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19 Easy (But Effective) Digital Marketing Tips

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19 Easy (But Effective) Digital Marketing Tips

Looking for some simple yet effective digital marketing tips? You’re in the right place.

Get ready to implement the tips below, which will improve your business:

  1. Set SMART marketing objectives
  2. Track the right KPIs
  3. Design a simple, logical website structure
  4. Create a clear positioning statement
  5. Create a Google Business Profile
  6. Target low-competition topics
  7. Build a following on one social network
  8. Build a damn email list
  9. Target topics with search traffic potential
  10. Steal” your competitors’ keywords
  11. Create a versus page
  12. Make a statistics page
  13. Use HARO
  14. Capture featured snippets
  15. Rank videos on Google
  16. Run ads on less popular platforms
  17. Outsource boring tasks
  18. Double down on what’s working
  19. Be different

1. Set one to two SMART marketing objectives for the year

What is the first thing you do when you begin planning for a vacation? You decide where to go, aka the destination.

It’s the same for marketing. To head somewhere, you must first decide where you want to go. You can’t know if you’ve reached your destination if you don’t set one in the first place. 

That means knowing what marketing objectives you’re trying to achieve.

You can’t be vague too. “Increase sales by 30%” inspires no one. Instead, you should create objectives that fit the SMART criteria:

  • Specific – Clearly state the desirable outcome and explain who, what, when, how much, etc.
  • Measurable – Track progress with key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Achievable – Set bold goals, but also be realistic; use the current growth as a benchmark.
  • Relevant – Does the objective align with your overall marketing and business strategy?
  • Timely – Set up a time frame for achieving the goal.

For example, if we were to create a marketing objective for our blog, it might be something like this:

Grow organic traffic from 300K to 700K by the end of 2022.

Recommended reading: Marketing Objectives: How to Set Them Right (With Examples)

2. Track the right marketing KPIs for your marketing objectives

Your GPS tells you if you’re going the right way when traveling. But what’s the GPS for your marketing?

Those are your marketing KPIs. After you’ve decided on your objectives (i.e., your destination), these KPIs tell you if you’re going in the right direction.

But not all KPIs are equal. You likely don’t care about how many kilometers you’ve traveled. You just want to know if you’re getting closer or farther away. Same goes for marketing. There are many KPIs you can track, but most are simply vanity metrics.

You only need to track a few to know if you’re going in the right direction. Read the article below to find out which KPIs are worth your time.

Recommended reading: 7 Marketing KPIs Actually Worth Tracking

3. Design a simple and logical website structure

People and search engines may struggle to find pages on a disorganized website. So it’s usually best to use a flat website structure where all pages are no more than a few clicks away from the homepage.

Respective flow charts of flat and deep site structures. One shows homepage dropping down to a few layers; the other shows homepage dropping down to many layers

If you’re launching a new website, plan your structure something like this:

Flow chart showing ideal way to organize website structure

Credit: Backlinko.

We recommend that most of your pages should be no more than four clicks from the homepage. If there are pages more than six clicks away, consider bringing them closer to your homepage to make it easier for visitors and search engines to find them.

Recommended reading: Website Structure: How to Build Your SEO Foundation

4. Create a clear positioning statement for your business

Even in tiny Singapore, there are hundreds of gyms and fitness centers. Why should someone choose your business over the others?

They won’t—unless you tell them why.

This is called positioning. And in your positioning statement, you must clearly explain what your product or service is, why it’s different, and why it matters to your target customers.

It is impossible to teach you how to create one in a blog post (it’d take a book!), so I highly recommend that you read April Dunford’s “Obviously Awesome”—a step-by-step guide to creating a positioning statement.

Here’s a quick Cliffs Note:

  • Understand who your best customers are
  • List your competitive alternatives
  • Figure out the attributes and features that make your product/service unique
  • Figure out what these attributes and features do for your customers
  • Find a target market that cares about these values

5. Create a Google Business Profile

If you’re a local business serving local customers, you’ll need a Google Business Profile. Claiming this profile helps you rank better on relevant Google searches—both on web search and Google Maps.

Optimizing this is easy with Google My Business and takes only 30 minutes of your time. It’s a low-hanging fruit you should pick.

Follow the guide below to learn how to create an optimized profile.

