AMA with Clearscope: Next-level content optimization advice

Jimmy Daly
April 1, 2021

Cofounder Bernard Huang and Senior Marketing Manager Shannon Ratliff at Clearscope offered up some invaluable advice on content best practices, earning better rankings and their thoughts on the future of SEO. We are really  proud to be partnered up with this team. For more insight and best practices, check out the links below:

If you'd like to get a free Clearscope keyword report, just shoot Bernard or Shannon a DM in the Slack group.

What are a few things that sites low domain authority can do to earn better rankings?

Bernard: Great question and honestly where a lot of websites currently are. Typically the way to expedite your ranking potential with a low domain authority website is by building backlinks. That said, a few ideas around backlink building when first getting started is by guest posting to other people's blogs or trading links with your friends that own their own websites.

The other approaches to consider include creating high quality content that hits a lot of the "entities" that Google is looking for. That will improve Google's confidence that your content is more likely to meet the needs of the searcher and Google will initially place your content higher in the SERPs.

Here's a presentation that I've given around this particular topic with WriterAccess, "How SEO works":[…]rithm/?viewer=eyJlbWFpbCI6ImJlcm5hcmRAbXVzaGlsYWJzLmNvbSJ9

Along with some slides you can peruse through:

Congrats on everything you've built with Clearscope! Do you still do SEO consulting and how do you think about product vs services?

Bernard: We started initially as Mushi Labs ( and stopped offering SEO consulting services 4ish years ago. The moment where we could stay afloat with Clearscope's monthly recurring revenue, we instantly burned all the consulting boats. Honestly, it's quite hard to make the transition between consulting and a product.

If we've got a series of PPC landing pages targeting some keywords that we're also going after on our blog, should we 1. No index and/or no follow the PPC pages to avoid competing with ourselves? 2. Leave them alone because the more content on our target keywords, the better, 3. something totally different!

Bernard: Yes, would recommend no-indexing your PPC landing pages.

Something totally different: This is why a lot of PPC specific landing pages are hosted on custom subdomains with different page template types (eg. removed nav bar, removed footers). PPC landing pages are designed for conversion and will remove a lot of useful information that you usually need to rank for SEO.

Here's an example of 2 landing pages that HubSpot has for their CRM product.


What should content marketers (or marketers in general) stop doing immediately? Perhaps a tactic that once worked that is now the opposite of a best practice.

Shannon: I'd say that targeting strictly keywords with high monthly search volume is the most common tactic to stop doing immediately. Identifying the proper search intent for your targeted keyword is the best tactic to use in its place and often, that keyword will be longer and will naturally have lower search volume. Content that zeroes in on a perspective of a topic, such as how to get rid of pimples fast versus how to get rid of pimples, is an example of this in practice.

In the below screenshot, you can see that the results populated by how to get rid of pimples fast (18k monthly search volume) on the left and how to get rid of pimples on the right (41k monthly search topic) -- a majority of the same links appear for the head topic in different order!

Bernard spoke to this in our first Superpath tutorial above, "Choosing the Right Keyword Is More Important Than Chasing Monthly Search Volume."


Will audio formats, like podcasts and Clubhouse, eventually play a more important role in SEO? If so, how and when?

Bernard: Different searches will inherently deserve different content experiences. We talk about that in the slides over here on "How SEO works":

That said, it seems like pure audio formats are strictly worse than video formats. For example, a video from Gary Vee explaining how entrepreneurship works is likely to always be more engaging than an audio recording. So I have trouble seeing why audio-only formats will work, especially with the advent of tik-tok videos and more "micro video" content.

Would love your thoughts on the future of SEO. Especially Google. What changes to Google do you see most affecting content marketers? Crazy predictions welcome.

Bernard: YES, I love that you asked this! IMO, the future of SEO is in providing unique perspectives on topics that haven't really come to light.

For example, a search on [google amp] currently yields a result that says "Google AMP can go to hell":


We recently did a webinar with Growth Machine on this exact idea, which is "The Future of SEO Starts With the Death of Classic Keyword Research." You can watch the full recording here:

And find a link to the slides here:

I'm noticing more and more brands focusing on keywords and phrases and losing track of the voice of their brands. Do you have any advice for enriching voice while also keeping on-page SEO a priority?

