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How To Drive More Organic Traffic To Your Website (with Bernard Huang from Clearscope)

In this episode, Clearscope Founder Bernard Huang shares SEO techniques that you can master to create content that ranks.

Tune in to learn form an SEO entrepreneur—learn Bernard’s approaches and experiments with content quality, topic clustering, backlinking, and more.

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Audio Transcription:

Intro

Welcome to the Indie Media Club Podcast. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Indie Media Club. We’re on a mission to help independent, bootstrapped media entrepreneurs succeed, to help people who create, promote a monetize through content do it better. Check out indiemedia.club to find out more. 

Ben Aston

So today, I’m joined by Bernard Huang, and Bernard has got a really interesting background to check out his LinkedIn profile. And you can see that he started as a university research assistant, then graduated somehow to becoming a professional poker player, started a Dickey’s BBQ Pit, then became a developer, got into SEO, and founded Clearscope. And that is a tool that brings content and SEO together. So keep listening to today’s podcast to learn how to drive more organic traffic to your site. Hello Bernard, Thanks so much for joining us. 

Bernard Huang

Thanks so much for having me, Ben. Well, yeah, go ahead. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So I want to dig into this, this story, which I think is fascinating and either you’re brilliant and had this amazing plan, what you were doing as you started off in research, poker, BBQ, Dev, SEO all. I mean, why what happened. What’s the link? 

Bernard Huang

Yeah, I think the link early on was that I just knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So even before research like doing polymer research in a lab, it started with I think just starting a break dancing club in middle school or a mahjong club. And then turned into, oh, I created like my own board game and then promoted that and like, held a tournament in like high school. And then I was just always interested in, like, trying new things. But I think what is so gratifying for me specifically is just learning new things. I just find it super mentally stimulating, which is why this story of mine, which I went to a boarding school for high school, is called the Texas Academy of Math and Science. And you essentially go to college as an eleventh-grade high school student. And so I’m going to college. A lot of reasons why I did that in the first place is because I felt at home that my parents were kind of like the proverbial tiger Asian parents. They had a very opinionated way of thinking about how life should move forward, which is to get good grades, go to a good college, do well, become an engineer and you’re set. And I always, like, fundamentally disagreed with where they were coming from because I was stubborn and whatnot. And I realize now that that was the way you would do it. Like when they were growing up and in that era. But as I you know, I need to get away from this. So I went to this boarding school so I could kind of get some of my own space and time. And what most people did at the Texas Academy of Math and Science was you would join a lab because you could then write papers, which would then get you some clout which would help you get into a really good university. And so that’s what I did. And then I had friends, friends, roommates, who I wasn’t very like just didn’t know very well. And when I graduated from this boarding school, it turns out that these friends, friends, and roommate had made over six figures playing online poker on his like brother account because, you know, he was 16. He started to play online and he bought a house in like Austin where we were both going to go to college at the University of Austin. So it’s like, what am I doing—doing lab work on polymers when I could be playing online poker? and my friend was the one who told me about this story. And he was like, we’re eating dinner. And I, like, paid for his dinner. I think there’s like a triple play or something. And he’s like, oh, well, you know, I could just send you the money on PokerStars, right? I was like kind of a Venmo of sorts that I had to ship you like, you know, eight bucks on PokerStars. So I was like, oh, shoot. Sounds super interesting. So that’s how I got into poker. And I took the eight bucks. And while it was like my coveted money, you are that eight bucks were worth more than my two hundred bucks because I had no way to get money onto PokerStars. So I like to read a bunch, managed it very meticulously, and ended up taking that eight bucks to over one hundred and twenty thousand dollars by the time I graduated. And that’s when your friend came to me and was like, well, you have money now because. OK, I’ll play poker and kind of being a young little braggart and as I say, well, why don’t we just buy this foreclosed barbecue restaurant with that money that you’ve made? And then I went to my dad and I was. So my friend has this idea of buying a barbecue restaurant. And what do you think? So we sat down. We did the spreadsheets. Right. Money in, money out, you know, inventory, cost of goods, sale, whatever. And the numbers looked good. So I waited with my friend to buy this barbecue restaurant and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Brick and mortar is challenging, very challenging. And so after 13 months of trying to run this restaurant, it was just bleeding too much money every month. So we as our team didn’t want to put in more money. And so we sold the restaurant for zero. And the reason why you would sell a business or zero is to transfer the liabilities along with the assets because this Dickey’s BBQ came with a five-year lease and a 10-year franchise agreement. And if we’re to break all of those, it’d be like a quarter of a million dollars in fees. And we’re like, well, if we just sold it for zero, which is includes then the fixtures that the chairs, the smoker, the refrigerator. And we’re just transferring the liabilities along with the assets, but getting it off of our hands. So that was then tuition. It’s about brick and mortar. And I was like, brick and mortar, I’ll go online. Right. I don’t get to deal with all of this like, you know, manual labor and whatnot, so that I taught myself how to code because like brick and mortar are just it just seems like you’ve got to put in a lot of work, a lot of time. It’s not nearly a scalable, as what I’m saying all of these apps do. And so I taught myself how to code, got into some accelerator programs, and failed at doing. Like starting an online business. And so I was like, okay, all right. Well, clearly, I just don’t know what I’m doing. So what I decided to do is just to move to San Francisco, join the most notable Y Combinator startup that would take me. I got a position at 42 floors as their director of growth. And they basically just gave me this blanket initiative: just grow our website. And I had very little to no experience in any digital marketing. And I just read everything. It’s like, okay, how do you do Facebook ads? How do you do Google ads? How do you do SEO? How do you do all of these things? And I tried all of that. And SEO just happened to do the best for 42 floors because it’s like Zillow, a real estate listing website for commercial real estate. So like office space. And that’s how I got into SEO.

