This article should probably begin with a disclaimer: SEO is not really all about content, but it is certainly at the core of all the work we do in the industry.
The flowchart below is from an internal training module I ran at Expert Market to teach anyone interested in learning more about the work we do in the Publishing Team.
When SEO is broken down into a process like this, content is just one element but I always stress that this is where we spend the most time.
When questions like “How do you rank on the first page of Google for X” begin to roll in, the short answer (to what is actually a very difficult question) is always the same, and has been for years.
“We create content that our users want and need, because that is what Google wants too.”
Traditional on-site optimisation, site architecture and other more technical aspects of SEO are still a big part of the work we do, but creating high quality content needs to be the focal point of any modern SEO strategy.
In fact if you don’t have an effective content strategy, you do not really have an SEO strategy.
Why the focus on quality?
There is an obvious answer to this in that it is better for users, but because of SEO’s slightly shady past and damaged reputation you will still encounter people today that tell you it is a numbers game. That there is an algorithm which can be gamed.
This certainly isn’t true in 2018, and to be honest it hasn’t really been the case since the first iterations of the Panda update were rolled out in 2011.
Of course, there are always some exceptions to the rule. We all occasionally see competitors who seem to be enjoying some success with a strategy that can be considered grey hat at best, but Google is getting smarter every day and soon this type of site will disappear from SERPs for good.
All SEOs know there are several ranking factors that still need to be actively pursued, but as Google has begun to give AI a more significant role in the algorithm with RankBrain in the future even it will lose site of what these factors are.
Instead of obsessing about things like links, keyword use and social shares it is much better to focus on what Google is using all these factors to try and achieve. To return the best and most relevant page for every search query.
Content quality scale
I first saw this content quality scale in a Whiteboard Friday presentation given by Rand Fishkin. It’s an extremely effective way of explaining the effort that is needed to compete in organic search in an age of content saturation.
To produce a piece of content that is as good as the best result in the SERPs takes a lot of work. To see this set as the minimum bar for modern SEO is a really poignant point, and highlights how great every piece of content on your site needs to be in order to perform.
This focus on quality as the way to stand out from the crowd in a saturated market has led to the emergence of a new term - 10x content.
The idea is a simple one. That to stay ahead of the competition we should be striving to create content that is 10 times better than anything else that already exists.
If we only aim to build content that is as good as the best we will quickly get left behind, because so much great work is being produced every single day.
SEOs and content creators could spend hours debating what makes a piece of content worthy of the 10x title, and you could write a whole series of articles on this topic alone.
This video (another from Rand Fishkin) is the best place to start if you want to learn more about the key themes all pieces of 10x content share. And if you want to see a real world example of 10x content, I think Google’s Project Sunroof is a good place to start.
But isn’t this really hard, and difficult to scale?
The fact that it is extremely difficult to make a page that is 10 times better than anything else on the SERPs is really the whole point. It gives you an advantage over all the other sites you are competing with. If you set the barrier this high then they may never be able to catch up.
It might not be scalable to take every page on your site and turn it into a piece of 10x content, but each time you get it right the impact will be so significant that you will definitely feel like you have got a good return for all of your hard work.
Just think how much money a commercial solar panel company could be making right now if it had created Project Sunroof, and when a brand successfully produces something on this scale it raises that minimum bar for everyone else.
So to compete in the SERPs in 2018 10x content is where brands should be focusing most, if not all of their efforts.
Of course it is very hard to create even one piece of 10x content and it needs real investment, but it is much easier and less painful than responding to a competitor that raises the bar first and leaves you 10 steps behind.