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How to Develop an Effective SEO Content Strategy

In Conversation with Michel Fortin

For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser hosted Michel Fortin, director of Search Marketing at SEO Plus. Michel breaks down the process to build an effective SEO content strategy and shares some reliable tools along with the importance of following a user-centric approach. Watch now.

The more you make your site, focus on the user providing value, and make it more relevant, the more you rank well.

Michel Fortin
Director of Search Marketing at SEO Plus

Hello, everyone. Welcome to this episode of Ecoffee with Experts. I’m your host, Matt Fraser. And on this episode, I have a very special guest who I’m honored to have on the show, Michel Fortin. Michel is the director of Search Marketing at SEO plus, an agency headquartered in our nation’s capital, Ottawa, Canada. Michel and I are both from Canada. His role is to help accelerate online results and create productive marketing strategies that translate into real-world ROI for the agency’s clients. Since 1992, Michel has been instrumental in generating over half a billion dollars in sales for his clients. His pioneering work was responsible for setting many records, such as generating the first ever $1 million in online sales in under 24 hours. He’s an author, speaker, and consultant with over 30 years of experience in Digital Marketing and Marketing. Michel, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Well, thank you for having me. That was a great introduction. Thank you.

I know you’ve transitioned from copywriting to embracing Digital Marketing as a whole. And I know that you’ve talked about that in other places, there are other places. I mean, I would love to talk about that. But I also know there’s a piece of content on Coffeeville where people can learn the whole story of how you did that and on your site. In my opinion, you’re a legend. So not to build you up too much. But you know, writing the first million dollar sales letter on that dotted line was pretty neat. And it was like 175 pages, you said.

It was, the first one was 75 pages, and then when we did the relaunch, which was just a month later, we were putting it back out in the market, and we added testimonials, and we added more copy. And we added a few extra videos. So I think it came up to about 135 pages when printed.

Yeah, that’s amazing. So now you’ve transitioned into Digital Marketing. I know that one of your passions is many different things you and I share as we talked off camera about SEO, like search engine optimization. I’ve always been fascinated with search engine optimization as a marketing channel and how it fits with marketing. But I noticed on your blog that you had a how to develop an effective SEO content strategy. So I’d like to hear your thoughts about that when you’re taking on a client or looking at a website or a venture that someone may get you interested in. So what are the first steps to developing an SEO content strategy for a campaign?

Well, before I answer that question, I want to shorten it to emphasize that SEO has always been part of what I’ve done. I think that SEO is not about search engine optimization. The search engine is there to serve the user, and we write copy for the user to try to get them to take action. We’re doing the same thing on a website or search engine where we’re trying to get them to visit our website. So it’s essentially the same thing. But it’s more focused on giving users the tools, value, and information they’re looking for to fix problems and answer questions. So SEO is very much like a copy. I look at it as just a different industry for the same thing. But to answer your question, I tend to look at, first of all, whenever I do these types of SEO projects, I always look at a doctor’s analogy because it’s important to understand that you never want to prescribe before you diagnose. So I tend to always want to diagnose first, and when a client comes to me, I say, Look, I will gladly do whatever you want me to do in terms of SEO. But before we do that, can we first find out what’s wrong? And so an SEO audit, a content audit, things like that is always something I first do whenever I jump into SEO before I do anything. There are a couple of people I’ve followed now that are fantastic in this realm. One of them is Jonathan Stark. She wrote a book called Hourly Billings is Nuts. And says it’s so different if you were to see a Brain Surgeon and say, Hey, doctor, I think I have a headache. I think I have a tumor. Well, hop on this table right now, and we’ll operate. I knew right away, of course, that no one would do that. So why do we do that as SEO as we shouldn’t do? We should always do a diagnostic first before we do a prescription. And that’s my approach to developing a content strategy. We first do that, and that involves several layers. There’s the audit, there’s the analysis, meaning, do you have content already? How well is it doing it? Are you serving the user properly? Or first of all, who is your user? What exactly are their goals? And then finally, who are your competitors? Who are you trying to outrank or outperform? And then see how you can do a better job? So that is probably key before I do anything?

It is, isn’t it? You mentioned so many nuggets it has become a recurring theme in my conversations with people, in the sense of knowing who your customer is and your customer persona is. And even like you mentioned, I know you’re, as far as I’m concerned, an expert copywriter, and rightly so, I don’t even need to question that. But even writing copy, you must know who you’re writing for and your persona. I mean, even Dan Kennedy taught that you must know who you’re trying to write for to reach. And it’s the same thing with SEO. You touched on how your competition is, knowing who your competition is. So besides the main tools that everybody mentioned, are there any nuggets or tools besides SEMrush or Href?

