It is not aways worth it to compete for keywords.


In this episode, Brad breaks the reason why as well as the needed steps to take before tackling competitive research.

In other words, he’s giving you the knowledge to avoid getting slaughtered on the keyword battlefield.




Daniel: (00:00)

Hello there. Welcome to Codeless Radio. This Daniel Mitson shorts and I am joined today by mr Brad Smith from Codeless. How are you Brad?

Brad: (00:10)

I’m good, thanks. Thanks for having me. How are you?

Daniel: (00:13)

I’m doing well. Thank you for having me too. It’s great to be on the podcast together. It’s wonderful. And I know this is an audio program, but today you are wearing a very bright red shirt, which I’ve never seen before. So you’re looking very lively, which is great.

Brad: (00:29)

Thanks. It’s a workout fit and it’s and it’s my psychological ploy to get me to work out after this. Not sit on the couch and watch TV.

Daniel: (00:32)

Oh, nice. There you go. Hey, well, you know, at least you didn’t show up shirtless or something. You know, that’s, I’ve had that on interviews where you’re like, well, hello.

Brad: (00:42)

Maybe next time.

Daniel: (00:44)

Exactly. All right, well today I’ve got you on the podcast because we’ve got to talk about a specific article, which I thought was quite provocative when I first read it. It was on your website, which was titled this blog post has no keywords and here’s why. And not only is that a masterful headline, but it also leads to some interesting topics that we want to talk about today around the true value of keywords, especially in the early days when you’re trying to grow your visibility as a brand and as a business online. So to start off with, in the article you talk about the idea that keywords don’t always matter when it comes to ranking on search engines, which you know, in some people’s eyes would be sacrilege. So do you want to talk about that to start with?

Brad: (01:27)

Yeah, for sure. Part of the point is that there are different types of content for different reasons. And that content in and of itself shouldn’t always be keyword driven. A lot of times it’s easy to fall into a trap of producing like watered-down generic stuff cause you’re trying so hard to like stay within these keyword parameters.

Brad: (01:54)

The other huge problem is that it doesn’t matter how good an article is or how well optimized it is for a certain keyword. If your overall brand and site authority isn’t awesome, you’re never going to get that page to rank for that keyword. So then it introduces all these different kinds of problems. And the idea is, using that post as an example, is like that post the way I wrote it might not rank for any specific keywords cause I purposely didn’t write it for any keywords. But if it gets referrals and traffic and links then ultimately at the end of the day, it achieved the goal that I set out to achieve, which is it’s going to help everything else rank.

Daniel: (02:36)

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s kind of one of those, you know, forest from the trees things that people get stuck in when creating content is I’m going to jam more keywords in here and I forget who the hell I’m actually writing this for. It’s for a human to read it. Right. So yeah, that’s, that’s a really great point. Now, one of the things that you said, I love the idea of there’s a lot of keyword battles that go on out there. You know, people, it used to be that we could start with the quality content as the baseline, but now it’s almost become like a keyword battlefield out there. So I thought you want to elaborate on that a little bit?

Brad: (03:06)

Yeah, for sure. I think a really good example of this, and I’ve used this example in other pieces that I’ve written, but if you look at international SEO as a topic or keyword and you go look up the keyword difficulty and all the metrics behind it, international SEO is this really big problem. You’re trying to localize page content and rankings for every different search engine. The problem is that that only applies to a very, very small subset of marketers who deal with that issue. The volume for that keyword is something incredibly low. Like let’s say maybe 50 local searches a month or a hundred, but either way, it’s super tiny. And then if you look at all the pages ranking for that and all the sites you’re talking about, like search engine journal, search engine land, HubSpot, uh, Neil, like all these insanely huge websites.

Brad: (03:58)

And so when you start thinking from a content perspective, like the pros and cons or the cost and benefits of going for trying to produce a piece of content on that and compete for that, it’s almost like why bother? Because the volume isn’t big enough. The competition is insane. And so it just almost makes no sense for literally 99.9% of companies out there, you probably shouldn’t even think about writing at least a search-driven page or post for that keyword. And so the idea there is that you have to weigh, from a content perspective, you have to weigh like the cost and benefits and a lot of times that helps you reprioritize maybe pieces you were going to do or we’re thinking about doing, in the cold hard light of day.

Daniel: (04:47)

Yeah. Yeah. It’s almost like don’t start a fight you can’t win for sure.

Brad: (04:52)

It’s like don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

Brad: (04:56)

If you’re not going to win that fight, then why bother. If you’re not going to be number one, number two, number three, which we’ve talked about a lot on this. Like what’s the point? You’ve got to readjust your expectations, find other opportunities out there. And a lot of times that means not starting with the obvious, like the big stuff. The stuff that’s first in mind. It’s about doing a little more kind of leg work and figuring out where you can actually compete to win, not just compete to get your ass kicked.

