Si Quan Ong, of SEO firm Ahrefs is back. During our first conversation, we discussed how to come up with evergreen topics for SEO-friendly content for your website. This time around, we’re talking about how to actually create that evergreen content.
The main issue, says SQ, is that many businesses go about content marketing all wrong. They do what everybody else is doing… don’t see great results… and so they give up, thinking content marketing doesn’t work.
SQ explains the pitfalls to watch out for… and best practices to adopt so that content marketing is a huge asset to your business. Among other things, we cover…
- The #1 thing Google wants to see in your content
- The 3 characteristics of “good” content
- How to increase “dwell time”
- Does readability matter with your SEO-friendly web content?
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the 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 welcome back. Last time we spoke, we talked about what is evergreen content, how to select evergreen topics, and how to implement keywords and search queries that can be used for evergreen topics. What we want to continue today is to talk about how to create evergreen content. So now that someone has identified what are the main topics for their business, how do they go about to create evergreen content?
Creating Unique Evergreen Content for Your Website
Si Quan Ong: What I believe today is to create great evergreen content. Okay, so to backtrack a little, I think for many people, they are skeptical about investing in content. If they were to try to rank in Google, they will maybe find a freelance writer on Upwork … And they will just get their writer to maybe write a 500 to 1000 word essay, and just publish it. And then and maybe do some social media promotions, maybe send the article to the email list, and then move on to the next piece of content.
If your article is like everyone else’s (it is) hard to rank because today, ranking in Google is a little bit more difficult, as more and more people start to understand the concept of content marketing, and they start to invest more in content marketing. Secondly, even if you are lucky enough to rank with that short piece of content, it is very easy for another person to do the exact same thing and go to Upwork or Freelancer, maybe Pro Blogger Jobs, find a writer, maybe pay the writer a little bit more and get the writer to write something that you know beats yours—maybe a 1,200 word, 1,500 word article.
And essentially, you will still be trapped in the same content treadmill as before. So previously, you were stuck in the “spike of hope, flatline of nope” trap. You have to keep creating the content over and over, because you keep losing rankings because you’re just creating, you know, similar content as everyone else.
So to rank in Google to rank in the SERPs, what we believe at Ahrefs is that you need to have like high-quality content. You need 10x content or great content, whatever the SEO marketers call this kind of content. Because if you think about it, Google’s job is to deliver the best result for any search query. So you, as a creator, as a marketer, you have to show Google that you have that best piece of content. And if Google believes you, based on certain metrics that they measure, based on the factors they use, they will rank your piece of content on the first page, or maybe in the number one position.
They will give you a preference over time because they understand that you have the best piece of content and understand that you are always giving searchers the best result.
So the most important question right now, as the listeners might be wondering, is, you know, there’s a lot of talk about creating great content. But by yourself great content is a vague concept, right? Like what is great content? Like maybe so you get that freelance writer article, that 1,000 word article you paid for is a great piece of content, you love it.
But maybe it is not a great piece of content to your audience. Your audience thinks that it is terrible.
So what is a great piece of content? What we found, at least at Ahrefs, is that a good piece of content has three characteristics physically. So these three characteristics are quality, uniqueness and authority.
So let’s start with the first one, quality. So the quality of a piece of content is we are talking about, you know, is that piece of content easy to read, you know, is it interesting? Is it entertaining? Is it useful? Are there any spelling errors? Is it grammatically correct? Does the content flow?
You know, is it well researched? Does the piece of content actually solve the problem that the reader is looking for? And is the design great? You know, is it you know, is it kind of like mishmash with a lot of advertisement banner ads, you know, call to actions and stuff like that? So this is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about quality, we’re talking about the actual, for lack of a better word, the actual quality of the piece of content, like is it good writing skills, you know, stuff like that?
The Role of Readability in SEO
Steffen: Does readability play a big part in determining whether a piece of content is good or not?
SQ: Yeah, I think so. Many SEOs believe in the concept of dwell time. So essentially, you know, dwell time is when somebody typed a query into Google, and then click the first or second result. And then they stay on that page for the next, say, five to 10 minutes. So in Google’s eyes, like many SEOs believe in Google eyes, that’s great because you are telling Google, the searcher is telling Google that this piece of content or this page has essentially solved every problem that I was looking for, and which is why I’m staying there.
The dwell time is long. And so readability kind of effects the dwell time, essentially, because if the content is hard to read, the reader is going to bounce, right? You know, the read, oh, my God is this, firstly, is, maybe it’s grammatically bad, you know, the design is terrible. I can’t even read the next line properly, because there’s too many advertisements. And so I’m just going to skip this, I’m just going to try the next result. And you know, that signals to Google that, you know, okay, this is a terrible piece of content, we are not going to rank it so high.
Essentially, for me, there is another aspect of it is that when you write a piece of content, the purpose of any piece of content of any pitch, ultimately is to sell your site, is to sell your product or service, or whatever you’re selling. So readability helps you sell more because if the reader is going to read every single word in your content or on your page, it makes it easier for you to sell to the person. Yeah, because you can’t sell to a person who’s going to bounce after the first two sentences,
Steffen: So you talked about three characteristics. So one was quality, which we just touched now. Let’s talk about the other two.
