SEO is often presented as a huge checklist of things that need to be done before you can even consider hitting publish.
Miss a step and your content will be dead on arrival.
But the truth is some of those things can make a big impact on how content ranks, but some of it is just noise.
Dan Shure, founder of Evolving SEO and host of Experts on the Wire, said good SEO comes down to paying equal attention to both the big picture of content—the structure and purpose—and the small details that make a difference. Getting too bogged down by one or the other will lead to content that flops.
In this episode, Dan explains how he handles that balance and tunes out the rest. For a massive amount of actionable tips on SEO strategy, tune in.
- Pay attention to the big picture and small details
- Don’t waste time on perfect if imperfect will do
- Nail first sentences
- Label content types
- Fit the structure to the keyword
- Put SEO over promotion
- Check out Evolving SEO
- Follow Dan Shure on LinkedIn or Twitter
- Listen to Dan’s podcast: Experts on the Wire
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36:04 – Pay attention to the big picture and small details
Well-crafted content, like a piece of music, should have a greater overall purpose as well as details that make it work. You have to pay attention to both the big and small elements.
“I see it all the time in search, where if we get too lost in the details in an article it’s going to flop. If I only focus on the big picture, we’re going to miss a lot of the important details and it’s going to flop. So when I’m doing content, I help guide clients all the way through from just the overall structure, what are the H2s? What’s the general flow to the very specific details of how does this sentence communicate to Google and users what we want it to? So you can analyze a document, a paragraph, a sentence, and a word by all kinds of different attributes. Whether it’s transactional in tone, is it a positive, neutral or negative sentiment? Is it a noun, a verb, whatever, adjective. What’s the possible topic that that piece of content aligns to? All of it. And so that’s one thing I have to do with clients is help them understand and analyze and work on content so it fits those buckets better. So in other words, you don’t want a blog post to have all kinds of transactional-oriented content on it, because a blog post is more informational in nature. It should be things about, what is this thing? How do you use it? What are the benefits? The history or the facts or whatever.”
39:19 – Approach SEO like a comedian
Comedians iterate their routines and work them out in front of an audience. Content has to be published to see what’s actually working, too. That’s why it’s important to do just what needs to be done to get a result.
“I always like to say doing content for SEO is like being a comedian. So a comedian works on their material in front of an audience and then refines it with that actual feedback loop. A comedian literally can’t work on the material without an audience. We, as content publishers for SEO, we can do what we think is a really good blog post, hit publish, but we actually don’t know if it’s going to work or how well until we get that feedback loop from Google. The impressions, the clicks, the click-through rate from Search Console or ranking data or something like that. So a lot of the reason why I just ship it and then iterate later is because of that mechanics of SEO. You talked about mental models as well. So probably my biggest operating mental model is the 80/20 principle that I also got from Tim Ferriss years ago. It’s changed the entire way I approach everything. So we could talk 80/20 as well. But just for anyone that needs to get caught up, a lot of people mistake what they think the 80/20 principle is. It’s not the idea of going, we’re going to spend 80% of time here and 20% on other things. It’s the idea that the inputs are indirectly proportional to the outputs. So 20% of your inputs are going to result in 80% of the results or output. And you can combine any two sets of data to get to that.”
42:59 – Don’t waste time on perfect if imperfect will do
If your content is meeting the majority of requirements to make it successful, it’s a waste of time to try to get it to 100%. Go ahead and ship it and see how it performs.
“In the SEO world, I have some concrete things, lines that I get to, and I know we’re ready to ship. For example, I like to do a lot of topical analysis on content with a tool called ContentAced, which is kind of a newer tool, but it analyzes your content against a keyword and tells you topical gaps, essentially. So if we run that through the tool and it gets a D, we’re not done yet. It’s just the tool is telling you we’re not done. But if I run it and we’re getting a B or an A, and I look at it as a human. I’m like, yeah, I think we’ve got 80% of the topics we need to account for in this blog post, then we’re done. Then I’m like, let’s publish. See how it goes. So what I’m thinking about is it’s going to be another five hours, hypothetically, for some content person to have to add in the last remaining 20% of topics. That five hours is not important enough to spend the time now. What I’d rather do is publish in Google, see if it’s good enough.”
45:01 – Nail first sentences
Dan has his clients run their content through the Hemingway app and rewrite any hard-to-read sentences. But the thing he zeros in on the most is the first sentence of a piece of content.
“Another thing I’m really adamant about with clients is the first sentence of a piece of content. And so when we’re doing that for SEO, let’s say, I have a client that sells precious metals. So let’s say the post is the most valuable pennies. I always encourage the client to make the first sentence about that exact topic, because that anchors the topic for Google and for users. So a lot of clients will make the mistake of going, why coin collecting is fun and you should do it and blah, blah, blah. The common example of what you’ve seen broadly is all the recipe bloggers that tell the full story about their grandma. So that’s a whole other topic, but so I’m, I’m very, very adamant about having a really good first sentence. I want that to be perfect, but I’m not gonna make every sentence be perfect in the entire piece of content. Let’s really nail the sentences that matter. So first sentence. Maybe the one thing I’m very adamant about is the structure of what is and definition sentences. So those I’m going to be very, very particular about.”
47:58 – Hit the right mark of transactional to informational content
Dan always makes sure that the content reflects the transactional to informational ratio that appears on a keyword’s search results page.
