243: Best-in-Class Content – Keyword Research, Creating Value, and Authority with Ewen Finser

An image of trophies and the title of the 243rd episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Best-in-Class Content.'

Welcome to episode 243 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Ewen Finser about creating awesome content that search engines and your readers will love.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Kate Ahl talks about using Pinterest in 2020. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Best-in-Class Content 

We hear from a lot of bloggers who are interested in increasing their traffic. And while there’s a ton of information out there about this very topic, today’s podcast episode focuses on a refreshing way to understand search engines and SEO: you want to give the best possible answer to your readers and to search engines. Simple as that.

And that’s exactly what Ewen is here to discuss today.

From organizing content in a logical way that maximizes SEO benefits to understanding the nitty gritty of keyword research, you’ll learn a lot about website structure and optimizing content in this interview. Enjoy!

A quote from Ewen Finser’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'Regardless of where people go to search for content, quality content wants to be surfaced.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How he got into building and growing websites
  • Why he thinks keyword research is so important
  • Why it’s important to understand your readers’ journeys
  • Why he doesn’t do link building
  • What EAT stands for
  • His process for keyword research
  • What interlinking is and why it’s important

Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, or Spotify:

Resources:

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Transcript (click to expand):

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, hi, hello and welcome to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. I’m Alexa and we are so thrilled that you’re here today. We hear from a lot of bloggers who are interested in increasing their traffic. And while there is a ton of information out there about this very topic, today’s podcast episode focuses on a refreshing way to understand search engines and SEO. You want to give the best possible answer to your readers and to search engines. Simple as that. And that’s exactly what Ewen is here to discuss today. From organizing content in a logical way that maximizes SEO benefits to understanding the nitty gritty of keyword research. You’ll learn a lot about website structure and optimizing your content in this interview. So, without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Ewen, welcome to the podcast.

Ewen Finser: Bjork, it’s great to be here. Thanks so much.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I’m excited to talk to you about your story because I kind of know it in bits and pieces. We’ve been to conferences together. It’s overlapped a little bit. And I know that the through line with all of it is people talk about how much they love working with you and how much they appreciate your skills and expertise, which we get to share on the podcast today. But before we get into the nitty gritty, I want to hear your story. What led you to this place where you’re building, growing websites?

Ewen Finser: Yeah. So, in short, desperation. I was, I had kind of followed the traditional path, going to college, getting your degree, and then left, obviously graduated, got a day job. That’s kind of a typical 9:00 to 5:00 in a corporate environment. Kind of quickly realized like so many other people in the space have. That wasn’t for me, wasn’t super happy even though I was doing a good job at it. So, I just started to kind of look around for other opportunities and to kind of back up a few steps. In college, I had dabbled with selling things online, just kind of getting a taste for buying up my roommates’ old textbooks and things like that. Selling them on Amazon and then realizing, “Oh, there’s other things that Amazon does.” And other ways you can kind of leverage that ecosystem, which led me to the Amazon affiliate program.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ewen Finser: And so, I’d kind of thrown together some really, I would say, really poorly designed websites, niche websites back in the day, just kind of hyper-targeted kind of standard. Wouldn’t call them spam because they didn’t have quality content, but they weren’t particularly broad in their focus and-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: … relatively narrow-minded in terms of just focused on making the conversion. And so, did that kind of call for beer money. It’s definitely more than a few hundred dollars a month. And so, I didn’t really treat that as like a serious endeavor, more of a side hobby. But then as I was in my day job, I was like, “Okay, what are the other things that I can do?” And this was like the closest thing I can grasp that would lead to some independence. And so, I just remember, I was living in New Jersey at the time, driving home on the thruway, just kind of sitting in the concrete parking lot being like, “What does this come to?” And then, actually my wife, Marissa, at the time, she was like, “Why don’t you just spend the evenings at a Starbucks?”

Ewen Finser: This was before kids, after we were married, but before kids and everything. And just spend a couple of hours rather than sitting in traffic every day and just work on this. And so that was kind of my permission slip to focus on it. And then I kind of built these sites up and at the time, it was just a handful, one or two. And really just honing in on what products are selling on Amazon. And how can I write product reviews that can then convert our traffic that we get from Google and get the commission. Basically, that was the path. And then I just did a handful of those sites and was able to build them up to a certain level where it was a few thousand dollars a month. It was enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel and be like, “Okay. It’s not replacing my salary, but it’s an exit ramp.”

Ewen Finser: So, I kind of took the plunge. I ended up actually being able to can work remotely from my day job and like work on commission. And it was kind of a great exit ramp. Most people don’t have that. So, I feel very fortunate that I was able to kind of ramp up the online business while I was ramping down on traditional day jobs. So, it wasn’t particularly painful. Although it could have been. So, from there I would say kind of break in my thinking was first is all about independence and lifestyle, kind of lifestyle freedom. Typical lifestyle entrepreneur, just trying to get away from the cubicle control your time. And I did that, right? And I built the business up to a certain point where it was nice.

Ewen Finser: It was a kind of replacement salary, didn’t have to answer to anyone. But then I quickly realized that there’s a bigger opportunity in this space because things were growing. And I felt there’s this window of digital websites, digital assets, we’re kind of growing. Why don’t we actually treat this like a serious business like it deserves? And so, we brought in some outside help in terms of project managers, editors. We start to grow slowly from a handful less than 10. Today we have over a hundred contractors in all sorts of different fields. But I’d say primarily writers and editors and there are not all full-time. They’re in various part-time capacities, but they’re all remote. And that’s kind of where we are today.

