10 SEO Myths You Should Ignore
Most myths are harmless. Gum takes seven years to digest. Sharks don’t get cancer. Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for most SEO myths. At best, they’re slightly misleading. At worst, they lead you to waste precious time, money, and resources on things that will never improve SEO.

So let’s bust a few common SEO myths once and for all.

  1. SEO is dead
  2. SEO is a one-time thing
  3. Google only ranks ‘fresh’ content
  4. Long-tail keywords are easier to rank for
  5. Duplicate content will get you penalized
  6. Social signals help rankings
  7. PPC can’t help you rank higher
  8. PageRank doesn’t matter anymore
  9. SEO is all about rankings
  10. Keyword research isn’t important

Perhaps this one is more straight nonsense than a myth, but it’s worth putting to bed nonetheless.

Lazy journalism likes to proclaim many things dead regularly, and SEO is no different. According to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, this phrase has been uttered 3,367 times since June 2016.

1 seo is dead

On average, that’s 66 times a month.

So let’s set the record straight once and for all:

SEO. Is. Not. Dead.

How do we know? Well, here’s the organic search traffic to our blog over the past three months:

2 google search console blog traffic

2.1 million visits… all from “SEO.”

So why do people keep saying SEO is dead?

There are all kinds of reasons, but the most prominent argument these days relates to the increasing prevalence of answers in search results like this:

3 google answers knowledge graph

Does this negatively impact the number of clicks on search results? Of course. If we look at this query in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, we see only 1,200 clicks from an estimated monthly search volume of 14,000. That means people click only 8% of the time.

4 how old is elon musk keywords explorer

But this doesn’t mean SEO is dead. You can still get clicks from this keyword, and Google only shows answers in the search results for some keywords anyway.

The truth is that as long as search engines still exist, are used, and show organic results that you can influence in some way, then SEO isn’t dead.

SEO is a bit like going to the gym. It’s okay to miss a workout here and there, but things soon start to fall apart if you stay at home eating chips too often. (Trust me, I know.)

Here’s what it looks like when you start neglecting your SEO:

5 neglecting seo

Before this period, I was actively optimizing the site. Then, I neglected it and shifted my attention to other things. You can see that traffic slowly declined over the following months.

There are several reasons this can happen:

  • Your competitors overtake you (by consistently working on their SEO).
  • You start losing backlinks due to ‘link rot.’
  • Your content loses ‘freshness’ (more on this shortly).

That’s why most SEO professionals (74.71%) charge a monthly retainer for their services, rather than an hourly rate or one-time fee. They know SEO is an ongoing process and that their clients need to invest long-term to see results.

Is this true for absolutely all sites? No. There are rare instances where a site can be neglected for years and continue to pull in consistent traffic month after month.

Here’s one example:

6 consistent traffic

It was last updated in 2011, yet still pulls in an estimated ~500 monthly organic visits.

Republishing content is something we do a lot. If we filter for republished posts on the blog in Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, there are 136 since 2016.

7 content explorer republished

So why are we investing so much effort into keeping our content fresh if freshness is a myth?

Freshness’ is a query-dependent ranking factor. That means it matters more for some queries than others. It all depends on whether the freshness of the content has any impact on content quality.

SEO is continually evolving, so freshness matters for many SEO-related queries.

For example, here’s what happened when we didn’t update our list of the top Google searches for months:

8 top google searches traffic dip

You can see that traffic was declining for months, but then recovered pretty much overnight when we refreshed and republished it. That’s because the top Google searches change all the time, so people expect ‘fresh’ results.

On the flip side, freshness doesn’t particularly matter for a query like “how to tie a tie” because the process never changes. That’s why Google is quite happy to rank pages in the top three that were last updated in 2013.

9 non fresh content

Most people think long-tail keywords consist of many words, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Long-tail keywords are queries with low individual search volumes. The number of words doesn’t matter.

For example, both of these queries are long-tail keywords:

10 long tail queries

But here’s the thing: even though long-tails get few monthly searches, they’re usually not any easier to rank for than their more popular counterparts.

