We started Grow and Convert (G&C) as a content marketing agency to fix the problems we saw with traditional content and SEO strategies, namely, a massive overvaluing of traffic and and undervaluing of conversion rate from content and organic traffic.
The strategies we employ for clients have important differences compared to both traditional content agencies and SEO agencies. Below, we summarize those differences and outline how our strategy works and why we’re so passionate about it being a better way to do SEO for many brands.
Weaknesses of Typical Content and SEO Agencies
Below are what we consider weaknesses in the strategies of content and SEO agencies that our clients have worked with. Our conclusions are based on directly seeing the work product of these agencies, seeing what results these agencies have (or have not) achieved for our clients, and hearing the frustrations our clients have voiced to us about these projects.
Notably, although we’re talking about agencies here, we’ve seen in-house teams make these same mistakes.
Weakness #1: Content Marketers and SEOs Prioritize Traffic Over Conversions
The number one issue we see with both SEO and content marketing strategies is that they prioritize traffic over conversions.
We’ve talked a lot about why this is a problem in our foundational Pain Point SEO article and in many others, but in short, traffic doesn’t pay the bills for the client, customers do.
Countless companies have come to us over the years and said, “We have a bunch of blog traffic, but it’s not converting. What do we do?” In our experience, the answer is not finding the right popups or adding some magical CTAs on the page that people will click (we’ve tested this). It’s about the intent of that traffic when it lands on your page, even before they read a single word.
For example, if you sell accounting software for small businesses, which of these keywords do you think is going to drive more signups for your product, if you rank in the same position?
Quickbooks competitors will convert better every time. But almost every SEO or content team (in-house or agency) will start by producing guides like those on the right before they do competitor pages. In fact, most won’t even produce a page for a keyword like Quickbooks competitors.
This is due to that traffic-focused culture of content and SEO. The number one thing you see SEO agencies brag about online is traffic growth. How many screenshots of an organic traffic graph going up have you seen on Twitter from SEOs? Mentions of how many leads SEO agencies drove for their clients, though, are much harder to find.
But we’ve measured the conversion rate of hundreds of blog posts over the years and can unequivocally say that the buying intent of keywords is by far the biggest factor to getting conversions to leads, demos, or product sales.
This is neatly summarized in this analytics screenshot in our Pain Point SEO post:
The right most column shows new user signups for each of the blog posts listed. The three boxed posts follow Pain Point SEO and rank for keywords with high buying intent. The rest rank for something the target audience could search for, but not a high buying-intent keyword. The new user signups from the three Pain Point SEO posts aren’t 20% or 50% higher than the others; they are hundreds of percent higher.
We also showed this at a larger scale in an analysis of 60+ posts for our client Geekbot:
The high buying-intent posts (also called “bottom of funnel”) didn’t just convert a bit better than top of funnel, they converted 2400% better. In that post, you can read about how that more than made up for any differences in search volume or traffic between the two buckets.
So this is the fundamental weakness of most SEO and content strategies we see: wasting time writing on topics that don’t have buying intent. If you do this, the actual leads and sales you will generate from content and SEO will be significantly limited.
Weakness #2: Too Many SEO Agencies Emphasize Technical SEO Over Going After High-Intent Keywords
We’ve noticed that most SEO agencies (or in-house teams) focus the majority of their efforts on on-site SEO (e.g., technical SEO, site maps, and site structure) combined with domain-wide link building, while giving a lot less focus, priority, and effort to what we just talked about, identifying high-value keywords, and what we’ll talk about next, creating pages designed to rank for those keywords.
We think this is backwards.
In our view, activities like technical SEO and domain-wide link building should only be done as a means of ranking for your highest value keywords.
Because otherwise, what’s the point? If you (1) haven’t identified what your highest value keywords are and (2) don’t have pages on your site specifically created to fulfill the search intent of those keywords and thus have a real chance of ranking for them, then what are you possibly hoping to achieve with technical SEO or link building?
What use is a high domain rating (the goal of link-building) if you don’t have pages on your site specifically created to rank for your highest value keywords? Or if (and this is shockingly common) you don’t even know or agree upon what your highest value keywords are?
These may sound like obvious mistakes that no one would make, but you’d be surprised. We see this backwards approach to SEO all the time. A ton of effort is spent on technical SEO and “cleaning up the site,” a lot less effort is spent on identifying their highest value keywords, and even less is spent creating content aimed specifically at ranking for them. Inevitably, in these scenarios, the company becomes frustrated when all the budget and time spent on SEO fails to produce any measurable increase in leads, sales, or business.
Weakness #3: Keyword Research by Itself Doesn’t Get Results. You Need to Actually Create Content That Will Rank
When we have seen keyword lists from SEO agencies, there are often several issues with them.
