SEO Best Practices | Q&A with Expert SEO, Zoe Ashbridge

Jul 12, 2023 6 min read
SEO best practices with zoe ashbridge

I was so excited to welcome fellow Brit, Zoe Ashbridge, to the community today.

In the podcast, we throw questions back and forth, discussing best practices around these four topics:

  1. How to write content that targets a specific keyword
  2. How to win featured snippets
  3. How to win HARO links
  4. How to work efficiently with freelancers (from briefs to workflows)

In the newsletter this week, I’ll round up some of our advice on 1 and 2 (and I’ll let you dive into the conversation with Zoe to hear the rest.)

Before we dive in, you can now pre-order my eBook and content operations package (the "Scale Package"). It's available at a discount until next week. If you are an annual premium member, reply to this email and I'll DM you a big discount code :)

1. How do I target a specific keyword? What goes on the page?

Zoe starts out with a quote from Louis Smith that I loved:

“A keyword is a gateway to a topic”.—Louis Smith

She reiterates that a keyword is not an isolated phrase on its own. Each keyword should be seen as part of a whole topic, targeted by several pages that collectively show your authority and expertise. (Shoutout: topical authority)

But, let's focus on an individual page for a moment. How do we build a page that targets and wins a keyword?

Zoe recommends starting off by Googling your keyword and seeing what you find.

What do the "blue links" look like?

Is it 6-8 service pages?

Is it 6-8 blog posts?

This is your first indicator of what search users are looking for (and what Google is choosing to show them).

To win your keyword, you should listen to the formats and structures you see there (e.g. is it a listicle?). But, you shouldn’t create copycat content.

Content formats aren't everything. It's not what makes your piece unique. You still need to stand out.

So, pull up the top 6 articles that are currently ranking for your keyword and see what they’re writing.

Craft a content brief using these steps:

  1. Note down every subheading
  2. Make a content outline that is complete and exhaustive
  3. Don’t ‘copy’ headings that aren’t descriptive, well-optimized, or fitting to your brand
  4. Take the content a step further. What would make your piece of content the best piece of content on the internet? Better than the top 6?
  5. Get it written

Next, we come back to the idea that a keyword is a gateway to the topic.

Your final step: figure out what other content you need to have on your site to build your authority on this topic.

In my newsletter recently, I encouraged you to build reader-centric topical authority.

So, instead of listing and tackling all the matching keywords, think through the user journey.

  • What other topics are useful to this reader?
  • What are they trying to achieve, what other questions might they have?
  • What's "next" after they've read this article?

If the reader heads back to the search results and continues to find your site, being helpful across the breadth of the topic. Guess what?

They remember you. They appreciate you. They take time to learn what you offer.

Watch out for Split intent SERPs. Sometimes you might Google a keyword and the top result is a landing page, but all of the others are “best tools” articles. What should you do? This is where you need to really think through other factors contributing to their ranking. A landing page ranking for a “best” keyword might be getting lucky, it might be from a serious high domain authority site, or may have built 100s of quality backlinks to it. Focus instead on search intent, what would best help the user? But beware, you may need to build extra links to beat your competitors.
Top tip: In my guide to Tomb Raiding, we recommend focusing on copying the structure and elements of the weakest ranking result. If all the results are from sites with high domain authority, but #3 is a low authority site, why? What are they doing differently? It’s could be considered outstanding by Google.

Our next topic of conversation was featured snippets and how to win them. Let's start from the top:

They’re what we call “rank zero”. They take up the most space and look more desirable to click.

They tend to appear for top-of-funnel content, not really “ready to convert” searches. But that means they’re really good for traffic campaigns, and suit a wider strategy that includes retargeting and capturing emails.

They're SO powerful if you win them.

Low authority sites can jump from page 2 to top of page 1 by targeting a featured snippet. And the conversion rate is significantly higher than other results.

Types of featured snippets include elements like lists, tables, images, videos, tables. I’ll explain how to find them a little later.

Retargeting ads x SEO? This works SO well and I was really happy to hear Zoe call it out in the podcast. Unlike most traffic to your site, with SEO traffic you know exactly what visitors to your content are interested in. Ad platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to ‘collect’ visitors to specific pages, so if your article “How to do Keyword Research?” gets 10,000 visitors a month, that can become an audience in the ad platform that you can target with ads. You know what they’re interested in based on their reading habits, so you can target them with a downloadable that’s hyper-relevant to their needs right now. I’ve personally seen this strategy reduce Cost Per Lead by 5x.
“It kinda goes back to being the most useful article on Google.” - Zoe Ashbridge

The first step to winning a featured snippet is to identify the opportunity exists in the first place.

That's easy to do with a tool like Ahrefs (or probably whatever you're using).

Take a look at all the keywords you currently rank for. Then filter by “Featured Snippet”.

This shows the keywords you're ranking for where a Featured Snippet is available to win.

Let's take an example from the How the F*ck website. One of the keywords I rank for that has a snippet opportunity is “low funnel keywords”.

When I Google this keyword, I see the snippet:

featured snippet example from my site

This is a “paragraph” type featured snippet.

To try and win it, first, let’s analyze its characteristics:

  • It’s 38 words.
  • It’s a definition.
  • It starts with the keyword.
  • “Buy”, “sale”, “cheap”, “hire” are highlighted.

Furthermore, if we find this snippet in the actual article, an assessment of its surroundings shows it sits directly under the heading “What are lower or bottom funnel keywords?”.

the snippet location in the article
The snippet location in the article

Notably, it’s also the first paragraph in the overall article.

All these things are really important to know. They indicate what it might take for you to win this snippet.

My article on lower funnel keywords doesn’t win the snippet. But, it doesn’t have headings with the right keywords, it doesn’t define them in 38 words. Mine is currently 100% human-focused, it's not optimized for Google.

So, let's update it together.

Here's my original introduction paragraph:

Here's my reoptimized introduction:

Note how I use similar formatting, but don't completely copy the snippet. I try to improve it.

For the keyword “low funnel keywords” my article is at #10 at the time of writing.

After making the changes, I resubmitted the page to Google’s index (via Search Console) and I’ll report back the results as soon as possible.

That's how you strategically optimize for a featured snippet.

  1. Follow what's working right now
  2. Make it better

In the podcast, Zoe encourages us to be the best content on the internet if we want to win snippets.

So, if my method failed, the next thing I'd do is expand my article to make it the best one on the SERPs. It's admittedly short and sweet right now.

She notes our content should have:

  • Clear subheadings
  • Clear image alt text
  • Clear keyword-optimized writing

If you do that, you’ll naturally win snippets without having to worry to much about them.

Listen to the full interview with Zoe here.


If you found this post helpful, please help me grow by sharing this article on social media or recommending the newsletter to a colleague.

Hope you have a lovely week,


PS. The company that sponsored the community this week wrote a KILLER article on backlink-building tips. Take a read here.


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