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042: How To Fuel Your Content Machine with Kevin Indig (Shopify)

How To Fuel Your Content Machine with Kevin Indig (Shopify)

If you have any familiarity with SEO, you’ve heard of EAT: Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness. 

It’s part of the guidelines by which Google judges the effectiveness of its algorithm and a benchmark for content creators. 

Like anything else in the SEO world, people have tried to hack it, but in this episode of The Long Game, Kevin Indig, Director of SEO for Shopify, explains how to authentically establish trust in your content so that it inspires shares and links and fuels your entire content machine. 

This episode is shorter than usual because it was part of our Office Hours series, a bi-monthly virtual event where we get the best speakers and experts in content, SEO, and marketing to give 20 min practical talks for our audience. Register for free.

Show Topics

  • Have an SEO sandbox to experiment in
  • Create content only you can create
  • Build trust with backlinks and robust evidence
  • Give high quality recommendations
  • Increase trust and authority with original data
  • Individual growth leads to company growth

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Key Takeaways

03:48 – Have an SEO sandbox to experiment in

You don’t have to follow all the SEO rules when you’re working on your own projects. It’s a good place to try things out and see what works with low risk.

“The non-SEO stuff, it’s such a fine line, it definitely works better in terms of backlinks. I have this kind of theory that when something looks too optimized, that people are just more hesitant to link to it. Whereas if something looks more unoptimized and can argue about what that actually means, people are just more open to link to it. What I do with my personal stuff is that I hack around a lot and then just try out some things. It could be things like CMS or tools, but it can also just be like, Hey, what happens if I do this to a title or do that to a featured snippet? It’s a much lower risk. Whereas the sites that I work at, there’s a higher bar. You have to set up an experiment, you have to really think it through some success criteria. And for my own stuff, I just make the change. I have a crappy doc or spreadsheet, maybe it’s a post-it somewhere and just see what happens. So I also used my personal projects to just hack around and just try out stuff.”

11:29 – Create content only you can create

Differentiated content that can only come from your own expertise or data is a much better way to build a content moat as opposed to the skyscraper method.

“Anybody can create content on the internet. Anybody can add their opinion. And it’s very easy for people who have extreme opinions to find like-minded people, because the internet is very connecting. So all of that mixed together. You see the rise of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. It’s another kind of a trend that fits into this meta trend. And so as long way to say that people want to seek expert opinions. Let’s put it this way: authorities and brands who are trustworthy. I think the skyscraper method is almost on the other end of the spectrum, is almost the antithesis to that. And so I think about, what is the content that we, as a company for example, have to create? What is the content that we can create, and what is the content that we should create? And the ‘can create,’ that’s where maybe there’s some topics or content pieces that only we can create. And that is much more defendable than all the other kind of stuff. So the best strategies probably have a mix of all of those, but I would urge every company to think about what is the stuff that only they can bring up as the experts?”

13:26 – Build trust with backlinks and robust evidence

There are four main ways to establish trust as part of the EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) model that Google uses in its algorithm.

“Backlinks definitely come top of mind. I do think that, first of all, they still work like a charm. That’s my experience. And I do think that Google measures what they call EAT a lot of times through backlinks. But that aside, there’s a lot of meta factors that are being factored in the content when it comes to trust. So part of that is just how robust your arguments are. And the other part of that is how robust your evidence is. Google has started measuring what they call EAT specifically for YMYL sites, your money or your life, which are typically verticals like medical insurance, mortgages, these kinds of highly sensitive topics where the stakes are high. And in a lot of cases relatively straightforward to factor basic things in the account to measure how strong the evidence is. Especially in the medical fields. If you have a long list of medical research, that is one thing. But it is relatively straightforward to measure, even if the links point at something that’s relevant to the topic you’re writing about. So it could be quick to just link to some studies that maybe have the same keyword in the title. But Google is able to understand that at a much, much deeper level.”

15:14 – Give high-quality recommendations

Another way to establish trust with your content is to make accurate and high-quality recommendations that fit the topic.

“Then third is just how high the quality of the recommendation is. You see that in the medical space, the clearest in my mind, when you look at something like any basic disease. And when you look at the symptoms that the sites are ranking for those diseases at the top, list the remedies and so on. There’s a lot of superfine nuance that Google is able to understand that then in return increases the trust. So a medical site can link to all the studies that might be relevant for a certain topic, but if they give the wrong recommendation, then that is something that’s being factored in, of course diminishes the trust of users. So there’s a lot of detail in the content itself. And then lastly, there seems to be some sort of a user engagement that Google is also able to factor in. And I don’t want to assume what it is. Could it be clicks? Could it be the time people spend, the searches that they do, the search volume of the brand? It’s probably a mix of all of these things.”