Recommended reading: How to Optimize Google My Business in 30 Minutes

6. Target low-competition topics

Finance writer Morgan Housel writes:

The key is recognizing that the long run is just a collection of short runs, and capturing long-term growth means managing the short run effectively enough to ensure you can stick around for a long time.

Simply put, if you can’t survive now, you can’t exist in the long term. So even if you want to rank for the most valuable keywords for your business, that’ll take time. Meanwhile, start ranking for low-competition keywords.

These are keywords you can rank for without much effort. You usually won’t have to build many links or have high website authority to rank for them and get organic traffic for your website.

How do you find these keywords? Watch this video to learn how:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7hR-i6Go4c

Recommended reading: How to Find Low-Competition Keywords for SEO

7. Build a following on one social network

Should you start shimmying on TikTok or go old-school and stick with Instagram? Perhaps you should create multiple 🧵 on Twitter or write broetry on LinkedIn. Or maybe you should take a punt on that new, upcoming social platform.

Whatever it is, just choose one. Don’t join a platform just because it’s the latest, shiny tool.

The allure to be present on multiple social media platforms is huge. But don’t give in to that temptation. Doing well on each platform means creating content that fits in natively. That is a lot of time, effort, and resources.

It takes work, even if you’re repurposing content. Sure, Gary Vee may make it look easy, but that’s because he has a team behind him. If you’re a one-person operation, you can’t replicate his efforts overnight.

Which social network should you choose? Well, that goes all the way back to your marketing objective (tip #1). If your target audience is on Twitter and it moves you closer to your goal, then that’s the platform you want.

After you’ve built a strong following, expand to other social media platforms. For example, Instagram has been around since 2010, but we’ve only recently started our Instagram account.

8. Build a damn email list

Even though we recommend building a following on one platform, you should remember that you’ll never own that audience. You’re “borrowing,” which means you’re always at the mercy of the platform.

If it wants to limit your reach one day, it can. But email is different—you own the list. Nobody can limit your reach. So even though building an email list seems like digital marketing advice from 2005, it’s not bad advice.

Every business should have an email list.

The simplest way to build one is to offer potential subscribers something in exchange for joining the list. This can be anything: an eBook, a course, a discount, or more.

For us at Ahrefs, we have a simple “subscribe” opt-in:

Text field for people to enter email address

9. Target topics with search traffic potential

If you want to rank on Google, the topic you’re targeting should be one that people are searching for. That makes sense, right? Yet, most businesses begin blogging by creating an article and praying that it ranks.

Hope is not a strategy. We want to get intentional. We want our articles to rank. To do that, we need to target topics with search traffic potential.

How do you find such topics? Here’s how:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a relevant topic
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Switch the tab to Questions
Matching terms report results for "basketball"

As you can see, there are over 197K topics you could potentially target. Eyeball the list and pick out topics that are relevant.

Recommended reading: Keyword Research: The Beginner’s Guide by Ahrefs

10. “Steal” your competitors’ keywords

What if you could figure out which keywords your competitors rank for so that you could replicate their strategy?

Good news: you can. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter a competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Top pages report
Top pages report results

Here, all your competitor’s pages are ranked by the amount of organic traffic they receive, plus the keyword that sends each page the most traffic.

Look through the list and tackle the ones that are most relevant to your business.

Your customers want the biggest bang for their buck. So they’ll compare you and your competitors. Once again, rather than leave it to chance, you should take the initiative.

Create a versus page where you compare the pros and cons between your business and a competitor’s.

How do you know who your customers are comparing you with? Here’s how to find out:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter your brand name
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Under the Terms menu, choose “vs” (or some other term that signifies comparison)
Matching terms report results. Sidebar showing "vs" selected

Doing this for our own brand shows that people are comparing us with Moz, SEMRush, and Majestic.

At this point, most businesses will create separate comparison pages for each competitor. However, we decided to do something different and created a versus page that tackled all of them at once.

Excerpt of Ahrefs' "versus" page

One page or a few—the choice is yours.

12. Make a statistics page

Journalists often need to back up their arguments with data. However, they don’t always have access to this information. So they’ll look for data online, then mention and link to that source of data.

For example, in 2020, Ahrefs was mentioned in Bloomberg because of our top Google searches data.

Excerpt of Bloomberg article mentioning Ahrefs

But not everyone has access to unique data. So one way to get around this is to curate a list of statistics for your industry.

