Episode
14

Rebekah Edwards

Building a Content-Led Agency, Navigating YMYL Strategy, and Perfecting Content Outlines

September 6, 2023

Join Nate Matherson as he sits down with Rebekah Edwards Le for the fourteenth episode of the Optimize podcast. Rebekah is the co-founder and CEO of Clara, a boutique content and SEO agency focused on producing high-quality content for B2C brands in the health, wellness, lifestyle, and coaching industries.

Rebekah has been in the content marketing space since 2014 and partnered with brands including Ask the Dentist, Ancient Nutrition/Dr. Axe, Surely Wines, PrimeHealth, and The Real Food Dietitians.

In this episode, Rebekah and Nate discuss what it takes to create great content in 2023 and how to prepare for algorithm updates. The pair discuss optimizing content strategy for the Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) space, crafting perfect content outlines and briefs, and navigating the realm of AI-generated content. Rebekah also shares tips on finding and hiring great talent from an agency owner’s POV. Closing out the episode is our popular lightning round of questions!

What to Listen For

02:25 Rebekah’s background and starting Clara

05:10 Clara’s core services

07:08 What makes a fantastic piece of content in 2023?

09:57 How to write perfect content outlines and content briefs

13:02 How content strategy changes within the Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) space

17:51 Rebekah’s thoughts on AI-generated content

21:34 How to find and hire SEO and content marketing professionals

25:32 The importance of revisiting and optimizing your content

29:25 How to prepare for algorithm updates

34:54 Dr. Axe case study

36:15 Lightning question round

Episode Transcript

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

00:00

I think that people in those spaces should devote a lot of that time that they would otherwise use for backlinks to build, like, amazing PR. Answer journalist queries, develop relationships with reporters, have active social media, make sure that you are featured or your brand is featured on sites outside of your own. And from there, you're doing what you need to do. Because Google knows if somebody mentions your site — even if they don't link to it, Google knows what they're talking about most of the time. Put that money towards actual PR and not trying to game the system by purchasing backlinks, because as our agency has shown, like, if you produce really, really awesome content, when it appears top in the search, when people are looking for content to link back to, they will click on your site, they will link back to it. Like, you will naturally earn backlinks if your content is really amazing because Google's algorithm is so much more content-precise.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

00:57

Hi and welcome to the Optimize podcast. My name is Nate Matherson, and I'm your host. On this weekly podcast, we sit down with some of the smartest minds in content marketing and SEO. Our goal is to give you perspective and insights on what's moving the needle in organic search. Today I'm thrilled to sit down with Rebekah Edwards. Rebekah is the co-founder and CEO of Clara, a boutique content and SEO agency based in Tennessee. She and her team focus on producing high-quality content for B2C brands in the health, wellness, lifestyle, and coaching industries. Rebekah has been in the content marketing space since 2014 and partnered with brands including Ask the Dentist, Ancient Nutrition, Dr. Axe, and Truly Wines. In our episode today, I'm excited to learn more about her approach to creating fantastic content, scaling brands in competitive B2C categories, E-E-A-T, backlinks, and more.

Ad Spot

This episode of the Optimize podcast is brought to you by Positional. At Positional, we're building tools for content marketing and SEO teams. We've got a great selection of tools for everything from content optimization to keyword research and technical SEO. And you can visit our website at positional.com.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

02:11

Rebekah, thank you so much for coming on the Optimize podcast.

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

02:14

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

02:15

I know you've been in the space since 2014, and you've worked with some incredible brands, both in in-house roles and with your agency. How did you get into the world of content marketing and SEO?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

02:25

I kind of fell into it, which sounds a little odd. But in 2014, I was, like, freelancing, doing various digital marketing — this, that, and whatever. I was a couple of years out of college, trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. And I had done this, like, personal blog at one point that really had nothing to do with SEO. I don't think I even knew what SEO was at the time. I just wrote stories about just different people I knew. And that project has actually been down for a while now, so it's not even live anymore. But someone that I knew worked at Dr. Axe at the time, which became Ancient Nutrition, and they connected me, and I think they were actually trying to recommend me for a copywriting position — like, for short-form content and more, like, story-form things. My email address got sent to the wrong person, and their content editor emailed me, and he was like, “Hey, we're looking for freelance content writers.” And I was like, OK — I didn't know that there was a difference between, like, copywriting and content writing. And so I said, “Sure, like, I'll try it out.” And he's “Oh, we send everybody a test article that we pay you for and, like, see how you do.” And he sent me the information and some instructions. And I was like, “This totally makes sense. Like, this is the most sensible and straightforward thing I've ever had to do.” And I wrote this article and he was like, “Oh my gosh, like, this is fantastic.” And apparently I was really good at the beginning, which kind of is probably why it ended up being a good career choice. So a couple years later, they hired me in-house as a content writer full-time. And through that, I became an editor there. And I did some compliance editing — basically making sure that nobody said anything they weren't allowed to say about supplements and stuff like that. And through that, I ended up with a managing editor position at Ask the Dentist a little bit later. And that was where I got exposed to more of the broad part of SEO, not just content, but how all of it works together, why technical SEO matters, what, like, subject matter authority and all of that kind of stuff has to do with why you get ranked or why you don't. And so during the time I was there at Ask the Dentist, my husband and I together launched our agency in February 2019. We originally started as just a really good white glove content agency and then broadened a little bit more out into doing more SEO specific — our content got a lot tighter in a good way. We also started offering, like, more auditing and strategy and stuff like that. And so through the agency is really where I've met a vast majority of the people that we've worked with and kind of nailed down exactly what we do and how we help people and stuff like that.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

