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Getting Started In International SEO: A Quick Reference Guide

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Getting Started In International SEO: A Quick Reference Guide

For many companies, having a global website is one of the best ways to reach a wider audience to grow their business.

As more quick and easy website design services become available, even an individual can start a business by targeting foreign countries via a global website.

The thing is though, having a global website does not make you successful in other countries.

Also, following the standard SEO best practices does not make your global website competitive in all target countries. While there seems to be boundless information about international SEO available, it is a fact that many of them are either outdated or incorrect.

In this post, I’ll cover some of the key areas of international SEO.

What Are The Differences Between International & Regular SEO?

The standard SEO best practices certainly are the foundation of international SEO as the search engine algorithms are very similar, if not the same, from country to country.

I’d say that international SEO is built on standard SEO knowledge and skills.

So, what makes international SEO different? The main reasons are:

  • Languages.
  • Multiple websites.
  • Popular search engines.
  • Local audience.
  • Local competitors.

While you pay attention to each site, you must keep an eye on the overall performance when you have global websites. Otherwise, your local market websites may be competing against each other or the worst case, may not be indexed at all.

For example, your website designed for Mexico should not outrank or appear in the search results in Spain, if you have a different site designed for Spain.

If you misuse the canonical tag or hreflang tag, certain sites may not be indexed by the search engines or create duplicate indexing.

Should I Go Global? And Where Is My Market?

Before you get into international SEO, it’s always a good idea to review some market reports, stats, and even your own website data to help make the decision.

This is particularly important if you are not sure about the opportunities in different countries or have some convincing to do with your bosses.

Here are some informational sources you can use to decide or prioritize the countries/markets to go after:

  • Government and trade organization websites, such as Trade.gov and WTO.org provide the latest international business and trade news and statistics.
  • Many companies provide Internet-related reports and statistics, such as Internet World Stats, Econsultancy, and McKinsey & Company. There are numerous sites providing information about specific countries, too.
  • Your own analytics data. Do you see anyone visiting your site from other countries? Is there any country that sends more traffic to your site than another? It’s worth paying attention to these markets, especially if any of them are converting already.

One Global Site Or Multiple Website?

If the market is big enough for you to invest in, definitely go with a separate site for each target country.

Not just for SEO reasons, but also to provide a better user experience to the local visitors, it’s always better to have a dedicated site for each of your target countries. It also allows you to use different designs and content on each site, if needed.

However, this may not be a feasible option for you, at least not at the beginning. In that case, you’ll have a site for each language that is spoken in your target countries.

It is okay to do this as you may want to test the waters first before you dive in too deep.

Luckily, we can use hreflang tags to tell Google which language and country each site is created for.

Which Domain To Have: ccTLD or gTLD?

If you asked me this question in 2008, my answer was always to go with a ccTLD. The reality is that not everyone can have this option for different reasons.

Luckily, it doesn’t have as much of an impact on your SEO as the search engines have come a long way. We now have other options to geotarget the sites, especially with Google.

Note that some of the search engines such as Baidu still favor websites with local ccTLD.

Also, people outside the U.S. tend to click websites with local TLD over sites with .com or other generic TLDs.

Does Hosting Location Matter?

The location of the website host was one of the important signals for the international SEO related to geotargeting.

However, it’s not as important now that we have other ways to correctly indicate your website’s target market to the search engines and regionally managed CDNs.

Still, the host location has a large impact on the page speed. Make sure that your site can be accessed in the target countries quickly.

How Should I Go About Alternative Geotargeting?

Perhaps, geotargeting is one of the simplest practices where many websites make mistakes as site owners moved from ccTLDs and local market hosting.

There are several ways to geotarget your websites and pages. Here are some of the popular methods:

  • Geolocation assignment in Google Search Console.
  • Hreflang tag for Google.
  • Language meta tag information for Bing.

Side Note: Google now generates the search results based on the searcher’s location no matter which local version of Google a searcher is using.

For example, you used to get different search results from Google.com than Google U.K. (google.co.uk) or Google Australia (google.com.au) even when searching for the same keyword.

But now, you will get the same results in all three Google searches unless you do that search in three different countries.

Google Or Not Google?

While Google is by far the most popularly used of the search engines around the world, in some countries, there are locally grown search engines that are far more popular than Google.

If your target country is one of those below, you’ll need to pay some extra attention to monitor these local sites and for additional optimization work.

  • China (Mainland, Simplified Chinese language).
  • Russia and Eastern European countries.
  • South Korea.

Do I Need to Care About Other Search Engines?

While Google is by far the most popularly used search engine around the world, in some countries, there are locally grown search engines that are very popular.

By ignoring these search engines, you are ignoring huge business opportunities in those countries.

If your target country is one of those below, you’ll need to pay some extra attention to monitor these local sites and for additional optimization work.

  • China (Mainland, Simplified Chinese language) – Baidu.
  • Russia and Eastern European Countries – Yandex.
  • South Korea – Naver.