Ewen Finser: We’ve kind of built up my main company, which is Venture Forth Media to over 30 different websites. And then in the last two years, oh great, a separate company called Owl Mountain Capital, which is basically trying to do the same thing but with outside capital and trying to both gross fights in mass. And also acquire sites where we can see some sort of opportunity or upside. So that’s kind of where we are today. We have this big investment portfolio or relatively big to most of the people in the space.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: And then my personal company, which has continued to grow and develop.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting to hear you talk about that kind of evolution of the work that you do; because there are certain levels where people continue to build and grow and then other times people are like, “Hey, I feel pretty good at this level.” And that might be as the solopreneur and people really don’t want to make the decision to bring on additional team members. Or they might get to the point where they’ve built their site really well and they say, “Hey, I want to continue to bootstrap it. I don’t want to go towards outside capital and bringing people in.” But you’ve continued to evolve that over time. When you think about kind of your end goal, if there is one, what is it or what is the drive that you have that continues to evolve to the next level?

Ewen Finser: Yeah, I think that’s a very good question. I think the end goal, like we’ve always said at Owl Mountain and kind of the approach I’ve taken is looking at classic investors like Warren Buffett and saying, “Can we build the Berkshire Hathaway of digital assets?” I think that is an ambition that we have in terms of where we want to be. Be able to have a diversified large portfolio of assets that we can kind of creates this flywheel that just continues to grow. And so that’s kind of where we want to end up and move aspirations to get to maybe 50 million in revenue at some point. We’ll see. Know that’s further down the road and another kind of a side benefit would be to create a community of operators.

Ewen Finser: And so, one of the things that I’ve noticed in this space is there a lot of people working in their own silos that aren’t really connected to a larger community. They don’t have support. They don’t have really guidance. It’s kind of Facebook groups ad hoc. And so, one thing we want to do with Owl Mountain is really build a landing place for the best in class operators in whatever digital specialty they have.

Ewen Finser: With the idea being that we can learn from each other, but we can also then create partnerships under the umbrella. That then unlock kind of exponential value. Where I might be an expert with content and affiliate marketing, but what about the guy or the gal who is an expert at FBA, Fulfillment by Amazon, or sourcing products from China. If we can bring those two people together and set the right kind of conditions for success, we think that that’s really where a lot of the value is going to be unlocked in the next five years.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup. This idea of a community element to a job that traditionally would be kind of silo-ed. You’d be by yourself, you’d be working from coffee shops, maybe working from home, but there being value in this exchange that can happen with people who are doing different but similar things. Different maybe in this specific focus, but similar and that in some way, all of those people are building something online. And so, there’s a lot of cross-pollination that can happen where you can share information, can share ideas and that sort of thing.

Ewen Finser: Exactly, and also be incentivized. I think that’s also the key. There are communities out there that exists that are very altruistic, but how do we also strap on like the booster of capital and incentives and aligning structures that make people, not only want to share information, but also be able to kind of prosper together.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. So, I’m sure that people that are listening to this, it’s like, “Wow, that’s awesome. It’s this huge vision. You’ve built it in a relatively short amount of time.” But the reality is, as we said, you had to evolve along the way. And one of the things that we’re going to talk about is some of the, like on the ground, tactical type stuff that you know and understand. But we’re also going to talk about some of that high-level stuff that you’ve had to develop skills and expertise in.

Bjork Ostrom: So if you were to go back and say, when you were early stages in the very beginning and you were doing some of the operating, and you still do some of that now I would assume, but at a higher level. When you’re doing some of that on the ground, early stage web building, web business building, what were you doing in order to learn? And what worked best in those early stages and still works today?

Ewen Finser: Yeah, so speaking very personally to my narrow slice of the universe. The thing that’s always kind of propelled me has been being really good at keyword research and kind of looking at what people are searching for online. And kind of identifying gaps in the market when it comes to particularly to search. And so being able to hone in on that, almost to the exclusion of everything else. So, I would say like the two things we planted our flag very firmly on are identifying these opportunities via keyword research. And then creating best in class content that maybe might not be the best in the world on day one, but eventually gets there.

Ewen Finser: We continually optimize, continuously refining our product, which is content. And so just focusing on those two things. And almost to the exclusion of some other popular tactics like link building. We do some of that now, but that wasn’t really what got us where we are historically. I didn’t do any link building, which in the SEO world, people look at you like you have three heads, like how is that possible? But it is and I think a lot of times there’s this kind of analysis paralysis. There’s so many different things you can do to get traction online that it’s like you tend to go an inch deep, mile wide.

Ewen Finser: Whereas I said, “Listen, it’s keywords and content and it’s affiliate marketing. And those three things I’ve got… We grew to over half a million in revenue by 2017 with my personal portfolio.” And just by falling that simple concept, nothing fancy, no adding on different business models. And so that’s I think been really key is going deep and just kind of forgetting the rest, if that makes sense.

Bjork Ostrom: I love that. And I think one of the things that can often happen in this space is… Especially if you listen to this podcast consistently, people are going to be like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” Because we interview different people and they’ll have this specific skill set and be like, “Oh my gosh, I need to do that.” And then it’s a little bit of a shift and a refocus. And what you’re saying is put your head down, get really good at one specific thing. And we see that often with somebody who’s for instance, really good at YouTube, but they might not be great at Instagram or SEO. Or they probably don’t spend a lot of time paying attention to keyword research, but they’re really good at YouTube.

Bjork Ostrom: So why did you land on that? What was it that brought you to this place where you’re like, “Gosh, search and search engine optimization, and specifically keyword research is the sweet spot for me.”

Ewen Finser: I think some of it that kind of just made sense, like this idea that you want to target people who are kind of further along in the sales funnel. And that’s I guess another part when I say keyword research. We’re very particular about what keywords we target. And while we do eventually cover an entire topic in depth, we’re as primarily review sites. That’s where we started. So, we’re looking at keywords that have the term review and what is the best, best this, best that, this versus that. Versus being the operative term. What are the alternatives to some popular product out there? Things that really pre-qualify and that made a lot of sense to me.