04:59

Yeah, and so what are some of those, like, core services that you offer with your agency? Is it a full-stack agency — like, everything from content to technical SEO and link building? What do you focus on most with your clients?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

05:10

Good question. OK, so I think that paying for links, or at least, like, spending a lot of time building links, is generally a waste of time. I think that there are exceptions for super high-competition things, but we tried it temporarily and it was literally the biggest waste of time that we have ever spent as an agency. And we didn't do a bad job. It just didn't move the needle as much as amazing content. And so I liked the Eli Schwartz — like, wrote “Product-Led SEO” and kind of defined content-led versus product-led SEO. And I was like, “I like that, like, terminology.” So everything we do revolves around content. Most of our client relationships are, like, 80% creating or optimizing content and, like, 20% everything else, if that much. So we are now, I would say, a full-stack SEO agency with a specific bent towards content, and we are averse to anything that is, like, direct link building. Now I — we do, like, PR stuff sometimes, HARO queries, and we write content for those kinds of things. We're not focused on getting links because I think that we've proven over and over that if you are content-led first, then everything else, including links, will fall into place. Like, we do technical SEO, but I think that people overemphasize it a lot.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

06:26

Yeah, a lot of what you said resonates with me, especially with, like, our earlier-stage customers. They tend to ask me about backlinks and Core Web Vitals, but I always tell them to, like, take a step back and say, like, especially in that first year, like, 85 to 90% of the work you do is picking the right keywords, the right topics to write about, and then creating fantastic content. I think, like, there's the 10 to 15% of the work that is important and can help move the needle, like you said, in some, like, more competitive industries, but everything starts with creating great content. And I'll tell our customers, like, “Create fantastic content.” And then they'll ask me, like, “What is a fantastic piece of content?” So I'm going to ask you, what does it mean to create, like, a fantastic article or a piece of content for a website?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

07:08

My philosophy of content is, people don't give a crap about your brand; please stop pretending they do. I think fantastic content is straightforward before everything else. When it comes to organic search, especially at top a funnel, like, very educational stuff, people don't care. You are in the bathroom or the kitchen or sitting on your couch, and you pull out your phone for a few seconds and you're looking for one quick answer. So I think fantastic content gives you the answer you're looking for, like, right away. It's going to tell you exactly what you need to know as immediately as possible. And so a lot of our content writing centers around, hey, how can you write shorter paragraphs? How can you use insanely clear headings that no one will question what's going to be there when they scroll down to that point on the page? How do you answer — people also ask questions — in the clearest way possible for people who may not have a very strong grasp of English or maybe read at a fifth-grade level rather than a tenth-grade one. And so everything we do is kind of built around that philosophy. Now we do some stuff — we have a few clients in the financial space and stuff that requires I think more heady knowledge stuff. People aren't searching for these things if they don't already have, like, a basic grasp of it. So all of those things are obviously, like, flexible and up for change as needed. I don't think that fantastic content has to be particularly interesting, as long as it is informative — unless the query calls for something that's, like, really interesting. I have a personal podcast about movies and books, and if I'm writing an article for that website, people want interest. They want kind of, like, a more peppy or journalistic style of writing, but for most search terms that we cover, that is not the case. I actually cut the intro in, like, half of our articles now, because anything that has the first H2 as, like, “What Is the Keyword?”  —there's no point in having an intro because I'm going to answer the important question in the first heading. So let's just cut it. And so we've tried to experiment with that, too.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

09:06

Yeah, no, it totally makes sense to me. I think a big mistake, like, I'll see our customers make or startups make is they'll have, like, very long introductions that don't actually say anything. And I try to coach them that, like, you should answer that query very quickly in the introduction, and then of course expand upon it with your headers. But, like, you wanna give that searcher kind of exactly what they're looking for really quickly, and then entice them to keep reading. And, you know, I saw a post you had on LinkedIn, and you've created some great content on LinkedIn, especially lately, and so I've enjoyed following you. And I really enjoyed your post on content briefs. I spend a lot of time creating outlines, even if I'm, like, writing a piece of content myself, I still will go and build an outline for, like, what that piece should look like. And I always try to tell our customers to go and create outlines. But to you, like, can you break down what goes into a content outline or brief and, like, how do you use them effectively as part of the process to create fantastic content?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

