Do you know how it feels to live in constant fear?
Like being watched all the time.
Every second of your life is monitored.
Being uncertain of your future and never knowing when things will go wrong.
No, I’m not talking about The Hunger Games or a 1984 Dystopian-style future scenario where Big Brother is always watching.
Here's the thing, this is how most affiliate marketers think of Google – the all-seeing eye of Sauron that never blinks.
Every day I see frightened bloggers and niche marketers ask the same questions in NicheHacks Facebook Mastermind.
It feels like they have nothing else on their minds but Google.
Seriously dude! You haven’t even started a blog and you’re asking how long should your articles be for SEO?
These comments point to a MUCH bigger and fundamental problem.
It shows that most newbies think more about Google than their actual target audience. Instead of being proactive and focusing on the needs of their audience, their business strategy (if any) is reactive and driven by what Google thinks.
If you’re doing this, you’re bound to fail.
You need a change of mindset.
And this post will help you do exactly that.
What You’ll Learn In This Post
Stop Worrying About Google (Only)
I’m NOT saying that Google is irrelevant or you should never think about it.
Google is the web’s largest search engine that’s way ahead of any other free traffic source in terms of volume and accuracy.
But it isn’t the “Evil All-Seeing” eye you think it is.
It DOES NOT want to penalize you (unless you’re doing something seriously BlackHat)
Heck, it doesn’t even care about you.
All it cares about is its user base.
In case you’ve never bothered reading Google’s core business philosophy, user-experience is at the top of its list.
Google is NOT bothered about you publishing 10,000 words daily, getting hundreds of backlinks from DA 80+ sites, making your keywords bold, or using multiple H1 tags.
It doesn’t owe you anything.
It’s not about you.
It has never been about you.
All it wants to see is whether you’re creating value for its users or not.
And what exactly is value?
Giving users what they’re looking for.
See, the core objective of Google Search is to show the most accurate, useful and credible information against the search queries of its users.
That’s all it cares about.
So your best chance to actually make it to the top of Google’s search results even for the most competitive keywords is by caring less about SEO and more about the needs of your target audience.
Because that’s what Google wants you to do as well.
Think about users first.
If you have the right answers to the questions searchers are asking, Google would love to send you traffic because then it becomes a win-win situation.
The only question is whether you’re willing to put in the required work or not.
How To Stay User-Centric But Still Dominate Google Search for Years
When you look after your users, Google looks after you (it’s actually looking after itself because it wants to show the best results to its users)
That’s how Stuart has built NicheHacks.
That’s how all long-term online businesses are built.
They’re user-centric entities that think of their customers before ANYONE else.
If you plan to stay in the game for years or even decades, your thought process should always start with the user, not Google.
Google says that, not just me.
Not sure what that means?
Here are a few tips to help you get the ball rolling.
1. Think Long-Term, Stay Away from Gray or Black Hat Techniques
What sounds better?
A niche site (ranked with black hat SEO) that makes you a few thousand bucks in a couple of months and then gets penalized
A legitimate high-quality blog that makes you money for years without ANY fear of a Google penalty
The second one of course. It’s the only option that makes sense.
Yet, so many marketers choose the first one simply because it's more tempting.
It promises quicker results with very little effort.
But there’s one problem.
It doesn’t work anymore.
In case you’re new to this, any techniques that violate Google’s SEO guidelines are generally considered black-hat. In simpler words, you’re doing black-hat SEO when, instead of focusing on your audience, you try to fool Google into believing that your site deserves higher ranking.
White-Hat SEO, on the other hand, is all about creating content that gives your visitors what they’re looking for.
You might rank for a few weeks or months using shady SEO techniques but Google will eventually get you.
This illustration by Neil Patel sums up my argument pretty well.
Staying within Google’s SEO guidelines and focusing on building value-based content for your audience takes time and effort. But the results grow steadily over time.
In comparison, black hat techniques sometimes pay off immediately, but as soon as they’re detected by Google (usually within days) the rankings go down for good.
Do you really want to build a business with such a fragile foundation?
Do you think your site can survive beyond a few months using spun content, doorway pages or irrelevant PBN links?
Show me one example of an established, ethical and profitable online business that is built on black-hat SEO.
It’s not even fair to call it a business if it’s not sustainable.
Think long-term, think about your target audience and focus on solving their problems.
That’s how you build a penalty-proof business that doesn’t care about the next Google algorithm change.
2. Develop a Content Strategy Around the Pain Points of Your Audience
I’ve already said this a dozen times in this post, but I’ll say it again.
Google’s objective is to serve high quality, accurate, and reliable search results to its users.
If your content targets the pain points of your audience, better than any of your competitors, Google will do everything to rank you higher because this serves its objective.
In simple words, stop worrying about ranking and start creating problem-solving content.
