Generating traffic from Google can be hugely challenging. You have to deal with competition from other brands and the constant Google algorithm changes and new features. One of those new features is Google’s featured snippet—the topic of today’s post. We’ll look at:
What featured snippets are and the different types
The benefits of getting featured
Whether it’s difficult to obtain a snippet
Seven tips to improve your chances of getting featured
What Are Featured Snippets?
You’ve likely stumbled across them before. But just in case you haven’t and/or need a refresher, here’s an example of one for the search query “invoicing mistakes”:
Also known as answer boxes, featured snippets appear at the top of search results and below any ads (if there are any). They typically include a featured link and image and aim to immediately answer a searcher’s question. There are also many types including list, table, and—as depicted above—paragraph snippets.
We all know what that means: more opportunities to connect with your customers; more opportunities to convert.
And more sales.
But, Isn’t it Hard to Obtain a Snippet?
It can be. Research by Ahrefs highlights that 99.58% of featured pages already have a top-ten ranking in Google for a specific search query. The good news, though, as Getstat highlights, is that 70% of snippets come from search results that don’t appear in the first organic position.
So in short, it is possible to achieve a snippet, it just requires a little work…
How Do I Improve My Chances of Getting a Snippet?
Below are 7 tips to increase your chances of acquiring a snippet. Take note that this list isn’t exhaustive. If you can think of any other ways, leave a comment below, and I’ll add them.
Tip 1: Write long-form content. Long-form content allows you to cover a topic in-depth and helps you rank for several long-tail keywords. According to Ahrefs. “The vast majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords.”
Tip 2: Include words that usually trigger a snippet. The top five words are recipe, best, vs., make and definition.
Tip 3: Answer a question. Questions often trigger snippets, so find content ideas that answer certain questions. Use Quora, Answer the Public and surveys to find questions your customers have.
Tip 4: Include lists, steps, and definitions near the beginning of blog posts.
Tip 5: Optimize any content that’s already in the top ten search results, for quick wins. For example, include related keywords, cover the topic in more depth, hire the right writer to improve the quality of the content, or incorporate any of the five words above.
Tip 6: Organize your content by breaking up lists, steps, and paragraphs into sections. Use appropriate h1, h2, h3, and h4 headings. Arrange your post in chronological order. For example, if your post has several steps or tips, add “Step 1” and ‘Step 2,” or “Tip 1” and “Tip 2”.
Tip 7: Add stunning and relevant images to your post to grab attention. Or a GIF:
The bottom line:Featured snippets offer many benefits. For searchers, they provide an immediate answer to a question. For brands, they offer more exposure and traffic.
But as beneficial as they are, getting featured can be challenging. However, this doesn’t have to be your fate as long as you implement any, some, or all of the tips listed above.
Have you obtained a featured snippet? How did you do it?
“Developing top-of-funnel content that is of business value but doesn’t feel salesy.”
That was one of many responses I received to the following question that was part of the questionnaire I sent before launching my newsletter: “What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to the content marketing industry?”
And today I’ll address this response by sharing a simple recipe you can use to create top-of-the-funnel (ToFu) content that’s valuable for your business. But first, let’s recap what ToFu content is and its role within the sales funnel.
Top-of-the-Funnel Content and the Sales Funnel
The sales funnel is the path a customer takes toward buying your products. In its simplest form, the funnel consists of the top, middle and bottom of the funnel. The top is the awareness stage, the middle—the evaluation stage, and the bottom— the purchase stage.
Your goal is to guide as many customers as you can through this funnel toward a purchase by creating valuable content for each stage of the funnel.
ToFu content, then, is the content you create for the top of the sales funnel. Content types include whitepapers, blog posts, how-to videos, webinars, and any other educational content focused on building brand awareness.
Because ToFU content is educational and often the first interaction customers have with your brand, avoid selling out the gate. “But if I can’t sell, how do I create content that’s valuable for my business?”
How to Create Valuable Top-of-the-Funnel Content
Well, as we’ve seen, ToFu content already has inherent value: It’s a brand building tool. It allows you to guide customers to the consideration stage where they begin to strongly consider buying your products.
