It’s all in the SERPs: What Google can tell you about your content strategy

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Despite all the SEO tools on the market, no piece of technology can give you better insight for your content strategy than Google itself.

By typing a proposed blog topic or title into Google you can get an incredible amount of information on whether the article is worth writing in the first place, your chances of being able to rank, and what needs to be written in order to create an excellent piece of content on that topic.

Unlike with third-party keyword tools, the data that Google gives you is based on real search behaviour rather than estimates. It is therefore the only source you can use for a truly “data-driven” content strategy.

Analysing the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is incredibly simple. Here is a step by step guide on exactly how to do it.

1) How to use the Google Autosuggest feature to validate interest in your topic

The first question that any blogger should ask themselves before writing is: “Do enough people care about this topic to merit my time in writing this?”

Now, when it comes to measuring and validating the interest in a potential blog topic, lots of bloggers immediately turn to keyword research tools. Examples of such tools that are available for free include Google’s Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest.

Keyword research tools, both free and paid, are wildly inaccurate. Our copywriting agency has managed to drive business-changing amounts of traffic on keywords that these tools said had zero search volume, and we have also wasted countless hours ranking on top of Google for terms that we were falsely told had hundreds of searches a month.

Just for the record, the paid tools have also failed us time after time.

We have found that a simpler and more accurate way of measuring interest into a topic is just to type our proposed title slowly into the Google search bar, and check if Google’s Autocomplete feature anticipates it.

[Note that you need to navigate to Google’s homepage (google.com/google.co.uk etc) in order to use this feature].

If Google’s autocomplete feature anticipates your proposed blog title as a potential search when you are about halfway through typing it (this is why typing slowly is important) then you can be near certain that there is a good amount of search volume for your blog idea.

The further through typing out your title you are when Google is able to anticipate it, the lower the search volume for that title. This test, combined with common sense, is the best way to judge whether there is enough interest in your proposed topic to merit writing a post about it.

The Google Autocomplete feature can also be used to help you come up with blog topics and titles.

Again, because Google Autocomplete anticipating your search at an early stage suggests that there is at least a decent amount of interest in that topic, you can enter very general industry-relevant keywords into the Google search bar and let Google itself suggest titles.

Say for instance that you owned a physiotherapy practice, or a fitness website. You could type in the seed keyword “how to relieve pain”, and Google will tell you what the most in-demand topics are when it comes to pain relief:

From a one second search you know have firm evidence that  posts about relieving pain in the stomach, back, knee and shoulder would have the greatest potential to receive a high amount of search volume.

2) What Google tells you about “user intent”

Once a potential blog topic has passed the “Autosuggest” test for search volume, we can now use the first page of a Google results page to help us gauge whether our post stands any chance of ranking, and what we need to write about to create a blog post that Google would actually want to rank on the topic.

The first piece of this puzzle is to find out what the “user intent” is behind your proposed blog title.

“User intent” is a bit of a buzzword used by (generally self-proclaimed) SEO experts at the moment, but all it really boils down to is the type of content that people want when making a specific search.

Some searches are best answered by informative pieces like blog posts and other articles. Others, such as more commercial searches, are better answered by sales pages and homepages of companies.

For your blog post to stand any chance of ranking, its title needs to be a search term which Google (and therefore by extension its searchers) thinks is best answered by an informational piece.

In the majority of cases, user intent will be obvious. Someone who is Googling “dentist in San Francisco” will be best served by the homepage of a dental practice or a directory of local dentists to the area, rather than an article about dentistry.

Similarly, anyone who uses the words “buy” or “cost” in their search is most likely after a sales page (a page that allows them to buy something) rather than a purely informational piece.

There are, however, some searches where user intent is not immediately obvious. Take for example the search: “where to buy men’s designer coats in London”.

Now, at first thought, this could be a nice blog post for a UK fashion blog. 

The post could list some of the best men’s designer blogs in London and give a quick review of each. It could even contain affiliate links to some of the recommended shops in question and if it ranks for that term it could bring you in a bit of money each month.

But if we take a look at the first page for this term we see only sales pages from the big designer clothing stores in the UK:

Google therefore thinks that people who search this term are looking to buy designer coats right now rather than deciding which store they want to buy from in the future. An informational post on this title would be unlikely to rank well.

As you can see, assessing “user intent” takes a matter of seconds. 

All you need to do is type in your proposed title into Google and see what appears on the first page.

If it is home and sales pages, then this is a bad sign. Searchers of this topic are not after a purely informational article.

What you want to see when typing in your proposed title is purely informational blog posts from companies in similar industries to yourself, as well as a “people also asked box”.

This combination suggests both that searchers are looking for informational articles, that you are an authoritative source of information on the topic, and that there is enough search volume for that topic that Google has the data to know what else those searchers also search for.

