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How is Google evaluating web content for rankings?

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Episode Overview

When it comes to Google, content may be king, but there’s also a lot that data-driven marketers need to know and do—including understanding that data is not the enemy of creativity. In this first podcast of our April Searchmetrics Content Ranking Factors series, renowned SEO strategists Jordan Koene and Marlon Glover discuss what it takes to have content that ranks. They discuss best practices that every marketer should know, covering how web content should be produced and how Google evaluates it for rankings:

Learn about:

  • What are Google’s “micro moments” which determine what consumers will buy?
  • How to use search volume to understand consumer demand
  • How to create a content strategy that maps data to the different formats of content you should create
  • What are the three steps in the content production phase that should be guiding your content strategy?
  • What is in Google’s black box and how do they measure content engagement?

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Ben:                Welcome to Ranking Factors month on the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re taking a deep dive into the weeds and examining the technical content and external factors that impact your visibility.

Ben:               Joining us today are two of Searchmetrics’ best and brightest, Jordan Koene who is a world-renowned SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc, and Marlon Glover, who is Searchmetrics’ content services team lead and one of our most savvy content marketers. Today, Jordan and Marlon are going to walk us through some of the most important content ranking factors.

Ben:                But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presences and make data-driven decisions. And as part of a ranking factors month, we’d like to welcome you, our loyal podcast listeners, to our upcoming webinar, where we’ll discuss the evolution of custom ranking factors with machine learning.

Ben:               The webinar’s going to happen on April 25th, so join our discussion about how a new generation of machine learning technology is evolving to provide on demand and domain-specific ranking factors that are shaping the future of SEO. To register for our custom ranking factors webinar, go to Searchmetrics.com/webinar.

Ben:                Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Searchmetrics’ own Jordan Koene and Marlon Glover.

Ben:               Jordan, Marlon, welcome to the Voices of Search Podcast.

Jordan:               Hey Ben, thanks. looking forward to this conversation today.

Marlon:             Yeah, thank you for having us.

Ben:              It’s great to have you both here. I want to dive into talking about content, how content is produced, how it’s evaluated, and specifically, how Google and the other SEO search engines evaluate, and how it can impact your rankings.

Ben:               Hey Marlon, let’s- let’s start off with you. Can we just, can we start off high level, and just talk about the content journey? What’s the right way to think about creating content that is optimized for rankings?

Marlon:             Yeah sure, Ben. Folks that have had any conversations with me in the past, they’ve heard me use this phrase quite often, and I borrow it from one of my colleagues here, is that data is not the enemy of creativity. And often times as content folks, we tend to fear getting too wrapped up into the data and the technology for developing our content strategies, and our content that we are asking our writers to produce.

Marlon:            So, let me take you through this process of how we start with data to truly inform the content that we create for our target audience and our perspective customers. To start, one of the first things that we look at is the consumers demand, and the questions that they’re asking. So, the demand for products, and their demand for answers. They’re looking to be taught. And so, we can use our data to determine truly how much they want to be taught, based off of the search volume.

Marlon:             So I think it starts first with looking at the people who are close to those customers, the people that are having conversation every day to determine, what questions are being asked throughout that sales process. Can we determine based off of the questions that customers are asking every day, what is the demand for that data? What is the search volume? What is the seasonality around that data? What is the true intent?

Marlon:            Speaking of intent, the second stage that we look at is once we’ve determined those search terms, those keywords, what is the intent of those keywords, right? I often go back to a piece of content that Google themselves had created, it was around the four micro moments. Those four micro moments are, want to buy, right? Those are the ones that we’re the most familiar with, but also includes want to know, want to go, and want to do. Those four micro moments, from Google, can really help us determine exactly what the intent of a perspective customer, target audience may be, but also how we should be guiding the content strategy.

Marlon:            And then the last piece, in my content production is, how can we make this piece of content as comprehensive as possible, right? So, what are the factors? What are all the elements that are going to go into making this content compete with the top raking URLs, or that same search query?

Ben:               So here’s what I’m hearing from you, is that there are really three stages in the content production phase that you’re going through to make sure that your content is going to have a big enough audience, and going to hit the mark, in terms of meeting their needs, right? First you go through the data process, and making sure that there is a need for your content, then you’re looking at the different formats of content, and trying to establish a connection between the type of questions or information that the user is going through, and trying to create the right format of content.

Ben:                Then you’re going through a production process to make sure that you’re making that content as comprehensible as possible. And as I say all of this, it sounds more complicated than I think it needs to be, just hearing myself say it back to you. So let’s give a real world example here. We all have talked in pre-production for this podcast about how at points in our life we’ve all had a bad back.

Marlon:              (laughs)

Ben:                Talk to me about how you would go through the process of creating a content strategy that maps from the data you can collect about bad backs, into, different formats of content, and then making sure that you’re creating as much valuable content as you can.

Marlon:             Yeah, happy to. And, this is a very relevant topic, as you mentioned before, since, something that we’re dealing with at the moment right now. So-

Jordan Koene:               All three of us, we all have serious back pain.

Ben:                I had back surgery a couple years ago, and oddly enough, I am the one that has the least amount of back pain right now. I feel bad for you guys, but let’s solve some problems, and create some content that, not only helps the SEO community, but the bad back community as well.

Jordan:             We do have a roller here in the office that we’ve acquired, simply because of the severe amount of back pain that everyone was having. So, we just have people rolling out on the floor all the time.

Ben:               Yeah, Friday is also going to be massage day for anybody that wants to come by the office.

Marlon:             (laughs) So, that’s actually a good segway and a great example. So, let’s talk about a company that may be selling a product to relieve back pain, like a foam roller. And maybe there’s an organization out there selling a product that would in this. And- and I also mentioned in an earlier podcast, we talked about the buyer’s journey and the different stages, so, I’m not going to emphasize the- the different stages of the buyer’s journey, but what I will do is use this example to talk through that process.

Marlon:            So, if I’m an eCommerce client, and I’m a content strategist with an eCommerce client, the first thing I’m going to my SEO colleagues to determine is, can you help me identify what I should be writing about, as it pertains to back pain to sell this product, a foam roller on this side, right? So, I want to lead people to this product, help me determine what questions are being asked, what is the demand for those questions, and then, when should I be creating this content? Is there any seasonality associated with that?

Marlon:             So, that’s what I’m going to my team to ask and to provide me insights around that, or maybe I’m just looking for the data, and I’ll determine my own insights. So that’s the first step, so I may ask the team to look at a set of keywords based off of competitors, based on research that we’ve done from our consumers that are, asking frequently, ask questions around this topic.

Marlon:            Any other things that as an SEO we should be thinking about, including in this, Jordan?

Jordan:             Yeah, absolutely. So, some of the big data points that we really want to analyze when we’re looking at this is, how do we compare against the other eCommerce competitive set? So, as you mentioned, in order to be competitive, are we hitting the content legs? Are we hitting the keywords, and the subtopics that are going to help us compete for this particular theme?

Jordan:              And the interesting thing about, especially eCommerce data, and I think eCommerce more so than other industries, it’s hyper-competitive and incredibly data-driven. But as you said earlier, Marlon, this doesn’t mean that we should be, fearful of the data, we should encourage the use of that data, and elicit that practice in in our content production journey.

Ben:               So, Marlon and Jordan, what I’m hearing is that, as the content strategist and as the SEO, Marlon, you would essentially go to Jordan and say, “Hey, I need data on bad backs, where is there query opportunity? How much content do I need to write to rank? And what are priority keywords for each specific topic?” That’s really the type of data that you’re looking at.

Marlon:             That’s right, yeah. And often times, I’m able to see seasonality around those keywords, I’m able to look at other metrics to help me determine the likelihood that my domain, and my content will rank for those keywords, as well as when I should be writing it.

Marlon:            Ben, I think the, the second part as I mentioned earlier using this example is the intent. So, is likely that out of that initial keyword research, there are going to be different types of keywords and search terms that I want to go after. But then my next step is to determine what is the true intent that a perspective customer may around those keywords?

Marlon:            So, when I started my search, when I started having these back problems, the first thing I looked up was lower back pain, right? Just give me some general information around the causes, potentially what it could be. And the first few pages that I looked at, it was they were long; it’s a lot of text-based content, long-form content. As I mentioned before, this typically falls into the want to know, right? If you look at any keyword that falls into the want to know intent-based search, it’s typically going to be text-based content.

Marlon:            One of the other terms I looked up was low back pain relief, and it produced very different type of search results. More videos, more stretches, more how-to’s. So, typically this falls into the want to do category. I want to know how to relieve my back pain, I want to take an action against this. So, what Google is telling me is that, that the content that is most engaging for target audiences around this particular search is going to be more instructional, right? And it may have more media elements included in that.

Marlon:             So, those are two examples within the intent-based phase of this process.

Ben:               Okay, so I want to talk a little bit about evaluation. Once you have your content strategy down, you looked at your data, you’ve understood where there’s an opportunity, you’re figuring out what the customer’s intent is with their query. And you go through your production phase, you’re making the right length of content, and you’re making sure that it’s the right fidelity, whether it’s video, text, imagery, whatever it may be.

Ben:               Jordan, talk to me a little bit about how Google evaluates the content. Is it as simple as they just look at, clicks and time on site to figure out if a piece of content is valuable?