Ewen Finser: Beyond just I’m going to write about something in general. Like I’m going to write about keto without having like an idea of where is that? Where are these visitors coming to me at? What point of the journey are they in? And so that made a lot of intuitive sense. I think I picked it up just by reading blogs, looking at people like Spencer Haws. He was an early kind of evangelist; I think for this approach. Also, people like, Pat Flynn, way in the beginning. Some of his examples of “This is what intent phrases look like.” And I just kind of took that to the extreme. Instead of “Well I’m going to look at all of the intent phrases in this niche. And we’re going to prioritize those phrases above all other kind of topical concepts.”

Ewen Finser: So that just made sense to me. And even today, we look at that like as a term that might show up as being relatively insignificant in terms of the number of people searching for it. But that is super refined in terms of the modifiers it has. That those convert much higher than the generic had terms that everyone is competing on.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, let’s break that down a bit. So essentially what you’re saying, and I think this is a really important concept for people to understand. Because I think for the vast majority of people who listen to this podcast, we think about search optimization around a specific keyword monetized through ads. And what you’re saying is coming at it from the affiliate marketing standpoint, you’re thinking of the buyer journey. And what you’re saying is you want to make sure that those people are further along in the buying journey, because there’s a higher chance that they’re actually going to buy. So, to use a food example, the difference between like how to fix a blender. Like that person isn’t interested in buying, they’re interested in fixing versus best premium blender. Like that person is in the process of searching for something to buy.

Bjork Ostrom: And so what you’re saying is you’ve got really into keyword research around products where people were far along in the buying journey, searching for things like best or top or kind of these keyword phrases that lead you believe they’re going to purchase in a little bit. And then creating content around that. Now one of the things that I feel like is important to point out. As you said, you didn’t do any link building. For those who aren’t familiar with what link-building is. Can you talk about why that is and also why you decided not to do it?

Ewen Finser: Yeah, that’s a good one. I get that frequently. So, link building is basically the concept of artificially, and that’s a kind of a loaded term, generating links from external sources. Because as some of the audience might know, Google looks at links, inbound links, links coming to your site as a signal of how authoritative you might be as a website. And so, there’s a whole industry and whole ecosystem around kind of gaming that system. And if you really go down the rabbit hole, there’s different categories of SEO. One’s called white hat; one’s called gray hat; one’s called black hat. And it’s not entirely clear where the lines are, but basically the white hat would be, “Well, I’m just doing outreach. I’m just reaching out to people in my network or in my niche.”

Ewen Finser: And I’m saying, “Hey, I have this nice blog, can you link to me?” Which a lot of people do naturally. And sometimes you don’t even really think of it as link building. You think of it more as PR. That’s kind of on the white hat side. The gray hat might be more like broken link building where that’s the whole tactic. Where you’re reaching out to blogs where they have broken links you’ve identified. And so, you say, “Hey, can you replace your link with my link?” And then black hat, black’s basically spam. But on the blacker side of gray hat would be paying for links, is a common one. And maybe people in your audience might actually have been approached by other people-

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure.

Ewen Finser: I bet it happens a lot. Happens to me a lot. Although spam emails you get… That’s basically the SEO industry at its worst. And so, the reason I didn’t go down that rabbit hole was because I thought of it as a little bit like alchemy. It’s this thing that works in this little ecosystem called search engine optimization that generally does not have any intrinsic value. I would say if you’re doing PR, yes. PR, like being able to pitch someone for something and do cold outreach, that’s a skill that’s useful. But how to do broken link building or what anchor text is the right distribution. To me, it only makes sense in this context.

Ewen Finser: So, as the game changes, you’re constantly kind of on your back foot, trying to adapt. And if the game changed overnight, people that are primarily SEO-driven in their business model in terms of manipulating link profiles, I think, at a greater risk of being negatively impacted. Whereas, the contrasting to where we focused on, which is identifying market gaps, identifying problems, problem statements, and matching that to quality content, and structuring content that matches that search intent. My bet is that hey, regardless of where people go to search for content, quality content wants to be surfaced. And so, I’d rather bet on that, honing that skill set than honing what I think of is more of an alchemy, like endeavor.

Bjork Ostrom: And there’s something I think to be said about thinking holistically about what a search engine is trying to do. And a search engine is the goal. We’ll use Google as the kind of ultimate search engine. Its goal is to surface the best possible content and you can kind of pick where you want to focus, right? You can pick your focus on trying to surface or trying to create the best possible content, the most helpful content, the most in depth content. Or you can shave off some of that focus and then 50% of your time can be spent thinking about how to get more links and build links to increase your rank. And for some people that will work. But I think what I hear you saying is there’s this reality that for a search engine, it’s always going to be evolving better content.

Bjork Ostrom: And so, as much as possible, if you can focus on creating that good content, then in the long run, you’re going to win out. Maybe not in the short run. There might be some tactics that allow somebody else to show up higher than you. But if you continue to try and understand what does good content look like, then long-term, you’re going to win out. So, for sites that you’re creating, early stages, how do you get links? Or do you not even care? Do you just say people are going to find this? And because it is helpful content, they will either link to it? Or Google just recognize it as quality content and therefore surface at higher.

Ewen Finser: Yeah, I think, well both of those things. So, when we launch our sites, we try to create the best answer for that term or that topic. And that would be our bedding. Just like you said that Google stated goal is that they want to rank quality content. And a lot of the rumors and the messaging that’s coming out from Google is that “You shouldn’t focus on links. You shouldn’t focus on these external factors. Just create this and just create good content and rankings will follow.” You have to take that, I think, with a grain of salt too. But that being said, I’d rather be aligned with their mission statement than misaligned. But yeah, that’s basically how we launch our ground-up sites.

Ewen Finser: We kind of do a spread of maybe 20 to 30 articles to begin with to kind of cover the topical silos, if you will. And we can kind of get into that more if you want, but we create this in-depth content that we believe rank naturally on its own. And yeah, we don’t really worry about links. Links do come naturally. At a certain point, we might layer on some of this PR or like the white hat outreach that I mentioned. I’m very much an evidence-based guy. So, I look at for each site we build, I want to see the response of our quality content. And see response that Google has for quality content and measure that alone first. Because I think another problem, I’ve seen is that there’s kind of all these different signals you’re getting when you’re doing 50 things at once.