That’s what we did when we created our SEO statistics page. Since then, we’ve ranked #1 for the query “SEO statistics” and have accumulated ~2.4K links from ~1.1K unique websites.

SERP overview for "seo statistics"

Learn how we did it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTF6OBwidhc&list=PLvJ_dXFSpd2u_ABxIRO6RVK3ucKyzn96Y

Recommended reading: Link Building Case Study: How We Built Backlinks With a ‘Stats’ Page

Not only do journalists need data, but they also need expert insights. And Help a Reporter Out (HARO) exists to connect journalists to experts.

If you’re an expert in your industry, you can be that source of information too. Sign up, monitor the requests in your category, and respond with valuable information as soon as possible.

My colleague, Michal Pecánek, has tons of experience with HARO. Here are some tips from him:

  • Check the publication – Avoid those that aren’t authoritative.
  • Be picky – Only respond to requests where you can truly provide great information.
  • Respond as fast as possible – Many people are monitoring the same niche as you.
  • Get help – Don’t hesitate to bring colleagues on board if they’re more qualified to answer.
  • Stick to the script – Don’t deviate from the format the author is requesting.

Recommended reading: 9 Great Public Relations Tactics With Campaign Examples

14. Capture featured snippets

If you’ve searched for something in Google and seen this…

Ahrefs' featured snippet on Google SERP of "how to do seo"

… then you’ve seen a featured snippet.

Capturing one means leapfrogging all the other ranking websites and jumping into the first position. And you can do this without having to build links or rewrite your content.

The easiest way to begin is to leverage content you already own. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your own domain
  3. Go to the Organic keywords report
  4. Filter for featured snippets (where target doesn’t rank for) using the SERP features filter
  5. Filter for positions #2–10 using the Position filter
Organic keywords report results

You’ll get a list of low-hanging opportunities to steal featured snippets from your competitors.

Then, how do you capture these snippets?

We have a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can rework your content so that you stand the best chance of capturing the snippet. Read it below here.

Recommended reading: How to Optimize for Google’s Featured Snippets

15. Rank videos on Google

YouTube videos rank on YouTube. Duh. But did you know YouTube videos rank on Google too?

In fact, our YouTube channel got over 200K views from Google in the past year:

Table showing data on Ahrefs' Youtube channel

To do this, you’ll need to rank for topics that have both:

  1. Search traffic potential – People are searching for these topics on YouTube and Google.
  2. Video intent – People who prefer to watch a video instead of reading. 

Here’s how to find these topics:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Run this search: site:youtube.com inurl:watch title:topic
  3. Sort the results by Page traffic
Content Explorer search results

This should give you a list of relevant YouTube videos that currently get organic search traffic from Google. Eyeball the list for ones that are relevant to your business, then create a video that ranks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BObU_VCwnvY

Recommended reading: Video SEO: How to Rank YouTube Videos on Google

16. Run ads on less popular platforms

Everyone knows Facebook, Instagram, and Google Ads. Those are the go-tos when it comes to paid advertising. But don’t forget that YouTube, Twitter, Quora, and even TikTok have advertising platforms too. If your target audience is on these platforms and they fit your marketing objectives, then they’re worth considering.

For example, we regularly run ads on YouTube.

We also run ads on Quora:

Ahrefs' ads manager on Quora

17. Outsource boring tasks

There’s a common saying that you should never do the same thing twice. If you find yourself doing something over and over again—and you’re not enjoying it at all—then it’s a task you can outsource.

Some tasks can be easily completed with the right tool. For example, instead of “copy-pasting” drafts to WordPress, we simply upload them by using Wordable.

For other tasks, you may have to hire freelancers or even a full-time staff. Create standard operating procedures (SOPs), hire and train people using those documents, and refine your system.

Learn how to outsource your marketing tasks using the framework below (it’s for SEO but can be generalized across any marketing channels):

Recommended reading: How to Outsource SEO (Simple Framework)

18. Double down on what’s working

As you’re applying the tips from this post, keep a lookout for what’s working. Do the same for the existing channels and tactics you’ve been using.

Then, double down on them. Invest your resources. Make it generate more returns for you.

That’s what we did at Ahrefs. We started with the blog. And when it was working, we scaled it up by hiring more writers, creating SOPs, etc. And since we knew that content marketing was working for us, we invested in creating more content—this time on YouTube.