“So I always look at though, are we hitting the right mark for that degree of transactional to informational content? And literally what I usually do is just estimate the percentage of transactional to informational of what I’m seeing in Google. And then I just want my client’s website to mirror that same percentage. So if I’m seeing product widgets and category pages and ads, and if 80% of Google’s search results page for a given keyword is transactional, I want my client’s piece of content to be 80% transactional. So product widgets, for sale language, buy language, product benefits, all that kind of stuff. So that’s another really, really important thing that I think a lot of people miss.”
51:11 – Label content types
Giving the content type a label before you write it ensures that the structure and format of the piece matches what the searcher is looking for.
“So for every blog post, I have certain categories of content. One might be what I call an information list. So that could be benefits of marketing or marketing strategies or types of marketing. Anytime you have that plural noun in the search phrase, it’s telling you the user wants a list of these things. That’s what I call it, information list. And that’s my most go-to content type, because it’s just a, it’s what we call listicle. But I don’t like to call it that, because that sounds low quality. It has that kind of negative. Yeah. They’ve done really well. When you look at most content in Google, it’s all list format stuff. So I always label versus content, like ‘marketing versus advertising.’ So the reason I label the content type is because that’s my first step at getting the client towards having the right structure on the page. So if it was marketing strategies and they did the complete guide to marketing, that’s a mismatch in content type. The user doesn’t want a guide to marketing. They want just a straightforward list of strategies. Conversely, if it’s literally a search for ‘guide to marketing,’ we don’t just want to give a list of strategies when we want to actually make a guide. So getting the right content format’s important.”
55:35 – Be aware of intent gaps
Sometimes a piece of content has a different purpose than the one you intended for it, like buying guides acting as bottom of the funnel instead of mid-funnel, or informative posts leading to conversions.
“There’s a great concept of intent gaps. I think somebody wrote a post a little while ago and they called it intent gaps. And another example is in the precious metal metals world, people think you can buy gold and silver at spot price, which is basically the lowest possible value for gold and silver, but you can’t actually do that. But people go to Google and they search ‘buy silver at spot price,’ which you can’t do. So I had my client create a piece of content called why you can’t buy silver at spot price. And they completely destroy it with that piece of content. They rank well, they get traffic. They even get conversions from that because it creates trust. But the point there is, who would ever thought a piece of content saying why you can’t do this thing that you just Googled is actually going to outperform everything else. But it’s this weird intent gap. So it’s just very fascinating how you can’t always rank with a literal search, might make you think you can rank.”
58:15 – Fit the structure to the keyword
For many teams, topic clusters and pillar pages are the mainstays of SEO. But they don’t work for everything. Dan thinks the keywords should dictate the structure of content.
“It doesn’t work in most situations or it could get you a decent amount of the way there, but it’s sorta like the one size fits all plan, if you can’t or don’t want to come up with a more custom strategy or plan. So I always say let the keywords dictate your structure. So whenever I’m helping clients build out content or stuff like that, it’s like let’s let the keyword landscape dictate what that structure should be. Like just good information architecture. I feel like another mental model would be, let’s let the information architecture reveal itself. I feel like a lot of times when I’m doing SEO and keyword research, I’ll often say my job’s not to be creative. My job is to uncover just the natural existence of keywords and searches that are out there and find that sort of natural synergy that they should fit into. Not force it into this pre-built idea of topic clusters or pillar page or something like that. So that’s another big way that I think very differently from many, many people doing SEO out there.”
1:03:58 – Don’t worry about EAT
Google’s quality raiders guidelines originally defined the idea of EAT, or expertise, authority, trust, as how to make your content optimized for SEO. But Dan doesn’t think it’s actually helpful because there are no concrete rules for what it means.
“What do you do to a page to make it more EAT optimized or whatever? There’s not a lot there. It’s maybe some things that happen to help with the algorithm directly or make the content better in some way. But I just find there’s a lack of it being concrete. I’d much rather look at a piece of content and say, I can definitively say how transactional this language is. That’s definitive. And when you think about that, that’s the type of thing Google’s algorithms should be able to detect. So anyways, I say a lot on Twitter, I’ve spent no more than half a second ever thinking about EAT when it comes to my clients’ content and SEO and optimization. So I think Google has learned to analyze text and content so well that they understand when it was written by an expert. And it’s very field and topic-specific. They know what an expert piece of medical content is versus an expert piece of marketing content. It’s pattern recognition. It’s looking for what types of sentence structure and words and sentiment and all that kind of thing.”
1:27:20 – Put SEO over promotion
Dan doesn’t do any big outreach campaigns for his clients. He believes if a piece is SEO optimized, it will get linked back to on its own.
“Depends a little on the situation, but in my day-to-day with clients, we don’t think about content promotion at all for the most part. Or my job as an SEO practitioner, my philosophy is to, as they say, build really good content, let it get crawled, indexed, found on Google. People will link to that content on their own. So I’m a big fan of passive link acquisition, not this sort of outreach or whatever. And the site authority will build on its own. People will share the site. If a company is doing real stuff, they’re going to be doing hopefully PR, marketing, advertising that should promote them anyways. And like sometimes what I’ll often try to do is help them layer best practices of SEO into what they’re already doing. But for content specifically, once in a while, I might nudge clients to share things on a channel that’s important for them like LinkedIn or Pinterest or something. But for me personally, I don’t really ever go down the path of large outreach campaigns or whatever. I’m a big fan of paid promotion on content in social. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, even Quora, stuff like that.”
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