Daniel: (05:23)

Yeah. And say that you’re actually in the running when you’re not. Yeah, exactly. And I like in the article you mentioned that there are really two approaches to ranking in search engines and the first one is better content, which we’ve discussed a lot, you know in other interviews we’ve done. But the second one was the idea of better authority for your site, which you just mentioned earlier, domain authority, brand authority, things like that. So let’s delve into that a little bit. Because I think that was sort of one of the core points the article was making was this idea of building a noteworthy brand and you had mentioned in the article the example of stone brewing company is a great brand to emulate what they’ve done.

Brad: (05:58)

Yeah, definitely. I think within SEO too many people focus on dumb tactics and they almost put things backward. When we talk about link building and PR and stuff, if you’re focused on creating an amazing brand, then the stuff that you would do would trump all the stupid link building tactics, like a broken link building where you’re trying to like tell people they have a broken link on their website and they have to fix it and to link back to you after they fix it. Like all these dumb tactics that you’re like, why are you wasting time doing that? Like put all your money and energy behind actually building a brand and becoming unique and reinforcing this unique differentiation or this point of view. If you do that, then the other stuff often will take care of itself.

Brad: (06:46)

And when you apply that back to content, it’s kind of a cart before the horse or chicken and egg problem where it’s like, uh, what do you focus on first? Like if your a brand new site or brand, your authority isn’t big enough to actually rank for anything noteworthy. So you have to do different things initially in the early days and then later set your sights higher and come back and maybe revamp it or re, and then you retarded it for like a major keyword. But when you’re just starting out out of the gates, you’re not gonna be able to really do any of that stuff. So you’re, it affects everything you do, all the way down to the content topics you’re prioritizing what keywords you’re targeting, all that kind of stuff.

Daniel: (07:23)

Absolutely. And with the example of stone brewing company, did you have any sort of link of how they did that? I remember you did a case study on that as part of the article.

Brad: (07:33)

Yeah. They’re just amazing from a branding perspective. They are super polarizing, which is like the number one thing that most people don’t want to do. Most companies are scared to death of being polarizing. They try to appeal to everyone. Stone does not do that. One of their beers is called arrogant bastard. The label on arrogant bastard says you’re probably not good enough. You’re probably not going to like this. Just taking this super snarky tone I find really funny cause that’s just my warped sense of humor. But they just go so far to make it completely apparent to everyone that like only a certain type of person is going to like this stuff. The people that are worthy and everyone else can kind of piss off. That’s like the tone they take is they’re literally just telling people, we really don’t care if you like us or not. And that from a brand new perspective is so critical. Uh, but it’s rarely practiced by most big companies who are just scared to death of making sure everyone likes them and making sure they’d never have any bad PR and all that kind of stuff.

Daniel: (08:35)

Yeah, yeah. 100%. One of my friends who’s a marketing consultant, he always says, you’re going to kind of plant your flag. You know, you’ve got to find your space and be like, this is where I am right here. You know? And if that scares some people or pisses some people off or whatever, that’s fine. Because people who do, you know, resonate with what you are and what you represent, they’re going to follow you and want be part of that brand, which is for sure.

Brad: (08:58)

It’s like creating a cult in a good way.

Daniel: (09:01)

And you’re right, because I actually went to the brewery a couple of months ago in San Diego. I mean, it was packed. It was, you know, there was plenty of, you know, cult people there for sure.

Brad: (09:13)

Compare, compare that to like, I dunno like the Budweiser tour or something and it’s just totally different. I went one year during Halloween and they had tombstones all decorated and out on the tour as you’re walking around, they had tombstones set up that said like fizzy light beer and like rip Miller Lite just like making jokes about all the crappy beer out there. And then the food, the restaurants, it’s like incredibly good food. Again, compare that to other breweries who have like awful food at the tours. They were talking about building a hotel at one point. I don’t know if that ever happened. They have like this beautiful outdoor garden area. Like they have just this very specific vision in mind and they’re committed to it 100%. They don’t care if people kind of, you know, enjoy it. Like it, hate it, whatever.

Daniel: (10:01)

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, even the product that they sell, in some respects, IPA is a polarizing type of product. So it was very smart to come from that angle for sure and like it or don’t like it depending on their tastes.

Brad: (10:12)

And then they take it to the extreme. IPAs in general, are, are strong, super alcoholic and they’re like F that we’re going to go 2X on the alcohol. Like we’re gonna make it like even more bitter than like the typical IPA. They just are about kind of pushing things to the extreme.