Of course, even in the countries where Google is most popular, ignoring other popular search engines including Bing limits your business potential.

Translation And Localization

Your global sites should not be the copied and pasted version of your home country website in different languages, though I see that happen to many websites.

Yes, translation and localization of website content are one of the first steps. But then, you need to optimize the sites for each country’s local audience from messaging and offerings to the overall user experience of the site.

A site with popular and well-performing content in the U.S. market may not do as well in Asia or in South America and may require additional content edits and optimization work.

For these reasons, it is important to conduct the keyword research in each targeting country from the standpoint of understanding the local interests and the words they use.

Keep in mind that although the translators or the translation agencies provide a correctly translated document, they may not use the same words that people use to search the information.

Do I Need To Build Links For Each Website?

It’s a hard, “Yes.”

Even when you have one global site with all country or language sites under the same domain, you still want to build links to each site even when you already have tons of links pointing to your domain.

It is because your home country website is likely to have links coming from external sites that are in the same home country.

In order for your global websites to be competitive in each country, you need links from country-specific to the website.

For example, you want to gain links from websites in India or targeting India to your Indian website. Having links from local websites is a good indication to the search engines that your website is designed and suited for that country.

What Else Should I Consider Before I Go Global?

One of the biggest challenges that most companies with global websites face, even the multinational Fortune 100 companies, is the local resources.

No one has the luxury of having unlimited resources in each target country, and this can become a major bottleneck especially since SEO is not a one-off project but requires continued efforts.

The key is to plan task and responsibility allocation between the headquarter and local offices such as:

Now, you may not have any offices or representatives in other countries, or no resources available in local offices.

In those cases, you need to consider whether you’d want to hire one or multiple outside resources.

Conclusion and Takeaway

International SEO is built on top of the standard SEO best practices.

The optimized website doesn’t always produce an optimized global website even after it is translated, and there are several key points in both technical and content optimization efforts that need to be considered.

In fact, adding more languages and content creates more work due to the duplicate content and geotargeting issues as well as the link building.

A global website is a great way to expand your market reach, but it also requires extra resources and budget to do international SEO right.

You do not need to target many languages and countries.

Research your business opportunities using your own data as well as market reports from trusted authorities to decide where you want to be visible in the search results.

More resources:


Featured Image: Sozina Kseniia/Shutterstock




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15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

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15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

You only need three tools to get sixteen highly actionable data points on your competitors’ traffic.

Before we dive in, let’s set the right expectations: no tool will give you your competitor’s exact traffic data. However, it’s still well enough to see what works for them, copy their best ideas, or set realistic benchmarks.

We’ll cover:

  • Types of data you can access, such as traffic volume, trends, organic and paid keywords, and audience insights.
  • Practical use cases, including benchmarking, tracking progress, identifying content gaps, boosting your SEO and SEM, and negotiating budgets.
  • Last but not least, how this data is gathered and its reliability.

With these tools and insights, you’ll be well-equipped to understand and outperform your competitors’ website traffic.

We’ll start with organic search traffic — the source on which you’ll get the most data.

How to analyze competitor organic search traffic

Organic search traffic refers to the clicks a site gets from search engines, excluding search ads.

There’s a lot you can tell about your competitors’ organic traffic and a lot you can tell from it. Here are my favorite twelve use cases with detailed instructions.

You can check that in seconds for free, right now:

The tool will also show you where in the world the traffic is coming from, some of the top pages and keywords, and traffic value (i.e., the value of the organic search traffic, if it were to be acquired via PPC in Google Ads).

Organic competitors are the sites that compete with you for the same organic keywords in search engines.

Typically, you’ll have more organic competitors than your regular direct business competitors. For example, a 3D printer manufacturer may be competing for a fair share of keywords with a 3D printing magazine — completely different businesses, same keywords.

So by rounding up your top organic competitors, you gain a bigger pool of keyword ideas you can potentially target. Much bigger than if you’d just take into account your direct competitors.

Here’s how to identify all organic competitors.

  1. Open Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and enter your domain.
  2. Go to the Organic competitors report.
Organic competitors report. Organic competitors report.

From there, you can look at the common keywords to see where they outrank you or click on Competitor’s keywords to see keywords you don’t rank for but they do (a.k.a. your content gap).

Top competing domains report showing keyword intersect. Top competing domains report showing keyword intersect.

If your competitor is doing SEO, typically their blog will attract most of their organic traffic. But this is not always the case. They may have found other ways of getting clicks from Google, like free tools or free resources, and you could do the same.

  1. Open Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Site structure report.
Site structure report. Site structure report.

For example, someone analyzing our site could see that our free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog.

Free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog. Free writing tools get more organic traffic than years of writing on the blog.

To see your competitor’s top performing pages:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Top pages report.
Top pages report.Top pages report.

