Revealing the #1 Most Powerful SEO Trick Ever

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:

  1. “Head” terms, which have big numbers
  2. “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.

Only a fraction of this site's traffic is shown here (click to enlarge)

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.)

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Don’t hold back. Share the most valuable knowledge you can think of today. If someone needs more, they’ll think of you first.
  4. 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.
  5. Use keyword research to identify popular phrases, but don’t be a slave to it. Quality first.
  6. Put your whole self into your content. Your true personality is attractive to others.
  7. 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.

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32 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Megan Bennett says:

    Fab article Ben. Sensible and obvious to have good content. With Google forever refining their algorithm to weed out thin content (Panda algorithm and all it’s updates) and return the best results for the user, site owners need to write about their stuff and do it well!

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Thanks Megan. On one level, it now feels totally obvious, but it’s good to be able to point to the numbers.

      • Megan Bennett says:

        Absolutely – it so needs pointing out! Everyone wants to be in those top clicks for SEO results. The reality is that most site owners don’t intially understand the journey of building content on their own site and how this help with their SEO result long term.

  2. Simon Kensington-Fellows says:

    Hi Ben

    A great article and as usual full of statistics to back up your thoughts.

    Of course you might not make many friends amongst the SEO provider community!

    I liked your ideas for content at the end of your post, I think too many businesses feel that people aren’t interested in what they have to say and don’t see the benefit creating their own content. I shall certainly recommend the doubters take a look at this post!

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Thanks Simon. I think the best SEOs do realise that the lines are very blurred, and SEO becomes more about good business, good brand management, and PR – and less about tricking the search engines.

  3. Daniel says:

    Hello Ben,

    Great post. I am in ravenous study of great copywriting at this very moment. AWAI has great materials. You have great content. I see shadows of your Convert ideas in Mr. Gene Schwarz’s work of decades past. Keep leading the way. I’m learning from you.

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Thanks Daniel. You’re quite right. “Breakthrough Advertising” has been a big influence.

  4. Niall says:

    Great tips. And not just tips but real, working tips, not just theories. Thanks!

  5. Kevin Craighead says:

    Another thought provoking article Ben.

    I agree with your analysis that content is king. One thing that you haven’t touched on though is the new hot topic “web curation”.

    For those that don’t know what web curation is let me explain. Say you have a website on dogs you would go round the web finding all of the best, most unique, interesting articles on dogs. You would then post a short editorial blog posting a few paragraphs long followed by the original article and a link to the original source of the article. The idea being that over time you become the “go to” resource for dog news on the net.

    According to what I have read sites of this type seem to get a lot of Google love even though the don’t actually produce much content in their own right. It is suggested that their is a mixture of curated and original content but for bloggers it means they can do a lot less content production and supplement it with curated stuff.

    The latest buzz around this is that in some cases the curated article can outrank the original, even if the original has come from a highly reputable source.

    I am in the process of setting up a curation based blog to test if the claims are true but I’m curious if anyone has got any experience with this?

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Thanks Kevin. I haven’t heard it put like that, but it’s one approach I’m incorporating into my niche domination series. I’d say the important factor is to add value through the selection and editing process.

  6. dobes says:

    To clarify… That means most of those long tail keywords are leading to the same few pages? Definitely interesting.

    However I would not give up on producing a steady volume of content because it is hard to say what will catch on and freshness, internal links, and so on are very helpful.

    Still, on a regular basis it is clearly good to put some real extra effort into creating and promoting special pieces of flagship content that gets linked to and shared. Gather some fresh data or new news instead of the usual “off the top of my head” opinion pieces.

    Anyhow thanks for this one it is a paradigm shift from the previous thinking about targeting the long tail.

  7. ch.mahendra singh says:

    Hi,Ben
    i am satisfied with your thoughts.Sensible and obvious to have good content.
    I liked your ideas for content at the end of your post, I think too many businesses feel that people aren’t interested in what they have to say and don’t see the benefit creating their own content. I shall certainly recommend the doubters take a look at this post!

  8. Stratis Christos says:

    Great article Ben.
    I also thougth that producing more and more content on my e-shop ,would bring me more traffic.
    Now Im starting to thing how to have better quality content to attract more visitors.
    By the way , I sell furnitures on-line so any ideas sould me great.

  9. Tim says:

    I find it helps to write articles for myself – e.g. “what would I be looking for?”

    Chances are if you need to know about something, others do, too.

    SEO is useful to an extent (especially if you’re in a competitive market), but you are right, content is king.

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Yes, writing for yourself six months ago may be a useful guide :-)

  10. Sam Milne says:

    Another top notch article Ben!

    I like the part about predicting new trends instead of basing content on past information guidelines. Lead the way and people will follow.

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Thanks Sam. Being first to market for a new term is like being the first skydiver out of the plane. Your top ranking would get you more views and links than the people behind you, so you accelerate away and can’t be caught.

  11. Keith Dalton says:

    Hello Ben,

    I have learned so much from reading Convert! and your website overflows with great content so, you definitely practice what you preach.

    What I find most refreshing is that you are not above questioning your own preconceived perceptions and are only interested in getting to the truth. That is why I am such a fan of your methods.

