After analyzing hundreds of SERPs over the past few weeks, Rand has identified the 10 distinct content types that work best for SEO and classified which formats are suited for certain queries. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, he explains those content types and how to use them to satisfy searcher intent, match them to the right projects, and enhance your overall strategy.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about the types of content, content formats that tend to work well for SEO, and I’m talking specifically about content rather than sort of an e-commerce product page or a contact page or those types of things, and that’s because what we want to try and do here is talk about those of you who are doing content strategy and content marketing and choosing which content formats you should potentially use.
So I actually spent a bunch of time over the last few weeks analyzing a few hundred search results, of many, many different kinds, trying to identify the unique, diverse kinds of search results in which content marketing pieces ranked or the types of pieces that would fit into the content marketing world rank.
10 content formats that appeared regularly atop Google
So I made this list of 10. There are actually 11, but I don’t particularly recommend all 11 of these, and what I’ve done is, below the video, you can see in the text content of this Whiteboard Friday I’ve made a list. For each of these 11, I have a URL that’s a good example of this and a search query for which that URL ranks, so you can get a sense of what this type of stuff looks like. So you’re probably familiar with most of these formats:
- Blog posts and those could have regular updates or be republished on a regular basis
e.g. Live & Dare’s Benefits of Meditation (ranks for Meditation Benefits)
- Short-form evergreen content and articles
e.g. Jim Collin’s Piece on Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (ranks for BHAG)
- Long-form articles
e.g. Wait Buy Why on the Fermi Paradox (ranks for Fermi Paradox)
- Photo and visual galleries, I found a lot of these ranking, especially for things that lent themselves to it, for example if you were to search for men’s haircuts styles.
e.g. Right Hairstyle’s 100 Cool Short Hairstyles for Men/ (ranks for men’s hair styles)
- Detailed and information-rich lists of information
e.g. Wareable’s Best Fitness Trackers of 2016 (ranks for Fitness Trackers)
- Interactive tools and content, got some good examples of those.
e.g. Zoopla’s House Prices Tool (ranks for property prices)
- Comprehensive category landers, so this would be like if you search for kitchen designs, how you might land on Houzz’s page of various kitchen designs and that’s really a lander to get you into more content, so it’s not technically a content marketing piece by itself, but it leads you into content pieces or could.
e.g. HGTV’s Kitchen Ideas (ranks for kitchen remodeling ideas)
- Multi-page guides, things like Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, but we have some other examples too.
e.g. Bates University’s “Painless Guide to Statistics” (ranks for statistics guide)
- Data or complex information that is visualized
e.g. CNN’s Election Results (ranks for election results 2016)
- Video, YouTube or embedded video on a particular page, Whiteboard Friday itself being an example of that.
e.g. Whiteboard Friday itself (ranks for Unique Content)
Then an eleventh format that I don’t actually recommend, even though I found it in the search results quite often, and that is the formal research documents that are usually PDFs or Powerpoints or those kinds of things. The reason I don’t recommend these formats is because they’re actually hard to parse. They’re particularly hard to open on mobile devices. They’re not very user-friendly, and most of the time the reason they rank well is simply because they’re cited by lots of other things. But when you see content marketers invest in one of these spaces and make a document in one of these other formats that’s better and more comprehensive and more useful and more user-friendly, they do a much better job and they tend to rank better too.
Which format should you use for your project?
So the question is: Which format should you be using for your project? This is something we have to do at Moz. We ask ourselves this question when we’re creating content around SEO and around web marketing information and information of all kinds. So there are sort of three big ones that I ask and then a few tips that I’ve got for you as well. But first off, I like to start with:
What’s the searcher’s intent? What are they trying to accomplish?
Now generally speaking, if it’s navigation or transaction, content marketing-types of pieces are not the right match for those types of queries. But if it’s informational, which is a huge swath, a massive amount of the searches that take place on the web and certainly many of the ones that content marketing is designed to target, because then it can turn those people from, “Yeah, I now know about your brand and I’m now considering you and I thinking about you.”
There’s a bunch of different variants of these. So things like I’m looking for:
- A quick answer to this question
- A deep comparison of different types of information or different products, different services, different paths that I could choose to answer the action that I’m about to take.