With an eight-figure annual recurring revenue (ARR), our results speak for themselves.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Inspired by this quote, marketers started copying each other. If there was a strategy that worked, countless others would follow suit—sometimes without consideration for their own circumstances.

Sometimes, this idea worked. But most of the time, what happened was that the marketplace was glutted with imitations.

Marketing is about differentiation. That’s why you need a positioning strategy. That’s why you create a comparison page. You want to stand above the competition. But if you are the same as the rest, there’s no reason for others to choose you.

I think there’s nothing wrong with following best practices. But try to add your own twist. For example, look at our homepage and our versus page.

The tactics we used are not unique, but we’ve always tried to be different.

Final thoughts

I hope you’ve walked away from this post with a handful of actionable digital marketing tips you can test for your business.

Did I miss out on any cool tips? If you have any to share, let me know on Twitter.




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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

Getting to the top of Google can be quite slow. Especially so for small, new websites. And the competition can often be too strong, which makes it quite unlikely for you to outrank your rivals in the first place.

Well… if you can’t win, change the rules.

There’s a very simple trick for getting search traffic for the keywords that you want to rank for—without actually ranking for them.

Enter…

One of the most common pieces of marketing advice is to “go fish where the fish are.” Whatever product or service you want to sell, you have to follow three simple steps:

  1. Figure out who your ideal customers are.
  2. Find the places where those people are hanging out online.
  3. Go to those places and find ways to promote your product.

Quick example: if you want to sell fitness gear, it would be good to figure out how to tap into the r/Fitness community on Reddit, which has over 12M members.

What does it have to do with SEO though?

Well, whatever search traffic you want to drive to your own website… someone is already getting it to theirs, right? And their website is not necessarily your direct competitor.

If you own a bagel joint in Singapore, you definitely want your website to rank in Google for “best bagels in Singapore.” But the pages that actually rank for this keyword are listicles, which give readers a bunch of different suggestions. So your job is to get featured in as many of those top-ranking listicles as possible.

Ranking for a keyword with your own website isn’t the only way to get customers from Google. Getting featured on other pages that rank for this keyword is incredibly effective too.

I call this tactic “second-hand search traffic”.

The underlying idea is not new though.

You might have heard of the concept called “Barnacle SEO,” shared by Rand Fishkin back in 2014. There’s also a concept called “Surround Sound,” coined by Alex Birkett. And another one called “SERP Monopoly strategy” by Nick Eubanks. There’s also a reverse concept, called “Rank & Rent.”

The idea behind all of these tactics is practically the same: if a page gets a lot of relevant search traffic from Google—you have to try and get your business mentioned there.

1721330765 614 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330765 614 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything
Source

But that’s easier said than done, right?

Why would anyone bother to feature your business on their website?

Well, one simple answer is money.

If a website owner can make money from mentioning your business on their page, there’s a good chance they’ll do it. This money could come in the form of an affiliate commission or a flat fee for an annual or permanent placement. Sometimes these things can also happen as part of a broader partnership deal.

Getting listed for free is very, very hard. Especially so if you’re not already a big and respected business that people naturally want to feature on their website.

And yet—it’s not completely impossible to get listed for free.

Case in point, we just published our own “best SEO conferences” post, in order to rank for relevant search queries and promote our upcoming event, Ahrefs Evolve Singapore.

And then we went ahead and reached out to all websites that rank for the “best SEO conferences” keyword and asked them to add Ahrefs Evolve to their listicles. So far 10 out of 17 featured us on their pages, without asking for any payment whatsoever.

1721330766 734 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330766 734 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

The most straightforward way to execute this strategy is to compile a list of highly relevant keywords (with high business potential scores), pull all the top-ranking pages for each of them into a spreadsheet, and start your outreach.

But there’s one other fruitful source of pages to get second-hand search traffic from. These are pages that are linking to your competitors, while getting a decent amount of search traffic themselves.

Here’s how to find these pages in 3 simple steps:

  1. Put the website of your competitor in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the Backlinks report.
  3. Apply the “Referring page > Traffic” filter.
How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for AnythingHow to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

Here’s an example of a page I found while trying this out for the ConvertKit website:

1721330766 665 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330766 665 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

As you can see, this page is not about “email marketing” (the primary topic you’d go for, if you wanted to promote an email marketing tool). And yet, this page is receiving 2.6k visitors per month from Google (as estimated by Ahrefs), and it recommends a bunch of email marketing tools to its readers.