09:57

So I am very passionate about a good content brief. I think that if you have a good brief, your writer is able to just focus on what they're good at, which is just writing. So the first thing that I include on the brief — like, after the keyword — is the audience, because that's the biggest thing that matters. If you're talking to a 35-year-old mother of — I'm describing myself — 35-year-old mother of two adopted teenagers, that's a very different audience from a 65-year-old man that works in the mining industry. Like, there's just a very different way that you write to anyone. I'm also really big on headings. I despise opening up articles when I can't look at the headings and know exactly what is in each section. And so every time I outline an article with H2s, H3s, whatever, like, that is one of my primary goals is to make the clearest headings in the most important to least important. I define everything that's not the actual paragraphs of writing if at all possible. I do the SEO title, I do the on-page heading, all of the H2s and headings on page, I do the meta, I do the slug, I write the objective for the writer about exactly what they're going to be doing. I think that one of the most important things about the objective for our clients has been, like, “Hey, our client doesn't think this thing that you might see in the top-ranking articles,” or “They have experience that tells them otherwise,” or whatever. Anything that's, like contrarian or where the client's perspective is just really, really different are important in the way you write the article. I give a word count range. I use Clearscope to generate secondary keywords. I know SEO Surfer and a lot of other tools — I think Semrush even does it now — where you have all of the related keywords, you know, that help you cover the topic well. I include information on the featured snippet or the search generative experience. So I include all of that information on how to capture that. People also ask questions, top articles. Basically what I'm trying to do is say, “Here is an outline and every single resource you need to answer all of the questions that people have when they search for this term. Because if you're writing a thousand words for search, you are writing ten words for a hundred people. You're generally not writing a thousand words for one person. People don't read the entire article, almost always, because that isn't what they need. They need an answer to their question and then you provide that answer and more information.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

12:17

Yeah, I know that you've worked in and with some clients in the Your Money, Your Life space, and this is where, like, I started my career. I spent, like, the first seven or so years in the SEO world in consumer finance. So we built out a large blog with topics ranging from insurance to banking and investing and credit cards. And so I know that, like, the Your Money, Your Life space can be very competitive, for one, but also that, like, Google kind of takes extra scrutiny, and there can be, like, a little bit more volatility in the rankings for, like, a website in the Your Money, Your Life space. How does, like, a website being in, like, the Your Money, Your Life space change, like, the content creation process or, like, what that piece of content or webpage ultimately needs to look like?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

13:02

There's a few areas that we try to emphasize, especially because most of our clients are in the health space somewhere. So it counts as that. One thing we emphasize, which is probably — I think that this is kind of controversial depending on who you talk to, how important it is — but we always make sure that an author with a good bio that's relevant to the topic is clearly listed on each page, and uses the correct markup so that it's clear that they're the author. I know some people think that that's actually not that important. It depends on who you talk to. Another thing that we've done with a lot of our articles is that we use amazing sources. And I have a hunch — I can't tell you for sure — but I have a hunch that the way that we've done this is probably one of the things that helps to future-proof the brands we work with against AI content — kind of just, like, unedited AI garbage-y stuff just being published all over the place. I think we're future-proofing our brands by making sure that everything we do is really highly researched. I started that when I worked at Dr. Axe. I was a compliance editor. And so I read over articles where people had included a sentence about “This essential oil does…” — I don't know; I'm going to use an extreme example because it's probably inaccurate, but, like, “This essential oil can cure your cold.” So I just got used to learning how to read and research scientific papers. And I — me and Google Scholar, man, were best friends — and anything that I could not find a source for got cut. And so it cuts keywords sometimes. It means that you can't say stuff that people expect you to talk about in some money or health topics. But we, like, always go back to “I need a primary source,” and a primary source does not count as WebMD. It does not count when you link something from Healthline or whatever. A primary source means “This is a journal article or a, like, .gov or similar source that proves what you're saying is accurate.” Healthline does this pretty well and one of their other Red Ventures sites, Medical News Today. But honestly, even a lot of their newer stuff has been kind of lax on that. I think that they rest on their backlink profile being really good and, like, their brand name being really well known. So I think for smaller brands, too, it's not just about what is on the page. It also affects the way I start the strategy. And so I've tested both angles of starting with, like, a cornerstone piece, whether that's about some kind of a treatment or a condition or things like that. And then from there, building out some of the major pieces. Like, for a very easy example, if I was writing for a client that focused on diabetes, that first test would be writing a cornerstone article that just targets the term “diabetes.” I know we're not going to rank for it, if ever. If we do, it'll be a long time. And then from there, doing an article, say, on symptoms of diabetes, if that has a different SERP than whatever. Well, I've tested that out. I don't think that's actually as helpful, if I'm being honest. We've had better luck with having clearly delineated categories still, but just focusing on, like, slightly lower-hanging fruit. So for diabetes, I might not write an article on diabetes as a whole, but I might write an article on, like, supplements for diabetes or things that are, like, they're still high competition, but they're a little more specific because I think those head terms, the quality of, like, what you get, even when people click on the article, that's not going to be great for most clients anyway. So I think it looks to strategy, and I try to look at it from a perspective of “OK, I'm writing for a client who publishes four articles a week; it's a brand-new site, or — and it's competing with something like Healthline that has tens of thousands of articles that they publish constantly,” right? Like, w I worked for Ask the Dentist, we had a really clear avatar. It was people, usually over 40, often that had had a very bad experience with a dentist at one point in their lives. For whatever reason, that was the people that we connected with easily. And so we looked for a lot of search terms that had to do with that person, exactly things that they would be looking for based on their own experiences, and then built out a strategy from there.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

16:56

I do fall into the camp myself that I believe and agree with you that, like, authors and bios are really important — knowing that, like, an actual expert that's smiling back at you up at the top of the page, you know, this is a real person, this is, like, a real expert or human that's written this piece of content. And so whether it's a ranking factor or not, I just think it's gonna improve, like, time on page, bounce rate, scroll depth, all of those other metrics that I think we know are ranking factors. And I'm glad that you mentioned sourcing. I definitely think that's important. And I always tell, like, our customers in the health space that whenever you're making any sort of claim, you need to link back to that actual first-party source of that claim, like you said, and not linking over to, like, a WebMD or a Healthline as the secondary source of one of those claims. So totally agree with you there. And I wasn't gonna bring it up, but you did. So now I have to ask you, what do you make of, like, AI-generated content? Like, should we be using it? Should I use it on my website?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

