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Why is SEO Getting Harder & What You Can do About it?

SEO has changed, but it’s also very much the same. Confused? In this article by Jonathan Morton he explains in his article what’s working today and helping grow our organic traffic exponentially.

SEO is getting harder & how to optimize for conversions

How to find opportunities within SERP features to optimize and encourage clicks to your website.

    • Google’s search engine results pages (aka SERPs) have changed dramatically over the past few years. Catering to the popularity of mobile and voice search and in an attempt to provide quick answers to user’s search queries across all devices, Google have morphed from a search engine into an answer engine. They have recognised that their users would rather be presented with immediate answers than having to parse a page of links and jump back and forth between pages until their question has been answered.
    • This is all well and good for the Google user. However for website owners creating valuable content and optimizing our pages for organic search, not only do we have to contend with Google ads but a whole myriad of advanced SERP features are now competing for attention.
    • Advanced SERP features are distinct from traditional organic search results. In the example below, a desktop based search for artificial intelligence presents us with two columns.
    • In the left column, we a series of Google Ads, followed by a Featured Snippet, a Related Questions box, a Top Stories box, and only then do we see our first traditional organic search result (highlighted) more than halfway down the page, almost certainly below the fold on the majority of devices.
    • Further down we see the organic results are intercepted by a Videos box and competing for our attention in the right panel is a Knowledge Graph Card.

I’m #1 so why try harder?

As you can see in the image above, achieving the number one organic result in Google search simply isn’t enough any more. There are so many more enticing things on the page to explore. Often, many of them will answer the search query without the user having to click. Read the full post….

Whereas the previous post made reference to how SEO is getting harder, it’s still very doable by using the right methods and strategy as Sam explains in the video…


Video Transcript

What’s up SEOs? Sam Oh here with Ahrefs, the SEO tool that helps you grow your search traffic, research your competitors and dominate your niche.

As I’m sure you know, there have been quite a few algorithm updates in the past 12 months and as a result, a ton of sites were affected. Now, we only know of certain industries like health that got hit. But the truth is that no one knows exactly what happened except Google themselves.

So for that reason, I’m not going to bother making predictions. Instead, I’m going to show you the SEO strategies and tips that are working right now based on our own experiences and those of respected members in the SEO community.

Let’s get to it.

The first SEO tip is an obvious one, and that’s to have a mobile optimized website.

Let’s zip through this one.

At the end of 2018, Google announced that after two-years of work, over half of the pages shown in search results use mobile-first indexing. This means that Google will predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. So long story short, if your website isn’t mobile optimized, do it.

Next up is to start with topical research.

We all know what keyword research is, but don’t confuse it with topical research.

Today, more than ever, targeting individual keywords is the wrong way to approach SEO. In our study of over 3 million search queries, we found that on average, the number one ranking page also ranks for nearly a thousand additional keywords. This can lead to a single page getting tens or even hundreds of thousands of search visitors across all its keywords.

My favorite example of this is an article from, which gets nearly half a million search visits each month and ranks for around 30,000 keywords. Looking at their organic keyword rankings, you’ll see they also rank for popular search queries like: “how to lose weight,” “best way to lose weight,” “weight loss,” and “lose weight fast.”

All of these queries are essentially looking for the same solution to the same problem and Google recognizes this as being in the same topical umbrella. So if you want to get more search traffic from a single page, you’ll want to find topics that have breadth. And the easiest way to find topics with high search traffic potential is to see what’s working for your competitors.

So let’s go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and start by entering a competitors’ domain, in this case, Next, I’ll go to the Top pages report, which ranks their pages by the ones that generate the most search traffic. And since we’re interested in worldwide traffic, I’ll set this filter to show traffic from all countries.

For a quick eyeball test, just look at these columns: Traffic, Top keyword, and the Top keyword’s volume. Generally speaking, the greater discrepancy between the search traffic and the top keyword’s volume, the greater the total traffic potential will be. The next tip is to build topical authority. Now, the best way to explain this is with an example.

Let’s say you were building a shed in your backyard. Would you rather have a bricklayer for that job or an architect?

They both work with buildings, but their areas, or topics of specialty, are different. The same goes for websites. Google understands which websites are “authoritative” over a niche.

For example, if we look at the top 10 results for “best antivirus software,” you’ll see that they’re dominated by mega computer publications and antivirus companies. Now, looking at the 6th result, you’ll see a page from Now, if you’ll look carefully, they have significantly more links from unique websites, yet they can’t seem to penetrate the top 5 positions. After analyzing the content, one possibility is that the other results are topically stronger websites pushing down, which covers a wide range of topics.

So how do you create topical authority in your niche?

Two things: First is to get links from topically relevant and authoritative websites.

In the case of antivirus software, links from sites like Norton, PC mag or other relevant sites would be the holy grail of relevant links. The second is to create contextual relevance on your website through internal linking.

A great strategy is to create content silos.

Basically, you have a top-level page which is usually used to rank for big head terms. You then create subtopics underneath them, where they all link internally to each other creating relevance for users and search engines. For example, let’s say you have a website on coffee and want to build a silo around the head term, “coffee beans.” Let’s type that into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer as our seed.

Next, I’ll go to the Phrase match report to find keyword ideas that would make good subtopics. Now, a quick way to find subtopics is to look at the Parent topic, which represents the broader topic or subtopic to the target. For example, you can see that by targeting “coffee beans” as the main keyword, you could also rank for “best coffee beans,” which would be good to know when creating your top-level page. Subtopics to your main topic could be keywords like “types of coffee beans” and “how to roast coffee beans.”

The next technique is probably the most important when it comes to SEO today, and that’s matching search intent. Search intent basically means the reason behind a searcher’s query. And Google’s job is to match the best results to any given query. So no matter how many links you have.