17:13 – Increase trust and authority with original data

Using original, proprietary data and interpreting it for your audience can be another way to build solid trust with your audience even if it’s not measured specifically by Google.

“I worked at Search Metrics many years ago and we put out these regular ranking factors studies. And so I think there’s a point at which users will trust you more if your methodology is safe and sound, right. If you say we analyzed five keywords and we’re pretty sure those are ranking factors, probably not as trustworthy. But if you say we looked at a corpus of blah, blah, blah, many millions and so on, that is a different game. So the technology plays a role, your interpretation also plays a role. You need to be able to interpret the data. So it quickly gets into all these fine, soft factors and meta factors. But at the end of the day, proprietary data I think is a super powerful vehicle to also display your expertise in a field. If you have access to millions or billions of keywords, you hire a statistician to analyze them, you get some peer reviews from other known people in this space. You really go all in. That’s what I would consider robustness as well. And that certainly will increase the trust with your audience.”

20:41- Create a strong pillar to feed everything else

If you create a strong pillar around your original research and authoritative pieces, the keyword-driven clusters will thrive, too.

“What a lot of people miss in my mind is that the stronger your pillar, the stronger all the clusters will be as well. So it makes a lot of sense for me to invest a lot of time and effort upfront, maybe even a lot of money, to have the most robust pillar ever, because my clusters will benefit from it. And that’s then what I would consider a kind of a moat or a competitive strategy, because it’s going to be so hard for anybody else to replicate the pillar, when everybody actually just focuses on the clusters, if that makes sense.”

25:26 – Establish principles for growth

Kevin began writing down short, snappy phrases that encapsulate the things he’s learned so that he has a list of proven principles to guide him and build upon for growth.

“If you want to be successful and you haven’t worked on your principles, man, you’re going to have a hard time. And there’s a good reason for that. To build the bridge back, I earlier said that what I really learned is that the machine builds the machine. And so when we think about growth, the basic idea is to have high impact and use feedback signals to quickly iterate. So you need a signal, you need to do something and see does it work or not. And if it works, okay, how can we take it further? And how can we take it further? How can we take it further? The idea of principles is the exact same thing. The idea of principles is okay, I have some strengths and weaknesses. In the past, I learned some hard lessons by failing, basically by burning my fingers. The principles are basically what you learned from hard lessons so that you don’t fall into that same problem again. And the hard lessons are the feedback loop to the machine. So you can establish those principles for yourself to become a better leader, a better SEO, whatever. You also establish those principles for a team.”

26:54 – Individual growth leads to company growth

When you grow as a leader and improve with your principles, you also grow the company through better performance.

“It has to be a hard-won lesson. That is the key point about principles. And if you can establish those principles for yourself, for your team, for a company, and you can really embrace them, that’s when the machine that builds the machine gets better. That’s the trickle-down effect that I was talking about earlier. The hard revelation that I learned that, hey, if I make myself better, if I make my team better, then all of our output will become better. Our SEO strategies, our ideas. I stepped into a larger role a couple months ago. So we’re also thinking about email, we’re thinking about other things and products. But it all starts at the core, it all starts with yourself. How you manage yourself, how you manage your team, and that then trickles down into better ideas.”

28:25 – Make principles stick by letting your team come up with them

Your team is more likely to abide by these principles if you let them come up with them on their own. Then connect them to real-world examples of when that principle mattered.

“The way to instill those principles and have people really buy into them is to let the people come up with them. So if you just dictate them tops down, it’s not going to be as effective as sitting down with the team and saying, Hey, what did we learn over the last year, two years, five years, whatever? How can we distill that into principles? And maybe principles change over time. They don’t have to be static forever. They have to be helpful in the moment. They have to be helpful and make sense. So first thing is let the team come up with the principles. Number two, connect them to an actual real-life scenario. If you say just love the customer, what’s that going to mean? But if you can connect it to an actual situation where loving the customer was really important and led to a desired outcome, then it clicks, then it makes a lot more sense. So can you connect that to something that makes sense. And then third, revise those principles over time. I’m doing the same thing with my cheat sheet. Every year I look at it and ask myself, does that still make sense? Is that still accurate? Is it still helpful? So those are three ways to keep everybody engaged with those principles.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.