First, they’re often just massive lists of hundreds of keywords that any company could get themselves from any SEO tool. Some agencies do the hard work of categorizing or prioritizing these keywords by buying intent, but from what we’ve seen, most do not. And these SEO tools (where most agencies are getting these lists) almost always suggest tons of low buying-intent, high search volume keywords. They don’t interview sales, product, or customer support to deeply understand customer pain points and uncover non-obvious but high converting, high buying-intent keyword ideas. You need humans to do this hard work.
Second, these lists aren’t actionable. The vast majority of companies don’t have the resources to produce 200 or 500 articles that are crafted well enough to actually have a shot at ranking. So this kind of keyword research may make the agency feel productive, but it leaves the client overwhelmed and wondering how they can possibly rank for all of those keywords.
Compounding this issue is that many times, the SEO agency that provided the list will only create “content briefs” for each keyword, but they won’t actually write and publish the pieces. (Or, if they do, they’ll charge an enormous amount to do so.) But, content briefs don’t rank. Pages published on the site that match search intent rank. These take time and effort to produce. So, it’s no wonder many SEO firms don’t do this. Heck, many brands don’t even do this. It’s hard.
Weakness #4: Most Content and SEO Agencies Don’t Specialize in Product Copywriting
Next, in order to rank for high buying-intent keywords (e.g., “best accounting software”, “marketing reporting stack”, “post-concussion syndrome treatment”) and convert that traffic into leads, you need to be good at product copywriting. Pages ranking for high buying-intent keywords usually talk a lot about products. So, if you also want to rank for these keywords, your pages also need to talk about products in depth, including, for example, an explanation of key features, the use cases for each feature, and what differentiates your product from others in your space.
This requires a different writing skill set than traditional “blog writing.” First, most blog writing is self-researched, but product copywriting should not be. The traditional blog writing workflow involves handing a writer a keyword and asking them to come up with what to write on their own. Sometimes the writer is given a “content brief”, but even those are mostly dictating the subheaders based on what the existing ranked pages are already saying.
That may be fine for introductory, top-of-funnel keywords like “accounting tips for small business,” where most of the articles ranking say the same thing, so a reasonably smart writer could digest the tips in a couple of hours and produce something similar but professional. But if you’re going after a buying-intent keyword like “accounting software for small business,” then you need to actually discuss the details of your software:
- Outline your features and their benefits
- Why does your feature set look the way it does?
- What are the most important benefits?
- Are there any design details that are important?
- Compare your software with others
- What differentiates yours from others?
- Where in the market do you sit?
- Are there certain use cases where a competitor might be better?
No freelance writer is going to be able to write this on their own. They don’t know the answers to those questions. And those answers aren’t readily apparent just from the client’s website.
First, they’re going to need to interview product experts at your company before they even begin writing just to get this information. Most SEO agencies don’t have these interviews as part of their process.
Second, they need to be able to write this kind of content well. How do you sell the features without being too salesy? How do you contrast with competitors without being too aggressive or trashing them? These are hard skills to learn. Some writers on our team have told me that our writing is almost more like landing page copywriting than blog content writing. They’re not wrong.
Weakness #5: The Sprinkle Method
As a result of all of these challenges with producing content that actually ranks for the researched keywords, we’ve seen many SEO agencies use an approach we’ve started calling, “The Sprinkle Method.” Instead of producing a unique article or landing page for each target keyword, they simply give blog writers the keyword sheet and ask them to sprinkle the keywords in their articles, thinking this will organically get the site ranking for these keywords.
This doesn’t work.
As we explained in detail in this article, Google’s algorithm can tell the difference between content that’s tangential to the topic and content that specifically addresses the search query. So if you don’t dedicate a single page to fulfilling the search intent of your target keyword, you’re likely to get beat out by competing pages that do. Basically, if others are creating dedicated pages for specific keywords, and you’re just “sprinkling” keywords in here or there, you have a slim shot at ranking.
How Our SEO + Content Process Solves the Problems Above and Actually Generates Leads and Sales
Fundamentally, we feel our process is better aligned with clients’ desired outcomes (rankings for high buying-intent search terms) and is more likely to actually achieve those outcomes because of what we prioritize.
Below is each step of our process, listed in order of priority.
By priority, in this case, we mean how much we emphasize each step. In terms of when we do them, they may be all done at the same time or separately. The point is our SEO strategy is guided by the higher priority items, and that makes all the difference.
Our SEO Priority #1: Finding the most valuable keywords to target
Unlike traditional SEO firms that launch headfirst into technical SEO or link building without a keyword strategy in place, our focus starts with the keywords for which we want to rank. Like we said above, that’s because ranking for your target keywords is literally the entire point of SEO. Nothing matters if you don’t know which keywords you’re targeting. Link building doesn’t matter. Technical SEO doesn’t matter. Yet, as we said above, we’ve had many clients who’ve spent months on all kinds of SEO activities without an agreed upon list of their most valuable keywords. Or, only slightly better, their target keyword list is only one or two keywords.
