Ins & Outs of Content Optimization

In this episode of The Know, Like & Trust Show, we sit down with content optimization expert Zoe Hawkins to discuss the ins and outs of content optimization. We dive into:

  • The importance of removing outdated and irrelevant content, the process of content optimization, and how it can have a significant impact on website performance.
  • How content is like bread: it needs proofing, or time to marinate and sit.
  • Zoe shares their background in journalism and content marketing, highlighting their passion for fixing poor content on websites.
  • We also touch on the role of AI in content generation and the importance of giving work time to “proof” and develop.

So sit back, relax, and get ready to learn all about content optimization in this informative and engaging episode. Let’s dive in!


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Highlights in this episode:

  • 00:04:17 Keep content related, add resources for guidance.
  • 00:07:19 Ways to optimize content for better performance.
  • 00:11:33 Allow time for proofing in your work.
  • 00:15:55 Optimize old content to boost SEO. Start small and alternate new and optimized pieces for better results.
  • 00:18:40 Recreating blog posts for old podcast episodes.
  • 00:22:41 Delete outdated, irrelevant and low-quality content.

Are you tired of playing by the rules of SEO and social media algorithms? Do you want to build genuine relationships with your clients through your content? Then, welcome to a space dedicated to making the most out of your content and say hello to content optimization. In this blog post, we will be guided by Zoe Hawkins, a content marketing expert with extensive experience in engaging audiences. We will explore the hows of content optimization, delve into dealing with relevant but inactive content, and learn how to turn well-ranked but inactive pages into valuable assets. Join us on this journey as we aim to build real connections with our audience and maximize the potential of our content. Let’s dive in!

Introduction to Content Optimization

Hello there, rebels of the content world! Are you tired of playing by the rules of SEO and social media algorithms? Are you a one-person team looking to build genuine, fruitful relationships with your clients through your content? Then, my friends, welcome to a space dedicated to making the most out of your content and say hello to content optimization.

Who is Zoe Hawkins?

Our primary guide for this expedition is Zoe Hawkins. She started as a video game and tech journalist before she shifted lanes to the content marketing scene. Ten years’ experience in creating content that engages, informs, and delights audiences and with expertise in content marketing, multicultural communication, and women in tech.

The Hows of Content Optimization

Getting into details, let’s examine how we can optimize content. Multiple factors come into play when deciding to optimize content or to start anew. Zoe loves tinkering with existing content, turning wordy, unclear phrases into concise, impactful messages. She refers to it as clearing the ‘editorial debt’, a term that caught my attention.

Appearances matter, and just like how you’d renovate an old house, repainting walls, fixing leaky faucets, content too, needs renovations now and then. Optimization is how we fix the ‘space garbage’ as Zoe comically names it.

The shift from initially creating content to finding joy in fixing existing content is where content optimization steps in. It involves retrospecting your content, analyzing what works and what doesn’t, and then revamping it.

Dealing with Relevant but Inactive Content

Now, I’m sure there are rebels out there wondering what to do with well-ranked but inactive pages and posts. Should they be left as they are, contributing nothing more than attracting irrelevant traffic? Here’s where content optimization can work wonders!

Zoe’s philosophy on content is that writing is thinking, it’s figuring things out. Continually revising and polishing our writing is what separates the good from the great. So the next time you are staring at your webpage, remember that your well-ranked but inactive pages don’t need to gather digital cobwebs. Spruce them up with some content optimization!

That’s what this conversation is about, making the most with what you’ve got. Join us as we delve deeper into this topic and max out on your content! And remember, it’s not about pleasing algorithms but building real connections with your audience.

More on Zoe:

Website  | LinkedIn

Zoe Hawkins [00:01:27]: Thanks so much for having me.

Britney Gardner [00:01:29]: Yeah, no, I'm really excited about this. Well, longtime listeners will know. I get a lot of podcast submissions, and I sometimes make fun of them because I get so many ones that are awful and bad. And then when I read yours, I was like, oh, well, one, they can follow instructions. That's great. But also, this is perfect. It's such a good complement to everything that we've been talking on this show for the last year or so, and I'm so excited that the audience gets to hear more about you. So with that little mini puffed up interview, or, like, intro, shall we say, I want for you to just kind of say how you got to where you are, and then we'll start talking about actual content optimization.