For example, look at the Keyword Difficulty scores for these keywords:

11 long tail difficulty

Despite the considerable difference in monthly search volumes, the scores are roughly the same. That’s because the low-volume query is what we like to call a “supporting long-tail keyword.” In other words, it’s a less popular way of searching for a popular topic.

It’s usually not any easier to rank for these long-tails because Google ranks mostly the same set of results as they do for the ‘main’ keyword.

12 content gap same rankings

Now, in fairness, there is another type of long-tail keyword that does tend to be easier to rank for. We like to call these “topical long-tails.” You can learn about those in our full guide to long-tail keywords.

Duplicate content is where exact or near-duplicate content shows up in more than one place. It can be on the same website or across multiple sites.

For example, both of these URLs take you to the same blog post:


Google has said there’s no duplicate content penalty on numerous occasions, but this myth still gets peddled to oblivion on the regular.

However, while duplicate content won’t get you penalized, it can cause SEO issues such as:

  • Undesirable or unfriendly URLs in search results;
  • Backlink dilution;
  • Wasted crawl budget;
  • Scraped or syndicated content outranking you.

If you’re concerned that you might have duplicate content on your site, run a crawl with Ahrefs’ Site Audit and check the Duplicate content report. If you see clusters of near or exact duplicates, it may be worth fixing the issues.

13 duplicate content

Learn how to do that in our beginner’s guide to duplicate content.

It’s not farfetched to assume that the more your content gets shared on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, the higher it’ll rank. After all, if tons of people share something, it must be interesting and valuable and worthy of ranking, right?

Maybe, but according to Google’s John Mueller, social signals don’t directly impact rankings.


That’s probably because social signals are so stupendously easy to manipulate. Seriously, take a look on Fiverr. You can get thousands of them for a few bucks.

14 fiverr social signals

But if this is true, why do many studies show a correlation between social shares and rankings?

15 social signals seo study

There’s no definitive reason for this, but we think these are the two most significant contributing factors:

  1. More shares lead to more exposure, and that often leads to more backlinks (which are a ranking factor).
  2. Pages that rank well in Google get more traffic, and some of those people will share the content on social media.

Let’s be clear: paying Google for ads won’t directly influence rankings. I love conspiracy theories as much as the next person, but Google isn’t going to rank you higher because you’re lining their pockets.

However, that doesn’t mean PPC can’t indirectly help you rank higher.

And that’s because PPC ads can help attract backlinks.

Don’t believe us? We recently spent $1,246 on Google ads with the intention of building links to one of our blog posts. The result? Backlinks from eleven new websites.

seo myths

Now, this doesn’t mean you can run any old PPC campaign and watch the backlinks roll in. It needs to be strategic.

Learn how we did it in this video:


PageRank is the foundation of Google. It looks at the quantity and quality of backlinks to judge the value of a page.

Google confirmed that PageRank is still a ranking factor in 2018:

But ever since Google discontinued public PageRank scores in 2016, some people think that us SEOs shouldn’t be talking about this metric:

17 pagerank comment

There’s undoubtedly some merit to this argument. After all, there’s little point talking about a metric that we can no longer see. But the fact of the matter is that PageRank is still a ranking signal, which means that getting high-quality links to your web pages still matters.

This is further backed up by the fact that Ahrefs’ URL Rating (UR) correlates nicely with search traffic:

pasted image 0 38

If you’re not familiar with UR, it’s our page-level authority metric that works on similar—but not identical—principles to Google’s original PageRank formula.

Everyone wants to rank number one, but that’s usually because they assume that the number one result gets the most traffic. However, this isn’t always true. Our study of 100,000 search queries shows that the top-ranking page only gets the most search traffic 49% of the time.

18 top ranking page traffic study

Why? Because most pages get traffic from many keywords, not just one.

For example, look at the top-ranking pages for “high protein diet.” The page in position two gets more estimated traffic than the page in position one because it ranks for more keywords with search demand.

19 top ranking page traffic

The lesson here is that it’s time to stop agonizing over first-place rankings and start focusing on traffic instead.

You can read more about how to do that here, but the basics are:

  1. Cover your topic in more depth.
  2. Build more backlinks to boost page-level “authority.”
  3. Nail search intent.

Given that most pages rank for hundreds or thousands of keywords, it’s hardly any wonder that some people think keyword research is dead. What’s the point of optimizing for one keyword when you’ll probably get traffic from hundreds of them?