Ben Aston

So when you started getting into SEO, it was primarily through reading stuff. Well, what were your sources back then when you were first getting into SEO? Because there are all kinds of conflicting information about what to do and how to do it. Where were your sources of trees in those early days and how do you kind of see that is changing since the things you did write back then?

Bernard Huang

Yeah. So it’s. Funny that you mention that because of Clearscope. Now we work with so many different CEOs and companies who are at different stages of experience in their journey. And I remember right. Getting started. I Google it. What is SEO? How do you do SEO and Moz would pretty much just dominate the search engine results page? So I’d read, you know, link building one on one on Moz and technical SEO. What is the title tag? And I would say like, you know, level one as SEO for me was kind of a checklist. It was like, okay, is my title tag less than sixty-five characters. Check is my H1. This my like big text above the fold in each one. Check and I’m using all image text Check. Right. And so that was kind of like an SEO one on one follow the checklist. You have good SEO. And then, and then I like got an introduction to a friend in Silicon Valley who is like a friend’s friend, lived in the same apartment building. And my friend was like, dude, you got to talk with this guy because he’s so kind of like growth-minded like you and dabbles in a lot of different things. So he introduced me to this guy. And this guy, he was one of the biggest private blog network link providers on the market at the time. Like, I think his network rivaled the top networks. And he was making good money. I mean, I guess so, you know. What do you want to know about SEO? I’m like I was like I mean, I’m following these checklists, but not like getting anywhere. And he was like, yeah, of course. And I was like, what do you mean? And he’s like, well, we’re like the network that powers everybody who basically does an SEO. All right. Yeah. Tell me more. Come on. And then he’s like, yeah, well, we operate, you know, 1,000 to 10,000 sites. And any agency that offers link building, they just basically buy from us. Not any agency, but a lot of them would buy from this network. And I was like, oh, okay. Well, I got some money. I got some budget. So why don’t, why don’t we try this. And he’s like, yeah, just send me the target keywords the URL’s that you want the links to go to. We’ll get it up and running. So I started buying links from this private blog network provider and that crushed our traffic just went through the roof. And I was like, oh, I see. So this is what I’ve been missing. This is like a private blog network link building. And for those of you who don’t know what a private blog network it is, it’s a web of websites that look like they’re independently operated, but they’re actually controlled by like a head puppet master who can post content on any one of them. And what they do is they publish content on a like time, like some sort of a cadence, maybe like once per week, and they’ll drip out links that are, well, basically pointing to whichever Web site that you want or to point to a Web site that then points to like your money-making Website. If you wanted to add more misdirection with what was going on. And so, yeah, we pointed a bunch of, like Web sites to my Web site. We got a lot of traffic. And then and then they got greedy. Were there growing so fast? And they left a very big footprint and one of their clients got caught with a manual action from Google. And so Google then basically identified there in like a big part of their network. And anybody that got a link from that network, they got manual actions, too. So I watched as our traffic that skyrocketed to immediately sort of like back to like almost nothing at all was like, wow, that was crazy. It must be that kind of all about links. And some being the person that I am would say, okay, well, then the next level of this is to build my own private blog network. That way there will be no foot. So I started building a private blog network, which is then. A lot of different websites to manage. And then I started saying, okay, well, what would happen if I did this for this particular Web site, like, say, change the template or make the page load speed quick or whatever. And you started then running these different experiments across your private blog network and say, oh, well, Website, no one that’s running this experiment is actually doing way better than Website. Number two, that does not have that particular thing applied to it. And then that’s like kind of level, I guess like three at this point because you’re just testing all of these different things. So that was my journey. 

Ben Aston

Wow. And then at that point, you had before you founded Clearscope, you’d gone to SEO and you started an SEO agency, right? 

Bernard Huang

That’s right. 

Ben Aston

So this is based on your own PBN, I’m guessing. 