Daniel: (10:28)

Yeah, yeah. There we go. So I mean that is one approach. You don’t necessarily have to follow exactly that, but I thought that was a great example of building a noteworthy brand, finding something that makes you stand out so people recognize it. A great way to do it. And something else you said in the article I really liked was you said Google prefers brands and also consumers prefer brands. So you know the argument’s twice as strong there that you know, Google is going to recognize a brand name very quickly and it’s going to make it very searchable and clickable and same for people. They’re going to pick things that they recognize that they have bought before. So there’s a huge advantage to building your brand as a first point in what you’re doing. Not necessarily focusing on content tricks and hacks, but actually trying to build your brand alongside that.

Brad: (11:10)

Exactly. Like, especially Google, if you, you can look at any study over the years and Google routinely gives big brands preferential treatment. So they tend to rank better. They tend to rank more. The penalties are less severe than small brands. And it’s like you can sit around and complain or you can just play the game, you know? And like I prefer to just say, okay, if those are the rules of the game, then I’m just going to play by those rules and I’m going to try to build a brand and try to do these things that are gonna help me align with what they’re looking at and then the same goes for consumers. If you look at like what do consumers buy? Who do they buy from? Who do they buying more often, who they spend more money on? It always comes back to the brands they recognize, trust, recommended by a friend.

Brad: (11:55)

It’s always that emotional tie into a brand, not, Oh, this one had the best offer that day or something. Even for that subset of people who do just shop on deals and discounts and like you don’t want those customers either, so that’s not a longterm sustainable strategy. If someone’s looking at Hotwire and routinely buying the cheapest brand, the cheapest hotel in Las Vegas strip, they’re not loyal to you. They’re loyal to the cheapest hotel in Las Vegas strip, so each day they go back there, they’re just going to pick a new random one that offers them the best deal that day, so they’re not going to be a longterm customer anyway, so you might as well go out on a limb and try to carve out something unique and differentiated and interesting that aligns with a certain type of person because they’re going to keep coming back year after year.

Daniel: (12:43)

Yeah, 100% and I think about, if you think of dollar shave club. Another example of that, you know, after they launched and they did it their own way, which is very kind of tongue in cheek snarky, you know, very comical. Everyone tried to create those subscription box services but no one did it with as much style or as much personality. So they all kind of fell flat or are secondary competitors. Whereas because they had created that personality to begin with, I think that drove their brand.

Brad: (13:08)

Yeah, I think it’s such a good example too, cause like not only has subscription service of X, Y, Z become a commodity, like that whole thing. But literally razorblades are like one of the biggest commodities you can ever talk about. You could buy razor blades for nothing, and yet people buy it from them because of the brand. Yeah.

Daniel: (13:27)

Yeah. 100% and the toilet reader. I don’t know if you’ve ever got it, but they give you this really cool magazine, which you can read the bathroom. It’s great. It’s awesome. I was like, this is genius. So yeah, it’s very well done. So that’s about the brand. On the other side I like how you talk about the idea of creating your own demand actually, you know, instead of just trying to harvest the demand from other kinds of keywords or things that people have kind of targeted in, you know, your competitors actually looking at ways that you can go beyond that and try to get to the problem aware consumers, so the people who might have a problem at night might not be aware that you could be a brand solution for them.

Brad: (14:07)

For sure. Yeah. In search, there’s a saying you can’t create demand, you can only harvest it. So in other words, when you’re doing traditional keyword research, you can’t just say like, I’m going to say, I don’t know. I’m going to go after like, uh, what did you just say? Like reader. Bathroom reader. Like you’re not just going to say like, Oh, I’m going to create a company and I’m going to, I’m going to do SEO for all these keywords around, bathroom reading material. Because like there’s probably no keyword volume or searches being done around that. So you can only harvest what’s there, which means you have to figure out what does my service or product typically like and, or what does that end result or benefit that I’m giving people and what does that most similar to? And then I’m going to go kind of hard at all of those keywords that already exist that people already know about and using their terms.

Brad: (15:01)

You should do that. That’s a good idea and you should do that. But the other way around this is if you’re also going to the lengths of actually building a brand, then you have some wiggle room in that you can create your own demand. You can create your own space to a certain degree. You can start to pull different ideas together and have people search out for that and then you become associated with that. And I mean, a perfect example is what Kleenex. Isn’t that like someone’s name or someone that was like the brand name so that when people talk about Kleenex, they’re all talking about the same product, but yet there’s only one brand that’s named as Kleenex. So that’s, that’s the other side of this is like, yes, you should do content for SEO. Yes, you should do traditional keyword research and content mapping for all these ideas. But if you’re also creating your own brand, if you also have to do all this other stuff, if you’re creating content for other reasons, you should also try to carve out and, or use content to support your own space, your own ideas, your own positioning and kind of bring attention to that too at the same time.