That’s flawed logic because a keyword’s popularity usually aligns with the topic’s overall search traffic potential.

For example, take these two keywords:

20 keyword search volumes

The second keyword has half the search volume of the first. And if we look at the estimated traffic to each top-ranking page, we see that the page ranking for the higher volume keyword gets way more organic traffic.

21 keyword research top ranking traffic

22 local seo top ranking traffic


Search volume is usually a good indicator of traffic potential, but not always. Tim explains more here.

Keyword research also helps ensure that you’re optimizing for the most popular way of searching for a topic. That’s important if you want to attract the most organic traffic possible to your page.

Read our full keyword research guide to learn more about proper keyword research.

Final thoughts

Is this an extensive list of SEO myths? Far from it. These are merely some of the most common ones I come across time and time again, so it’s useful to put them to rest.

Did I miss any other frustrating myths? Ping me on Twitter.

  • Linking websites 53

Data from Content Explorer

Search Intent: The Overlooked ‘Ranking Factor’ You Should Be Optimizing for in 2019

    Looking to rank in Google in 2019? You need to create content that aligns with search intent.

    It’s difficult to stress just how important the concept of search intent is to SEO. I’m not exaggerating when I say that if you want to rank in 2019, understanding and creating content with search intent in mind is critical.

    Don’t believe me? Take a look at this:

    traffic increase backlink checker

    That’s a 677% increase in organic traffic to one of our core landing pages in just six months!

    How did we do this? We made a small change to the page to bring it in line with search intent.

    In this guide, you’ll learn:

    What is search intent?

    Search intent is the why behind a search query. In other words, why did the person make this search? Do they want to learn something? Are they looking to make a purchase? Or, are they looking for a particular website?

    To help demonstrate this concept in more detail, I sifted through my search history and plucked a few of my recent searches.

    Your job is to tell me what my “intent” was when performing each search.

    (Don’t worry, this is a clean exercise!)

    That last one was a little harder, right? We’ll come back to that later.

    Why search intent matters

    Google’s aim is to provide users with the most relevant result for their query.

    How do we know? For starters, the success of Google as a business relies on them successfully doing this. You only have to look at Bing to understand what happens when a search engine’s results are low‐quality and irrelevant. Almost nobody uses it, which means less revenue from ads.

    Google also states its mission is to “Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” So yeah, that’s a bit of a giveaway.

    google organize the worlds information

    But we’re SEOs. Why does any of this matter?

    If you want to rank in Google in 2019, you need to be the most relevant result for the query. First and foremost, that means creating content that aligns with search intent.

    So if you’re trying to rank for “best credit card,” don’t try to shoehorn your landing page into the SERPs. It’s not going to happen. Google knows what users want to see when they search for this query, and it isn’t that. It’s information; blog posts; comparison charts; etc.

    Relevance is the foundation of SEO success.

    The four types search intent

    Here are the four primary ‘types’ of search intent:


    The searcher is looking for information. This might be an answer to a simple question like “who is the president of the United States?”. Or something that requires a longer and more in‐depth answer like “how does the blockchain work?” However, not all informational searches are formulated as questions.

    Examples of informational searches:

    • who is Julian Assange?”
    • Manchester airport directions”
    • Donald Trump”
    • football scores”
    • HTML 5”


    The searcher is looking for a specific website. They already know where they want to go. It’s probably just quicker and easier for them to Google it than to type the entire URL into the address bar. They may also be unsure of the exact URL.

    Examples of navigational searches:

    • Facebook”
    • ahrefs content explorer”
    • beginners guide to SEO moz”
    • Twitter login”


    The searcher is looking to make a purchase. They’re in buying mode. Most likely, they already know what they want to buy. They’re looking for a place to buy it from.

    Examples of transactional searches:

    • buy macbook pro”
    • nordvpn coupon”
    • samsung galaxy s10 cheap”
    • lastpass premium price”

    Commercial investigation

    The searcher is in the market for a specific product or service but has yet to make a final decision on which solution is right for them. They’re most likely looking for reviews and comparisons. They’re still weighing up their options.