Uniqueness & Authority: The Other Pillars of Great Content
SQ: Okay, so the other two is uniqueness and authority. So they are kind of similar. So in a sense that, okay, so uniqueness basically describes like, why would somebody choose your content over the rest, because what happens a lot of time today is when somebody is creating a piece of content, you know, they type that keyword a trying to target into Google. And they, what I do is that they just read the first three articles of ranking. And they take the points from the first three articles, kind of rewrite it a little and then publish it.
Oh, you know, this is my piece of content. But it is not unique. In a sense, it doesn’t present anything new. And if you don’t present anything new, nobody’s going to read it. Because you’re just basically saying the same thing as everyone else. And your reader has a choice between every piece of content, right? They can choose 1-2-3-4 on the first page, and he doesn’t matter to them, because you’re just sending to them.
Steffen: I understand how a reader will say, Well, you know what, this all sounds like the two other articles I read before. There’s nothing new for me when they scan the content and disappear very quickly. But how do search engines like Google identify that? Do they look at which article of the same content has been online the longest or other factors that Google uses to determine what the uniqueness is of a content piece? Whether it has new things?
SQ: Okay, that there is a great question. I’m not sure if I can say affirmatively how Google does this. Because Google is essentially like a black box, right? Like we can only guess. So what I will guess how Google knows that this piece of content is unique is maybe true links. So if you are presenting a unique viewpoint, or you’re presenting something unique that nobody else is talking about, then people are more likely to link to your content. And that signifies to Google, hey, you know, this article is something new, something fresh, you know, people are starting to link to it over time. And I think it deserves to rank better.
Steffen: So obviously, links are one element of the SEO equation. Does it basically means what you just said, the more links you have, the more likely it is that Google will see whereas a more authoritative content piece compared to other pieces that don’t have the same amount of links?
SQ: I would say in general, that is kind of true. So of course, in when you are on a first page, there are many factors that come into play, right? Like search intent, you know, maybe even dwell time. Maybe. I mean, there’s so many factors today that Google uses, that it is hard to say exactly why you were ranked number one or number two. So but I think, even to today, the factor that most SEOs agree with his links. So if you have a lot of links, in general, you’re going to rank better.
Steffen: So earlier, before we kind of dove into the three characters that kind of make a great content piece. You mentioned content sites. So the number of words an article content piece has. What’s the minimum of words, a content piece needs to have to make an impact? And is there something like a minimum?
SQ: Once again, I think this is a great question because if you go online, and you read, say, articles by Neil Patel, whoever, and they will say you need at least 1500 words or you can’t rank. But to me, I think there is a force metric or force number to measure yourself by because I could easily write a piece of content, that’s terrible. But it has 2000 words. You know? Yeah. So I think there is no minimum or maximum number of words that you should be focusing on. Rather, you should have the mindset that you want to create the best piece of content on a topic.
And to do that, you have to cover that topic in a lot of depth. So you have to talk about every, almost every single thing that somebody who is searching for that keyword or the query will want to know about, and if you cover every sub-topic on that particular topic, essentially, you will reach a certain word length. You will create long-form content because you’re trying to be as in-depth as possible. And there is no way to go in-depth by creating something that’s short. So instead of focusing the number of words, just focus on creating something that’s in-depth.
Content Maintenance for SEO Purposes
Steffen: So now that we talked about how to create evergreen content, how important is it to maintain that content? Obviously, there are so many companies out there that write content pieces about the same topic that someone else already wrote on a day by day basis. How often do content marketers, SEO professionals have to revisit the content and have to make sure that they update the content pieces?
SQ: Great, great question. So I think this depends on your industry. Firstly, so if your industry, if you’re working in an industry that doesn’t change often, if you have evergreen content, it is likely that you do not have to keep updating that piece of content.
So for us at Ahrefs we are in the SEO industry. And as mentioned earlier, the SEO industry changes a lot. You know, once Google comes up with an algorithm change, you know, many tactics stop working basically. So for that, we have to update our content pretty frequently so that we start talking about what Google has changed.
Okay, maybe not what Google has changed, but we try to analyze, like, what has happened, like, is our does our piece of content do? Is this the relevant into this climate? If it is, then okay, we don’t have to update it. If it’s not, then we have to change something. And how we do that is we track our ranking. So every page that we have on Ahrefs, we add it to our own rank tracking tool, so that we know its rankings over time. You don’t have to use Ahrefs. Of course, there’s many different rank tracking tools out there. I’m sure if you do a search for free rank tracking tools, you will find a few of them.
You can even do manual rank check by just entering the keyword you’re targeting into Google. But what we do is to, we what we do is to track our rankings. And if we start to see that our rankings are dropping for any particular pause of page, then we know that we have to start revisiting that piece of content on a page again, to find out what particular aspects of that page has gone outdated. Is it a screenshot? Or is it say, maybe a particular tactic no longer works because of the changes in the industry?