Well, here’s how I would answer that question. And I love that you mentioned Dan Kennedy because he said something way back that is as applicable to SEO as it was to copy, which is a message-to-market match. And the message-to-market match is what you create, you write a sales letter that will be the right type of message for the right audience and the right offer, delivered at the right time. Well, SEO is no different. You’re trying to match your content to the problems, goals, and questions people are asking, and you tried to ensure that you match that. So often, for example, when people have a keyword, they look up a keyword and then find a bunch of results. So it’s not about the results that match, it’s about ensuring the intent is right. Search intent is so crucial. If I’m asking a question about, I don’t know, I’m using a very simplistic example. But you’ll understand what I’m asking, hey, what’s the weather today in Ottawa, Ontario? I don’t want this long-ass email to read the whole thing until I get to the end.

To find out the history of its all weather.

Well, exactly. So the idea is for me to look at what exactly the market is. Who is the market? You know what, I’ll back it up with one more. It’s probably going to light up something in your brain, I’m sure because you’re a copywriter too. Or at least you understand this business? David Garfinkel is one of my good friends, and we also call him the world’s greatest copywriting coach. And I believe that’s true because he has such a great way. A great person to teach. He is a great teacher of copywriting. He taught something in copy that applies to SEO. He said there are three questions you need to ask- Who is your market? What is your problem? And how do they talk about it? That’s copywriting. Well, guess what? That’s SEO. Who is your market? Find out who your user is. What is their problem? What are their pain points? What are the questions you’re asking? And how are they asking about it? What are the keywords and ways they search for answers to their questions? And that’s the same thing. So when people asked me, Hey, you know, Michel, what type of tools do you use? And what kind of keywords do you look for? First, keywords are such a… I laugh at that because it’s so moronic nowadays, keywords are dead. It’s no longer about counting words. Keywords are great tools to help validate what people are looking for. But Google has become so sophisticated now. It used to be what we call a linguistic search engine, which is they were looking for words in your content that would match that search. But now it’s no longer about that. Google has become so sophisticated that it looks for topics or related topical words or ideas, and it’s now become a semantic search engine. And semantic search engine is topics related word. Sometimes, you could have a piece of content that doesn’t have the same keyword that a person used in a search, but because it serves that topic that people are looking for and matches the search intent it will write well. So it’s not about keywords anymore. So I tend to look at this. For me, the foundation of SEO is the questions people ask. And to find out what questions people ask when I go to Google, you could type in a keyword, but then do a space, either before the keyword or after even if you have like a key phrase, you can do it in between, see, like the autocomplete search suggestions. They’ll give you ideas of all the topics people are looking for and the questions people are asking. Next, go down and about halfway at the top, well, not halfway down the page. But halfway through the talk, you’ve got people also asked. If you click on that, you get a list of all the types of related questions that people ask about a particular topic or an idea. Go right down to the bottom, then, you get related searches. And then, on the right-hand side, you got the knowledge panel, which is related to your knowledge graph, which has all the associated meanings or the associated topics, or subtopics, about the thing you’re searching for. And then plus, you can even click on it, and you can drill down further and ad nauseam. And there are tools now that help you do that faster, which is better for me. And it’s called alsoask.com. And there’s answerthepublic.com. There’s another one called Searchresponse.iO and answersocrates.com. There are a few more, but those are the ones I use. Also asked, will do the drill down for you. So you type in a keyword or topic, and it’ll give you a graph. It’ll connect those graphs by saying if a person asked this question, here are all the other related questions based on that, and then it goes on ad nauseam. And then, you can like create a flowchart. There’s answer the public, which is a different tool, but she’s taking the keyword you have, and it’ll ask questions around that. And like, ask, why, what, when, where, how, and then it’ll give you a list. And then, it will ping the search engines to find out if those are questions people are asking. And yes, and then they’ll present you with the graph. Those are the most fantastic tools (a) for SEO (b) to create content and a content strategy (c) to give people what they want. To give the answers to the questions. And the more you do, the more you’ll rank high. Because as a natural byproduct, not by trying to spam Google, not trying to manipulate your way to the top, not trying to buy backlinks or beg for backlinks. Because if you do, trust me, you’ll get links naturally because you’ll earn them rather than trying to force yourself up to the top of the rankings. But yeah, those are my, that’s my little secret.

I’ve heard of answer the public, of course, but the nuggets alsoasked.com. I mean, maybe there are other SEOs who know about these resources, but I wasn’t aware of alsoask.com or searchresponse.io.