Bernard Huang

So we ran a PBN for the experimentation process. And what we learned from that, we started working with different clients. And what we found was that basically an SEO is not a one size fits all equation, eight different searches, different industries, different factors that the algorithm and users are going to care about. And that’s kind of when we, like, tripled our learning because all of a sudden we slowly built up this reputation as kind of a no-frills agency where Stakeholder’s me and my business partner did all of the work and we would straight out tell people when they’re like, hey, well, give me a projection. We said we don’t do projections and they’ll be like, why don’t you do projections? And we say it’s impossible to project. And then they’re all right. I mean, you’ve got a point. And then they said, so what am I going to get? And I said, well, we’ll tell you how to run experiments. The results of those experiments will sometimes translate into big search engine optimization wins. But the majority of them might be just complete flop. But that’s how you want to do and approach SEO. And so we built ah ah ah bread and then our reputation as no-frills. Search engine optimization like testing at a very high level. And so people came to us and, you know, we got DoorDash, Strava, Compass.com And tea spring. They started running experiments on those Websites. So now a sudden we have all of these different Web sites that we’re running experiments on. And then I also got into five hundred startups as an advisor. And I got to work with all five hundred startups, portfolio companies with like open office hours. And they would come to me with their SEO questions and I would say, okay, well, try this. And so that, like, tripled our learning. And basically, we would just learn so much faster because we’re working with dozens of different clients and devising dozens of different clients, having them test all of these different things for the particular queries that they were interested in going after. And then by the end of that, we’re like, OK, we see this kind of broader, higher-level thing that Google seems to be carrying about. That’s outside of the historic approach that people have been taking with SEO. So that then is why their scope was born. Right. That was kind of this. Oh, content quality, a very amorphous sort of concept was not really thought of as a ranking factor because it’s very hard to quantify what a high-quality piece should look like. But we can kind of. There is an API at the time called Alchemy API. And when we started investigating the natural language aspects, it came out to be fairly clear that the Alchemy API did a really good job in passing. Now natural language processing and we did manually. Analysis using Alchemy API and top-ranking search results and built CSVs and handed those to clients and said, okay, change the text on the page to match this kind of topic in this manner and run it as an experiment. And they did. And we saw some crazy stuff. Okay. Nothing to like rank 2. All right. That must be a fluke. Let’s try this again and try again. And what we learned was that, yeah, okay. For certain classes of queries, nothing to number two happened, but for certain other classes of queries, maybe it would be, you know, nothing to number twenty or number 12 to number seven and four other queries. It was actually like number three to number nine. OK. Interesting. 

Ben Aston

And let’s talk about this kind of class of queries. So how do you class different queries? 

Bernard Huang

Yeah. So I think at a high level there is a way to think about the query, which is by the content type that it’s. So you could imagine somebody does a search for hiking boots. The type of content that they are likely to receive is a product catalog of hiking boots. So you could infer from that type of content that the searcher likely wants to browse a list of products and thus receive a product catalog. So very common content types that exist on the Internet would be, say, a tool, a widget, a calculator. Right. So a mortgage calculator. Get your calculator. Whether weather gets you the weather widget on Google, a very other common class as a catalog or directory Website. You could imagine that a catalog would be Amazon for vacuum cleaners and a directory Website would be Yelp for local businesses that serve lunch. And then obviously the most other common category is articles or resources. You could think of these as blog posts or long-form is written editorial. And then there’s a whole slew of other ones, like video profile pages, use case or request of, quote, pages. You’re still Cobban, but less common. And that’s kind of one level of thinking about. SEO like someone performs a search. What type of content should they get? And then the other class that I would make known as very important is what is their intent? Right. If somebody is searching for hiking boots, their intent is likely that they do want to compare a bunch of hiking boots with one another, which is why a direct or a catalog of hiking boots is a great experience. But you have to that add on top of that catalog. A great filtering ability with reviews and photography that matches the hiking boots that are the most popular that they would care about. So. Right, if the intent that the searcher has is a catalog of products and how do we make of their ability to filter or sort through that catalog of products as good as possible? Right. Do they care about affordability, waterproof, hiking boots versus breathe a bowl, hiking boots? Right. And that just really depends on the product category that the user wants. So when we’re working with clients like, say, Teespring or, you know, compass.com, it would be OK within that particular category of product, say, t-shirts. Well, what you want a long sleeves. You want an extra small. You want small. What do you want? Right. Or luxury real estate. You want to make sure that, you know, you have a pool or seven bedrooms or 10 houses. Right. And those would be the filters that somebody would care about. But for, say, an article, then that’s more informational. Right. And what somebody would want to know is, well, the answer to their question. And so what is that question that they have? And how do we answer that as quickly as possible? And that’s how we would recommend that you go after. Right. Like an article. So I think the two back to answering your question. The two things that I’m paying attention to is, what is the intent that the searcher has when a search is performed and what is the most relevant content type to then service that particular search?

Ben Aston

So then it turns up kind of answering this question, how do you drive organic traffic? Well, some of the factors that we need to think about are the user’s intent when they’re making that search, but what are you starting from ground zero? I mean, you’ve talked about link building used. You’ve talked about on-page SEO when we’ve you know, there is a checklist of things, and we kind of check the boxes, like using Yoast or plugin like that on our Web site. Yeah. And you talked about link building, buying links. You’ve come kind of round full circle with Clearscope in terms of thinking. Actually, the content on the page really does matter. Not just the content, not just the layout, but the content and the quality of that content and the relevant tests to that search intent. So when we’re thinking about how do you drive or kind of traffic or a brand new Web site and it’s not getting any traffic, how what would you say the answer is? 