The first use case here is targeting the same keywords as their top pages to channel some of that traffic your way.

Top keyword column in Top pages report. Top keyword column in Top pages report.

There’s more. You can use the report to see which pages contributed to an uptrend or downtrend in your competitor’s traffic.

Analyzing changes in traffic with the Top pages report. Analyzing changes in traffic with the Top pages report.

Or, focus on top-performing pages and use the Compare pages view to see when those pages started to pick up traffic.

Comparing pages in Top pages report.Comparing pages in Top pages report.

Now to see what the competitors did to improve the pages, click on the caret next to the page and click Inspect.

Accessing the Inspect tool contextually.  Accessing the Inspect tool contextually.

Then choose the date on the calendar and view changes made to the text in that time.

Calendar tool in Ahrefs. Calendar tool in Ahrefs.

If you’re already doing SEO or considering it, seeing a list of your competitors’ keywords is almost like they’ve shared their keyword research with you.

You can use keyword data to find:

  • Top-performing keywords and “steal” some of their traffic with your own content.
  • Top-performing keywords in specific countries.
  • Keywords with specific terms to find content ideas around certain topics or phrases.
  • Low-difficulty keywords (typically, faster to rank).

To see your competitors’ keywords:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report.
  3. Use the filters to find what you need. For instance, use the KD filter to find low-competition keywords.
Organic keywords report in Ahrefs. Organic keywords report in Ahrefs.

For example, you can track the ranking history of your competitor’s top traffic-generating keywords. If you see sudden spikes, it likely means they’ve updated the content to increase ranking. By using the calendar feature mentioned above, you can learn how they did it.

SERP history. SERP history.

One of the best ways to find organic traffic you’re potentially missing out on is to do a content gap analysis. In SEO, it means identifying the keywords that your competitors rank for but you don’t. Some of those keywords can make perfect topics for you to cover.

In Ahefs, you can do a content gap analysis automatically:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool.
  2. Enter your domain in the Target section.
  3. Enter your competitors’ domains in the Competitors section.
  4. Hit “Compare”.
  5. Click the Content Gap report.
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool.
Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis tool.

Toggle Main positions to exclude your competitors’ rankings in SERP features like “Top stories” and “Image packs.”

Toggling the "Main positions only" feature.
Toggling the "Main positions only" feature.

Now look through the report and identify keywords that are relevant for your site. The volume column will show you which keywords are likely to send the most traffic.

More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report.
More than 60,000 potential keyword opportunities via Ahrefs' Content Gap report.

Short-term organic traffic performance can inform you of the latest developments in your competitors’ rankings (say, within the last 24 hours to a couple of weeks).

For example, you can observe the impact of the latest Google Update on their site, see how much traffic they gained or lost last month, or check if any of their newly launched pages are already picking up traffic.

To see short-term organic traffic performance:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. In the Overview report, choose a timeframe in the Changes mode.
Choosing a short-term data timeframe in Overview report. Choosing a short-term data timeframe in Overview report.

This will adjust the top-level metrics and traffic by location panel and show you the changes over the specified period.

1717077370 466 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic1717077370 466 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

You can go as deep as day-to-day traffic changes — a very helpful thing if you want to see Google’s update impact on your competitors’ traffic.

Traffic performance graph showing exact day of a Google update. Traffic performance graph showing exact day of a Google update.

Date comparison is available in multiple tools and reports across Ahrefs.

As for long-term traffic performance, this allows to set a traffic goal to match or overtake your competitor’s traffic, and plan your budget based on competitor’s performance. You can also use it to forecast your competitors’ traffic.

To see long-term traffic performance:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Turn on the Years mode in the traffic graph.
  3. Adjust the time frame and export the data if needed.
Choosing a long-term data timeframe in Overview report. Choosing a long-term data timeframe in Overview report.

Seeing multiple sites on one graph is useful if you want to identify the leader in your niche, compare your site to a few competitors simultaneously, and determine if you are catching up to the leader or if someone is catching up to you.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your domain.
  2. Add competitors using the Competitors tab.
Zoho Desk's traffic (green) is catching up to Intercom (blue).
Zoho Desk's traffic (green) is catching up to Intercom (blue).

Organic share of voice (SOV) is an SEO metric that shows how much traffic goes to your pages compared to competitors’.

In other words, if you want to see your overall organic search traffic share in the market, and eventually increase it, this is the metric you’d want to use.

SOV is based on tracked keywords, so you first need to add them to the tool. These can be keywords you target on your blog, your product pages, or even all of your important keywords together.

  • Go to Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker.
  • Start a New project.
  • Select keywords to track. You can use the filters to refine the list suggested by the tool and add some keywords later on. Make sure to choose only important locations for your site.
Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs Rank Tracker. Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.
  • Add competitors. You can add specific sites or choose from the ones suggested by the tool. Notice the keyword intersect — the higher the number, the “closer” the competitor.
Adding competitors to analyze in Rank Tracker. Adding competitors to analyze in Rank Tracker.