Zoe Hawkins [00:02:12]: Awesome. Yeah. So I came to content marketing via journalism. I was a video game and tech journalist for about four or five years. Dream job. Got to fly around the world, play video games, and write about it. What could be better? But then made a person and decided I needed to have a quote unquote, real job and moved into content marketing. And so what was really cool about it was I kind of jumped right in, and I was creating content and I was doing SEO and doing all the things the way that you do. But then my favorite part really ended up being going back and fixing atrocious content that I would find on company websites, because everybody has it. Everybody has what I'm gently calling editorial debt, what I often refer to as space garbage. But you write a blog or you write a LinkedIn post, you put something out there into the world and you're not going to get it right right away. And that's okay. Writing is thinking. Writing is figuring it out. And so that's when I started really going back into this idea of content optimization and what do we look for in terms of things that we should just burn it down and start over and what is worth fixing and really polishing up.

Britney Gardner [00:03:29]: The editorial debt term was so intriguing to me. I think it's like one of those things where you're like, wait. And I was so excited about it because I myself have plenty of that on my website still. I know it's there. I don't do anything about it, but I started more from a branding point of view when I started this podcast even. And I have a lot of really well ranked pages and posts that I'm not going to do anything with it at this point. And I am constantly sitting here and I'm like, do I just let them sit there bringing people to my website that I can't ultimately help them in the end because I don't do that kind of work anymore or never did. It was a little bit too squirrel, rabbit path and all that or do I do something with it? I don't know.

Zoe Hawkins [00:04:17]: Yeah, I think it really depends how out of left field the piece is if it's kind of like you're on the path and there's a squirrel, but it's still like close to tangentially related to kind of like the overall domain, the overall topic. Keep it, I think, but try and weave in some links or some resources so that let's say someone finds your post because it's highly rated and you clearly wrote something awesome to begin with to best serve them. Maybe you say, this is not my wheelhouse, this is not where I play anymore, but here are some people you should listen to. Here's where to go next on your journey and use that as a jumping off pad to send them in the right direction. Or if it's something that maybe you discussed and realized you didn't want to do anymore, send them to that podcast episode. Take them on that journey with you of saying, I used to think this mattered, but then I figured out it doesn't. You should too. Take them off the squirrel back on the path with you. So that's kind of one way of thinking about it with especially content that's already ranking and doing well. If it's not really related to what you want to be doing anymore or what you ever did, just kind of point the reader back in a direction that's not going to leave them. Like, oh, that was helpful, but now I don't know what to do. Send them somewhere where then they have a fulfilled journey, whatever that looks like.

Britney Gardner [00:05:45]: I love that. So thanks. First of all, I mean, from a very selfish point of view, thank you so I'm going to be reading not just between the lines here, but like reading between probably lots of really big circles. You made a human and it was time to get a quote unquote real job. I will, of course challenge that game journalism job.

Zoe Hawkins [00:06:05]: It was very much a real job.

Britney Gardner [00:06:07]: But yeah, I totally understand. I was in a similar situation. My youngest is now five, but when I got pregnant with him I was like, I don't want to be working like this. I changed my business like almost a complete 180, just how I had been doing things to how I started doing things. And I'm getting the feeling that you kind of were like the same way. Right? You have other needs now, you're not just working, you're not just fulfilling your own personal yes, financial, but also like personal goal needs. And I just wanted to make sure at that point that if I was going to be putting time into marketing and content marketing being one of those things, I wanted to make sure that it was really worth it. And I think that's why the idea of content optimization appeals to me so much. I do put a lot of work into the content I create both for my clients and for my own business. And sometimes I'm like, but I worked so hard on that it should be doing more and there's like this weird kind of gap where I'm like, I don't want to change it too much, but what do I do at this point? Like, it should be doing more. I know deep in my heart it's a good piece and it's just not performing that way.

