Take a look at the top Google results for your target keyword.
Chances are, it’s not unique content. Subheadings are the same. It’s obvious which keywords they’re targeting. Strip the branding bits from the page and copy it into a Word doc, and you wouldn’t stand a chance at differentiating them. That’s parasite content.
Parasite content is stuff that earns lots of links because the site is big and has lots of existing power… not because the content itself is good. It ends up ranking well because of that.
You think you need to replicate that parasite content to rank. When in reality: you don’t stand a chance. Competitive keywords are taken up by big-name brands with existing authority. Anything they say shoots to the top pages without much effort. And you’re basing your own content on that… Even though you end up feeling like this:
You’re probably creating parasite content yourself
I know, that’s a bold statement to make. But if you’re using a similar process to this one whenever you’re creating new content, you’re probably creating a parasite piece:
- Using keyword research as the only source of data for content ideas;
- Looking at what the top-ranking pages cover, or Google’s People Also Ask section, and rehashing most of the content/subheadings they talk about
- Using the word count of pages ranking on page #1 as your target
We can see this clearly with the SEO subheadings that usually form a content’s structure. You don’t think about what someone would actually want if they’re searching for that term. You just give them anything and everything, hoping it’s not too much to overwhelm them.
Another downside is your content doesn’t reach the right people. A guide to MQL vs SQLs wouldn’t need the subheading “what are marketing-qualified leads?”, for example. Sales execs reading that piece already know what that is… that’s proved with the term they’re searching. But a definition of MQLs is included just for SEO purposes because “that’s what Google likes.”
The result? Your content doesn’t hit the mark. It’s not complex enough to solve their pain points–even though Google have rewarded you for repeating the keyword time and time again. And you’re wondering why your content doesn’t convert.
What should we write instead of copying parasite content?
It’s all well and good to say “stop using parasite content as the foundation of your own.” But if we aren’t competing with those parasite pieces and using them as a structure for our own content, what should we do?
An important note: I’m not saying that SEO content is completely useless. Heck, it’s what clients hire me to write. It can have a valuable place in many content marketing strategies. But it’s not the only type of content you should be competing against parasite content to create.
John Bonini explains:
“Search ranking isn’t the qualitative measure of good content. It’s also not how some of the most successful blogs earned their reputation.”
It boils down to the customer you’re targeting. If they’re new to the industry and looking for beginner-level tools, pillar pages like “the ultimate guide to X” might be a good route to take.
But that’s not necessarily the same path a huge B2B brand, with extra pressure to prove ROI, would take. Those CFOs or Execs don’t want beginner-level content that replicates every parasite piece ranking on page one. They want in-depth, comprehensive pieces that position your brand as the go-to.
Take Grow and Convert, for example. They don’t write content for the sole value of ranking in search. They write on topics their high-level audience want to know instead, based on thoughts and experiments their founders have done.
The site isn’t a powerhouse in terms of organic traffic. But most people in the industry know who they are and what they stand for:
They’re avoiding the repetitive process of copying parasite content. It’s why their conversion rate is high despite not ranking incredibly well for high search volume terms.
Let’s take a look at different types of content you can do the same with.
Back when I was working in an agency, this term got under my skin. I pictured thought leadership as blog posts ghostwritten on behalf of the founder, preaching “new insights”… but wasn’t really that new at all. It was just sharing an already-popular opinion that nobody really cared about. (Hence why traffic to those pieces never really took off.)
Good thought leadership is polarizing. It breaks the mold and shares unique opinions that make people think differently.
Some of my favorite examples:
- Your Blog Is Not a Publication by Animalz
- Have an Enemy by Basecamp
- The CMO Complex: Why Ego Is The Enemy by Ross Simmonds
There’s no way that thought leadership competes with parasite content. You don’t head to Google and copy the structure of every other well-ranking piece. It’s completely built from scratch, sharing opinions or arguments you’ve thought off your own back.
You won’t find these thought leadership ideas through keyword research. You talk about them before buzz is built around it. That’s how you stake your claim as a thought leader. People know you for your opinions and ideas, not because they found you through a random Google search.
Your product is far more unique than the content you’ll find on page one for a long-tail keyword. Avoid creating parasite content, and differentiate yourself, by weaving the product itself into your guide.