17:51

That's such a good question. I think that there's a lot of nuance in the answer. Here is my take. AI is a very good tool. It can write, sort of, as well as a lot of copywriters. It can write content that's, like, editable to make it OK. Just publishing articles, like, written by AI with no editing or no real human touch, I think is a bad call. I think I said this on Twitter recently, but I think that what ChatGPT and similar tools have done is like, it's raised the bar for what's bad. Like, what used to be bad was, like, completely unreadable. Now what's bad is just, like, boring and says something in 20 words that could have taken five. And there's things — in my opinion, it's pretty easy to spot most AI content. By the way, the reason I think it's easy to spot is that it either over-explains everything in a very, like, clinical, dry way that even I think is not good enough. And then I think on the other end, AI is also really good at writing blogger content that is awful for search. Both ways are pretty easy to spot. So I do use ChatGPT. I'm actually testing Claude AI as well, because I think it's actually been a little bit more helpful for me in terms of editing. I think they're really good tools. I would not publish straight AI content. I'm pretty efficient. And so I've been working on something for a personal site that I started, just seeing, you know, how I can use AI to make my processes more efficient. I can ship an article, have it posted on my site and internally link it in two hours and 15 minutes on a pretty significant health topic. And that includes all my scientific references, that includes all of the process beforehand. But the way I've trained it is more like: I have a list of guidelines that I send it in every single prompt. I outline every article before I have it start writing, and I tell it what the outline is. I tell it to use the Clearscope keywords that I generate and send it the list. And I only have it write section by section. And I have found that, like, section by section is the best way that I've used it to create articles. And even still, it still takes the same kind of effort, I would say editing, as a, like — an average copywriter. I have a couple copywriters that take, like, 10 minutes to edit an article because everything they give me is so amazing. This is, like, average copywriter material; still needs edited, obviously they're not including any of the science, obviously it's, you know — you have to, like, check and make sure they're not hallucinating and giving you false claims and stuff. But even with that, like, I also, when I'm using AI, I actually feed it existing articles on that topic and tell it not to pull — it does sometimes anyway — but I tell it, I try to tell it, not to pull any of the information it thinks it knows about this topic and only use the content of, like, these articles to, like, build the factual information. And sometimes I'll feed it, like, abstracts from scientific articles and different stuff like that. But it's super cool — like, it's helpful and amazing and, like, 2005 me would have thought it was essentially magic. But ultimately, like, I know that people use programmatic SEO, like, do AI and just publish hundreds of articles, and, you know, maybe that works for a period of time. I don't think it's a good way to build content for a brand unless you have really knowledgeable people, like, working on your content and making sure that it's better than just what, you know, an AI tool spits out.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

21:11

And it sounds like you've built, like, an incredible human team as part of your agency. And a question that I'm always asked is, like, “How do I find, like, great freelance writers or, like, people that can help me create content?” So when you're looking for, like, a new person to join the team to help create content for your agency or for your clients, like, how do you go about finding these people? And then what does that, like, hiring process typically look like for you?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

21:34

I think that this has been my one, like, biggest difficulty as an agency owner. So please take everything I say with a grain of salt. We started off undercharging clients by, like, a laughable amount. And I just didn't know how to create pricing and all of those things. And so I've gone through the process of, like, figuring out, okay, I want good talent, but I don't have the money to buy really experienced talent. So I've kind of gone two ways. One of those ways has been moderately successful. The other one has also been moderately successful. And both of them have essentially failed just as much as they've succeeded. One of them is, I have a large network of, like, young adults that I work with. I do, like, a lot of stuff outside of my career, and so I've connected with friends who were kind of starting a career, thought this sounded like an interesting one, but have no experience. And my theory is it's kind of cool if I can just train you exactly how I want to train you and you have no previous experience that you are going to use to tell me I'm wrong. It's worked, kind of. It's also created some, like, really rough experiences. But I've had a couple of really successful people. Like, I have a friend that was our editor for, I think, a year after being one of our freelance writers for two years. And she, like, went on to have a very successful SEO career at another place. And actually, my brother is one of our freelance writers, and has been since day one, and is, like, I mean, literally so amazing. But the other way that I’ve found people — also moderately successful, also been a big fail — is Twitter and LinkedIn. Like, I would prefer just to connect with people relationally. Like, I know, I have some colleagues that I follow on LinkedIn that started Worklo. Like, I know that that's a big thing right now, and they, like, you know, vet candidates and, like, do all those things. And that's wonderful. But for me, I'm like, I'd rather work with somebody that is not that great starting out or, like, doesn't have a lot of the knowledge, that I really get along with. Mostly, Twitter has been pretty successful in terms of connecting with people in that way. I'll just do a thread and say, “Hey, I'm looking for freelance writers; send me over XYZ.” And so I'll review their stuff. And I have found some really amazing writers through that process. It is a lot of vetting. So, like, I understand if you need to hire a bunch of people, Worklo and stuff like that is probably a great way to do it. If you're only hiring a couple of people at a time or one person at a time, for me, it's been really helpful relationally. One of the people that works for me that is just my rock star — I love her so much — her name is Sam. And Sam, if you're listening, you make my life better. But, like, she's one of the most amazing, like, people I've had come work for me and has a background in, like, web development originally, but also some graphic design and stuff like that. And she was like, “Hey, I'm interested. I know you said you want somebody who wants to learn more about SEO, and I would love to try it." And so she's a contractor that just kicks butt, everything she does. I have had a couple of people write for me — they had had great samples, and then they write for me, and I find out that their samples are great because they're plagiarizing, and it just wasn't in the sample I looked at. And so we've, like, put a plagiarism check into every person we review. But I think, like, again, I'm not great at it, in terms of the hiring process. I think it's been a sticking point for me. So that's what I've done.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

