Podcast: Can you be too SEO-focused?

By Doug Bolton

Podcast: Can you be too SEO-focused?

If you want your company to get found online, SEO is essential. By gaining a good position on search engines for the terms that are most relevant to your business, you can reach a wider audience of potential customers. Search engine algorithms get more complex every day, so a consistent and structured approach to SEO is vital - but is it possible to be too focused on SEO with your content?

For this episode, I spoke to Daniel Falk, Zooma's in-house SEO expert, and got his thoughts on the matter.

The idea of this week's edition actually came from a meeting we had last week. For a while now, most of our content has been focused on SEO. We work with topic clusters, a content strategy that is designed to help improve search ranking, so a lot of the articles we publish on The Onlinification Hub are written to fill out our topic clusters and attract traffic and leads from search.

However, we started thinking - is it possible to have too much of this SEO-focused content? Should we instead try to get back to those more 'philosophical', reflective articles about the state of online and digital that we published more in the past?

Daniel had plenty of interesting thoughts on this topic. In this episode, we discuss the drawbacks of focusing too much on SEO content, how you can achieve a better mix of content types on your platforms, and the advice he'd give to a company wanting to improve their search performance without sacrificing the things that make them unique.

Enjoy! I hope it provides some food for thought in your own SEO efforts.

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Doug Bolton: Hello and welcome to The Onlification Pod, a podcast produced by Zooma. I'm Doug, and today I have with me Daniel Falk, Zooma's very own SEO expert. Naturally, today's episode is about SEO, but we actually decided to discuss whether you can be too SEO-focused with your content. We actually got the idea from a discussion we had in a meeting last week, so it was great to develop it a little bit more in the pod. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, don't forget to subscribe. Let's get started.

DB: So welcome, Daniel.

Daniel Falk: Thank you.

DB: Zooma's very own SEO expert back again. How was the pod experience last time?

DF: Yeah, it was good, I think, and the time flew by, the 30 minutes went by very quickly, talking about interesting stuff.

DB: You wanted to come back, at least. So that must be a good sign. We got the idea for this episode in a meeting yesterday, and I should give credit that it was actually Anders' idea. And it's about SEO, of course, because you're joining us. And the topic really is, if you can be too SEO-focused because, you know, we were having a discussion and we realized that a lot of the content we publish at the moment is cluster content. So it's focused on our topic clusters, this kind of content strategy that we're following, and we've had episodes about that as well. But we noticed that we have a lot of that content, but another type of content that we use to publish quite a lot, which is kind of more 'philosophical' kinds of articles, I would say have dropped off a little bit. And to give an example, there was, this was an article that was published a while ago, I remember, but it was Anders who wrote it, and he was writing about public transport and digitalisation. And his idea was that there's a lot more space now on public transport because, you know, when you're sitting on a train or a bus, everyone's not sitting with really big newspapers, they sit with their phones instead. So you don't, you know, knock elbows so much. So I think that was a good example of, you know, an article that was not really focused on any keyword, like the other type of content we publish, but it was anyway very interesting and got a good reaction. So yeah, I guess the first question is really, in that sense, can you be too SEO-focused with your content?

DF: Yeah, actually, I think so. That's one example that you gave here, where maybe social share and other kinds of social interaction may increase because the content is more flexible and easy to digest and these factors could be involved as a signal when Google is ranking. So absolutely. And also about the user experience, because we all must know for sure that UX factors are taken into account when Google's ranking websites, and if you are presented by a large volume or a wall of text when reaching a website, because the editors are required to have thought too much about SEO in that way, that they want to have as much text as possible to include all of the keywords and the headlines, etc. to cover everything, that will, of course, make people go back to the search results in many cases, because it's hard to digest all the content. So I think by having sometimes more snackable content published, it will kind of mix up with the more lengthy content that you produce and that will give an overall better user experience and better ranking, hopefully. So yeah, I think also if we're talking about the social share factor, this may be a factor for Google as well. Nobody wants to share content that looks too boring, because if you share something on LinkedIn or Facebook, you are kind of partly the sender of that material, and you want to share something that you that maybe gave you a good experience or that you learn something from it. And often you maybe, you take a quick decision on sharing something, and then you often need to kind of read the content quite quickly to understand what it is about. And if it's a too-long article, you won't probably do that and then you won't share it. So I think, yeah, by having content produced that is sometimes different from the other content you create, you will probably get more shares as well. And especially if it's, maybe not controversial, but maybe it's a different take on a topic where you kind of challenge the reader a bit. So, yeah, I think definitely you can, you can think too much of SEO if you do it for every article that you create or publish.