Ahrefs are a superb example of this. Their guide to keyword research is directly related to their product. But instead of creating parasite content with the same subheadings as everyone else, they have a unique approach: It walks someone through the step-by-step guide of doing this using their tool.
Their guide isn’t just a “how to do keyword research” guide that could’ve been written by anyone and everyone (much like the parasite content ranking for that term). It has proprietary information unique to Ahrefs. They’re showing how to do each step using their own tool.
Authory do the same. They don’t have an official blog where they post top-of-funnel content. They go all-in on case studies that show their product in action, interviewing their customers (and advertising it through Twitter to reach people similar to them):
Treat your existing customers like your own HARO stream: a group of people who know your product best. They’re using it day-in, day-out. Put them at the forefront of your search-focused content to make it unique. For example:
- Showcase screenshots of unique ways they use your product
- Pull quotes on how they do something and use that as your tutorial content
- Include user-generated content like tweets, Instagram posts, and reviews to explain your point
- Cut + paste how where they’ve said your product is better than a competitor
This content isn’t easy to replicate. Even when each piece is competing with parasites in search, they’re not blatantly duplicating it with the same structure and boring fluff. It proves real value and ties into their product–a superb way to make sure you actually get conversions (and not just thousands of pageviews.)
You need backlinks to rank well in search. But people only give links to content that’s worth it. A round-up guide, or how-to tutorial that’s been explained by thousands of websites, doesn’t fit that bill. Unique data does.
Unique data ruins the need to replicate (or compete!) with parasite content. You’ve run your own surveys, collected your own data, and presented it in a way that nobody else has. It’s that uniqueness that’s backlink-worthy… Hence why it’s those pages that tend to drive more search traffic than parasite replicates for smaller, less-powerful sites.
NerdWallet’s round-up of credit card statistics, for example, has thousands of backlinks pointing to it. It performs well in search because it has those links. But, they couldn’t get them without having something link-worthy:
Some other examples of great original data:
- We Analyzed 752,626 Facebook Ads, and Here’s What We Learned by Adespresso
- Content Marketing Institute’s annual reports
- Buffer’s State of Remote Work reports
Ranking well for non-parasite pieces pulls up your rankings for more competitive keywords, too.
My guide to B2B content marketing statistics, for example, brings in the most organic traffic to my site by a long shot. That brings links and authority which have a wider impact on my site as a whole, rather than needing each individual page to take-off on its own.
(This post by Animalz explains that concept in detail.)
Direct answers to sales questions
Believe it or not, search isn’t the only distribution channel. Search shines when it comes to top-of-funnel content. But it’s definitely not the one with the highest conversion rates for every company.
People further down the funnel, closer to buying, want more comprehensive pieces. That type of content doesn’t always get the search rankings it deserves. Parasite garbage, written by hugely strong websites without much effort, tends to dominate the top spots.
Use a combination of original data, product-led keyword-focused content and thought leadership to start building your reputation. Once those drip through, have a back-up of sales-ready content ready to reference when leads:
- Reach out with a sales enquiry
- Ask questions about your product
- Indicate they’re just about to convert
In his book 10 Advanced Content Marketing Concepts, Superpath’s Jimmy Daly writes:
“I listened closely to what I heard on sales calls, then wrote thought leadership-style articles to address those topics. This helped me clarify my talking points for calls but also helped us generate leads and close deals. It did not generate much traffic early on, but it kickstarted what became a powerful acquisition engine.
Interestingly, no amount of keyword research would have led me to those topics. It was only by talking with prospects that I really understood why people paid for our services. Those reasons turned out to be more complex and far less obvious than I expected.”
Makes sense, right? It’s a much better investment of your resources by using that as the foundation of your content strategy, as opposed to parasite replicas.
Ditch the parasite replicas in favor of unique, expertise-packed content
Spending all your resource on replicating parasite content won’t do any favors for setting you apart. (And even if you do manage to rank for a term dominated parasite content, conversions won’t skyrocket in proportion.)
Highly converting content doesn’t come from parasite content that fails to meet the mark for smarter, more knowledgeable buyers.
Focus on thought leadership pieces, product-led content, and content your existing customers told you they wanted to see when they were going through the buying process.
Granted, you might not get the surge of organic traffic you’ve grown to expect. But it’s a smarter way to create content that actually converts.