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Developing A Content Strategy Aligned With Business Objectives And Seo Goals

In Conversation with Tom Rusling

For this episode of E-coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Tom Rusling, Founder of Audience Key. Tom highlighted the significance of keyword mapping and optimizing pages rather than individual keywords. He also mentioned the importance of balancing high-traffic keywords with niche keywords and considering conversion metrics.
Watch the episode now for some profound insights!

Balancing high-traffic keywords and niche keywords with low search volume requires considering relevancy and site authority.

Tom Rusling
Founder of Audience Key

This is Ranmay Rath on your show E-Coffee with Experts. Today we have Tom, who is the Founder of Audience Key with us. Welcome, Tom, to our show.

Hi, thanks for having me.

Great. Tom, before we move forward and talk about your expertise and learn from you more about SEO keyword research in detail, I request you to introduce yourself and Audience Key to our audiences tonight.

Sure. Hi, everyone. Tom Rusling here. I’m a career SEO. I spent the last 19 years in progressive roles as a marketing director, SEO consultant, and search marketing leader. I founded audience key six years ago as a way to create an SEO and content marketing strategy platform. Our mission is really to get marketers out of disconnected SEO spreadsheets and into a centralized end-to-end data-connected system, which you’re going to use for keyword organization, planning, content development, content optimization, implementation, and then measurement. So all those different pieces from the strategic ideation process to the publishing and the measurement, putting that all into one connected system.

Great. You did mention keyword, Tom. Well, let’s say a new client comes on board and you have to do your keyword research before you actually go and hit the market out there. What are your processes for doing that keyword research and the initial audit for any client of yours?

Sure. I think we look at this in a few different ways. It starts with, I think good keyword research doesn’t come from one specific tool or system, but it’s making an amalgamation of various sources. To start with table stakes go in and get the keyword information that you’re currently ranking for from something like a search console. You can also use Semrush, Hrefs, etc to gather as much of that keyword data as possible. From there, you can do the same type of thing for competitors. You can’t use a search console for that, but you can get a lot of that information from Semrush or Hrefs. And you can look at a competitor either holistically on their entire site. You can look at it on a certain section of the site if you have certain overlaps or even at the page level. Our idea is good keyword research just coming from a lot of different places. It’s that amalgamation. Then the last piece of it is going more topic-level research. There are lots of tools out there you can use, but finding a lot of semantically related keywords. Also, Keywords Everywhere is just a tool that we use and recommend to people.

It’s very easy to use, and very inexpensive. And what that will allow you to do is look at maybe a seed keyword and look at everything that’s ranking. Look at the top pages that are ranking for that keyword and all the other keywords that page is also ranking for. When you start to look at a seed keyword and you look at the top three, four, and five results, by the time you get to the sixth result, you’re finding very few new keywords. And so that process starts to just build up what we think of is turning something from a list of keywords into more a database of intentions. And the way we think about that is that when you have all the different ways an addressable target audience is searching, and you’re able to organize that and attribute ties the keyword data so you can slice and dice and filter and look at it, it turns keyword data into market research for content that you can help you get into the headspace of your target audience.

You did mention content. While developing a content strategy that aligns with the business of the client and your SEO objectives, what are those essential parameters that one should look at while doing that entire process?

Sure. You’re asking from a content perspective, content auditing? Yeah. So the way we look at that is it starts with that keyword research and becomes exhaustive in that. Once you do that, we go out and run a ranking report just to benchmark everything. And you start to see what terms are you ranking for solidly in that top 10 area. Where are you softly ranking and then where are you not showing up at all? And from that, you can start to, when you run a few different rounds of that keyword ranking data, you can start to look for areas where keywords are ranking with different URLs and they’re bouncing around. And that’s one of the main things that we’re looking at is that for a set of keywords as you group them, you either have no content that’s easy to solve. You can see you’re not ranking for anything. But the trickier thing that’s a little more hidden is when you start to have multiple pages that are unintentionally targeting the same terms. And one of the artifacts of that is you’ll start to see the ranking URLs for a certain keyword bouncing around from one week to the next, a different page is ranking for it.

And that’s what leads to a solid keyword mapping strategy, which is essentially analyzing the content on a site. And mapping is about identifying what page in particular your ideal state is to have that page rank. So you have a set of terms and you’re like, this is the specific page that I want to rank. Keyword mapping becomes your strategic goal. The ranking URL from your ranking reports is your current reality. And so as we do that and we’re assessing the content and we’re starting to map out what our ideal page is to rank for a term, and then we look at the ranking reports and we can see where there’s that disconnect.

Absolutely. Then there is this category of high-traffic keywords which are more targeted and niche keywords which probably have low search volume. How do you balance in your gameplay of targeting those keywords for high-traffic keywords versus niche keywords with low search volume?

