Become a Writer Today

Using Content Optimization to Grow Your Website with Clearscope Co-founder Bernard Huang

August 12, 2021 Bryan Collins Season 2
Become a Writer Today
Using Content Optimization to Grow Your Website with Clearscope Co-founder Bernard Huang
Chapters
Become a Writer Today
Using Content Optimization to Grow Your Website with Clearscope Co-founder Bernard Huang
Aug 12, 2021 Season 2
Bryan Collins

This episode of the podcast has a very special guest. Bernard Huang is the co-founder of the popular content tool Clearscope. 

In our conversation, Bernard explains how Clearscope works and how it can help you grow your website and help you find more readers for your non-fiction articles. 

You'll also find some practical tips on building a niche website, learning about content optimization tools, and increasing traffic to your website.  

Bernard also tells the fascinating story behind how he founded  Clearscope. There are many parallels between Bernard’s experience with Clearscope and how writers find working on their first book or their first creative project.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How Bernard started Clearscope
  • How Clearscope encourages creatives to think differently about what is on their webpages
  • Is Google forcing web pages to be too prescriptive?
  • The future of search results is video
  • What steps you should take if your traffic has dipped
  • How often should you update your website content

Resources:

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Show Notes Transcript

This episode of the podcast has a very special guest. Bernard Huang is the co-founder of the popular content tool Clearscope. 

In our conversation, Bernard explains how Clearscope works and how it can help you grow your website and help you find more readers for your non-fiction articles. 

You'll also find some practical tips on building a niche website, learning about content optimization tools, and increasing traffic to your website.  

Bernard also tells the fascinating story behind how he founded  Clearscope. There are many parallels between Bernard’s experience with Clearscope and how writers find working on their first book or their first creative project.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How Bernard started Clearscope
  • How Clearscope encourages creatives to think differently about what is on their webpages
  • Is Google forcing web pages to be too prescriptive?
  • The future of search results is video
  • What steps you should take if your traffic has dipped
  • How often should you update your website content

Resources:

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Bernard: Okay, how do we provide an objective way to say, “This piece of content is poor,” and Clearscope looks at concepts that are commonly talked about within the topic that you’re writing about, and says, “Hey, if you’re writing about, say, what’s between America and the UK and you don’t talk about the Atlantic Ocean, then your piece of content must be bad,” and that’s where that whole idea came from.

Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan: Content optimization, what is it and how would it help you grow your website? Hi, my name is Bryan Collins, and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. I have a very special guest for you today. He’s a co-founder of a tool I use every day. The guest, his name is Bernard Huang, and he’s based in Austin, Texas, and he’s the co-founder of Clearscope, which is a popular content optimization tool.

Now, in the interview, Bernard explains how Clearscope works and how it can help you grow your website and find more readers for your nonfiction articles, but I wanted you to hear from Bernard because of the 80-20 principle, the Pareto’s Principle, which states that 20 percent of your work leads to 80 percent of the results. Let me explain. 

A couple years ago, I wanted to grow traffic to Become a Writer Today and I wanted to increase my e-mail list so I did a quick search online and I read articles that said anybody who’s got a website and is not spending $5 a day on Facebook ads isn’t in business. So, I said to myself, “Well, I could spend $5,” and then I spent $10 a day and then $20 a day, and before I knew it, I was spending $50 a day trying to get website traffic to the site. 

Eventually, I got a bit frustrated wasting all this money so I hired a Facebook ads coach and she was good, she was knowledgeable, she talked me through some mistakes I’ve made with my campaigns and I was able to get the cost per click for my ads down to the site and increase the e-mail list even further. 

I did this for a few months and my Facebook ads bill was well over $1,000 each month and I still wasn’t really making a return on them. Some months I’d break even with book or affiliate sales, but not always, and I was also spending an increasing amount of time looking at spreadsheets to optimize my ads. 

So, I took a step back and I asked myself, “Well, how is the 80-20 principle working for my site?” and I realized that what was generating the most traffic was publishing search engine optimized articles. That is, publishing articles that answered questions people had about writing, that offered practical writing advice, and publishing them often and frequently and to a good standard. 