But getting to that stage requires you to develop the right kind of ToFu content. Content that addresses a customer problem your product also promises to solve and includes the right mix of subtle CTAs.
Let’s look at how you can create this content.
1. Solve a Customer Problem
Find common customer problems by sending customers a survey or finding questions on Quora. Answering questions your audience has is often the best starting point when creating content like this.
Once you understand your customers’ struggles, produce content that addresses and solves these problems. If it’s a blog post, ensure the content is actionable, with insights and links to other resources. Include examples. Avoid fluff pieces like “10 Tips to Boost Your Profits”. Don’t tell them how to do something, show them.
2. Ensure Your Product Also Solves This Problem
For the content to be relevant to your funnel it needs to address a customer problem that your product also promises to solve.
For example, if you’re a company that offers small business accounting software, with features that help service-based businesses charge late payment fees, then it makes sense to write a ToFu post titled: Should You Charge Late Payment Fees on Invoices?
On the other hand, if you write about ways to help creatives break out of a rut, then this wouldn’t be a funnel post. Sure, you may be solving a customer problem, but it’s not a problem your product also solves.
3. Include Subtle CTAs
After you’ve provided value, include a subtle CTA encouraging prospects to sign up to your mailing list so that you can continue marketing to them.
You could even sprinkle a few CTAs throughout the post and include links to other articles to encourage further interaction with your brand.
And there you have it, a simple recipe to create ToFu content that’s of business value:
Find a common customer problem
Make sure it’s a problem your product also solves
Include a subtle CTA to encourage a sign-up
P.S. The above example about late payment fees is a ToFu blog post I wrote for FreshBooks. Notice the CTA at the end encouraging customers to test the late payment features plus links to other related articles? Or the CTAs sprinkled throughout? The approach is simple: Value first. Sell later.
P.P.S Having a recipe to create ToFu content is one thing, actually creating the content is another ball game altogether—it can be hard work. So, if you need help or just simply want to chat about any upcoming content projects, get in contact to arrange a no-strings-attached call where we discuss your business, content goals, and see if we’re a fit for one another.
Ever wanted a sneak peek into the content plans of other companies?
With many content strategists in the process of finalizing their content plans for 2019, I thought it was only fitting to reach out and ask them to explain in a couple of paragraphs what their plans are for the upcoming year.
I received a total of five very different responses (thanks to those of you who so willingly shared your plans). Hopefully, these responses provide ideas and insights you can use to grow your brand.
Here’s what they had to say:
“Our goal for quarter one is to plan out a set of strategic focus keywords to create 3 months worth of blog posts.
The focus is on creating content that meets our target persona’s needs at every stage of the funnel by covering the different search intents that motivate searches along their journey from TOFU (awareness), to MOFU (consideration), and to BOFU (purchase).”
2. Jane Flanagan—Content and Brand Director, FreshBooks
“For 2019, I’m very focused on a “less is more” approach. Two years ago, I really needed to build our publishing muscle. But now, we have an archive of really wonderful content and a lot of performance data that tells us what content is working (and what content is not).
We’re going to spend the first part of the new year examining this. This will likely mean some tough decisions about some of the content we’ve created.
By end of Q1, we’re probably going to delete a significant volume of non-performing content. This may sound like blasphemy to many writers!
While much of the content we’ll delete may be easy-to-remove “fluff”, some of it will also be content that was well-researched and written on topics we were passionate about. But if it’s not playing the role we imagined on a buying journey, it’s time to separate wheat from chaff.
The end result we’re aiming for is a blog that’s a library of meaningful content performing at every funnel stage. This will allow our users to focus on what really matters—no more rabbit-holes of questionable archives to get lost down.
By Q2 we’ll probably start to think about publishing again, except this time it will be to strategically add to our considered library of content, not just to publish for publishing’s sake.”
3. Tatiana Morand—Content Marketing and SEO Specialist, Wild Apricot
“In 2019, I’m concentrating on consolidating our SEO strategy. We already have a strong base to work from — now it’s time to take that to the next level by building out our internal linking and backlinking plays.
I’m also focusing on growing and scaling our content production through freelancers and hiring.”