Ewen Finser: And so, by focusing on essentialism of we’re just doing quality content, we’re just answering people’s queries, we can then take 10 sites. Let’s say we launched 10 sites in a quarter. We can then kind of comparatively see which ones are actually performing better with very similar inputs before we then try to shift our strategy. Whereas a lot of people launch with the kitchen sink approach, which at the end of the day, it might still work. But you might draw the wrong conclusions about what worked, and in what percentage, what percentage really drove that progress.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, in your case, you’re going through and you’re saying, “Hey, we’re launching 10 sites hypothetical. We’re essentially assigning the same amount of resources to those for time and energy for content creation. Which ones stick and have success and then doubling down on those?” Is that right?

Ewen Finser: Exactly. Then the concept I use is fire bullets and then cannonballs, which is a Jim Collins concept I borrowed. But yeah, that’s essentially it. And how do we kind of boil this down to more of a science and then just kind of yeah, listen to the feedback. Listen to what Google tells us. Not with what some expert has theorized about the right way to do it, but actually what’s working. And I think that also eliminate some of the niche specific issues or headwinds that exist. And probably, some of your audience knows that some of these EAT or health sites and recipe sites are probably rolled up in some of those updates that happened. Where-

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that for those… I’m guessing people kind of are semi-familiar with that, but what is EAT? And it’s a very fitting acronym for food blogging space. Doesn’t really have anything to do with that, but maybe kind of. Can you talk about that?

Ewen Finser: Sure. So, it literally stands for Expertise, Authority and Trust. I think it’s a term that… I don’t know if Google originated, but I think they may have themselves. And they said, “Listen. For certain niches…” And I think that the term that I’ve heard is ‘Your Money or Your Life’. And so, money is like financial bloggers. It’s very relevant to them. Life is like health advice. So, Google is basically saying, “Look, if there’s someone that’s just creating a site. Some cowboy out there that’s creating a site about health, how do we know that their advice is credible?” And back in the day, 5 or 10 years ago, the top search results were littered with examples of questionable advice. That was maybe primarily geared towards pushing someone to of certain product that had questionable science behind it.

Ewen Finser: Same thing with personal finance. So, EAT, I think is very closely related to that Your Money or Your Life, those sites. And I think recipe sites and food bloggers sometimes get wrapped up in that umbrella. And who knows how Google really categorizes it? But there’s definitely a border line that kind of bleeds over I think into anything when you’re talking about nutrition and food. And if you’re more health skewed, it’s probably more relevant. If you’re more on the keto side of things or low carb or anything that’s more diet-focused, you’re probably more into that bucket. But yeah, basically that’s what it is. And I don’t know if there are any other things, we could talk about regarding-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: … how we optimize for it. We can go down that path but let me know.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. But I think the important thing to point out is that, and I think what’s interesting is Google treat these a little bit differently. And so if you are a site that focuses on specific diet and you maybe are making health claims, like the impact that that can have when Google does the doesn’t update is different than maybe somebody who is a family blogger, a mom blogger, a dad blogger. The EAT update would then have an impact in a way where Google would potentially ping your site because of, ping your site meaning like you could lose page use, you could lose rank. Am I summarizing that correctly?

Ewen Finser: Yeah, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Like in the past, Google didn’t really segregate too much between all these different niches, but that’s part of the changes we’ve seen in the last two years. So many updates from Google. And that’s part of it is they’re kind of honing in on what are the niches we need to have a different set of criteria. Basically, different rules, which creates a lot of confusion to be honest.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure. Do you know how Google goes about the process of figuring out, “Hey, is this a credible site or not?” I know that’s a big question and there’s a lot of “It depends” that would go into that.

Ewen Finser: I wish I knew like the inside baseball, like what are they actually thinking? There’s a lot of speculation and I think some of it kind of more grounded than others. And I’ll just offer my speculation, is that one level, it’s fairly simple. It’s like when you go to a site, it’s almost like when you visit a store, like does it appear legitimate?

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ewen Finser: What are the indicators? And so, one of the things that a lot of experts, SEOs have kind of honed in on is the About Us page. And that might be a very tactical thing that people can take away from this. Having an About Us page that is real. That says, “This is who I am” and it’s actually you. It’s not some made up person or some generic kind of royal we and just kind of, “This is our story.” And maybe the About Us page links out to your LinkedIn profile and maybe somewhere else that you’ve been published, New York Times, whatever. And kind of creates this trustworthy picture.

Ewen Finser: So that when you go to that site, you know who runs it, who owns it, what they’re about. And if you have writers, if any of the audience has… They hire some other people to help them, just highlighting their story too. And so, for us, it’s very important because I, personally, don’t write any content anymore for any of our sites. So, we have this large distributed team. And in the past, if an author asked for a credit, I might be like, “Let’s see if you stick around and then we’ll give you credit.” But my take now is “Absolutely.” And if you’ve been published elsewhere, even if it’s at a competitor, we’re going to feature that in your author blurb. And so that’s another, I think tactical takeaway is many people already have this, but just freshening up and making sure it’s relevant and credible.

Ewen Finser: Yeah, maybe it’s an actual headshot in the little About the Author for each article. And I’ve even seen little tactical things like rather than having at the bottom of the page, positioning that like top right or at the beginning of the article. So, before someone starts reading, they know. And probably there’s a gradient curve of like what… If you do some of these things, it’s probably better than doing nothing.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: Privacy policy. If you’re talking about health, having like a health disclaimer on every page that you talk about that. I think is certainly helpful. One thing we’ve done, and this is very tactical, is we’ve brought on actual medical professionals to review our content. And so, we almost have a two-tiered system. We have our author and they’re featured as the author. And then we have a medical reviewer. And so that’s a nurse, licensed nutrition, even a doctor, which results in a higher cost, but for certain contexts, it can be worth it. And so those are just some of the things that we’re doing to kind of optimize for EAT.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. So, one of the things that I want to talk about is… It’s actually two parts. One is keyword research. And you’ve talked about that and I know that’s an area of expertise for you. And then the other part is this idea of optimizing existing content. So, it can rank better, which maybe overlaps a little bit with keyword research, but also is a little bit of a new space. And I’ve heard you talk about that more and more over the past couple of years. And we’ve started to do that more and more with our own content.