Once you finish the set-up, you will be able to see and regularly track SOV in the Competitors Overview section in Rank Tracker.

Share of voice metric in Rank Tracker. Share of voice metric in Rank Tracker.

One of the ways your competitors could be getting traffic is from links from other sites (a.k.a. referral traffic).

Knowing who links to your competitors allows you to pursue the same or similar links which can help you not only get more referral traffic but also boost your SEO and increase your brand awareness.

To find pages with a high probability of sending traffic to your competitors, look for backlinks from pages with significant organic traffic. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Open Backlinks report. Pages with the most traffic will be displayed on top by default.
Backlinks report in Ahrefs. Backlinks report in Ahrefs.

From there you can use the Referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too. Simply add in words like “vs, review, tool, tools, top” as a way to identify these pages.

Using the referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too.Using the referring page title filter to see only reviews or rankings where you could be listed, too.

Here’s an example of such a page:

1717077372 49 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic1717077372 49 15 Unique Ways to Check Competitor Website Traffic

Another way to analyze your competitors’ traffic is to treat them as one entity. This allows you to:

  • Benchmark your site traffic trend to your competitors as a market segment.
  • Identify broader industry trends and seasonal patterns in traffic.
  • Assess the collective impact of major events, such as changes in search engine algorithms or economic shifts.
  • Monitor the overall health and growth rate of your industry.

For this, use the Portfolios feature in Ahrefs. The image below shows aggregated data for four sites, including organic traffic and paid traffic (from Google Search Ads).

Example portfolio of sites. Example portfolio of sites.

Here’s how to set it up:

  • Dashboard and click Create > Portfolio.
How to create a new portfolio.  How to create a new portfolio.
  • Fill in the URLs you want to track. Note the URL mode selector. Use “Domain” to track the entire domain with subdomains, “Path” for folders, and “Exact URL” for single pages.
Filling details of a site portfolio. Filling details of a site portfolio.

How to analyze competitor paid search traffic

Paid search traffic refers to the clicks a site gets from search ads on search engine result pages. Here’s how to check your competitors’s paid search traffic and how to use that knowledge to your advantage.

If you’re running search ads, checking out your competitors’ paid keywords can give you ready-made keyword research. This lets you see which keywords are working for them and helps you fine-tune your own ad strategy to target those high-performing keywords.

What’s more, you can reveal paid search data Google Keyword Planner hides by default: search volume for a particular keyword instead of a search volume range for a group of keywords.

And even if you’re not investing in ads, this info can still be super useful. It usually means these keywords are important to your competitors because they know these keywords bring in customers. Chances are, these keywords could be important for your business, too.

To find your competitors’ paid keywords:

  1. Go to Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s domain.
  2. Open Paid keywords report.
Paid keywords report in Intercom. Paid keywords report in Intercom.

From here, you can use filters to find keywords that meet your CPC, traffic, or relevance criteria, and sort the data to see the keywords which bring the most traffic.

Filters in paid keywords report. Filters in paid keywords report.

Notice the Paid/organic traffic share bar. If you see both blue and yellow color, that means your competitor has invested in the keyword twice (through content and ads) and is trying to get as much SERP real estate as possible — consider pursuing these keywords as well.

Paid traffic/organic traffic share. Paid traffic/organic traffic share.

Another way to gauge a keyword’s importance is to look at its ad position history. A long and consistent history suggests it’s likely a valuable ‘money’ keyword, while a short history might indicate your competitor is just experimenting with it.

Ad history report. Ad history report.

Want to check out their ad copy and landing pages? Head to the Ads report. You can set the location where your competitor runs their ads and see the landing pages and keywords associated with each ad.

Ads report in Ahrefs. Ads report in Ahrefs.

Interested to see how much your competitors spend to get all of that paid traffic?

  1. Go to Site Explorer.
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain.
  3. Open Paid pages report.
  4. Set the preferred location to see the budget per country (leave it set to all locations to see the total ad spend).
  5. Set the Performance report to Paid traffic cost set and adjust the timeframe.
Paid pages report in Ahrefs. Paid pages report in Ahrefs.

Use this data to set a benchmark for traffic performance relative to ad spend and to negotiate the budget for your campaigns.

How to analyze other traffic sources

If you’re interested in the overall competitor traffic performance, here’s where to look.

To get a quick answer to how much traffic your competitors get overall (from all traffic sources), you can get that information for free with Similarweb.

Once you set up a free account, simply go to Website analysis > Website performance report.

Website performance report in Similarweb. Website performance report in Similarweb.

Arguably, the best way to use Similarweb is in comparison mode. This approach ensures that the data is directionally accurate: whether the data is overestimated or underestimated, it is consistently so across all sites. By comparing your traffic with your competitors, you can identify the relative differences that set you apart.

Comparing websites in Similarweb. Comparing websites in Similarweb.