So I decided to take the money from Facebook ads and, over the next few months, I started investing in better content. I hired an editor who helped me fix content issues on the site, who helped me fix typos and so on, and later on, I started hiring freelance writers. I stopped using Facebook ads altogether, which was great because I found Facebook frustrating to use for many reasons, some of which have been in the news, and I just doubled down on publishing articles on Become a Writer Today. That’s how I applied the 80-20 principle and that’s maybe a question you could ask yourself, “How is the 80-20 principle helping me grow my creative business?”

Now, these days, I run several different websites. I have Become a Writer Today and I also have some niche websites in the health and fitness space and also in the food and drinks space. I work with freelance writers who create content for these sites because they’re not areas I’m an expert in, but I still need to be able to vet the quality of content to ensure it meets a certain standard and also to check that the articles have what they need in terms of content so the sites will rank. 

To do this, I use a content optimization tool. Basically, it involves figuring out what a reader expects when they search for a specific topic. It’s a little bit more advanced than keyword research but it’s also a good approach if you find yourself or you want to work with freelance writers to grow your site. Now, Clearscope is an advanced tool for writers so it’s something I’d recommend using once you’re earning a good bit from your sites each month or if you’ve got a budget to invest in content. 

Even if you’re not quite at that point yet, if you want to build a website in a particular niche, if you want to increase your website traffic for your existing site, or you simply want to learn how content optimization tools work because they’re all the rage these days in the content marketing and blogging space, then you’ll get some practical tips from this interview with Bernard, and he also gets into his story about how he founded Clearscope in the first place which is a fascinating story because there are many parallels between Bernard’s experience with Clearscope and how writers find working on their first book or their first creative project.

If you find the interview helpful, please leave a short review on iTunes or you can share the show on Overcast, Spotify, or Stitcher. Remember, every review, every time you share helps more listeners find the show which is a big help. And you can also become a Patreon supporter for just a couple of dollars a month. I’ll give you discounts on my writing courses, software, and books, and the link for that is in the show notes. Finally, if you’ve got feedback about the show, you’ve got questions, or you want to let me know what you’re up to, just reach out to me on Twitter, it’s @bryanjcollins. I’d love to hear what you’re up to and if you have any suggestions for future topics or for future guests.

Now, let’s go over to this week’s interview with Bernard Huang.

Bernard: Bryan, thanks so much for having me. It’s a complete honor that we have you as a customer and it’s a complete honor to be on the show.

Bryan: Yeah. Well, I have been using your tool now for eight or nine months and it’s helping me run the business a lot more efficiently, which we’ll get to in a little bit later, but before we get on to what Clearscope does, could you give listeners a flavor for your backstory and how Clearscope came to be?

Bernard: Totally, totally. So, I’m early 30s but dreamt of entrepreneurship as far as I can remember. In middle school, I was making board games, starting breakdancing clubs. In college, transitioned into online poker and made a little over six figures, bought a restaurant, didn’t know how to run the restaurant so that went out of business fairly quickly, in about like 13 months. 

Then I was like, okay, brick and mortar is challenging and perhaps that’s not the way for me and, oh, mobile apps, coding, software seems to be blowing up so I then got into a startup accelerator program in the Boston area in the United States and made a bunch of mobile apps, didn’t really get much traction though, and tried another startup when I moved back to Austin. 

This was more of a marketplace-style startup. Also didn’t get very much traction. And, at this point, it was 2013 and I was like, “Okay, I clearly don’t know what I’m doing. I should go to the startup Mecca, known as Silicon Valley in California, and see what’s happening over there because, clearly, whatever is happening over there seems to be something special.” So, I got hired as the Director of Growth at a Y Combinator startup and the task that they gave me was to grow the company at all kind of trying everything so they gave me sort of this blank corporate credit card and they’re like, “Go,” and so I got this like — they had raised millions of dollars being a Y Combinator startup. 

I got to run AdWords, hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent, Facebook advertising, Quora, LinkedIn, Twitter, SEO, and all these things. And, long story very short, SEO was the channel that ended up taking off for us and I doubled down, I tripled down. This is now in like the 2015 era of SEO and I’m sure a lot of you are either just getting started in this writing or content creating industry and maybe don’t have as much background but, back in that era, a lot of what Google was looking for, and you could argue is still looking for, is backlinks and the clever way, if you will, that a lot of people thought about ’em back then was through this idea of a private blog network. 

