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A Basic 5-Step Guide That Anyone Can Follow



A Basic 5-Step Guide That Anyone Can Follow

Several years ago, I worked in a startup with no marketing budget.

No one had any marketing experience either. Being the only person who had read a couple of marketing books, I was put in charge of the marketing strategy. 

Without any know-how or marketing dollars, I read a couple of SEO blogs and tried implementing their strategies. 

And it worked.

The spike in search traffic after implementing some SEO strategies


Due to business challenges, the company no longer exists, which explains the sudden decline in traffic.

With the proper guidance, anyone can do SEO by themselves. You just need to know how to get started.

That’s what this guide is for.

Let’s begin.

1. Get your technical SEO in order

If Google cannot find, crawl, and index your pages, it doesn’t matter what SEO tactics you pull out of the hat. Your pages just can’t rank.

So the first step is to make sure Google can do all of the above for your site.

The easiest way to see if any issues are hindering Google is to audit your website. You can do this by signing up for our free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) and using Site Audit to run a crawl of your website.

When the crawl is done, you’ll see all the top issues plaguing your site. Click on the number in the Crawled column to see which URLs these are.

The top technical issues facing a site, via Ahrefs' Site AuditThe top technical issues facing a site, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

You can also click on the issue itself to see why it’s a problem and how to fix it.

An explanation of why an error is a technical SEO issue and how to fix it, via Ahrefs' Site AuditAn explanation of why an error is a technical SEO issue and how to fix it, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

To get search traffic, you need to target the words and phrases your potential customers are searching for. You can find what these are by doing keyword research. 

Here’s the easiest way to get started. You can:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.
  2. Enter one or a few relevant keywords related to your website (e.g., if I were a massage therapist, I might enter massage therapy, back pain, back pain relief, shoulder pain relief, and more).
  3. Go to the Matching terms report.
The Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerThe Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Here, you’ll see over 400,000 potential topics. But that’s too many. So you’ll want to reduce the list to something manageable. Specifically, you’ll want to target keywords that can potentially send you tons of traffic but are not competitive.

We do this by using two filters:

  1. Traffic potential (TP) – TP is the estimated amount of search traffic you can potentially gain if you rank #1 for that topic. We can set it to a minimum of 100 to find topics that actually send traffic to your site.
  2. Keyword Difficulty (KD) – KD gives an estimation of how hard it is to rank in the top 10 search results for a keyword. The lower the number, the “easier” it is. While it does depend on your site’s “authority,” you can start with a reasonable number like 20.
The Matching terms report, with Keyword Difficulty and Traffic Potential filtered, via Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerThe Matching terms report, with Keyword Difficulty and Traffic Potential filtered, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

This list is much more workable. Make sure you manually review each keyword to see if it’s relevant to your business. 

Learn more: Keyword Research: The Beginner’s Guide by Ahrefs 

3. Create pages that are optimized for search

Creating search-optimized pages is no longer about stuffing as many target keywords as possible. Keyword stuffing died over a decade ago. Today, Google can easily understand synonyms and semantically related words. 

Then, how do you create pages optimized for search? Here’s how.

Match search intent

Google wants its users to be happy. To it, that means figuring out why the searcher is searching —i.e., search intent—and then showing them the most relevant results.

So if you want to rank high on Google, you’ll have to match search intent.

Fortunately, figuring out search intent is relatively simple. Since Google already works to serve the most relevant results, we can look at the current top-ranking pages to understand search intent.

Specifically, we want to analyze the three Cs of search intent:

  1. Content type – Is the primary type of content a blog post, product page, video, landing page, or something else? 
  2. Content format – Is the primary format a how-to guide, listicle, review, opinion piece, news, or something else?
  3. Content angle – Is there a primary angle, such as the current year or content aimed at beginners?