So, also ask is based on people also ask, whereas answer the public it’s kind of like trying different variations of this question. But people also ask, I use both because of the different types of questions that people may ask, people also ask and gives you the actual questions that Google thinks people want to know about when they look for a topic. Which is relevant, it’s semantically relevant keywords, key phrases, whatever.

It looks like Neil Patel bought hot dancing last month. I wasn’t aware of that. Well, good for them. It’s pretty awesome. I don’t want to sound like an idiot, but I’m just going to ask a simple question for simplicity’s sake. So we’ve got all these keywords and developing a content strategy. I know about skyscraper pages, and Brian Dean talked about those, and the people I work for also have built those in the sense of one time, they went out and interviewed. This was for a realtor, I believe, or somebody in that space. And they went and interviewed a whole bunch of interior designers and got their feedback on some questions or whatever people were asking. And then built this long-form skyscraper page and an infographic with a quote from the interior designers with a low headshot illustrated vector graphic. And then it attracted so many links just because all the interior designers talked about this on everything. So I guess in your experience if you were talking about all these ideas and getting all these questions, we better wrap this whole thing up into a longer skyscraper page when you’re building a content strategy?

As the adage goes, length doesn’t matter. It’s how you use it, right? Because if you look at a piece of content that gives you better answers, a better approach, like give you an example, if you’re looking for and this is not me that use this example, it was Mary Haynes. She is a great SEO, she talks about when she was looking up a lawnmower. She was looking to buy a lawnmower and would look at different websites. And then it wouldn’t be a website that had really long but very comprehensive piece of content that you thought, Oh, this is it. But then she had another one with less content but step-by-step. Step one – how to use your lawnmower? How to preserve it? How to maintain it? Or what to look for when you’re buying one? What are the things you should be looking at? And it was like 123 to add little icons with little pictures you can gravitate, you knew what the content was. It provided far more value. Guess what? That page rank higher than the other one because it has nothing to do with length. The length’s a misinterpretation or miss perception. If you have a long piece of content, your chances of actually having more keywords in a piece of content will make you rank more. And that’s true. But does this still mean that you will rank higher for certain keywords because you have longer content? Again, do you want to learn the history of the weather in Ottawa or the recipe? It isn’t very smart. I think what’s important boils down to what users want. When I say, ask the questions that people ask and answer them. It’s not about making sure that all those questions are added, it’s probably more important to find out if a person is asking a specific question. And I look when I do my keyword research in this case, I call it keyword research because that’s the way that people understand it, but it’s mostly about topical research. And so I kind of like, I look at the question that would drive people to the site. So I call it a beacon of questions. It’s like my beacon question. And I look at that question and all the related questions people might ask. And I wonder if I’m the user landing on the site (a) what’s the main question, and am I getting the answer to that question? And I’m getting that answer in the best way possible. But also, what are all the other related questions I may have? In my journey, my search journey, my buyer’s journey, whatever the case is, you could be comprehensive and answer all the questions, or you could answer those questions pertinent to that person in their journey. And it’s really about that. I’ll end with this. You want it to be simple. And I’ll make it simple. In my 30-year career, I’ve been doing this since 1992 and done a dabble year in the beginning. And I’ve been doing it for a decade now. And I realized that it comes down to this. SEO used to be about really simple things and spammers and scammers and Blackhat, SEO that takes advantage of things. So then it became about more stuff because we had to. Google had to try to stave off and try to give people a better experience. Then you got Panda, Penguin, and hummingbird. But, because of that, it’s going back down to become simpler for several reasons. One is because a lot of the web is so sophisticated that a lot of the technical stuff is taken care of. You get a WordPress site, a Wix or Squarespace, and a Shopify site, it’s pretty much good. You’re good to go. And you’ve got plugins, now you got all those things. So it boils down to, and this is my philosophy. And it boils down to two things. SEO is about the quality of your content and the quality of the user experience. Meaning the quality of the experience in consuming that content. That’s it. Focus on those two things. Yes, there are a lot of little components involved in those two things. But it boils down to doing those two things. SEO is not about keywords isn’t about this, not that. It’s really about quality content and quality user experience. Now, those things tend to be what I think is more important, not ranking factors but quality signals. There’s a reason why Google has two major documents. One is called the Webmaster Guidelines, which takes care of a lot of user experience. But you’ve got the quality raters guidelines, a document that tells human raters what to look for, which is a great indication of what Google wants. So that’s quality content. So basically, those two things. Google is telling you what they’re looking for. They’re far more transparent now with their Google updates, the algorithms, and the shape changes. And now we’ve got the Google podcast search, Off the record, it’s called off the record. It’s a podcast with John Mueller, who’s the search advocate. He’s like the SEO spokesman.