Bjork Ostrom: So, let’s focus first on keyword research. There’s a lot of people who are interested in keyword research. They want to do it better. They want to understand it. Knowing that you come from a history and an understanding of keyword research around the product, but as much as possible, let’s bend that towards, let’s say, recipe or food content. How would you go about doing keyword research, including tools and the general process that you’d use for that?

Ewen Finser: Sure. So yeah, I think, again, where I start is thinking big picture about the niche. And depending on where someone is starting when they’re listening to this podcast. It might be a brand-new site. It might be an existing site where they’re looking to expand into kind of a new silo; but I like to get a once over the world view of a particular vertical or a silo or niche before jumping in. And having done this for the past seven years or so. I get a sense of just looking at a dataset and seeing the competition levels, and we can get into that a little bit later, almost instantly like, “Oh, this is a good opportunity relative to all these other opportunities that I’ve seen.”

Ewen Finser: But one way to kind of boil that down to a more of a process-oriented approach would be to basically look at similar silos or similar niches side by side to kind of evaluate where’s the best place to put my next dollar as opposed to, “Oh, I want to talk about this. I’m just going to talk about this.” And a good example might be like if you’re talking about like healthy eating or healthy recipes, this obviously low carb, there’s keto, there’s paleo, there’s a whole FODMAP. There’s all sorts of new trending diets out there. One interesting thing, and people could kind of follow along at home if they wanted to, is to plug into your keyword tool of choice. And I’ll make some recommendations here. The two I would recommend would be Ahrefs, ahrefs.com and then secockpit.com. That’s another keyword research tool I like.

Ewen Finser: And what I like to do is kind of put in the main head term. And it could be in this case, it could be keto, could be low carb, it could be dessert, like if you’re doing dessert recipes. Whatever it is, put in that key term. And then kind of just return all results that have that one word in there or that one word plus an important modifier. So, if it’s a recipe blog, you might want to do keto and recipe. Those are your two terms. What I like about SECockpit and Ahrefs is they both have functionality where you can… It’s basically append, prepend, and add in between words.

Ewen Finser: So, you basically take that, those two words have to be in the search results. And then they can both, Ahrefs and SECockpit, return all the possible variations. And then you can rank order them by highest search volume per month, lowest competition. And generally, what you’re looking for, it’s kind of like an x-, y-axis, is the most volume and the least competition.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: There’s different-

Bjork Ostrom: How do you know what those levels are? Because I think that’s one of the things when you have these tools, it’ll show you relative values. How do you know what a lot is or not a lot is, when it comes to those?

Ewen Finser: Yeah. And it’s a relatively complicated equation, because you have to get back to the intent profiles I talked about. You also have to kind of go back up your funnel and say, “What is the value of a visitor to me?” Like if you have a recipe blog and you have actually like a product you’re selling, knowing your numbers is really helpful because that can change the whole game. If you have the unique product that you’re offering or a service or a subscription. But that being said, kind of in general, if you’re looking at a specific, what they call long tail keyword, which is just three words or more in a phrase.

Ewen Finser: So best keto recipes would be one, which is probably fairly competitive, but like the more the better in general. So, if there’s four words or five words or six words in that phrase in general, those will be both higher intent and lower competition.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: And so, I like those because rather than speaking generally to best keto recipes, which is well someone could be all over the map looking for dessert, breakfast, lunch, dinner. By having those modifiers in there, you can specifically target that person like I was talking about earlier, where they are, where they’re coming to you at. Rather than having to do this additional work or basically, have mismatched intent when people get to your site. In terms of volume, that’s where I come back to looking at comparative niches.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: Because a good example is like look at keto versus paleo right now. What does the term best keto recipes get versus best paleo recipes? And it’s not a perfect scientific experiment; but if you just look at those two, what I call head terms. You can get a good sense of this niche has more volume than this other niche and or has more or less competition in their niche. And that’s where I get… Like being able to do like more apples to apples comparisons, I think is super helpful, because otherwise you can be so lost in your own funnel. That you’re kind of missing the bigger picture. You’re missing this bigger trend that’s happening right around you. So that’s in general and some rules of thumb might be for a best modifier, best x, y, z recipe.

Ewen Finser: A few thousand searches per month would be attractive. That has a competition level. And this is again a loaded term, because different tools use different metrics. But generally, like under 30 in SECockpit or under 20 in SECockpit, and Ahrefs is probably like under 10 on their keyword difficulty score. Those to me kind of meet my criteria. But then if you go down the long tail rabbit hole, sometimes we even publish content that only gets 100 searches per month, but that’s hyper-focused and hyper-relevant to our niche.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So, and it’s interesting. It brings up an interesting different area to focus on than I think at least for the people who listen to this podcast that do recipe content. Because usually we think about just the recipe itself. So like chocolate chip cookies as an easy example. But you’re saying is there’s also these identifiers that you can include within your keywords. And you can have that be kind of a holistic catchall. So, an example would be, like you said, best dessert recipes. So, I think a takeaway for people listening to podcasts is don’t just think about the recipe itself, but also think about the modifiers that you could include and the content that you could create around that. And it might not actually be a recipe itself, it might be some type of round-up, additional content.

Bjork Ostrom: I think there’s a ton of opportunity in our space because there’s less people doing that type of content. And it’s also maybe refreshing for content creators to create something that isn’t another recipe. But how about for just a standard recipe? Let’s say you were creating a chicken salad. And you wanted to see, should I be creating this versus a pasta salad recipe. Obviously, those are two really competitive keywords in the recipe niche. But what does that look like if you don’t have any modifiers? And you’re just kind of honing in on this is specific to the niche of food and recipe, but what does that look like? And how do you compare and contrast those?