For example, let’s suppose you want to cover the topic “how to save money”:

SERP Overview for "how to save money", via Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerSERP Overview for "how to save money", via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Here’s what we’ll learn when analyzing the SERPs:

  1. Content type – All of the top-ranking pages are blog posts.
  2. Content format – Surprisingly, instead of a how-to guide, people are actually looking for tips.
  3. Content angle – Simple/easy, proven, and fast are potential angles.

So we could potentially create an article titled “XX Proven Ways to Save Money.” 

Learn more: What Is Search Intent? A Complete Guide for Beginners 

Cover the topic in full

The best result for most queries usually covers everything searchers want to know about the topic. 

An easy way to find out what subtopics and important points searchers want to see is to run a content gap analysis:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter the keyword you’re targeting
  3. Scroll down to the SERP overview 
  4. Check a few of the top-ranking pages
  5. Click Open in and choose Content gap
SERP Overview for "inbound marketing", via Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerSERP Overview for "inbound marketing", via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

In this example, we’re targeting the keyword inbound marketing. You can see that many of these keywords map to potential subtopics:

Subtopics for "inbound marketing", via Ahrefs' Content gap toolSubtopics for "inbound marketing", via Ahrefs' Content gap tool

These subtopics…

  • What is inbound marketing
  • Inbound marketing examples
  • Inbound marketing strategies

… could make perfect H2s for our blog post.

Make your content unique

You should cover the topic in full. But that doesn’t give you leeway to copy-paste what’s already on the top-ranking pages.

After all, copycat content can neither stand out nor incentivize people to link to you (and links are an important ranking factor).

So you’ll want to make sure your content is unique. Here are some ideas on how you can do that:

  • Personal experience – If you’ve successfully implemented something, write about it.
  • Expert interviews – Reach out and interview experts in your field or ask them to contribute an opinion to your piece.
  • Crowdsource – Get multiple people to contribute their opinions, expertise, and ideas.
  • Original research – Add data to your post. You can do this by running a study, survey, or poll.
  • Contrarian – Be the devil’s advocate. Consider an opposing viewpoint. 

Make your content simple and easy to read

Content that’s hard to read is not only bad for SEO, but it’s also bad for business. How can you convince someone to buy your product if your copy can’t even be understood?

Keep your copy nice and simple. Use these tips:

  • Avoid big words. Don’t say erroneous when you can say wrong. Always use simple language. If in doubt, use Hemingway to check your copy.
  • Use formatting like bolding, italics, and lists to break up chunks of copy.
  • Include multimedia like images, videos, and GIFs to illustrate your points and break up walls of text.

Sprinkle on your on-page SEO

This is the “icing” on the cake that makes it extra clear to Google and searchers that your page is relevant.

Follow these best practices:

  • Use the keyword in the title – This is usually already included in your headline. But if you haven’t, see if you can work it in. A similar variation works too.
  • Write a compelling meta description – While not a Google ranking factor, it helps to sell your article in the search results.
  • Use short, descriptive URLs – Such URLs make it easy for searchers to understand what your post is about. The simplest way is to make the slug your topic. 
  • Add alt text to your images – Google uses alt text to understand images. Create a concise but accurate one for every image you use. 

Learn more: On-Page SEO: The Beginner’s Guide

Links are an important Google ranking factor. You’ll likely need them to rank higher. 

Link internally

When it comes to links, many people neglect internal links. But they’re actually important—not only because they pass authority between your pages, but they also help Google discover and understand pages.

The easiest way to find relevant internal link opportunities is to use the Link opportunities report in Site Audit. You’ve already run a crawl in step #1, so all that’s left to do is to see what internal links the report suggests you should add.

For example, Site Audit suggests that we can potentially add an internal link to our post on Google’s URL Inspection tool on our post about submitting websites to search engines.

Internal link opportunities report, via Ahrefs' Site AuditInternal link opportunities report, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

Learn more: Internal Links for SEO: An Actionable Guide 


HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a free service connecting journalists to sources and sources to journalists. If you’re an expert in your niche, you can easily provide a quote and the journalists may link to your site.