I didn’t know he had a podcast. I’m so busy doing what I’m doing.

But I love learning about this stuff. Because it tells me that Google used to be a black box because they had to. People were scamming and spamming, and they wanted to make sure that if they pulled the curtains back too much, people would be, hey, now we have an opportunity to exploit a loophole. But nowadays, it’s Google. So now, especially with the semantic search engine, machine learning. So basically, you have tools that, for example, there’s one type of machine learning called NLP, natural language processing. It’s trying to understand queries and content like a human being does. So it’s plugging the loopholes that used to be exploited by scammers and spammers. Now, it’s about just giving people good content and doing a better job than your competitors. And then guess what? You’re going to rank higher, and you’re going to do better. And I think there are a lot of little things, it boils down to those two things, but there are many new things we need to take care of. And one of them, and we can talk about this later because this is something that I’m excited about, is called EAT. So in the quality raters guidelines, over 129 times. I think it’s 129. But yeah, 19 times, the word EAT is mentioned. What does it mean? It means expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. And what it means is that if you have content with, let’s say, of equal value, let’s say with somebody else. What’s going to make you rank higher in the EAT? Now EAT can be backlinks, equality backlinks. But it also could be brand mentions. If my name is mentioned on some website, my pieces mentioned, or there are pieces out there that help support me as an author, not my piece itself, but I, as an author, a recognized authority. I’m going to beat somebody who might have less EAT. So like I said, it’s all about signals rather than factors. It’s quality signals, rather than ranking factors and quality signals about the quality content and quality experience. Seo really is just that.

Yeah. There are so many things I want to unwrap. Returning to Dan Kennedy, correct me if I’m wrong, you’ve shared the stage with him. I was a Magnetic Marketing subscriber for over three years. Read the Ultimate Sales Letter and read the Ultimate Marketing plan. Read almost all, but anyway, here’s the one I want to talk about having the right message-to-market, and that is the most amazing thing I see so many businesses missing. To me, it’s mind-boggling, and the SEO application it’s so appropriate. It’s incredible.

It’s beautiful. I look at it this way, if you’re going to write content or have content written, do you write it from your perspective? Dan Kennedy said something like, you are never your market. I love that because when we write copy, we tend to think about ourselves in the way we think our market will respond to a copy, and we’re not our market. Guess what? Content when it comes to SEO, the biggest error that I see when I do an audit, at the very beginning, I’ll look at the website, I say, you didn’t write this piece of content for the user, you wrote it for yourself. You wrote it to impress yourself, to impress rather than to express. You wrote to make your site look great. But it’s not giving the user value. And Google sees that and understands that. It has sophisticated machine learning that says- Well, I’m not going to rank you for that.

And bounce rate probably could indicate what’s going on. Correct?

Well, with the new GA, bounce rates are no longer a thing. It’s about engagement. And I like that because if I have a piece of content, and people land on that piece of content, they read the whole thing, and it solves their issue, it answers their questions. They’ll leave, they might come back some other time, but they leave, that’s considered a bounce, but it’s not a bad bounce. So for me, it was GA4, it looks at user engagement, and that’s why I like to consider dwell times. Like when people go on your site, they stay on it longer. Cyrus Shepard is a very famous SEO, we did a lot of Whiteboard Fridays for Moz, and he said it best- be the first click, be the long click and be the last click. The first click that people click on when they see your search results. So have a really good copy with your meta description and your title. Be a long click, meaning they stay there when they click on it and visit the site. They’re dwelling, that’s dwell time, it’s not bounce rate, it’s dwell time. And then be the last click, meaning they don’t pogo stick back to Google because that’s an indication that search result didn’t serve their needs, and they’re going to the next one. So you want to be the last click, so be first, be long and be last. It’s a great way to look at SEO.

I want to explore something here for a minute. And being a fan of Dan, and yourself as well, is that Dan talked about that Magnetic Marketing system. And I was talking to another person who did Direct Response Marketing. But he thought that it could only be applied to send the envelope letters. But Direct Response Marketing is more than just sending physical mail. Direct Response Marketing is about getting someone to a web page to do something. And my question is about developing content around the customer journey from an SEO perspective like you’ve gotten them to your site. So, for instance, let’s say someone’s searching for kitchen renovation in Ottawa, Ottawa kitchen renovations. And you have a very informational piece that Google’s ranking, but what about developing other content to get them into your customer journey? For instance, Dan talked a lot about lead magnets and developing those white papers or lead magnets like the seven mistakes to avoid before renovating your kitchen or hiring a renovation contractor. Is that something people should consider, or does it depend on the customer journey? What are your thoughts on using lead magnets in the customer journey?