Bernard: Yikes! That's a tough one Erin. Honestly it sounds like an internal political challenge to address. The way that I would consider pitching the idea to leadership is to take a set of "SEO-content" and have your "brand voice" be a part of that content. Compare and contrast that with content you produced that was completely focused on keywords/phrases in a performance tracking tool (eg. Ahrefs / SEMrush / Google Analytics). That way, you can make a data-driven case for content that includes a bit more voice.

Chances are, the content that isn't strictly "what is X", "how X works" is likely to do better with your brand voice, whereas content that targets "what is X" or more factual stuff is likely to perform better with the classical SEO approach.

I think there are 4 main use cases of content:

  • SEO
  • brand awareness / thought leadership
  • social
  • "lights are on" — basically putting content out for the sake of showing people who visit your blog that your still alive

I'm sure 'it depends' on many factors, but what's the most frequent / successful analytics set up you've seen to make the connection in reporting between an SEO keyword targeted or ranking on a (SaaS) blog and the SQLs it (helps) generate? What tools / parameters / etc are typically needed to make that link, and how do you recommend doing it (attribution wise)?

Bernard: It depends! But okay, more practically speaking, the way this is commonly done is piping your Google Analytics data and conversion data into a centralized source (eg. Google Data Studio, tableau). It's almost impossible to know which specific keyword caused the conversion although it looks like Google might be changing the way this works (recently).

I think I read an article that said that Google is releasing that information. What some folks tend to do is use PPC to inform what keywords are likely to convert and then design the SEO page to target that keyword, and associate all conversions to that landing page to the keyword. I know that approach isn't 100%, but it's a decent proxy.

IMO, the best organizations know that SEO is a multi-faceted channel that helps improve conversion / awareness metrics across the board and simply keeps track of high-level stats (total organic traffic) and a handful of rankings that they care about through a rank tracker and simply use those very basic metrics as their "north star" to indicate that SEO is doing well. Always better to keep it simple, although heads of marketing like to complicate everything.

After seeing the number of keywords we rank for increase significantly in the past year, I've noticed that some of our recent articles have failed to rank, despite getting great scores on Clearscope, very clearly matching search intent and picking up some decent backlinks. My question is how do you approach 'troubleshooting' content that isn't performing?

Shannon: I think that troubleshooting content is broken into two main content steps. The first (and easiest to fix!) is determining that your target keyword in your Clearscope report for that piece of content is addressing the correct search intent. Outside of the pimples example (which we love here at Clearscope because it just teaches so much!), the best example is searching for Kiwi.

When you just give Google Kiwi (screenshot below!), it doesn't know whether you mean the fruit, the airline, the STEM toy kits for kids, or Kiwi brands in your area.
This is an example of fractured search intent, and so looking at the first page of Google for your intended topic can tell you a lot about where your content is or isn't missing the mark.


The second step I would review is noting the time/date of competitors, is this a topic that is constantly being refreshed or do the top 10 links on the first page only shift every six months? It's possible seasonality is a factor, especially when you consider that not all keywords change frequently.

A good example is noting whether or not there's a News carousel on the front page, that can alert you to recency as an important perspective to ranking for the keyword, so your content will need to maintain freshness to rank at all.The same applies for 'how to surf' — this is more of a visual query, people often learn how to surf by watching versus reading. Being alert to the types of SERP features on the first page can also help your research process.


My team and I are relatively new to Clearscope, but so far, we've been thrilled with the results we've seen. I have a question for you that's fairly broad: How should we as content creators determine when it's time to run a new report, and re-optimize content? I guess in simpler terms, how do we know when content needs a refresh? I'm sure this varies from piece to piece and industry to industry, but I'm curious if you have any thoughts on this, no matter how general!

Shannon: Content refreshing is my jam and I have a set of tips I would follow when managing those websites. First, knowing what sets of keywords need recency to continue ranking is important. In my answer to Hannah, I mentioned the News carousel. If you're ranking for a story or content that is being served a News SERP feature, it's a signal that this piece of content requires updating consistently, so knowing that information when you create your content, and logging it for later will save you a ton of time.