24:56

Well, that's amazing that you've been able to find, like, great talent on Twitter. And in my experience, like, once you kind of build the freelancer team, like, often these folks, like, tend to know other great people, too, that they can start to, like, recommend and connect you to. And so as long as you're being good to them, too, like, you're, like, a good client to work with, they want to refer their friends and other people they know that can also create great content for us. So, you know, and I know, like, creating new content is really important, but how do you think about, like, going back to existing content or articles that you may have written, like, one or two years ago? Is that something that you spend a lot of time thinking about?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

25:32

Yeah. I think the longer we work with someone, the more I think about it. But we start out each client relationship — number one, we start out every single one with one month where we do, like, strategy and a lot of stuff before we ever start creating. And so during that month, we always do a calendar that covers 12 months, regardless of the length of their contract. We kind of go through like, OK, “What's your budget for how many things you want to publish a month?” And then I go through and do something for new content for that whole time. But also in that first month, we often will do content audits — essentially for anybody that has content that isn't trash already on their website. I literally have had a couple of clients who have come to me that, like, their content they had published was so bad that I have just recommended they start from scratch because it wasn't even worth it. Like, it's never had search value; Google's never liked it. You're wasting your time. We work for a brand called MedSchoolCoach, and we're not the only people that help create content for them, but we work with them doing content for, essentially, incoming med school students. And they had, I think, combined, like, a thousand articles between two of their sites that we audited before we ever started writing new content — because what we found was there was really great content on, like, one topic that was spread out over five articles that didn't need to be five articles. And so when we go back and optimize, that's when we do redirecting and, like, condense and have one page where there was five or whatever. So when we do choose what to optimize, I like starting out with that content audit because it also gives me an idea of like, hey, we don't need to optimize this. You can just get rid of it. Like, just redirect it anywhere, like, just to the blog page or your homepage or whatever. And the content itself is just not worth keeping. And so I like starting out with that. Once we've been working with clients and are looking at their content, it ranges. I don't schedule out optimizations very far because I want to use, like, latest available data. But my two general ideas are if you've lost a lot of traffic to this page but it used to have a lot more, we can probably optimize it and get some of that back. We may need to add, you know, maybe there needs to be graphics or a tool or something more interactive or whatever, but we'll optimize that. And the second thing is if something isn't performing, and it's been at least six months since we published it, like, let's make it better, completely rework it. Like, there's something we're not doing. The only exception to that is, like, insanely competitive things. Like, if — again, going back to the example of writing an article on diabetes, I'm not going to optimize that. Like, there's no point. It's not going to rank unless you're one of the big guys — on a  … those kind of, like, exceptions, but for just about everything else, those two kind of things are what I decide to optimize articles based on.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

28:10

Yeah, in my career, I agree with you. I think it makes sense to go back to those pages where, like, Google is seeing them but clearly deciding, like, they don't want to rank them, or if you've got pages, like, stuck on page two or page three and they're on the cusp of, you know, hitting that first page and driving a lot more traffic — those to me are always, like, candidates I would wanna come back to and see if we can update them, make them more helpful, maybe re-optimize them. And a question that I'm asked pretty often is, like, post algorithm update, like, what should we do? Should we, like, go back to existing content? Should we try to optimize it? What do we need to be thinking about with E-E-A-T? And I know that, like, in your category and, like, the health and Your Money, Your Life space, like, there are a lot of algorithm updates. And I know that, like, you spent some time at Dr. Axe back in the day. And back in, like, 2018, 2019, Dr. Axe kind of became, like, the poster child for Google algorithm updates in Your Money, Your Life. And I think their website essentially got, like, axed by, like, 90% overnight, at least according to, like, some of the different keyword research tools out there. So I guess I'd be curious, like, maybe in your experience or the companies you've worked with before, like, given how volatile this category can be, like, if there was an algorithm update, like, how would you approach dissecting what happened and then building, like, a plan for where we go from here?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

