Tomasz Niezgoda, SurferSEO: “it's surprising how including a few keywords (or deleting them) in the right places can affect your rankings”

It’s hard to ignore the rising popularity of advancing technologies, like AI, which is being used more often in the marketing and content creation fields.

Although there’s some skepticism regarding AI-generated material, content creators and tech companies recognize the importance of its integration. Using AI tools is a recent development, but its growth across various industries, including SEO platforms, is accurately predicted.

For more insight on SEO, AI, and the evolving nature of the content marketing world, we interviewed Tomasz Niezgoda, Head Of Marketing and Co-founder of SurferSEO – an on-page, content creation, and SEO platform.

What inspired you to start Surfer, and how has your vision for the company evolved over time?

Surfer began as an in-house tool for KS, an SEO agency in Poland. We found that clients were facing challenges with content and on-page optimization. They were spending hours in manual research and analysis without truly knowing whether it was accurate. Because on-page is so integral to SEO results, this translated to hours of effort. That’s time that can be better allocated elsewhere.

At KS, they believed that data could streamline this process. Thus, they built the first version of Surfer’s tools. Surfer's original impetus was to optimize content and analyze competitors. Today, SurferSEO offers a suite of tools. It covers the entire lifecycle of an article from keyword research to content creation and analysis.

We’re also on a mission to make SEO accessible to everybody. We’ve intentionally kept our tools simple to use. We emphasize this by the fact that it takes less than 5 minutes to start using them. We want our users to focus on the things they enjoy the most and leave search engine optimization to a few clicks, irrespective of their SEO skill level.

Tell us more about what you do. Can you explain the key features and benefits of SurferSEO that make it stand out in the industry?

I oversee all aspects of our marketing activities from paid campaigns and SEO to our affiliate program and external partnerships. I am also deeply involved in product development. I work closely with our growth team to help Surfer reach as many users as possible.

Surfer helps you rank for your target keyword using information from search engine algorithms and SERP behavior. Our tools are entirely data-driven, reverse-engineering search behavior for content.

Unlike other SEO tools, Surfer doesn’t only present you with data and then rely on your skills to interpret and use that data. Instead, our tools show you exactly what you need to do to rank, at every step of your article’s lifecycle.

So for example, instead of showing you keywords, we’ll tell you which topics to cover and in which order. Instead of displaying which keywords relate to your article, we’ll tell you how many times you should use them. And, we present them in order of importance.

With Surfer, we cut out the guesswork because all our tools are based on data that is already successfully ranking. If you think about writing an article, it's recommended you begin at the keyword research stage.

Surfer automates your keyword research by entering the main topic that you want to cover. Surfer Keyword Research then generates a list of keywords grouped together by subtopics for you to cover. Rather than staring at a bunch of keywords, users now have a content plan that they can follow. They can see it as an authoritative source of information in the eyes of search engines.

Of course, we also include keyword metrics. That includes search volume, keyword difficulty, and even search intent. All to help with user decisions.

You can then take these keywords into the Surfer Content Editor. That's our keyword optimization tool. It tells users exactly which keywords they should use, along with their suggested frequency. The old way to do this would have been to analyze a bunch of competitors. Then, try different words through Google autocomplete and related searches, as well as note down queries in the People Also Asked sections.

Using Content Editor streamlines this process so content writers can focus on creating content, and not have to worry about finding semantically relevant keywords. The Content Score is a great way to track your article’s keyword optimization.

We also recently launched an AI-generative tool that creates fully search-engine-optimized blog posts in a matter of minutes. Surfer AI can mimic your brand’s tone and even pass AI content detectors. We’ve also enabled fact-checking and editing features to help give users more control over their content.

Even though there are other AI content tools out there, Surfer AI is uniquely positioned because it creates articles that are actually optimized to rank in search engines. We’re also using GPT 4 32k to process our content for higher quality and relevance.

Can you share some strategies or techniques you use to improve website traffic and conversions through content optimization?

Because keyword research is so foundational to success with content, we like to start off on a strong footing. And what better way to do so, than use our own tools?

We rely on a three-pronged SEO strategy for our articles.

First, we use Surfer Keyword Research to identify blog post ideas for our website. Surfer KR generates topical clusters that are related to each other. This helps us get seen as a trusted authority by search engines.

We rely on the topics it suggests and will cover an entire topic cluster before moving on to a new one. This means we’re publishing anywhere between 10 to 30 articles with adequate coverage of a topic. So, instead of spending hours doing manual keyword research, we’ve been able to generate this information at the click of a button.

We’ll then use Surfer AI to write these articles. After reviewing the outline it generates, we’ll make a few edits and generate the content. Even though Surfer AI writes fully optimized articles, we’ll spend some time editing and fact-checking them. And, of course, publish them when ready.

The third step is to audit old articles on the website that aren’t ranking well. Google loves fresh content, and you can improve your traffic quickly by updating old articles. We’ll often run articles older than 4-6 months in Surfer Audit to identify any low-hanging opportunities.

It's often surprising how including a few keywords (or deleting them) in the right places can affect your rankings.

To improve brand awareness and showcase to readers how our tools can benefit them, we often feature our tools in blog posts. Posts that help to solve challenges the readers may be facing.

​​How do you think the recent global events have affected your field of work? Were there any new challenges?