    Examples of commercial investigation searches:

    • best protein powder”
    • mailchimp vs convertkit”
    • ahrefs review”
    • top restaurant in London”

    That last example is of particular note. It demonstrates the fact that many local searches have commercial investigation intent. Other examples include: “plumber near me,” “cheapest hotel in Singapore,” etc.

    How to infer search intent

    Search intent is often obvious from the wording of the query itself.

    For example, take the keyword “buy bitcoin.” It’s clear that the searcher is in the market to buy some cryptocurrency (transactional). On the other hand, someone searching for “how to tie a tie” is looking for an answer (informational).

    Here are some keyword “modifiers” that typically indicate a certain type of search intent:

    Screenshot 2019 04 17 at 18.03.46

    If you’re using a keyword research tool like Ahrefs Keywords Explorer, you can use these modifiers to filter for keywords with specific intent when doing keyword research.

    So, say that you’re looking for some relevant informational keywords for blog posts. First, enter a few seed keywords into Ahrefs Keywords Explorer, hit search, then choose one of the reports from the left‐hand menu to see some keyword ideas. I recommend the “Having same terms” report as a starting point.

    Next, copy‐paste the modifier words into the “Include” box and switch the toggle to “Any word.”

    informational intent keywords explorer

    You will now see only keywords containing one or more of those modifiers.

    You can do the same thing when looking for transactional, commercial investigation, or navigational keywords. Just copy‐paste the list of modifiers into the “include” box.


    Looking for a quick way to find informational keywords? Try the Questions report in Keywords Explorer. This filters for question‐type keywords, which almost always have informational intent.

    questions report ahrefs

    From there, you can add more filters to focus in on the keywords that matter to you. For example, if you’re looking for low‐competition, high‐volume topics, you can add a Keyword Difficulty (KD) and volume filter.

    filters keywords explorer

    But, there’s a problem:

    Modifiers aren’t foolproof because not all keywords contain modifiers.

    For that reason, you shouldn’t rely solely on modifier words to infer search intent. If you do, you’ll end up missing out on a lot of good keyword ideas.


    The answer lies in the SERPs

    Have you ever searched in Google and seen something like this in the results?

    featured snippet

    This is known as a featured snippet. It’s one of the many SERP features Google sometimes shows. Others include:

    • Shopping results
    • Knowledge card
    • AdWords ads
    • Related questions
    • Video results

    Here’s why this matters:

    Google tends to show certain SERP features more or less frequently, depending on the intent of the search. That means we can use the presence (or not) of SERP features to help infer the search intent of a query.

    For example, featured snippets tend to show up mostly for informational queries, whereas shopping results and carousels usually only show up for queries with transactional intent.

    samsung galaxy s10

    Here’s a (very) rough guide:

    serp features queries

    To find keywords with particular SERP features, just include or exclude keywords with certain SERP features from your chosen report in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

    For example, if I were looking for keywords with transactional or commercial navigation intent, I may choose to include only keywords with shopping SERP features:

    shopping results

    If I were looking for keywords with informational intent, I could focus on SERPs with featured snippets, knowledge panels, “people also ask” boxes, and so on:

    informational searches with snippet

    Makes sense, right?

    However, be aware that looking at the presence of SERP features isn’t 100% foolproof. There are plenty of informational keywords without featured snippets, or knowledge panels, etc. And there are plenty of transactional queries without shopping carousels or AdWords ads.

    For example, take note of the SERP features present for “bose headphones”:

    bose headphones serp

    This is clearly a transactional query, yet there are no shopping ads or any other SERP features to indicate this.

    Here’s another important point:

    Search intent is not always binary. Many SERPs have mixed search intent.

    To illustrate, take a look at the top‐ranking results for “grainfather”:

    grainfather serp

    The Grainfather is a piece of beer‐brewing equipment. So the majority of people searching for this query are in buying mode. That’s why most of the search results are product pages.

    But the result in position #4 is a product review, which indicates that this query has mixed intent.

    In other words, while most searchers are in buying mode, some are just looking to learn more about the product before they part with their cash.