Sure. That’s a great question because the easy thing to do is to just build your list and then everyone, of course, hones in right on the header terms that have a lot of volume but not necessarily a lot of intent. Also, you can use different keyword difficulty scores. I don’t just because I think with enough experience, you’d have a very good sense of this. But it often depends on the site you’re working on. But it’s usually not appropriate to be going after those really big terms unless you’re working on a very well-established market-leading type site. So the way we look at that and the way we designed the audience key was to address exactly that particular issue. For every keyword, we have the monthly search volume. We also have a relevant score. We have tech that helps you make that assessment, but ultimately it’s a human decision. We just score every keyword 1 through 5, 5 being the most relevant. And that’s the show. So when you’re figuring out, what do I want to go target and what should be the focus of your title tags, for example, on my key pages, you’re not going to just make those decisions based on the search volume, but you’re going to make it on the level.

And often the relevancy might be the, let’s say, longer tail, lower volume terms, but have a lot more intention behind them and are potentially more appropriate for you to be pursuing, depending on, again, the authority of the site you’re working on.

Absolutely. Then also comes extended keywords. How do you approach your extended keyword analysis to identify keywords that you know are most likely to convert for your client’s business? Talking about conversion, what metrics do you use to measure conversion rates as well?

Sure. The issue with SEO is it’s hard to get keyword-level data. You can get that out of the search console, but now that’s connected to the post-click experience. We don’t think about optimizing keywords, we think about optimizing pages. Now, through a mapping process, keywords belong to a page, and a page is what ranks and shows up in Google and is what people connect with that content. We think less about the keyword-by-keyword level conversion, but we think about how will the content on this page convert. We’re looking at the conversion rate and all those typical factors, engagement factors, and what not. Then from there, we’re looking at the rankings to show what terms are driving the traffic. It’s a bit of a roundabout answer, but I think that’s the truth of it.

Yeah. See, it makes a lot of sense when you said the page has to be optimized because at the end of the day, as a consumer, I’m going on the page and I’m not worried about the keyword which I typed in to get to that page. The content and page, the visibility of that page is way more important and that has to be optimized because, at the end of the day, it’s about conversion. I can have 100 people coming to my website and if none of them is converting, that does not make much sense to me. Especially if they are coming through Google ads and I’m paying for it. And still, if they’re not clicking on the Buy button, then I’m at a loss.

Now, you raise a good point I meant to bring up and I got lost in my thoughts, but certainly, if there is paid search data, that’s the first place you go. Because you can start. That does give you conversion rates and that’s useful insight.

There’s a lot of local search and that’s you as well with businesses with physical locations. And this market is also getting competitive. What are the key technical considerations that one needs to take into account while optimizing for local search?

Yeah. Okay, that’s interesting. That’s an entirely different algorithm. So really, when we speak about local search, at least in my world, we’re talking about optimizing for the MAP packs. Local search, it’s still based on having name, address, and phone number consistency. And you do that through, first and foremost, going through the four major data aggregators, getting all that consistency done because they syndicate out into tier two in the rest of the ecosystem. But from there, it’s ensuring you can get local citations. It’s like links for local search or not necessarily hyperlinks, but they’re citations on local directories. Lots of ways to get those. Then a lot of that is just your address proximity still comes into play as well as just a good, well-structured website and that type of thing. I don’t spend a lot of time doing the local SEO, but I’ve done a couple of dozen of those over the last few years. But it’s a pretty straightforward process. It’s a good one for agencies to do just because it is, I would say, more predictable and less mysterious. Yeah, absolutely.

Some of the SEO stuff. It makes our job a little easier when we get your project.

The conversion rate is always dramatically better. There’s just a different intent level going on. People are struggling with that.

The consumer is out to buy in that segment versus SEO and organic searches. Still in that decision-making mode of whether to buy, what to buy, and all that. The consumer buying journey for a local search business is way better for us as marketers in terms of conversion versus them going on Google and doing those organic searches. And that is why we see those paid ad searches, the conversion is higher, as you mentioned because the buying intent is there.

I’ll tell you just a quick aside. It’s funny you’re bringing this up because, let’s see, last Friday, my wife is a mental health therapist and works for a small practice, and they just had never done the basic blocking and tackling on that. So when you search for their counselling center name, up came a knowledge graph of a different therapy center in a different part of town that was somehow connected to their name. They had no digital presence. And they were all, and I said, This is one of those things, pretty easy. Let’s just fix that. And unlike most SEO things you do, you work hard, you do all your strategy, you do your implementation, and then you sit there and watch the paint dry for weeks and weeks. We’re able to make an impact same day. That’s nice. Maybe I should do more of that.

Right. Tom, what is your take on link building? Because it can be a challenging and time-consuming process. To build those high-quality backlinks, organic backlinks that every business wants or needs, what would be your strategy to play around with that?

The way I look at link building, you can talk about other parts of SEO, technical SEO content strategy, and you can put 100 experienced SEOs in the room, and they’re going to have 98, 99 % correlation and agreement on what are the best standardized best practices, ways to approach things. Then you get into the link building, and all of a sudden there is no consensus. What’s funny is what I love is people who tell me link building doesn’t matter, and I tell them, Okay, cool, keep thinking that way.