Bernard Huang

Yeah, I would say in a very simple manner, search engine optimization is creating content experiences that help users actually find what they’re looking for. So if you had a brand new web and you wanted to get organic traffic, then I would say that you would likely want to create content around a particular topic that you have subject matter expertise in. You say it’s gardening. I got a gardening blog off the ground. Well, what are you gardening? Right. Maybe it’s green onions or whatever that you could imagine. Right. You could create a really nice piece of content that instructs somebody on how to grow green onions in your garden. And that would help me should I want to grow green onions in my garden. Fine. Give me the instructions on what I’m looking for. And so that’s honestly it. And you might scratch your head and say, well, Bernard, you just talked a lot about how Link Building made your content or major Web site that you worked on just explode. And the answer is yes, yes. Link building does help with that process and build. Really what. Link building does is that it accelerates Google’s willingness to. Experiment with your content. Higher up in the search engine results. So in a hypothetical example, if nerd wallet, which is a very dominant Website in the personal finance credit card space, were to create a piece of content surrounding the best travel credit cards. Google would look at nerd wallet and its backlinks and say, all right, Nerd Wallet knows what it’s doing because that has a lot of backlinks. So when you’ve now published this piece of content that could rank for best reward or best travel credit cards, we’ll take that piece of content and put it in the search engine results page as position number two. And that’s where they initially seeded into the search results. Then they give that search engine results page to a legitimate user, and they see what happens with the user engagement signal. So someone does a search best travel. Credit cards say they get a result. Number one, the points got a result. Number two, as nerd wallet. And the user says, well, I don’t care about what the points guy has to say. I nerd wallet is here, so I click on Nerd Wallet, thus clicking on result number two before even clicking on result number one. You can imagine that that happens five times now each time they give that search engine results page with a nerd wallet. Number two, the user just clicks on the nerd wallet. So the next time number six, the user number six came those who say, well, we’ll just put third wallet, US position number one, because that’s what they’re clicking on anyways. Right. In a very simplistic model. So that’s that what Backlinks does for your Website when you’re getting started, and you have nothing to create your piece of content on how to how to grow green onions in your garden, your seating position. One hundred and twenty-six. And how many legitimate users actually get to the position. One hundred and twenty-six. Very, few. So when people say search engine optimization takes a really long time. What I believe that refers to is the experimentation process required for Google to establish that your content is trustworthy, because when you seed into the search results as position one hundred twenty-six, then you might get one impression a month. Well, Google will sometimes just throw you up in a like a position like forty-something, and you might get three. And better yet, somebody clicked on it. Right. And if that were to happen, which Google then we’ll start to do as it increases trust in your content, then you start ranking up in the search results. So my opinion is that Google is doing a much better job of understanding what quality content looks like and is doing a better job at experimenting with content and its ability to serve. It’s the searches that are happening on Google. At the end of the day, what search engine optimization is about is creating content that helps the user. Building backlinks does none of that. So if you just focus on the quality of your content, then in one year, in two years, well, you might be position number one. It might take you a lot longer to get there, but eventually quality content will outperform, not-quality content. So I just say focus on creating great content that matches what the searcher the problems and questions that the searcher has. And yeah, it might be very slow and therefore painful for the first year or two that you’re creating content, but if you trust in how all of this works, I would bet that you will get what you want, just it might take a little bit longer.

Ben Aston

So the fact is that you think are important quality content, answering that such intent and then what it sounds like you’re saying is fit and white and Google do its thing. You might need to wait two years. What other factors? Oh, I mean, we’ve talked about buying things, which obviously is a is not maybe often talked about, but it is a pretty standard practice once you whore. What’s your view on buying links to fast track that process now? And what was with that and what doesn’t work. 

