‘Don’t ignore zero-volume KWs’: SEO Chat with Sara Taher

SEO Chat with Sara Taher

Here’s an interview with Sara Taher, a Search Engine Journal author, a consultant, with over 8 years of experience in helping companies scale using SEO. Sara is a SEO influencer on LinkedIn and known for her actionable tips and ‘riddles’, that has got close to 10,000 followers on the social platform.

List of topics discussed

In-House vs Agency vs Consultant SEO Roles

Which industry is hardest for SEO?

New Google SEO Certification

KW Volume and Difficulty

SEO Audit process

WordPress CMS vs Competitors

SEO plans for 2022

Introduction

Sriram: Hey Sarah, hope you’re doing well.

Sara Taher: Hi, how are you?

Sriram: I’m doing great! Thanks for accepting the invite. I know it was short notice, and you’re pretty slammed with work as well, so I’m glad that we made some time this Saturday.

Sriram: You post SEO riddles, insights and get a lot of engagement [on LinkedIn]. What do you think that makes people resonate with your content? Also, if you can just talk about your journey to becoming an SEO professional.

Sara Taher: I’ve been doing SEO for eight years. I started when I launched an online magazine for women, and I was managing a team of editors. I’m like, “Okay, how can we make more people read it, and then I took it, and this is where I stumbled upon SEO when I started to take courses. I started to experiment with it and took it from zero to 90,000 visitors per month.”  And then um so I got hooked. I liked it so much and then from there, I, you know, moved on to another project at that tech startup and I was working with a team of developers in Ukraine. That’s how it all began.

In-house vs agency vs consultant SEO roles

For anyone looking to start their career in SEO, they will need to launch their own thing [website] and there’s no work around it.

Sriram: You’ve been with PDFtron as an SEO manager, which is an in-house role. I wanted to understand the tactics used based on the roles – be it in-house, agency and consultant SEO. For someone who’s just starting into SEO, what would you suggest to them or advice about the roles that they can go after.

Sara Taher: So, first of all, having experienced both in house and an agency and even as a freelancer, I did not say ‘no’ to any opportunity. There were weeks where I worked 60 hours. Working full time in-house and I also worked as a freelancer for an SEO agency. Can you imagine doing that? 

When you work with an agency you learn how others are doing SEO as well, and you see if that’s working. For anyone looking to start their career in SEO, they will need to launch their own thing [website] and there’s no work around it. The best solution for them is to build a small website and test it out. They can start out using a CMS, like WordPress.

Coming back to the difference between the roles, there are limitations to how much you can focus on one single client right? 

When you talk about in-house SEO, you have more opportunity to go in depth and spend time looking at the tiny details. In terms of learning SEO, both are very enriching experiences. Working as a consultant is different.  You are your own boss, you call the shots. 

Sriram: I should add that having a personal website also gives you the liberty to make mistakes and experiment.

Sara Taher: That’s important, yeah you got it. You have to be able to make mistakes and learn from them.

Which industry is hardest for SEO?

One of the biggest challenges I see is communication. 

Sriram: What are the toughest industries to work with, from an SEO standpoint?

Sara Taher: In B2C specific industries, like if you’re going into something like dieting or e-commerce or fashion. These are very, very competitive. Some industries, naturally, are more competitive than others.

I’ve actually had a client recently reach out from the beauty industry.  They had SEOs telling them “no way it’s impossible for you to rank for the keywords you want to rank.”  When I looked at the data, I was surprised because the website had a very strong brand. They were ranking for some of the keywords they’re targeting – and were already on the second page.

There are a lot of factors. For example: Where do you have your website? Are you starting from scratch? How strong are your competitors?  

There are definitely some industries that are harder than others, and they require longer time and more effort. But it’s just the way you approach it. You also need to be transparent with your client and tell them the situation. One of the biggest challenges I see is communication. 

New Google SEO Certification

A magician would never reveal their secrets, right? 

Sriram: I’m sure you have noticed the new SEO certification that Google rolled out. Initially, I think one of the courses had mentioned something about keyword density as a ranking factor for content. But Google retracted that one quickly. So, I guess, there was some kind of misalignment between the people who wrote the course and the search team? Any thoughts on that?

Sara Taher: I wouldn’t say it’s positive and they retracted which is great. A lot of people are not really happy about Google launching an SEO course because of these things because these things can potentially change the way the internet functions. Everyone is going to say “I took the Google course”. 

In general, there is no right way to add keywords. It has to be natural. I tell my copywriters to make it [the copy] relevant to the end user. You just need to make sure it looks natural. Spam may turn people off, but you still need to tell copywriters that they need to have keywords. 

A magician would never reveal their secrets, right? 

SEO Audit process

Google Search Console is where every SEO should live.

Sriram: Is there any process that you follow while doing an SEO audit? 

Sara Taher: In general, before doing anything I need to look at the [Google] Search Console. I need to look at the rankings for the pages to see which ones are important. 

You know go into details of each page and use Google Analytics to see how people are engaging with the page. What pages have the potential to be optimized. 

Once I come up with the top 10 pages, I go to the search console and go page by page to see what they’re ranking for. Sometimes you’d be surprised that pages are ranking for totally irrelevant terms that are not valuable at all.

So [when] you start to optimize that, you may actually see a decrease in traffic in the beginning, because they were ranking for something that’s irrelevant.

Sometimes the pages are ranking for the right keywords but not ranking well. They might be in the second or third pages. You look at the keywords that have the highest potential and most relevant – and start optimizing the page for them.

Sara Taher: So Google Search Console is where every SEO needs to live. I’ve seen SEOs focus more on Google Analytics, which is fine. They need to look at the data there, but the thing that you have to look at every single day, or spend a lot of a lot of time on is Google Search Console. 