Here’s how your thought process should work while creating content.
Identify the problems of your audience (audience research)
Find out the questions of your audience that no one’s answering (competitor analysis)
Create the most comprehensive answers to their questions, better than any other site (skyscraper technique)
Use the right language (terminologies/keywords) while creating your content (least important).
See, the focus here is on the user, not Google.
So, how do you find the questions of your audience?
Research of course.
We’ve already written a lot about audience research on NicheHacks (read this, this and this) so I won’t go into the details here.
But in a nutshell, you can get a pretty good idea about the actual problems of your audience by
Defining your ideal audience first
Using Google suggested searches
Using Google related searches
Using Google Trends
Analyzing competitors with Facebook Audience Insights
Exploring Quora, LinkedIn Groups, Facebook Groups and other niche specific forums
Analyzing the most popular content of your closest competitors
Surveying your audience
You can also find great ideas on content research by just reading our niche research reports
Be detailed, ask yourself as many questions as possible and even create personas to target.
Source: The Future of Search
Once you’ve identified the right questions, list them down and turn each question (or a group of closely related questions) into a comprehensive blog post.
For example, we identified that finding the right content writers was one of the biggest problems of our audience.
People kept asking the same questions over and over again in NicheHacks Facebook Mastermind.
So Stuart asked me to write the biggest, the longest and the most actionable guide on this topic.
We grouped together all the questions people were asking about hiring writers, found answers to all of them, and came up with one of our most popular posts.
This post ranks in the top 3-5 positions for keywords like “hire content writers”, “how to hire content writers” etc.
Plus, it received completely natural backlinks (we didn’t even do any outreach) from sites like Business.com, MatthewWoodward, CopyPress and many others.
But above all, it gave real value to our audience and helped them move forward in their business.
Do you think NicheHacks needs search traffic to get these people back to our site?
They’re readers for life now.
Because we identified their problems and gave them what they wanted.
As a result, we not only got loyal readers but also managed to get natural backlinks and rank for the right keywords which sent us more traffic.
Plus, we’ll NEVER be penalized by Google because it’s all natural.
Isn’t that what you’re trying to achieve with black-hat as well (minus the penalty part)?
So forget Google and understand the needs of your readers.
3. Forget Keywords, Focus on Your Topic
“Should I use my target keyword in the headline?”
“What should be the keyword density in my content?”
“Is it ok to use the same keyword in H1 and H2?”
“How should I spread keywords across my content?”
STOP! STOP! STOP!
You’re asking the WRONG questions.
It’s not 2008 anymore so stuffing your content with high traffic keywords isn’t going to work. In fact, it can get you penalized by Google.
Keywords are still important but not the way you think.
Search engines, Google in particular, are now more intelligent and don’t rely on the exact keywords to understand the topic of your content.
Since Google’s Hummingbird update, the top search results for most keywords don’t even have that exact keyword in the title.
But Google still understands what the content is about.
For example, here’s what I got when I searched for the keyword “vegan foods”
Only two out of all the search results had that exact keyword in the title.
The rest of the results were also accurate and answered my query but did not feature the exact keyword I searched for.
A study by Moz compared the search results for two different but closely related keywords (“rice dish” and “rice recipe”) before and after the Hummingbird update.
Here’s what they found
Before the Hummingbird update, the search results for these two terms had only 2 common sites because Google saw them as separate keywords.
After the update, however, 7 of the 10 results were the same for both the keywords because Google started ranking content based on their topical relevance instead of keywords alone.
What’s the message here for you?
Stop worrying about keywords and think of your topic as a whole. Focus on writing comprehensive content that naturally features different keywords and terminologies related to your topic.
Let your writing flow and talk to your readers naturally.
If you do that, you’ll start ranking for terms that are not even present in your content.
4. Focus on Earning (Not Building) Backlinks
I know you’re already fuming just by reading this heading.
After all, when did ANY website (especially an affiliate site) get natural backlinks?
Well, you’re right.
If you’re only writing product reviews, and “Buy From Me” kind of articles, you’ll never earn backlinks.
But if you’re into quality content and understand what drives other websites to link to you, you’ll have no problem getting links.
For example, just start reading this post from the top again or take any other post on NicheHacks.
You’ll find 5-10 sometimes even more external links in every post.
Did they pay me for the links?
I linked to them because they shared data and stats, case studies, research, infographics or any other form of content that helped me verify my claims and make my content look more credible.
That’s how you get backlinks.
By creating share-worthy and link-worthy content.
Personally, I’ve used this strategy to earn 100% natural backlinks from sites like NeilPatel, SocialMediaExaminer, QuickSprout, and many others.
And you know the funny part?
When we publish such posts on NicheHacks, people start linking to us instead of the original research quoted in our content.
This works every time.