Similarweb is not the only tool with general traffic insights. Another one is Sparktoro, an audience research tool.

What’s great about Sparktoro is that its data and functionality revolve around the users behind the clicks. So you can use Similarweb to understand how popular the site is and then Sparktoro to get to know the people who visit it. Take that data and use it for persona development, fine-tuning your messaging, and looking up influencers to partner with or sites to advertise on.

Simply set up an account at Sparktoro and type your competitor’s domain in the search bar. Make sure the “Visit the website” mode is on.

Overview report in Sparktoro. Overview report in Sparktoro.

From there go to:

  • Social networks: scroll down a bit and see which social network the brand uses the most. This not only tells which social networks likely send the most traffic but also which proved to be the most engaging.
  • Demographics tab: see data like gender, age, geography and interests. What’s unique about this data is that it comes from social media profiles.
  • Social accounts tab: to see what social media accounts site visitors are likely to follow and engage with. This is a great source of potential influencers to work with.
  • YouTube channels, Reddit, and Podcast tabs: see where it’s highly likely to meet your competitors’ (and possibly yours) audience.

Where does the data come from? Is it accurate?

Depending on the tool, the data on your competitors will mostly come from:

This means that, in most cases, the data is estimated instead of actual data taken from your competitors and handed over to you.

So, when it comes to the data’s accuracy, you should expect a blend of estimated accuracy and directional accuracy. Despite best efforts, the data will be approximated and designed to give you an idea of relative performance because there’s no other way.

This also means that if you’re interested in a particular type of traffic, say traffic from search engines, it’s probably best to get a dedicated tool for that. You’ll get access to bigger data sets and more capable functionality, allowing you to do more.

Final thoughts

Want to go deeper into competitor analysis? Check out our other guides to go beyond traffic data:

Got questions or comments? Let me know on X or LinkedIn.



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The Top 10 Content Marketing Skills You Need

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10 Content Marketing Skills You Need to Master

Want to reach more of your target audience, connect with them, and have meaningful interactions?

Quality content marketing may be the ideal solution for you.

But gone are the days of simply writing and releasing content.

Effective content marketing requires various skills and strategies if you want to get it right.

If you’re looking to breathe new life into your brand and generate more interest in your target audience, here are the top 10 skills and strategies you’ll need.

1. Know Your Audience And Target Them Effectively

Ask anyone about content and content marketing, and chances are that audience targeting is one of the first suggestions.

But what does audience targeting actually mean? And why is it an essential content marketing skill?

First, understand who your audience is, what their day is like, their priorities, and what they’re doing or intending to do while they consume content.

Then, use that information to craft content that counts on a platform and in a format that suits your audience.

Take the Shoe Snob Blog as an example.

The content is photo-centric. The page has few distractions, and the storytelling and text are dense and chunked.

The topics range from stories of shoemakers, care tips, and all the insider info a lover of bespoke and top-of-the-line men’s shoes, shoe designer, or shoemaker could want to know about the objects of their obsessions.

These features tell us a lot about the blog’s readers.

Shoe Snob Blog readers are likely visual, busy, and view reading the blog’s content as almost a secret pleasure they indulge in while waiting in line for an expensive coffee.

The blog doesn’t have content on saving money, getting things for less, building shoes more cheaply, or reviews of shoes you’d find in your local department store.

Why? That’s not what the blog’s target audience is interested in. In fact, those topics would likely chase readers away.

For Justin FitzPatrick, the blog’s author, it’s about the luxury, the emotional connection and passion for the brands, and the smaller details most of us wouldn’t likely notice about a man’s dress shoe – in language that matches the audience’s expertise.

You might be tempted to skip audience exploration and targeting to this degree, particularly if you’re a B2B brand or sell something non-visual like insurance.

But this could be a fatal mistake for your content marketing.

Even if you’re selling to another company, that company is driven and shaped by humans you’ll need to get attention from.

2. Understand How Brand Strategy Influences Content

Content and content marketing could do more harm than good if they fail to blend seamlessly with a brand strategy.

So, if you’re looking to build content marketing skills, ensure you understand how brand strategy influences effective content.

Solid brand-driven content strategies consist of six core elements when it comes to content:

  • Brand foundations – What matters to the company, such as the image it wishes to project, etc.
  • Audience discovery and brand position – How the brand fits within the market.
  • Keywords and language – How the company wants people to find its brand, and what language it will use.
  • Authority building – Looking like an expert and a leader on a chosen topic.
  • Content creation – Any content strategy must be manageable, affordable, sustainable, scalable, and effective.
  • Organization – Utilizing an editorial and publishing calendar and post-publishing tracking and measurement to maintain and guide your content strategy.

3. Consider SEO, Search, And Search Engines

SEO and search are essential for getting found, gaining traffic, building authority, and overall growth.

If you want your content marketing to work, you can’t afford to avoid this content marketing skill because you’re not an expert.

