Would you believe me if I said I’m a successful full-time blogger with multiple blogs and a 6-figure income and I don’t pay any attention to SEO?
That I will literally ignore my SEO tools, not do any keyword research, and create content purely by intuition?
Well, you shouldn’t believe it.
I’m sure that every successful blogger uses keyword research — and so do I.
However, it is true that for parts of the year, I will lay down my SEO tools completely.
My deliberate strategy is to be highly focused on SEO for 6 months of the year, but not to worry about it at all for the other 6 months. (And by this I mean, ‘not worry besides applying standard best practices for titles and post structure’)
I believe this strategy has led me to SEO successes that I would not otherwise have had.
Allow me to explain…
Table of Contents
The limitations of SEO tools
When you first start using keyword research tools such as Ahrefs or Keysearch, it feels like you’ve unlocked a secret door.
Suddenly it all seems so clear. The stats are all there. And the numbers tell you exactly what to do!
“Find low competition high volume keywords” is the mantra of every SEO course out there. And so you set out to find them; matching keywords against your Domain Authority, ignoring keywords with too low volume, and then creating content to match.
I won’t deny that learning about SEO and using keyword research can be a game-changer. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere had I not.
But there are a few problems with over-relying on keyword research tools.
1. SEO tools are only guessing
It’s tempting to think of keyword research stats as The Truth, but they are really just guesses. Only Google knows the true click volumes of different keywords — and they won’t ever share it with us.
SEO tools do use third-party click data to get a rough idea of what people search for, but this can often be wildly incorrect.
You can know this easily if you have a well-established blog and can compare your own data to that of the SEO tools. I’ve ranked no. 1 for keywords that the tools said have 5000+ searches per month and only gotten 50 clicks. Something doesn’t add up there.
Often a lot of really weird searches end up being listed in the top 10 for a site. I know because I’ve compared my own site’s top 10 to my Google Analytics stats.
SEO tools don’t know anything exactly. They just give you rough indications.
2. Posts can rank for numerous small keywords
SEO tools can trick you into thinking a post needs to rank primarily for one keyword and one keyword only.
The reality is that a post that ranks for 30 tiny keywords can do as well as one that ranks for 1 high-volume keyword.
In most SEO tools it’s possible to group small keywords together, but it can still be hard to see the true overall traffic potential of a post. Especially since SEO tools don’t have literally all variations of a query available.
SEO tools can thus make you miss the forest for the trees.
3. SEO tools only look at the past
It’s easy to forget that keyword research is based on what people have historically searched for.
Over-relying on such stats could prevent you from covering a new topic that you think people will be interested in.
A few years ago I started to pick up on some early buzz in travel communities about a town in northern Thailand. Believing it to be an up-and-coming destination, I commissioned an article on it by an author who researched the place in person. My travel blog was one of the first to have a full travel guide for this town.
I did this despite the SEO tools telling me the search traffic was under 10.
Two years later and that post was the resource for this town. No one else had bothered with this content, presumably because the SEO tools told them not to.
Yet today this post is — checks Google Analytics — my 13th most popular (out of 350+).
4. SEO tools don’t capture ‘people also ask’
Okay, this is a big one.
As far as I’m aware, even Ahrefs’s amazing tools don’t count how many clicks you could get from being listed in the ‘people also ask’ boxes shown under many queries.
I have several posts on my travel blog that answer a key question about a destination. And they’re getting pretty decent traffic (at least 500+ per month).
Looking at Search Console and Analytics for these posts, it’s clear they’re not getting this many clicks from direct queries entered into Google.
In fact, the vast majority are coming in through the answer boxes that show up in a huge variety of keywords related to the destination. Instead of ranking directly for, say, “[destination] travel guide”, I’m the first blog in the people also ask box for that query. It’s getting me lots of clicks across a wide variety of search queries that together add up to a lot.
SEO tools would have probably told me the potential wasn’t there. I wrote these posts anyway and they’re doing great.
5. Everyone is trying to pull off the same trick
The final issue with keyword research is that, well, every blogger is basically trying to do the same thing.
Everyone is looking for ‘low competition high volume’ keywords. That makes it very difficult to find true white space opportunities.
The ‘low competition high volume’ schtick can also cause you to, well, not compete! Certain KWs can easily seem too competitive — often the tools may be right on this point, but sometimes you have to, well, get in the ring and wrestle.
Some of my best-performing posts were on topics that were honestly a bit out of my league when I first posted them. But I published them anyway and got in somewhere on page 3 or 4 — high enough to at least start gathering a bit of data.
A few years later they were nearly on page 1 — high enough for me to justify doing a big refresh/expansion and a renewed push to get it ranked higher.
If I’d only listened to the SEO tools I might have concluded these keywords were just too high-competition for me and would have never begun to compete.
The danger of following SEO tools too dogmatically is that you may relegate yourself only to being an SEO bottom feeder: only looking for tiny niche low-competition keywords and never taking a bigger swing at a bigger topic.
Rewilding your content creation
So this is why I purposely choose to ignore SEO… sometimes, anyway.
For half the year I don’t look at the keyword data and I just create content.
Of course, I still have my assumptions about what will or won’t rank. I’m using this strategy for a well-established blog, so I have already learned about my audience and what my blog tends to rank for.
But I do create content based simply on whether I think it will be useful for my audience.
I look at trends in my niche, I look at gaps in my blog’s coverage, and I look at topics I find personally interesting. (I believe personal interest can be a serious multiplier for post quality, which in turn will help you rank.)
And then… I kind of just take a stab at a few different topics.
Not every one of these speculative posts will be successful. Out of 5 posts maybe 2 will fail completely, 3 will do OK, and only 1 will be a hit.
But that’s the whole point.
That one hit may be something I’d never have hit upon had I relied on SEO stats only. And that post can be a seed that grows into a new topic branch on my blog or can be replicated into similar post for other travel destinations.
I can’t back it up with solid proof, but my belief is this strategy is advantageous.
Of course, during the other 6 months of the year, I will rev up the SEO tools and do my keyword research. There is still enormous value in taking this tried-and-true approach. My blog would be nowhere without it.
I also use this time to go back to my established posts and see what they’re ranking for now. Slightly tweaking the KW targeting can sometimes hugely boost the traffic of published posts and can also lead you to new content ideas.
The 6 months of the year that I’m using SEO tools I think of as my consolidation phase. It’s where I work more predictably and diligently towards incremental improvements.
The other 6 months where I’m flying blind is my exploration phase. I do posts that are a bit more speculative as I’m not always sure they are going to work. But a lot of them do… sometimes spectacularly so.
Even the ones that aren’t really a hit still help to liven up my blog, making it more interesting for readers who decide to click around. Sometimes the ones that miss will still find a solid purpose a year or two later, when I can find a way to pivot them towards another angle or keyword.
So, do I recommend using SEO tools like Ahrefs or Keysearch? Absolutely.
But sometimes it’s nice to just switch them off for a while.
Who knows… you might just get lucky.