or How to get pushed near the top of the search results for free
Let’s begin with why relevant content is so important
Your website is likely to contain a fair amount of content about who you are, what you do, what you sell, or the service you provide. But is it relevant?
Some of it definitely will be, simply because it’s about you, your business and the services you provide. But what about the rest of the content? The content that shows the depth of your knowledge and expertise? Many website owners ignore this content because it’s time-consuming to create and they’re not really sure what value it adds.
World events are in a constant state of flux, whether it’s a global pandemic, some fancy new mobile phone technology, or the problem with parked cars outside the local community centre. Each of these events adds something new for people to search for.
In the past five years, nobody (in relative terms) was searching online for ‘global pandemic’.
Not until 10th March 2019, that is. Then it went off the scale.
How many people do you think were searching for ‘face masks’ prior to January 2020?
Not very many.
Imagine how many additional views websites with content relating to ‘global pandemic’ or ‘face masks’ have received in the past 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months.
Even without knowing the actual figures, you can guess how significant these figures will be. Does knowing this suggest you should start gazing into a crystal ball for what might happen and then begin creating content for it? That would be nice, but no. It merely means that in your particular industry, sector or area of expertise, it would be wise to create content that is always current and relevant.
Putting relevance into context
If you’re a general builder who works on houses built in the last 100 years, you’d expect people to ask if you can build an internal wall for them out of brick, breeze/cinder blocks, or wood and plasterboard. And if you added content to your website about those types of building materials, together with a set of FAQs to match, that would all be relevant to what you do, as well as and the phrases people search for.
However, if you’re the type of builder who restores 18th and 19th-century buildings using lath and plaster, wattle and daub or other ancient/specialist materials and techniques, but your website talks about using stud work and plasterboard, enquirers for modern building works would be confused when you told them that’s not what you do. You can’t add irrelevant content just because you think it might help you in search engines.
Search engines may also consider “dwell time”; the time someone spends on your website after clicking on the link in the search results.
Joshua Hardwick, Head of Content at Ahrefs, explains how dwell time might be interpreted:
- 2 second dwell time: I didn’t find what I wanted/expected on your site. So, I quickly went back to the SERP to find something better.
- 2 minute dwell time: I found your content pretty useful and stuck around a couple of minutes to read it.
- 15 minute dwell time: I found your content super-useful and was heavily invested in what you had to say.
Whilst Duane Forrester, Senior Project Manager for Bing, explains, “Your goal should be that when a visitor lands on your page, the content answers all of their needs, encouraging their next action to remain with you. If your content does not encourage them to remain with you, they will leave. The search engines can get a sense of this by watching the dwell time.”
Creating the right type of content
The benefit of creating a steady flow of new content should be obvious to any website owner (it rarely is, I hasten to add). But the right type of content, not the existence of the content, is what will make all the difference to search engine results.
These days, everyone needs answers to questions. We search for every subject imaginable in the hope of finding a website that will provide the best possible answer, and we rely on Google to find that for us.
Of course, it’s important to explain what you (your business, organisation, charity) do and how you can help people. If you have products and services they can buy, you need to describe them individually too.
But how do you answer their questions? Does your content attempt to answer their questions? So many websites don’t, and it’s really frustrating.
The answer is literally the answer — content that is designed to pose the same questions people will ask, and provide the answers.
The importance of FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions are vitally important content for any website.
Google isn’t overly forthcoming with exact statistics, but it alludes to figures and trends, so we know that in 2019 over 3.5 billion searches were made per day (Internetlivestats, 2019). We can justifiably speculate that most of these searches will be question-based, such as; how much is…, where can I find…, what is the…, how many…, why is there…, and so on.
Content on your website should answer the questions people ask about your particular products or services.
Why is this important?
On May 8th, 2019, Google Search Central announced plans to add support for FAQs in search results. This was a monumental step forward because it meant that if your website contained answers to specific questions people might ask, Google would display the answers in search results as ‘People also ask’.
Google may position the FAQs anywhere within the search result. Sometimes it’s mixed with the search results, other times it will be at or near the top of the page.
Now, for users — the people searching — this is brilliant because it’s a quick way to find the answer to a question.
However, for website owners, it’s staggeringly important.
The example below shows the result of the search phrase, “How many google searches per day 2020”, and you can see four answers in the form of question variations at the top of the page. These are immediately below what Google considers being the website with the most relevant content:
Note also there are 9.8 billion results for this particular question, but some answers are in the drop-down menus Google created mainly from the follow-up questions people have asked previously.
