Content Types - Diversity and Formats
One thing you can learn from analyzing search results is the types of content that rank for queries – both the range of types and the formats presented within those ranges. We are long past a time when Google results were just ten blue links. It’s also no longer traditional HTML pages being listed. Videos, embedded apps, podcasts, image carousels, local results and map packs, rich snippets and knowledge boxes are all frequently returned in Google search results.
Voice search and the growth of digital assistants in homes and offices are further accelerating dramatic shifts in the nature of search results and what even constitutes a “search”. In a world where users are increasingly moving to smaller screens, ranking reports alone are only going to get you so far.
Organizations need to keep a close eye on the types of results that are ranking for their keyword spaces and work to create content pieces on par with those results and reflective of the mediums represented there. Persona research, including demographic and psychographic information, can be married to keyword research to better understand who these searchers are and the content formats they prefer to consume.
As digital marketers, we’ve heard the chorus of “content is king” for so long it’s become more of a folk aphorism than a meaningful insight. But it’s no longer enough to just have content, no matter how relevant it is, the medium is just as important as the message.
Content strategies should take into account audience and content medium alignment. A one size fits all content approach is no longer sufficient. Whenever possible, we should look to repurpose and repackage content into different formats, even for different channels and different audiences. For example, a Facebook Live event can become an Instagram Story which then becomes the basis for a recap blog post that can potentially rank in Google.
By analyzing search results pages closely, digital marketers can better understand the types of content, not just the subject matter, which they will need to create to best reach their target audiences.
A second thing that you can learn from analyzing search results is the competitive landscape - who ranks where, for what terms, and which pages on their site are ranking for it. Search results tend to function as a zero sum game, so every click gained by one competitor or website typically comes at the expense of someone else. By monitoring search results in a particular keyword space over time, you’ll see who the big fish in the pond are, who’s been falling off lately and which new upstarts are surfacing in the results.
These shifts and overall turnover in search results are ever ongoing and are somewhat tacitly understood as natural by digital marketers. What’s perhaps less appreciated, however, is the scope and scale of the churn over time. It was only a few years ago in 2015 when Marcus Tober of SearchMetrics revealed research that showed that 89% of websites that ranked in 2008 on Page 1 of Google longer ranked in Google 7 years later at all.
— Jonah Stein (@Jonahstein) 15 April 2015
That’s a long stretch of time, but it also represents a tremendous amount of churn in search results. One source of the churn is Google themselves, who have introduced well known and publicized algorithmic updates over the years, like Panda and Penguin, but who also makes hundreds of smaller changes and tweaks to the ranking algorithms on a regular basis. But another source of the flux is the competitors themselves, whose ability to adapt to these changes varies tremendously.
With this type of fluctuation, basic due diligence requires a periodic review of the search results for competitive analysis. Today’s upstart who is just surfacing in the search results could be a big fish within a few years and the seemingly entrenched stalwarts may only be one algorithmic update away from search obsolescence. By monitoring search results over time, digital marketers can develop and maintain a keen understanding of the competitive landscape, the strengths and weaknesses of individual competitors, and how to best leverage this competitive intelligence.
Another valuable set of insights provided by search results comes from “related searches”. These related searches are found under the “People Also Ask” boxes embedded in many search results and can be an absolute treasure trove of ideas for content pieces.
In addition to concepts for content you might never have considered, you will often find some surprising mis-matches between the language and descriptors that search engine users include in their queries and the language and descriptors that those within the industry or space use. Remember, even though the technical term might be “feline leukemia” but many searchers will enter “cancer in cats”. Optimizing for technical terms and industry jargon only can marginalize visibility on keywords used by laypeople who are not entrenched in a particular language bubble. By reviewing Related Searches, you can fully map out the query space and identify underutilized, or completely ignored, types of language that could be better integrated into content pieces.
Finally, a fourth thing you can learn from search results, involves a different type of search result altogether, internal site search.
If a search option is provided on your site, the terms that are typed into that box will give you a useful view of the items, topics and pages people are having issues finding on your site. When there are recurring user intents found within these searches, it typically means one of two things.
The first is that you have pages on your website that would address these searches, but users cannot find them. The second is that you don’t have any pages at all on the website to address the searches. The former is more of user experience (UX) and information architecture (IA) concern, while the latter is more of a content gap issue.
Both present unique challenges to, but they also offer useful opportunities. Improving the UX and/or IA of a website helps better maximize the value of a search engine click, and a user, and can potentially increase conversions. Identifying gaps to create new content can help improve overall visibility in search engines and drive more of those initial search engine clicks. By analyzing internal search logs, you can identify some of the pain points in user journeys as well as prime opportunities for content expansion.
Keyword ranking data is an important part of reporting on the organic search performance. But ranking reports alone will not provide the context needed for meaningful insights and actionable next steps. Be sure to invest just as much time in analyzing the actual search result pages for your keywords space as you do reviewing spreadsheets or other columned abstractions of those same search results. Reconnect to the content, the formats, and the users who Google is ultimately serving.