29:25

So that's a great question. So I'm pretty sure that the traffic thing that happened to Dr. Axe was in 2017, because it was not long after I'd started. That was a weird Monday standup. I was working there in person, and we had this standup meeting, and my editor, the guy that hired me, like, stood up and he was like, “So we have something to share.” And, like, it was just very weird. I think that is a whole case study in itself that one day maybe I should do because I think I could probably tell you a bunch of the reasons that they were the victim of that, despite the fact that they had, like, a large content team and a good budget behind what we were doing at the time and stuff. We've been an agency since 2019, and since starting, we have never had a client that experienced an algorithmic update that took their traffic for more than, like, a couple of weeks at a time without giving it back. So I think that the fact that we write content the way that we do is a big reason for that. I think that what we're doing, the way we strategize what we write about and the way we write the things that we've chosen to write about, they future-proof you. If you are creating, I mean as Google puts it, if you are creating helpful content, then you're probably not going to be the victim of, like, most of these algorithm updates. I've had, I think, one client — that has been honestly one of our most successful clients — they thought it was an algorithm update last year that, like, their traffic kind of went like this steadily over the course of, like, three months, and we weren't sure, like, what's going on. Well, basically I jumped into it, and as it turned out, they had done a website — like, a soft redesign. This is like the silliest thing ever, and I swear to you, it is what happened. The developer had basically made every single menu item a heading 2 on the page, and, like — just for the ease of the way that it was easier to design that way. But they used really complex menus for, like, a bunch of sub-things. And so I went in using some tools and I was like, “OK, what's going on?” And so in this case, I just had their developer fix that, and it just started going back up. It was like the content wasn't even the problem. It was just the way that they designed it made the headings unclear. So going back to your actual question, I just don't think algorithm updates have that much of an effect on clients like mine. I — and again, we're in the Your Money, Your Life space. Like, I agree with you on that; it is incredibly competitive. But we just haven't seen it be a huge problem. I would say if, you know, if a page that you have takes a large traffic dive, I would do everything in my power to make it not about an algorithm update, because that's a very powerless, like, “I can't control it.” Like, we literally will go through everything to figure out what it is about this page, this query, whatever, that changed it. And so, like, we had it happen for one client that a page — they had been number one for this for, like, over a year, had no problem ranking, like, we'd refresh it every once in a while just in case, like just to keep it up there. Lost all the traffic to it, and they, like, freaked out. I think it was around the time of one of the bigger updates that people talked about a lot. Well, as it turned out, the search term itself, like, the intent just changed. And so we had to redo the page based on the new intent, because when we first wrote it, it was like a how-to intent. And then when they lost all their traffic, we went back to it and realized, “Oh, search intent for this is now not how to; it's now, like, a roundup of products.” And so I think that even if you look at it in that way, that could be algorithm related — like, it is algorithm related. But our goal is to never kind of blame stuff on the algorithm as much as just say, if you're losing traffic to some stuff, like, make sure your major technical stuff is in order. Make sure that the intent of what you've written matches up with the intent of what's showing up. And then beyond that, like, just, same thing as we do all the time: look at the top-ranking things. What are you not doing that the people beating you are now doing? Have they added graphics? Are there downloadable things? We have one client that is, like, out in left field somewhere:they write about card games, and I love their stuff, it's so fun. But they stopped ranking for something that they'd been winning on. And as it turned out, the only thing that the other people did was that they had created a scoring sheet that was printable. And the client base for this was, like, older people that like to print out and keep physical score. And so we just designed a printable PDF that was the scoring sheet, added it, and they started ranking again because the rest of the content was better.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

33:38

A lot of what you said resonates with me. I think, like, I've been through the algorithm updates myself, and they can be extremely frustrating and also extremely exciting at times when, like, your traffic goes up by 30% overnight, and, you know, you've set your KPIs for the quarter, and all of a sudden, you've blown them out of the water. But I really like what you said that, like, as SEOs, we can use these algorithm updates as, like, forcing functions to, like, force us to come back to our pages and our websites and say, like, “What could we be doing better?” And, like, one of our customers went through, like, an algorithm update and they asked me like, you know, “What can we do to, like, get our traffic back?” And went through kind of a checklist with them and, you know, I said to them like, “If you do all of these things, like, there's no promise that your traffic's going to come back in, like, a week from now, but, like, you're just improving the quality of the experience for people coming to your site. And so when, like, the algorithm winds eventually change, like, I think your site's going to be a lot better positioned to then go and benefit from that. And you might even see, like, a more positive impact than, like, that negative impact that you faced.” And I know we could spend, like, a whole podcast episode talking about, like, the Dr. Axe case study and maybe, like, what are those, like, one or two things that they just got totally wrong that, like, our listeners should definitely avoid?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

34:54

They went broad rather than deep. And then I think honestly — I can, I mean … I don't know about this part. I can speak to the fact that, like, the authors on the pages maybe were not the, like, kind of experts that Google is looking for depending on what your opinion is on how heavily they weight that. But I think they went too broad instead of too deep. And then honestly, I think that they were designing a site for desktop experience when in reality, like, mobile experience was what mattered. And when I say, like, they had a mobile-friendly site, it wasn't like they did some horrible design, but, like, their paragraphs were long paragraphs. They used infographics and everything, but the infographic didn't really — like, wasn't readable on a mobile screen. And stuff like that. That's kind of my biggest takeaways.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

35:41

Yeah, I think Google has gotten increasingly good over the years at knowing, like, what your website is great at. And so, especially for, like, those earlier-stage teams that we work with, I tell them not to go, like, too broad in the very beginning. Like, I think, like, the first 30 articles on your website should all be, like, pretty tightly defined within a silo or a category. And while it's, like, tempting to go and write about kind of all of the future things that might fall into your product roadmap, like, you can almost dilute, like, your topical authority and topical relevance by spreading yourself too thin in the beginning. I would love to transition to, like, a quick lightning rapid-fire round, and I don't come prepared with these questions. So, uh, you know, I kind of generate them as we're speaking. So we're going to probably cover, like, five or six of them. And the first question I had was on backlinks. I know you mentioned at the start of this episode that, like, it's not something you spend a whole lot of time with your clients on, but for websites in, like, the Your Money, Your Life space, like, are backlinks important? Like, should we be spending time on them at all or just not at all?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