Also, a crucial detail is that both the words “valuable” and “keywords” are equally important in the above phrase. Who cares about ranking for keywords loosely related to your product if they don’t bring you any business? Sure, your organic traffic graph will go up and to the right, and you can post that on Twitter and brag about it, but if the keywords aren’t ultimately leading to sales, then it doesn’t give clients what they want.
We’ve linked to these articles already, but to recap, you can read more about our high-value keyword strategy here and here. A case study quantifying the value of high buying-intent (bottom of funnel) keywords can be found here.
To emphasize our point about priority, every other SEO activity we do (listed below) is in the service of ranking for these high-value keywords.
Our SEO Priority #2: Creating Product-Focused Content Aimed to Rank for These Keywords
Second, and frankly equally as important as the first priority, we produce or optimize individual pages to rank for every single high-value keyword we are targeting. We don’t use the sprinkle method, meaning we don’t produce a single “small business accounting guide” that’s aimed at ranking for 10 different accounting keywords.
We look at each keyword, analyze the existing results on page one, ascertain search intent, and produce or optimize a unique page on the client’s site that we think better fulfills search intent (and sells the client’s product or service) than the existing results. Most of the time, these unique pages are articles we write, but if we feel like an existing page on the site (e.g., the homepage, a landing page, etc.) is best suited for a keyword, we may use that page to go after a keyword instead.
And because most of our keywords are high buying-intent (“best accounting software,” for example), we sell the heck out of our client’s products and services in these articles. We get into the details of features, we explain the nuance of benefits, we weave in testimonials and case studies, and we differentiate our client’s products from those of their competitors (sometimes gently, sometimes aggressively). We base all of this on extensive interviews with product experts, product demos, and sometimes even demo accounts so we can use and play with the product ourselves. We have been doing this for years and have an extensive writer training process that has helped us build a tight-knit team of product copywriters.
- How to do B2B Content Marketing Without Domain Expertise
- SaaS Content Writing: How to Write Content That Gets Leads and Signups
Our SEO Priority #3: Site Cleanup and Technical SEO
You may be wondering, “How could this be third in the priority list?! If the technical SEO isn’t in order, won’t you have trouble ranking for those high value keywords?!” Yes, you would. In fact, we start every client engagement with an SEO audit precisely to check for technical issues with the site that may hurt our ability to rank. Then, we either fix or suggest fixing the technical issues before we get started publishing.
So, like I said above, just because we list this as our third priority doesn’t mean it happens third chronologically (in time).
But, it’s third on our priority list by importance. Meaning, for us, site cleanup and technical SEO is only important insofar as it helps our content (Priority #2) rank for the most valuable keywords (Priority #1). Yes, if there are glaring technical issues, such as multiple H1s on a page, thousands of no-value, no traffic pages eating crawl budget, the entire site randomly no-indexed (you’d be surprised!), etc.—we’ll fix those problems immediately.
But many times, there are no problems with the site!
Contrary to what most SEO agencies will tell you, most websites of decently sized companies that can afford to hire these agencies aren’t a hot mess. Take, for example, the marketing sites of most B2B SaaS companies: They’re not even that big. They usually have something like 10 to 20 largely static pages (product, solution, pricing, etc.). So why are these companies being sold months of SEO audits and technical SEO “cleanup” by SEO agencies? It makes no sense to us.
We do technical SEO and site cleanup fixes; we’ve done a lot of it for our clients. We do a site audit, and we prioritize issues by importance and severity. But for us, it’s just something to get out of the way so that our content (#2) can rank for our high value target keywords (#1), not something to extend for as long as possible to keep charging the client.
Our Priority #4: Link Building
This takes us to the final leg of our SEO process: link building. We view link building the same way we view technical SEO: We’ll do as much of it as necessary to get our content ranking for the high value keywords we’re targeting and nothing more. Now to be clear, that may be a lot. Link building, in our experience, works. But like technical SEO, it doesn’t pay the bills without the right content (#2) aimed at the right keywords (#1). It’s just a means to an end. The end is what’s important (the rankings).
In contrast, we’ve seen clients come to us after spending years paying untold sums on link building without even having a clear set of high value keywords for which they’re trying to rank, much less the content they need to actually achieve those rankings. When we ask, “Why are you building links?”, they tell us, “Our SEO agency said it was important to get rankings.”
What rankings are these exactly? No one knows.
How to Work With Us or Learn More
- Our Agency: If you want to hire us to execute content-focused SEO strategy in this way, you can learn more about working with us here.
- Join Our Team: If you’re a content marketer or writer and would love to do content marketing in this way, we’d love to have you apply to join our team.
- Our Content Marketing Course: Individuals looking to learn our agency’s content strategy and become better marketers, consultants, or business owners can join our private course and community, taught via case studies, and presented in both written and video content formats. We include several details and examples not found on this blog. Our course is also built into a community, so people ask questions, start discussions, and share their work in the lesson pages themselves, and we, along with other members, give feedback. Learn more here.