Ewen Finser: Yeah, those two things I’d say in this example. One is kind of do the similar, even if it’s not a long tail phrase. It’s just pasta recipes or chicken recipes. Still pop them in the tool and see comparatively like how many more people are searching for chicken versus pasta.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: You might still do both, but you might just do that chicken one first, because it gets more volume and it’s lower competition. But I think that and another thing I look at is when you’re actually structuring your recipe content. Looking at kind of some ancillary keywords that you might be able to include. And so again, I’m not an expert, not a food blogger.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, yup.

Ewen Finser: I might think of like dietary restrictions, like in your pasta recipe, your chicken recipe, chicken salad. Being like, “Well here’s an option for meatless.” And maybe you can have an existing as a separate post, but maybe it’s included. It’s like, “You can substitute this.” And thinking about it from that, getting really down in that buyer’s or that visitor’s mindset of how can we add some, what basically amounts to h2 tags or some different terms in there.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And it’s interesting. So, for those who aren’t familiar, h2 tags being… If you’re in WordPress, you can say, this is h1, h2, h3, the type of header. And h2 being usually the type of header that you’d use when you’re creating a post content to kind of organize your post. But it’s interesting even to think about those modifiers that you said. In your world, it’s like best or top. In the recipe world, it would be like vegan or keto or easy. Like a freezer meal would be an example. So, you can create these kind of longer tail keywords and focus in on a more specific subset of that broader keyword.

Bjork Ostrom: At what point would you start to broaden that out and say, “Hey, I’m actually going to go after these really big keywords versus early stages.” My guess is you want to find the keywords that are a little bit longer tail, maybe don’t have as much search volume, but you can kind of focus in on a specific niche for that. And maybe get a little bit earlier traction even if the numbers aren’t as high.

Ewen Finser: Yeah. So back in the day I had notoriously chased these long tail phrases, almost to a fault where I’d ended up with a site that was just like targeting obscure phrases-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: … but not talking about like the main thing like best blender. We’re talking about like best blender for women over 50 like trying to lose weight. Where you get to the point like the whole site is just a bunch of these weird offshoots. And so, my thinking now is that you kind of have to attack it. I attack it from both angles of you want to create a landing page like with the big competitive, super hard to reach keyword. And have that as maybe you’re in your navigation as the place that you click on the menu, that’s where people go. And the nice thing about recipes, a really good way to do that is to just have your roundups be that page.

Ewen Finser: So, your best keto recipes is just kind of a narrative, kind of introducing keto, and then talking about all of the different recipes. Kind of separating them out, organizing it for the reader. Then kind of going high and going low at the same time. Instead of going after those really long tail phrases, then making sure they have a link from that main round-up that’s prominently featured in the header. So, what ends up happening over time is that you get a lot of traffic. You kind of snipe these low-hanging keywords. You can be surprised by what traffic you actually do get. Maybe that keyword tools are notoriously inaccurate. Even though they are more accurate than just kind of putting your finger to the wind.

Ewen Finser: Sometimes you stumble on a really nice pocket that maybe no one else knows about. But yeah, I tried to do both. I try to build these… And so eventually over time, you end up ranking for that big head term. Your site is known for, “Oh, this is the key to recipe site.” But I try to do that. It’s kind of this two-pronged approach going high, going low with phrases.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting, I feel like that’s a shift that’s taken place over the past five years. And is now solidly settled into this belief that you don’t actually just focus on one specific keyword. We talk about keywords, but essentially, you focus on kind of a general category that you’re focusing on. Knowing that, within that general category, there’s going to be lots of really specific keywords that might bring people to that post.

Bjork Ostrom: So, you would use the example before maybe including… If it’s not a vegan recipe, having an h2 that says like vegan options or vegan substitutes or something like that. And then laying that out for this specific recipe, here’s how you can make it vegan. And that potentially might bring people who are using a long tail keyword to that post. Even though it’s a section of the post versus you focusing in on that for the entire thing. Did I recap that right? Would you say that’s kind of generally how you’re looking at things?

Ewen Finser: Absolutely. The one thing I would add that maybe it’s inferred, but not explicit, is interlinking. That’s another huge thing. Like a lot of in my experience, where I started with, oh, just put the related WordPress posts in and that’s it. And I think that does a good base layer. But I think there are so many examples that I have of sites with very low “authority”. And if you looked it up in a tool, it would have a very low authority. But because we’re hyper-focused, our silos are very tight. They’re very organized and everything is interlinked almost like… Imagine Wikipedia is linked, right? Or it is linked in this kind of web of related content that a relevant…

Ewen Finser: When you mentioned an oblique reference to as another concept you’ve already discussed. link out to that. And it doesn’t have to be a strict silo. I’m not very strict when it comes to cross-linking. And I don’t want you to get too far down the rabbit hole but-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: … the main takeaway is interlinking your content. Link up to your big hub article, link down from your big hub article to your children, if you will.

Bjork Ostrom: And when you say silos, can you just talk about generally what you mean when you’re referring to that? And why it’s important to think about the silos that you have on a site?

Ewen Finser: Yeah, for sure. So, silos are basically… You could think of it in different ways. My concept of how Google works, which has been confirmed by a few different people’s, not verbatim. But they look at the map of information that exists on the web and they put it into buckets. And so, what I’m trying to do when we’re building sites is mirror that. Essentially, how do we organize this content in a logical way that also maximizes the SEO benefits. It’s like I said, having a good head term in your menu structure, a landing page for people to actually go to. Because of where it is in the navigation, it’s going to get a lot of links naturally. Having it actually be a meaningful keyword. That’s one mistake I frequently see. Maybe just like News or something or The Latest.