Imagine one of those answers is content from your website. Think about how this scenario relates to a Google search for a product or service you provide, and how FAQ content on your website could specifically answer their question.
Imagine how powerful it would be for your website, in the form of an answer, to be near the top of the search results page WITHOUT paying for the privilege, such as you would be if you were using Google Ads (PPC)?
Here’s the proof. The result of the search phrase: “what are the best walking shoes” produces the following results page:
There are 376 million results. The four FAQ results are below the paid ads, and below the first, most relevant organic website result, but above the rest of the organic listings.
I will repeat that: ABOVE THE ORGANIC LISTINGS. It may not always be that high up, but, as you can see in this example, it certainly can be.
If that isn’t surprising enough, whilst you initially see only four FAQ results, once you click into one of them, more appear:
Why is Google so keen on FAQs?
During the early 2000s, Google began changing the type of results it showed in search results. It used to be a simple list of websites, albeit it related to the search phrase, but it changed to be a list of every type of content that was available online, including images, books, videos, news, etc.
Google’s algorithm to find results was always based on relevance, but as both the volume and types of content expanded exponentially, finding relevance in content was becoming more tricky.
By 2008, Google began to tighten the thumbscrews and focus more on relevance. Google did this to help prevent showing results from websites whose content included similar words to the search term but that were not strictly relevant to the essence of the search term. For that, it needed a better understanding of what people meant, not just what they typed.
Google’s ubiquity on every device imaginable meant questions became the norm. Someone might ask a question of their colleagues, only to have someone reply with, “Have you Googled that?” As a result, we witnessed the birth of a new verb, ‘Googled’ (or to ‘Google’) in the English language (and probably other languages too) that entered the Oxford English Dictionary on June 15th, 2006.
The point here is that questions are everything — but answers are more.
How can you take advantage of FAQs?
Nobody understands the questions your customers ask about your products or services better than you do. Draw on that knowledge to extract the questions people have asked and are likely to ask in the future.
The source of questions is endless
- Think about what you already know people have asked you.
- Ask your staff what they get asked all the time.
- Go through your products, individually if you have to, and ascertain what problem or problems they solve. If you sell lampshades, think about the questions people ask about the maximum wattage or type of bulb the shade is suitable for. If you sell lightbulbs, think about the wattage, the type, the fitment, etc.
- Look-up the individual products online or in catalogues to see how your suppliers describe the features (features are an incredible source of questions since every feature exists to solve a problem).
- Google the products to see what your competitors say about them or similar products.
“Questions don’t have to make sense, Vincent,” said Miss Susan. “But answers do.”
― Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time
What to do with the questions and answers
Once you have your lists of questions and have written comprehensive, but concise answers (nobody wants to see three-word answers), you’ll need to think about adding the FAQs to the relevant pages on your website. You may need help from your web developer for this.
You don’t necessarily need to add FAQs to every single product page, but Google will use this to create an organic search result that includes FAQs.
The search phrase “how much is a small kitchen extension” produces two types of FAQ search results.
1) An organic listing including FAQs from the page (i.e. FAQs taken from the content page):
Putting a list of relevant questions and answers at the foot of the product category page, (preferably as an open list of questions and answers, not tucked away in an ‘accordion’ menu structure) would also be likely to produce the above result, and is visually useful to your website visitors.
2) A ‘People also ask’ entry between organic search results:
The latter is the result of creating individual, comprehensive, dedicated content pages for a particular product or service.
Once the FAQs and dedicated content pages are live on your website, Google will automatically pick up and index the new content provided it’s linked to internally or accessible in your XML sitemap (again, your web developer or SEO consultant will be able to explain internal linking and site maps).
There is also no guarantee that Google will show your FAQs in search results, but like wanting to win the lottery, if you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t play.
What to do next
Stop thinking about your website as an online brochure. Doing so is typical of businesses and service providers who believe that because they don’t sell products from their website, it is nothing more than an online brochure.
Instead, think about your website as a tool for answering questions about your business (or organisation, charity, etc.) and the solutions you provide. Think of all the questions you’ve been asked by a prospective customer who subsequently became a customer because you answered their questions.
This will help focus your mind on how you can develop your website from being a static, out of date online brochure, to being a highly relevant active tool that drives customers to contact you.
That is, after all, probably why you invested in a website in the first place.