Zoe Hawkins [00:07:19]: Yeah. And so that's where I think there's a lot of different ways that you can take it. There are some kind of minimum benchmarks that I put on a lot of content optimization where I'm like the first time around, did it have a great image? Is it really easy to read and super skimmable? The kind of basic stuff we talk about, but sometimes we forget when we're in a big push to get a piece out there where it's like, oh, the header image is fine, but it's placeholder. We'll come back to it and then like three months later you're like, oh, we never came back to it, we should do that. So that's one thing with content optimization that you can do is make it more visual, make it more interactive, retool your H, two S or your subheadings, whatever you want to call them, go back and kind of fix those up to make it easier to read. Maybe evaluate how you were sharing it out. Like it could be the kind of thing where you want to share it out differently. On Social maybe it needs to be a thread or a carousel. The algorithm is always changing on social so mix it up with how you repost it and reshare it. So that it gets another go. And then I have really fallen in love with a few tools that use AI or stuff like that to speed up some of the SEO optimization so it's not drastically changing your content at all. Like, your story is still there, everything is still there, but there's one that I use, that what's really nice is it'll give you a list of like 30 to 50 keywords and how often you might want to use them in your piece. And so you're able to kind of say, like, oh, I completely as the expert, you can read through that list and you don't have to just copy paste the list into your art. That does nothing we know, but it gives you a sense of like, oh, I totally forgot about this one aspect of the topic that I just didn't even cover in this piece. Maybe you want to add that in so that you can use those keywords. Or maybe you purposefully left it out and you're like, okay, this is maybe why it's not hitting that one to three spot on Google. I'm trying to rank for a shorter term keyword than maybe I'm actually writing for. Like, maybe I'm being more specific, which is a good thing, I think. But if you're measuring yourself up against that shorter tail keyword, you're not hitting enough to really rank for it. So stuff like that, that can kind of help you regage. What am I really optimizing for? What is the goal here? Is it to show up in search? Is it to be more shareable on social? Is it to get that quick hit, that quick viral sensation, or more of an evergreen vibe? I think that's the other thing with content optimization is when you revisit the piece, you can be a bit more honest with yourself about like, okay, is this an SEO play? Is this a social play? What am I actually trying to optimize for? Is it a high converting piece? Maybe it doesn't get a ton of traffic, but everyone who lands there clicks whatever you're trying to get them to click. And so you just got to play around with that a little bit in terms of what is the real goal with that piece.

Britney Gardner [00:10:27]: I love what you just said there, that sometimes when you can come back to it at a later date, it's easier to be more honest with yourself. Because I think a lot of us fall into the trap of we create something and we're like, no, it's going to be great on social and it's going to rank well on SEO. And that's not impossible, but the likelihood is a considerable amount less than if you just chose one.

Zoe Hawkins [00:10:50]: Right?

Britney Gardner [00:10:50]: And I have definite pieces, indefinite podcast episodes, definite blog posts that do very well when I talk about them on social. But they're never going to be good on SEO. It's not what that piece was intended for. It's not going to be one keyword rich. It's really more about an idea rather than a topic covering type piece. Right, right. And I like those. I'm like a deep thinker, deep conjecture, kind of like, let's weave through here, let's make all these analogies. But those don't tend to do super well in terms of the SEO land. So I do need that reminder. Just to be honest with myself, that was never the intent of this piece. I use other SEO pieces to point to this one, and it works really well that way.

Zoe Hawkins [00:11:33]: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, it's funny, I've been down like a very weird etymology word, kind of like wordplay thing, but I think about optimization, and it's different from proofreading, but I kind of almost want to change the meaning of proofreading because proofreading, it goes back to typesetting and correcting errors and stuff like that. But I was thinking about it. I'm not a baker, but I end up falling down TikTok rabbit holes of sourdough bread and things like that. I am all in on watching other people bake. And this idea of proofing, of, like, you make the dough, you put everything in, and then it just takes time and things will bubble up to the surface. And then you come back and you punch it again, and then it bubbles up again, and then it's ready to bake. And I kind of think about writing in a similar way. Like, sometimes you just got to put something down or any sort of content creation. You just need to get a draft out there. You need to have something to work with and then kind of leave it and give it time to bubble and do its thing and come back and rework it and play with it a little bit and then leave it again. And then you'll kind of have a sense of like, oh, this is what it's supposed to look like. This is where it's ready to really be out in the world. And that can be in public, that can be like, you've already published and you go back and optimize, or that could be in private. But I think no matter what, we all need a little bit of time for proofing in our work.

