Over the last few years, Google has been giving preference to longer-form content when determining what to give visibility in the search engine results pages.
Rather than ranking short answers to very specific questions, the top of the search engine appears to be dominated by “ultimate guide” style posts – or complete content – that cover a large topic in great detail.
Even when a user searches for a specific question, they are increasingly being delivered these longer content pieces. Often being automatically taken to the point in the article where their searched question is answered.
This phenomenon in search engine behavior has led some marketers to declare that Google looks to rank the most “complete” piece of content on a particular topic.
In this context “complete content” refers to a content piece that answers every possible follow up question that a searcher may have on their searched topic.
Here are a couple of examples of “complete content” that generate a huge amount of organic traffic:
- Hubspot’s ultimate guide to video marketing which generates over 5000 unique organic visitors each month.
- A post by The Muse that lists the most common interview questions and how to answer them. This nets over 280,000 unique visitors each month from organic search.
Here we will describe why Google loves “complete content”, and how to create complete articles for your website.
Why does Google prefer to rank complete content?
Google does not explicitly look to rank long-form, in-depth articles. Rather it gives preference to this type of content as an unintended result of the smaller signals it looks for when deciding what to rank.
These three main ranking signals are:
- links to a page
- semantic relevance to the search
- user experience signals.
Let’s look at what each of these are, and how they contribute to Google preferring “complete content”.
1. Links to a page
Pages that have a higher amount of hyperlinks coming from other websites rank better in Google than ones that do not, everything else being equal.
Include links to additional resources, when relevant. For example, if you are writing an article about the best cloud hosting platforms, you may well want to link to Hostgator’s website as an example of such a platform.
Articles that answer more questions on a topic will have more “reasons” to be linked to as they can provide a useful resource for a wider range of other articles. This is supported by the fact that posts over 2,000 words have on average 77% more links than those under 2000 words.
Always think about who you are helping with your content. The more people that your article helps, the more links and traffic it will likely get.
2. Semantic relevance to the search
Semantic relevance refers to how Google measures the ability of a piece of content to address a searcher’s needs when they make a particular search.
For example, if someone types “bakery near me” into Google, they are looking for a nearby bakery. Their needs would be met by being shown the top few bakeries to their location (determined by their IP address).
Google would therefore prioritize nearby bakeries to the searcher over bakeries that were further away, or other types of food stores in the area.
At this moment in time, having more copy on your page makes the page appear more relevant to a specific search, so long as the copy itself has this relevance. Therefore we see a favoring of longer-form content by search engines.
To stay relevant to a specific search, answer follow up questions that a searcher may have. Therefore “complete content” is seen by Google as being the most semantically relevant answer to a cluster of searches within a topic.
3. User Experience Signals
Google’s use of user experience signals in helping it determine what content to rank is the biggest factor towards its preference towards “complete content.”
There are certain ways that users behave on a page that signal to Google that a piece of content is a good answer to a search.
Google particularly values content that allows a user to “end a search”. Ending a search means that a user has no need to look for a second piece of content in order to answer the search that they were making.
Google therefore rewards content that makes a user stay on their page or click through to another page on their website, and penalizes content where users go back to the search engine results page and click onto another result.
Users tend to do the latter (that is click onto another result) if the first piece of content either fails to answer their search altogether or if the content is not written in enough detail to answer any follow-up questions that they have.
Articles that answer every question within a topic is therefore rewarded by Google’s analysis of user behavior.
How to create “complete content”
Now we understand why Google prefers “complete content”, let’s look at how to create these types of traffic-driving posts.
Given that “complete content” answers every follow-up question that a searcher may have about a specific search, the key to creating such content is discovering what these questions are.
There are two simple but effective ways to do this, both involve looking at what Google delivers when we make a search.
1. Use the “people also asked” feature
The first of these is to look at the “people also asked” tab that often appears near the top of a Google search results page.
To use an example, let’s look at the search: “host a website”:
The questions generated in the “people also asked” box are based on actual search data on what users ask immediately after their original search. Explicitly answering these questions in your post, ideally by dedicating specific sections of your post to each of them and wrapping the questions in header tags, will both improve your user experience signals and semantic relevance.
2. Review competitor articles…and crush their content
The second way to see what questions need to be answered to make a piece of content “complete” is to look at what is written in the other articles that rank at the top of Google for your desired keyword.
Google is ranking such content highly for a reason. The search engine sees the content on these pages as being highly relevant to the search in question. To create something with strong semantic relevance you should be looking to include elements that are in other high ranking articles as a starting point.
Going through the top five pages in a results page and combining all the unique pieces of information from those posts (rewritten to avoid duplicate content penalties of course) is a good foundation to create the most complete piece of content on a topic available.
Add to that any questions that Google suggests in its “People Also Asked” box that has not been answered in the other articles and you should be well on your way to creating something that will rank well.
It’s well worth remembering that blogging and copywriting is a creative process and you should not be constrained by what your competitors have written.
If your personal insights allow you to give a more accurate or detailed answer to a search than what is currently available then you should look to do that rather than just copy and combine your competitors.
Just make sure that in doing so you are covering your chosen topic in enough detail to answer any follow-up questions a searcher may have.