Sriram: Let me just interject there, I know, Search Console is based on factual data. I do know a lot of SEOs starting their audit with third-party tools, like AHrefs or SEMRush, which are more predictive than a reflection of what the actual numbers are. It’s always better to start with what the gathered data, right?

Sara Taher: Exactly! This is the most valuable data you’re got. It’s your website’s data and it’s so relevant. Why would I go and look for any data on the third party tool?

I would still go there to see other opportunities, like what KWs are we missing out on or what competitors are doing. 

KW Volume and Difficulty

I’ve seen SEOs ignore keywords if they have zero search volume. Don’t do that!

Sara Taher: And then there are a lot of considerations you need to take into account when using third-party tools. First is the keyword volume. There might be discrepancies in search volume between these platforms.

So it’s just a very high-level estimate of data. I’ve seen SEOs ignore keywords if they have zero search volume. Don’t do that!

We need to have an understanding of the search intent and be able to judge if these zero search volume-KWs are valuable or not. Else, you’re going to be missing out on a lot of opportunities.  

Search volumes are good if you’re trying to explain SEO and or communicating to stakeholders who have no idea about these nuances.

So you could use search volumes to forecast or make calculations. You will need to clarify to them that these are high-level estimates but don’t make solid decisions based on these numbers.

Also read: SEO Myths Debunked by Google’s John Mueller

Using AI content for SEO

I’m not against it hundred percent, but I would say don’t use it unless you, you know you have to. 

Sriram: Have you experimented with AI-generated content and seen any experiments to show that such content rank well?

Sara Taher: The only experience I had with this is trying to get the outlines. I’ve actually had a discussion with other fellow SEOs about it just thinking about the mindset that goes behind it. It is just an AI that is basically rewriting the information that is out there right.

For a specific topic, like – if you’re looking how to lose weight in like 60 days, for example, what’s it going to do is search for it in a way or another, and just rewrite the information that’s out there.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing different words.

That’s basically what it is doing.

There are some people who have been ranking well with that, but Google is against AI-generated content that doesn’t add value. If you’re actually trying to provide unique content, you need to have something new that is not there in the other [search] results.

Like a quote from someone or an infographic or a different opinion. I do see why people use AI because writing content is expensive and it’s slow as well, and they want to scale it fast.

I’m not against it hundred percent, but I would say don’t use it unless you know you have to. 

Should content writers be subject matter experts?

Google is really sensitive to two industries and may hold their content a higher standard.

Sriram: Copywriters might not be subject matter experts. [For quality content] you need to hire subject matter experts right who happen [to] write [well], as opposed to people who can write and then can do research about it. 

Sriram: I know it’s a mix of both. It’s a lot costlier to hire someone [who is a subject matter expert]. It’s also difficult to hire someone who is a subject matter expert and who coherently puts all of those things into text.

How do you go about selecting them?

Sara Taher: Yeah, so there are two industries that Google is very sensitive to –  your money, your life – types.  Industries that could impact your life, like in terms of health, money, etc. Google is really sensitive to those and may hold their content a higher standard.

You need to identify which industry you’re in and then if you’re in one of those two industries, there is no work around trying to get the best of the relevant copywriters. Some people hire any generic writer to [do the initial draft]. Then they hire reviewers from the industry to add more weight to it [the content].

It seems a good approach, some people try to work around this by accepting guest posts right for no charge from experts.

Getting pages to index on Google

Google values links that get clicked.

Sriram: Another question that I was having was about content, not getting indexed. They’re discovered, but not indexed. I know you had a couple of posts on LinkedIn regarding this as well.

There have been instances when a piece of content got discovered and it stayed on like that for a couple of months without getting indexed. How can we really shorten that time?  

Sara Taher: Google has recently been slower to index all pages. But there are few factors that we can control. We can try to help you know, to speed things up and first of all make sure that because I’ve seen pages that are not indexed yet.

Sara Taher: I would check if we have blocked anything [from crawlers] accidentally as well. Check robots.txt, don’t have a no-index tag on the page.

Have proper internal linking in place. Make sure that you follow all the usual processes and then one way to speed up things as well is sharing it on social media. There are some theories about social signals and I do believe in that. 

Sara Taher: [When] the page is getting engagement, [it sends the right signal]. Google values links that get clicked.

WordPress CMS vs Competitors

I am pretty neutral in terms of SEO.

Sriram: Recently there was a report that mentioned that the market share of WordPress is likely shrinking. Wix, Squarespace have increased their share slightly. 

What CMS would you recommend to new users?

Sara Taher: I would choose WordPress. It’s the one with a lot of resources to help you with.

Sara Taher: It depends on their technical abilities and the business size as well.  If someone who’s starting from scratch, and has no idea how things work, then definitely Squarespace or Wix would be a good place to start. Even Shopify as well.

Sara Taher: I am pretty neutral in terms of SEO. I wouldn’t say the differences are huge between them. It’s better to stay safe and go choose something that has a lot of resources, like Shopify and WordPress. They have tons of resources and experts.

SEO plans for 2022

I’m trying to work on CTR (click through rate) improvements.

Sriram: I’m sure you might be running a few SEO experiments on the side and have some goals that you want to accomplish by the end of this year. Could you share them with us?

Sara Taher: I’m trying to work on CTR (click through rate) improvements. I have a strong brand on LinkedIn but I’m looking forward to making it even stronger and contributing more to the SEO community. 


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Thanks for reading.
Cheers!
Sriram

One thought on “‘Don’t ignore zero-volume KWs’: SEO Chat with Sara Taher

  1. Wow It’s really such a useful and informative interview.
    Thanks for sharing their thoughs with us.

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