Britney Gardner [00:13:03]: That is such a brilliant analogy. I also, by the way, am not a baker, but I've kind of had to throw myself into that world recently. I'm an excellent cook. I just want to make that clear. But cooking is like throwing a little bit of this and throwing a little bit of that. And baking is so scientific, and I'm just not that person. But my youngest is now gluten free and dairy free, and if you can find something gluten free, it still has eggs in it most of the time. So it's like, okay, I guess I'm learning how to make gluten free pita bread today. And I did that last week and I thankfully was doing it with my dad's wife around because she is a actually I was like, is this big enough? It looks like it got bigger. She's like, Brittany, that's like a quarter inch bigger. You need to don't want I don't want to wait content to perform right now.

Zoe Hawkins [00:13:51]: Right now. Make it bubble. Yeah, exactly. Sometimes we just need the time and I mean, I think about it. Even the great Anne Handley, the queen of content marketing, she talks about writing as thinking and I think about it in terms of AI and all these shortcuts like you can get there faster, you can do this, you can do that, which is super helpful. And I use it. I use all of the tools that I can get. But there is a certain aspect of literal pen to paper. Like, I take out my fountain pen. I have my fancy stationery that I love because Stationary kid never died, never grew out of that stage. And literally writing something by hand and then typing it up and then reworking. It just that process can help me refine my thinking and do better, like, make better content. Just because it had time to really proof along the way.

Britney Gardner [00:14:47]: I love that so much. By the time this episode airs, a different episode will have already been published. Thought Leadership in the Age of AI and I talk a little bit about the same thing about the power of thinking and how we can feed our ideas into AI and create really good content. Like that is a wonderful case use for generative AI, but if we don't have the ideas to feed into it, it's just going to spew out commodity content that anyone can do. And that's not helping the world. That's not us actually aiding in that. And I think that's one of the reasons why this whole topic is so interesting to me. We've already put our ideas out there. We've already created this stuff that we know can help people. We just need to do those fine tuning things. And I think for me at least one is just knowing I need to dedicate time to actually going back because that's not something that's in my workflow. That's I guess my question for you, how do you in your own workflow or when you're working with clients kind of parse out, I put this much time into this and then I do that. What's the way that works for you at least?

Zoe Hawkins [00:15:55]: Yeah, I mean it's varied at different times. So when I was at a startup, I remember I joined at like an awkward time and so it was like a December time period where I was working and everybody else was gone. But it was like, all right, I got to find work to do. And I actually went back and did like an optimization project through all of our technical docs and I knew I couldn't touch any of the copy. So all I did was optimize titles and meta descriptions and that was it. And that was like a one week little project that I was able to do, set it and forget it. And by March the following year, docs were like one of our biggest SEO drivers. And I was like, I will in stuff like that. That's great. But I think what I'm seeing as well, it depends on the size of your editorial debt. Sometimes it can feel really daunting. Like, I have 100 blogs, 200 blogs, 500 blogs that I want to go back and optimize. It's too much. It's way too much to think about initially. And so then I find it's easier to say, like, okay, what is your current blog publishing cadence? Like, maybe you do one a week. So if you can do one new piece a week and then one optimization piece a week, that might feel like workable or it might feel like too much, and then you say, okay, do one new piece a week, and then the next week go back and optimize a piece and just alternate back and forth. I think a real part of this is recognizing more is just more. Sometimes we think we always have to be making something new and something fresh. But if you can find a piece that's two years old that just needed some polish and you can republish that as new or as updated or however you want to work it, that's sometimes so much more valuable because it's more thought out, it's better content. All of the things we've talked about, about the value of optimizing. But it doesn't have to be like this big overhaul project where you do 50 pieces in a month and you make it like a big Olympic effort. It can be a more consistent one a week or one a month or whatever your cadence is as it stands right now, to weave that in and get that win. I think that's the other thing is when you see pieces that you've gone back and fixed start performing better, that's so motivating. And then you'll want to do more. Like, I've seen old blogs that we go back and optimize, get four X, ten X, the traffic, and all of a sudden you're like, if I did this with everything, just imagine. And then you feel more motivated. And depending on the size of your team, you get more buy in from other people. Like, okay, this does have value. It's worth the time. Let's put more into that.

