The SEO and content marketing community are full of chatter as of now about Google’s Helpful Content update. The update started rolling out on the 25th of August 2022 and will take about two weeks to be fully implemented.
Every time Google updates its algorithm in a significant way, content marketers and SEO specialists worry about their site rankings and traffic. However, Google updates have had a pattern for a long time.
They have always prioritized content that answers search questions – to the intent and depth of the query. In one sense, the updates have always been “helpful content updates.” If you are someone who has always created content for humans instead of machines, congratulations. Your site will probably do well with this update.
With the update at the forefront, the digital marketing community also wonders what the future will look like for content. What will it take to win a position in the SERP in 2023? If you have asked this question, then this article is for you.
In this article, we will unpack what SEO content is, in its past, present, and possible future form. We will also take a look at the new trends that will affect SEO ranking in 2023. Finally, let’s see how we can create content that can rank in the coming year.
- What is SEO Content?
- Top SEO ranking factors
- SEO Content Trends in 2023
- How to create content for SEO ranking in 2023
- Conclusion on SEO Content
What is SEO Content?
The word “SEO content” can have so many different meanings. It can refer to cheap, mass-produced articles stuffed with keywords that clogged the web sometime back. The Panda update put an end to the practice for the most part.
Increasingly, it refers to content produced by AI writers. The quality of AI writing has rapidly improved over the years. Google has announced that machine-created content goes against its guidelines. But some in content marketing think AI content would become indistinguishable from human content in most ways. Therefore, there would be no stopping the bots from creating all lower-level content focused on keywords.
For the purpose of this article, we will define SEO content as,
- Content written by human writers to answer human search questions, often a what or how question
- Written to provide answers and in turn, drive relevant traffic from search engines
- Written to give a good reading experience
- Written with SEO best practices in mind
Top SEO ranking factors
Search engine algorithms are constantly changing. Most Google updates are too minor to notice. Others, like the Helpful Content Update, can change the entire landscape of SEO.
According to Google, it uses over 200 factors when deciding which content to rank. Only around 60 of these are directly related to content. The rest deal with other things, including
- Your domain: The age of domain, the length of registration, and the keywords in domain name (among other things)
- Backlinks: The quality, relevance, and the number of backlinks
- How users interact with your site: This is about the quality of experience your visitors have on your site. Includes things like clickthrough rates, bounce rates, dwell time.
- Features and factors related to your website: Site architecture and the trustworthiness of the site
- Your branding strategy: Your brand’s online presence matters. Having real social media accounts with followers and engagement is one factor taken into account. If there’s a lot of your brand + keyword searches, that helps as well.
- Other Google rules: These are about personalizing the search results for users and improving the SERP as a whole. Google will prioritize different pages depending on the query. For example, Pages with succinct answers, good format, and structure have a better chance of making it to the featured snippet section.
Factors directly related to content are called page level factors. This includes the well know items you find in SEO checklists. But the most important ones are the depth, relevance, and the quality of content.
What matters in SERP rankings is a never ending debate in digital marketing. But most would agree that the above factors matter and are the ones to focus on.
SEO Content Trends in 2023
With the Helpful Content update rolled out, content that ranks in 2023 will have to do more than tick off a checklist. The basics of SEO still apply, but content marketers will have to go beyond that.
Paying attention to the following trends and incorporating them into your content strategy and writing could pay off.
1. Thought leadership content
There is a lot of disagreement about what people mean when they say thought leadership content. But in general, it is content that is aimed at building trust and loyalty, written with perspectives, information, and insights unique to your brand.
With the rise of AI and the explosion of the amount of content online, ranking for utility keywords (how to do A, what is B) is harder and harder. Try doing something your competitors might not be doing.
- Bring in a unique angle to the article. Can you take a contrarian stance? Or share unusual but effective ways of doing something?
- Use information that is not used by your competitors. Stop relying just on other webpages. Consult subject matter experts, access books and journals, go through newsletters and podcasts.
- Do you have unique in-house material that can be shared with the wider public? Information from internal research? Case studies? Then make that information part of your content.
2. Product-led content
Product-led content is content that helps the reader solve their problems using your product. True product-led content is created from a strategic perspective and is extremely effective for SaaS when done right.
- Understand your product extremely well. Make sure the people who create content in your team have access to the product in and out. Let them speak to the product team.
- Create content that matches search queries and the use cases of your product.
3. Video and audio content
The changes in content consumption trends indicates that video and audio content will become more and more important. People like to watch and listen, often in binges and in background. Having video and audio content can also increase the dwell time on your website, giving an SEO boost.