3) How to use Google to measure keyword competition

“Searcher intent” is not the only information that you can glean by looking at what is on the first page of Google for your proposed blog title.

Google also gives you a good idea of the strength of the competition that you are facing when trying to rank a post.

When it comes to ranking content, the two overarching factors that Google looks at are your page’s authority and relevance to the search term in question.

While these concepts cannot be measured exactly, eyeballing the first page of Google can give you a good idea of the level of authority and relevance required to rank for any given term.

Authority can be roughly measured by asking yourself: “how well known are the websites ranking for this term”. 

Household brands and national newspapers will be very hard to dislodge from the top of the SERPs, particularly if they exactly answer the question that your proposed blog post is trying to address.

The weakest types of sites, as far as authority goes, are forums. 

If there is a forum anywhere near the first page of Google for your proposed title then chances are that keyword competition is fairly weak, and you stand a chance of ranking even with a small brand.

Relevancy is slightly more nuanced than authority. To check the relevance of potentially competing pages, you need to click through to the pages that rank for your proposed title and ask yourself “how well does this address the questions that I hope to answer in my post”.

If the ranking posts only somewhat address the questions, but maybe leaves off some valuable information about the topic, then you have a chance of competing even if the competition is of higher authority than yourself

Assuming that you are blogging for a small business or personal website, you should be trying to write on topics where you have looked at the top-ranking pages for that search and genuinely believe that you can create something better than what is already ranking.

If you can add new insight to what is already out there on a specific topic then you should stand a chance of getting some search traffic, so long as the first page of Google is not crowded with huge authority websites.

Sadly a lot of bigger websites (particularly newspapers and larger magazines) coast on their authority and are able to claim the lion’s share of the top of the SERPs without creating anywhere near the response to a specific search. That’s why you should take into account both authority and relevancy when assessing your chances of ranking a blog post.

Protip: Having a look at the top ranking pages for any search term can give you a good idea of what it will take to rank a blog post. This can help you plan your article. Look out for things like the average length of ranking articles, whether they contain a lot of data and statistics to back up any claims made, and what types of media they leverage (images, graphics, videos or interactive media). Remember that we are trying to create something better than what is already ranking, so assess what you have to work with and what you are up against before you make the time commitment of writing.

To summarise assessing keyword competition, the following indicate low competition:

  • Google ranks pages that only partially address the question posed in the search
  • Google ranks pages from local businesses and personal blogs
  • Shorter and less comprehensive content ranks highly
  • Forums and social media pages rank highly

The following, on the other hand, imply a high level of competition for a topic:

  • All the ranking pages are from websites that you have heard of (unless you are well aware of the digital landscape in your industry)
  • The ranking content in incredibly detailed, contains unique research and/or interactive tools

In instances where competition is too fierce, you will have to narrow down your blog topic. You can do this by going back to the Google Autosuggest tool and typing in your current topic (or a few similar topics) and seeing what Google suggests for you.

Just remember that the longer the search is, the less likely there will be sufficient search volume to make writing a blog worthwhile. Always combine these tests with healthy doses of industry experience and common sense :).

4) This is what Google tells you to put in your post

Google gives you a load of clues as to how to structure your blog post, and what points should be covered in order to create a comprehensive piece of content on a particular topic.

There are two places where Google gives you this information. These are:

  • The “people also asked” tabs near the top of the SERP
  • The suggested keywords at the bottom of the SERP

The “people also asked” tabs can more or less supply you with subheadings for your post.

Let’s take the viable blog title: “How to write an article”.

A quick Google search of the term gives us these “people also asked results”

This tells us that an “in-depth” answer to the question “how to write an article” should include tips on how to get started writing an article (I think we can all agree how difficult that can be), some example article formats, and some information on how the length of an article should affect the way that you write it.

Breaking down your article into subheadings that broadly match what Google gives you in the “people also ask” tabs can give you an early structure for your post. 

Writing your post in this way also gives you the best chance of being featured in these tabs which can turbocharge traffic to that post.

Protip: As standard, Google only gives you three questions in the “people also ask” tabs. If you click on one of the tabs it will present you with a load more questions.

Looking at the suggested keywords at the bottom of the page, this is what Google gives us for the same term (“how to write an article”)

This tells us that we may want to include a section on how the type of publication (be it magazine, newspaper or website) should influence our approach to writing an article. We may also want to include links to existing articles that illustrate the points we made in order to best satisfy what searchers are looking for.

Much like with all these tests, you need to combine good old fashioned common sense with the information that Google gives you. Sometimes Google will suggest questions and keywords that are slightly too irrelevant to be seamlessly weaved into your post.

In instances like this don’t try and force it, but keep in mind that Google will only suggest these keywords and questions if they receive some search volume, so it may be worth saving those topics for later posts.

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