DB: Yeah. And I guess obviously you want to be relevant and you want to show up in search results for relevant topics. But I think it's also important to be unique, you know, and produce the stuff that kind of makes you unique because, you know, there's a lot of companies all trying to get the same position and using the same kind of tactics.

DF: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, if you have done your keyword research, you probably focus on the keywords that have a good search volume each month, and then you can know for sure that a lot of other companies are focusing on the same keywords, and they are probably researching in a similar way that you do. Finding other blog posts to be inspired by, etc. But I think a lot of the content will kind of be the same, or structured in the same way, or answer the same questions. So, so yeah. And then it's easy to just disappear in this large amount of content that they produce. So as you say, to be more unique, at least sometimes in what you publish is definitely something you should think of. And try to Google for, could you come up with another take on this content, and try to Google for to see if you can find anything similar to that, or if other companies are having another take on it that you can be inspired by, not only by looking at the keywords that you have selected to begin with. Maybe you can challenge the content in some way to find another angle.

DB: Yeah, exactly. I just wanted to go back to that user experience thing that we mentioned. So, you know, I guess a consequence of having that kind of, you know, really laser-focused SEO content may be like you said, people arrive on the page looking for, you know, a bit more of a personal take and then they leave again quickly. Or perhaps even people who follow this site and get sick of the same kind of content all the time perhaps stop visiting. Like, do we know what kind of impact that kind of behaviour can have on search ranking?

DF: I would say we can't know anything for sure when it comes to Google, but it has been thought for a long time about UX signals and that it affects the ranking. And you can probably, I don't have any article to give you right at the moment, but if you Google, you can probably find proof of this. And it's quite logical that Google uses these things as a ranking factor because if they measure, for example, someone searches for a phrase, they find your website and they click on it, and then they just bounce back because they thought, "Oh, I can't digest all that content, it's too long," then that's probably a factor or a signal that Google uses to decide. And then, of course, they need a lot of data to really understand, because different people can have different thoughts about your content of course. But I think over a longer period of time it will affect you. And especially if all of your content, all of your content produces higher bounce rates or short time on page, and that will probably affect you overall, your overall SEO trust, or score. So I mean, that's why I'm talking about maybe you can, sometimes, of course, you need to have a more lengthy article to cover, like the pillar pages that we create, etc. But if you mix it up with the kind of articles we are talking about today, I think you can kind of make your score or your UX score from Google to be better if you mix things up. And also, that will also give you some data because as you can measure everything, it's interesting to see what is the difference between these two pages. And you can maybe look at how is it performing for visitors coming from Google? How it's performing when you share stuff? Is there any differences in the KPIs when you share the more lengthy content towards the more snackable content? So that's also a reason to test this to get the data.

DB: Yeah, we mentioned it before and this is something I haven't been quite clear on before, but it's about the impact of social performance on SEO. And like we said, these long, well, longer knowledge-focused practical SEO articles maybe aren't the most engaging ones that people would want to share on LinkedIn, for example, to the rest of the network. So do shares and things like that potentially have an impact as well?