Bernard Huang

Yeah. So honestly, it is something that if you wanted to consider, if we do recommend it for some clients that are literally just getting started completely brand new. Yeah. Yeah. You know, a few good quality links will really accelerate that. Say two-year process to maybe even just six months. You’re helping Google then build trust in your content. So the way that a lot of people will approach Backlinks building is that Dell will assume that getting a link from a high authority Website like nerd wallet or for Ops or Wired TechCrunch is exactly what you want to do. However, I think that Google has been changing the way that that model works. And it’s my opinion that you actually want to get links from Web sites that are performing well within the topic or subject matter that you’re discussing. So if you can get a link from basically a search engine result that you see that is ranking for how to garden and they say, oh, well, you know, if you want to learn how to garden green onions, then check out Ben’sblog.com. Then that link would be worth way more than just a random link on forbes.com that talks about, well, OK. Here’s Ben’sblog.com, because Forbes really just doesn’t talk that much about gardening. So that’s where a lot of people will just have this kind of blanket outreach process. Well, they’ll say, OK, if I Googled How to garden. Let’s take all of the domains on the front page and figure out who’s behind it. Right. Whether that’s submitting a request in their contact form or looking on LinkedIn for the the the LLC or whatever the company name is at the foot or trying to find the owners and then reach reaching out to them and saying, hey, look, I’m just getting started. I’ve created this really great resource. on how to grow green onions. Do you mind if you click linked out to me? And that’s standard practice. That’s when people talk about the white hat, which is like correct link building practice. That’s exactly what everybody does, which that you can imagine. Somebody like Ben gets like a million of these requests like a day. Right. This goes into spam—links? No, no no, not going to happen. So that’s why, then, this gray market of stuff starts to pop up where it’s I. Oh, well. Well, what about link exchange. You will link to me. I link it to you. Well, write to somebody like them. Right. Well, I link to you that is worth, you know, thousands of dollars. You link to me, that’s worth noting. So forget about it. Right. And that’s the problem with the exchange, is that you’re nothing. You’re getting started and you’re not anywhere. Why would anybody want to trade a link for you or with you? So that’s why. Right, buying. Backlinks have become a thing. And there are legitimate ways to buying backlinks, which are inherently black cat or frowned upon by Google that are like, say, undetectable. Like, they’ll be like service because there’s a lot of people that are Forbes’ contributors or Huffington Post contributors. And they’ll say, oh, well, within my two Article Lachman’s that I get to write for Forbes, I can throw you a link. But that’s going to cost you say, two thousand dollars for a LinkedIn. I set up two thousand dollars. But well, right. Assuming that Google cannot track that that transaction happens, then it’s perfectly legitimate if they wrote a piece of content around, you know, how to guard it in COVID-19 to spend your time, and then they linked that to your piece of content on green onions because it’s was a great piece of content. So those exist. They do work. They’re very expensive. They’re rather untraceable. And that’s how a lot of people do it. I would say just talking about all of those are the most common ways that people do it. And you’re either spending a lot of money. Right. Basically. Incentivizing somebody to link out to you or you’re spending a lot of time grinding through, reaching out to so many different potential Web sites to either contribute a piece of content to their site that links back to your site or get them to link to your resource. And there’s really no great way to game that system. If you kind of go one level higher and you start thinking about kind of hacking this lets a lot of people might build what are called like Backlinks Magnet. And those would be examples of basically like, you know, taking a trend, the topic, call it 19 and mixing it with some very relevant data or whatever, and we might say greenhouse gases reduced by COVID-19 and doing some sort of analysis around that and saying, well, because people are traveling less, there are fewer fossil fuels being burned than COVID-19 is actually net positive on carbon emissions, which are now like a variety of different hot topics that people care about. And then promoting that. Right, unlike, say, Facebook through some advertising, though, be oh, that’s a great resource of link outs to it. And that’s kind of then gaming the system on gaming links. But yeah, those would be the most common ways. 

Ben Aston

So, I mean, that’s the content itself. There are links to the content. What about content clustering? And I mean, you’ve got your green onions post. How important do you think it is to be the world’s expert on green onions and in your gardening blog? How do you demonstrate that expertise is how harmful would you say the volume of poses or certain would count across the science? If we again, we’re in this position of starting out with our gardening blog. We’ve written our post on green onions. We’ve got a link to two. It might be to build those links. And then we’re kind of sitting there and hoping and waiting that Google picks us up. But well, what are some of the other factors that we can do to improve the perspective from Google that, hey, we’re actually experts in this area? 

Bernard Huang

Yeah. So I would say the best way that I found is just to study the search engine results page. If you’ve noticed through your recent Google links, Google search engine results page is increasingly becoming more feature rich. You’ll see more like video blocks. You see if you want a local technician like a block of like sponsor local technicians. If you search something that could be perceived as you’ve probably walked this around your area, you’ve got a map. So I would say, Okay, you do the search, right. How to how to guard and green onions if you see a video block right across a carousel. My guess is how it’s called an SEO. Then you could infer that a video on how to guard green onions is actually probably more informative than just a complete text-based post. Well, ideally, your tax base post would have a section. That’s right. You know how to fertilize your dirt. And within that section, it’d be like, you know, step one, do this. And within that, it might even have a video in that of you actually doing it. And you could imagine that because we saw the video carousel showing up in the Google search engine results page. We could intuit that. Google must have found that having that video carousel as a search result. Right. You can think of where it’s located as what position it’s f its position, number one. Now, we could intuit that. That must be really engaging or else it would be, say, position number four or it is not even on the front page. So looking right at these clues that Google search engine results pages are alluding to are very great signs of basically improving your content ability to perform, proving to Google that you are a subject matter expertise or a subject matter expert. And to kind of then answer your question right first, right. What is the topic cluster? And are they still important? A topic cluster at a conceptual level? Is a cluster of different sub-topics surrounding the topic that you want to cover? You can imagine, based on the conversation that we’ve had so far, that if we created a topic cluster around search engine optimization, dash everything you want to know, it would go something along the lines of what is search engine optimization, why search engine optimization is important, how to do search engine optimization within, how to do search engine optimization. We talk about how to think about technical SEO. What are backlinks thinking about content quality? Right. It’s now packaging together all of these sub-topics surrounding the topic that we want to go after. And in my current opinion, Google’s algorithm is a kind of pooh-poohing on topic clusters because it’s saying, well, when somebody searches search engine optimization, they have a very common question, which may be today is, “how do you do it?” rather than “what it is”, right? Then maybe, say, 10 years ago, more people would be well, I don’t know what it is, and therefore you would see more what is search engine optimization rather than how to do it. And so Google is basically trying to figure out the most common question within a topic that you are likely to care about and serve the results from that sub-topic. So if you were to approach them how to garden, we might say how to garden is the topic cluster because you know, things you need to do before gardening, the, you know, growing calendar, the different types of herbs that you could garden would be them. All of these separate subtopics. And I would argue that you want to go as granular as make sense. So how to grow green onions in your garden would be an example of okay, granular, but not crazy. It’s not it’s not like how to grow green onions in your garden with a backyard planter in the summer. I would say, Okay, that’s you know, people just want to grow green onions and that’s something to do with just kind of looking at the search volume and saying, oh, OK, well there’s, you know, 20 searches a month for how to grow green onions, whereas there are no searches for how to grow green onions in your backyard using the planter in the summer, something like that. 

