You may be reading this because, like me, you usually spend a few minutes each day making sure you've trawled the main SEO news publications for new, useful thought pieces on organic search, analytics, or other aspects of online marketing. But have you ever thought which of those sites statistically provides the best content? Or have you ever wondered if what people on these sites write about ever really changes? The sunsetting of Google Reader forced me to find out…
I'm sure you're all by now aware of Google Reader's demise; to many of you this story will have barely warranted a second glance, but for an SEO news addict like me it is a serious pain in the ass.
Since March 26, 2009, I have been using Reader's "star" functionality to highlight SEO resources I feel will be useful to me again at some point in the future, or warrant sharing with my team.
The result of this obsessive reading and starring of RSS feeds, usually on the bus in the morning, was an easily-accessible, hand-curated database of great articles covering almost any conceivable SEO topic stretching back 4 years.
While migrating to a new RSS reader, The Old Reader, I realized that I couldn't transfer my starred items.
The good news was Google allowed me to get a backup of them as a .json file. The bad news was that no RSS reader (to my knowledge) had the functionality to import them alongside the feeds I subscribe to.
End result: I was faced with the task of cleaning and formatting the data in the .json file if I wanted to still be able to access my 4 year-old collection of useful blog posts and news items.
I soon realized that although this task was onerous, it would provide me with a great opportunity to: 1. Build a great resource for other SEO professionals 2. Understand how my perception of "a great SEO article" had changed since 2009 3. Rate the major SEO publications based on whose feed had received the most stars.
I won't go through how you can filter and clean a .json file into something useful, but if you want to have a go, you'll probably find it useful to know how to remove blank cells from a list without changing the order of items, how to convert UNIX timestamps to dates, and you'll also need the SEOTools extension for Excel. Contact me if you're interested to know more.
And Now to Give Away 4 Years of Work…
The first thing I want to do is share my article collection. Obviously, whether an article from an RSS feed was starred or not was purely subjective, so I am not saying this is a definitive collection of every amazing article published since 2009!
However, I'm an agency-based SEO working across numerous industries, and while collating this list I have undertaken a range of SEO roles from being in the trenches writing title tags to running an SEO department. As a result I would like to think there is something here for everyone.
So here it is: the full collection of just under 800 fantastic SEO resources.
If you are the author of any of these links I'll take this opportunity to say a big thank you for producing such useful content!
So Which SEO Site Really Has the Best Content?
I wanted to know which industry sites had most frequently posted content I felt was worthy of starring. Thankfully, reader gives an average posts / week for each feed, and I could work out how long I had been subscribed to each feed by looking at dates of the first post starred in that feed and the most recent.
After mashing up that data, I was able to calculate the approximate number of posts each feed had published, and what percentage of them I had starred:
This perfectly illustrates two broad approaches to content production: the first approach, usually pursued individual content producers broadly states "when it comes to publishing niche content, if you post less frequently, your content will be better written and a greater proportion of posts will resonate with users".
However, this approach makes it harder to cater to the long tail – hence the alternative strategy; "publish content as often as possible about as many things as possible in order to become relevant to the maximum number of users possible".
Both have their merits, as you can see, despite the fact that I have starred a much greater percentage of SEOmoz's posts, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land are still much more visible websites within search results:
Visibility in SERPs courtesy of SearchMetrics Essentials
I think SEOmoz comes out as the most valuable resource for me overall. However, I'll qualify by saying that if I had counted all of the YouMoz blogposts into this study as well SEOmoz would have probably ranked last.
I guess the genius in Moz's approach to producing SEO content is that they can legitimately claim to be pursuing both of the strategies outlined above; they have long tail content (often of varying quality) produced through YouMoz, while the daily blog can focus on delivering one highly engaging piece per day. This dual approach is common to other successful content brands: Oracle nd The Guardian are two examples.
Do We Keep Talking About the Same Things?
In an industry where so many people contribute to the greater knowledge base, I wanted to understand whether the articles that caught my eye had changed over time.
After fetching each post's title tag, (necessary because some older articles had numeric, rather than keyword based URLs) I was able to use textalyser and Wordle to visualize the relative frequency at which major terms occurred from 2010 to 2013:
And finally 2013 to date:
Certain themes reoccur: headlines which tell me I may learn a useful tactic if I read the full post have always drawn my eye; hence the consistent appearance of "how to", "guide" and "ways" in the word clouds above. I'd always advise someone writing an article for a search website to focus on practical tips that can be taken away and implemented.
I am also clearly a sucker for personal language; "your" and "you" consistently crop up throughout my list of articles worth reading – so I guess this acts as proof that communicating to the reader in a personal way really does boost click-through rates and engagement.
Over time the most popular topics have changed as well; for example in 2011 Panda was a big concern. Interestingly I didn't star as many articles on Penguin; I think that this is a reflection on the fact that Panda was more around owned media (client webpages) rather than earned (links, social signals) assets and therefore the advice was more actionable.
Although content marketing is a term now so ubiquitous SEO professionals are starting to deride it, as a keyword it has unsurprisingly risen in prominence through 2012 and 2013 within my starred items. Interestingly, this doesn't appear to be replacing the frequency "link building" appears. I think that this is just another sign that the two terms are interchangeable in the minds of many SEO professionals. Goodbye, Google Reader…
Thanks for reading this far! If you too are sad about Reader's demise, there is a great run down of alternatives on lifehacker.
If you do download my list of useful SEO articles maybe you can do something more with it; I'd love to know which authors appear most frequently or if there are other sites whose RSS feeds would add value.
I hope to continue building out this resource and am aiming to make a new version available via Dropbox each month. I'll shout out on Twitter when the next update is available.
P.S.: for those of you interested, the first article I ever starred in reader was SEOptimise's "25 Free Social Media Marketing & SEO Ebooks, White Papers + Other Downloads".