You know, private blog network is essentially a network of websites that look like they’re independently owned and operated. It’s like Bernardsblog.com or Bernards, whatever, dogbreeds.com, and people generally buy expired domains that have gotten some amount of links throughout the years, and then the owner decided either to not renew it or forget to renew it. 

You buy the domain, you would bring all of the content back through looking at like the Internet Archive or — it’s called the Wayback Machine and you would start to write content on it and then link out to your website that you wanted to make money on and so people — notable — a lot of notable black-hat SEOs would operate these private blog networks and some of them would rent out access to their network and so that’s really where I got my taste of SEO was dabbling in the dark arts of SEO, trying private blog networks. 

There’s a lot of other like jargony things so there was this other idea of like negative SEO. Basically, when Google kind of finds out that you’re manipulating the algorithm, then they hand out punishment. In SEO speak, it’s called a manual action. And so you could actually get a manual action because you’re buying backlinks and, obviously, that’s bad, but you can imagine you could take those, like attack competitor websites with like infected private blog network schemes and — I mean, that’s all to say that Google has cleaned up a lot of this behavior that people have been doing in the past to influence search and that’s how at least I got started with SEO.

Bryan: So, Clearscope is the opposite side of the spectrum in that it helps people create content that does all the things that Google likes to see in optimized articles and so on.

Bernard: Yes, that’s right. So, fast forward from 2015, I decided to leave the Y Combinator startup and work on a few projects of my own. Long story very short there, those projects were going nowhere but I was part of the Y Combinator startup network and a lot of the founders were asking around for search engine optimization consultants and every time that thread would pop up in the private forums that YC founders belong to, people would say, “Hey, you should talk to Bernard.” So, I would then go talk with these companies, you’d have DoorDash and Teespring, Strava, compass.com, just very notable, high-growth companies and we decided to turn into an SEO consulting company and this is where I learned perhaps the next level of SEO, which was that we got to work with a lot of different kinds of companies in different industries and instruct them on different strategies and a very recurring theme that we found, right? 

This is now still coming out of that idea that backlinks are everything is that when you look at a website like DoorDash, their domain authority is really high and domain authority is a representation of how many backlinks or other websites are linking to your domain so they had a lot like in comparison to the rest of the market but their pages were just not doing that well, right? So we look at the pages and we land on, say, what they would call a geo, a geography page, and the geography page is essentially you can imagine if you Google food delivery and you happen to be based in London, that a geography page would be, “We do food delivery in London,” and we would look at those pages and they wouldn’t rank even though DoorDash was a very strong authority and we’d say, “Okay, the reason why this is happening is because the content on the page must be poor,” in the sense that when Google presents that geography page to an end user, the user who gets it and clicks into it doesn’t like what they see. 

So, what they do is they go back to Google and click on another result and then Google then measures, “Okay, does the user like what they saw there?” And if they did, then you can imagine that lower ranking result that is doing a better job helping the user, we would see that displace the better authority website that isn’t serving the user. And so a lot of our analyses always came back to this idea that, “Hey, it looks like your content quality is poor,” and poor is such a subjective term, right? When you’re like, “Hey, this looks like it’s poor,” you’d be like, “Okay, well, like how should I fix it?” and that’s where the idea of Clearscope then came out of, was, okay, how do we provide an objective way to say, “This piece of content is poor,” and Clearscope looks at concepts that are commonly talked about within the topic that you’re writing about and says, “Hey, if you’re writing about, say, what’s between America and the UK and you don’t talk about Atlantic Ocean, then your piece of content must be bad,” and that’s where that whole idea came from.

Bryan: Okay, makes sense. So, I work with a lot of freelance writers for Become a Writer Today and for some other sites and I use Clearscope to create what’s called a content brief and it explains specific terms and language which they use. 

Normally, when I ask a freelance writer, “Are you familiar with SEO?” they will either be familiar with it, which is great, or they will say they’re familiar with it but they will give you an answer from five or six years ago and this would be my old understanding of it as well, which is you find a single specific keyword and you rank or you just put that keyword on the page as many times as possible and that’s it, you’re done. 

So, could you — I know this is a podcast interview, but could you describe how Clearscope encourages content creators and freelance writers to think differently about the terms and language and the content that should be on the page?

Bernard: Yeah, absolutely. So, what you’re describing is more or less, I think, a function of a very popular SEO plugin tool that exists for WordPress that’s known as Yoast, right —

Bryan: Which I’ve used, yeah.