I will answer your question differently. You know a famous acronym called AIDA- attention, interest, desire, and action. SEO, it’s the same thing. But the only difference is with attention. It’s not about getting the person’s attention to get a direct response to fit in there. It’s about creating awareness. So it’s an A for awareness, awareness, and interest. Some people say desire, others will say considerations, which are the shopping around. But AIDA is still AIDA. It’s still the same fundamental thing. And so I look at a lead magnet if you got a short funnel and want to get people to take quick action. Those are great in paid ads and PPC. They’re great in Direct Marketing campaigns, which you can do. There are also tons of Social paid searches, there are now videos with Tik Tok that are fabulously amazing. And that’s where you can use a lot of those lead magnets. You could also do a lot of these white papers on LinkedIn. When I work with b2b, especially with C suite or with enterprise-level clients, they will have like a white paper, or they’ll have like a demo trial of SAS software. Well, a lead magnet is a different way of doing it. It’s not the traditional lead magnet we think of in Direct Response Marketing, but it’s still a lead magnet. You still have the funnel if you discuss funnels in the b2b space. Still, you also have things like, for example, a really interesting article that came out yesterday, and it was my gosh, it’s escaping me, but it’s all about where the funnel used to be. For example, we add the top and middle of the funnel and bomb the funnel. But sometimes that journey, especially if you’re looking at a live sale cycle like a dark Marketing is a short sales, people will make a decision then and there or at least within 30 days. And if you don’t get them, you can put them on a remarketing campaign, although that’s becoming obsolete now with cookie and privacy laws and all that. But the long sales cycle, people come in, they’ll make some consideration, they’ll probably go back. So it’s not a straight linear funnel. So the lead magnet may be a way to get them into a process, to get them into a conveyor belt. But then the real work starts not the beginning, not the lead magnet, and it’s not the sales letter you would get in a Direct Marketing process. It may be a phone call, it may be a website, it may be a newsletter, where they get like regular mail. It could also be CRM software that will help create a relationship with them, it’ll probably be a conversation starter. There’s a cool process in enterprise-level sales called ABM, Account Based Marketing. And the gentleman who wrote the book, his name, is escaping right now. But I think it’s Sanjay or something like that. But anyways, he wrote a book called Flip your funnel, or flip the funnel. And it’s really about going after a particular client and then developing and expanding. So, rather than getting leads into a funnel, you’re going after somebody to create and cultivate a relationship with them and create custom and more user-value-driven content. So all this to say, it’s just applied a little bit differently. The fundamentals are still there. Direct Marketing is not a direct sale in the Direct Marketing stance. Direct Marketing, maybe in the SEO world, it’s more like a micro conversion. It might be steps along the funnel, a choice here and there. A hand raised, a phone call, and an email sent. It’s still Direct Marketing.

I heard someone say Google is the biggest Direct Response Marketer in the world. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

That’s pretty accurate, though.

Yes, I think it is when you understand the fundamental concept of Direct Response Marketing. Google Ads is the perfect formula for AIDA, Attention Interest Desired Action. You are trying to get them to do that with your ads. Besides lead magnet, are there any other strategies or website content you can share that you have developed and have effectively driven traffic and leads?

Remember I told you it’s about questions, and you can use tools like Also Ask and Answer to the public, but there are other search engines. I call them to search engines, but they are forums. But people use Google to search these other engines, Reddit and Quora. People type in reviews for travel to Edmonton and sign Reddit because they want to make sure, or site colon Reddit.com because they want to make sure the answer is on Reddit. They will see specific threads and feel like I am bypassing all the ads Google has given me, but I’m going to Reddit for the answer. But I am still using Google and using Reddit instead. Well, guess what? Those are excellent tools for SEO because they give you the real questions and the answers people give to those questions. So Quora, Reddit, there are tons of these types of sites. Those are the two most popular ones. There is a chrome extension I use. I don’t use it as often because I use Reddit and Quora. But there is a plugin. If you remember, years ago, there used to be an extra tab in Google search with forms; you could search forms, but they have taken that out. So there is a plugin you can put on your chrome extension that will add that back. So now, if you search on Google, there is an extra tab that adds it. It is called Discussion so that you can look at all the Discussion forms. And that will give you questions and answers that people are asking. So now you have all your content, SEO, and critical keywords right there.