Britney Gardner [00:18:40]: I'm curious what your opinion is going to be. So I occasionally re air old podcast episodes. Now, I only started doing full blog posts for my podcast episodes maybe like three quarters of a year ago or so, something around then. And some of my older episodes don't have all of that. So I've just been recreating a new post with the re aired episode. I might have a new intro or outro, but it's more or less the same content, shall we say. But I'm creating the blog post to go with it when I do that re air. Are you saying that it might be better for me to just replace the original post with my optimized content and instead of it being episode 112, now it's episode 248, but I'm still using the same URL and post as the original one? That would make more sense.

Zoe Hawkins [00:19:26]: That would make more sense. That would tell Google. Hey, look, I'm tending this gardner. I'm not leaving stuff to just die once. It's in the past. But I'm going back, I'm keeping this content fresh. I'm finding reasons to repost. So yeah, I would say use the original URL.

Britney Gardner [00:19:45]: Good to know. I probably should have been doing that. So I learned something new today.

Zoe Hawkins [00:19:50]: No, you're mean and Google changes the rules, all the so, like, this might be relevant now and know the next time Google changes something it's like, no, everything gets a fresh URL, but for now it's like, use your existing URLs, your existing pieces, and just add more protein to them. Judge them up and see what comes of it.

Britney Gardner [00:20:12]: I like that because I've always looked at re airing episodes. Sometimes it's like, I want that same concept to be given new life. It's something I really believe strongly in and I know that I did a good job on it last time. I just want to give it more air this time. Other times it's like, hey, I actually don't have anything for this week. I'm not ready with a couple of other things. So we're going to revisit something that I loved and I don't really want to add more to it, but there's still a reason I want it out there. And I like the idea of actually reusing what I had in the past rather than trying to recreate the whole deal.

Zoe Hawkins [00:20:44]: Yeah, I think that's great. And I mean, just being really thinking about the listener, a lot of people miss stuff. I think about myself, I get busy, I miss out on things, I travel, whatever it is, where you might have people who even super faithful, loyal listeners who've missed things or who started following you after that point and it'll be good for them to get exposed to that.

Britney Gardner [00:21:09]: Well, even I was at my Mastermind retreat a couple of weeks back and some of the people there said, well, why don't you revisit your entire content framework in the Pint podcast and episode? I was like, I just did that a few months ago. And one of them is like, no, I listened to your show, but I don't remember that. I was like, well, whenever I reference that, I always say, go back and listen to Episode so and so she's like, yeah, I'm never going to do that. Yeah, it was an eye opener for me. It just did not occur to me that someone would be like, no, I know it's there. I'm just not going to go do it, re air it. And I was like, okay, well, that takes some load off of me, actually.

Zoe Hawkins [00:21:45]: 100%. I'm the same. If I think about the way I consume content, especially audio content, it's in the shower or in the car, and I am not near my phone. I press Play and get in the shower, or I put it on in my car, Play, and then I'm driving. And I only have limited maneuverability. And so, yeah, I become very set in my ways of like, oh, they mentioned a previous episode. Oh, I didn't write it down because obviously I'm not near anything. Oh, well, maybe I'll check the show notes and then the day moves on.

Britney Gardner [00:22:17]: And then of course yeah, you don't.

Zoe Hawkins [00:22:20]: So I love that idea, like, re air it, make it as easy as possible for people to get your best stuff.

Britney Gardner [00:22:26]: All right, so before we wrap up, we've talked a little bit about good ways on how we can start optimizing and choosing what to optimize. Do you have any hard and fast rules on what to not optimize?