Bernard: Yeah, that would say, “Okay, well, what’s your focus keyword?” For example, if we wanted to rank for best vacuums, then they would say, “Hey, you should mention best vacuums in your title tag, you should mention it in your meta description, you should mention it probably within one of your first few headings that you have on the page,” and it will just give you like green light, you did it; red light, you didn’t. 

And so that’s, I think, in a very classical way, what a lot of people were trained on when they were getting started with SEO. And, for the most part, they weren’t completely misguided. I would say that Google’s algorithm, right? If we’re talking about an algorithm during 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, it was more or less target the keyword and build backlinks and so it made a lot of sense that if you didn’t say best vacuums in your title tag, you would never rank for best vacuums and that, of course, is not what you wanna be doing if you’re writing content for SEO.
 
That, however, has changed because of this other concept that I described earlier, which search engine optimization people, they’re calling that user engagement signal, right? If somebody clicks on your best vacuum cleaner page and it’s a completely blank page except you’ve built a lot of backlinks, well, you can imagine the user is gonna be like, “This page has nothing on it,” so they’re gonna go back to Google, click on another result that hopefully helps them find what they need. 

So then, this idea of user engagement signals and backlinks have started to intertwine into how Google’s algorithm works and what Clearscope does is that it uses Google’s own natural language processing technology, scrapes the top ranking results for whichever keyword that you wanna write about, and says, “Okay, if you wanna talk about the best vacuum cleaners, then you probably wanna talk about Dyson, because when we looked at the top ranking pieces of content, we saw Dyson as a brand show up quite a few times so a good piece of content talking about best vacuum cleaners should likely talk about Dyson,” maybe corded or cordless, right?
 
Because those are different categories of vacuum cleaners and it provides you with this guidance on what are the relevant concepts surrounding the topic and it checks you in real time as you’re writing the piece of content or building the content brief to say, “Okay, you may have talked about all of these concepts, you’re currently — your content comprehensiveness is looking like it’s a B plus, but you still didn’t talk about horsepower or Shark or BISSELL or these different brands,” so to get your piece of content to be more comprehensive, which then, in theory, leads to better user engagement signals, right? Helping the user find what they need, then your content is going to do a better job, like serving the needs of the searcher and, therefore, it’ll rank higher in the Google search results.

Bryan: Yeah, makes sense, particularly for a writer, if you understand what the page should deliver, then you can produce something for a client that will help them rank which will turn and help you get more work. 

Do you think that the way Google has adjusted their algorithm over the years has taken some of the color out of producing content? Like Google are now, the way you describe it, they’re quite prescriptive about what particular pieces of content should say and do, even down to the way a how-to article should be formatted and what the different steps should cover, whereas maybe a couple of years ago, you would see sections of the article that would have more personality or color or humor. 

Are we kind of losing that now that the algorithm is getting so prescriptive?

Bernard: So, that’s a good question and if you’ve heard any SEO say anything, you always hear that the best one say it’s the past and that’s exactly how I feel when you ask that sort of question, right? I think that we’re seeing certain kinds of search queries actually get way more flavor and you can imagine these are going to be the search queries where the answer is not very clear, right? 

And so you can imagine, if you’re doing a Google search, like “Should I try CBD?” you’re actually gonna see a huge range of search results that are like, “CBD is the worst, do not try it,” “Top 5 benefits associated with CBD, researchers say,” “I tried CBD and here’s how I felt,” and you actually get this explosion of flavor because, in my opinion, Google is looking at all of the different results and saying, “Okay, what is a search engine results page, right? The top 10 results but, more importantly, when I serve this, how many people have to do an additional search on Google?” And you can imagine if all 10 results said, “CBD is really good, CBD is really good,” then some percentage of users are likely to go like, “Is CBD bad?” Right? Because every single result said, “CBD is really good,” and that’s not necessarily — they’re like, “There’s something kind of weird about this.” 

So, in that particular scenario, that’s then way more flavorful but, okay, in some other scenarios, I think that Google search results have become way more flat, right? And you can imagine that those are going to be usually things that are very factual or understood to be true so you can imagine like something, “How to surf?” or “How to change a sparkplug?” It’s like, okay, maybe it’s like, okay, by which car do you want to change your sparkplug? 