Getting started is easy—you just have to sign up as a source on the website.

Homepage for Help A Reporter Out (HARO)Homepage for Help A Reporter Out (HARO)

Then, you’ll receive emails with queries from journalists working for various publications. However, most queries will likely be irrelevant to you, so we recommend setting up a Gmail filter:

  • Click the search options filter
  • Set the “From” field to [email protected]
  • Set the “Subject” to “[HARO]”
  • Set “Has the words” to keywords you want to monitor (use the OR operator to list multiple keywords here)
Gmail filter for HARO emailsGmail filter for HARO emails

For the best results, only respond to queries where you have relevant expertise.

Replicate your competitors’ backlinks

If someone is linking to your competitors, chances are they will link to you too. So you merely have to find out who’s linking to them and not you and find a way to replicate those links.

Here’s how:

  1. Enter your domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer (set it to Exact URL)
  2. Go to the Link Intersect tool
  3. Add a few competing homepages in the empty fields (set them to Exact URL)
Link IntersectLink Intersect

Go through the results to see if there are any links you can potentially replicate.

For example, the website below links to both of our competitors. Looking closely at the links, we see they’re both podcast interviews:

Link Intersect resultsLink Intersect results
Link intersect resultsLink intersect results

Given that the host has already interviewed two of our competitors, they may also be interested in interviewing us. 

5. Track and measure your success

Finally, you’ll need to track some metrics to know if you’re going down the right path. 

The exact metrics you’ll need to track depend on your goals, but some of the most common ones are:

  • Organic traffic – All non-paid clicks from search engines. If it’s trending upward, it may be a sign that your SEO efforts are paying off. Tools you can use: Google Search Console and Ahrefs’ Site Explorer (free in AWT).
  • Keyword rankings – The organic ranking positions in the search results for the keywords you’re targeting. You can track this using Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.
  • Referring domains – Number of websites linking to your site. We’ve already established earlier that backlinks are an important Google ranking factor. So you’ll want your site to get more of them over time. You can see how many referring domains your site has in Site Explorer.
  • Search visibility – How visible your brand is on the market. You can track this by pasting the keywords that matter to you in Rank Tracker. Then go to the Competitors overview tab and check the Visibility column.
Search visibility, via Ahrefs' Rank TrackerSearch visibility, via Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

Final thoughts

This simple DIY SEO guide covers the fundamentals of SEO.

You can follow this guide over and over again to optimize your site and rank for meaningful and relevant keywords. 

Then as you experience more success, you may even consider hiring an agency to take things to the next level. Or if you prefer to continue the DIY route, you can learn more on our blog, YouTube channel, and Academy

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter.

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Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It’s Unlikely.



Do Higher Content Scores Mean Higher Google Rankings? Our Data Says It's Unlikely.

I studied the correlation between rankings and content scores from four popular content optimization tools: Clearscope, Surfer, MarketMuse, and Frase. The result? Weak correlations all around.

This suggests (correlation does not necessarily imply causation!) that obsessing over your content score is unlikely to lead to significantly higher Google rankings.

Does that mean content optimization scores are pointless?

No. You just need to know how best to use them and understand their flaws.

Most tools’ content scores are based on keywords. If top-ranking pages mention keywords your page doesn’t, your score will be low. If it does, your score will be high.

While this has its obvious flaws (having more keyword mentions doesn’t always mean better topic coverage), content scores can at least give some indication of how comprehensively you’re covering the topic. This is something Google is looking for.

Google says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality contentGoogle says that comprehensively covering the topic is a sign of quality content

If your page’s score is significantly lower than the scores of competing pages, you’re probably missing important subtopics that searchers care about. Filling these “content gaps” might help improve your rankings.

However, there’s nuance to this. If competing pages score in the 80-85 range while your page scores 79, it likely isn’t worth worrying about. But if it’s 95 vs. 20 then yeah, you should probably try to cover the topic better.