Ewen Finser: Like why not make that landing page rather than a generic blog roll that WordPress kind of pushes you in. Actually, make that a page that is content rich. And yeah, I guess that’s where I’d start with the silos. Just thinking about it in terms of what’s the container for this subtopic. I guess the best way to do it would be to use an example of, for keto or maybe even broader. For recipes, you might have keto recipes, paleo recipes, low carb recipes, vegan recipes, gluten free recipes. And if you’re broadly targeting recipes as a whole, that might be your separate menus in WordPress. It pushes you into categories which makes sense. Categories are those subtopics of your site.

Ewen Finser: And I think again, one of the common mistakes I’ve seen is just kind of willy nilly adding categories or tags, whenever it kind of suits you in the moment. Like, “Oh, I’ll just tag this with a million things. I’ll create like a tag cloud.” That’s another thing. And in reality, that’s kind of spreading your authority and your relevance in not very helpful ways. You want to kind of treat where you placed links and how you prioritize things in your menu almost with a surgeon’s like precision. So that everything is intentional. Actually, good tool, this might be very down in the weeds, but if someone wants to get a sense of what this looks like, if they’re a visual person. Sitebulb is a tool that has what’s called a crawl map. That’s one of their features among other things.

Ewen Finser: And you kind of see it’s like the spider web of hubs and wheels of content. So, you have, this is your homepage, this is how many links come off of your homepage. These are the subpages. This is how many Linux come off of them. And what you generally want, the kind of rule of thumb, is trying to three layers deep is what you want to shoot for. Maybe four layers if you’re massive site. But a lot of sites out there are five, six, seven, eight layers deep. You have these like random recipes you might have blogged about years ago. That you didn’t really think about where to put them in the container and the category structure. They’re kind of just floating and maybe that’s why they’re not ranking.

Ewen Finser: So that’s like one optimization strategy. But that’s kind of how I think about it as the content clusters. There’s a lot of terms I’m using interchangeably, but hopefully-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Ewen Finser: … you can picture.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so an example being I can look at Pinch of Yum and think of ways that we could really be doing a better job of this. Where we have these categories and you can go to recipes and then we have healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert. Within each one of those like healthy, we have gluten free, super foods, sugar-free, vegan, lightened up. What you’re saying is we could have a recipes catchall category. We could also probably have a healthy category and then maybe we could have a gluten free category. But if it gets too far down the line, that’s going to be too many. So, we need to have these general catchall places and we can actually create a post on that.

Bjork Ostrom: So, we should have a way where you can go to pinchofyum.com/recipes/glutenfree and go to a page where it’s like, hey, these are all of the gluten free recipes. And we should treat that as a page that we optimize and can rank for. We’re not doing a great job of that. So, this is self-advice for us. As we think about how we can structure and organize our content, it’s not just the singular content that you’re publishing. What I hear you saying is it’s also how you organize that content. And to rewind back to the question, that’s because search engines will look and say like, “What is the general category of this?” “What is the silo of content here?” And you can become authoritative in a silo as well. That’s kind of what I hear you saying. Is that right?

Ewen Finser: That’s exactly right.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So, a great takeaway and a great consideration for people to think about. It’s not just the individual post, it’s also how you’re organizing that and optimizing around it. As we’re coming to the end here, there’s one more question kind of area that I want to ask you a little bit about. And that is re-publishing older content. It’s something that you are an expert at and have done really well. We hear people talking about that in our niche a lot, what advice would you give for people who want to go in and update an older piece of content in order to rank higher for that?

Ewen Finser: Yes, so the first thing I would say is that this has been a big shift in the last year and a half, two years for me and for our team. We have really prioritized looking at our existing content at the expense of even publishing new content. And I think this is like a big shift that we’ve had. I think it’s a big shift that I think it’s relevant to so many people in your space around, like in any niche. Treating your content as if it’s living and breathing. It’s not you’ve published it once and you forget about it and you know why. And then a lot of the groups I see, like in the Mediavine group or AdThrive group, which I’m a part of. You see a lot of posts like “My traffic is declining, like I don’t know what’s happening.”

Ewen Finser: As soon as I look at these sites and I see that, oh, they haven’t been updated in three years or two years. A lot of their big head terms. The approach I take is I look at each of our sites, we kind of have our big terms that get us maybe our top 10 topics, keywords, pages. Those are updated almost monthly because think about it, those are your best sellers. Those are your winners. And you kind of want to play defense, expand them, make them as useful as possible. And just continually revisit them because that’s what’s paying your bills right now. And then I kind of look at a second tier of here are some articles or keywords we’re ranking for. Where we are within striking distance of a top position, but we’re not currently there.

Ewen Finser: So, these would be anywhere from basically anywhere outside of position 1. So, position 2 through 14, 15, you can even go to the bottom of the second page. Basically say, “Look. With a little bit of elbow grease, we could probably get this topic, this page ranked higher. This recipe ranked higher.” Because Google’s already said, “Hey, you’re in the right ballpark. You’re not out of the index. You’re not buried on page five.” So, focusing efforts on there where you have an opening, you see the light at the end of the tunnel, in some cases be a lot higher ROI than just blasting off new content into the void. And there’s a lot of math that goes into that. Like how we approach it, we look at what is the ROI of new content.

Ewen Finser: And for us, that’s the visitor value and all those things. But also, how quickly does our site or does this one particular site rank new content versus how does it respond to content updates. And really getting a sense of how does your site behave, I think is helpful as just a starter. Maybe that’s just doing a sample of us drop five new articles and see does it take a week to rank? Does it take three days to rank? Then you can get a sense of how quickly you can get kind of get your money back when publishing new content. If you don’t have a very quick ROI, I would say definitely focus on building up that existing library, like optimizing your current content.