Zoe Hawkins [00:22:41]: Yeah. So if you have content that you know is out of date, I have found old blogs on company websites where it's like, summarizing an event you went to three years ago. Nobody's going to go back and read that unless your event was super controversial and referenced in a Wikipedia article, no one cares. So something that was timely but is no longer timely, get rid of it. I also look at pieces that have zero links, zero domain authority, nothing around the topic, no keywords ranking. Those are some things. If it's super thin content we used to write a few years back, it was kind of normal to post something that was like 200 words and be like, it's done. We're not doing that anymore. It probably either needs to be optimized or just removed from your site. If it has some value to it in that short space, optimize it, but otherwise just get rid of it. And then also anything that you talked a little bit about how it's really off path from what you do. If you have pieces like that, either aren't ranking or truly do not serve you in terms of who you are and where you're trying to go. As painful as it can be to lose out on some of that traffic, if it is ranking, it's going to be better for you in the long run. If you can be more focused and just say this has nothing to do with who I am and what I do, I'm going to remove it and just kill your darlings, or whatever the expression is. It's painful, but sometimes you just have to do it. Of saying, this no longer serves anyone by having it here.

Britney Gardner [00:24:28]: Well, for me personally, it gets a little bit annoying at times. I'll look at my console report and I'm like, I don't want them going to that page. I want them going to relevant pages on my website. And from just like a mental load. Right. It's a little bit annoying knowing that I'm getting traffic for things that I can't really do anything about anymore.

Zoe Hawkins [00:24:46]: Yeah. And so I think for those, it'll be better if you want to start testing the waters, put a big banner at the top, like sending them where you want them to be, and then over time, just deprecate the page. It just isn't serving you well.

Britney Gardner [00:25:00]: Not like downer of a nose. No, it's good.

Zoe Hawkins [00:25:03]: We need burn down the Library of Alexandria.

Britney Gardner [00:25:06]: No. But we do need these hard truths sometimes. And I'm 100% guilty of being like, but it brings this many people who immediately bounce.

Zoe Hawkins [00:25:17]: Of course they're going to immediately bounce and want nothing to do with you. And it's like going to a party and being like, oh, I want to rent a crowd. I want it to look fun. And it's like, just invite the people you actually want to talk to.

Britney Gardner [00:25:29]: Exactly. Zoe, this has been an awesome conversation for me. Again, a little bit selfishly, but I think it is a really good complement to a lot of the things that we've spent. I mean, especially the whole shiny happy tactics series that I did at the beginning of the year where I was just poking holes in all of these expert proven ways of things. You have to do it this way. Yeah. No, I love knowing that there are really good compliments to the things that we're talking about that do matter. So thank you for all of this. I will have links to your website and all of that in the show notes, but do you have anything fun coming up that you'd like to talk about?

Zoe Hawkins [00:26:03]: Oh, fun. Oh, put me on the spot. No, I mean, I am trying to get myself out there more on LinkedIn, so just follow me over there. I have a bunch of, like, trying to speak in more places, do webinars, do podcasts, put myself out, you know, doing all the things. So yeah, just the LinkedIn and Twitter follow. Although Twitter is such a nightmare, right? Like, I don't even know if it's worth sharing that handle, but just follow me on LinkedIn.

Britney Gardner [00:26:29]: It's fine. That works for no, it's a it's a good and know ask. Anyway, we're all probably working a little bit on getting ourselves out there, so let's help each other out there.

Zoe Hawkins [00:26:39]: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you.

Britney Gardner [00:26:41]: Well, thanks, Zoe.

Zoe Hawkins [00:26:42]: Thanks so much for having me.

Britney Gardner [00:26:45]: All right. Thank you again so much to Zoe. I said it a couple times in the episode, but from a selfish point of view, this conversation was really good for me. I needed some ideas. I needed kind of a springboard against which I could put those. Ideas, and Zoe provided that. I'm hoping that, like me, she provided that for you as well. Let's all go find her on LinkedIn and let's do it. Let's raise the boat together. If you found value from this episode, there are two things you can do to thank me. The first is share it with a friend. If you enjoyed this episode, you learned something from it. Odds are you know somebody who needs to hear this message. I do truly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, and if you help that friend with something that they need to do, we're going to have less crappy marketers out there, which means less scams, and we get to help more people in those ways that we uniquely are meant to help them. The second thing you can do is leave a rating on whichever podcast app you are listening to the show on right now. Doing that helps me reach more people, getting again this same great information out there, and we all make a better, happier, effective and ethical world as a result. Thanks so much. See you next week.

Music by Michael De La Torre. Thanks, Mikey!