36:43

Quick answer to that is, I think that people in those spaces should devote a lot of that time that they would otherwise use for backlinks to build, like, amazing PR. Answer journalist queries, develop relationships with reporters, have active social media, make sure that you are featured or your brand is featured on sites outside of your own. And from there, you're doing what you need to do. Because Google knows if somebody mentions your site, even if they don't link to it, like, Google knows what they're talking about, like, most of the time. Like, put that money towards actual PR and not trying to game the system by purchasing backlinks. Because as we have shown, as our agency has shown, like, if you produce really, really awesome content, when it appears top in the search, when people are looking for content to link back to, they will click on your site, they will link back to it. Like, you will naturally earn backlinks if your content is really amazing because Google's algorithm is so much more, like, content precise.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

37:39

You're starting to sound like Google's Search team. No, I totally agree with you. And I find myself reiterating, like, the broad and generally unhelpful but nuanced statements to our customers a lot of the time. And then on internal linking, like, is internal linking important? Is it something, like, you should focus on with your customers or your clients?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

37:59

Yes. We now require clients to have time in their contracts with us that every single month, like, if we're doing new content or optimizing content or whatever, like, I don't even think we take anybody on anymore that we don't do that with automatically. I don't think that there's, like, a super hardcore system to it. I think that if you're writing a piece of content, there should be a bunch of places where it makes sense to link to content that relates to that category. Like, it shouldn't have to be some big systematized whatever. And so when we write new content, one of the things in our briefs is what internal pages to link this piece to. And then when that article gets uploaded, after that upload, when it's got a live link, we just go into the old articles and add links into — sometimes it's the same pages, like, just linking back and forth. Sometimes they're a little bit different, like … where links to the new article or whatever. But we just do it every time we upload so that we don't ever have to do, like, one batch of, like, you know, a 50-hour project of internally linking everything on the site. We try to do it, like, as part of our uploads.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

39:01

Yeah, I totally agree. I think internally linking is the number one thing you can do from a technical SEO standpoint. So what about, like, Google’s sandbox? Is there such a thing as a sandbox? Is that something you've ever seen with, like, newer clients of yours?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

39:15

Yeah. I mean, I can't define what it is exactly, but it is pretty much consistent across the board that when we start working with a client — I've seen this on new sites most obviously, but, like, when we start working with somebody that has, like, a brand-new website, their Google Search Console results always look the same. It's always the purple line starts to go up first, and they get a bunch of impressions. I think that that's the sign — that's just what I tell clients, like, “You're in the sandbox, like, they're letting people see you and kind of seeing what happens when people have the chance to interact with your content.” And then the blue line always ends up following later on. But yeah, that's pretty consistent across the board, I would say.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

39:53

Yeah, that's what I tell our earlier-stage teams, that you'll wanna see kind of that breakout in impressions where, like, all of a sudden Google's starting to pay attention and then traffic will usually follow after they go through that kind of testing sequence and process. And then on tooling — there's so many tools in the SEO space. I'm sure you've bought a lot of them over the years. What's, like, your favorite tool that you've used or you find yourself using most often?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

40:16

I'm going to have to give you two. I'm sorry. Clearscope is my favorite for on-page. I've tried a couple of the alternatives. I personally have not liked them. Adding Clearscope into our workflow was literally the number one thing that, like, moved the needle for all of our clients across the board. So having that as a resource has been amazing. And then I love Ahrefs. I've never tried Semrush. So I am — I'm not, like, saying I love it and I've compared it and it's the best, but I use it for all of our content strategy, and I've been a super big fan. Use it literally every day.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

40:47

Yeah. Semrush versus Ahrefs. It's like the Super Bowl. Usually, like, everyone's got to pick a side. Both great tools. OK, well, I've really enjoyed having you on this podcast. I think it was one of our best episodes. So thank you so much for coming on. And, you know, I've followed you on Twitter and LinkedIn, but — and I definitely recommend our listeners do too. But if our listeners are looking to get in touch with you or learn more about, like, the work that you do for your clients, like, how can they find you and how can they learn more?

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

41:14

The easiest way to connect is probably Twitter or LinkedIn if you just want to kind of follow what I'm doing. If you want to connect with us, our website is just Clara, C-L-A-R-A dot agency. And I make it really easy. There's a Calendly embed on the homepage and you can just schedule a meeting at your convenience. So yeah, but I would love to connect with more people on Twitter and LinkedIn and just have intelligent conversations about SEO, you know?

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

41:38

Heck yeah. Yeah. And at a minimum, you'll get a backlink from us. So in the show notes, you'll get a link back to your site so all of our listeners can find you there, too. But thank you so much for coming on. This was a great episode.

Rebekah Edwards (Speaking)

41:50

Thanks so much; thanks for having me.

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41:52

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More Ways to Listen

Optimize Episode 014: Rebekah Edwards on Building a Content-Led Agency, Navigating YMYL Strategy, and Perfecting Content Outlines

Sep 6, 2023

Join Nate Matherson as he sits down with Rebekah Edwards Le for the fourteenth episode of the Optimize podcast. Rebekah is the co-founder and CEO of Clara, a boutique content and SEO agency focused on producing high-quality content for B2C brands in the health, wellness, lifestyle, and coaching industries.

