Let's face it, we knew it was coming. With Google increasingly putting the squeeze on poor marketing practices, either by punishing websites for using manipulative link building practices or having weak content and architecture, the rewards had to come for the good stuff.
In announcing the arrival of in-depth articles earlier this month, it heralded what I hope will be the beginning of a new phase in Google's strategy to clean up the SERPs and reward good marketing.
The first bit is well underway. Work to kill those peddling manipulative practices and clean up the link graph has begun and Google's content quality filter, Panda, is now so ingrained that it's part of the core algorithm.
The question for me has always been what Google would do once we got through the pain of such seismic change. How would they rewardsites that do it "right"?
Until now, Google has used the "stick" principle only. To really achieve its objectives, the company had to start creating positive ways of bringing about the behaviors it wants to see from businesses and marketers.
In-depth articles do just that. It really ups the ante for anyone creating really useful content.
What are In-Depth Articles?
This post isn't designed to be a detailed overview of the "what", but the why and how. In simple terms, Google is creating a new SERP position that highlights long form content that is at least 2,000 words in length.
And while it may be a huge effort to create this level of article, the rewards are now potentially greater.
How Does it Affect SEO
Fitting such prominent results into increasingly squeezed SERPs is of course going to impact those traditional listings, pushing out those that don't put content at the very center of their strategy.
It further dilutes a business' ability to reach those key positions without content but for those that do with such standout markup as you can see above the click-through rate will undoubtedly be huge.
It's still the early days yet – as of this writing, Google's new feature is only available in the U.S. – but early data shows that in-depth articles are indeed going to feature heavily in even the most valuable of niches.
In a survey of initial impact, Moz data scientist Dr. Pete Meyers found that around 7 percent (by volume) of U.S. queries featured the new addition within the first few days of launch. That's significant so early on, knowing how Google likes to grow new initiatives. We just have to look at how "(not provided)" grew for evidence of that.
As for how it changes SEO focus. Why would you focus on those "normal" positions when in-depth articles are this prominent?
How Can You Benefit?
The question then is how can you get a piece of the action? To answer this question we must tackle both the technical implementation piece and also the strategy around content creation.
There are few clues from Google about exactly how they choose to highlight certain articles but one thing we do know it that the minimum word count for potential inclusion is 2,000 words.
Advice is that publishers should follow the usual guidelines for longer content and to build a solid Schema markup process into your publishing plan.
Markup helps Google to understand the elements of a page and extract specific elements to use within SERPs or other areas of its business, such as Google+.
Google suggests using the following to enhance your chances of being chosen for one of the hallowed positions:
- Image (note: the image must be crawlable and indexable)
Think also about implementing pagination schema (rel=next/rel=prev) to avoid issues as this could kill off your article's chances before it's even had the chance to shine.
While you can do a lot to increase your chances of being picked up without the right content you are lost at sea. And with such a huge traffic reward now in place thinking around how you build out a content strategy should now change.
A lot is written and spoken about ‘storytelling' and ‘evergreen content' and while a lot of it is hot air there is real value in being able to intelligently present both through your brand's content.
Where the in-depth articles piece really does come into play is in the evergreen content arena. Here's great strategy to create evergreen content.
Evergreen content is a term given to content that has longevity and can be as relevant in two years as it is at the time of its writing. It addresses the inherent needs of the particular audience you're targeting and is often more in depth.
Such content is therefore perfect for investing in. If targeted well, that content will stick around longer and attract a lot of traffic over time.
Build it requires research. And lots of it.
Keyword research using tools such as the ubiquitous Ubersuggest or Google's Keyword Planner can provide great insight around which terms are most often searched for and these become the foundation of any evergreen strategy. Google Trends can also help you discover topics that are gaining in popularity and you can easily identify your best performing posts through Analytics with a view to expanding them, as you already know they work.
To give you an idea of what kinds of phrases are often ripe for such an approach, think about creating posts that answer such things as:
- Which are the Best (e.g., Best Hotels in Prague)
- Top 3, 5 and 10 lists (e.g., Top 10 BBQs)
- Price bracketed articles (e.g., best Washing machines under $500)
- How to guides (e.g., How to Mend a Puncture)
- History of (e.g., The History of Football)
- FAQs or glossaries
- Beginner's or Advanced Guides (e.g., Advanced Guide to Evergreen Content)
- Worst/Funny articles (e.g., Funny Holiday Stories)
Once you have your list of ideas gathered, the next stage is to begin building each piece.
It is key that you well optimize this and as well as ticking off all the schema requirements mentioned above it make sense to ensure that the following rules are also followed:
- Understand your audience. Ensure that tone and level of technicality sits correctly with the audience you already have, or want to attract.
- Pull together a research document first – one that contains interviews with experts, history, and ensure it has clear takeaways.
- Create the structure of the piece so it is clear how you should logically write it.
- Figure out how long your content will last as it is. Every piece of content requires updating and you should diary any updates at the point of creation to ensure you or your team doesn't forget.
- Align everything on page and follow optimization best practice. Match URL to H1, add social sharing, make sure it's responsive and works across all devices, and all meta data is added.
- Work on internal linking to stress the importance of the page to Google. Also, link out to quality sites to deepen the value.
- Check for spelling errors.
- Make it uniquely valuable as a piece of content – not a rehash of something that has gone before.
Structuring the Process
Structure is also key. Again, it can pay to create a "schematic version" of your long form content before you start writing. This is the basic process I follow when writing any significant piece:
Such a planned approach ensures that you leave no stone unturned in your approach and come out the other side with a well researched, unique and valuable piece of content ready for the key sharing stage.
While social signals aren't a proven ranking factor, they undoubtedly help – certainly where Google's freshness algorithm is concerned.
With so much meta data in place to obtain in-depth article status, it's entirely possible that sharing will play a more important part in as a ranking factor for these articles. The search engine is clearly going to take more time crawling such pieces of content and social should be a key validator as to whether it's really a "great" piece of content.
Work, therefore, on improving how well shared it is will surely be imperative to the process. It makes sense to have an outreach plan that includes such elements as:
- Egobait outreach: Get in touch with anyone interviewed or cited in the article in the hope they may share to their audience.
- Social amplification: Use paid social channels to push the content to relevant audiences. Facebook, Linkedin, Reddit, Twitter etc. all offer good options.
- Email: Create a regular editorial newsletter so you can feature such content to your existing audience.
- Offer to create spinoff content from it on an exclusive basis to targeted influencer sites to help drive eyeballs back to the original document.
Without a doubt, in-depth articles will change the SERPs ecosystem significantly and render existing click-through rate studies useless. Such is the significance of the change.
Early indicators suggest the new feature will surface across the majority of verticals too.
Investing in quality content will continue to become a more important part of any digital strategy heading into the future. Start preparing now for the global launch later this year.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!