There was a time when you could waltz over to your blog, slap up your latest musings on life, and expect people to come flocking to your business. Sadly, and thankfully, that time’s long gone. We’re now living in the world of in-depth content.
Nowadays, the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words.
Thanks to a continual onslaught of algorithm updates, Google has learned that better content wins. Keyword stuffing and bizarrely formatted pieces on “best Swiss watches” have made way for more comprehensive content.
But why is better content killing it in on Google?
In-depth Content Gets Noticed (and gains links)
If you’re already a big deal, a short blog post is enough to keep your customers engaged with your brand (marketing legend Seth Godin often puts out posts under 50 words long). However, you’d still be leaving traffic on the table.
When trying to get to page one in Google, you really need to ask yourself “Is my content worth being at the top of Google?”
In a recent Whiteboard Friday, Moz founder Rand Fishkin talked about the 10x principle of SEO. Basically, to get noticed in the search engines, you have to be willing to craft pages that are 10 times better than the current leaders.
It’s not good enough to be just a bit better than the competition. In SEO terms, you’re competing on some factors where you may not be able to gain an edge:
- Age: Pages on established sites rank faster (all else being equal)
- Domain Authority: Sites with a lot of ranking content pass their domain authority onto their new pages
- Backlink Profile: Sites may have more authoritative links than you can reasonably pursue
Generally, you can expect content which is more thorough to be shared more frequently. This is especially true for Twitter, which is where all the deep thinkers (and casual racists) tend to hang out.
It’s human nature. We want to look smart. We share stuff that makes us look smart.
Research from OkDork shows 3,000-10,000 word content gets the most average shares (8,859).
There’s also a lot of scope to succeed with long-form content because not that many people are doing it right. The research also showed that for every in-depth post over 2000 words long, there were about 16 sub-1000 word articles out there not getting very much love.
If you’re willing to put the effort in, the internet is waiting to reward you.
Google is Becoming More Human
A great reason to go in-depth with your content strategy is that you begin to rank for entire groups of keywords rather than a handful of curated phrases.
In the early Google days (sometime between boy bands and Instagram), a fair degree of highly-focused keyword stuffing could get you places.
Google’s Keyword Stuffing Example:
Now, it’s more likely to get you penalized.
Google’s mastered semantic phrasing, and this means SEOs are learning how to speak like (very geeky) humans once again.
On your next desktop Google search, do yourself a favor and scroll to the bottom of the results:
You’re seeing a list of semantically-related searches – stuff that isn’t your exact keyword, but your keyword and these words are all pretty good buddies.
They share an apartment and everything.
Over time, Google learns to put stuff together. Kind of like how Amazon groups “customers also bought” things together to show you what’s similar to your query.
This means a few things:
- You don’t have to write 12 variations on the same article to rank
- Creating in-depth content with semantically-related terms helps boost your potential rankings for all of them
- As you include more semantically related terms in the same post, Google can begin to recognise the relevance of the entire piece
We shouldn’t be surprised that a massive information conglomerate is getting good at… information.
With every algorithm update, the picture becomes clearer: Google are out to make search results increasingly relevant to the query.
In-depth Content Boosts User Experience
Google is famously guarded about what factors influence search rankings, but with the introduction of “Rankbrain” we’ve been seeing an interesting factor come into play in the results page: User Experience (UX).
Links matter. Authoritative links matter more. Relevant, authoritative links are gold dust. But what gets you to the top of Google may not keep you there.
Here’s where experience comes in.
Your page should signal to Google that your users are getting what they came for. Here are some UX metrics you need to watch:
- Bounce rate: Did the visitor go to another page on your site or just “bounce back” to the search results?
- Time-on-page or dwell time: How long did they stay for? A 3-second bounce is a whole lot worse than a 3-minute one.
- Site speed: Not only do more people bounce every second of load-time, but Google can test your site speed before any visitors give your page a chance.
Visitors found your page because of a search. They’ll stay on your page because it scratches that itch. But useful content can still fall at the last hurdle: design.
Design is Increasingly Relevant
Maybe it’s the rise of the Instagram-driven personal aesthetic, but train-wreck websites struggle to make it these days:
Visitors are increasingly conscious of the look and feel of a site, and are less likely to share and link to content which they find to be visually repugnant.
More importantly, it’s harder to get customers to convert if your design isn’t very clear.
Simplifying design helps your customers and helps you in the SERPs.
“Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler”
– Albert Einstein (more or less)
Effective design principles
If you haven’t got a designer, or you just want to know if they’re on track, learn some basic rules for presenting your content as clearly as possible:
- Contrast: Use a color wheel to find colors that stand out (especially important for Calls to Action)
- White space: Create a sense of importance and ease the strain on the eye with open areas in your design
- Typography: Fonts, italics and bolding have a huge impact on how someone receives your message.There are some great typography tutorials online for beginners.