Ben Aston

So finding ways of trying to drill down and trying to end that search path is is what’s important when we kind of planning out our content. Well, what other things should we be thinking about when way developing a content strategy? I’m trying to work out, hey, I’m passionate about gardening. I love cooking onions. But as we’re thinking through that content strategy and want to write about what are some of the key things beyond matching with user intent and what we’re trying to offer people, what are some of the aspects of content strategy that you think is important? 

Bernard Huang

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the overall structure of the piece of content is very important. So you can imagine that there are lots of ways to structure a piece of content around anything. Forget to use the how to garden green onions example. You could imagine that you could start the piece with what is a green onion or what is gardening or, you know, why do you care about gardening? And we would say, well, I would say from a pure search intent perspective that, well, someone already knows what agreed on your news and what gardening is. Therefore, they’re searching for how to garden a green onion. So what we would want to be doing is to serve the most relevant content experience to that user when they land on our page. And so how do we think about that content structure? I think when you’re first getting started, you just use your internal compass, right? You are the subject matter expert and you are passionate about whatever you’re looking to bring to life in your website. And you know better than I do—or Ben does, or really, a lot of people, probably—about what is important for that subject matter. So just hone in on what you think is best and write a piece of content that you’re proud of. Right. Something where if you were trying to learn or do or have a question around that particular topic and you landed on your own page, you would look at that page and say, yes, this is a great page. And that’s from it, like a starting perspective, because really you could go into the weeds of all of this, in which case some people do. And that would be kind of looking at, you know, Google search engine results page. You’ll have a like. People also ask or a related search or you know, there’s Google autocomplete suggestions. And really what all of these are just designed to do is to make the person who is doing search engine optimization look and feel more like a subject matter expert, because I’m answering a wider range of possible things that the user could care about. And, yeah, you know, that’s kind of next-level search engine optimization. I’d say from I like to keep it simple. Just write a piece of content that you yourself would be proud of. That answers the topic or keyword that you want to rank for. 

Ben Aston

And the one thing I hear people talking about is trying to, you know, top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, ultimate funnel, all types of content and focusing on having a broad range of content that that addresses those different parts of the funnel. And I guess what people are talking about is, hey, you might want someone to maybe the reason you got a gardening blog is because you are talking. Actually, what you want to do is sell a gardening course and. So then the I guess the strategy would be, well, that’s right about everything. The very top of the funnel. What? You know, gardening. I didn’t know gardening experiences that everyone should try and emulate or something like that. Middle of funnel going down into ways to learn more about gardening and then ultimately gardening courses. What’s your kind of thoughts on this kind of talk? Middle of the final ultimate funnel. And the rationale for doing this often cited as well. What we want to do is increase Google’s cruel budget. So was any kind of opinions on visually the different funnels or a or rap producing content and how that impacts our content strategy in order to try to enable more cruel budgets to increase our visibility? 