- A broad overview
- I could be searching out something, searching for information purely out of curiosity and intrigue. You know when you go down a rabbit hole around, “Hey, I want to know all the films that Meg Ryan was ever in.” Then, “Wait a minute. What is that one? I’ve never heard of that one, and let me go learn more about that.” So the curiosity and intrigue.
- Professional and scientific interests
- Multi-threaded exploration.
Look, there are plenty of others other types of informational queries. The key is to ask yourself which of these are most of the people performing this search query trying to accomplish, and then you can do a better job of narrowing down this list. So you might be able to cut out five or six of these and only leave yourself with a few options after you’ve answered this question. The next one is:
What actually appears in the search results page?
I mean this two ways. One, who already shows up there, and what kinds of formats are they using? That can be informational. That can give you some inspiration, or it could drive you to want to be different from the rest of them. But also, I’m asking in terms of the SERP features that appear there. Are we talking about:
- 10 blue links and ads, which is very, very classic old school, but uncommon these days? Or are we talking about search verticals appearing in their images, which suggest maybe I should be thinking about…
- Photos or visual galleries or maybe data or complex information visualized, like maybe an informational graphic or more likely a data visualization that’s of high quality. I’m not a big infographic fan myself, as you might know from previous Whiteboard Fridays.
- Is it news? In which case, maybe I want a short-form article or a long-form article.
- Is it videos? In which case, I probably want to video.
If we see lots of things like:
- Instant answers, people also ask, in-depth results, that could point us toward the complexity of the information and how much people are willing to go dig into this. So people who also ask suggest that it might be a multi-threaded exploration, a multi-page guide, or a comprehensive category lander could be a good match there. If I see an instant answer, probable that a short-form, evergreen article could do really well, or a blog post that’s regularly updated might do well there.
If I see…
- Site links, maps or local, or one of Google or Bing’s widgets, that essentially answer the query for you, a search for a calculator or a search for flight prices, they answer that already. A search for weather, they answer that already. Chances are it might be pretty hard to do things in the content marketing world that will actually have success there. I might bias you to look for other things.
Then the third question:
What’s going to resonate with two groups — my audience and their influencers?
You need to ask these questions about both those groups. That could mean:
- Device type and where you are searching from. So if somebody is searching on a mobile device and they are on-the-go and this type of query has an intent that is informational but it’s very quick information, you might want to consider some of the shorter form stuff.
- If there are hopeful next steps and you know that that’s the case, you might want to give something like the multi-page guide or the category lander or the interactive tool or content or that detailed list that gives someone actions they can take right after they’ve consumed that information.
You also want to consider whether this is a person or this is likely to be a person who is:
- looking for new and interesting formats and they would be fascinated and enjoy exploring that, or whether they’re…
- looking for something familiar and trusted, that is not new, that doesn’t make them think at all, it just answers their query and gets them finished.
I would say…
- Don’t ignore new formats. So if some of these are not things you’ve considered in the past, don’t ignore them.
- Recognize that you shouldn’t just use a format because it’s new. That is a terrible idea. You should use a format because it works well for your audience, because it serves all of these functions.
- Learn from who’s already ranking
- I wouldn’t say that you should just copy somebody else’s format because it’s easy to do and familiar. Make sure that familiar and trusted is the best way that you can compete.
- Look at these content formats and finding ways to get a competitive advantage from them. If all of your competitors are just doing blog posts and short-form and long-form articles, you might be able to win with a visual gallery, you might be able to win with an interactive piece of content or a tool, or you might be able to win with complex information visualized. That’s a powerful thing.
- Do use a multi-keyword approach in this analysis. So when I’m saying, “What is the searcher’s intent,” I’m asking you to consider all of the words and phrases that you’re hoping to rank for with this piece of content, not just a single keyword term or phrase. That will give you the best way to choose the right content format for the search queries and the overall goal of attracting the right searchers.
All right everyone, look forward to hearing about some of the formats you’ve used, maybe some that aren’t on this list. If you have great examples of these you’d like to share, we’d certainly love to see them. And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.