“Our content plan for 2019 leans in heavily on brand awareness, as we are still a young company and there are quite a few competitors in our space. We plan to pump up our conference attendance and thought leadership development with some of our executives to promote our methodology.
This is a core component of who we are and why we are different, so this has been identified as a critical message to set us apart amongst others in our niche.
We’ve been rapidly building out our website and optimizing it for SEO at the end of 2018, which has had a high impact on bringing in new and prospective clients and will continue to be a large focus in Q1.
Our product team has also been rapidly releasing new features, so we are doing more educational blog and demo-video content around these features as upsell opportunities, as well as boosting our drip campaigns to bring back users who have abandoned carts, lapsed, or are simply mid-funnel and still undecided.
The new features happen to dovetail nicely with our methodology messaging and can be easily included in the speaking opportunities.”
“Coming from magazine publishing, I’m always thinking about my content strategy in three-, six-, and twelve-month packages that are ever revolving as each month cycles out.
That content planning extends beyond our blog posts and encompasses our webinar, newsletter, podcast, and social media calendars as well.”
“Our ultimate goal as always = drive leads. To get there, we’ll focus on creating pillar pieces for the top content groups relevant to our client’s audiences, as I believe: 1. Content clusters provide the most value 2. They give us to best chances to rank for MQL type keywords. 3. We can turn them into PDF lead captures.”
Few other focuses:
Clickable menus at the top of blog posts
That’s a wrap for the year…
I want to thank those of you who agreed to be part of this final newsletter for 2018. I also want to thank you for your continued business and support throughout the year.
It’s been a very busy year and my business has grown exponentially—something I couldn’t have done without you.
I look forward to working with you in 2019 on many new and exciting projects.
May you have a well-deserved break this festive season and spend lots of quality time with loved ones.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
All the best,
A pillar page—usually housed separately from your blog—broadly covers the main topic on one page and links to detailed blog posts related to the topic.
For example, let’s say you’re a company who offers project management software and you’ve chosen the topic “building a project team.” You’ll likely include the following sub-topics on your page:
The importance of building a strong team
How to build a team—characteristics to look for in team members, how to find these people etc.
How to deal with conflict
Each of these sub-topics can be their own comprehensive post you link to from the pillar page.
But, What Are the Benefits?
These pages help you:
Improve site architecture. You can better organize blog content
Avoid the common pitfall of creating similar content where posts often compete against one another
Help readers easily find your content without having to search for it on your blog
Improve your SEO. By linking to high-performing blog posts, you give your page needed SEO juice. You also make it easier for readers to find your content in Google. Remember Google loves content that covers a topic properly and has a nice sprinkling of LSI keywords
Establish authority on a topic. What better way to demonstrate subject matter expertise than by covering all aspects of a topic?
Besides the benefits, creating pillar content is actually pretty fun. Well, it is for me, and in the next section I’ll show you how to create yours and share a few best practices along the way.
How Do I Create a Pillar Page?
Keep the following in mind before creating your page:
Creating one takes time —a lot of it. It’s not like a standard blog post, and usually involves more writing, content, and design work. Expect one to take at least 20 hours to create. For example, I recently wrote two for a client; one took 20 hours and the other 24.
It’s an investment. Expect to invest more money than you would for a blog post. Not only does pillar content take longer to create, but as we’ve seen, they’re infinitely more valuable than any blog post: They better organize content, improve site architecture, boost SEO ranking, and drive organic traffic.
Step 1: Choose your topic
Remember, you should focus on the topic and not keywords. Sure, keywords play a role when creating cluster content, but that’s a discussion for later.
Your topic should also not be too broad. For example, a topic like “working capital” works far better than the very general “finance.”
Do keyword research to assess if there’s demand for a topic. Yes, I know I said you shouldn’t focus on keywords, but getting an idea of search volumes will help you understand the amount of demand.
Look through content on your blog. For example, I run a website that helps other writers build their writing careers. Through emailing my audience and asking them what their problems are, I know that “finding clients” is a major issue. I also know I have loads of content on the blog that covers the topic, from using LinkedIn and Facebook to job boards and cold pitching. So, creating a pillar content that covers the topic broadly and links to those posts would make perfect sense.
Step 2: Research, outline and write
Researching, outlining and writing will be a lot quicker if you already have a lot of related content on your blog. In these instances, you may simply have to repurpose existing content, rewrite it and link to those related blog posts. On other occasions—where you have less content— the process may take much longer.
Regardless, when I create pillar content for a client, I find it’s best to start with a high-level outline and get feedback and direction on that outline before I start writing. This process ensures we’re both on the same page from the start and avoids unnecessary work later on.
Here are a few more pointers about writing and design:
Consider including a table of contents so readers can easily navigate the content. After all, some readers will only be interested in a specific piece of information that solves their problem
Add any definitions right at the beginning to help you get a Google featured snippet
Sprinkle LSI keywords throughout and include some of your cluster content keywords in the H2 heading for SEO purposes—yes I do suggest doing some keyword research, which also helps when creating cluster content
Don’t forget your design— this could be something as simple as updating a page through your CMS. Include images, tables, and graphs to break up text and to help with any explanation.
Once you’ve finished writing, included the internal links and made the final touches, it’s time to hit “publish.”
Don’t Forget to Update Your Page
Your pillar page doesn’t operate in isolation—it’s a central page linked to all related blog posts. So, as you do keyword research and create new cluster content, ensure you hard link to this content from your page. Also, keep your page fresh with any new relevant content that surfaces. Your readers and Google will love you for it!
5 Superb Examples of Pillar Pages
Below are some links to examples for needed inspiration:
You now have a solid understanding of pillar pages and how they can benefit your business: Not only do they establish you as a topic expert, but they improve site architecture, drive organic traffic and— when used correctly—act as a powerful lead magnet. You also know how to create one and where to find inspiration when you need it.
The only thing left to do is to tackle your first (or next) pillar page project…
…something I can help you with. Simply schedule a no-strings-attached call by clicking on the below button.
P.S. Think of the call as a brainstorming session where I share FREE ideas to help you grow your business. Ideas I give you full permission to “steal” (even if you choose not to move forward with your pillar content project).
P.P.S. As a B2B writer, I conceive, write and produce engaging website copy, blog posts, pillar content and lead magnets for technology companies. I’ve worked with big brands and companies including DocuWare, FreshBooks and TouchBistro and would love to work with you on your next project.
Remember the early days of searching for content? You’d type in a few basic keywords, such as “barber, Houston,” and Google would deliver results by deconstructing only these two keywords.
In these early days of inbound marketing (around 2006), content marketing strategies relied heavily on targeting these one or two phrase keywords. You probably recall how many companies engaged in keyword stuffing, a practice which Google has since clamped down on.
As time passed, content marketers found a better approach: They targeted long-tail keywords — those three and four-word phrases specific to what you’re selling. While optimizing content for these longer phrases led to less organic traffic, conversions were higher as the traffic was more targeted.
By combining this practice with a content offer to capture this traffic, content marketers now had a magic formula they continued to use for many years to come.
But, Google and search behavior has evolved over the years, pointing to the need for a new formula and content playbook.
Changing Search Behaviour
According to Ahrefs, 64% of searches are now 4 words or more. Indeed, the words we now use to search for content are longer and more conversational than ever before.
A search for a barber in Houston, for example, now likely reads “I’m looking for the best barber in my area.” Several factors are driving this change:
Voice search is exploding, which naturally leads to more conversational search queries
The sheer volume of content means users have to become smarter and more specific in their queries to find what they’re looking for
Google has become increasingly better at delivering relevant search results
Google Has Become Smarter
The following three Google algorithm updates have all contributed to Google becoming more sophisticated:
Google Penguin, released on April 2012, sought to penalize websites that practiced keyword stuffing and deceptive link-building schemes and reward quality sites.
Google Hummingbird, rolled out on the 20th August 2013, aimed to better understand user intent by analyzing the contextual meaning behind keywords to give more relevant results. Google even began to understand synonyms better. For example, if I search for the word “takkies,” which originates from South African Afrikaans and means “shoes” or “sneakers,” Google knows this and serves up the following:
Google RankBrain, introduced in October 2015 used machine learning to improve its understanding of user intent to deliver quality search results.