Daniel: (16:08)

Yeah, it makes sense. And it goes back to that idea that if you, you know, that the blue ocean strategy, the idea of, you know, going after blue ocean instead of a red one where there’s red being the, where there’s a ton of competitors and you’ve got to try and fight for space. Whereas blue is kind of like the new areas, you know, where people haven’t realized that you can help them. So I love that idea. And something else you said in there too, which I thought was true, is it doesn’t necessarily have to be big. You know, you don’t have to go crazy and spend thousands of dollars on marketing or you know, creating thousands of pieces of content to try and capture these new markets. It might just be a small campaign, but something that actually just starts to pique people’s interest of, Oh, I didn’t realize that’s a solution that could solve this problem I have.

Brad: (16:49)

Definitely. I mean, even our own service a little bit like there are other people that do what we do. There are other agencies that do what we do. I think we do it in a unique way. So I’m going to try to draw attention to that from a branding, marketing, positioning standpoint, um, to help people understand how or why my thing is different. Or possibly better in certain cases. But part of that, going back to like polarization, everything else is in other cases it’s not going to be better for them. And so that’s where you have to like really be careful in how you’re doing this. Cause you, when you start just saying like, Oh, we’re the best at X, Y, Z and making all these generic claims, that’s when consumers just know that you’re full shit and that you’re lying to them and they see through it. So you kind of have to like walk a fine line and figure out how, how exactly are we going to claim certain things that we’re going to add or better or different or unique, but then also own up to the fact that we know we don’t do any of the other stuff over here either.

Daniel: (17:47)

Yeah. Be clear and know what you are good at as well as what you’re not. Exactly. No very cool. That’s good. Well, I mean this is a very simple idea, but I think it’s worth revisiting, especially if you are rebuilding your content strategy or you’re thinking, you know, that you need to just keyword target or keyword stuff, everything. Not that you ever want to do that, but you know, you’re trying to just stay in that realm. I think the risk is that you lose this idea of brand recognition and brand loyalty and then also, you know, untapped markets who might not be aware that you can actually help them through solving a problem. So there’s a ton of great ideas there and it’s just a matter of, I think keeping the mindset more than anything. Would you say?

Brad: (18:25)

For sure. This just reminded me of another example of one of our clients Chargify is doing like a video series hops on rev ops, I think. So revenue operations the idea, it’s a video series. They literally will just drink beer and they’re doing it at another company and they’re just talking about stuff around this topic. And that’s a perfect example of like good luck trying to rank that for anything. Like it’s not gonna work. It’s not gonna happen, but it’s so well done. And I’m not doing it justice cause I can’t remember the details but it’s so well done that everything about it is just super enjoyable and it’s something that you would want to watch and you would recommend to friends and you would link to, you would share to, uh, it’s just not gonna rank directly, but what it’s going to do is it’s going to indirectly benefit the entire brand and all the other more SEO focused stuff that you’re working on.

Daniel: (19:15)

Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great way to think about it. And I love it. It just makes it more fun as well. At the end of the day you’re not just stressing about getting your keywords up. You’re actually trying to build something that people are engaged by it that they don’t want to interact with. Well, thank you so well, as I said, kind of a provocative title, but, definitely rings true and I can see even in my own marketing, you know, I’ve, I’ve done that in the past too where I’ve fallen into the trap of just kind of obsessing about ranking for keywords that I have no business being in that realm. So it’s fruitless and it’s also painful, but if you take this approach, I think you can come out on top slowly over time, which was good. So thank you. Well, this has been a great episode. I’m sure we will have you back very soon. Thanks as always for being here and we’ll catch you in the next one.

Brad: (19:59)

Sounds good. Thanks.


Brad discusses the importance of picking your content battles (04:59)

If you’re not going to be number one, number two, number three, which we’ve talked about a lot on this. Like what’s the point? You’ve got to readjust your expectations, find other opportunities out there. And a lot of times that means not starting with the obvious, like the big stuff. The stuff that’s first in mind. It’s about doing a little more kind of leg work and figuring out where you can actually compete to win, not just not just compete to get your ass kicked

Many companies avoid this. But its key to building a strong brand (07:36)

They are super polarizing, which is like the number one thing that most people don’t want to do. Most companies are scared to death of being polarizing. They try to appeal to everyone… And [differentiation] from a brand new perspective is so critical. But it’s rarely practiced by most big companies who are just scared to death of making sure everyone likes them.

How to leverage your brand to create a unique content space (14:07)

Yeah. In search, there’s a saying you can’t create demand, you can only harvest it… 

That’s a good idea and you should do that. But the other way around this is if you’re also going to the lengths of actually building a brand, then you have some wiggle room in that you can create your own demand. You can create your own space to a certain degree. You can start to pull different ideas together and have people search out for that and then you become associated with that

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