Bernard Huang

Yeah, it’s pretty in the weeds now of search engine optimization, but since you mentioned it, let’s talk about it. So in my opinion, creating top of the funnel, middle of funnel, and bottom of funnel content is actually not necessarily to increase crawl budget, but to increase the overall perceived subject matter expertise of the domain. So we’ve worked with a lot of clients where we’ve seen that when you start doing well for, say, how to garden, then subsequently every other piece of content that you publish around gardening does. Well, that’s because Google is looking at your piece of content—say it’s ranking number one for how to garden—what has happened then?  You have proven in Google’s algorithm that your content is meeting the needs of the searcher because they literally cannot find a better piece of content to rank as number one. Every time people click on your result, they find more of what they’re looking for compared to anything else that Google can track for that particular search. So Google then takes that and says, OK, well, if Ben’s blog.com ranks number one for how to garden, then we are much more interested in knowing any gardening specific piece of content that that is blog produces. Now let’s say you start talking about gardening tools and that has a link out to Amazon that has your affiliate code in it. And that starts to make you some money. Well, the reason then why you would create what is gardening, how to garden is that you are increasing Google’s trust that the content that you produce within a subject matter is good, which means everything else surrounding that subject matter should tend to be good. The side effect of that is that Google crawl budget, which is a fancy way of saying the times that Google come, Google board comes to your Web site and visits your page is going to increase because if you’re page one or rank one, Google needs to know that your content is still there. It’s still working and it hasn’t changed. If it has changed, they need to know how it’s changed. So, therefore, your crawl budget or the frequency that Google’s crawling robot comes to your site increases. So that’s then kind of how that breaks out. And I would say that, right, if you’re really just getting started from scratch and you don’t have any experience in, SEO doesn’t really worry too much about this. And if you are OK now, you’re like, OK, I know a lot about SEO then I would say that. Right. You would say, OK, let’s create top of the funnel. Middle of the funnel. Bottom funnel. Let’s understand. Right. The search intent at every step. And a lot of people will complain, well, if I talk about “what is gardening”, I don’t make any money on that. True, you don’t. But the subject matter expertise will ooze in your “best gardening tools”. And that one’s going to make you money. And then you can find creative ways within your what is gardening if you’re getting a lot of traffic to say, OK, well, so when someone’s reading through your content, you have like a content upsell, which is just a fancy way of saying, oh, if you want to learn more about gardening, then I can send you my, you know, 9 point checklist on how to get started with gardening. Just enter your email here and then you’d like basically test all of these different calls to action where people can input their contact information to get more information from you. But really that you have their email and you can then market to them in other ways. So that’s kind of the counter too, OK, if I produce an informational piece of content. It’s basically not going to be alike any value is really worthless. That’s like, well, no, it’s valuable in that it increases your subject matter expertise and you have different ways or converted funnels to extract theirs. Contact information or funnel them into different parts of your Website. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So you can build your list. Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a good rationale for why it’s worth thinking about. Top of funnel, the middle of funnels. Why not just be too focused on your trying to sell your green onion course? But I want to go back to stop to talk about Clearscope and. Within the context of the future of search and how you see search changing, what role do you see task now? Nearly four years old. How do you see Clearscope evolving? Search is evolving, too. 

Bernard Huang

Yeah. So that’s a great question. We built Clearscope four years ago in a world where content and search engine optimization are finally becoming more of the same activity, where those of you that are not familiar with Clearscope, how it works, you type in a target keyword that you want to write about. Say, what is search engine optimization? That Clearscope grows and scrapes the top rate ranking Google results that are ranking for. What is search engine optimization? And runs that content through a couple of different natural language processing libraries where we pull out concepts or end entities that these natural language processing technologies are finding as relevant. We then package it all together into a nice looking text editor quick that chat to see if the content that you’re producing actually covers the topic very well. You can imagine that if we wanted to write a piece of content on what is search engine optimization, that Backlinks would be a topic that we should talk about within that piece. So Clearscope would check the tax to say. Did you talk about Backlinks or technical SEO or on-page or page load speed, depending on the topics that we saw in the top-ranking content? And then it scores your content to say, OK, this has covered all of the relevant concepts that a great piece of content should cover, given any target keyword that you want to go after. So that’s how Clearscope works. How I see then so well, Clearscope evolving is that we definitely don’t want to become another Swiss Army knife as an SEO tool. If you’re familiar with SEO, you’ll know that most of the tools on the market pretty much all do the same thing, which is brand tracking, keyword research and on-page technical audits and blah, blah, blah. And as a result, in our opinion, it dilutes the value of that particular tool because people are going to say, well, I mean, these all just kind of do everything and they all do them kind of just mediocracy. So our intent with the Clearscope is to focus on the text and the content optimization component. So how do you address the piece of content in the most relevant and? Best potential way. So we’re going to keep tracking down this path and what where we see that Clearscope evolving. Is that Google or users? We’re not sure if it’s causation or correlation. It’s starting to look out for different things, for different potential searches. So you can imagine for search engine optimization, there is a category of search called Your Money, Your Life. And that is a way of saying that when somebody searches for diet, supplement, or diet pill when Google serves a result that says something and a user takes that information and say consumes a supplement and then gets really sick. Well, that’s not good for the user and that’s not good for Google. So for those particular searches, that’s going to affect somebody whose quality of life, whether it’s their health or the money, as their money. Google is a lot more interested in knowing whether or not the content that is produced is credible. So for Clearscope, we’re going to give you a citation analysis that says, OK, should you talk about the key to diet? Top ranking pieces of content are citing sources from the National Institute of Health. And I change a government association that says, OK, a study that was done at Harvard University said that Keto Diet is good for weight loss. And that is being cited a lot. So you if you want to talk about Keto Diet, should cite to that if you’re going to make the claim that it actually helps with weight loss. So we’re going to be baking and say something like that. You can then imagine there’s another aspect of search where people are like, oh, yeah, you’ve got to keep your content fresh, Slack. What does that mean? Well, at a high level, it means that the topic is changing. All topics are changing. Facts do not change. Right. When who is the first president of the United States, that will always be George Washington. That will never change. But a topic changes. You could imagine coronavirus changes every hour. All right. New cases. China is doing whatever it’s doing. This changing. And what people want to know is not what Coronavirus was yesterday. They want to know clear Coronaviruses to a day or they want to know what the best e-mail marketing tools are today. And one year ago, it might not have included a piece of content that talked about it, might not have included a piece of content on new software that has come to market. So the Clearscope analysis currently is done. One, you manually click a button and said, look, I want to run into a report. We’re going to make it so that you can make her analysis recur at a certain cadence. So you could imagine, Okay, you created a piece of content on the best e-mail marketing tools of June 2020, and then you can say, Okay, I want this analysis to recur once a month. So July rolls around, redo the analysis. We rescore your content and we say, OK, this is still a good piece of content. Let’s say August comes along and some new fancy venture-backed startup has launched an e-mail marketing tool. And people are starting to talk about it because it’s so great and all. But you’re a piece of content that has not talked about it. This means that in the analysis that Clearscope will do your overall grade or relevant is going to start to drop a little and we’ll notify you and say, oh, look. Well, you were at an eight-plus a hundred percent of content quality. Well, guess what? That’s decreased to ninety-two percent. Just so you know, then these are the relevant terms that have entered the ecosystem because the topic is changing in your piece of content has not changed to match the relevant terms being talked about. So you can imagine then where we’re going with Clearscope is to just give you more of these different aspects around content, quality, and content optimization based on our own philosophy of how we see search engine optimization playing out. And that’s to say we think that Google’s is going to be even better about giving the user what they need as quickly as possible. So Clearscope’s focus is then going to be on actionable recommendations, on content that’s being produced. And how do you then craft the best piece of content to match what the user would care about? 

