This is without doubt the most important article I have ever published.
The big question at the core of SEO is: How can I get the maximum traffic for a given amount of effort?
For a while, I’ve been transfixed by the Long Tail. If you break down the inbound organic search traffic by search terms, you get the following pattern:
- “Head” terms, which have big numbers
- “Tail” terms, where the numbers of searches are much much lower. But, taken together, this “Long Tail” constitutes the majority of traffic (for a content-rich site).
The Deceiving Long Tail
Check out the image below. This is the distribution of traffic on this website (webdesignfromscratch.com) over a 12-month period. I’m only looking at the top 500 most popular search terms. Some of the top terms are pretty impressive – with several delivering over 15,000 visits per year.
I analysed the aggregate traffic delivered by all these top 500 terms, wondering where the 50% mark was. Did my top 20 most popular terms deliver 50% of my traffic? Or was it the top 100?
In fact, I didn’t find the balance point in the top 500! They were only worth 42% of the year’s traffic. So the majority of my traffic comes from minor terms, the Long Tail, which doesn’t even show on this graph!
So, as the saying goes, “the best meat is in the tail.”
But that could be misleading.
The Key to More Traffic is Not More Content
Thinking it’s all about Long Tail could lead you to think that the key to more traffic is more content. That’s wrong.
If the Long Tail brings all the traffic, you would expect, on a sufficiently large and rich site, that distribution of landing pages would follow a similar pattern: a “head” with big numbers that constitutes maybe a quarter of traffic, leading into a very long tail that gets the rest.
That’s what I thought. But when I analysed a few sites, I got a shock.
When I analysed my own site, I found that..
- my 3 most popular landing pages got 28% of all visits,
- the top 6 got almost 50% of all visits,
- and the top 18 got almost 75% of all visits.
I then compared a few other sites, and got the same pattern. In every reasonably broad site (with over 50 pages), 75% of all visits came through between 10 and 20 pages. Every single time.
Now you could attribute this to the 80:20 rule, and reason would say that plays a part (although my site has well over 300 articles, so the top 18 make up way less than 20%).
But ask yourself why the 80:20 rule applies on the web. I think 80:20 is often a product of inbuilt imbalance. “The rich get richer” for example. Well, the same holds true online, only the currency is attention. (In fact, the top 20 search results get practically 100% of clicks.)
The content that is seen most is likely to get linked more, which means it will get clicked more and will also rank higher which means more clicks, which means more attention… and so on.
Comparing Inbound Links with Monthly Visits
So I thought I’d compare the amount of traffic my top pages get with the number of inbound links they have. (LRD = the “Linking Root Domains” for each page sourced from Open Site Explorer.)
- 10-best-designed-web-sites, LRD=40 / 25,000 visits
- css-block-and-inline, LRD=26 / 17,000 visits
- web-2-0-design-style-guide, LRD=75 / 14,000 visits
- Home page, LRD=990 / 12,000 visits
- current-style, LRD=418 / 12,000 visits
Sure enough, the most popular pages are also the best-linked pages. No surprises there.
But are these the most popular pages because they have lots of links, or do they have more links because they’re popular?
Well, both factors are real. But there’s something else. This site has had no “SEO” done on it. And at the same time, its SEO has been near-perfect.
Sounds paradoxical. But, truthfully, perfect SEO (from Google’s perspective) is no SEO at all. These pages are not popular because they’re well-linked, they’re popular because they’re well liked!
The Secret to More Traffic is NOT More Content, it’s Better Content!
Good content cuts through the crap, gets our attention, gives us something to believe in or care about. Good content entertains or surprises or shocks us, creates some kind of emotional reaction. Good content is useful; it gives us what we want.
What happens next is, that good content gets shared by people who care about it. That means it gets links from unexpected new sources, which bring more new visitors, more references, pingbacks, natural tweets, Facebook likes and Google plus ones.
Good content draws attention to itself, creating energy. It doesn’t need much promotion, like dry wood doesn’t need much work to light.
All that is a virtuous cycle, made all the more virtuous by the fact that it’s exactly what Google wants – relevant content with a totally natural growth of links.
You can’t beat it.
Case Study – “Current Style” Article
My “Current Style” article has links from over 400 different websites. Can you imagine how much work it would take to generate links of that value by manual means? I would say months!
How long did it take me to write that article? One day!
I didn’t do any promotion, just published. That was back in 2006. And it is still getting new links from new websites now.
Oh, and it ranked at the #1 spot on Google for a term that was not even included in the body of the article (“Web2.0 design”).
Now tell me great content isn’t the #1 most powerful SEO trick.
And I can guarantee to you that it will remain the most powerful trick for ever. Because that’s the way it’s meant to be. And that is Google’s mission.
So the best SEO is (nearly) no SEO at all. When I wrote “Current Style in Web Design”, I had no strategy. I just wrote it. Its success was accidental. And yet, looking back, its success was also inevitable, because it’s good content.
Today, I might do things a little differently. I might identify a search phrase that gets searched thousands of times every week, and which has Top-10 competition I think I can beat, then write a piece focused on that keyword.
But if I had done that back in ’06, would I have called it “Web2.0 Design”? I don’t know if I would have known to investigate that term. The rest of the world voted that page the most about “Web2.0 design” without my help.
I just wrote a great piece, the one I wanted to write. I wrote it with complete integrity, honesty, and generosity of spirit. I wrote it for the benefit of my readers.
If you’ve started thinking how you’re going to write great content yourself, there’s the answer you may be looking for. Write for their benefit, not yours.
How You Can Create Great Content
Here are a few more tips for creating great content with ease…
- Don’t think you can’t. You’re on the edge of the herd. Your unique perspective matters, helping even those who are just a few steps behind you.
- Don’t just look backwards. Keyword research will only tell you what used to be popular. Ask yourself what question people are about to be asking.
- Don’t hold back. Share the most valuable knowledge you can think of today. If someone needs more, they’ll think of you first.
- Don’t be afraid to sell, but do it right. If you undermine your great content with a commercial pitch, it will lose credibility and will get fewer links. So use a short “author bio” and link to other pages where you sell.
- Use keyword research to identify popular phrases, but don’t be a slave to it. Quality first.
- Put your whole self into your content. Your true personality is attractive to others.
- Give away the real thing. It pays to give out tasters, that’s why they do it in food stores.
Some ideas and inspiration
If you make cakes, fix cars, or give financial advice, create videos showing what you do and the care you put into your work. (Tip: Once you get used to it, video is much quicker than text and far more engaging.)
- If your high-value information is written or visual, give half of it away free. Get more attention, win people’s trust, and you will get more business.
- If you’re a consultant, share your insights and tools through case studies. (I record my website reviews.)
- If you’re a hypnotherapist, create free self-help recordings. If they work, people in your target market will be more likely to become customers, not less.
- If you sell stuff in an online store, think what it would take to make your store more useful than the competition. Short videos? Better pictures? 100% honest reviews?
What business do you do online? Ask me if you’re short of ideas for great content.