So, What Does This All Mean for Your Content Marketing Strategy?
Keywords will always remain relevant and you can and should optimize your content for specific keywords — while being aware of keyword stuffing, of course.
However, solely relying on keywords to inform your strategy is no longer effective as you’re missing out on traffic from those conversational search queries.
The better approach is to think about your content in terms of topics and embrace the topic-cluster model.
But, What Is the Topic Cluster Model?
Today most blogs still create individual blog posts to rank for specific keywords. As we’ve seen this leads to lost traffic from those longer search queries. There are, however, also other problems:
You end up with a messy site architecture with hundreds of blog posts
Readers find it difficult to find what they’re looking for
Blog posts end up competing for one another as it’s easy to create similar posts around the same topic
The topic cluster model solves all of these problems, while also establishing you as an authority in a specific topic. The model, which consists of hyperlinks, cluster content and pillar pages is depicted below. Source: HubSpot, Inc. With this model, you select a broad content topic you want to rank for, create a piece of content that broadly covers the details of the topic on one page (known as a pillar page), and then link out to more detailed blog posts (cluster content) that focus on a specific keyword.
See how HubSpot does it with their pillar page on Instagram Marketing? They link out to individual blog posts such as “How to Build Your Brand With Instagram.”
The beauty of the topic cluster model, in addition to solving the problems of old site architecture, is that you also improve your SEO. For example, if a piece of cluster content, that’s linked to a pillar page, performs well, it’ll give that pillar page needed SEO juice.
The bottom line: With user search behavior changing to more conversational search queries and Google becoming smarter in delivering relevant search results, building content marketing strategies around keywords will no longer cut it. You need to plan and create your content around topics— not only to capture more traffic but also to improve site architecture.
Today I wanted to share two tools that will make finding evergreen content a breeze: Ahrefs and BuzzSumo.
Disclaimer: I do have a BuzzSumo Pro account, but I am in no way affiliated to them. I just enjoy the product and believe it will add value to your content marketing efforts.
1. Use Ahrefs to Analyze Where Your Competition Is Getting Traffic From
Ahrefs lets you monitor and research your competition’s traffic and backlinks. You simply put your competition’s URL into the tool, and it’ll tell you where they’re getting their traffic from.
If your competition is constantly getting search traffic for a specific keyword over time, it means people are still looking for that information and that the topic is still relevant and worth writing about.
2. Use BuzzSumo PLUS Their New Filter to Find Examples of Evergreen Content
With BuzzSumo you can analyze the best-performing content for a specific topic by looking at the number of shares and links. For example, after logging in, clicking the Content Analyzer tab and typing in the keyword “mobile marketing,” I get this:
Another feature is their Question Analyzer which lets you find the most popular questions for specific keywords. It’s a fantastic way to identify the kinds of questions your audience is asking for a specific topic. Here’s what I get for the topic, “cloud accounting”:
There’s a total of 1,694 questions across 72 topics—all related to the main keyword cloud accounting. When I scroll down I can view all the questions per topic:
Finally, BuzzSumo recently added a new filter which helps you find good examples of evergreen content by topic and domain. You’ll see this filter next to every post on BuzzSumo.
BuzzSumo looks at the number of shares and links the articles receive over time. The tool then assigns an evergreen score—with a higher score indicating the post is more evergreen than others. Any article that’s less than 40 days olds gets a score of 0.
Find Evergreen Content Opportunities by Topic
Type in your chosen keyword or topic. For example, the keyword “visual content marketing” gives me the following:
See how the evergreen content score is displayed on the right?
Finding Evergreen Opportunities by Topic
Follow the same process as the above, but instead of typing in a topic or keyword, type in a domain.
The BuzzSumo team admits the “approach is not perfect, but it provides another perspective in the search for effective content examples. Thus rather than sort by total shares or links, the evergreen filter shows the top posts that consistently gain shares and links over time.”
The Bottom Line: Finding evergreen content doesn’t have to take hours and hours of research. If you use the right tools, you can quickly find new topic ideas to write about that will generate traffic for years to come.
I’m curious, have you used these tools? How do you find evergreen content?