When Google tweaks their algorithm, many website owners scramble to figure out new tricks to stay on top of the search results. But not Si Quan Ong and his colleagues at SEO firm Ahrefs.
They know whatever Google does, quality content will always be a key part of an effective SEO strategy. However, they don’t focus on posting every day. Instead, they post blogs and articles that will always be relevant.
We talk about how that slow but steady evergreen approach pays off in more and higher-value traffic, as well as…
- The difference between evergreen content and evergreen topics
- How to deal with keywords and search terms with a lot of competition
- The best platforms to find keywords for your SEO efforts (it’s not what most people consider #1)
- One of the best ways to gather intelligence on your competition
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode: www.ahrefs.com
You can read the second part of this discussion here: Si Quan Ong | Content Marketing Strategies
Steffen Horst: Welcome to Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today we’re going to talk about how to create evergreen content for SEO. Here to speak with me about the topic is SQ, who is responsible for marketing and customer success at Ahrefs, a trusted SEO platform powered by industry-leading data. In his role among other things, he crafts unique and authoritative content pieces for the Ahrefs blog. SQ, great to have you on the show.
Si Quan Ong: Yep. Good to be on the show too!
How Did You Get Started in Web Advertising?
Steffen: SQ, you know, I always love to find out how the people I’m talking to start in advertising. How did you start in advertising?
SQ: Okay, so for me, I was actually in the army. So I’m from Singapore. So in Singapore, we have to serve a compulsory two years in the military. And because I was just in between schools waiting to go to university, I was in the army and you know, there are periods of, there were pockets of time where I had nothing to do basically. So I started picking up books and reading. And it was this period where I kind of discovered Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Workweek. And that was a very inspirational book for me.
Because in a conservative Singapore society, a lot of us are taught to be employees, you know, get a good job and a decent salary, man of the month, but Four Hour Workweek actually introduced me to concepts like entrepreneurship, marketing, and stuff like that. And it really got me into trying to find out more about what this whole, you know, entrepreneurship thing is about. And from then on, I started getting interested in marketing, I started reading marketing books, like books by Jay Abraham, by Dan Kennedy. He was trying to learn copywriting. And after that, I had a friend who was working in HR for a tech startup.
He hired me got me into marketing as one of their first few marketing hires. And you know, from there, I started, you know, playing around with marketing, testing, the different strategies that I read about online and in books in podcasts. And from there. I mean, it’s a long story. So from there, I kind of met like David Pham, who is currently head of Asia marketing at HubSpot. He was then head of marketing at Referralcandy, he invited me to join as content marketing manager. And then one year later, I met Tim Solo, who is the head of marketing at Ahrefs. And you know, that’s how I came to Ahrefs basically, that’s my career to date.
How Did You Get Started in SEO?
Steffen: So when did you first get in touch with SEO, and especially content development?
SQ: I came upon SEO and content marketing when I was in my first job at a tech startup. So it was a relatively new startup, they didn’t have a lot of money. They didn’t give me a budget to play with. So I couldn’t really do like PPC or paid advertising. So I had to do a lot of research and reading about, like free traffic strategies, basically. And it was then like, a lot of marketers online, like, adding at a point of time, I was reading stuff from Brian Dean, who is known as Backlinko online.
I was reading stuff from Noah Kagan, and some are marketers, John Morrow from Smart Blogger. And it was then I learned that, you know, if you don’t have money, you have time. And if you have time, you can kind of like create content, and try to get it to rank on Google. So you get passive traffic over time. And that was how I got started. Basically, I tried to replicate, like the skyscraper technique, you know, there was taught by Brian at a point of time, and yeah. And from then I just started learning about how to create long-form content, how to kind of do outreach, build links, sort of and stuff like that.
What Ahrefs Does For Business Marketing
Steffen: Now you work with Ahrefs, as I said, which is an SEO platform that helps marketers improve their SEO, tell the listeners a little bit about the platform.