    How to optimize for search intent (3 steps)

    Search intent should dictate the type of content you create.

    If the keyword has informational intent, write a blog post. If it has transactional intent, create a product page. You get the gist.

    But are things really this simple? Well, yes and no.

    While it evidently makes sense to align your content with search intent, here’s the issue:

    The four search intent groups are way too broad to be actionable.

    For example, we know that “HTML 5” is an informational query. But knowing that doesn’t tell us what type of content the searcher really want to see. Or what they want to know. Or what format we should use to present that information.

    In order to truly optimize for search intent, we need delve deeper and analyze the SERPs in more detail.

    Here’s how to do that, step by step:

    Step 1. Check ‘SERP reliability’

    Google rankings aren’t static. They fluctuate and change over time.

    Given that you’re relying on the nature of the current top‐ranking pages to infer search intent, that can be a problem. Reason being, what you’re actually doing is judging search intent based on a single snapshot in time.

    If you were to analyze the top‐ranking pages next month, or the month after, your understanding of search intent may be different.

    For that reason, it pays also to check the ranking history of your target keyword.

    To do that, paste your keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, then scroll down to the SERP position history graph.

    serp history


    I recommend switching the graph to show the data six months of data. That tends to be more readable.

    Let’s look at how to read this graph.

    Little or no fluctuation in rankings over time

    This indicates that the current top‐ranking pages are a good proxy for search intent.

    For example, take a look at the graph for “how to write a resume”:

    serp history how to write a resume

    There’s been almost no change in rankings for the current top‐ranking pages over the past six months.

    Verdict: These are good keywords to target because search intent is clear.

    Fluctuation of some pages but not others

    This indicates that some of the top‐ranking pages are a good proxy for search intent.

    Let’s take a look at the query, “notre dame.”

    notre dame serp history

    If we focus on the top three results, we see that the rankings for two (green and purple lines) of them have remained consistent over time. Both of these pages are official sites. One is for the university, and the other is for Notre Dame Athletics.

    This tells us that there’s consistent interest in these two things and that most searchers are looking for one of these two sites… or at least information related to these things.

    But in position #3, we have a page from Wikipedia (blue line), which is fluctuating like crazy.

    This is a rather basic article about the Notre Dame cathedral.

    Google seems unsure whether this is a good match for search intent, and that’s hardly surprising. None of the other top‐ranking pages are about Notre Dame cathedral, but rather the university. So it’s clear that most searchers aren’t looking for a page like this.

    Verdict: These can be good keywords to target. Just make sure your content aligns with the dominant intent behind the query.

    Things changed in April 2019…

    I wrote this post before the unfortunate events of April 2019, when a fire ravaged the Notre Dame cathedral. If you take a look at the SERP history graph for this keyword now, you’ll see that a few new results have entered the SERP, all of which are related to recent events.

    serp history notre dame

    Google’s algorithm favors these results now because they know this is the information searchers are looking for.

    Lots of fluctuation in rankings

    This indicates one of two things:

    1. Search intent is constantly changing.
    2. Google is struggling to understand the true intent behind the search.

    It may even be both.

    For example, take a look at the query, “mercury.”

    serp history mercury

    Google appears to have no idea whether people are looking for information about the planet Mercury, or the element mercury.

    Verdict: These aren’t great keywords to target because search intent is unclear.

    An alternative viewpoint

    As I mentioned in our post about Keyword Difficulty, some SEOs see chaotic SERPs as an opportunity to rank:

    Reason being, Google clearly isn’t happy with the current results as it chooses not to rank any one of them at the top for more than a few days at a time. So, if you can crack search intent, the ranking is yours for the taking.

    But, while this is the case, it can also indicate a difficult to crack SERP.

    That’s because if Google has no clue what searchers are after, then chances are you don’t either. It may also be the case that search intent is continually changing, in which case ranking long‐term will be next to impossible.

    Step 2. Make sure your content aligns with the “3 C’s of search intent”

    Now that you know your chosen keyword is sound (i.e., has clear search intent), your next task is to analyze the search results for what we like to call, “the 3 C’s of search intent.”

    1. Content type
    2. Content format
    3. Content angle

    Let’s run through this process in more detail.