Here is one- I don’t mean to steal your thunder but, for instance, if people are in the renovation space, doing the voice of the customer and going to review sites like Homestars or Yelp and reading the reviews, and gathering that data in generating the content. There are so many things I’m dying to ask. First, the user intent, you talked about user intent and what I want to figure out and get your thoughts on with all these questions. Is there a strategy or process you use for segmenting that data into where. I know the oracle you were talking about it’s on a straight line for following, and I think Hubspot came out with an article about it and how people are in and out. Hence, it’s more of a circle with there coming in and then going out. Are there any ways to segment your content to find out the user intent and create content that is more the informational user intent and then figure out the commercial user intent of where people are at to indicate how closely they are to buying? I don’t even know if that is the right question.

I understand your question. Some tools will help you search; SEMrush will give you the search intent. But it is based on keyword qualifiers. For example, if I say, what is or how is, those are informational type keywords. They don’t have to have it, but they often do. The second is, let’s say, commercial investigation or commercial intent. You are shopping around and considering stuff. Well, then they will be Best blah or top blah. Top kitchen renovators Ottowa and then coupons for renovations at a discount. They are looking for coupons or deals. Then you have the bottom of the funnel where this is transactional, and they want to make a transaction. Then they are looking at reviews, or they are looking at completing the sale. So those questions have these qualifiers, for example, price of blah or shipping. How fast shipping. So if they are asking about shipping, they are in the market. Those will give you a great idea of the search impact. These tools make inferences based on these qualifiers, but many of these keywords don’t have these qualifiers. Sometimes people type in keywords, and they are like, okay. So if I say Ottowa renovations, that might be navigational. There might be a company called Ottowa Renovations. It might be commercial, people looking at shopping around, or it might be somebody informational, they are looking at, what are Ottowa Renovations? So, the way to determine the intent very often is to look at Google and the search. There are two major reasons. Google will serve up results based on the search intent that it believes the keyword is about. That is number one. But number two is what we fail to understand. There are trillions, I think there was a video by Google that said trillions of searches. I can’t remember the time frame. But it’s a very large number of searches being done daily. And with that, they do a lot of tests. They do a lot of split testing. They do many variations, serve up different versions, and test and change things. I say this is an important part of my two reasons because the result you see, very often after so many tests. So you are very sure if people type in Ottowa Renovations and if Google thinks that you look at all the results and it’s all informational. You have a very good idea that this is informational search intent. So Google is right there and is your best tool to do that. Now, sometimes it’s not that clear, you will have multiple results. That is when you know Google is not sure, and that’s where you might want to create two pieces of content with the same keyword. But you are not cannibalizing, you are serving two different search intents. That’s neither here, more there. The search intent can change over time, and Google makes these changes based on what people are looking for. It’s about what users are doing in their activity. Perfect example, two years ago, if you had typed in mask. I would get Halloween costumes and costume retailers. If you typed in mask at the height of covid, you would get N95, medical, mask rules, and establishments that require a mask. So same keyword but different search intent. It is important to understand that is what semantics search is. It’s not about keywords but the meanings behind keywords. With its machine learning, Google is becoming smart at determining search intent and how it changes so that if you are trying to focus, even if you are writing content and are focused on the keyword, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Because what happens if the situation changes? What happens if you get a lot of traffic and it’s a great keyword, then something changes and drops overnight? Then you have to go and redo everything. It’s foolish. It’s the ultimate answer to this. Don’t focus on search engines, focus on what users want. Yes, Google will tell you what users want because it gives clues. But it’s not about that. It’s about the user. I call it a form of disintermediation. Google is trying to remove itself from the equation. It’s trying to think like a human being. It’s trying to give you the best result possible when you look at what the user wants in. I wouldn’t say I hate the word search engine optimization, I call it search user optimization because it is about the search user. Many people will say I have keywords, and I’m ranking for those keywords and all that. Guess what? Those keywords are based, it’s so dynamic, it’s volatile like the stock market. It’s like watching your ranking go up and down. It’s like watching the prices of your stock go up and down. It’s like Bitcoin. I won’t tell you how much money I have lost in bitcoin, by the way. But the point is, it’s not about that, it’s not about rankings. SEO used to be about rankings, which still is to a certain degree. But it is about what I call the three Ps- presence, prominence, and performance. Presence means how many pages and keywords. If you go to the Google search console, they don’t call it keywords. They call it queries. For how many queries do you come up with in the searches? Prominence is the average visibility of those, meaning the ranking of all those keywords and how often the number of searches you get. By the way, you also have search features like featured snippets, videos, search, rule discover, etc. And the third is performance, which is how many people click on that and generate traffic to your site. How well do you position yourself or perform as opposed to your competitor, and how can you outperform them? It’s not a skyscraper, it can be offering something different. For years in copywriting, I have been teaching, don’t duplicate, differentiate, or don’t copy, create. It’s the same in SEO. John Mueller was asked on a webmaster hangout not too long ago and said, it’s not about offering people quality content. What is quality content? Maybe if you offer something unique and serve the client better than coping and doing like a skyscraper, you will rank better, and this is true. So I am just going to repeat making sure. So presence, prominence, and performance. Those are the three Ps of SEO. I believe that we try to reach in terms of KPIs as opposed to rankings. Oh, I got x-number of keywords on page one. It isn’t very smart, Matt.

