Someone on Twitter posed an interesting question: If you had no SEO tools, how would you advise someone to approach their content strategy?
This made for a fun thought exercise that we discussed on our podcast. We broke down a couple of scrappy ideas that are in line with the ultimate goal of SEO: ranking as high as you can.
To rank high in organic search, you need to create the best, most valuable content. And the best content addresses the searcher’s intent, answering the questions they had in mind when they were searching for that topic or keyword.
Typically, we find keywords that we know are a good fit based on the data we find in Ahrefs. Then, we write, edit, and publish content that’s up to snuff.
But if we didn’t use any tools, here’s what we would do…
An SEO tool like Ahrefs or Mangools will give you the most data on keywords, including search volume, level of SEO ranking difficulty, data on your competitors, and more. But simply Googling the topics you want to write about will also give you good clues.
When you search for broad topics, any space will look competitive. There’s a ton of content out there. But the more specific you get, the more you’ll be able to spot opportunities. If you search for the topic you want to write about and find mainly Reddit threads or Pinterest posts, that means no one else has created a structured resource on that topic. And that creator could be you.
Here’s an example: I’ve recently been on the lookout for minimalist patio furniture. I thought I would easily find design guidance by searching for it, but most of the top results are product category pages for retailers like Home Depot and AllModern.
(If you are reading this and are now considering starting a minimalist interior design blog, please send me a link when you launch!)
You can also use Google Search to hack the keyword research process. Search for topics you want to write about, and look for related searches.
For instance, using a Cup & Leaf tea example, if you search for “green tea” and then scroll down to the bottom, you’ll see “Searches related to green tea” with a list of similar search queries:
The downside is that there might only be a dozen or so monthly queries on those search terms. You won’t know for sure. But this tactic gives you a sense of related topics to consider writing about.
The next step is to look at the top five articles on the topic you searched for and read through them. First, figure out what makes that content high quality by asking yourself these questions:
What information did these articles include? When you read through all the articles, take note of all the information each website included and how thoroughly they covered the topic.
What are the commonalities in the information? Look for patterns, like if there’s a section that all of the articles included. This will clue you into what specific content within a given topic Google is rewarding. In the “green tea” example, all of the top five articles on Google include at least some information on the health benefits of green tea. If you were writing an article about green tea, you should include that information as well.
What media or rich media do the top results include? Pay attention to graphic elements of the top five websites. What kind of image did they use, and how many images are used within that page? Is there rich media, like a video or some kind of interactive graphic? If you have the interest and the resources, you can consider creating similar media to include on your website.
Now that you know what the top five sites are doing well, you can think about what you can do better than them.
Did one or two of those sites include information that the others didn’t? If there’s information that one of the articles included that others didn’t, you should think critically about whether that’s a section you want to include in your own content. In the “green tea” example, only the fifth search result, a Harvard article, includes information about flavonoids, a plant chemical that has implications for health benefits.
Does this mean you have to write about flavonoids? Not necessarily. But it might be a clue that you need to include more detail about the specific health benefits of green tea, which may or may not include the information about flavonoids.
What information do you uniquely know that would make this content better? Here’s where subject matter expertise comes into play. If you know the topic, industry, or intended audience really well, think about how you can create new content that includes information you know your audience would be looking for.
Let’s use the “green tea” example again, but with another spin. Maybe you’re working on a website dedicated to the Whole30 diet, a 30-day diet that emphasizes whole foods and eliminates certain other foods. Your article about green tea would be written through the lens of being Whole30-approved. You may want to include information about why someone on Whole30 might want to drink green tea, what the health benefits are, and whether there are ways to change the flavor of green tea while still adhering to the Whole30 diet.
Ultimately, reading through your competitors’ content, learning what they’re doing well, and thinking about what you could do better are all things you would need to do regardless of using SEO or content tools.
SEO isn’t always about going after the high volume keywords. Creating valuable content that other sites link to will boost your site’s domain authority and visibility.
When you have those backlinks, you’ll improve the SEO value of your site. But to do this well, you need to have a strong understanding of the space so that you know what kind of content will be most useful to its thought leaders as well as to the audience.
Ask yourself: What value can I create for this audience by looking at the content that already exists and making it even more useful? How can I support thought leaders in this space by creating new content that they will find useful to link to?
Let’s go back to the Whole30 example. There are a number of popular Whole30-focused blogs. You may be able to create useful resources for them, such as a thorough list about all the approved nut milk brands that most people can easily buy at major grocery stores.
Or let’s say you’re really into productivity and you want to start a productivity blog. This is a competitive space, but you’ll create value if you start publishing book summaries and notes — especially for lesser-known books.
Once you have resource content or content that you believe is link-worthy, you can start sharing your content with similar sites and like-minded communities. The key is to make a genuine effort to help people find the information they’re looking for. This means joining online communities, participating in the conversations, and becoming an engaged member — not just shilling your links.
If you have that Whole30-approved nut milk list, share it with the Whole30 sites you think would benefit from your content. Then find a Whole30 Reddit community and share it with them. Join a relevant Facebook group and if someone asks about nut milks, leave a comment and include a link to your list.
Just don’t post your links too often. You might get banned, or your posts might get deleted for being too self-promotional. Participating in online communities was one of our early tactics in sending traffic to Cup & Leaf. We wrote more about those tactics in our case study.
You can also pitch your content to reporters. On Help A Reporter Out, or HARO, journalists are actively looking for sources of information, so it won’t be seen as too self-promotional when you send out your links. But you need to make sure you’re sending them high-quality, relevant information.
Search engines’ algorithms are constantly evolving because they’re trying to cater to a people-first experience. They’re trying to give users the most relevant and most helpful information to best answer their search query.
All this means that at the end of the day, no matter what SEO tools you use, you’ll still need to create engaging content that’s focused on what the reader wants. So if you focus on creating the most valuable content in your niche, you’ll eventually drive results.
But if you want us to drive those results for you, you know how to reach us.
There’s no chance Growth Machine would be the company it is today without her.
As marketers, it’s easy to get caught up in the creation hamster wheel — only wanting to create, create, create. But even if you write the most poetic, Pulitzer-worthy piece, no one will read it if they don’t know it exists. That’s where content distribution comes in.