I think of refreshing as four main categories, using the idea of your archive management. Building in automated workflows for refreshing is also a good tactic. Here's an example Airtable base that uses the Clearscope export reports feature, and how I've grouped them to alert me of their grades.


You can set a view or filter to automatically alert you of content that is over 90 days old, over 60 etc, depending on the recency the query requires.

Now for those labels!

  1. Optimize -- This fits all content, as all content that is earning organic traffic should be refreshed every 3-6 months, or at least reviewed in a new Clearscope report to determine the grade is still the same
  2. Update -- This is a label I would use on a post that requires more recent updating, and we'd review these posts every 30-60 days to determine
  3. Merge/Skip -- This is how I'd consider content that has become duplicated in the archive, is no longer ranking after multiple attempts of resuscitation, or never ranked at all.

This brings me to my final secret weapon in refreshing! A good refresh strategy might also mean actively combating decay, so I would review the content labeled with Merge/Skip every 6 months or yearly and simply unpublish it were it not performing.

For when to run a new Clearscope report, we recommend doing this with every piece of content you'd like to refresh because our recommendations are gathered in real-time.In the tool itself, we have a Bulk Export feature that will pull in your content in bulk for your queries and grade it for you! We also have an Extract from URL


Question on schema that content marketers can implement into blog posts to get more traffic/increase CTR. For example Google seems to experiment a lot with SERPs on mobile before adding it to desktop (e.g. FAQs and key moments in videos). What are some of the best schemas for content marketers to implement to their blog posts to help them standout in desktop SERPs?

Bernard: I want to get on the same page about what you mean by schema, which in SEO speak typically refers to "rich snippet" meta data that you can pass to Google for certain kinds of content experiences.

There's only a handful of schema's that Google actually respects, and you can find the list here:

Depending on the content that you're serving and if it matches a schema type that Google respects, then implementing the correct mark up simply helps Google better understand and serve your content to its users.

It's not a make or break to your content since Google is pretty good at structuring unstructured data but making Google's life easier is always good.

When you're done, you can use Google's Rich Snippet Testing Tool to double check whether you correctly implemented the schema:

I also like using that tool to spy on what other dominant SEO players are doing with their schema. Here's an example of spying on Investopedia's schema:


What are some ways we can use Clearscope to identify and find content that fit into the typical content pillar and cluster model?

Honestly, any broad high-level topic is a good candidate for the typical content pillar and cluster model.


You can use Clearscope's keyword search which pulls Google autocomplete suggestions out to get ideas on which spokes or sub-pillars are more likely to be important

We talk about this concept extensively during kickoff calls. Here's a link to a shareable kickoff call that we've done in the past that walks you through how to approach this:

Have you seen any instances of brands pooling together resources with their partners to create better/beefier content and target a shared audience? I’ve got this vision for collaborative content marketing—instead of every brand trying to rank their own stuff #1, why not co-create the #1 ranking asset & share the pie?—but I haven’t noticed great examples.

Bernard: An interesting concept for sure! I haven't seen any instances of this idea happening because everyone has their own agenda. The closest to this idea is review websites (eg. Capterra / G2) where they rank for highly competitive b2b terms and then "rent" out the top spots to software.

If you were to pull off this concept masterfully, who gets the first promotion or placement on the site? For example, a "best X" post... devolves into everyone fighting for spot #1. This feels like a classic "rank and rent" approach that SEOs have been doing for awhile. Here's a long guide on how SEOs think about this:

We’re doing all the classical stuff: 1) getting backlinks built monthly to blog posts, product pages, home pages 2) Writing blog + content posts based on longtail keywords that really answer our prospects business challenges and 3) Doing co marketing with complementary companies, I know SEO is a marathon not a race but is there anything else I could do in the mean time to speed up/ scale the results?

Shannon: Unfortunately, I would say that you're right. SEO is a marathon, it can take a very long time to see traction and keep at it. Because that's not the most appealing answer, adding more backlinks would add more fuel to fire. Though still not guaranteed to explode!

Perhaps looking at your content production calendar and determining if more posting is in your best interest/capacity, it could be worth increasing the number published for a few months, and then returning to your normal posting schedule to review the results of your overall organic traffic after about 6 months.

If you see a significant uptick with either of these strategies, building more backlinks or publishing more, I'd keep an eye on the right ratio as your content gains traction

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