  • Users make 1.2 trillion searches on Google per year.
  • 93% of all web traffic comes from a search engine.
  • 46% of searches are made to look for something local.

In January 2023, searches for phrases that included “gifts” increased 45%, while searches that included “presents” increased 15% over 2022. This equated to $47 billion in the two weeks following Christmas.

So, search is growing and becoming more important – not declining.

If you want to take advantage of search traffic, you need to ensure you’re considering several aspects of SEO when developing your content marketing skills, including:

  • Keyword research.
  • AI and how to humanize your content.
  • Link building.
  • Building authority.
  • Topic relevance and expertise.
  • Site structure, website performance, and analytics.

4. Humanize Your Content

Once you get started with content marketing, you’ll realize pretty quickly that AI-generated content is highly problematic.

You need to follow basic SEO formulas to have your content rank, another formula to make it interesting and catchy for readers, and how to maximize the usability of your content.

However, you also need to ensure you stand out from the crowd and surpass your competitors.

To make your content more human-friendly, learn how to:

  • Create content that supports a user journey rather than search engines or sections of a funnel.
  • Utilize customer communications and social channels to understand and connect with your audience. Then, use it to market your content.
  • Make use of internal experts. Not only is looking in-house a way to make excellent content more affordable, but audiences also love to see your brand’s passion for what it does.
  • Take a smart angle, get personal, and have an attitude. Personality and branding are vital, but so is the information you provide. Ensure it is something of value to your readers, and don’t be afraid to tell stories to build emotional connections.
  • Add personal videos to top-performing articles.

One of the best examples of all these tips for humanized content in action is the annual Christmas content campaign from WestJet.

5. Engage By Storytelling And Creative Writing

If you want to capture attention and use content to connect with your audience, you need to be able to tell a good story.

Stories make content emotionally engaging but also make it possible for readers to experience what it would be like if they purchased your product or service.

Want to strengthen your content marketing with storytelling?

  • Create relatable, believable content. To do this, know your audience, understand their experiences, and create content that aligns with this knowledge.
  • Have a clear message. Like an ad, every story or piece of content needs a goal and a clear message you want to convey to your audience.
  • Choose the right type of story. Do you need to make an emotional connection? Compel a reader to act? Convey values, a feature, or a concept? Build community?
  • Select the right platform and medium. If you want to share several statistics, video might not be the best option. Selling vacations? YouTube or TikTok might perform better than Reddit or a blog.
  • Know where to start and stop. Your content needs to appear at the right point in the customer journey and push readers to the next step. What should readers do next?
  • Organize and structure. Plan your content ahead of time. Make sure your stories have an arc, make sense, and take readers or views through an experience.

6. Do Your Research

The best content provides an audience with information or a look at something they normally don’t have access to.

To find this information, you must be prepared for deep research – and that means a lot more than just finding a statistic.

Find the original source or study. Ensure the number you’ve found is still relevant and accurate. Consider the source of the statistic and how they arrived at that number. What did the study not consider when finding their statistic?

To build additional authority, you may consider interviewing the source of a statistic or a subject area expert.

7. Improve Your Interviewing Skills

While it helps if you deeply understand the subject matter, it isn’t all lost if you’re new to the topic.

In fact, being a newbie to a topic can have advantages because you can see the topic with a fresh perspective.

One thing you must be knowledgeable about, however, is interviews. Interviewing is an essential content marketing skill.

Here are some tips:

Prepare

Arrive at the interview with an understanding of the topic. Know the pains and challenges individuals interested in the topic face.

Understand your priorities for your readers, the industry, and the individual you’re interviewing.

Have a list of questions that are thoughtful and organized, and work toward answering a single question or reaching a specific goal.

Set Interview Goal

Are you trying to get tips from an expert? A day in the life of? Solve or bring light to a certain issue? Make a human connection?

Choose a goal for your interview, organize it into an outline, and remove any question or information that doesn’t help you move toward that goal.

Be Personable And Make The Interviewee Comfortable

Awkward silences, a lack of rapport, nervousness, and other social aspects can interfere with an otherwise excellent interview and affect the information you collect.

You may want to consider using cognitive interview techniques, which have been adapted from criminal investigation for journalism.

Record Your Conversation

As humans, our brains prioritize stimuli to determine what is important and what we should pay attention to and remember.

This attentional filtering becomes more severe when you’re making notes, thinking about the technical aspects of an interview, and nervous. As a result, it’s easy to miss important details or implications.

So, save some time and improve your accuracy and insights into the information provided during the interview by making a recording that you can refer to as often as necessary.

Be Precise And Ask For Clarification

Some people love raisins in cinnamon buns. Others do not. And just like the raisins debate, how you define a word or concept may vary greatly from someone else.

So, if the information you collect during an interview seems vague, or you’re unsure of something the interviewee says, ask.