People stop building links because, at the end of the day, I’m competing with you in some places. Link building is essential, and there are a lot of ways to go about it, and there are a lot of opinions out there. So what do we think about it? I pay way less attention to any of the third-party metrics. Those things can be spoofed and hacked and manipulated. Manipulated. The number one thing I just look at, and I’ll share a nice little tip. Again, I use keywords everywhere for this. I just simply punch in a domain if we’re looking at doing outreach or having an opportunity to get a link, and I look at how many keywords that domain is ranking for. That’s all you need to know. If your domain has a DA or picks your metric of 60, 70, or 80, but it’s not ranking for much, it’s not worth it. And sometimes you get these sites that have a very low DA score, for example, but they’re ranking for a lot of things. And especially if those are relevant terms to what you’re targeting, that’s where you want to be.

Absolutely. For Google search queries, what are the relevant articles that are being written for those websites? These are all our important parameters versus just focusing on DA, which are metrics of any tool. So a very valid point there. Great. Tom, before we let you go, I have to ask you this, the burning topic around chat, GPT, AI content, and the content writers getting scared about the jobs. We all are in that storm, the AI storm, I call it. What is your take on it? How do you look at it from your perspective? Do you use it? Do you see it getting evolved? In general, what is your thought about it?

As you said, everyone’s figuring this out. We had on our team exposure to an AI content system, a little bit it several months before chat GPT went. So we had a little bit more time under our belts. Our early conclusions, even before the chat, GPT came out were, A, it was staggering what it can do. I think everyone had that first experience moment where you’re just dumbfounded.You think about it like your writing buddy. It’s by your side. It’s great. Our head of content strategy said it just right. She said, I never have writer’s blog anymore. When you use it for those purposes, MIT just came out with a study, I think, this week trying to quantify the economics behind this for content. And they came up with a very specific number that you’re 34 % more efficient at developing content. So that’s the thing. It’s not as if anyone is just letting the machine do the work and not putting any human thought on the front and back sides of that. Yes, you can do stuff that’s scalable. It doesn’t align with helpful content, that type of thing. I think that’s a short-term way to look at it.

A lot of people are talking about the AI sandwich. Humans are the bread and you got to have the bread on both sides of it. And when you do that, there are some really helpful things that certainly you are more efficient. It can spark some new ideas, but you have to then first put that human touch on it. B, check your facts. Everyone’s starting to understand that it’s just doing predictive text, and that predictive text is unverified, and it just says things that are flat-out, not true. So if publishing accurate information matters to you, then be aware of that as well.

Absolutely. Great. It can never be the final product. Humans made it. Humans made the machine at the end of the day. So you got to have that human touch in terms of creating that storytelling impact in your class and then putting empathy, that passion, and all of these emotional questions which a machine can never generate. So humans are there to stay is what I feel. But yeah, the storm that we all are in right now is, an exciting time side for sure.

That it is. I think what you can’t do is run away from it.

Yeah, you have to stay.

One of the ways that I’ve been hearing people talk about it is it’s not going to replace your job, but it’s going to replace people that don’t start to use it to do their job.

Yeah.

I’m paraphrasing. I didn’t nail that quite right, but that’s the spirit of it.

Yeah. That’s a very valid point. The other day I was speaking with one of my guests who mentioned that if you are not tech-savvy, average content writers, should fear the job because now the machine is going to do it. But if you’re creative, if you’re good at what you do, then probably you will become more efficient using the tool and you can write more blogs.

Your.

Efficiency in terms of delivering more blogs, and more content will increase.

It starts to polarize those that are maybe more talented, more capable, more experienced. They just become more and more effective. That brings up an interesting point. I would say right now, tough time to be a standard content contributor. The high-end people, like you were talking about, are different things. Probably a better time to be a good editor.

Yeah, very good. Tom, before we finally wrap this up, I would like to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it.

Okay.

We have not informed you about this, so this has to just have to be at it. Let’s start. Your favorite book.

My favorite book. Oh, come on.

I got you there.

Wow. There are so many. It just depends on what mood I’m in. From a business side, I love Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. That book, even though it’s not really about digital marketing, it’s all about digital marketing. And one of those things that shaped my thinking. So I stick with that one.

Superb. What was your last Google search? You can check your machine if you want to.

Oh, my God. That’s funny. I have no idea.

You can check your computer. That’s fine. We are not looking at it.

Man. Oh, I know what it was.

I Googled whether the word wacko, W A C O, was a viable wordle answer.

Okay, that’s funny. You asked. That’s funny. Let’s say that is a movie made about you, what genre would it be?

Oh, my gosh. That’s a good question, too. There is a movie made about me. It’s got to be a comedy.

Okay. This is the last one. I will not drill you anymore. So whether you are a morning person or a night person.

100 % night person. My GPA in college was about a full point higher for any class that was in the afternoon.

Okay, perfect. Thank you for that honesty, Tom. Appreciate it. Thank you for taking the time for the podcast. I’m sure our audience would have benefited a lot from you in terms of hearing from you those insights and a few tips there as well. Thank you so much. It was lovely hosting you.

Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Thank you.

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