SQ: Okay, so Ahrefs is a toolset that, you know, helps you grow your search traffic and research your competitors. So it is kind of an all-in-one SEO platform, we have five major tools. They are known as Site Explorer, Content Explorer, Rank Tracker, site audit, and keywords Explorer. So basically, if you’re doing SEO, or if you are in the SEO industry, usually what they do is that if they want to do certain aspects of SEO, they will have to invest their marketing budget into buying several tools. So for example, if they want to run an audit of their site, they might purchase a tool like Screaming Frog.
And if they want to, say do keyword research, they might use maybe a couple of free tools like AnswerthePublic, or it might invest in certain professional or paid premium keyword tools. So the strength of a dress is that we’ve just one pricing. We have four plans right now, that differ based on the amount of data you can get from the platform, you know, we’ve just one pricing, you can basically get access to all our major tools, which allows you to do almost every aspect of SEO. So you can do competitive research, keyword research, content research, you can run a technical audit of your site, you can track the rankings of the site and stuff like that.
Steffen: Great. So we’re obviously talking about SEO, which is search engine optimization. And what search engine optimization is, is to optimize your site contents and your site in general, to achieve high rankings in search engines on search engine result pages. SQ what elements are part of a successful SEO strategy?
SQ: Okay, so in my opinion, it might differ from maybe different SEOs. But I think in my opinion, an SEO strategy has kind of like five steps. So you have to do keyword research, of course, you have to create great content that matches search intent for Google. And you have to build links to those pieces of content, or even those pages that you want to rank on Google.
You have to run technical audits to make sure that your site is good for Google to crawl an index, because if there are any technical issues, and Googlebot can crawl your site, then all your efforts go to waste, basically. And the final step is to track your rankings, you know, check your results and find out if there is anything that you’re not doing right, if there’s anything can improve on and then basically just rinse and repeat the process over and over again.
Steffen: So there are obviously several parts to successful SEO strategy. And we will not be able to go into each of those individual parts today. But I think two areas we’re going to touch upon today, which is keywords and content. Keywords, obviously, because when you develop content, content is usually developed based on the search query or a keyword that you deem as important for the services or the products that you want to promote. In particular, today, we want to talk about evergreen content, as mentioned in the intro earlier, so SQ. What is evergreen content?
SQ: Okay, so, if you google evergreen content, basically, what most articles online would say that evergreen content is essentially content that never goes out of date. So evergreen content basically revolves around a topic that’s always relevant to readers, regardless of whatever is happening currently in the news cycle. Or regardless of the season, whether it’s the winter, or whether it’s Christmas or stuff like that.
So basically, why it is called evergreen. The name comes from the evergreen tree. So it is a tree or a plant that retains its green leaves all year round. It doesn’t shed his leaves in autumn or winter. Yeah, so that’s why marketers I guess, being the geniuses they are, they decided to take the name from the plant. Yep. So, that’s what’s called evergreen content. Yeah.
Steffen: Okay. So you mentioned topics are obviously important, you want to find a topic that is relevant 365 days a year and a topic that is relevant to a company’s business. Tell the listeners a bit more about topics, it obviously is different to content. So where is the difference between topics and content?
SQ: Okay, so when I mentioned, if you google the topic, evergreen content, a lot of articles will talk about how evergreen content is basically content and never goes out of date. But the issue or at least the issue that I find is that it is not so clear, cut or straightforward, because I believe that there are two aspects which you mentioned. There is evergreen topic, and evergreen content. So an evergreen topic, essentially topics that have basically consistent interest and such volume over time. So these are topics that no matter which year it is, whether it is today, or 2119, or you know, 2200, people will always want to know about these topics.
So some examples that I can think of, it’s a how to lose weight. So I believe that no matter what year it is, whether it was a hundred years before today, or 100 years later, people will want to know how to lose weight. Right? It is an important topic. I don’t believe that it is a topic that will lose interest over time. Another example is how to fry an egg. So at least I hope there is an evergreen topic because I love eggs. And I think many people will still want to learn how to fry an egg in the foreseeable future. Unless there is an invention that fries eggs automatically then maybe the topic will lose interest. Media is those are evergreen topics.