Key takeaway

Don’t obsess over content scores. Use them as a barometer for topic coverage. If your score is significantly lower than competitors, you’re probably missing important subtopics and might rank higher by filling those “content gaps.”

There are at least two downsides you should be aware of when it comes to content scores.

They’re easy to cheat

Content scores tend to be largely based on how many times you use the recommended set of keywords. In some tools, you can literally copy-paste the entire list, draft nothing else, and get an almost perfect score.

Scoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draftScoring 98 on MarketMuse after shoehorning all the suggested keywords without any semblance of a draft

This is something we aim to solve with our upcoming content optimization tool: Content Master.

I can’t reveal too much about this yet, but it has a big USP compared to most existing content optimization tools: its content score is based on topic coverage—not just keywords.

For example, it tells us that our SEO strategy template should better cover subtopics like keyword research, on-page SEO, and measuring and tracking SEO success.

Preview of our upcoming Content Master toolPreview of our upcoming Content Master tool

But, unlike other content optimization tools, lazily copying and pasting related keywords into the document won’t necessarily increase our content score. It’s smart enough to understand that keyword coverage and topic coverage are different things.


This tool is still in production so the final release may look a little different.

They encourage copycat content

Content scores tell you how well you’re covering the topic based on what’s already out there. If you cover all important keywords and subtopics from the top-ranking pages and create the ultimate copycat content, you’ll score full marks.

This is a problem because quality content should bring something new to the table, not just rehash existing information. Google literally says this in their helpful content guidelines.

Google says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the tableGoogle says quality content goes beyond obvious information. It needs to bring something new to the table

In fact, Google even filed a patent some years back to identify ‘information gain’: a measurement of the new information provided by a given article, over and above the information present in other articles on the same topic.

You can’t rely on content optimization tools or scores to create something unique. Making something that stands out from the rest of the search results will require experience, experimentation, or effort—something only humans can have/do.

Enrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your contentEnrich common knowledge with new information and experiences in your content

Big thanks to my colleagues Si Quan and Calvinn who did the heavy lifting for this study. Nerd notes below. 😉

  • For the study, we selected 20 random keywords and pulled the top 20 ranking pages.
  • We pulled the SERPs before the March 2024 update was rolled out.
  • Some of the tools had issues pulling the top 20 pages, which we suspect was due to SERP features.
  • Clearscope didn’t give numerical scores; they opted for grades. We used ChatGPT to convert those grades into numbers.
  • Despite their increasing prominence in the SERPs, most of the tools had trouble analyzing Reddit, Quora, and YouTube. They typically gave a zero or no score for these results. If they gave no scores, we excluded them from the analysis.
  • The reason why we calculated both Spearman and Kendall correlations (and took the average) is because according to Calvinn (our Data Scientist), Spearman correlations are more sensitive and therefore more prone to being swayed by small sample size and outliers. On the other hand, the Kendall rank correlation coefficient only takes order into account. So, it is more robust for small sample sizes and less sensitive to outliers.

Final thoughts

Improving your content score is unlikely to hurt Google rankings. After all, although the correlation between scores and rankings is weak, it’s still positive. Just don’t obsess and spend hours trying to get a perfect score; scoring in the same ballpark as top-ranking pages is enough.

You also need to be aware of their downsides, most notably that they can’t help you craft unique content. That requires human creativity and effort.

Any questions or comments? Ping me on X or LinkedIn.

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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers



Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, scaling a brand effectively requires more than just an innovative product or service. For B2B and e-commerce marketers, understanding the intricacies of growth strategies across different stages of business development is crucial.  

A recent analysis of 71 brands offers valuable insights into the optimal strategies for startups, scaleups, mature brands, and majority offline businesses. Here’s what we learned. 

Startup Stage: Building the Foundation 

Key Strategy: Startups focus on impressions-driven channels like Paid Social to establish their audience base. This approach is essential for gaining visibility and creating a strong initial footprint in the market. 