But for the most part, it’s very commonly accepted that this set of instructions or that this statement is true and you’re gonna see a lot less flavor on those, but in those searches, what you’ll notice Google doing is that they’ll be serving the featured snippet that just answers the question and so one could even argue like, for those, Google is sort of like not even handing out a click anymore because they’re like, “This is just commonly accepted as the answer so here it is and that’s that,” and so search is interesting because Google is a behemoth in the space and they do whatever they wanna do and I think we’re seeing some amount of publishers who answer more of the factual kind of content get bulldozed by Google because Google’s saying, “What’s best for the user or searcher is for me to answer that question with your answer on your content without giving you the click.”

Bryan: Which can feel unfair if you’ve invested time writing the article or you’ve invested time hiring or working with writers to create something.

Bernard: Absolutely, and that’s why I think they’re under a lot of heat from governments around the world about privacy and all that stuff but —

Bryan: Yeah, and it was — like I’m a former journalist so I can understand why a lot of news organizations are unhappy that their content is surfaced on Google but they don’t get the traffic from Google in return. So, is there an answer or is that still to be trashed out?

Bernard: Yeah, I think there’s no real answer. It all just seems to depend.

Bryan: Okay. What about — we kind of got off tangent a little bit but what about video? Like I understand search results are going more towards video over the next few years so how would Clearscope handle video in the future?

Bernard: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, different searches typically require different associations. The best way that I could put it is that if you were to perform a search for how to play guitar, then you’ll see a featured video of somebody instructing you on how to play a guitar and you could intuitively say, “That makes a lot of sense,” because a text-based article on how to play guitar is likely to be worse in teaching somebody how to play guitar. So, there are specific classes of queries where video content greatly excels at teaching or giving the searcher more of what they need. “How to x…?” is a very good example where video just beats everything. Same with reviews, right? If it’s like, oh, this specific model of a blender review, it’s much easier and more pleasing to the user to watch a video on “Does that blender blend this? How loud is it?” all of that stuff, because it’s very tangible. 

However, for other classes of queries, you can imagine more of the like informational stuff, users I don’t necessarily believe are going to like video, because video takes time, you gotta sit there, you kind of have to be on a large screen, right? You don’t have like exactly, it might be slow loading so — and then, right? Like a lot of the times, when I’m doing research, I just do Ctrl+F, Command+F, right? And I find whatever it is within your piece of content and I can’t do that in a video obviously, maybe if you’re paying really close attention to search and video, you’re seeing Google like pin out key moments within videos now and that’s basically if you timestamp your video in the description then they will build that out for you but, all in all, that’s to say that what you’re seeing is like a bifurcation of different searches being served through different content experiences and different mediums and video is specifically really good for instructional things, reviews, and those types of queries so we’re gonna see more and more video content produced because for like that type of stuff. 

Clearscope, at the end of the day, really only helps you with your text content quality. The way that video plays, like the algorithm, is completely different than the way that text-based content plays. So, you will see videos that get a lot of engagement, perform better than videos that may comprehensively talk about the subject matter and that’s to say, then, Clearscope’s not gonna help much with video and video is sort of more of a game of how do you concisely help the user but keep the video short, engaging, and compelling all at the same time and that seems to be more creative directorship than it is just making sure that you’re hitting all of like the conceptual boxes.

Bryan: Yeah, I hadn’t quite considered it like that. So, if I’m running an informational site, it sounds like the types of content I should be focusing on would look at the stages of consideration, like things to do before doing x or common mistakes while doing y.

Bernard: Yeah, absolutely. So, again, it depends on the search itself and, honestly, the best way to like understand whether or not video is relevant for a particular query is to just Google it and see if you see a video carousel or a featured video in the top 10 spots of Google. If any of those elements exist, it’s likely that video should be a component of the content that you’re producing. The higher up that video carousel or featured video is, the more prominent that video is likely to play a large part of the content experience. A lot of people also then make the misconception, if you will, that they need to create their own original video that may be far inferior to a really good, high engaging video that has already been created about the topic that you’re writing about. 

At the end of the day, yes, right? There’s the video carousel and the featured video but you could just embed somebody else’s video and if somebody lands on your content experience and watches the video and finds what they need, well, your content then is doing a good job helping the user find what they need. Obviously, you can’t influence what’s said in the video by selling your product or service or promoting whatever it is that you want to promote, which is sad, but you could promote it like somewhere within the article as a like half-step between creating your own video and not having video whatsoever, right?