Because could rank for keywords that don’t even matter.

I have. I will tell you one of the biggest things we run into is people who have been sold a bill of goods based on the old style of SEO. Yes, some of them were like snake oil, and some were genuine. It’s the way SEO used to be. Hey, I want to rank for x-number of keywords on page one. The problem with this is if you come to me and say, I am Michel. I want to rank for these keywords, and I know they are not the perfect keywords. It’s a vanity metric. It makes them feel good. It’s the same with content we discussed earlier, people write to impress rather than express. If we do that, and then I do a campaign. I created a content strategy, we discussed the content, and over six months, that one piece for that keyword was not ranking well. Maybe it even dropped in terms of ranking. And they look at me and say, you have done a terrible job. Yes, but look at the other two thousand keywords that I made you rank for. And I got you four times the traffic you would get with that one keyword. That’s the point, people struggle to pick up pennies over dollars. It’s the same thing as in SEO. Don’t look at the one keyword that you want to go for with your content. Look at serving the user, and guess what? You will rank in ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred, or two hundred keywords that are semantically related and far more viable. You may have heard of the term longtail keywords. Well, that’s not longtail, it’s not about a short or broad term versus a longtail keyword. It’s about having the right questions that answer the right problems. And the more you do that, it could be short. It could be long. Because here is another issue. I’ll finish with this. I can talk about this for hours. Search volumes are so misleading. Many people will say, oh, I want to rank for X-keyword because it has a thousand searches per month. There are two issues with that. Many of these are done by (a) Google has keywords finder, and Google has these wide discrepancies and scales. They have like, oh, this keyword is being searched ten thousand times. So, for example, impressions, if a person loads the first page, types in a keyword, they look at the first page, and even if they don’t scroll to the bottom, all their results for that page are counted as one impression. But the ones on the subsequent pages are not counted. If you look at Google’s guidelines, it says they have to have the search result in view or at least in potential view. Meaning if they scroll down, it’s going to be there. In the case of mobile phones, you have internet scrolling where they say you have to be like two or three screens full down before it’s considered an impression because of the infinite scroll. Here is my point, you look at a keyword that may not necessarily have a lot of impressions, and that’s because most people, if they click on the first page and if your search result for that keyword is on pages two, three, or four it might not count as an impression. For example, I have a keyword, and it says I am coming up for five thousand impressions, but the search volume is saying twelve thousand. That’s great because you are getting a lot of good impressions people get you. That people reach you. So, it’s misleading to say I want to rank for X-keyword. I do some french work in SEO to rank keywords with almost zero search volume, and their traffic shot through the roof because of all that. Third and final, all the privacy laws and cookies, for example, iPhone 14.5, where a lot of this is not trackable, guess what? A lot of the search volumes you get are either estimates. They are snapshots made in time, they are snapshots based on the time when the search intent may have been different, and they are also maybe an aggregate average that is completely misleading. If you look at a keyword, you might be like a short term, but it’s considered longtail because it’s almost ten searches. If you write a piece of content around that topic and all the sub-topics, you might get more volume, and it’s misleading to just look at the keyword and the volume. Focus on your user and the topics; you will be much better off.

I think that is a great place to end it. There are about a hundred other questions I could ask you, and I know we could talk. I was going to ask you what your big takeaway is, but I think you just gave it.

