People like to complicate SEO, but at its heart it's a very simple concept. To rank at the top of Google you’ve just got to write better content than your competitors. If it’s not more useful, more valuable and more interesting than other content, it will never rank on page one. It doesn’t matter how many backlinks you have or your domain authority or keywords you’ve got stuffed in there if the article itself is crap.
So that’s the heart of SEO. But you’ve still got to write something which is better than literally thousands of other pieces of content. Fortunately, that task isn’t as daunting as it sounds. By looking through your competitors’ top-ranking content, you’ve essentially got a template - a playbook - to work from for your article. It’s just a case of improving on it. Here are five ways of doing just that.
1. Establish credibility
Part of being able to rank above other articles is being able to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about. You need some credibility. Now, if you’re a writer for The Guardian or the BBC then that’s pretty easy, because credibility is already assumed from these major publications. But since you’re presumably NOT working at a major media organisation, how else can you prove you know what you’re on about?
Well, if you yourself can’t prove credibility then use someone else to boost your credibility. Get some quotes from industry experts. This doesn’t have to be complicated - you can find them on LinkedIn and ask them for a few quotes. Or you could interview somebody over Zoom to add a bit of gravitas to your piece. This helps to establish a greater level of credibility than your competitors.
Because, you know, anyone could just sit here on a laptop and type out an article about improving on a competitor's content…ahem…
2. Make the information easier to access
Sometimes you can improve on your competitors’ content simply by laying the information out in a more logical manner. Make the key information as easy to access as possible for the reader.
So let’s say your target keyword is ‘cost of a master’s in the UK.’ When people are searching for that term, presumably the main bit of information they want is how much a master’s degree typically costs in the UK. So put that information at the front and centre of your blog. Don’t hide it at the very bottom or stuff the rest of the piece with useless fluff that people aren’t interested in.
If your topic is a little bit more complex than that, make the most of subheadings and lists to make your content more digestible. Let’s say your target keyword this time is ‘how to finance a master’s.’ You could think about breaking the information down into different sections, such as:
- Public loans
- Private loans
- Friends and family
You could explain each of these funding sources in different paragraphs and subheadings. This makes the information easier to access and digest than a big essay-type thing.
3. Change the tone of voice
The truth is that a lot of online content is really stuffy; written in a dull way that is difficult to read and no fun at all. Another way of differentiating your content from competitors is changing the tone of voice. So let’s say you’re an insurance company, and you want to write about the benefits of home insurance.
Companies in this industry tend to project a professional and serious tone of voice. You know, to establish credibility and trust. And that’s fine. You don’t want to come across like a clown. But it also runs the risk of being quite…robotic at times. So you could present your information in a more conversational and human way.
Just be careful with this, because you don’t want to try too hard to be down with the kids. It comes off as cringeworthy and will quickly lose you credibility. Find the right balance.
4. Add value for the reader
If we could summarise this blog in one phrase, it’s that: add value. You’ve got to provide extra value to the reader and give them a reason to read your content over the other thousand articles out there.
You might give away a free PDF guide that’s related to your topic. Create a free infographic poster that they can stick up on the wall at work. Include an audio version of the content (there are plenty of programs that can do this for you). Include anchor links to make it easier for people to navigate through the content. Tell people how long it’s going to take to read.
Whatever you do, just make sure it’s something that your competitors don’t offer. Give the reader an extra reason to read your content over theirs.
5. Simplify it, but leave space to dig deep
Alright, alright, this tip is a little more esoteric than the rest, but bear with us.
Online you’ll probably read a lot of advice that reads a little like this: shorten your sentences. Simplify your words. Shorten your paragraphs. And yeah, there’s some truth to that. But there’s a balance to be struck.
Yes: make it easier for the reader to access the information they want. Yes: break up big blocks of text. Yes: avoid using big words like, erm, esoteric. But don’t idiotify your piece to the extent that it is superficial, top-level stuff that doesn’t provide any detailed insights on the topic.
Ideally, your content should be layered. The first layer is your kind of ‘at-first-glance’ layer, which gives the reader the information they want in a really simple way. Use this layer to hook people in and give them the main thrusts of the piece.
But an article like that is boring. You’re never going to provide any greater insights than other content, because you’re simplifying everything to within an inch of its life. That’s why you need to leave space for a second layer, where you can really get into the nitty gritty of the piece. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into your topic and give real insights to people.
Of course, not everyone is going to be interested in both ‘layers.’ But if you make your content appealing to people who just want to scan through, as well as those who want to read a well-researched, well-written piece, you’ll be covering all bases.