But evergreen content is content about an evergreen topic that never goes out of date. So you can have evergreen topics, and you can have evergreen content about those topics. Okay, so here are some examples of evergreen content. If you’re talking about how to lose weight, then they might be even Google like how to lose weight, you might see articles from like how offline has been published since 2007.
And it’s still evergreen is the works. The fundamentals of weight loss is the same basic weekly, so that no matter how outdated that piece of content is, it is to evergreen because the fundamentals doesn’t change. Same for how to fry an egg. So at least from my limited knowledge of cooking, the techniques for frying an egg is pretty much the same no matter which year it is. So whatever posts they rewrite in the 2007 or 2017 2027, it will be evergreen, essentially.
Steffen: Is there a number out there on how many content pieces you should create for each evergreen topic? Is there a limit there?
SQ: For me personally, there is no limit. So I can give you an example for our blog at Ahrefs. So the ahrefs.com blog is currently receiving about 200,000 search visits a month purely from Google. And what we’ve done is essentially just focusing on evergreen topics and evergreen content. We like we are in the SEO industry. So things change a lot in industry, you know, every time. An example is like almost every year, Google comes up with an update. So I think just recently Google came out with an update.
And, you know, many people in the SEO industry will scramble to cover like the latest updates the news, and you know, give opinions or like theories on why is happening, what the update is about and stuff like that. But for us, we don’t cover anything like that at all. We only focus on the most fundamental evergreen topics like on-page SEO, like link building, like outreach. And yeah, so these topics never change the techniques and fundamentals are generally similar no matter which year it is, no matter how many times Google updates its algorithm. So yeah, we only cover evergreen content and evergreen topics. And so far, we are doing pretty well. So I see.
Steffen: So how detailed does a topic have to be? So for example, we’re a digital marketing agency. So if I say my evergreen topic is paid search, that’s obviously very wide, because we’re in that we could talk about how to create keywords, how to find the best keywords, but we could talk about ad copies, about landing pages, URLs, extensions, and you name it, obviously, there’s a wide topic. Or does it make more sense to break the topic further down? Instead of saying paid search, maybe talking about how to write ad copy, or how to pick keywords and then basically selecting content pieces around that more specific topic?
SQ: That’s a great question. So how we doing here at Ahrefs, essentially, we always look at the keyword and its search intent. So search intent is basically the reason why a searcher is looking for a query in Google. What I would do if I were to write an article about paid search is to enter that particular keyword into Google. So enter a paid search into Google. Or if we have our two set Ahrefs keywords explorer, you can enter into QS Explorer and look it up.
But essentially,what you want to do is to go through the top 10 results, the first page of Google and to find out what kind of articles or what kind of pages are ranking, and try to figure out like, who is searching for this type of content? Why are they searching for it? And then after that, look at the top 10 ranking results and figure out what kind of topics they cover.
And why is Google ranking these pages in the first page and not see the pages on the second page or the third page? So essentially, that is my process of figuring out what I need to cover in the piece of content. And yeah, and that’s how I know kind of like the topics that you cover in that piece of article that I’m writing.
Implementing Proper Keyword Strategy
Steffen: When you look at the search keywords and the number of traffic, obviously, there’s also competition there that turns that have a higher competition than others. Do you go after the high competition, high volume? Or are you suggesting, for example, to go more towards mid competition and high volume or low volume keywords? What’s the best approach for that?
SQ: So I really think this depends on your site. And it depends on how new or how far into how many years have you been blogging or like writing content or have the site. So for us at Ahrefs, we are pretty authoritative. At the current moment, we have been doing SEO for a number of years, I think three to four years, we’ve been investing a lot into our SEO. So right now today, we can basically write about almost any topic, no matter how competitive and we will stand a decent chance of ranking.
But if say you are a new site, and if say you are creating a, you know shopping page or a landing page and the top 10 results from the Amazon, eBay, Walgreens, or any of the large authoritative websites, that you will find it it is very difficult to rank. And you will need a lot of investment in SEO. And if you’re a new site or a have a small business, you may not have that kind of budget. So for me if I were doing that, or if I were building a new site today, I will go for low competition keywords. And I think it is important at this moment to talk about the idea of Keyword Difficulty.