Case Study: Pooch & Mutt exemplified this strategy by leveraging Paid Social to achieve significant year-on-year revenue gains while also improving acquisition costs. This foundational step is crucial for setting the stage for future growth and stability. 

Scaleup Stage: Accelerating Conversion 

Key Strategy: For scaleups, having already established an audience, the focus shifts to conversion activities. Increasing spend in impressions-led media helps continue generating demand while maintaining a balance with acquisition costs. 

Case Study: The Essence Vault successfully applied this approach, scaling their Meta presence while minimizing cost increases. This stage emphasizes the importance of efficient spending to maximize conversion rates and sustain growth momentum. 

Mature Stage: Expanding Horizons 

Key Strategy: Mature brands invest in higher funnel activities to avoid market saturation and explore international expansion opportunities. This strategic pivot ensures sustained growth and market diversification. 

Case Study: Represent scaled their efforts on TikTok, enhancing growth and improving Meta efficiency. By expanding their presence in the US, they exemplified how mature brands can navigate saturation and seek new markets for continued success. 

Majority Offline Brands: Embracing Digital Channels 

Key Strategy: Majority offline brands primarily invest in click-based channels like Performance Max. However, the analysis reveals significant opportunities in Paid Social, suggesting a balanced approach for optimal results. 

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report




How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

One of the most essential aspects of a profitable Google Ads strategy is reaching the right people, with the right message, while they’re searching.

To do this correctly, you need to know exactly how your ads are doing and what words potential customers are using to search.

This is where the Google Ads search terms report comes in handy.

This report is a goldmine and an invaluable asset to every Google Ads account.

With insights into exact phrases being used to trigger your ads, the search terms report can help:

  • Significantly refine your keyword strategy.
  • Enhance your targeting.
  • Boost your return on investment (ROI).

Let’s get into why the Google Ads search terms report is not only helpful but essential for maximizing Google Ads profitability.

What Is The Google Ads Search Terms Report?

The search terms report is a performance tool that shows how your ad performed when triggered by actual searches on the Google Search Network.

The report shows specific terms and phrases that triggered your ad to show, which helps determine if you’re bidding on the right keywords or using the right match types.

If you find search terms that aren’t relevant for your business, you can easily add them to your negative keyword list repository.

This helps you spend your budget more effectively by ensuring your ads are only triggered for relevant, useful searches by potential customers.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a search term and a keyword:

  • Search term: Shows the exact word or phrase a customer enters on the Google Search Network to trigger an ad.
  • Keyword: The word or phrase that Google Ads advertisers target and bid on to show their ads to customers.

How To Create A Search Terms Report

Creating a search terms report in your Google Ads account is simple, and better yet – it can be automated!

To view your search terms report, you’ll need to:

  • Log into your Google Ads account.
  • Navigate to “Campaigns” >> “Insights & reports” >> “Search terms”

Below is an example of where to navigate in your Google Ads account to find the search terms report.

Screenshot taken by author, April 2024

After running this report, there are multiple actions you can take as a marketer:

  • Add top-performing searches to corresponding ad groups as keywords.
  • Select the desired match type (e.g. broad, phrase, exact) if adding new keywords.
  • Add irrelevant search terms to a negative keyword list.

3 Ways To Use Search Terms Report Data

As mentioned above, there are numerous ways you can use the search terms report data to optimize campaign performance.

Let’s take a look at three examples of how to use this report to get the best bang for your buck.

1. Refine Existing Keyword Lists

The first area the search terms report can help with is refining existing keyword lists.

By combing through the search terms report, you can find areas of opportunities, including:

  • What searches are leading to conversions.
  • What searches are irrelevant to the product or service.
  • What searches have high impressions but low clicks.
  • How searches are being mapped to existing keywords and ad groups.

For searches leading to conversions, it likely makes sense to add those as keywords to an existing ad group or create a new ad group.

If you’re finding some searches to be irrelevant to what you’re selling, it’s best to add them as negative keywords. That prevents your ad from showing up for that search moving forward.