So if you own an email marketing tool—like ConvertKit—you definitely want to get mentioned on that page alongside your competitors.

The moral of this story is that you should look outside of the topics that are immediately relevant to your business. Any page that gets traffic and mentions a competitor of yours should become your target.

And Ahrefs makes it super easy to find such pages.

That’s it.

I hope you found this tactic useful. Don’t sleep on it, because there’s a good chance that your competitors won’t.

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What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein

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What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein

For the SEO industry, the Google documents leak offered an important view behind the scenes. Although the leak was not a blueprint of how the algorithm worked, there was considerable confirmation that SEO professionals were right about many elements of the algorithm.

From all the analysis and discussion following the leak, the one insight that got my attention was how important the brand is.

Rand Fishkin, who broke the leak, said this:

“Brand matters more than anything else … If there was one universal piece of advice I had for marketers seeking to broadly improve their organic search rankings and traffic, it would be: “Build a notable, popular, well-recognized brand in your space, outside of Google search.”

Mike King echoed this statement with the following observation:

“All these potential demotions can inform a strategy, but it boils down to making stellar content with strong user experience and building a brand, if we’re being honest.”

Mordy Oberstein, who is an advocate for building a brand online, posted on X (Twitter):

“I am SO happy that the SEO conversation has shifted to thinking about “brand.”

It’s not the first time that “brand” has been mentioned in SEO. We began to talk about this around 2012 after the impact of Panda and Penguin when it first became apparent that Google’s aim was to put more emphasis on brand.

Compounding this is the introduction of AI, which has accelerated the importance of taking a more holistic approach to online marketing with less reliance on Google SERPs.

When I spoke to Pedro Dias, he said, “We need to focus more than ever on building our own communities with users aligned to our brands.”

As someone who had 15 years of offline experience in marketing, design, and business before moving into SEO, I have always said that having this wide knowledge allows me to take a holistic view of SEO. So, I welcome the mindset shift towards building a brand online.

As part of his X/Twitter post, Mordy also said:

“I am SO happy that the SEO conversation has shifted to thinking about “brand” (a lot of which is the direct result of @randfish’s & @iPullRank’s great advice following the “Google leaks”).

As someone who has straddled the brand marketing and SEO world for the better part of 10 years – branding is A LOT harder than many SEOs would think and will be a HUGE adjustment for many SEOs.”

Following his X/Twitter post, I reached out to Mordy Oberstein, Head of SEO Brand at Wix, to have a conversation about branding and SEO.

What Do SEO Pros Need To Know About ‘Brand’ To Make The Mindset Shift?

I asked Mordy, “In your opinion, what does brand and building a brand mean, and can SEO pros make this mindset shift?”

Mordy responded, “Brand building basically means creating a connection between one entity and another entity, meaning the company and the audience.

It’s two people meeting, and that convergence is the building of a brand. It’s very much a relationship. And I think that’s what makes it hard for SEOs. It’s a different way of thinking; it’s not linear, and there aren’t always metrics that you can measure it by.

I’m not saying you don’t use data, or you don’t have data, but it’s harder to measure to tell a full story.

You’re trying to pick up on latent signals. A lot of the conversation is unconscious.

It’s all about the micro things that compound. So, you have to think about everything you do, every signal, to ensure that it is aligned with the brand.

For example, a website writes about ‘what is a tax return.’ However, if I’m a professional accountant and I see this on your blog, I might think this isn’t relevant to me because you’re sending me a signal that you’re very basic. I don’t need to know what a tax return is; I have a master’s degree in accounting.

The latent signals that you’re sending can be very subtle, but this is where it is a mindset shift for SEO.”

I recalled a recent conversation with Pedro Dias in which he stressed it was important to put your users front and center and create content that is relevant to them. Targeting high-volume keywords is not going to connect with your audience. Instead, think about what is going to engage, interest, and entertain them.

I went on to say that for some time, the discussion online has been about SEO pros shifting away from the keyword-first approach. However, the consequences of moving away from a focus on traffic and clicks will mean we are likely to experience a temporary decline in performance.

How Does An SEO Professional Sell This To Stakeholders – How Do They Measure Success?

I asked Mordy, “How do you justify this approach to stakeholders – how do they measure success?”