So I think many people when they are doing content research or keyword research, they may perhaps start with the most popular free tool, which is Google Keyword Planner. And I think they changed the name recently but I’ll just call it Google Keyword Planner for now. And there is a metric I believe caught competition in Google Keyword Planner. So the thing is that Google Keyword planner is not a tool for SEOs, it is a tool for doing paid AdWords, right paid ads.
And the competition that is mentioned in Google Keyword planner is essentially talking about the competition of bidding. The competition of you know, being able to appear on the page search results. So it has nothing to do with SEO. But a lot of beginners, because they have a thing that Google Keyword Planner’s is competition metric is talking about the competition in the search results. So they think that there is the metric they should focus on, which is wrong, because that competition metric does not describe the competitiveness of the organic search results, or rather, the page search results.
So if there are using an SEO tool, like Ahrefs, or Mars or SEMrush, or whichever SEO tool they prefer. Usually, these tools have a metric called Keyword Difficulty. And it, of course, it depends on the tool, how they calculate Keyword Difficulty. But if you’re using those tools, you can do a filter for, say high search volume. Maybe say 1000, searches a month and above and low Keyword Difficulty, maybe Keyword Difficulty 10 and below.
And once you do a filter like this in any of these tools, you will be able to see easily those low competition keywords that you can start targeting for your website first, before you move into the more difficult keywords. At the end of the day I believe if there is a keyword that is important to your business that you need to rank for, because it basically either describes your business describes your product describes a service, then no matter how competitive it is, even if you are competing with HubSpot, Shopify, you know, Amazon, eBay, you will still have to find a way to rank for a keyword no matter the difficulty.
The Power of Evergreen Content
Steffen: So we talked about how to select keywords and how important it is to look at the difficulty to rank for those keywords. But why is it important to create evergreen content? I mean, I could just push out content pieces every week. How do I get the benefit from creating content that is evergreen?
SQ: There is a great question because I think I’ve talked to many people over the years, and they publish articles every day or every week. And but they realize that, you know, their blog traffic or their search traffic isn’t growing. And you know, they often wonder why because if they ask any experts, they will say you know publish more frequently, the more you publish, the more likely you will rank. But for us for Ahrefs that experience is not true. Because I think maybe three to four years ago, we were doing the exact same thing.
We were publishing very frequently, and in three to four times a week and our search traffic plateaued at you know, 15,000 visits a month, and he never grew beyond that. And after that, I think there was when Tim joined the marketing team three years ago, and he redesigned the entire, maybe redesign is not a word, but you know, he restrategized for our SEO and content marketing. And we decided to purely focus on evergreen content with a purely focus on only creating long-form unique and authoritative content. Even if we had to publish once a week, or you know, once every two weeks, we will do it in that manner.
And our search traffic started growing, you know, faster and faster and faster. Yeah, so basically why evergreen topic is important. And evergreen content is important is this concept, initially introduced by Rand Fishkin, he was the founder of Mars. And if you look at most organic traffic charts in Google Analytics or Ahrefs, you will see that every time you publish a new post, there will be this huge spike of traffic. Because after you publish, maybe you send that traffic to your email list. Maybe you promote it on your social media, maybe you know, you’re promoting it in social media communities like Reddit, Slack groups, Facebook groups, stuff like that.
And you get this huge spike of traffic. And you always feel good about it. Like, yeah, I’m gonna get a lot of traffic from these particular post they just published. So in the SEO world, we call this the spike of hope. Because there is a spike, you know, you’re hopeful that this article will be the new one that will give you more traffic over time. But actually, what happens is that over time, as you know, interest has to disappear, then the traffic usually just flatlined after that because the this how people create content is that they just, you know, sitting in a room, they brainstorm all this is a topic that my audience likes, we’ll just write about it.
And then they never do any keyword research or content research. So they just keep publishing this kind of content. And they keep promoting it, they get a spike of hope. But because they have no, there’s no like, such traffic potential behind all of this content. So basically, all of the articles flatline later. And now we call this a flatline of nope. So they get a spike of hope. And then again, flatline of nope. So no traffic from any of these individual articles. And then they have to basically get stuck in a situation where, because all of the articles get no traffic today.
