Heading into the new year, I’m usually full of cautionary notes about SEO, keywords, rankings, and organic traffic, all tied to search engines like Google.
These days, I’m optimistic because technological advances could be a real win for companies that keep up with SEO best practices.
The work will be more time-consuming than difficult. You (and your team) will need to focus on multiple types of content, from blog posts to podcasts. Yes, you need to work on page load speed and secure featured snippets. But expect your content – website pages, videos, images, and audio – to work for you to a greater degree as long as you’re creating it to meet strategic goals.
Google seems relentless in unearthing the best results for searchers. Enter the Google Multitask Unified Model (MUM) update, an AI-based algorithm designed to streamline searching.
MUM compares complex queries to give people what they want the first time they search. For content marketers, MUM will increase the odds that your content (not necessarily a text-heavy page) will be selected for a search result.
Keep these quick tips and reminders at the ready as you make your SEO plans for 2022. (As always, make sure to test any changes with your own data.)
Understand searcher intent
With MUM, Google advanced its ability to understand what someone wants from a search query. You should do the same. It’s easy to attract the wrong kinds of visitors and prospects to your content. That often leads to low click-through rates, few conversions – and complaints about low-quality leads from sales (and marketing) colleagues.
Think about creating content with an understanding of your ideal searcher’s intent. Is it informational, transactional, or navigational content?
You’ll probably need to create content for all three types, with most visitors arriving in research mode.
Of course, you can’t anticipate every content scenario. For example, a search for “heat exchanger” could lead to a visit from someone ready to place a sizeable industrial order. But sometimes, the searcher is someone who has a question about a heat exchanger in their home. It happens. But your goal is to minimize worthless, time-consuming leads from the “wrong” kind of visitor.
In many cases, keyword phrases are a dead giveaway about the types of websites someone hopes to visit.
Enjoy traffic you never expected
In 2022 and beyond, you may find your content ranks for keyword phrases you’re not targeting. In some cases, the words won’t even be in your content. You may get some top rankings and learn some phrases to focus on in future content.
In some search results, you may rank for keyword phrases that aren’t even in your content, says @mikeonlinecoach.
CMI, for example, ranks well for 3 Stunning Visual Storytelling Examples. The word “web” doesn’t appear on the page, but the article ranks No. 11 for “visual storytelling for the web.” I expect that kind of ranking to occur more often as Google refines its algorithm.
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Make your passages count – Google can look at them all
Sometimes a passage in your content will be the driving force for a search engine result since Google can now index passages as well as pages. Here’s how I described this indexing capability in an article last year:
Picture a website page with 15 paragraphs. Before this change, the 14th paragraph likely had little value in the eyes of Google. After all, it’s a small part of the content and is near the bottom of the page. Maybe, at most, it helped define the overall point of the content on the page. And yet, that paragraph may be the answer to an often-searched question … Now Google says it can pinpoint that useful passage, which drives the page up in the rankings.
Neil Patel goes into depth about passage indexing for anyone who’d like to read more about it.
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Be the authority
If you’re the established expert for a topic, you have a better chance of ranking well.
Don’t expect to rank well for every page on your website – competition may be fierce from phrase to phrase.
But you may get rewarded if Google detects overall themes over multiple pages. You can also build authority by seeking and attracting backlinks from relevant and high-quality websites.
Page titles and headers still matter
You can ill afford to make content that you never change, though scores of websites do exactly that. Why not at least revise something like a content header?
When you’re close to ranking well (maybe No. 15), why not rework some words to attempt a higher ranking?
The words in page titles still matter. I watch them closely because Google increasingly seems to display content headers with search results instead of the page titles. However, that doesn’t mean Google ignores page titles as a ranking factor.
I used straightforward page titles to land top rankings for a wholesale company, as shown in the table below. You can see that site pages have all improved their rankings in each of the past three years.
Google prefers to use longer content headlines instead of my page title phrases (which are often just two words). I’ve adjusted these simple page titles several times to get the appropriate visibility for the client. With those top rankings, I don’t see a need to make them longer.
If you don’t try different scenarios, you won’t know what works best. More than one person has said no one would click on a two-word, general SEO page title. But they do.
Would more people click if it were catchy or a play on words? Maybe. Load up that page title with extra words and see whether your ranking drops.
Here’s how I would approach testing page titles – I’ll use data about Pillsbury.com to demonstrate. Pillsbury has some decent page rankings – and quite a few that miss the mark. They rank No. 6 for “pumpkin pie recipe,” for example, a search phrase that attracts 3 million searches a year.
I suspect modifications to the page title alone would help that page rank higher (and grab a bigger slice of the search volume for the term). Here’s what I’d try:
<title>Easiest-Ever Pumpkin Pie Recipe – Pillsbury.com</title>
<title>Pumpkin Pie Recipe Easiest-Ever – Pillsbury.com</title>
<title>Homemade Pumpkin Pie Recipe (Best, Easiest Ever)</title>
I removed “Pillsbury.com” in option B. Why not test a page title without the company name? Even if you omit it, Google often adds it to search results anyway. As long as Google looks to page titles to help determine rankings, try several scenarios on key pages.
See what’s missing
Pillsbury also makes the classic mistake of not looking closely enough at its data. A search of thousands of keyword phrases shows “recipe” is important to searchers. Isn’t it odd that the recipe section doesn’t say “recipe” in a prominent place?
In this screenshot, I show how Pillsbury could add the word “recipe” to its pumpkin-pie (recipe) page:
You can do the same thing with your website. Look for what’s missing in your design.
Quality content isn’t a sure bet with SEO
In the SEO world, quality surfaces in countless conversations. Everyone is a fan of quality, including Google, which offers search quality rater guidelines.
But remember one thing: Quality doesn’t ensure SEO success. Just ask Malwarebytes, which was honored by Content Marketing World in 2020 for Best Blog Post: Parental Monitoring Apps: How Do They Differ from Stalkerware?
The Content Marketing Awards program isn’t an SEO competition. Judges looked at relevance, quality, and performance based on goals and pass-along potential.
However, Malwarebytes could optimize the page to perform better in search. The piece doesn’t rank in the top 10 search results for any of these relevant non-branded phrases (data from Semrush):
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The more SEO challenges change, the more they stay the same
In 2022, just like in many previous years, your content marketing faces many SEO challenges. The ever-changing search engine results page (SERPs) will keep pushing down traditional results. Images, videos, Quick Answers, People Also Ask, and more SERP features appear at any time.
Zero-click searches also threaten organic traffic. It’s almost like the “10 blue links” formula doesn’t exist anymore. Of course, it still does – just with some interruptions.
Despite the SERP changes and constant updates to Google’s algorithm, natural traffic continues to be a significant source of website visits. Build your authority with revised and new content. Don’t take your eyes off SEO – you can refine your efforts on pages multiple times a year.
What steps do you typically take to make the most of your SEO efforts? Take a fresh at your overall strategy, tactics, and KPIs this month and throughout the year.
To stay up to date on the latest in SEO, content marketing, and related trends in 2022, subscribe to CMI’s free weekday or weekly email.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute