a, you know, what do I do with private communities and make it that how to not start to bring it down to that next level of content so that people can go oh, okay, now I know what it is.
Now I know why I care about it.
How the heck do I use this thing?
Christopher Penn 26:45
Katie Robbert 26:47
Spoiler, that’s the content you want me to review? No, no,
Christopher Penn 26:49
no, no, that’s, that’s the book I’m going to be writing in November, I’m going to instead of writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, I’m going to try and write that book.
No, there’s I’ve got a different paper on the great marketing reboot,
Katie Robbert 27:00
what I would recommend, and I would be interested to see how this exercise plays out is set a user story for each chapter.
And then that way, the chapter itself, because I know for me, when I’m writing, I can tend to sort of go off on tangents, and then be like, Wait, how do I get myself back to this thing, but if I have a user story for, you know, a chapter or a section, then I can at least go Wait, does this fit in here? So maybe not for the initial draft, but for the editing process?
Christopher Penn 27:30
Might be worth trying.
Because we have to crank out 2000 words a day, is the requirements.
So we’ll see how that goes.
Katie Robbert 27:40
And let’s be clear, this is a self inflicted requirement.
It’s part of the contest.
Christopher Penn 27:47
So for your own SEO planning, if you’re as you’re planning out, and you’re looking at your keyword list, and you’re saying yourself, gosh, it feels like there’s nothing new It feels like we’re straining.
Adopt the five P’s process, adopt user stories into your SEO process, make your content more specific, make your content more focused around as a whoever your audience is, they need you.
So that and see how it changes your content planning and your content creation as we head into the new year.
If you’ve got comments or questions, or you want to share user stories that you’ve built for your own content, pop on over to our free slack, go to analytics, trust insights.ai/analytics For markers, where you and over 20 100 other marketers are asking and answering each other’s questions every single day.
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