If some searches have a high volume of impressions, but very few clicks, these will take further consideration. If it’s a keyword worth bidding on, it may indicate that the bid strategy isn’t competitive enough – meaning you’ll have to take action on your bid strategy.

If a search term is being triggered by multiple keywords and ad groups, this is a case of cross-pollution of keywords. This can lead to lower ROI because it’s essentially having multiple keywords bid on that search term, which can drive up the cost. If this happens, you have a few options:

  • Review and update existing keyword match types as necessary.
  • Add negative keywords where appropriate at the ad group or campaign level to avoid cross-pollution.

Ultimately, using the search terms report in this way allows you to determine what is performing well and eliminate poor performers.

2. Understand How Your Audience Is Actually Searching For Your Product

Something I often see is a mismatch of how a company talks about its product or service vs. how a customer is actually searching for it in the real world.

If you’re bidding on keywords you think describe your product or service but are not getting any traction, you could be misaligning expectations.

Oftentimes, searches that lead to conversions are from terms you wouldn’t have thought to bid on without looking at the search terms report.

One of this report’s most underutilized use cases is finding lesser-known ways customers are searching for and finding your product.

Finding these types of keywords may result in the creation of a new campaign, especially if the search terms don’t fit existing ad group structures.

Building out campaigns by different search themes allows for appropriate bidding strategies for each because not all keyword values are created equal!

Understanding how a customer is describing their need for a product or service not only helps your keyword strategy but can lead to better-aligned product positioning.

This leads us to a third way the search term report can help your campaigns.

3. Optimize Ad Copy and Landing Pages

As discussed in #2, customers’ language and phrases can provide valuable insights into their needs and preferences.

Marketers can use the search terms report to better tailor ad copy, making it more relevant and appealing to prospective customers.

And let’s not forget about the corresponding landing page!

Once a user clicks on an ad, they expect to see an alignment of what they searched for and what is presented on a website.

Make sure that landing page content is updated regularly to better match the searcher’s intent.

This can result in a better user experience and an improvement in conversion rates.

How Using The Search Terms Report Can Help ROI

All three examples above are ways that the search terms report can improve campaign ROI.

How so?

Let’s take a look at each example further.

How Refining Keywords Helps ROI

Part of refining existing keywords is negating any irrelevant search terms that trigger an ad.

Having a solid negative keyword strategy gets rid of “unwanted” spending on keywords that don’t make sense.

That previously “wasted” spend then gets redirected to campaigns that regularly drive higher ROI.

Additionally, adding top-performing search terms gives you better control from a bid strategy perspective.

Being able to pull the appropriate levers and setting proper bid strategies by search theme ultimately leads to better ROI.

How Understanding Audience Intent Helps ROI

By understanding the exact language and search terms that potential customers use, marketers can update ad copy and landing pages to better match those searches.

This can increase ad relevance and Ad Rank within Google Ads.

These items help with keyword Quality Score, which can help reduce CPCs as your Quality Score increases.

More relevant ads likely lead to higher click-through rates, which leads to a higher likelihood of converting those users!

How Updating Ad Copy And Landing Pages Helps ROI

This example goes hand-in-hand with the above recommendation.

As you start to better understand the audience’s search intent, updating ad copy and landing pages to reflect their search indicates better ad relevance.

Once a user clicks on that relevant ad, they find the content of the landing page matches better to what they’re looking for.

This enhanced relevance can significantly increase the likelihood of conversion, which ultimately boosts ROI.

Use This Report To Make Data-Driven Decisions

Google Ads is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy, often accounting for a large portion of your marketing budget.

By regularly reviewing the search terms report, you can refine your marketing budget to make your Google Ads campaigns more effective.

Using this report to make data-driven decisions that fine-tune multiple facets of campaign management leads to more effective ad spending, higher conversions, and ultimately higher ROI.

More resources: 

Featured Image: FGC/Shutterstock

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