DF: Yeah, yeah. Maybe as Google doesn't have its own social network, except maybe YouTube, I think that they can't get any kind of internal data on these things. Then they have to rely on what Facebook and Instagram and the other social networks' data that maybe that they can reach from outside. So I would say I'm a bit more unsure about exactly how that affects things, because we will historically at least say they want to have their own data and build their kind of rankings based on that. So I would say sometimes they can't, sometimes they must take that into account, probably. And then they use it. I'm sure about that. But as it's not their own data, it could be harder to say exactly how they will do, but that is really today something that has changed, because previously, links towards the page was really the main factor behind your ranking and the trust that a domain was given from Google. And because one link to a page would count as a kind of a vote on that page, that it is a good page. And today I think, of course, links are still important. But now more shares are done through social networks, instead of linking from your blog, because having a blog, it's not that popular today, at least among private people, as it was before. So now it's more social, and therefore I think Google has been kind of forced to take that into account and more. But I think there are some thresholds on when they take it into account. So, so yeah, it's important. And maybe you shouldn't just think of Google, because you can still get a lot of traffic, of course, from the shares. So I think if Google thinks that it's good, it's more like a bonus if you get a good number of shares.

DB: Yeah, this all kind of ties in with a discussion that I hear more and more, really, that people are saying it's kind of harder to find stuff on the internet nowadays. You know, if you search, often if you search for how to do something, the top links are always perhaps from companies who want to promote their own products, or maybe from publishers who earn their money through ads and that kind of thing. And you know, it's maybe not as easy to find, you know, like we said, the little blog of just some guy on the other side of the world, you know, as perhaps as it was in the past.

DF: Yeah, that's right. And yeah, I have experienced that, especially if you have a computer problem or something and you're Googling for that. I think the first pages to show up are often kind of full of ads, and you really need to scroll to find any valuable content. So, yeah, but I'm not sure Google wants to have it like that, because I think they also want to show the small blog from a private person talking about the issue or the problem that you have, or what it could be. They are working all the time on fixing or updating their search engine results, and I think I read recently that they will kind of promote smaller sites and content. I don't remember in which update, but of course, then that content needs to be good and there should be, as these sites that are ranking well, they probably have a very large team of SEO experts and they have a lot of tech people setting things up so that they will rank, despite they don't have any, maybe, real competence. And that's quite unfair because they probably can acquire links as well, which increases their authority from Google. And that's something that's impossible for the smaller site to do. And yeah, that's actually a question for the future. How can a smaller blog or a smaller website compete with the bigger sites that you often see on the internet? I don't have the answer right now, but maybe that's going to be a topic for an upcoming pod session.

DB: We'll come back to that one. So yeah, just to finish up, I suppose, what would you say to a company who is perhaps launching a new blog or knowledge hub and, you know, really says, we're going to go totally all in on search, and we're going to get these keywords, and everything we do is going to be focused on getting a good search ranking. And obviously that's important, it's not like you shouldn't do that, but would you maybe say, you know, "yeah, sure, that's good. But you know, maybe try and set yourselves apart a little bit as well."

DF: Yeah, exactly. Because yeah, you need to do what you are talking about here, do your research and understand where the search volumes are. Because that will help you create the content that has the potential to rank well. But don't forget to mix it up with more, with content that that is easier to share and also to digest, and if you publish something more lightweight on a Friday, maybe it's a bigger potential for that to be shared because people are in Friday mode, and if it's a more lightweight article, that could be interesting. And yeah, why not on a Monday as well, to lighten things up? So absolutely. I think the mix is the key here, because then you will get the social shares and you will also have UX signals that are positive in another way, because people will reach you. And then, of course, you can promote the more content-rich articles from this, because as always, you should link internally. So if it's a relevant article that covers one of the things that you talk about in the article, then you should link to it or provide some kind of content piece for download or something, to get a lead from it. Of course, you should continue to do that on this kind of article as well.

DB: Great, well, thank you very much, Daniel. It's always a pleasure.

DF: Thank you very much.

DB: And we'll see you again in the future.

DF: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.

DB: Thank you. Bye bye.

Doug Bolton
Doug has been a Content Producer at Zooma since 2021. Originally English, he now lives in Sweden.
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