I don’t want to spend more time on this, but I want to reiterate something very important. Now that Google is becoming so smart, it’s not like it was before. We used to think of SEO as ensuring a keyword is added to a page, in the headline, the headers, text, and more. It’s all BS in trying to push back. It would be fine if it occurs naturally, but it doesn’t need to be forced. But it is more important to think about your user. If you think about it this way, Google has become so sophisticated that it looks for signals that are like quality signals. Whether it’s the quality of your content or the user experience, focus on doing that. Improve those rather than focusing on keywords and not improving for Google’s sake, but improving that for your user. The more you do, the more you will rank, the more you will earn backlinks, and people will link to you. They are going to share you. Share your post on social media. So the link you will get plus a lot of these posts very often tend to. I know of a few people who did this. So you run a piece of content, and it’s great. They thought that it wouldn’t blow up, and it did overnight because people loved it. So that’s the point, and it’s the same as copywriting. Know who your user is. What is their problem? Many people use a site called growandconvert.com and call it Pain point SEO. I love that term.

Pain Point SEO.

I prefer to call it user-first SEO. Because it is about, rather than making your site Google friendly, focus on making your site user first. The more you make your site focus on the user providing value and making it relevant. The more you will rank well, which is my final takeaway.

I think what you are saying is you can go and build a site the old way of inserting keywords in the headings and all those things. But if it’s crappy, it doesn’t serve the user experience, it’s all for naught. So it would be best if you focused on the user experience instead.

A podcast came out with Mary Haynes. She teaches SEO about a half hour from me in Ottowa. But she spoke at SMS Advance two weeks ago and at SEO day at SEMrush yesterday. She is a leading expert on EAT, and she came out with the podcast today and said something. If you have two pieces of content and one is not the best looking, although looks are important. If you had two pieces of content, one was less appealing, and that might not be a good thing from a UX standpoint, although it’s not that bad. But it has better value and provides better content. The content serves it better. Serves the client better. Serves the user better. Answers the questions better. Gives them a step-by-step guide. That content will almost always outrank the other one. Even though the other one is flashy, it’s beautiful and slick, and that’s because the quality content comes first. Then the quality of consuming that content comes second. I am not saying that it’s not a priority, but it’s about providing value and then providing a good experience in that value.

There is a guy launching websites all over our country called BestinOttowa.com, bestinimaging.com, and bestinwinipeg.com. He is a former web developer, and his sites aren’t very pretty, but the content is awesome, and he’s ranking left, right, and center.

I thought you would make about a dentist named his practice Dentistnearme.com. So people would look up a dentist near me, and he would come up.

But he is building great content around the best services and providers in each geographical area. I was just trying to see your point in that. Other sites are nicer, but his content is very good.

Back to Den Kennedy when he said repeatedly, he calls it copy cosmetics. And he meant that, in a sense, that the cosmetics are not the best. It’s like the dollar bill stuck to a top or the coffee stain on the tile. Now I’m not saying that you need to make a site not look good. That’s not the point here. If all things are equal, the one that provides the most value will outrank the other. But there is, and Mueller from Google did say this, A delightful experience; confidence might be first, but it is not too far from excuse experience. You don’t want to do one at the expense of the other, you want to do both. So he said that Google also pays attention to the appealing nature of a website. The great, great SEO person used to work for Google. His name is Pedro Dias. He wrote a nice piece in Search Engine Journal or Search Engine Land about the user experience UX Honeycomb. And the UX honeycomb is the seven pieces that will create the best user experience. He says you must be findable, usable, helpful, and valuable. My memory is escaping me right now. But the point is, the content is a user experience as much as the user experience is content. If I go to a theater, a great movie is going to make it greater if the movie theatre has great service. Pouches of the big thing of popcorn because I’m enjoying the experience. And it is the same thing with SEO: Google didn’t say they are going after better-looking sites. They want to ensure that you provide a more pleasant and appealing experience. In the UX honeycomb by Pedro Dias, I think one of them is called desirable, and desire means it is appealing, not only to the eye but also easy to navigate. When you find the content, you are not getting a lot of popups; you are smooth sailing a great shoot, as they say in Direct Marketing. Well, it’s the same thing in SEO, and the more you do that, the more you are going the right way.

Hey, Michel, Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure for me. I enjoyed talking to you. I know we could talk even more, but I want to respect your time, and you are welcome to come back anytime. How can listeners connect with you online?

Google my name.

You are Michel Fortin. It’s michelfortin.com, my real name is Michel.

I am laughing because my name is Michel, but many people put in the A. But if you look at me on the socials, look for @michelfortin on LinkedIn and Twitter. I also have my site michelfortin.com, and the agency I work at is seoplus.com.

Hey, thanks very much. It’s been a blast.

It’s been a blast for me too. Thank you so much.

Enjoy the rest of your day.

You too.



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