There was a time when the art of SEO practitioners focused on building out highly optimized pages dedicated to narrowly defined themes or keywords. So, if you had an insurance business you would build one page designed to show up in a search for life insurance and another for health insurance and you pretty much left them alone once they were returning some results.

2 prong strategy approach

photo credit: winterofdiscontent

But then blogs came along and sort of upended the whole deal. All of sudden all this fresh, highly optimized, education based content started flooding the web and search engine ate it up. People started sharing this content routinely, linking to it and even republishing it via RSS feeds.

As the search engines began to favor this type of content, the game of SEO shifted heavily to blogs, networking and link acquisition.

As is so often the case over time, I believe that the imaginary pendulum is swinging back in the direction of optimized pages. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m as bullish as ever on blogs and still believe that every business needs one. I further believe that search engines are starting to even out their results in ways that don’t favor blog content the way they once did.

blog search traffic

This Alexa ranking chart show swings in search engine traffic for several high profile blogs during recent Google updates.

High traffic blogs attracted so many links that it made it hard for the search engines to deliver the most relevant content using their existing approaches. SEO spammers abused the positive elements of blogging to game search results so a correction of some sort was predictable.

The much talked about Penguin and Panda updates from Google went after duplicate content, low quality pages and what were seen as unnatural links very hard. Many, long time, very legit, blogs saw temporary, but slow to recover, drops in traffic from search. (Of course long-standing, high quality blogs receive a great deal of traffic from direct links and direct readers.)

I believe the best approach currently and in the foreseeable future calls for a 2-prong strategy to content development that feeds both readers and spiders. I believe that we must create what I’m calling classes of content that address the growing demand for real-time updates and long-term sustainability.

I’ve written about the types of content we need to produce, but this is a different, yet related, idea. When I talk about classes I’m talking about how we build, display, link to and optimize our content.

I believe we need develop content strategies along these two classes

Attraction Content

Attraction content is essentially fresh, keyword phrase relevant, link worthy blog posts that are updated frequently. We must commit to optimizing the on page factors for this content to give it the most search engine reach while continuing to amplify it in social channels to attract readers, links and social signals. (Google is currently giving heavy weight to content on Google+ no matter what they are saying publicly.)

I further believe that this content should revolve around a small library of topics related to the most important keyword phrases and long-tail phrases that you are targeting for your overall online presence.

But, this strategy isn’t enough.

Foundation Content

The second thrust of your content strategy involves the creation and optimization of pages dedicated to each of your core keyword phrases. As I mentioned in the opening of this post, many websites have been built over the years with this tactic in mind, but it’s the careful combination of real-time attraction content and what I’m calling foundation pages that will deliver the greatest results.

With blogging becoming so prominent many sites have turned to creating very little accept new blog content and I think that’s a mistake.

The value of these foundations pages is that once they are built you can continue to optimize them and focus on adding valuable content (perhaps from a series of blog posts) as your content library grows.

You can add eBooks, links to resources, internal links and main navigation to these pages. By doing the proper amount of keyword research you can build a group of static like foundation pages that are so specific you stand a very strong probability of ranking them highly, particularly as you create related blog content that links to these pages.

These foundation pages also stand up as great resources for site visitors and are great jumping in points for deeper engagement and conversion activities.

Update: An alert reader asked for some examples of sites using this approach, so here are a few examples.

The need to produce content that allows you to spread your expertise and be found will likely never go away, it will however, continue to shift as search behavior and search engines dictate.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • John, thanks for the insights into the changing SEO world. I’m guessing you’re referencing trends such as those we see at Copyblogger, where they have an entire page dedicated to writing effective headlines? Can you give other examples of foundation pages at specific blogs, so that we can reference them and learn?

    • That’s right Steve, thanks for the suggestion, I’ve updated the post and pointed out that Copyblogger is indeed leading the charge in this trend.