If you have been producing mostly written content, it might be worth considering to repurpose some of the best performing content into audio and video. It is also a good call to complement new written content with audiovisual content.
While audio and video content are growing, there is still a need to produce written content. Some things are better said over writing – especially complex topics.
Further Reading: Video Marketing SEO: 11 Ways to Optimize Your Video for Search
How to create content for SEO ranking in 2023
1. Put content strategy first
If you have been using an SEO-first approach to your content, then it might be time to put content strategy first. Answer questions like,
- Who is our target audience?
- What questions do they have?
- What kind of content do we need to create to answer these questions?
- How does this content fit into our funnel?
Then head over to your favorite SEO tool.
2. Stop creating unhelpful content
Unhelpful content comes in many different forms. If you are guilty of any of these practices, please do better.
- Deceptive content: This includes clickbait and content centered around questions without an answer. For example, an article suggesting or outright lying about a release date of a movie, when none has been announced.
- Content on trending but irrelevant topics: “Everyone is talking about NFTs” is not a good reason to write about them. If a topic is not relevant to your target audience, don’t write about it just because it is hot. You can alienate your target audience if you do this too much. Whatever traffic you get is unlikely to benefit you. And your site might get penalized by Google.
- Low-quality content: This includes respun content and content that is clearly written by machines. And of course, duplicate content, keyword-stuffed content, and just bad writing.
3. Go beyond the skyscraper technique in your research
Typical SERP analysis includes looking at the top-ranking search results and then analyzing the word count, subheaders, and content in the resulting web pages. Paying attention to what is ranking is important, but make sure to answer these questions as well.
- Who is your competition’s target audience? Are you targeting the same people?
- What search intent is the ranking content trying to answer?
- What is common and what is not in the subsections of the ranking content? What are the top subtopics highlighted? Is one competitor highlighting a topic others are not?
- Can you satisfy the search intent with fewer words? Google does not take word count into consideration when ranking content. If you can refine your content and still satisfy search intent, you will do fine.
4. Write for humans, not Google
There are several steps to take to make sure you are not slavishly trying to placate the algorithm at the expense of your readers.
- Avoid overusing keywords and semantically related terms (LSI keywords). Google bots are now smart enough to recognize and rank content based on intent – even if the keyword has not been used a single time.
- Do not stuff your H2s and H3s with long-tail keywords. Use subheadings that draw the reader in while answering questions.
Further Reading: 7 SEO Copywriting Tips for 2023
5. Think like a journalist
Content marketers can learn a lot about writing from journalists. Even if you have no experience being one, here are some journalistic practices to improve your content.
- Craft a clear thesis for all your content. First, decide on your key message or argument. Then pick what points are you going to use as evidence. If there are objections or counterpoints to your message, address them.
- Have a well-flowing narrative throughout your writing. It makes great reading, even on the driest of topics.
- Fact check the claims you make in your content. Google does not verify if what you say is accurate on a claim-by-claim basis. But they have the E-A-T guidelines, which say that high-ranking content should be factually accurate.
6. Be an expert (or get expert input)
Gone are the times when anyone could produce content on any topic and expect to rank. You need an in-depth understanding of the topics you cover to get traffic. Some tips for creating expert content are as follows.
- Create content based on interviews with subject matter experts
- Get writers who understand your industry and domain to write content.
- If you are writing about a tool or a product, try it out or speak to end users to get information about their experience.
- If your content is centered around a particular location, make sure the writer is familiar with the area. Or speak to people who live there.
7. Create a great reading experience
It is now easier than ever to hit go back and visit another site. Make sure your content is easy to read.
- Use bullets, numbering, and lists
- Use visual aids when necessary – charts, graphs, images, and videos (depending on what you write – GIFs and memes as well)
- Use alt text to improve the accessibility of images.
8. Don’t forget about content refreshing
It is easy to forget your old content and focus on creating new. But refreshing your past content can give a boost in SEO and help your site ranking. Identify blog posts that drove traffic but fell by the wayside. They are the best posts to refresh.
- Update your old blog posts with new figures. Ideally, all numbers used in content marketing writing should not be more than 2 – 3 years old.
- Remove sections that are no longer relevant.
- Add new sections based on the changes in search intent
- Improve readability
Conclusion on SEO Content
It is getting harder and harder to rank in the SERP. Competition is getting stiffer and Google is evolving as ever. But using the tips here will set you apart from many other digital marketers. Good luck with your 2023 SEO efforts.
Further Reading: 11 SEO Best Practices to Follow in 2023
Kasun Pathirage is a freelance writer for B2B fintech and SaaS brands. Visit his website to learn more about his work and services.
Hero photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash