I’ve put together this expert guide for SEOs who are faced with the challenge of producing content that has the greatest chance of ranking for their target keywords.
The focus of this guide is on the ever-growing importance of matching user intent with relevant content. I’d like to firstly give a nod to Searchmetrics, who have produced a comprehensive research paper covering ranking factors. What’s the title of this research paper? “Rebooting for Relevance”.
Google has been refining their Machine Learning Algorithm, known as RankBrain, for a while now. The result being that there are no longer any universally applied ranking factors; instead each search request is determined by a the dynamic interplay between hundreds of factors which have their own flexible weighting. This all happens in real time, and the goal posts are always changing.
Before you can craft relevant content that satisfies user intent, it is important to understand what ‘holistic’ content is and why it is important. The term ‘holistic’ content refers to the process of combining and structuring numerous individual search terms around a complete topical area, or theme.
To future proof your content, ensure that it is written in a semantically appealing way, tailored to the search intention, and that it is highly likely users will read and share it. The objective is that your content ranks for as many relevant search queries to a semantic topic.
Searchmetrics have introduced a new ranking factor – content relevance. This is the measurement of semantic relationships between words within content. It analyses the conceptualisation of a topic whilst removing the keyword itself from the analysis.
The keyword is not the decisive ranking factor any more; instead, it is how relevant the content is to the search intention of the user. I’d suggest using Answer The Public, Google auto-suggest or Google Keyword Planner as useful tools for identifying relevant queries and questions to a search topic – helping you to increase your content relevance.
The research from Searchmetrics has indicated that landing pages in the top positions on Google contain content which is strongly relevant to the search intention. As the relevancy of content decreases across the entire page and the main page area, as does the chance of the content featuring in the 3 – 6 search result positions.
At the point of writing this article, we’ve recently manage to achieve an answer box rich snippet in Google’s search results for the keyword “how to write a cover letter” (18,100 searches per month) for Fish4jobs. This 0 search position was obtained through optimising our priority URL for that keyword so that it would contain content relevant to all associated topics to the keyword “how to write a cover letter”.
The Pageviews metrics subsequently increased as a result of optimising the ‘holistic’ relevancy of the content for the “How To Write The Perfect Cover Letter” article.
It is now more important than ever to consider how your content format matches the user intent of a search query.
The Word Count graph demonstrates that content near the top search ranking positions is likely have a greater word count than content in the lower search ranking positions. The assumption being these pages are likely to be more ‘holistic’ as they provide a greater amount of detail relevant to the topic. This will also increase the possibility of ranking for alternative semantically relevant keywords.
The Searchmetrics study indicates that the top ranking desktop content is around a third longer than mobile content.
The study also shows that content does not necessarily need to feature a greater number of keywords to be highly relevant for the search term. The reason for this is that a synonyms and related phrases are used within the content to increase the relevancy to the search term.
It is important to make sure that the content you’re creating is easily digestible and engaging. The presence of unordered lists, or similarly structured lists is high across all search result positions. However, the higher a page ranks, the greater the chance of it including a bullet point list.
These findings indicate that SEOs must be considering the content type and format which is most suitable for satisfying the user intention behind each individual search query. I’d advise reviewing the search results to understand the type of content already ranking in the top positions when making this decision.
The user signals generated by interactions – such as click-through-rate, time-on-site and bounce rate – will now be considered one of the most important ranking factors.
User signals are a search engine’s most accurate way of drawing precise conclusions on whether the search results satisfied the user intention behind a search query.
Google uses an extensive range of products to measure and record these signals rt. These include:
The Searchmetrics ranking factors study showed that search results in position 1 have an average CTR of 44%, whilst the CTR drops to 30% for position 3. The pages that occupy positions 1-3 have an average CTR of 36%. The correlation between click-through-rates and higher ranking positions was 0.46, meaning it is one of the most important ranking factors.
The increasing importance of achieving great click-through-rates from the search results highlights the need for SEOs to review their page titles and meta descriptions on regular basis.
Personally, I like to review my keyword ranking reports in GetSTAT to prioritise which pages to optimise – those pages ranking between 2 – 7 will gain an exponentially greater share of traffic with each position increase.
Google uses the bounce rate metric in combination with other information such as the content’s purpose (e.g. product page, or news article) and content category to determine a page’s relevance to the search query.
The average bounce rate reported in the Searchmetrics study was up on average from 37% in 2014 to 46% in 2016. The likely reason for this is that Google is serving content which is more accurate and holistically relevant to the searcher’s intent, meaning they don’t need to click deeper into the domain.
It is important to note that on it’s own, bounce rate is not an accurate indication of content quality and relevancy to a search query. The searcher can also bounce once their intention has been fulfilled.
When producing content, it is worth reviewing how you aim to keep users engaged on the website for a significant period of time. On average, a longer time-on-site indicates that a piece of content is delivering worthwhile, interesting content. A top ranking page is likely to have users spending more than 3 minutes (190 seconds) on the website.
With the emergence of Google’s Machine Learning algorithm, search engines now evaluate how webpages satisfy the searcher’s intent for every search query, in real time.
Furthermore, the ranking algorithm is operating so flexibly that each search query is being evaluated by hundreds of ranking factors with varying degrees of importance. RankBrain is constantly adapting in the attempt to deliver the most relevant content to a search query.
Content requirements depend heavily on the user intent behind search queries. Every industry, and every single search query has it’s own set of ranking factors that are constantly changing as Google’s RankBrain analyses the relationship between user engagement data, and the hundreds of ranking factors at play.
If SEOs overlook the user intent between a search query, and don’t spend time considering content type, format, improving user signals, topical relevancy and ‘holistic’ objectives – they will be failing to maximise the potential of their content efforts for increased search visibility.
It would be great to hear your thoughts on content relevancy and user intent, so please do leave a comment below – especially if you have any tips on new tools for researching relevant content topics!