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Expertise-based SEO VS. Keyword-based SEO


When you combine the approach of “thinking like a searcher” and a content strategy, you take an expertise-based approach to SEO. With the expertise-based approach, you convey to Google who you are in a detailed way on a regular basis. Over time, Google then develops a more accurate idea of whom they should be sending to your site. As you teach Google how to be a better referral agent for your business, Google will respond by bringing the “specific masses” to you. I describe the specific masses as the people from around the world who desire your expertise but either do not yet know you exist or are not currently considering your firm.

An expertise-based approach to SEO, paired with content strategy, makes your site increasingly effective as a marketing tool. The process goes something like this: You add more content to your site that interests your prospects. Google indexes it and brings the right people to your doorstep. Once they arrive, they are convinced of your expertise through the mass of focused educational content that seems to have been written just for them. They identify your site as an educational resource they need, and they act on a call to action form, which is based on your content strategy (e.g. “Sign Up For Our Newsletter”).

Furthermore, when your site becomes a plentiful resource, people will start linking to specific pages throughout your site. These links will give Google even more inroads to your content, which will further increase your rankings. Many people make a big deal out of link-building, and some focus more of their attention on figuring out how to have people link to their content than on writing the right content in the first place. While I agree that link-building is an important aspect of SEO, if you focus on writing relevant, expertise-based content, the rest will come.


The opposite of expertise-based SEO is keyword-based SEO, and the latter puts your site on a much less advantageous trajectory. Taking a keyword-based approach to SEO looks something like this: You hire an SEO expert. They interview you, ask many useful questions, and then go off and do their research. They come back with a list of the top twenty-five keywords for your firm—the keywords that everyone who wants to hire firms like yours are searching for every day. The idea is that if you could rank well for those keywords, your site would be flooded with hungry prospects. Once you identify these words, the SEO expert then goes about stuffing them into every nook and cranny in your site. They show up in awkward sentences inside of your content; they are in your meta tags (as if they mattered); they are jumbled in a list in your footer; and special secret landing pages are created just to serve as bastions of keyword-rich text that make no sense to anyone. You get the idea.

This approach to SEO is shallow, and it does not work. It may work to get you a decent ranking for those twenty-five phrases in Google, thereby justifying the SEO expert’s fees, but once people arrive at your site, you can bet that they will not be persuaded by your keyword-laden marketing speak. The prospects leave, you look shallow, and no one wins. In this scenario, traffic goes up, but the conversion needle doesn’t budge.

The truth about SEO is that there is no magic keyword list. Sure, there are important keywords for your firm, but there are thousands of slightly less important keywords that will cumulatively bring in far more people. This fact of SEO is usually referred to as the “long tail” of search.

One example of this “long tail” comes from our own company’s website. One of the main pages on our site is the “Planning” page. The title tag is “Web Development Prototyping Process;” the URL is /web_development_prototyping_process; and the H1 tag is “Planning” (although this is not a perfect SEO keyword, it makes sense from a usability perspective). You might guess that we are interested in ranking well for the phrase “Web Development Prototyping Process,” and you would be right. If an SEO expert were going to help us, that phrase would likely be on the list of twenty-five keywords. The facts are surprising, though, and they prove the long tail theory, as do the keyword patterns on all of our pages.

As of this writing, well over two thousand people reached this page on our site through Google alone. What is particularly interesting is that they arrived there through over five hundred different keyword combinations. The partial list you see in the image to the right came directly from our site’s statistics, and it shows some of the keywords that have been used to find this page via Google (specifically, keywords #63-97 out of 500), and it shows how many times each have been used. This information paints a perfectly clear picture that we will never be able to guess all the ways people will search for our content. The best we can do is tell Google who we are and what we do through our content strategy, frame the pages properly so that it is easy for Google to correctly identify them, and then allow people to find us based on the multiple ways they happen to ask Google questions during their (re)search.

When scanning the list of keyword phrases for our website, you might notice that our highly coveted, silver bullet keyword, “Web Development Prototyping Process,” is not the most popular phrase used to access this page. At a lowly ranking of 84th, it is not even close. You will also notice that of the two thousand people who came to this page from Google, only three used this keyword.


My favorite thing about SEO is that it is logical. This is not a difficult concept, and anybody with something unique and worthwhile to say can do so and be successful with Google. The fact that the barrier to entry is so low is a great opportunity for you. By implementing these best practices, you can distance yourself from your competitors starting today. Most sites get these basic principles all wrong, so you can have an immediate and significant leg up by going through your site and making sure you are getting them right.

This post is an excerpt from my book, “A Website That Works.”


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