  • John, couldn’t agree more. I think a two pronged approach is ideal. We need the foundation content that is evergreen and just full of solid facts and best practices. Use the blog to generate fresh ideas and show case studies of things that might be working. Once those trials prove that they work and have been solidified as best practices, then add them to your foundational content. Not only does it give you a way to update your foundational content with fresh text, it helps build your entire site up.

    For way too long people have been stuck on the idea you have to have a static site or a blog. It’s gotta be both, its as simple as that. Great write up!


    • Thanks Eric, I think the big thing is that you have to stay up with what people want and what the search engines want and that includes a heavy does of change from time to time!

  • You’re right John • On-Page Optimization SEO is still key to both human and SE bot appeal. Social Shares and Social Signals (whether via G+ or FB like to Retweets) are having a major impact on a site’s Authority and SERP. I doubt link building will go away anytime soon. Not sure if I fully “get” what you mean by “foundation content” but my formula has been to get the content I create to rank for Web and Image and Video so that all 3 mediums render for a specific targeted longtail keyword. [for example] “Get Ranked on Page 1 of Google”

    • Neil – foundational content is a collection of content you’ve written that can be grouped as a series around one keyword phrase. These static like pages act to boost your blogging efforts over time.

  • Kowshik Bhat

    How is the suggestion of attraction content different from today’s blog? Is it your suggestion to blog content related to few keyword topics to drive attention and frequency of updates to drive attention to foundation content? Even though the blog posts were used to draw attention through search engines companies never used blogs as a replacement to foundation pages but instead were used as supplement to the core content. Can you clarify your point of difference?

    • It’s not that different, but the point is to create an editorial topic list and keep returning to it in your fresh content.

      I do, however, beg to differ on one point – many businesses don’t have an foundational content other than an about us page or list of services. The only content that is keyword related at all is blog content.

  • Thanks for this timely information John. I just finished reading a Copyblogger post on the need for foundational content, which the post referred to as “cornerstone” content. Adding such material to my blog is on the front burner now.

    Even with the current buzz surrounding Panda and Penguin shifting the focus to fresh, original content written for people, I agree with your assessment that blogs need to appeal to two types of readers – humans and spiders.

    • Ultimately that’s always been true, but as the spiders get smarter, even more so. Good to see you here by the way Paul!

  • John, I am definitely seeing more blogs applying the two-pronged approach for content. My team and myself are brainstorming for foundation content that we can implement over at Sprout Geek too.

    Foundation content can even become effective landing pages to send traffic to (to generate leads or to build a subscriber list) for a content marketing campaign. It is definitely way more effective than the homepage or a blog’s index page.

    • I agree on the landing pages Wayne – I’m seeing this done well too – or at least because those pages can start to receive significant traffic, put eBook lead capture form on the page.

  • Two comments on an interesting topic…

    1. The real issue here is whether or not to rely on the search engines for the bulk of your traffic. Their algorithms change as much as a teenage girl changes her nail color. Their priorities change based on shareholder pressure (like Google pushing down the organic results in favor of all their paid ads and placements). Honestly, what we should be talking about is how to find traffic from other sources and build those relationships. As well as driving traffic to your site directly, links and props from other sites in your industry may also improve your standing with the SERPS.

    2. Cross-site keyword usage is vitally important to search engine rankings. This goes beyond keyword optimizing pages on your site for your target keywords. It means that you should be sprinkling those keywords regularly in many pages throughout your site and blog and using many variations of them. Google has been clamping down on sites that use the same anchor text in their inward bound links, and what may well follow is a clampdown on sites that repeat the same keywords over and over again (although who really knows). This kind of variation will also help you benefit from long-tail keyword searches, which are easier to optimize for anyways and may bring you more relevant traffic.

    My two cents for the day…

  • Paul Swansen

    Nice title, and very short on content.

    • Hmm Paul, not sure what you would add?

  • Thanks John. Blogging has been a very challenging opportunity for us and I you’ve helped me think in terms of strategy over just pushing the content out there.

  • Good insights, I definitely agree run-of-the-mill don’t typically have lasting effects in Google but you can get the most out of them by including them in a larger reference page.