"Stop wasting your time on SEO strategies that don't work," says Matthew Howells-Barby in his latest blog post criticising the use of Google keyword rankings as a performance metric.

His premise is that ranking #1 in Google is the ultimate goal for many SEO marketers which he says is wrong, but I couldn't disagree more.

Yes, sure, the search landscape is evolving dramatically, especially since Google introduced encrypted search making our jobs a bit harder as we can't see which keywords are working for our content.

screenshot of google analytics to show keywords are not visible any more
Encrypted search means no keyword information in Google Analytics

And I do agree, we need to think beyond keywords.

But if you've seen this article, you will notice how the title is pure clickbait: "Your Google Rank Doesn't Matter Anymore."

It does!

Matthew's only saying Google rankings shouldn't be the primary way to measure SEO success. It's still one of the many things we report on, and that should always be the case.

I would be surprised if there are any decent SEO companies that only report on rankings.

At Locals Talk, our primary success measurement is organic search conversions or organic sales value whenever we have the luxury of end-to-end reporting in place. (It's a big challenge to align some B2B sales teams with online campaigns when they are not keen on reporting through a CRM.)

Our secondary success measurement is organic search traffic. This is where keyword rankings help us evaluate improvements and drops as we keep refining our clients' content strategy to win more traffic and get more conversions.

As early as 4 years ago I was already dismissive of content for the sake of SEO content, asking fellow marketers to focus on a coherent content strategy instead. I used a clickbait-y title too, saying 'How SEO Died - But You Can Live On'.

Clearly I was exploiting the 'curiousity gap' well before Upworthy and Buzzfeed hit the masses - 'clickbait' was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in the fall of 2016. Unlike Matthew who is still trying to exploit it in 2019.

Someone pointed out I was confusing spam with SEO in my old post, but that was my entire point - to not create content so terrible it might as well be spam.

I'm happy to report my 2015 instincts were spot on - to win at SEO in 2019 you still need to focus on pillar content and their topic clusters.

This is because Google has changed their algorithm to favour topic-based content, so you're better off incorporating this into your content strategy.

Cluster model for a pillar content strategy
Source: Matt Barby

Rather than insisting that Google is just trying to make it harder for everyone, it's important to understand the bigger picture here.

Today we, as internet users, do not hesitate before typing in complex queries into the search bar. (Many of us don't even bother opening the search engine - typing them directly into the address bar.)

To give an example, we're not searching for 'accountant london' as much as we were before. Now it's more likely to be 'best accountants near me reviews' or 'cheap tax accountants for self employed or contractors'.

We know Google can handle it.

As an SEO practitioner I can confirm that search engines are now smart enough to recognise the different connections between serial queries. I can also share that we're being forced to overhaul existing site structures and recommend new websites to clients so that they can stay ahead of consumer behaviour.

We're seeing a lot of old mindsets prevail. Only last week we had a client ask us about purchasing a keyword domain to capture more organic traffic.

If you're not sure what a keyword domain is, it's basically a domain containing your targeted keywords that you buy only to easily win search ranks for that keyword or phrase more easily.

It's not exactly blackhat SEO to purchase another domain to direct traffic to your main website - it all depends on how you set it up.

For instance, if you acquired six keyword domains and pointed them all to your company domain, Google will see it as duplicate content x 6, and you are likely to get penalised for that.

The general problem with keyword domains is the severe limitations they come with.

Either they will count as duplicate content if you reuse your website content or compound it with your existing site. Or you can setup a 301 redirect so Google knows it should ignore this keyword domain because the traffic is being diverted to your company domain.

Another option could be to have high-quality, unique content on this keyword domain to win Google ranks. This option seems desirable at first, but remember what I said about severe limitations.

There's no doubt that having the target keyword in the domain will help achieve a high rank if there's unique content on the page to back it up. The domain by itself, probably not. The content by itself, good chance.

So why not put that great content up on the main company website as pillar content? It might be just a tad bit more difficult to rank on your company domain compared to a keyword domain. A tad!

Then again, this may not be the case for an accountancy firm with an established domain, say hfmtax.co.uk, if the target keyword phrase is 'tax return accountants in london' - because the domain has 'tax' in it.

If they did get tax-return-accountants-london.com as their keyword domain, yes, it would be very good to rank for this one long-tail keyword phrase that gets 60 searches every month, but what else?

Not much.

And from a purchase journey perspective, you've just worked hard to create a resourceful page with unique content for a completely separate website to win the attention of your target customer who may be well beyond their priming stage, ready to be triggered into picking up the phone, adding another step to their journey, asking them to visit your corporate website, possibly turning them off.

Sorry if that was a long-winded way of saying you should always keep your pillar content on your own website - the one where you convert visitors into customers.

Then you can write blog posts - your cluster content - around that main topic linking up to your pillar content page.

To win at SEO in 2019, you need to have a strong, well-researched content strategy in place that derives from your inbound marketing strategy and ties in with your business objectives.

You need to invest into your content pillars, make sure you cover most of the content in the top search results in a meaningful way, guided by your unique DNA and target keyword, and then empower other people in your team to consume that content so they can create cluster content that links back.

This is what will make your pillar content evergreen.

You need to have your ROI metrics clearly laid out. If you run PPC campaigns, you need metrics that work for both SEO and PPC (not 'average position' because Google has replaced that with more relevant metrics now).

You need to identify low-hanging fruit early on.

For example, we all know a small percentage of people use Bing for search (2.41% globally) and we've often found them to convert well for our clients. With Yahoo and AOL becoming search partners with Bing, they're claiming we can expect a bump of 10-15% clicks from their expanded audience reach.

So get on to Bing webmaster tools already. Subscribe to some industry newsletters (this one works fine if you got this far). Get your 'good content flywheel' spinning you an organic search web empire.

Do some original research while doing your pillar content so you're giving your audience very good reasons to link back to you with their secondary research.

The future of content strategy and SEO in 2019 is all about your business keeping up with search engines, searchers and search results. Be a part of the evolution!