    1. Content type

    This refers to the overall “type” of content in the search results, and is usually one of the following:

    • Blog post
    • Product page
    • Category page
    • Landing page

    For example, take a look at the top search results for “how to make pancakes”:

    how to make pancakes serps

    You can tell from the titles alone that they’re all blog posts.

    Now take a look at the search results for “buy pink dress”:

    buy pink dress

    You can tell from the titles and URLs that all of the results are ecommerce category pages, like this one:

    ecommerce category

    If we look at the search results for “buy roomba 980,” what we see are product pages:

    buy roomba 980

    That’s because we’re looking to buy a specific product and not just a type of product.

    Your task is to look for the most dominant content type in the search results, then make sure your content aligns with that.

    2. Content format

    This refers to the “format” of the top‐ranking pages. Some common formats include:

    • How‐to” guides
    • Step‐by‐step tutorials
    • List posts
    • Opinion pieces
    • Reviews
    • Comparisons

    There are a lot of different formats, but these should give you an idea of what to look out for.

    For example, if we look at the results for “how to make pancakes,” we see that most of them are how‐to guides:

    how to make pancakes format

    On the other hand, most of the results for “best places to travel in italy” are list posts:

    best places to travel in italy

    For queries like “how to write a resume,” we see mostly step‐by‐step guides, like this one:

    how to write a resume step by step

    When creating your content, it makes most sense to follow the crowd.

    If most of the top pages are how‐to guides, create a how‐to guide. If they’re list posts, create a list post. You get the idea.

    important note

    The “format” of content mostly applies to informational and commercial investigation queries. That’s because these are the types of queries for which blog posts tend to rank.

    When it comes to transactional queries, there’s not much to say about content format. Nine times out of ten, it’s either going to be a product or category page. So the content format generally aligns with the content “type.”

    3. Content angle

    This refers to the unique selling point of the top‐ranking posts and pages and provides insight into what searchers value when making this particular search.

    For example, if we look at the search results for “how to make pancakes,” we can see a few different but similar angles in the results.

    how to make pancakes angle

    To highlight just a few:

    • Perfect pancakes”
    • Good old‐fashioned pancakes”
    • Fluffy pancakes”

    If we search for a transactional query like “buy glasses online,” we see that a lot of retailers are pitching their low prices and discounts right in the search results.

    buy glasses online

    This is a sign that price is a big sticking point for those looking to buy glasses online.

    Many retailers also mention the word “prescription,” which indicates that searchers are looking for prescription glasses as opposed to sunglasses, or solar eclipse glasses, or any other types of glasses.

    The trick to optimizing for content angle is, once again, to follow the crowd.

    That doesn’t mean you have to copy them, but if they’re all pitching price in their content, title tags, and meta descriptions, and you’re pitching quality, then that may not work to your advantage.

    Step 3. Take cues from the search results and top‐ranking pages

    Everything discussed so far works great for getting a rough sense of search intent and deciding what type of content you need to create. But if you’re really serious about targeting a keyword, you need to analyze both the SERPs and top‐ranking pages in more detail.

    That’s the only way to truly understand what people want to see, and what your content should talk about.

    Below are three ways to do that:

    1) Look at the “People also ask” box in the SERPs

    Google’s “People also ask” box tells you what questions searchers also tend to ask.

    For example, take a look at the results for “best protein powder”:

    people also ask best protein powder

    These are questions that you may want to provide answers to in your content.


    To see more questions from the “People also ask” box, click on the caret for one of the related questions. As you do, Google will reveal more.


    Not all SERPs have a “People also ask” box. This is more useful for informational queries.

    2. Run a content gap analysis at the page‐level

    A content gap analysis is usually used to find content gaps at the domain level.

    But you can also run a content gap analysis at the page‐level. And this can give you some insight into what subtopics searchers expect to see covered on your page.

    To illustrate, let’s paste a few of the top‐ranking pages for “best protein powder” into Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool. We’ll leave the bottom box blank, and hit search.

    content gap best protein powder

    Now, there are some obvious things in there like “best whey protein” and “best protein shakes.” But these are pretty much just synonyms or other ways to search for the same thing.