Ewen Finser: And so that’s been a big shift in my thinking. And in general, the cost update a piece of content is a lot lower than to publish. Whether you’re doing it on your own I think or paying for someone to do it. It takes a lot of time to get that new post out. It doesn’t take a lot of time to update your title and add a new section that’s relevant or something like that or add some links, interlinking your content.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That was actually going to be one of the things I was going to ask you about. So, when you say elbow grease, what does elbow grease look like in the actual process of updating content?

Ewen Finser: So, I would say you have your toolkit, I have my toolkit. And it’s a little bit different for different people, different niches. For some, like I’m just getting into Pinterest. I know probably in your space; Pinterest is where most people might’ve started. But kind of thinking about you might have your image optimization, you’re put a nice Pinterest-friendly, SEO-friendly image that has the alt text of your target keyword. You might go in and look at the title tag optimization and making sure that it has a relevant call to action. One thing that is working is updating dates. It’s important to actually update the content, but saying, “These are the best keto recipes for 2020.” as opposed to just “Best keto recipes” So very tactically republishing content can actually have a lot of positive results by basically-

Bjork Ostrom: You know why that is? What it is about republishing a content? Let’s say it’s a post in two years ago. You update it, you update the date. So, then it shows up as a new post. What is it about that showing up as a new post that helps to increase the rank in search?

Ewen Finser: I think there’s two things, depending on if… Most people are using WordPress. I think one of the benefits is that resurfaces that post to the front of your blog roll or even if you have a category structure to the front of that category, which has some benefits. It kind of resurfaces it. The other benefit I think is that in many niches, and I think an increasing number of niches, Google has what’s called like a freshness algorithm. So, they want to make sure that in certain niches they’re serving fresh content. If you’re talking about software as an extreme example and your article is published in 2011, that’s useless. Like so much has changed. Or if you’re talking about what’s the best laptop, you need to update that at a pretty frequent basis to stay ahead of where that technology is going.

Ewen Finser: I think with recipes too. I mean, maybe not to the same extent. I think there’s multiple benefits, like I said, resurfacing it on your site. If you have a really good social distribution too, like integrations with… Like some people use CoSchedule and MeetEdgar and all these tools. It also can kind of blast it back out to your audience. Particularly if it’s an article that’s done well in the past. Recipes that’s done well in the past. That can be a super nice evergreen kind of automation that you kind of, every month, every quarter, you go back, and you update that article and you push it back out to your email list. And so that gets more eyeballs and then that gets shared. And there’s all sorts of ancillary benefits to that. So that’s, I guess, a long way of answering your question.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, no. That’s great. Yeah, and that’s awesome. And it’s one of the things that combination, the idea of keyword research and kind of going through a process to understand what it is you’re after. But then also not just new content but thinking about that old content and how do you keep that updated where two things that I want to hit. Ewen, I could talk to you for another two hours, but I know that we slotted an hour and I want to be respectful of your time. I know that a lot of people will have additional follow-ups, they’ll have questions. The thing that is so great about interviewing you is it’s kind of out of the kindness of your heart that you’re doing this.

Bjork Ostrom: You don’t have a course to sell, you don’t have a product, but you are out there online. People can connect with you and would love for you to share a little bit about what you’re up to. If people want to work with you, if that’s a thing even. What does it look like to connect with you if people want to continue the conversation after this podcast?

Ewen Finser: Yes, I would say that there’s two good ways to connect with me. I’d say if you’re kind of personally looking for some advice, connect with me on LinkedIn is great. Let me just make sure I have that. Probably put that in show notes, but-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, we’ll make sure the link to that. Yup.

Ewen Finser: Relatively unique name. I think there’s only one of me out there. So, you can find me that way. Just reach out to me and start a dialogue. That way if you’re looking at another, for Owl Mountain, an interesting kind of thing that we’re doing is we do have an acquisition kind of pipeline. And so, we do look at occasionally picking up sites, particularly in the recipe space. We have a kind of a footprint there. So yeah, if you’re looking at evaluation or trying to think about selling, reach out. I can’t guarantee you anything but the very least I’ll offer some advice and point you in the right direction. And that’s just ewen, [email protected] And that’s a good way to get in contact with me. If you’re interested in considering selling or just to have some questions about selling, I’m happy to connect that way.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Really fun to connect here a little bit more about your story, Ewen. And to hear some advice that you have. I know that we will be applying it as well, which are always my favorite podcast to do. Because we can share these with the world and also, we can share it with our team and move forward on it as well. So, thanks so much for coming on the podcast.

Ewen Finser: Oh, thanks so much, Bjork. I love what you’re doing and really appreciate it. Great questions by the way. Really felt like you pulled out the right information.

Bjork Ostrom: Great, awesome. Thanks, Ewen.

Alexa Peduzzi: And that’s a wrap, my friend. Thank you so much for tuning into the podcast this week. We hope you enjoyed this interview with Ewen and have some takeaways from his advice. I know I did, but one thing I wanted to mention here before we officially wrap up this episode is actually calling out one of the things he mentioned near the end of the interview. And that was treating your content like it’s living and breathing and republishing old content. It’s actually perfect timing to talk about that because we’re actually publishing a brand-new course on Food Blogger Pro this Thursday, All About Republishing Content.

Alexa Peduzzi: This course covers why you might want to update and republish your old posts, how to identify the best posts to update, what you should update in each post, and how to use popular tools to update older posts. Plus, you’ll get access to a republishing checklist that you can download and use as you’re working through updating your old content. Jenna, who works on the Pinch of Yum team, actually made this course for us. And I feel like every time she makes any kind of content for us; she always answers every question I have about that topic. And this course is no exception. Like always, all Food Blogger Pro members will get access to this course on Thursday.

Alexa Peduzzi: And if you’re not a member, but you’re interested in checking out this course, you can learn more about Food Blogger Pro and become a member at foodbloggerpro.com. All right. That’s all from us. Officially signing off until next time, which will be next Tuesday. But until then, my friend, make it a great week.

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2 Comments

  1. So interesting to hear this story of growth and success. Will listen again to capture key ideas to apply to my organization
    Thank you!