No matter how good your technical and on-page SEO is, if you’re not matching search intent, then you’re not going to rank. The easiest way to identify search intent is to just Google the keyword you want to rank for, and look at the types of pages that are ranking. These will generally fall into the 3 C’s of search intent. Content Type Content Format and Content angle. Content type can usually be categorized into blog posts, product, category, and landing pages. Content format applies more to blog posts and landing pages.

A few common blog formats you’ll see are “how-tos”, step-by-step tutorials, list posts, and opinion editorials. For a landing page, that might be something like a tool or calculator.

Content angle is often depicted in the title as the “benefit.” It’s basically your hook as to why someone should click and read your article. Just by matching search intent alone, we’ve seen ranking boosts from position 40 to position 6 in just 4 days. And it was also the main way we were able to rank #1 for the keyword “backlink checker.”

The next thing you can do is to keep your content fresh. It’s generally accepted in the SEO community that Google uses a “freshness” factor in their ranking algorithm.

If you look at the publishing history for Ahrefs blog, you can see that we republish content, which is represented in the dark blue bars. Now, to prove my point, I’m going to set a couple of filters, the first being to only show pages that have been republished.

Next, I’ll set another filter to only show pages that were published this year. And finally, I’ll set the Trends graph to show the past 6 months of data in the table below. If you’ll look at the organic traffic graphs, you’ll see that a good chunk of these pages had increases in organic traffic after they were republished. And I can tell you that for all of these pages shown here, we didn’t run any link building campaigns, nor did search intent change for these.

To identify which pages you should update, ask yourself these questions.

1. Is the page older than 6 – 12 months? If the answer is “no,” then you should give it more time to rank.

2. Does the page have enough links to compete against the top ranking results? If you haven’t spent time building links, yet the top ranking pages have hundreds of backlinks, then it’s more likely an authority issue over a “freshness” one.

3. Are you matching search intent? Like I mentioned before, if you can’t match search intent, then you probably can’t rank.

4. Did your page once have a good amount of organic traffic, but it’s declining? If the answer is “yes,” then the last question is going to help you make your final decision. And that’s, is your content outdated? This one is a little more subjective and requires a bit of research and common sense.

“Best of” posts are a great example of when freshness may be an issue.

For example, if you haven’t updated your 2017 guide that used to rank for “best headphones,” then it makes sense why you’re not ranking.

Manufacturers are always releasing new models, and people are looking for today’s technology.

To get a better idea, just go to Google and search for your target keyword. And if you see that a good chunk of the posts have the current year in the titles and yours is out of date, then it’s time for a refresh.

The next thing you should focus on in 2019 are links that move the needle. Not all links are created equal. And as a general rule of thumb, the harder the link is to get, the more valuable it’ll be to your SEO success.

Without overcomplicating things, think of good links in 3 layers. The more criteria it matches, the better.

First is topical authority of the referring domain. Getting links from websites that are highly-related to your content will likely add more weight than ones that are wide spread. For example, if your page is on the best headphones in 2019 and you get links from places like Cnet, Techradar, and Bose, these would be ideal links to acquire. Compare that to a link from a travel blog who had a one-off post where they mentioned something about shopping for headphones. When you’re prospecting for links, you can usually gauge a website’s niche by just the domain name.

Second is the relevance of the link. Let’s use that example of “best headphones” again, but this time at the page level. Getting a link from another page on the same topic would be ideal. It’s obviously super-relevant to your content. As for the travel blogger, he or she may have written a personal post about their travels to Spain. And as they were documenting their journey, they happened to mention that they bought Bose QC35s because of your guide. But that doesn’t change the fact that the topic of the post is actually about traveling to Spain. Clearly, link #1 is more relevant, and will almost certainly provide more value to your page.

Third is the referring page’s “link authority.” Google still uses PageRank today in their ranking algorithm. In general, the more quality links a referring page has, the more link juice it can pass on to both internal and external links on that page. An easy way to measure this is to look at the URL rating. This is an Ahrefs’ metric, which represents the overall strength of a page’s backlink profile. And you’ll see it in numerous reports throughout Ahrefs’ SEO toolset.

The higher the UR, the more authority it can pass. If you’re looking for link building strategies that often fulfill these requirements, then the two that I recommend are the Skyscraper technique and guest posting. With Skyscraper style prospects you’ll often find more mature pages where they’ve had time to get links and build PageRank. So getting links from some of these pages can very well move the needle. And the second is guest posting, which is great since you can handpick sites you want to get links from. We have a video on executing both of these tactics at scale, so I’ll leave links to those in the description below. The next thing I highly recommend focusing on is YouTube SEO.

In the past year, we’ve grown our subscribers 3X and increased views by 10X. Most importantly, it’s helped us generate thousands of new customers.

We’re focusing on Google SEO today so stay with me for a second. I’m sure you’ve noticed a massive increase in video results in Google’s search results. And the proof is in the pudding. The traffic we get from Google to our YouTube videos has increased consistently and I don’t see it getting any smaller. By creating engaging videos with some on-page work, we’ve been able to rank for competitive terms in Google like “SEO tutorial,” “YouTube SEO,” and “search engine optimization.”

Since Google is giving more real estate to videos, this is something that I highly recommend tapping into if you haven’t already started.

Now, these are strategies that have been working for us and other respected SEOs in our community. But I want to hear from you.

What has or has not been working for your SEO growth?

Leave a comment and make sure to like, share and subscribe for more actionable SEO and marketing tutorials. So keep grinding away, repeat what’s working instead of chasing shiny tactics, and I’ll see you in the next tutorial.

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