Updated: Dec 11, 2021
Keywords, while important, should be a tiny sliver in the larger pie of your SEO strategy, not the entire whole. Here’s what you need to prioritise first
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say “search engine optimisation”?
If you answered this question with “keywords,” you’ve probably been led to believe that they’re what SEO is all about.
In reality, search engine ranking is the work of a complex beast of machinery with myriad different elements, driven by unpredictable algorithms. Focusing on keywords in this case is like trying to treat diarrhoea with antacids. The stomachache may go away, but you still need to rest, take light meals, drink plenty of fluids, and pop other relevant meds to get your body and number of loo trips back to normal.
Likewise, there are certain items you need to add to and cross off your SEO to-do list before you even say “keywords”.
To spice up things (not a good term to use after dedicating an entire para to diarrhoea, I know), I asked 4 digital experts to share their tips on this subject. Their inputs helped me identify 5 key things everyone should be doing before they dump (uh-oh) all sorts of keywords into their copy.
So, here are those 5 to-dos, which you should follow for your content in the exact order of their sequence in this blog post. You won’t get lightning-fast results immediately—if Rome wasn’t built in a day, you shouldn’t expect any better for your online page. But you’ll surely be on track to becoming the website or blog nobody can get enough of.
Great, value-added content
Okay, that’s a given. But what do we exactly mean by this? Won’t it work if we simply ranted about the unending rains, roadside repairs, and pesky potholes on our blog and inserted a combination of carefully curated keywords into our copy?
No, it won’t.
In diarrhoea parlance, that’s like eating junk while you’re wrestling with indigestion but still expecting the medicines to do the job.
Good content is like the healthy, nutritious food and fluids that will save your life. It’s basic but valuable. Good content is one that “fulfils people’s needs and solves their problems,” says Mumbai-based YouTuber, web designer, and photographer Sonika Agarwal (a.k.a. my sister).
“That’s why you should first define your audience and get clarity on their demographics. Then, figure out their problems. Talk to your friends, ask yourself what your problems were (or would be) at your TG’s age, use keywords to find out what people are looking for,” she adds.
“The idea is to make your content so comprehensive that you don’t need to insert keywords separately—they’re woven in naturally. Yes, do add the keywords, but think that way about your content.”
[Also read: How one of my blog posts crossed 200 views]
Mumbai-based writer and “Ideology Empath” Nishka Rathi, while not an SEO fan, agrees that content should cater to the target audience and solve their pain points.
“If you’re writing for brands, companies, or clients, talk to them directly,” she says. “Understand their business, their clients, their struggles. Then, use these findings to research content ideas. Connect with your audience by making your content interesting and engaging. And yes, be authentic and truthful.”
Tone and voice
Taking from Nishka’s point, what’s also key is to be true and authentic to yourself and for your content to reflect that. It’s essential for your true voice to emerge through your content. Don’t try to be what you’re not.
Sonika also advises incorporating elements such as similar-looking thumbnails and saying certain words again and again (in her case, the camera name in her photography videos). “These ensure instant recognisability of the content creator,” she says.
When you’re writing for clients or brands, you obviously have to consider their voice, tone, and style. You can’t write long-winded romantic poetry when they need you to keep it crisp and meaty.
“Get the brand–audience–content fit right,” says Bengaluru-based writer, book editor and coach, and personal-branding coach Ganesh Vancheeswaran. “This means you write keeping in mind the brand’s identity, the key aspects of which are personality, value proposition, and tone of voice. What I write for the brand should speak to its target audiences and engage them compellingly. This means I have to write contextually meaningful stuff for these audiences.”
Ganesh advises plugging in keywords and SEO metrics only after achieving this step. “Even then, do not obsess over (these metrics); don’t make them your top priority. If you put out content that is in character to the brand and important to its audiences, engagement will invariably follow.”
It isn’t enough for a content creator or brand to put out a couple of posts (or worse, just one), promote them everywhere, and then vanish for months or years or forever, expecting some genie-like magic to bring in those views.
Nor would it help if there’s a gap of one, two, or six months between two of their posts. (Some people even resurface a year after their previous post. Yes, that happens. *Looks at my 2020 self.*)
Content creation is a long game that requires patience, dedication, effort, and hundreds of posts published regularly, with a gap of only a few days or so between two posts. (This also goes for your clients.) It’s a point I’ve been emphasising in many of my blog posts—read one of them here.
You need to create tons of posts and schedule them in advance. (Nishka and I belong to the same school of thought here. I’ve been telling prospective clients to allow me to bank at least 3–6 months of posts before they announce their blog to the world. Banking your posts also helps reduce deadline-related stress. You don’t want to end up writing 3–6 posts of 500 words each per day, like how I would at one point in time to meet my hirer’s crazy timelines, and show up at home like a zombie on sedatives.)
Even then, views and readership are completely out of your hands. That’s why persistence is a determining factor in the game of search engine ranking.
There’s another reason you need to be consistent with your content.
“Making your online page or blog an authority on a subject is how it becomes more discoverable by search engines. For all this to happen, there’s only one formula: consistent and relevant content,” says Mumbai-based content writer Rohini Kapur Alva.
To some extent, SEO is about keywords, Rohini adds. But she warns that “search engines have become smarter”. “They pick up good, relevant, consistent content,” she sums it up.
Tagging, linking, categorising, recommending
Good content, check. Voice and tone, check. Consistency, check. Keywords are working, too. The audience now comes pouring onto your blog or web page.
What would you like them to do after they finish reading your post? Never thought about it, did you?
That’s where tagging, linking, categorising, and recommending your other related posts enter the scene. Sis is a stickler for these—so am I.
“Tagging connects all your content, videos, etc.,” she says. “So, when people come to your content and find it good, they’ll consume all your other content, too. Suggested content is known to increase views.”
For blogs, she recommends writing 5–6 posts on the same topic so you can put them under one category. I can say this is a crucial step, as I’ve seen a sizable number of clicks on my topic tags alone. This means more posts under “PiKu & ViRu” in the coming months—watch out for them. (Buy/download, read, and review my book PiKu & ViRu here if you haven’t yet; it’s FREE on Kindle Unlimited.)
A mix of planning and spontaneity
Yes, you should plan and schedule your content months in advance. At the same time, be open to tying it to anything that’s viral, trending, or in the news.
Take notes from how Paytm roped in Kokilaben as their PSA ambassador after “Rasode Mein Kaun Tha” went viral last year.
And of course, we have the Amul topicals, which are an institution by themselves in moment marketing.
Be it educational, entertaining, or inspirational, your content stands to benefit if you connect it to news, current affairs, and trending topics. Sonika agrees with this. The more topical your content, the higher its chances of gaining traction.
Rohini, too, prefers using topicals and trends over keywords to come up with content ideas.
The only downside, as Sonika says, is the little to no content consumption possible after the event has elapsed. But all that effort is worth the memorable creativity that emerges. Amul topicals’ status as a collectors’ item and Kokilaben’s video embed in this blog post after more than a year of its premiere are all the proof needed.
You can also factor in festivals and holidays while planning your content way in advance. Use my monthly content calendars for the same. With each event verified and fact-checked, you know you can’t go wrong with these.