Bryan: Yeah, like a lot of us content writers probably don’t spend a lot of time recording video. They might write the scripts but they’re probably less likely to get in front of the camera. So, if I’m running a site and my traffic has dipped and I can’t quite understand why it’s happened, what steps should I take?

Bernard: That’s a good question. So, my diagnosis is — this is like my checklist, if you will, is first see if there’s any major Google algorithm updates that have occurred. That’s check number 1. Check number 2 is see if there’s any major technical issues that either, you know, your product team or somebody on your team may have pushed to the site and that may have caused it, right? If there’s no Google algorithm updates, there’s no technical issues, really, all that leaves you with is a content issue.
 
Assuming that, right? Your content is starting to dip, then it must be a content issue. Now, content issue happens then in two distinct manners. Number one is gonna be that a competitor of yours, at least in Google’s search results, has displaced your content because it’s done a better job talking about whatever it is that you were talking about. So that’s scenario number one. Scenario number two is gonna be that your content is no longer relevant to the topic and, therefore, it has been displaced by content that is more relevant. As a pretty simple example, if I published a piece of content on coronavirus vaccines today, then my content would be displaced by more relevant coronavirus vaccine content tomorrow because corona vaccines, right? It’s — there’s shortages here, people wanna know what the status of it is there and how many people are getting them, right? 

And that, as a topic, is rapidly changing so my content has to rapidly change to stay relevant for that particular topic. And then you can imagine the flipside is, say you’re running an affiliate site, which is what a lot of content creators who are trying to get a content site off the ground tend to do. Now, you write this epic piece of content, we’ll go back to vacuum cleaners, about the best vacuum cleaners that are cordless in 2021. You put it up, very proud of it, and you can imagine this is still part of that like the topic has changed scenario but we’ll introduce like a competitor now. 

Now, say Dyson comes out with a new model, right? Like a V12. It’s awesome, it’s cordless, battery life is longer than their previous one, and you missed it, right? Because, well, you didn’t care that much about vacuum cleaners to begin with, you just identified that it was a niche that was valuable, that was underserved by high domain authority websites and poor content, right? So you’re off printing money, sitting on a beach, drinking a margarita, and you’re like, “Oh, man, my content like has dipped,” right? “What has happened?” Well, what has happened is that the topic has, again, evolved but a competitor has seized the opportunity because you were not on the ball when the Dyson vacuum cleaner dropped and, one week later, because you didn’t talk about it, that is actually then why you can imagine like two things are at play.
 
Somebody lands on your page and says, “What? Like I wanted to read about the new Dyson vacuum cleaner and this one doesn’t talk about it so I’m gonna go back and click on another,” so user engagement signals are taking a hit. And then the other thing, the other dynamic at play is that Google is really good about linking concepts together and what SEOs have been calling this is knowledge graph and I guess you could call it keyword co-occurrence, right? So they know that when you talk about Steve Jobs, you probably talk about Apple and so they also know that Dyson is related to all of these different models and they’ll know when a new model hits the market because they keep scraping the internet and looking at these associations so they’re gonna say, “Okay, Dyson has a new model and your content doesn’t talk about the model and, therefore, your content must be less relevant than a piece of content that does talk about that particular model,” and so that would then, obviously, kind of decrease Google’s confidence that your content is likely to do a good job meeting the needs of the searcher and, therefore, you take a hit. 

So, that’s to say that, again, either a Google core algorithm update that’s specifically placing more emphasis on certain parts of the algorithm happened and that’s why you’re taking a hit; technical issues caused by other team members that you are not aware of, that’s also another key reason; and then the other one is gonna be either topical shift or competitor like push-down as the main reasons why you’ve taken a hit and that’s the like checklist I would go through. And then, if it is a content thing, right? Just look at what your competitors have done to displace you and then add in those fundamental blocks of content that you’re likely missing because, right? 