    However, we also see queries like:

    • best protein for building muscle
    • best post workout protein
    • best lean protein powder
    • types of protein powders

    From these, we can tell that searchers are generally looking to build muscle, and want a lean post‐workout protein shake. They also have some interest in the different types of protein powders, which I assume means whey, casein, hemp, etc.

    3. Visit the top‐ranking pages

    Nothing gives you more insight into search intent than actually visiting the top‐ranking pages.

    In fact, there’s no other way to truly understand what searchers want to see.

    Case in point: If we do this for the top results for “best protein powder,” we notice that some of the pages talk about the best types of protein powders (whey, casein, egg protein, hemp, etc.)…

    types of protein

    … and others talk about the best protein powder products to buy:

    best protein powders to buy

    So it looks like there are two different interpretations of “best protein powder.”

    (Nothing in the SERPs tells us that.)

    If you were to create a piece of content about this topic, you would have to make a decision as to which angle is best for your content. There’s also the possibility of covering both angles to an extent.

    Here are some other things I notice about search intent after looking at the top‐ranking pages:

    • Images and visuals are important: Searchers want to actually see which protein powders are best.
    • Links to buy are helpful: Most of the current top‐ranking pages have quick links to buy protein powders from Amazon or elsewhere. That makes sense, and is actually important, as this is a commercial investigation keyword.
    • Segmentation by diet is important: People don’t want a generic list of the best protein powders. They want to know which is the best for their particular diet. So including some vegetarian, vegan, and gluten‐free information is a must.

    Bottom line: Always review the top‐ranking pages before creating content.

    Case study #1: +677% more traffic by optimizing for search intent

    In 2017, we created a landing page to rank for the keyword “backlink checker” (14,000 monthly searches).

    Here’s how it looked:

    backlink checker landing page original

    You can view the full page via the Wayback Machine here.

    For a couple of years, this page performed reasonably well and sent a few thousand monthly organic visitors our way, but it never made it to the top 5 for our target keyword.

    It seemed to be stuck ranking in positions 6–10.

    backlink checker rankings

    But then, on September 13th, 2018, we made a small change to that page… and traffic went through the roof!

    organic traffic backlink checker

    The page now gets more than 53,000 monthly visits from organic search!

    That’s a 677% increase… in less than six months!

    It also jumped to the number one spot for its target keyword…

    backlink checker number 1

    … and it’s been there ever since.


    This page has even survived a huge negative SEO attack. Someone pointed thousands of low‐quality and spammy links at the page, but it’s still going strong. And we haven’t even disavowed any links.

    So, what changed?

    Basically, we looked at the current top‐ranking pages and noticed something important about search intent:

    Searchers are looking for a free backlink checking tool, not a boring landing page.

    backlink checker tool

    So, we gave them what they wanted:

    new backlink checker landing page

    Our landing page now boasts what we believe to be the best free backlink checker on the web.

    This isn’t the only time we’ve seen this happen either.

    Case study #2: +3,100% more traffic by optimizing for search intent

    In 2016, we studied on‐page SEO ranking factors across 2 million keywords.

    Here’s what that post looked like, courtesy of the Wayback Machine:

    old on page seo guide


    See the full post in the Wayback Machine here.

    The post itself was good, but it never really ranked for anything or got much traffic.

    So, we looked at the top‐ranking pages to try to figure out why this was and soon realized that search intent was the issue.

    Basically, searchers didn’t want to see a study; they wanted an actionable guide.

    So that’s what we created.

    Now the post ranks in the top 5…

    on page seo ranking

    … and traffic has increased by 3,100%!

    traffic increase on page seo

    Final thoughts

    Search intent is perhaps the most important “ranking factor” in 2019.

    Fail to give searchers what they want, and your chances of ranking are slim to none. We’ve seen this time and time again with the content we publish here on the Ahrefs blog.

    Even if you do manage to “trick” Google for a short while and rank with a low‐quality or ill‐fitting page, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll figure things out eventually. It might be tomorrow, or next month, or next year, but when they do, your rankings will drop like a stone.

    If you want to rank long‐term, make it your mission to give searchers what they want. Google will almost certainly reward you for doing so.

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