The worst thing you can do is assume that it isn’t true or deliberately influence the meaning of someone’s words.

8. Measure And Track Everything

Measuring something is generally easy. The difficult part of measurement and tracking is measuring and tracking the right things.

SEJ’s annual State of SEO Report reveals that SEO professionals often have a mismatch between their goals, the methods and strategies they use to reach them, and the variables they measure.

Content marketers and marketing are no exception.

Let’s say you want to use content marketing to increase conversions. So, you create a video for your hot tub company.

In this instance, tracking and analyzing traffic data to the video would be a mistake. Those numbers are only part of the story.

Instead, track clicks and use traffic data to better understand who clicks through to your content and where viewers go after they consume it.

And this is vital: Don’t stop your analysis at the click.

Every visit from a viewer is only one step in a larger journey – and this journey matters.

Returning to the previous example, your video might have generated fewer clicks and conversions overall.

Dig a little deeper, however, and you might discover that those few conversions were of much higher value than average, and the viewers return to your site more often than your average site viewer.

In this instance, while traffic numbers might make it look like your video failed, analysis of the customer journey reveals that your video was actually a big success, attracting a more qualified, valuable, and engaged audience.

9. Repackage Content With Purpose

You invest a lot of resources in creating amazing content. Don’t simply publish it in one format and waste the rest of its potential.

Before creating content, consider all the different formats and ways you can share it to get attention.

By planning, you can collect images, video footage, sound bites, expert quotes, and everything you’ll need to share and market your content in various ways to maximize your return on investment (ROI).

But refrain from repackaging content with the sole purpose of spreading it everywhere. Carefully plan your content to appear when and where you need to.

As explained in the video above, Search Engine Journal uses the data gathered for its State of SEO Report to create:

  • White paper reports.
  • Podcast.
  • Articles on data not included in the main reports.
  • Infographics.
  • Carousels for social media.
  • Video clips.

Some of these are released before the main report is published to help spread the word and generate interest while sharing interesting insights about the SEO industry.

Then, when the report is released, it is followed by additional content to help generate interest, links, and findings.

Therefore, instead of a week of interest, the reports generate traffic and attention while informing readers for months without significantly increasing the original investment.

10. Stand Out While Blending In

One of the more common pieces of advice is to copy successful content and do what others are doing.

Makes sense, right?

After all, SEO, good writing, and other skills all have best practices you need to follow. Your audience also has preferences, expectations, and requirements.

Your content needs to look like everyone else’s to some degree.

But here’s the problem with this advice: No one stands out if everyone does things the same way.

Therefore, learning how to blend in while standing out is an essential skill for content marketing.

So, instead of mimicking or copying successful content, collect several examples that have worked on a specific platform or for a specific audience and investigate to find out why they’re effective.

Then, you can use these insights to create and test your own content that allows you to stand out, be unique, and fulfill the needs of your target audience.

Conclusion

Effective marketing is more than choosing the right topic or quality writing.

By strengthening and utilizing these 10 content marketing skills, your content will help you generate the right traffic and connect with your audience in a way that will have you dominating the competition.

More resources:


Featured Image: Viktoria Kurpas/Shutterstock

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Google Documents Leaked & SEOs Are Making Some Wild Assumptions

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Google Documents Leaked & SEOs Are Making Some Wild Assumptions

You’ve probably heard about the recent Google documents leak. It’s on every major site and all over social media.

Where did the docs come from?

My understanding is that a bot called yoshi-code-bot leaked docs related to the Content API Warehouse on Github on March 13th, 2024. It may have appeared earlier in some other repos, but this is the one that was first discovered.

They were discovered by an anonymous ex-Googler who shared the info with Erfan Azimi who shared it with Rand Fishkin who shared it with Mike King. The docs were removed on May 7th.

I appreciate all involved for sharing their findings with the community.

Google’s response

There was some debate if the documents were real or not, but they mention a lot of internal systems and link to internal documentation and it definitely appears to be real.

A Google spokesperson released the following statement to Search Engine Land:

We would caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated, or incomplete information. We’ve shared extensive information about how Search works and the types of factors that our systems weigh, while also working to protect the integrity of our results from manipulation.

SEOs interpret things based on their own experiences and bias

Many SEOs are saying that the ranking factors leaked. I haven’t seen any code or weights, just what appear to be descriptions and storage info. Unless one of the descriptions says the item is used for ranking, I think it’s dangerous for SEOs that all of these are used in ranking.

Having some features or information stored does not mean they’re used in ranking. For our search engine, Yep.com, we have all kinds of things stored that might be used for crawling, indexing, ranking, personalization, testing, or feedback. We even have things stored that we aren’t doing things with yet.

What is more likely is that SEOs are making assumptions that favor their own opinions and biases.

It’s the same for me. I may not have full context or knowledge and may have inherent biases that influence my interpretation, but I try to be as fair as I can be. If I’m wrong, it means that I will learn something new and that’s a good thing! SEOs can, and do, interpret things differently.