So they have to keep publishing to get a spike of hope, to create their false idea that a blog is growing, which, you know, kind of just puts them on the hamster wheel, you know, create content, get this spike of hope. No more traffic after that. Focusing on evergreen content, what happens is that because these are topics that always have interest, they always have search volume, they, in fact, maybe their search volume is growing over time.
And once you rank in Google for these particular keywords, you will essentially get like search traffic over time. Like, we have articles on our blog right now that, you know, maybe we publish two/three years ago, and we’re still getting traffic today. And it’s, in fact, growing like we’re getting more and more as we are ranking for more and more keywords, we get more and more traffic over time, rather than experiencing the flatline of nope. So this is the power of evergreen content.
Steffen: So obviously when you go about to identify keywords that are relevant for your evergreen topic, you also should look at whether those keywords have a positive trend, because the positive trend in the past, obviously indicates that there is a consistency in search traffic. What systems do you use to identify a positive trend of search traffic over time?
SQ: I will say we don’t have a particular system. But what I would do if I were to be researching a keyword that I want to target is that I will put that keyword into Google Trends. So Google Trends is a free tool from Google that shows you the trend of search volume over time. And if you see that a keyword, so for some keywords, they may have a very high search volume. But the thing is that is a topic that declines in popularity over time.
So let’s say there was a period of time that fidget spinners had a super high search volume, maybe even a million. I’m not sure about the exact number. But I think if you put fidget spinner into Google Trends today, you will probably see that it’s skyrocket is like going towards the bottom, like the interest is a topic that is no longer popular. So if you just look at search volume alone, you might think that oh, you know, feature spinners is a good topic I should cover.
But you are wrong in that aspect. Because over time you will get less traffic because nobody’s interested in fidget spinners anymore. unless some ingenious entrepreneur finds a way to reinvent fidget spinners, of course.
Steffen: I mean, for new topics that’s probably really difficult to identify a positive trend over time. Because if there is a new topic, even if it has potential to be an ongoing topic that people talk about in 1/2/3/4/5/6 years and more, you wouldn’t see that in a trend shot. You have to then kind of trust your guts or how would you go about that?
SQ: So this is referring to say maybe new topics that are a new industry that you do not know that it is a fad, or is going to be affecting industry positively does that make sense? Uh, I’m not sure if I have a good piece of advice for that. Because basically, we do not cover those kinds of topics on our blog. We try to avoid that until we get a sense that it will be something that many people in our industry will talk about over time. So I think maybe a good example is TF idea. So at least I think over the past year, many SEOs started talking about TF idea.
But we resisted talking about it for the entire year. Because firstly, we didn’t really believe in TF idea. Secondly, we weren’t sure whether it was just a fad that, you know, SEOs started talking about and you know, maybe like three to six months later, they will move on to a new shiny thing that they want to talk about. Let’s just put it this way. For us personally, because we are involved in industry, we talk to our customers very often we talk to fellow SEOs very often. So we kind of have a general sense of what is something that will be important over time.
And what is something that is going to be a fad, you know that maybe it will only be talked about for three months. And for that period of time, we will resist covering that topic because for us, there are still many evergreen topics that we can talk about. So we don’t have to necessarily talk about the latest trend. Yeah, so we just talked about the more evergreen topics first and then if we are sure that, you know, as we sit back and observe and we are sure that the topic will be important to the industry in the next couple of years. And then we will start to look at the topic.
Steffen: SQ thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking to you about you know evergreen content and how to develop evergreen content. How can people find out more about you?
SQ: Okay, so you can check out my articles on ahrefs.com/blog. Or you can tweet at me if you want to have a conversation with me on my Twitter account, which is my full name SIQUANONG, no spaces.
Steffen: SQ thank you for sharing your knowledge on evergreen content with our audience. In the next episode, you and I will talk about how to identify and ride evergreen content to generate a steady growth of organic traffic.