How Can You Keep Up?
You know content isn’t going anywhere.
Customers connect to brands, research and gain confidence through the content they consume. This is true for B2C companies offering big purchases, and it’s especially true for B2B brands, where decisions are often made my groups of stakeholders.
It’s a common pain – 60% of B2B marketers cited “Producing engaging content” as their top challenge.
How to Scale Your Content Operation
Becoming strategic about your content can smooth out the process and ensure you’re delivering something valuable regularly.
- Management: Appoint a ‘Chief Content Officer’ (this might be you)
- Planning: Create a content calendar (and stick to it)
- Execution: Scale flexibly with freelancers
Collaboration is awesome, but tasks only get done when it’s someone’s job to complete them. You need just one person in your organisation who can handle oversight of generating blog posts, case studies, lead-magnets, etc.
If you’re a small outfit, this is probably you or your CMO. But if you’re ready for a new hire, a Chief Content Officer (CCO) might be for you.
Typical responsibilities would include:
- Content strategy development: Not just planning content, but deciding who the audience of your content is, what benefits they will receive, and how the content will be promoted are all part of a solid content strategy
- Community engagement: Your CCO may or may not manage your social media accounts, but he or she should be listening to what customers are saying about your (and other) brands online
- Content planning: More on this in a moment
- Commissioning: Assigning writing tasks to staff or freelance writers
- Editing: Making sure the pieces suit the brand stylistically and that all content is proofread and ready to appear online
- Publication: Getting stuff out on the blog, Youtube channel, podcast feed, etc.
- Promotion: Social media, email, working with influencers, syndicating, repurposing
Consistency can be key here, but when it comes to producing content such as blog posts quality always beats quantity.
For example, Brian Dean scaled his site Backlinko and quickly became the darling of the SEO world with only occasional, incredibly in-depth blog posts, such as his now well-known piece on content creation/promotion called The Skyscraper Technique.
According to Orbit Media’s 2017 survey of 1337 bloggers, posts are taking longer to write. In fact the average post now takes a whopping 3 hours and 20 minutes.
It’s not surprising then that businesses are blogging less frequently, but putting more time into each piece of content.
Clearly, less is more.
That said, you still need to plan for content to actually happen.
Don’t aim for daily posts if you can’t manage something worthwhile. Even weekly might be a challenge if you don’t have the right management in place (see above).
Instead produce content as often as you can produce quality.
Using a content scheduling tool like CoSchedule can help with creating a consistent editorial calendar, but the obvious free platforms for team project management like Trello or Asana can work just as well.
Execution: Bring on the Freelancers
Want to get results from content, but don’t want the hassle of taking on extra employees to test this new strategy?
Increasingly, talented individuals are moving towards independent work setups (myself included), and companies (large and small) are depending on them for help.
According to a 2017 study from Freelancers Union and Upwork,
Freelancers [are] predicted to become the U.S. workforce majority within a decade, with nearly 50% of millennial workers already freelancing
In fact, freelancing is set to take over take over traditional employment as early as 2027:
Freelancing is here to stay, and businesses who are able to source reliable freelancers and keep them on side will have the upper hand when it comes to staffing in the very near future.
How to find freelancers
Nothing can top a good word of mouth recommendation, but failing that, here are some great places to get started. But just be aware that you’ll probably go through some less-than-perfect hires before you find the right fit.
- LinkedIn: Just post your job or ask for recommendations with hashtags in your niche (e.g. “Anyone know a good #SaaS #Freelancer?”
- Twitter: Same approach as above, but much harder to screen people
- Upwork: You can find freelancers for all sorts of projects on a budget here, but be aware that many of these writers are very new or generalists who may or may not know your industry
- Job boards: You can post a project to a site like Pro Blogger or FreelanceWriting.com or even a general site like CraigsList; you’re likely to receive an onslaught of applications from many unqualified writers, so be prepared to sift
And, obviously, there’s always me. If you enjoyed this post any want in-depth content in the B2B SaaS/marketing space, then we should totally hang out. I only write content in this space and help you with your content marketing goals.
You need strong content more than ever, or you can lose ground in the SERPs. Here are the takeaways from this post summed up for you:
- In-depth content helps you compete against older, established sites with stronger backlink profiles
- Long-form pieces (2000+ words) attract the most shares, yet most people are still writing shorter posts
- User experience is becoming a big part of maintaining your place in the SERPs
- The key factors to watch here are time-on-page and bounce rate
- Creating engaging content is still essential for most B2B marketers, yet it’s one of their biggest challenges
- Developing a strategy and leaning on freelancers will help you to scale your content empire
And if you need help in producing that 10x content, you know where to find me.
What do you think? How are you using in-depth content to find success on Google?