Ben Aston

Great stuff. And for anyone who is wanting to check out, Clearscope head to Clearscope.io. And we’ll stick a link in the shininess as well. It’s a tool that I use. I’d highly recommend it to go and check out if you want to create and write content that ranks well in organic search. But just before we go, I just want to ask you one more question. That is for someone at the start of their digital media journey. Is there one piece of advice that you’d give based on maybe from running an SEO company to even launching a product company? What’s one thing that people should be bearing in mind, trying to drive more organic search traffic to their sites? What do you think is the most impactful thing that people should be remembering?

Bernard Huang

Yeah. So I think it’s just around being persistent, being relentless with, you know, showing up at the table and grinding it out. Right? I think as we’ve both been kind of entrepreneurs in that kind of grind or die sort of mentality. And a lot of the days you wake up, you go to Google Analytics or whatever you use for tracking, you look at your analytics and you say, well, you know, zero people have come to my site. Or maybe you’ve posted your site on Reddit and you got an initial 20 something and that has since died off. You’re gonna say, man, this sucks. And, yeah, you know, a lot of it does suck. And what I think sets apart some of the successful people—I’m not gonna say “all” because some do just tend to get lucky—is that I think, you know, Ben and I, we show up and we sit down at the table and we do what we need to do to push the business forward. One small step at a time. You do that year in, year out. Year in, year out. You get the results over time. For some people, it’s a lot faster. Some people. It’s a lot slower. But. Right. I’ve been on this journey for, like, at least I’m like thirty-one, but at least like 10 years. Right. From owning a restaurant, running that into the ground, teaching myself how to code, and all of that stuff. It’s been 10 years in the making. And you’re we’re finally at a point where Clearscope, I could call it, OK, we’re almost two crossing first base. Yeah, we’re doing good. But is it a grand slam? By all means. It is not right. It’s still something that I look at as this is a marathon. And, you know, we’re maybe about to cross the quarter marathon way. We’re still three-quarters of a marathon to go. And that’s how it goes. So really. Right. When you can show up, show up. And also, if you’re burnt out, you’re tired. Take a break. Right? There’s also no point in banging your head against the wall just because I said you have to sit down and bang your head against the wall. I think you I gauge your own mental well-being, make sure that you’re in a good place. If you’re not, then take some time off and, you know, don’t be afraid to, well, fail. Admit that you failed and learn from your mistakes, right? At least. I mean, we’ve talked about being a research assistant, playing online poker, running a barbecue restaurant, learning to code, and search engine optimization. But there are literally at least ten separate endeavors that have tried between. All of those are like mining lite coin and making mobile apps and some other ones that I really can’t think of off the top of my head that are complete flops. But every time I hope that I’ve taken away something from those experiences and said, OK, well, you know, this is not it. And the faster that I was able to do that, the faster I was able to, well, find something that, you know, I’m passionate about and b that I’m good at and c that well is what I’m still currently doing. 

Ben Aston

Now, I think that’s great advice. I mean, on the one hand, there is an enormous amount of value in being tenacious and continuing to pursue something until you succeed and not giving up. But I think there’s a wisdom that, too, in identifying when actually this isn’t something you or anyone else, because it’s not getting anywhere and reevaluating and being strategic about it. Is this going to work as the tools on a previous podcast about making a plan before you start? 

Ben Aston

I think all too often we can get excited, dove into things, and I’m not really having a full time. So I think that’s some great advice there. Bernard, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you with us. 

Bernard Huang

Thanks for having me Ben. Always a pleasure. 

Ben Aston

And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on indiemedia.club. But until next time. Thanks so much for listing. 

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