For content ideas and inspiration, most content creators depend on a number of techniques.
They might develop buyer personas, talk with the sales team (to get first-hand insights about customer challenges), conduct customer research (which can get expensive) and regularly brainstorm new topics. Plus they rely on a very highly developed ‘gut feel’ that tells them when a topic or idea will work.
But Google has spent close to 20 years learning how to serve up the best, most relevant content in its search results – now averaging over 3.5bn search queries a day.
If content marketers could tap into some of that vast knowledge, wouldn’t that provide some important clues on how to create killer content?
Below I’ve listed six areas in which insights from Google can help you develop better, more relevant content that chimes with your target audience. If you’re a content marketer or content creator, you can get a sense of some of these insights by simply running searches on topics that you’re interested in – and studying what Google throws up in its results.
However your SEO or search marketing teams are very likely using specialist tools to track and manage their programmes that can provide more detailed data and insights:
1. What sub-topics should your content include?
Correlation studies suggest content that ranks highly on Google tends to be holistic and comprehensive and generally has a bigger word count – because it covers topics in greater depth.
These studies also indicate that the main topic is usually paired with certain other topics. For the overall topic that’s being covered there are usually a number of mentions of some important ‘proof terms’ (which are very closely connected to the main topic) and ‘relevant terms’ (slightly more distant but still relevant).
If, for example, you were to analyse the top articles on the topic “Mexico Holidays”, you might see that proof terms such as “Mexico hotels” or “Mexico flights” are common, as well as relevant terms such as “Riviera Maya” or “Cancun sights”.
So analysing Google searches can tell you that if you are going to write about A, you should also cover B and C, because those are the things your audience will be interested in.
2. Who is your real competition when it comes to content?
The people and businesses you are competing with when it comes to content marketing, may not be those you compete with directly for sales. When you’re writing about specific topics, Google searches can highlight competitors with similar content that can give you inspiration.
For example a UK search for “buying a car” surfaces results (on the first two pages) from the AA breakdown service (providing useful advice on the pitfalls to avoid and a wide range of buying tips), a Gov.co.uk web page (with advice and links to help you avoid buying a stolen vehicle), a couple of banks (including articles that discuss car loans, financing, saving for a car and running costs) as well as pages from the Citizens Advice Bureau, the consumer section of the BBC website, money saving advice sites and several car buying magazine sites which include listings of new and used cars for sale.
Studying high ranking competitive content – even if it’s not from your direct competitors – can provide ideas and also help you spot gaps about areas that are not being covered adequately or can be developed further.
Some search tools analyse the content on your website and give you a list of your top content competitors on Google – giving you a sense of who’s writing content similar to yours.
3. How should content be presented on your site?
Google tracks user signals, such as bounce rates and time on site and uses this data to evaluate the relevance of your content to the search query.
These metrics also allow the search engine to get a measure of the user experience of individual pages and websites.
An important aspect of this is how information is presented – which means reviewing high ranking content that covers similar topics to you can provide important clues in areas such as the number and quality of images on a page, the presence of video, the readability of text and the use of bullet points, numbers, charts and tables to organise information.
4. When should you launch fresh content and promote it?
The volume of searches and questions people ask Google and when they do it, can help you plan when to create fresh content pieces and when you should put effort and promotional budget into distributing it (i.e. what time of year, month).
However your SEO and search marketing teams may be using other, more sophisticated search tools that provide in-depth analysis of how search volumes on specific topics vary over time.
5. What format or media should you choose for your content in the search results?
The most appropriate content on a specific topic – or for a specific intention – isn’t always text on a standard web page.
Over the years Google has embraced this and is now integrating more and more box-outs (such as video, apps, shopping, direct answers, knowledge graphs etc.) within its organic search results.
Analysing these universal and extended search integrations can give you insights about the different media and formats your content strategy should incorporate to address your target’s individual requirements.
So a UK Google search on “tying a bow tie” throws up a Direct Answer box at the top of the page with numbered instructions. Underneath this are some video integrations followed by a variety of instructional diagrams that appear in image box-outs.
Obviously you can get an idea of the integrations/box-outs Google selects by simply performing keyword searches related to the topics you want to cover.
If you can manage to get your content appearing in these, then you can potentially boost your traffic. And there are search tools available to help you track the appearance of Google’s universal and extended search integrations for your site to see how your content is performing.
6. How effectively does your content meet the needs of your audience
We’ve already said that Google’s experience of successfully serving up relevant content day in day out, means it has a wealth of experience.
So one way of assessing if you’re online content is working, is to track and measure how it performs in search. After all, if Google positions your content highly in searches – then it’s likely doing a good job of answering searchers’ questions.
You could even put a monetary value on the ‘power’ of each piece of content by getting your SEO or search marketing team to help you estimate how much you’d have to pay in AdWords advertising to generate the same level of search visibility.
7. When should you repurpose, consolidate or even delete content?
If your content is simply not performing in Google searches (i.e. not ranking well, not getting much traffic with visitors bouncing away quickly when they land on the page), and your SEO team has told you that all the technical and user experience aspects of your page/site (site speed, file size, page structure etc) are fine, it could mean your content is just not right.
You may need to rework it completely or consolidate several content pieces into one (maybe it doesn’t cover all the aspects of the topic that people want to learn about) or even delete it.
At least: do something. Because if Google doesn’t think it should perform well in searches, maybe it won’t chime with people either.
Content marketing and SEO have been coming closer together for many years, and in 2017 we’ll see them getting closer still.
Because much of the data and insights that SEOs have been using to optimise web pages for Google can support the creation of better, more compelling content.
For more on this topic, check out these Econsultancy resources: