The web content sweet spot – where Keywords, Backlinks and Social Signals intersect.

by Nick Usborne on March 23, 2011

Many, many moons ago it was enough simply to use keywords in your content to help readers and the search engines determine the topic of your page.

Then along came Google, which was not satisfied just to determine the topic and relevance of a web page. They also wanted to know how good it was, and used backlinks as a way to determine that.

More recently, the major search engines have decided that backlinks aren’t the only way to determine the quality of a page. They now look at social signals as well. The idea being that if a page is linked to by a number of influential people on social media, that equates to a reliable thumbs-up.

So now, as content writers, we have to consider all three factors.

And we are going to try for that sweet spot in the middle.

where keywords, backlinks and social signals intersect

We have to include keywords on our pages and posts, so that both people and the search engines can determine their relevance.

We have to write content that will attract backlinks.

And we have to write content that will be shared by influential people on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

It would be nice if doing all three things came automatically. But it doesn’t.

As numerous content-mills have demonstrated, pages which are optimized for keywords are not necessarily deserving of backlinks, or social mentions.

And pages with tons of backlinks may not include any strong keywords, or be shared through social media.

And content that spreads like wild fire through social media may not have any keywords or backlinks at all.

So…is there any kind of content that is found in that sweet spot in the middle?

Fortunately, there is.

Smack in the middle is what is often referred to as cornerstone content.

Cornerstone content, to put it simply, is the very best content you can come up with.

Often, it is longer than your regular pages or posts.

Almost always, it takes you a great deal longer to write than regular content.

It is authoritative, it is well written, it covers its topic in detail, and – when done right – becomes the go-to source of information on that topic for years to come.

Yes, it can be optimized with strong keywords.

Yes, people link to it, because it’s so darned good and useful.

And yes, it spreads far and wide through social media, for the same reason. It deserves to be.

So…now I have let the cat out of the bag, and have identified the sweet spot, should you be worried that your competitors will rush to their keyboards and write the ultimate page of cornerstone content on your topic?

I wouldn’t worry about it.

True cornerstone pages are few and far between, because most web writers are foolish. They would rather write ten quick pages than one remarkable page.

Those who are not foolish are generally under too much pressure – from their bosses and managers – to deliver quantity, and not quality.

In short, you can relax, sit down and start planning that page right now.

It might take you a week to create it, but the rewards for being in the sweet spot are significant.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Janis Ihrig March 25, 2011 at 3:07 pm

This article clears the air for me. When I start a new article, it takes so long to do all the research to create what I want to really put across. I’ve considered that more pages are better, but always get into a tangle when trying to short change my content.

You have definitely made it clear. Since all the changes in Google recently, I have gained more and more page views. So I’m going to take your advice here. I think you are totally correct.

Nick Usborne March 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Janis, hi

Good for you! Google, your readers, and key social media influencers will always reward you for writing really great content.

Lee Mustoe March 29, 2011 at 8:46 am

If you try getting optimised for “mobile phones” you would obviously be on a hiding to nothing. But if you optimised for “brian’s brand new red mobile phone” (I know that’s daft) would you be up against lower SEO competition?

Perhaps this would be a good way to rank high without the tedious hours of link building? This could encourage otherwise non-cooperative clients to cooperate over content! What would you say?

Nick Usborne March 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Yes, generally speaking, keyword phrases with more words have less competition. But keep in mind, they also attract fewer searchers. Hence the need to create many pages with long tail keywords.

And yes, I have got listed on page one of the results with long tail keywords, without the benefit of backlinks. That said, tedious or not, creating quality backlinks is a key part of the optimization process.

Nick

Lauren April 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

Very informative post! What are your thoughts on mixing cornerstone content with quick, keyword-based content that fulfills our managers’ desire for quantity? For instance, would it be effective for a blogger to write one long, well researched post once per week, and then write shorter posts for the remaining days of the week? Or, would it be better just to write one or two long posts per week?

Nick Usborne April 4, 2011 at 11:48 am

Lauren, hi. Great question. I think it would work fine to create one cornerstone post a week, plus some shorter pieces optimized for specific keywords. I would post the cornerstone piece on the same day each week, so regular readers get in the habit of watching for it.

Davidson Yeager April 16, 2011 at 9:23 am

That’s a relief! My pages are intense to create since they all come from my personal experience of teaching what I do offline.

I also must do my best to optimize with the relevant and high quality keywords from my site blueprint.
And because it’s a “how-to” site, I also produce many videos demonstrating the text of the page.
Not to mention having to have learned specific pieces of software for creating graphics and other learning tools!

Thanks for the articles and the inspiriation, Nick!

Igor Content SEO and LPO Consulting April 26, 2011 at 4:40 am

Thanks for the good read. Lately I’ve been torn between focusing on that rule of thumb not to write over 1000 word posts, but for strong analysis and solution of problems, 1000 words just isnt enough. Recently I did a blog post over at IT Toolbox titled Why should you use “Wordpress for your business” and decided to chop it up in a series of several posts rather than one large high quality article.

It would be good to do a split test, and see how many people actually spend the time to read through high quality content vs. SEO-friendly short posts.

From the analytics of my site and blog, it seems that when I publish those high quality materials people spend up to 20 minutes on the site. Contrary to that, when I publish a short content people spend less than a minute. So to answer my own question, at least in my case, it seems that people do spend time to read through the long articles, while skimming through the short ones.

So, to all you out there that love writing articles instead of short posts, Deliver High Quality Articles!

Molly April 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Hi Nick, I’m a big fan of yours! This is a timely article and very useful in describing my USP to potential clients. Often, trying to get them to understand the integration of content, or the concept of content marketing, leaves them confused and uncertain of the value of my services. Thanks for a great post!

Nick Usborne April 26, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Igor, hi. (Is your name Igor? I wasn’t certain, looking at your post. ; ) Anyway, that’s great feedback. I think your point about time spent on the site is extremely valuable. It’s relatively easy to attract a skimmer, or casual visitor to one’s site, but much harder to get someone to commit to staying there for 10 or 20 minutes. Good job!

Nick Usborne April 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Molly, hi. You’re very welcome. If one of my articles can help you pick up some new clients, that’s wonderful. BTW, I think you have a great domain name for your business. If you are into “creative” content, watch out for my new article tomorrow. I think you’ll like it. : )

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