Jordan:             That’s a great question, Ben. And, we talk about this here at Searchmetrics, we talk about one word, predominantly. And I’m sure that the folks at Google do the same thing, and they look at this from the lens of engagement, right? So, ultimately, what every author or producer of content wants is engagement. They want consumers, users, visitors, to be connected, to be fulfilled, to ultimately reach their goal or their objective. Whether it’s through those micro moments that Marlon mentioned, or it’s through another medium that that same site can provide.

Jordan:             So kind of like the follow-through that that site might have, maybe, related content, like ads or lead forms, or other activities that can take place. But ultimately, it always comes down to engagement. And the funny thing is that engagement is a pretty subjective and freeform topic, and so there’s a lot of different paths that you can go down to measure that.

Ben:                So, let’s go down the rabbit hole a little bit. When you’re talking about measuring engagement, it is a relatively, let’s call it a black box, what Google considers engagement. What are some of the ways that we evaluate engaging content at Searchmetrics?

Jordan:             So, for the SEO folks, that are listening, you’re going to love this little bit of a historical walkthrough for us, because this isn’t a new topic for Google, and for us as SEOs. Really engagement, about 15 or so years ago, for Google, started off with the focal point of links. So, Google kind of said, “Hey, if your content has more links, then those are kind of like votes, and votes is a form of engagement,” right? It’s a way for people to validate the usefulness or the authority of your content.

Jordan:             The interesting thing is that today there is a plethora of engagement metrics that Google is using, and I’ll just go over a couple of them very quickly. Some of them are user-based, like you mentioned, Ben, things like time on sites, click through rate, elements like that. Other engagement metrics include, the user’s ability to be fulfilled with an action, so basically conversion rate, and are they actually completing the actual task that should be taking place on the page?

Jordan:          Other engagement rates … or engagement data points that Google might use, is how users might engage with your content through different SERP elements. I know, that’s a tricky one. But like, the SERP is no longer just about a blue link, there are site links, there are embedded elements, there are knowledge graph and answer boxes. And so, as collective whole, how are users on Google engaging with those various SERP experiences?

Jordan:             And then finally, a big one, and a super subjective one, is brand and brand awareness. So, how many times is your brand being mentioned? How are you investing in other more traditional forms of marketing? All of those elements are now dictating an algorithmic formula for engagement.

Ben:               So essentially what you’re saying is that Google is taking a broad look at the Internet as a whole and looking at what your brand strength and power is, and then they’re factoring that into your search results as an interpretation of how engaged people are with your content.

Ben:               If they are talking about you broadly where Google can see you, you must have an engaging brand. And then they’re factoring in the traditional links, and how people are engaging with the other SERP elements as well, to try to put together a holistic score of how interested in your content the consumers are.

Jordan:             Absolutely. I even think, to get a little scary here, I even think that Google’s getting to the point where they’re actually measuring sentiment on brand, to see positive versus negative sentiment, and using that as an evaluation as well. But I mean, now we’re going really down into the … to an engagement level that’s much, much more granular.

Ben:               So when I say Searchmetrics is great, Searchmetrics is wonderful, Searchmetrics is the best, you’re saying that when we publish this podcast transcript onto our blog, me stating the value of Searchmetrics and talking about it positively actually affects our SEO performance?

Jordan:             Even if our collective audience reciprocates, yes, I think it’s critical mass, right?

Ben:               Okay. Everybody say it with me, Searchmetrics is great.

Jordan:              Searchmetrics is great.

Ben:                All right. Let’s talk a little bit about the SEO interpretation of ranking factors for content. What I’m hearing is there’s really one ranking factor, right? There are how people are engaging with your content, it’s not like the technical ranking factors where we’re looking at time on site and mobile responsiveness, and, what your crawl metrics look like. It’s really, you have content, are people engaged with it, and your brand.

Jordan:            Absolutely.

Marlon:            Yeah.

Jordan:             But, I think the big thing is that engagement, as we mentioned in the beginning, is a rather subjective form, and there’s a lot of ways to solve it.

Ben:               Okay. So, let’s talk through some of those ways that the user base can optimize for engagement. We mentioned that some of the sort of submetrics are time on site, mentions, link building, this is getting out of, hey, how do you produce a piece of content and publish it so Google ranks it? It’s getting into how do you syndicate that content and drive performance metrics, that are generally measured in other channels like, social, and PR?

Ben:               Talk to me about what some of the strategies you guys can suggest that are going to help boost content engagement? Curve ball.

Jordan:            That is a phenomenal question, Ben. And, I think before we go into some very specific examples, into how you can improve your engagement, I think it’s important for all of our listeners to understand that this is exactly where the SEO, the content owner, and the website or webmaster, that marriage, that connection between those three groups is super critical.