Mordy replied, “I think selling SEO will become harder over time. But, if you don’t consider the brand aspect, then you could be missing the point of what is happening. It’s not about accepting lower volumes of traffic; it’s that traffic will be more targeted.

You might see less traffic right now, but the idea is to gain a digital presence and create digital momentum that will result in more qualified traffic in the long term.”

Mordy went on to say, “It’s going to be a habit to break out of, just like when you have to go on a diet for a long-term health gain.

The ecosystem will change, and it will force change to our approach. SEOs may not have paid attention to the Google leak documents, but I think they will pay attention as the entire ecosystem shifts – they won’t have a choice.

I also think C-level will send a message that they don’t care about overall traffic numbers, but do care about whether a user appreciates what they are producing and that the brand is differentiated in some way.”

How Might The Industry Segment And What Will Be The Important Roles?

I interjected to make the point that it does look a lot like SEO is finally making that shift across marketing.

Technical SEO will always be important, and paid/programmatic will remain important because it is directly attributable.

For the rest of SEO, I anticipate it merges across brand, SEO, and content into a hybrid strategy role that will straddle those disciplines.

What we thought of as “traditional SEO” will fall away, and SEO will become absorbed into marketing.

In response, Mordy agreed and thought that SEO traffic is part of a wider scope or part of a wider paradigm, and it will sit under brand and communications.

An SEO pro that functions as part of the wider marketing and thinks about how we are driving revenue, how we are driving growth, what kind of growth we are driving, and using SEO as a vehicle to that.

The final point I raised was about social media and whether that would become a more combined facet of SEO and overall online marketing.

Mordy likened Google to a moth attracted to the biggest digital light.

He said, “Social media is a huge vehicle for building momentum and the required digital presence.

For example, the more active I am on social media, the more organic branded searches I gain through Google Search. I can see the correlation between that.

I don’t think that Google is ignoring branded searches, and it makes a semantic connection.”

SEO Will Shift To Include Brand And Marketing

The conversation I had with Mordy raised an interesting perspective that SEO will have to make significant shifts to a brand and marketing mindset.

The full impact of AI on Google SERPs and how the industry might change is yet to be realized. But, I strongly recommend that anyone in SEO consider how they can start to take a brand-first approach to their strategy and the content they create.

I suggest building and measuring relationships with audiences based on how they connect with your brand and moving away from any strategy based on chasing high-volume keywords.

Think about what the user will do once you get the click – that is where the real value lies.

Get ahead of the changes that are coming.

Thank you to Mordy Oberstein for offering his opinion and being my guest on IMHO.

More resources:


Featured Image: 3rdtimeluckystudio/Shutterstock

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4 Ways PPC and SEO Can Work Together (And When They Can’t)

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4 Ways PPC and SEO Can Work Together (And When They Can’t)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your pages to rank in a search engine’s organic results.

Pay-per-click (PPC) is a form of online advertising where advertisers pay a fee each time someone clicks their ad.

There’s no conundrum between the two types of marketing. You don’t have to choose one or the other; the best companies use both.

Here’s how they can work together and produce magic:

Creating SEO content is the process of figuring out what your target audience is searching on Google and aligning your content to their search intent.

To start off, you need to find out what they’re searching for. The easiest way is to use a keyword research tool, like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Here’s how you might find keywords for a hypothetical coffee equipment store:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a relevant keyword (e.g., “coffee”)
  3. Go to Matching terms

Go through the list and pick out keywords that are relevant to the site. For example, the keyword “how to grind coffee beans” seems like a good keyword to target.

The keyword "how to grind coffee beans" and relevant SEO statsThe keyword "how to grind coffee beans" and relevant SEO stats

Once we’ve chosen our keyword, we want to know what searchers are looking for specifically. Sometimes the keyword gives us an idea, but to be sure, we can look at the top-ranking pages.

So, click the SERP button and then click Identify intents to see what searchers are looking for:

The Identify Intents feature in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerThe Identify Intents feature in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

We can see that searchers are looking for techniques and methods to grind coffee beans at home, and especially without a grinder. If we want to rank high, we’ll likely have to follow suit.

Those are the basics of creating SEO content. But doing just this isn’t enough. After all, the quote goes, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

This applies to your content too. You don’t want to create into a void; you want people to see and consume your content. This is where PPC comes in. You can run PPC ads to ensure that as many people see your content as possible.