A lot of you are probably in affiliate or writing for affiliate, I do wanna just point out that a lot of people in affiliate are missing core sections on why you should trust us and I foresee, in the future, I don’t know how long into the future but, in the future, that websites that they don’t give users trust, they’re gonna get slammed by the algorithm because a website where it’s all stock photos of the product, it’s a list of pros, a list of cons, and it’s very clear, at least maybe to us as practicing SEOs that the user never used any of the products, is gonna get demolished so you should be adding those in now, sooner, to protect your content in the future, right? And that’s gonna be actual photos of the author or whoever’s writing the piece, using each of the products, testing each of the products, having actual criteria to back up why this is better than other products on the list that are not being recommended. So, those are gonna be really important.

Bryan: And that brings me to my final question which is about updating content. So, I’ve spent the past few months updating content in my site using Clearscope so I plugged in specific topics and I was able to see sections that were missing on different articles and some of them have started to rank again. How often should somebody listening to this update their content and also how often is a Clearscope report valid for before I need to run it again?

Bernard: So, you know the answer, Bryan. It depends. But, okay, I’ll give you a general like good best practice. Once a year is generally a good idea because you can imagine, right? If you’re looking at — if you’re just thinking about it purely from a title tag perspective and a return on investment perspective, and we’ll use vacuum cleaners, right? “Best Vacuum Cleaners (updated in 2021)” and compare that with “Best Vacuum Cleaners (updated May 2021)” and then you’ll compare that with “Best Vacuum Cleaners” not updated, right? When you look at each one of those, we’d say okay, May 2021, it is May currently, yeah, that is gonna be way more relevant to the user than just 2021 which is gonna be more relevant than just best vacuum cleaners, in that order.

However, it’s foolish, if you will, to just simply switch out title tags for the sake of relevancy because, (a), Google doesn’t really like that. I have personally, again, dabbled with a lot of dark arts of SEO and Google is not stupid. They know that when you try to make it look like your page has updated but has not updated, that there is no change in body content on the page. Therefore, they actually sort of disrespect your update to — title tags are a little different but they’ll disrespect. This is the thing that you can imagine when you Google something and it says like, “Three days ago,” or the date stamp that shows up, they will disrespect that if you just simply change the last updated or the date stamp on your blog post without changing any of your body content.

I have a suspicion that the threshold required is that your body content has to change by something like 10 percent for Google to look at that and say, “Oh, this was actually updated, not just trying to trick me into updating your timestamp to make your content look more updated.” So, that said, right? I mean, you probably have lots of content that you’re managing. It’s not — it’s unwieldy to go through and try to like add in paragraphs every month to make your content seem more relevant on a monthly cadence.

That said, it all does depend, right? And “Best Credit Cards” is perhaps a really good example where everybody does do this exercise every week or every month but you might — a lot of people are misguided in that they say, “Oh, well, because they do it and it’s very competitive, I need to do that too.” You have to understand that the reason why “Best Credit Cards” gets updated that frequently is because credit cards are changing very frequently. Banks issue new credit cards, they update the terms on existing credit cards, they get rid of some old credit cards. Each instance that happens, right? Back to that example of Dyson introducing a new vacuum cleaner, if you wanna stay on top of “Best Credit Cards [sic],” you have to change your page to match what’s happening in the ecosystem to stay relevant so “Best Credit Cards” gets updated frequently because the landscape is changing very frequently.

So, that’s the most comprehensive answer is that you update content based on how quickly the landscape is changing, which is typically based on trigger events. If a vacuum cleaner brand introduces a new credit card [sic], that’s when you update your content because that’s the trigger event. In lieu of having extreme subject matter expertise and authority and following everything very closely, then we back into this idea of refreshing content once a year because that’s just a simpler model that doesn’t require as much like overhead in keeping track of what’s happening in the field. But the best way to think about it would be trigger events happen that causes changes in the topic, a new law passes, a brand introduces a new product, whatever, and that’s actually when you should be updating content, not once a year, once a month, that kind of thing.

Bryan: Makes sense. Bernard, where can people find more information about you or Clearscope?

Bernard: Yeah. You can follow me at @bernardjhuang. You can follow Clearscope at Clearscope. We’re actually working on a webinar series that we’re doing every other week. We just kicked it off last week or last, last week with a “How SEO Works,” following it up with a killer presentation on how to report on content marketing, but it’s gonna be covering everything, A to Z, as it relates to the intersection of content and SEO so you should certainly stay tuned. We love basically just giving people insights and recommendations into how to up their content game. So, that’s where you can follow us. 

Bryan: Thanks, Bernard.

Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books and discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.