Is it some stats that’s become outdated? Or is it a sudden process that no longer works, because maybe a tool we suggest that previously has gone out of business or stopped working? And so on and so forth. There are many aspects that will become outdated. And then from there, we have refresh the content revisit, find out what’s ranking in Google again, find out if there is anything new about a topic that we should be talking about. And then we do an update.
Steffen: When you refresh content, you basically going back into the content piece that you have written in the past, and either take content out and replace it, or write new parts to the content piece, because for example, there is a new as you mentioned, a tactic might be outdated as a new tactic, how to solve a certain problem, or how to go about, you know, a specific marketing activity, for example.
SQ: Yep. So okay, so maybe this is specific to our situation. But we reference a lot of our toolset in our blog posts. And the thing is, our developers and our designers work really fast. So many times, when we use screenshots of our tool, you know, a piece of content, a year later, those screenshots go out of date, because our tools just keep getting updated. The design just keeps getting updated. And when you look at our blog posts and our tool, it looks different. So we have to work on updating those screenshots again.
So that’s pretty specific to us. But what I would do, if I were to be updating a piece of content, if I were to take the keyword I’m targeting and put it into Google again, to find out like what has changed over time, because sometimes it could be because the search engine has changed, like originally, that keyword had a particular search intent that we were ranking for, and maybe a couple of years later, the search intent has completely changed for the keyword.
And because the search intent has changed, our piece of content that we used to rank for no longer matches their search intent. So it doesn’t make sense for us to do it no longer makes sense that we are ranking. So when that happens, usually we don’t even update the piece of content, we will do a full rewrite of that topic because it no longer makes sense. So we will have a new round of research, we’re treating it like a new piece of content that we’re creating.
And you know, just follow the process that I mentioned, check the top 10 search results, what I’m talking about, are there any important points you want to keep? And then you know, do further research on other websites or forums, and then start talking to people and then create a great piece of content that matches the three characteristics. And yeah, that’s it.
The Importance of Link Building
Steffen: So we talked a little bit about links a little bit ago, but how important are links to making sure that your evergreen content first of all kind of makes it way up in the search engine rankings, but also maintains a position?
SQ: Okay, so as we mentioned, links are one of the SEO factors that almost every SEO agrees that it is essential. So if you want to rank better in Google, and if you want to keep your rankings in Google, it is important for you to have a lot of high-quality links to that page. So because I know that a lot of businesses, and even a lot of marketers, they don’t believe in doing link building. So and in fact, I’ve met a couple of marketers recently who focused a lot on SEO but didn’t do any link building.
And we were kind of trying to convince them that link building is very important because in our personal opinion, and in our studies and stuff we have found that rankings correlate with backlinks, basically. Yep. So I think at this point, a good example I would show you is that our competitor, Moz, has this guide, Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which has been referenced over and over again by almost every site in the world when somebody wants to learn SEO. And if you check the number of links that that particular guy has, it has 118,000 links from almost 12,000 domains.
And basically, no matter what we do today, we will have to invest a lot of money to try to (outrank the Moz guide because) it’s ranking number one for almost every beginner SEO query. So for us, if we want to beat that piece of content, if we want to start ranking for beginner SEO queries, we have to invest a lot of money into link building,
Steffen: is there a minimum number of links that a content piece should have in order to link to rank quick or to move up the search engine ranks?
SQ: I think once again, this depends on the query. So it depends on how many links the keyword you’re targeting, the pages for those keywords they are targeting already have. So there is no minimum or maximum, it all depends on the query you’re targeting.
Steffen: So Google is frequently changing the algorithm and what elements they consider as being relevant for SEO. From your perspective, is there a specific structure, a specific solution, that leads to better results for content pieces that we haven’t talked about yet?
SQ: Honestly, I don’t think so. Because I mean, just basing on our experience, focusing on the process that I talked about earlier, and focusing on covering evergreen topics, and focusing on creating the best piece of content for those topics, you don’t have to worry about any algorithm updates. In our company, even though we are SEO focused, we have never worried about any algorithm update, because we know that we are doing the right thing.
We know that we are always trying to present the best value for any of our readers. And we know that that’s why we rank in this one, we’re not worried about any algorithm updates, because we’re not doing anything shady.
Steffen: So it sounds like having a proper content marketing plan with proper evergreen content approach is a little bit bulletproof when it comes to Google changing their algorithm because at the end of the day, what people are looking for is content. They are looking for information on search engines to their search queries to the questions they have. And if that is presented in an informative and knowledgeable way, there should be no danger in losing ranks just because they’re for traffic, just because Google is doing another algorithm update.
SQ: Yes, that is what I believe in. And I think I thought in another podcast with Jordan Harbinger. He was talking about content creation. And he said, most platforms, Google, Facebook, Quora, Twitter, they have the same end goal, which is to keep the reader or the user on the platform as long as possible. And to do that, they require users or creators to create a great piece of content, because this is the reason why they are staying essentially.
You don’t have to find hacks or tactics or whatever to try to game the system. You just have to believe in the long-term strategy. And, you know, create interesting, entertaining, good pieces of content that the algorithm will essentially promote over time because you are helping the algorithm do its work.
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: You can check out my articles on Ahrefs.com/blog , that is 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: Wonderful. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered Podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at some symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.