Fortunately, there was no negative impact on our work. But we’ve been vocal about showing our solidarity with our neighbors in Ukraine. And we have made several donations to support families affected by the events. We will continue to help them as long as it's needed.

Have you noticed any misconceptions or myths surrounding digital marketing and content optimization? What could be the origin?

Well, we sometimes encounter 2 common misconceptions in SEO.

Number one is that Google hates my website. We see this most often after someone has spent significant effort in creating an article that doesn’t rank immediately. Ranking in the search engine results pages requires a holistic mid to long-term mindset. Even though I can understand that disappointment, and we’re all creatures of instant gratification, search engines rely on identifying patterns on your website.

If you can show a search engine that you are frequently publishing high-quality content, they’ll start showing you some love. The hardest bit is the first climb, when everything seems uphill. But things get easier when some of your articles start performing well.

So Google and other search engines don’t hate your content. They just want to see evidence of your expertise and knowledge on a recurring basis. This is why we point users to Surfer Keyword Research, which recommends ideas for articles based on your blog’s main category. Because these topics are suggested by studying search engine algorithms, your website has a higher chance of ranking well in a shorter time.

The second misconception is a recent one and has to do with AI content. Even though Google and other search engines have come out and embraced AI content, some users feel like this is a temporary stand and are looking to pass AI detection.

Unfortunately, AI detectors aren’t very reliable. It will pass off human content as AI-written almost one-third of the time. That's based on an internal study we conducted.

The right thing to do in this case is to create helpful, relevant content that is high quality and answers the readers’ main points. It doesn’t matter whether a human wrote it or edited an AI draft.

How has the integration of AI technologies affected the field of content creation? What are some specific ways AI is being used to enhance content-generating processes?

Well, AI integration is recent, and it's made content creation more accessible. It has lowered the cost and skill barrier while improving the scale and efficiency at which you can create content. I’ll be honest - I don’t think video and music AI content are up there yet. I think we’re closest with AI generative text, which is pretty good today but will improve by even more leaps and bounds.

At Surfer, we’re using AI to analyze well-ranking pages to suggest improvements and optimize content for search engines. AI models are being used to write all sorts of content. For example, blog posts, reports, research papers, songs, and even YouTube scripts.

We’ve already witnessed the use of AI-generated images and videos. They're getting more lifelike with every update. On an internal level, we’ve tinkered with AI design and are quite pleased with the results.

I’ve also seen several text-to-speech tools for podcasts and YouTube that are sometimes hit or miss, but the technology is already there. We’ve seen artificial intelligence used to translate languages on the go. It's helping to improve accessibility for a wider audience. Combine that with AI voice imitation (see: ElevenLabs), and you can multiply the content people can absorb globally. That's because the language barrier or poor translation won't be a problem anymore.

With the rise of AI-generated content, there are concerns about authenticity and human touch. How do you address these concerns and ensure that AI-driven content maintains quality and resonates with audiences on a deeper level?

Well, because AI takes so much from its training data, the answer lies there. We’re still a little early in the AI revolution, and I think some of these answers will become clearer as we progress.

I can speak for Surfer. We’ve recently begun releasing a tool that allows users to fact-check the content that Surfer AI produced. I believe we’ll be the first ones to market that feature - offering a fact-checking tool for content generation.

AI should be seen as a tool to assist humans, not replace them. The most effective content will come from a combination of AI's efficiency with human creativity and emotional intelligence.

A feedback loop where audience feedback gets used to improve the AI model can help ensure that AI is in compliance with our human expectations.

As AI gets accepted on a wider scale, we’ll also see an influx of tools built to keep it in check. These tools will allow users to maintain quality and regulate the AI-generated content.

How do you see your industry evolving over the next few years? Are there any emerging trends that you are currently observing?

I expect to see a wider adoption of AI-generated content in all fields. That ranges from the content industry to movies and podcasts. We’ll get used to it - to AI getting used more in creative fields until we can hardly tell the difference between human and AI creation.

But, because AI democratizes content and SEO, I expect different challenges than we’re used to.

If everyone is producing great content (hopefully with Surfer AI), how do we measure quality now? How do search engines decide?

I expect that our industry will see several updates from search engines as they experiment and try to figure out new ranking factors in an AI world.

We’re already observing the use of NLP models like GPT-3 and GPT-4 which are expected to continue improving, leading to more sophisticated and nuanced content generation.

Tools like Surfer have now moved SEO from a manually intensive process to automated tasks that do the heavy lifting for you.

We’ve also seen search engines using AI to personalize search results based on user behavior.

AI can help analyze search trends and user behavior to predict future trends. That allows website owners to optimize their content.

Of course, as AI grows, we’ll also see ethical concerns rise. We’ve begun to see it already. Deepfakes and data privacy are going to need some regulation along with very strict guidelines.

Would you like to share what’s next for Surfer?

Even though Surfer has been around for five years, we feel like we’re still very young and have a lot of room to grow. We’ve become very popular in the SEO and content community across the globe and have over 18,000 customers using our tools in over 140 countries.

Without divulging too much, I want to say that we’d like to make it even easier for users to rank in search engines. We’d like to continue this journey and expand our value by helping users find relevant content ideas, create blog posts around them, and attract organic traffic by ranking well in the search engines with our tools.

And yes, we’ll be doing a lot of this with AI.

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