Jordan:              Because engagement isn’t a standalone effort from the SEO, the content producer, or the website builder, it’s a connection between all three. And ultimately, the best advice we can give you is test, test, test. Because that’s where you’re going to get your best results, is by evaluating different content forms and types, and improving those, as well as changing different layouts and experiences through your web design, and then connecting that with the data and websites that you can gather from your SEO.

Marlon:           And Jordan, I think there’s one other individual, or maybe a broader set of individuals that I’d throw in there, and I think that’s the digital marketer, or the broader marketing organization. And Ben, I know that you have quite a bit of experience in this space, so we’d love to get your input here, from your perspective, what are some effective strategies for distributing that content so it’s going to perform well and beat those other engagement metrics.

Ben:                Yeah, (laughs) you’re turning the tables on me here, Marlon, but I’ll use the back pain, and maybe the foam roller, example that we had. I think one of the biggest pieces of advice that I have, and we do this, with all the podcasts here at Searchmetrics, is breaking your long-form content down into short-form content that’s made for distribution across multiple channels, is something that’s a really powerful tool.

Ben:               This is kind of a page of the Gary V. playbook. But let’s take this podcast as an example, or maybe we have a video about how to do our stretches for back pain, or you have a back pain podcast talking about some of the problems that people face, and how they’ve overcome their objectives. You can take the multiple different types of fidelity, your audio and your video content and transcribe them, and turn them into blog content, and your written long-form content, and that’s great. I think what you want to do is take a lot of that longer form content and break out the highlights, and some of the mentions that are relevant to other people, that are in your industry, or talking about, specific people in your content.

Ben:               So for example, if I have a video about back pain, and I’m using our foam roller, but I’m also using an inversion table, and I have a personal trainer that’s working with me, what I might do is take cuts of those videos, splice them up, and then send it to the company that creates the inversion table and to the trainer, and have them syndicate the part of their content that we mentioned in ours on social networks.

Ben:              The example maybe for this podcast is we transcribe our podcast, we summarize it, we create shorter form content. When we mention somebody, we try to give them the snippet of the content from this podcast, so they share it on LinkedIn and Twitter, and now we’re building an engagement strategy that is more social, than it is specifically SEO. But I do think that that feeds into the overall brand engagement, it gives you more impressions, and it also helps Google interpret how powerful your brand is, and how relevant it is across multiple different channels.

Jordan:             No, I think that that’s an excellent summary, and it incapsulates the true opportunity and challenge that exists with content. Which is, the utility of it, and mapping it to the intent, and the medium by which you’re distributing that content, is absolutely a recipe that’s critical to not only your SEO success, but to your audience’s success.

Marlon:             And one thing that I’ll add for all of my SEO friends out there listening, is there’s a huge opportunity for you to evangelize the effectiveness of employing good SEO and content strategy, simply by providing the content teams with reports. Help them understand how their content is performing, what value they perceive from executing a strategy that’s similar to this in the future, by simply helping them understand the performance of their content on an individual page level, if you are able to.

Marlon:            So, I think that one thing in terms of advocating for having great and effective SEO strategy within a content strategy is to start with showing them the fruits of their labor. I think that’s really important and a key piece that we can’t overlook is that communication.

Ben:              Yeah, I think my biggest takeaway, as we talk about ranking factors, specifically, this being ranking factors month. That with content, there is really one key ranking factor. So, it requires a lot of collaboration across multiple different teams to optimize for that ranking factor, which is engagement.

Ben:               If you’re a content strategist, you need to be partnering with your SEO to understand where the opportunity is, and what queries you’re likely to create. If you’re an SEO, even when you feed that data to your content strategist, they have to then go and understand what the user intent is, and produce great content. And then as that content is published, the engagement score really matters, you need to be able to syndicate that content.

Ben:               And so now you’re working with your broader marketing team to try to make sure that your content is broken down into shareable chunks and shared in the appropriate channel. So, well, there might only be one primary ranking factors for content, to optimize for that, it really is a complicated team effort.

Marlon:             Yes, that’s a great summary. And I’d just like to add that it doesn’t have to be complicated, we’re here to help at Searchmetrics. (laughs)

Ben:               Love it. And if anybody has back pains, we’re here to with you. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast.

Ben:               Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, Searchmetrics’ CEO, and Marlon Glover, our content team lead. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan or Marlon, you can find their LinkedIn profiles in our show notes, or you can contact them on Twitter, where Jordan’s handle is JTKoene, and Marlon’s is marlon_glover.

Ben:               If you have any general marketing questions, or if you’d like to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can tweet me @benjshap. And if you’re interested in attending our custom ranking factors webinar, which discusses the use of artificial intelligence to create ranking factors, which is happening on April 25th, head over to Searchmetrics.com/webinar.

Ben:               If you like this podcast and want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed in a few days.

Ben:             Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes Store, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Ben:               Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.