Winning With Quality Content – Lessons from Dotdash

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Dotdash Brands Dominate the SERP in Nine Areas

If you’re in content marketing and have a handle on your SERP competitors, you undoubtedly know of Dotdash or are familiar with their individual brands – Verywell (health), The Spruce (home), The Balance (personal finance), Investopedia (more complex financial issues), Lifewire (tech), Byrdie (beauty), TripSavvy (travel), Thought Co. (lifelong learning), and MyDomaine (lifestyle for women). As far as the SERP is concerned, they dominate every vertical in which they have a presence. If you’re trying to get Google to notice you with expert content, Dotdash is a force to be reckoned with.

Listen to an Interview with Neil Vogel, CEO of Dotdash Publishing

If you’re a fan of the NPR podcast, “How I Built This,” or the YouTube video series “Company Man,” and have a particular interest in digital and media, you’ll also appreciate Recode Media, a podcast hosted by Peter Kafka.

I learned about the podcast via a recommendation in Morning Brew (an awesome business e-newsletter), and a quick scan of recent episodes turned up a real gem – a lengthy segment with Neil Vogel, CEO of Dotdash Publishing, Digiday’s Publisher of the Year in 2018. You can listen to the episode on Spotify or at Recode.net, or read on for highlights.

Remember About.com?

Anyone with tenure in digital and search will also be familiar with the website that spawned the Dotdash brands – search-based About.com. In its heyday, About.com was the first place to turn for quick answers and solutions to common questions and problems. “About.com was a top 10 site on the internet,” said Vogel, “the everything to everyone place. At some point it probably had a hundred million people a month using it.”

By 2013 however, the internet started to change, and websites became much more specific. If you needed to diagnose a pain or treat a sprain, you now could turn to WebMD or Healthline. If you wanted to make a fabulous cheese soufflé or a fancy dessert, you had your pick of dozens of recipe sites like Epicurious, Saveur, and AllRecipes. Although 50 million people were still using About.com each month in 2013, the site was aging out. Traffic was going down and advertisers were losing interest. Vogel and his team realized they needed to make a fundamental change – that one website couldn’t be everything to everyone any longer. Their main asset – content – was also their main problem. There was too much content, and it was much too old.

Expertise, Authority, and Trust Rule the Dotdash Content Philosophy

The Dotdash team developed a new plan for success. “We are going to make content that has value, that helps people,” said Vogel. “What gives people value? Comprehensive answers to their questions. People who consume content want expertise. Everything is about trust.”

They trimmed their content library from 1.2 million pieces of material to 300,000; they analyzed the search landscape to determine where they already had a presence – health, personal finance, tech, travel, home, and food – and decided to focus their efforts in those verticals by paying expert writers to produce “evergreen, explainer, service content.” They weren’t interested in publishing breaking news or “perishable” content, rather focusing their effort on content that would provide value for 3 months to 3 years.

“Users have to trust you, brands have to trust you, algorithms have to trust you. If you try to be all things to all people or algorithms, they can’t figure out that you’re good / knowledgeable / trustworthy at all those things,” said Vogel. “When you have the most comprehensive articles with more videos, more graphics, written more frequently by a terrific author, they recognize that and reward you for it.”

Don’t Ignore Technical SEO if You Want Your Content to Be Seen

On the tech side, the Dotdash team worked hard to properly redirect the search engines to content they had decided to keep. They made certain that the new brand sites were fast – providing a great user experience – and they made a conscious decision to display fewer ads per page than competitors. Visit any one of the Dotdash sites and you’re likely to find exactly what you need – very quickly – and helpful links to additional information if you’d like to learn more.

Serving the “Intent-Based Audience”

Dotdash sites strive to serve what Vogel calls an “intent based audience – people who want to make something, do something, diagnose something.” All content is updated at least annually; the most popular topics are updated each month. Across the Dotdash brands, between 3,000–4,000 videos (with no pre-rolls) are produced each year. The brand teams supplement text-based content with relevant images, charts, tools, and animation to provide additional information and value to searchers.

Vogel stated what most SEOs know and live by – in organic results, Google simply wants to provide the best answer in response to a query. If it’s easily answered, they’ll do it themselves to keep the searcher in the SERP. “It’s dangerous to ‘guess’ at what Google wants,” advised Vogel. “Look at your content, look at all other content that’s about the same thing, and if yours isn’t better, it’s not going to win. Spend time on making content great, easy to use, easy to consume. There’s always a way to win with content.”

What Marketers Can Learn from Dotdash’s Success:

  • Focus on what you do best; don’t try to be everything to everyone to generate traffic.
  • Don’t skimp on introductory content, especially if your business is health or finance. Provide answers to the most basic questions searchers might have about your product or service.
  • Utilize the expert voices at your disposal. Subject matter expertise is what that intent-based audience is looking for.
  • Catalog your content. If it’s old and bad, get rid of it. More is not necessarily better.
  • Refresh your content regularly. Depending on the topic or your industry, you may need to refresh content monthly; in most cases, a yearly review will suffice.
  • Check your site speed. Slow sites simply cannot compete when someone needs information fast.
  • Use a mix of text, video, images, and other assets to provide the most comprehensive answers to your intent-based audience.

Image Source: Unsplash

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