Rebekah has been in the content marketing space since 2014 and partnered with brands including Ask the Dentist, Ancient Nutrition/Dr. Axe, Surely Wines, PrimeHealth, and The Real Food Dietitians.

In this episode, Rebekah and Nate discuss what it takes to create great content in 2023 and how to prepare for algorithm updates. The pair discuss optimizing content strategy for the Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) space, crafting perfect content outlines and briefs, and navigating the realm of AI-generated content. Rebekah also shares tips on finding and hiring great talent from an agency owner’s POV. Closing out the episode is our popular lightning round of questions!

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Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

Karl Hughes
CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev

We used to create outlines for our posts, either by paying a consultant $75+ each, or by spending 1-2 hours researching and creating each one ourselves. With Positional, we can create the best outlines for our target keyword clusters and get alternatives within a couple clicks.

Louis-Victor Jadavji
CEO & Co-Founder at Taloflow

Positional has proven indispensable in our SEO strategy. Its rapid optimization capabilities for our blogs led to noticeable improvements in search rankings within a month. From planning to making our content better, it’s like having a teammate. Our team loves it!

Varun Varma
Co-Founder at Typo

Positional is a must-use tool for any growing startup that cares about SEO. It's simple and easy to use but as powerful as anything out there. Plus their customer support is next level.

Matthew Busel
Co-Founder at Whalesync

Positional has been an amazing addition to our SEO and Content team's workflows, enhancing our overall efficiency. We particularly love using AutoDetect and Internal Linking on a daily basis!

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SEO Manager at Klay Media

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As an SEO novice, Positional makes it easy. I can quickly go from keyword research, to clustering, to content outlines, then go focus on just making good content. I felt like it helped bridge the gaps between what would’ve taken 3 or more tools in the past.

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Head of Growth at Definite

The first time we used Positional's toolset was to revamp an older but important piece of content. We used Optimize for optimization, and Internals for internal linking suggestions. We went from position #6 to #1 with the changes and increased our organic search traffic to the page by 400%. Today, Positional is an integral part of our blogging strategy, from topic generation to blog renovation.

Nate Lee
CEO and Co-Founder at Speedscale

Positional has been an amazing addition to our SEO and Content team's workflows, enhancing our overall efficiency. We particularly love using AutoDetect and Internal Linking on a daily basis!

Lindsey Barnes
SEO Manager at Klay Media

Nate and the positional team are the best of the best in SEO, content marketing, and helping you grow your organic traffic. The combination of their expertise and the SEO and content tool they’ve built has allowed us to build a scalable content engine. Reach out to me anytime for a testimony. They are truly phenomenal.

Alan Zhao
Co-Founder & Head of Marketing at Warmly

As an SEO novice, Positional makes it easy. I can quickly go from keyword research, to clustering, to content outlines, then go focus on just making good content. I felt like it helped bridge the gaps between what would’ve taken 3 or more tools in the past.

Kevin Galang
Head of Growth at Definite

The first time we used Positional's toolset was to revamp an older but important piece of content. We used Optimize for optimization, and Internals for internal linking suggestions. We went from position #6 to #1 with the changes and increased our organic search traffic to the page by 400%. Today, Positional is an integral part of our blogging strategy, from topic generation to blog renovation.

Nate Lee
CEO and Co-Founder at Speedscale

“We’ve been moving up the search rankings. When we first started using Positional, we had about 1,000 visitors from organic search per month, and today, we have over 12,000 visitors from organic search per month. And obviously, Positional has played a large role in our growth.

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Positional takes the guessing game out of our content and SEO strategy. It allows me to do extremely quick keyword research which I can then turn into detailed instructions for our content writers through their Optimize tool. I love the speed new capabilities are being added!

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CEO & Co-Founder at AccessOwl

I've been using Positional since its closed beta, and it boosted our SEO results so far! We've published over 80 articles with Positional and it has gained traction very well. The "Optimize" tool is my favorite — it ensures we use the right keywords for better rankings. The "Content Analytics" tool is also great for showing us exactly where we should improve our content.

Yuta Matsuda
COO & Co-Founder at Genomelink

Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

Karl Hughes
CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev

“We’ve been moving up the search rankings. When we first started using Positional, we had about 1,000 visitors from organic search per month, and today, we have over 12,000 visitors from organic search per month. And obviously, Positional has played a large role in our growth.

Alex Bass
CEO & Co-Founder

Positional takes the guessing game out of our content and SEO strategy. It allows me to do extremely quick keyword research which I can then turn into detailed instructions for our content writers through their Optimize tool. I love the speed new capabilities are being added!

Phillip Eller
CEO & Co-Founder at AccessOwl

I've been using Positional since its closed beta, and it boosted our SEO results so far! We've published over 80 articles with Positional and it has gained traction very well. The "Optimize" tool is my favorite — it ensures we use the right keywords for better rankings. The "Content Analytics" tool is also great for showing us exactly where we should improve our content.

Yuta Matsuda
COO & Co-Founder at Genomelink

Positional's tools are an essential supplement to any search-driven content effort. They help us save time and produce better content for both our company blog and our clients.

Karl Hughes
CEO & Co-Founder at Draft.dev
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