Gael Breton said it well:

I’ve been around long enough to see many SEO myths created over the years and I can point you to who started many of them and what they misunderstood. We’ll likely see a lot of new myths from this leak that we’ll be dealing with for the next decade or longer.

Let’s look at a few things that in my opinion are being misinterpreted or where conclusions are being drawn where they shouldn’t be.

SiteAuthority

As much as I want to be able to say Google has a Site Authority score that they use for ranking that’s like DR, that part specifically is about compressed quality metrics and talks about quality.

I believe DR is more an effect that happens as you have a lot of pages with strong PageRank, not that it’s necessarily something Google uses. Lots of pages with higher PageRank that internally link to each other means you’re more likely to create stronger pages.

  • Do I believe that PageRank could be part of what Google calls quality? Yes.
  • Do I think that’s all of it? No.
  • Could Site Authority be something similar to DR? Maybe. It fits in the bigger picture.
  • Can I prove that or even that it’s used in rankings? No, not from this.

From some of the Google testimony to the US Department of Justice, we found out that quality is often measured with an Information Satisfaction (IS) score from the raters. This isn’t directly used in rankings, but is used for feedback, testing, and fine-tuning models.

We know the quality raters have the concept of E-E-A-T, but again that’s not exactly what Google uses. They use signals that align to E-E-A-T.

Some of the E-E-A-T signals that Google has mentioned are:

  • PageRank
  • Mentions on authoritative sites
  • Site queries. This could be “site:http://ahrefs.com E-E-A-T” or searches like “ahrefs E-E-A-T”

So could some kind of PageRank scores extrapolated to the domain level and called Site Authority be used by Google and be part of what makes up the quality signals? I’d say it’s plausible, but this leak doesn’t prove it.

I can recall 3 patents from Google I’ve seen about quality scores. One of them aligns with the signals above for site queries.

I should point out that just because something is patented, doesn’t mean it is used. The patent around site queries was written in part by Navneet Panda. Want to guess who the Panda algorithm that related to quality was named after? I’d say there’s a good chance this is being used.

The others were around n-gram usage and seemed to be to calculate a quality score for a new website and another mentioned time on site.

Sandbox

I think this has been misinterpreted as well. The document has a field called hostAge and refers to a sandbox, but it specifically says it’s used “to sandbox fresh spam in serving time.”

To me, that doesn’t confirm the existence of a sandbox in the way that SEOs see it where new sites can’t rank. To me, it reads like a spam protection measure.

Clicks

Are clicks used in rankings? Well, yes, and no.

We know Google uses clicks for things like personalization, timely events, testing, feedback, etc. We know they have models upon models trained on the click data including navBoost. But is that directly accessing the click data and being used in rankings? Nothing I saw confirms that.

The problem is SEOs are interpreting this as CTR is a ranking factor. Navboost is made to predict which pages and features will be clicked. It’s also used to cut down on the number of returned results which we learned from the DOJ trial.

As far as I know, there is nothing to confirm that it takes into account the click data of individual pages to re-order the results or that if you get more people to click on your individual results, that your rankings would go up.

That should be easy enough to prove if it was the case. It’s been tried many times. I tried it years ago using the Tor network. My friend Russ Jones (may he rest in peace) tried using residential proxies.

I’ve never seen a successful version of this and people have been buying and trading clicks on various sites for years. I’m not trying to discourage you or anything. Test it yourself, and if it works, publish the study.

Rand Fishkin’s tests for searching and clicking a result at conferences years ago showed that Google used click data for trending events, and they would boost whatever result was being clicked. After the experiments, the results went right back to normal. It’s not the same as using them for the normal rankings.

Authors

We know Google matches authors with entities in the knowledge graph and that they use them in Google news.

There seems to be a decent amount of author info in these documents, but nothing about them confirms that they’re used in rankings as some SEOs are speculating.

Was Google lying to us?

What I do disagree with whole-heartedly is SEOs being angry with the Google Search Advocates and calling them liars. They’re nice people who are just doing their job.

If they told us something wrong, it’s likely because they don’t know, they were misinformed, or they’ve been instructed to obfuscate something to prevent abuse. They don’t deserve the hate that the SEO community is giving them right now. We’re lucky that they share information with us at all.

If you think something they said is wrong, go and run a test to prove it. Or if there’s a test you want me to run, let me know. Just being mentioned in the docs is not proof that a thing is used in rankings.

Final Thoughts

While I may agree or I may disagree with the interpretations of other SEOs, I respect all who are willing to share their analysis. It’s not easy to put yourself or your thoughts out there for public scrutiny.

I also want to reiterate that unless these fields specifically say they are used in rankings, that the information could just as easily be used for something else. We definitely don’t need any posts about Google’s 14,000 ranking factors.

If you want my thoughts on a particular thing, message me on X or LinkedIn.



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