No matter what niche you’re in if you’re ready to publish exceptionally good content that has numbers, lots of data, case studies, or eye-catching visuals, you’re bound to get links.
Infographics, in particular, are really effective getting links. I frequently use snapshots from different infographics in my content because they make the content easier to understand. Neil Patel, Brian Dean and many other marketers have also used infographics to great effect.
But it's a strategy you can apply in even the oddest of niches. For example, I found this niche site about matcha tea which has turned a rather boring topic interesting with eye-catching infographics like this one.
And this is not just my opinion, I have stats to prove my point (see what I did there)
Link-Assistant surveyed more than 600+ professional SEOs (both individuals and agencies) and found that more than 70% consider data-heavy content and 61% consider infographics as the best way to get backlinks.
Now don’t get me wrong.
I’m not saying you should not spread the word about your content.
After all, there’s so much noise on the web that it’s not practical to expect your target sites to find your content by themselves.
But the first step is to ALWAYS publish link-worthy content.
Once you’ve done that, run an outreach campaign and spread the word about your post.
Email or Tweet everyone who might find your content useful.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
But hiring cheap link-building gigs on Fiverr or spending money on shady PBN links is flirting with danger.
Sooner or later, you’ll regret it.
5. Answer Questions Instead of Counting Words
I know, I know!
You’ll tell me that the average word count of the top ranked pages in Google Search is around 2000 words
I’ve quoted that study a million times myself.
But newer studies reveal that the average word count of the top results is not as high as previously believed.
However, that's not the point.
Even if longer posts rank higher, does it mean word count was the only reason for their ranking?
They rank well because they created detailed, comprehensive and well-researched content to answer the questions of their target audience.
Word count is not the driving factor here, the usefulness of the content is.
Word count is only a by-product of quality content.
You can’t write in-depth and well-researched content in just 300 words, can you?
So while I’m a huge fan of writing really long posts, I ask you not to obsess over word count.
Instead, use as many words as you need to cover the topic of your post.
In short, write naturally.
6. Become a Brand That People Trust and Follow
Increased focus on brands is perhaps one of the biggest changes to SEO over the years. Google love brands and considers them more trustworthy.
Source: SEO Book
Both the guys in this image don’t work at Google anymore but what they’re saying is still true.
In fact, Google’s focus on brands has only increased.
In simpler words, the days of sites like bestunderwearrviews.com are coming to end quickly.
This increased focus on brands is just another step by Google to ensure that its users get reliable and trustworthy information.
This makes your job pretty easy.
Forget Google, start thinking from your user’s perspective and focus on turning your affiliate or niche site into a consistent, reliable and trustworthy brand.
Invest in your site's design, get a professional logo, use a brandable and easy to remember URL, create your brand’s social profiles and, most importantly, have a distinct voice that separates you from the rest.
Do everything that makes viewing your site a memorable experience.
Become a name that people remember and visit again and again when they help.
There are many examples of niche sites with great branding, ThisIsWhyImBroke is one of them.
It gets more than 50% of its traffic directly which means people remember it and turn to it when they’re looking for unique products.
Unblock, a niche site about BitCoin and alternate cryptocurrencies, also caught my eye because of its beautiful design and strong branding.
It's a standard niche site with great content but really stands out because of its design and a dynamic BitCoin price graph on its homepage.
These are the things that immediately stick in your user's mind and make your site memorable.
7. Think Beyond Google and Diversify Your Traffic Sources
I have an uncle who thinks Google is actually the internet.
He doesn’t visit any website directly.
He searches the URL on Google and then visits the site from the search results.
Don’t be like him.
The internet is humungous and there are LOTS and LOTS of different traffic sources available.
It’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket anyway so look beyond Google and diversify your traffic sources.
Interestingly, Google also views traffic diversity favorably.
Because it indicates a genuine and natural following. This is why brand searches, direct traffic, social signals and traffic from email lists is so important.
For example, look at the traffic distribution of NichePursuits, a popular brand in the affiliate marketing niche.
It’s a nice mix of direct, referral search and social traffic.
Look at Matthew Woodward’s blog which has more than 60% of its traffic coming from other sources.
How did they diversify so much?
By focusing on the needs of their audience, simple.
When people trust you and find your site genuinely useful, they remember you, visit your blog directly, share your content on social media and subscribe to your email list.
At the core of all of this is one thing: thinking of your audience before Google.
Are You Still Obsessed With Google?
Let me put it this way.
If you want to remain obsessed with SEO, do it the right way.
SEO now means satisfying your audience because that’s what Google wants as well.
Whether you’re creating content, buying a URL, designing a new site or building backlinks, think from your users’ perspective.
If it provides value to your readers, do it.
If it doesn’t, leave it.
Have anything to say about that?
I’ll be waiting for you in the comments section.