Future Proofing Your Content as Search Evolves
by Geoff Hineman
Despite the regular, predictable—not to mention naive—proclamations that SEO is Dead, changes in the marketplace, changes in technology, and regular search engine core algorithm updates, ensures that SEO is not only very much alive, it is one of the most dynamic aspects of a contemporary marketing mix. Sometimes, it can seem like a lot to even keep up with it all. Smart marketers, however, know that the goal is not to keep up with Google and other search engines, but to stay ahead of them. Google has been very consistent, since its inception, with regards to its main focus: serve the best results to search queries. Technologies, such as mobile search and voice search, for example, have necessitated that search engines adapt to stay relevant. Despite all the changes, though, Google's goal remains the same: serve the best results... regardless of the changes in technology or medium. It must stay focused on that goal. It has monetized that goal, so the entire financial model of the Google search engine is based on that singular goal. By keeping that goal in mind and thinking like Google, marketers can get out of the role of trying to adapt to changes and be in the position of insulating sites from such changes. If past performance is any indicator of future performance, Google will surely look and act very differently five years from now. That said, there are a few things you can be doing now to ensure your content is ready to weather all the inevitable ups and downs. Namely, we are going to talk about: Content Clusters and Internal Linking, Topic Optimization, and Screenless Search.
Content Clusters and Internal Linking
Your site's navigation is a prime example of how internal linking works. When done well, it can help users easily move through your site to the pages they need. It can also help dole out link authority to pages on your site. When it is not done well, however, the benefits associated with internal linking are lost. When creating new content, consider organizing different topics into logical clusters. This offers plenty of opportunity for intuitive internal linking that provides a benefit to users and search engines alike. In short, content clusters involve organizing your site's pages by topic. Think of it as combining your blog's Category page listing with a manually created Resources page. Each content cluster should demonstrate that your site can show comprehensive expertise on a given subject—so much so that your users should be able to find an answer to just about any question they may have on the topic you have clustered. There is a simple two-step process you can follow to create a powerful internal linking page that is based on content clusters.
1. Topic Identification
Since you will want a comprehensive set of pages for each topic, you'll need to first identity each topic area on your site. Once you've done this, you'll need to run a content audit on your existing content to see where you have gaps or, perhaps, which closely related pages can be folded together into one longer, more-comprehensive page. If your content is properly tagged and categorized, clustering your existing content for an audit should be a fairly straightforward task. If your content is not properly tagged and categorized, though, you'll want to create a spreadsheet to track and categorize your topics for the sake of organization. In your spreadsheet, you'll want each row to contain the page URL and the related topic. Once you have your topics clustered, single out the pages that would serve as good pillar pages for the rest of the pages to revolve around.
2. Start Building and Internally Linking Your Clusters
Once you've identified your topics, it shouldn't be too difficult to start clustering them appropriately. After you have clustered them, there are a couple of ways to link them: either via breadcrumbs that link pages to their pillar page or with editorial links in the content. If you opt for using breadcrumbs, make sure you follow Google's best practices with regards to the structured data markup. Personally, we prefer editorial links for a couple of reasons:
- They appear more organic and that, in turn, can improve the click though rate (CTR); and
- there is research that shows editorial links are more effective at dispersing link equity than linking from menus and footers.
While the goal is to create content clusters that help users navigate all facets of a topic, don't be afraid to link out to a post in another topic cluster if it is relevant to the post/topic at hand. There are times where certain topics can logically fall within different topic clusters, so linking in a way that meets a customer needs should always take precedence over keeping content clusters rigidly self-contained.
3. Have a Content Cluster Promotion Plan
For several years now, the common consensus is that long-form content ranks better not only because it tends to offer greater depth on certain topics, but because it garners more links ... because it tends to offer greater depth on certain topics. On the flip-side, short-form content is increasingly becoming the more shareable option on social media. Keep this in mind when creating content. Not all content has to be long-form for the sake of being long-form. If you can adequately cover a topic in 300 words, then you should feel secure in doing so. Clustering your content should ensure that users can find any other information on the topic they feel wasn't covered. Having content of different lengths affords you more options for sharing and promotion.
In years past, keyword research was focused on isolating certain keywords that received a good amount of search traffic, but didn't have much in the way of competition. As the Google algorithm changed, and continues to change, search intent has become much easier for search engines to discern than simply "exact match" SEO to a keyword. As search engines get better at determining a user's intent, this frees up content creators to eschew old-school optimization dictates in favor of a more fluid editorial delivery. This means that your content should embody a more natural writing approach that favors "keyword clusters" that more readily mimic the natural flow of topical composition. If you focus on the content topic and cover it well, using a variety of different keywords relevant to the topic and that fall naturally in the prose, you'll provide a better read for your users and give search engines enough content to suss out the most important points to match to user queries. This, in turn, opens your site to a wider array of keyword searches. One common way to eclipse the competition with topical content is called the "skyscraper" technique. The premise is simple. In short, you find the content that is ranking best for the term or topic you want to rank for and just create a better piece of content. Look for holes or thin spots in the top-ranking content. Be more thorough by adding any of the following:
- step-by-step instructions
If there is something the top-ranking piece is missing that you think your audience would find helpful, include it. The idea isn't to write the longest article on a topic. The idea is to answer distinct questions by providing the most helpful content on a topic. Sometimes the most helpful content is 2,000 words; sometimes it's 200.
While Google has invested heavily in self-driving cars to allow commuters to search online during what would have been time spent driving, Google is also moving quickly into the screenless search space. Voice search and visual search are both on the rise, and with it so is Google's focus on adapting to changes in the means by which people search. Fostered, in part, by Google technology, consumers are searching in new ways, namely: speaking search terms into devices or taking pictures of items and feeding them into Google's image search. As a result, users executing these types of searches are increasingly expecting direct answers to their queries, rather than a list of links. Screenless and clickless search is rapidly advancing and, along with it, so are searchers expectations for a good experience. That said, there are ways to adapt to this shift. One option is to start implementing Google Actions, which instructs smart speakers how to navigate and, essentially, "use" your site. Another option is to consider chatbot technology to allow for conversational marketing with users.
Think Like Google
When creating new content for your site, leveraging informative content that informs users and builds trust should be top of mind. When doing so, remember to leverage an organized linking structure; integrate logical content clusters; and, keep an eye on changing technology to best deliver your content regardless of the search method employed.