For example, at Ahrefs, we run Facebook ads for our content:

An example of a Facebook Ad we ran for our contentAn example of a Facebook Ad we ran for our content

We also run ads on Quora:

Our Quora ads campaigns we ran for the blogOur Quora ads campaigns we ran for the blog

This way, we make sure that none of our content efforts go to waste.

Links are an important Google ranking factor. Generally speaking, the more links your page has, the more likely it’ll rank high in the search results.

But acquiring links is hard. This is why it’s still a reliable ranking factor. And it’s also why there’s an entire industry behind link building, and tons of tactics you can use, all with varying levels of success.

One way you can consider building links to your pages is to run PPC ads. In fact, we ran an experiment a few years ago to prove that it was possible.

We spent ~$1,245 on Google search ads and acquired a total of 16 backlinks to two different pieces of content. (~$77-78 per backlink.) This is much cheaper than if you had to buy a backlink, which according to our study, costs around $361.44.

(It would be even more expensive if you acquired links via outreach, as you would have to consider additional costs like software, manpower, etc.)

Retargeting allows you to target visitors who have left your website.

Here’s how retargeting works:

  1. A visitor discovers your article on Google
  2. Your ad management software sets a cookie on the visitor’s browser, which allows you to show ads to these visitors
  3. When the visitor leaves your website and surfs the web, you can show ads and persuade them to return to your website

Depending on where they are on the buyer’s journey, you can convince them to take the next step.

buyer's journeybuyer's journey

For example, if someone found your website via your article on the “best espresso machines”, it’s likely they’re looking to buy. So, you can set your retargeting ad to encourage them to visit your espresso machines category page.

On the other hand, if a visitor discovered your website from your “what is a coffee grinder” article, they might still be early on the journey. In that case, it might be prudent to encourage them to sign up for your email list instead.

Every site has important keywords. For example, besides our brand and product terms, critical keywords are “keyword research”, “link building”, and “technical SEO”.

Since these keywords are important, it makes sense to dominate the SERPs for them. You can do this by simultaneously running ads for them while ranking in organic search. For example, Wix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPs:

Wix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPsWix ranks for the keyword “create website for free” in both paid and organic SERPs

This is especially useful if you’re a new or smaller site. The keywords that are important to you are likely important to your competitors too. Which means you can’t compete with them overnight.

So, a good strategy is to target those keywords via PPC first, while investing in your SEO strategy. Over time, as you acquire more backlinks and gain more website authority, you’ll be able to compete with your competitors in organic search too.

While both channels are complementary, there are times where it may make more sense to choose one over the other.

When to choose PPC

If you fit these scenarios, it might be a better idea to go for PPC:

  • You’re promoting a limited-time offer, event, or launching a product. According to our poll, SEO takes three to six months to show results. If your event, offer, or launch is shorter than the expected timeframe, it’ll be over even before SEO takes any effect.
  • You need immediate, short-term results. If you need to show some results now, then PPC will be a better choice.
  • You have a disruptive product or service. SEO depends on figuring out what people are already searching for. If your product or service is completely novel, then it’s likely no one is searching for it.
  • Hyper-competitive SERPs. Some niches have competing sites with large SEO teams and deep pockets. Coupled with Google’s preference for known brands, if you’re in these niches, it can be difficult to compete. PPC offers a viable alternative for gaining visibility on the first page.

When to choose SEO

Here are times when it may make better sense to choose SEO:

  • Keywords are too expensive. Some industries, like insurance or finance, have cost-per-clicks (CPC) up to a few hundred dollars. For example, the keyword “direct auto insurance san antonio” has a CPC of $275.
  • Your niche is restricted. Certain industries or niches (e.g., adult, weapons, gambling, etc.) are prohibited or restricted from advertising.
  • You have a limited budget. PPC requires money to begin, whereas SEO can drive traffic to your website at no direct cost per visitor.
  • You’re building an affiliate site. Affiliate sites earn a commission when people buy from their recommendations. While it’s not impossible to build an affiliate site from PPC, it’s difficult to control the return on investment (ROI) since affiliate site owners cannot control sales conversion rates.

Final thoughts

There are cases where focusing on either SEO or PPC makes sense.

But most of the time, the best companies don’t discriminate between channels. If they produce positive ROI, then you should be using all marketing channels.

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