  12. Kathy Long says:

    Love this, Ben! I absolutely agree and have been preaching this ad nauseum for years. You said it so well!

    The key really is great content. And the advice I give my clients is, if you can’t write it, then hire a GOOD writer to do it for you. But don’t settle for something less and then expect that all the best keyword research and application in the world to make up for what your writing lacks. There is a lot of noise out there and getting seen, read, and liked is not easy. BUT if your content is amazingly good as this post is, then all it really takes is one person with connections seeing it and then spreading it.

    So here is one person, Ben, with a relatively few connections, liking it and spreading it for you, just as the person who sent it to me did in an email.

    Now it’s off to Facebook and Twitter I go. :)

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Thank you Kathy. The big lightbulb moment for me was realising how much easier it is to publish good content. Compared to that, link building really does look like swimming upstream.

  13. kavitha says:

    Hi Ben,
    This is very interesting and useful tips from your side , I appreciate your publishings and it will be very useful for everyone. Great work…Regards

    kavitha

  14. Luis says:

    Great article and loved the content part but I’m not sure that if you create a site from “scratch” with the best good content of the world, it will be linked magically by people and after that Googled Up in the rankings.
    But if you are or you’ve got a “branding name” like Joe Sugarman or Gary Halbert has, or you are a “great guru” in your field, then you’ll be rewarded by unexpected searches, peoples tweets, FB likes and so on and Google will do the rest.
    A branding name is a keyword too (long tail)
    If I hire the best content writer of the world and I put in the website “no branding names” from who created it or “no keywords at all” related to the market or targeted people that my message is addressed to , nobody is gonna know that website exists…
    The 80:20 rule use to work magically with “succeed websites”, “Brands” and “gurus”. And of course good content has special relevancy with “stablished sites” and people helps to promote good content sites like we are doing with yours.

    • Ben Hunt says:

      You’re right that “build it and they will come” is not a reliable tactic. Of course, every website needs promotion, and the more attention you earn the easier it is to get more.

  15. Jonathan says:

    Hey Ben! I was about to add a few things to this article on my site. I still kind of feel that if you don’t publish more content, you’ll eventually fall off but the article is still spot on.

    In any case, while I was researching to see if I can prove that, I found out something awesome! An SEO secret you would have never guessed!. Please check it out!

  16. Art Adams says:

    Good points,
    We use mostly ppc, and often the organic listing move up as well. Since we do not use an e-commerce site and all contacts are through direct phone or e-mail we also try to limit the leads, using very targeted key words,ads and landing pages to prospects that are ready to buy or have a real interest. Low quality leads can be expensive.

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Absolutely. That’s the “the best meat is in the tail” approach. Read Convert! if you haven’t yet.

  17. Jacob says:

    Hi Ben

    One of the thing I took from ‘Convert’ was that you should produce more content, to target more keywords – because creating pages costs nothing, and so you should have a big site.

    That way, you can more easily grab all the people you possibly can from every step in the awareness ladder (and particularly the step in the ladder that has the largest bulge in whatever market you’re in).

    Now on the face of it, there might be a tension with:
    “Thinking it’s all about Long Tail could lead you to think that the key to more traffic is more content. That’s wrong.”

    I’m guessing what you’re saying is – ‘yes, still have that big site. Still create large numbers of pages. But don’t think that’s going to get you your targeted traffic. It has to be high-value too’.

    Is that about right?

    Also, one thing I would add – Google likes big sites. Let’s say you write five pretty good articles a month. And every so often, you write an excellent article. That excellent article will do better if it’s surrounded by lots of other relevant content. Indeed, one of the key ways that Google helps to partially level the playing field between massive sites like the BBC or Wikipedia and smaller ones, is by incorporating that into its algorithm. So even if you have 100,000 times fewer links than Wikipedia, the fact your excellent article on Acme Widgets is surrounded by other content on Acme Widgets helps Google know you’re just as good a result as the Wikipedia page or the BBC news story on Acme Widgets.

    So you can create lots of articles not just for their own sake, but for SEO reasons.

    Anyhow, this is a great article. I really enjoyed Convert!; I’m going to be presenting my core recommendations for our site (especially converting to The Way of Optimization and creating more targeted content) to my boss tomorrow. Wish me luck! :p

    • Ben Hunt says:

      Hi Jacob. You make great points. Let me consolidate some of the points.

      Yes, the more pages you have, the more chances you have to match long-tail queries. But pages with inbound links will outrank unconnected pages.

      If you have ordinary content, you’ll have to create those links through manual or underhand means.

      However, if your content is genuinely useful, valuable, informative, or entertaining, it will attract good links itself, lifting it above other alternatives. And, because the traffic goes in favour of the highest-ranked pages, the benefit of attracting those links will outweigh the extra work involved with making decent content.

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  19. Nadeem says:

    What can I say, fantastic. The analysis you have done and shared seem common sense. After all we all want value and will tell our friends and colleagues when we get good value. Ben what you have shared goes against what most other ‘SEO experts’ say. Always for the guy who sticks his head above the parapet. Keep it coming.

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