Google’s algorithm is always changing, but if there’s one trend that we have seen consistently, it’s that the search engine giant has favored longer-form content over the last few years.
Professional search engine marketers have known about this trend for a while, and it’s about time you also learned why it is so crucial to your marketing strategy. More importantly, learn exactly how to create the right kind of long-form content that can rank well and drive targeted traffic.
A close look into the top-ranking posts for high volume searches shows that Google typically favors posts that provide a comprehensive overview of the given topic and answer all possible questions that a searcher may have.
That’s why pillar content and “ultimate guides” have seen much success.
These are the types of articles that we refer to as “complete content”.
“Complete” articles tend to top search engine results pages (SERPs) for both seed keywords and longer tail key phrases. Hence the need to include the creation of complete content in your organic search strategy.
Let’s walk through how Google measures the “completeness” of content, so you know exactly what it takes to make an article “complete”.
How does Google measure the completeness of content?
There are two main categories through which Google assesses the completeness of a post — on-page factors and user-experience factors. Every aspect in each category is equally important so you’ll need to take them all into account when writing your piece.
Let’s run through them now.
On-page factors look at the key elements of a particular web page, making sure the content satisfactorily engages the user. These factors include:
1. Word Count
The word count of a web page gives Google an indication of the completeness of the article. In fact, a study by Neil Patel has shown that there is indeed a positive correlation between word count and the average position of the webpage in organic search.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should pad out your articles with unimportant, filler info. Instead, you can search for a particular topic and look at the top 3 or 4 ranked pages to get an idea of just how much depth your post needs to meet the standard of “completeness.”
Ideally, you want to be writing articles with a slightly higher word count than what is already ranking in order to compete effectively.
2. Addressing related questions in a topic cluster
Google’s algorithm gets more sophisticated with each update and is currently smart enough to clump various related topics and questions together into a single “topic cluster”.
As part of its process for assessing the completeness of a post on a particular topic, Google will pick out the broader “topic cluster” that the article falls into, and seek to confirm whether you fully addressed all the other topics or questions within that cluster.
The more your content piece covers these related points and questions, the better its chances of ranking higher on Google’s results page.
That’s why when planning out a post, it’s important to first consider what wider topic cluster the article falls into, identify all the other possible related questions, and effectively answer them.
User Experience Factors
User experience factors look at things like the usefulness, accessibility, and searchability of a webpage in relation to the user’s search goals. These include:
As previously mentioned, if users are clicking onto your page and bouncing off only to click on another page on the SERP or having to refine their search, it’s a huge red flag to Google that your content piece is not complete. This will eventually demote your page’s rankings if it happens regularly enough.
That’s why it’s important to be as detailed and comprehensive as possible in every article.
You’ll also want to make sure your articles are regularly updated so they are ultimately more thorough and have the latest information compared to those of your competitors.
2. Search Completion
Every webpage should serve a defined purpose and have an intended “conversion goal.” For instance, your post could ask readers to subscribe, make a purchase, or even click through to another page on your website.
When a user follows through with the conversion, then it tells Google that their search has been completed, at least for that session. Conversion goals will typically vary for each webpage — but ultimately, whatever content you put out should be enough to end the user’s search.
By this we mean that once the user has landed on your webpage, they will either stay there and go through whatever conversion goal you’ve set up, or even if they click back and make a new search it will be for a completely unrelated topic.
3. Dwell time and Scroll Depth
Dwell time is simply how long a user spends on a page, while scroll depth refers to how far down the page he or she reads. The longer the dwell time and scroll depth, the better.
After all, if you’re spending a long time on a page and scrolling all the way down, then chances are the piece of content is positively engaging and will likely satisfy your search.
Both of these factors are present in long-form content and that’s why Google prefers them for organic ranking.
That being said, your article must still read naturally and be free of unnecessary padding in a bid to make it longer. This will only cause the user to quickly lose interest and exit the page, which then defeats the purpose of achieving a longer dwell time and scroll depth.
Instead, you could use infographics, illustrative videos, and other rich multimedia to keep the user interested and engaged in your posts. For a guide on how to make the perfect infographic, check out this helpful guide from Visme.
Creating Complete Content
Now that you know why Google prefers complete content and how it measures the “completeness” of web pages, let’s look at how to create these types of posts and incorporate them into your marketing strategy.
The best way to create complete content is to first have a thorough understanding of the given topic. But even if you’re not an export on the topic you are writing about, there are a number of ways around it to help you deliver complete content nonetheless.
Identify topic clusters using the “people also ask” box
If you type in a search phrase, the SERP will usually include a “People also ask” box that covers related topics and questions. You can use this to your advantage and identify topic clusters worth covering in your article.
The key is to provide answers to as many of the suggested questions as you can within the article. Make sure you focus on the relevant aspects of the questions.
Keep in mind that not all the questions in this box will be relevant enough to cover in your article, so always compare how a question relates to the topic before including it in your writing.
When you’ve identified the questions you want to answer, it’s a good idea to put them in H2 tags and dedicate specific paragraphs to answering them. This makes it easier for Google to identify that you have answered these questions and also makes it easier for your readers to find them on the page.
It’s also worth having a table of contents and “jump tos” to each section of your post in order to allow users to find answers to specific questions as easily as possible.
Take note of any of your followers’ questions and answer them in your next posts
In some cases, the “People also ask” box may not contain enough potential follow up questions on a given topic. Another good place to look would be the comments section of your webpage. Are there any questions there? Any responses that you think you could expand upon?
Take note of them and try to segment these questions into a cohesive subtopic that you can then answer in subsequent posts. Not only will this provide useful information to bulk up your article, but your readers and followers would definitely appreciate the effort since it means their questions are being directly answered on a single page.
Even if you’re not going to write a new article to specifically address those questions, you can always edit the existing post to cover those areas and then answer the question directly in the comment section.
Check out forums for any additional questions
Quora, Reddit, and other popular online communities are great for finding any additional issues worth covering in your posts.
You can even go a step further by going to industry-specific forums. For instance, if you wanted to write about e-commerce solutions for instance, you might visit the WebSell Forum to boost your research to better understand what questions online users need answering.
Forums are such excellent places to find these types of questions because people tend to flock to forums to ask questions that a Google search was not able to satisfactorily answer.
This is where your in-depth knowledge of the subject will come into play. Remember to answer questions in a simple, concise manner.
By adding these questions to an already comprehensive post and directly answering them, you are well on your way to creating complete content. Plus it gives you an edge over your competition because now, anyone else searching that question in the future will likely land on your webpage.
Always look to one-up your competitors
A consequence of Google’s preference for complete content is that the content marketing landscape has drastically changed and is pretty much a race for who can deliver the most complete content on any given topic.
So as you’re including complete content pieces in your content strategy, remember that your competitors are likely also doing the same. Don’t be afraid to take a peek at what they’re posting and see if there are any specific issues that they cover in their posts, which may be worth including in your posts as well.
The idea is to have an idea of what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and then deliver something better. This way, your posts remain relevant and keep the users positively engaged for longer.
A good way to start is by looking at the type of search and the nature of the questions being asked. This will give you a clearer idea of how to tackle the question and the best medium to use.
- If the searcher asks a factual question, such as “how much does it cost to build a Boeing airliner?” then you’ll want to do some original research and publish the data in your article.
- If the searcher is looking for instructions, such as “how to change a flat tire,” you could consider embedding a video or infographic guide into your post. This will definitely make it more engaging and useful to the user than your competitor’s purely text-based post.
- If the searcher is looking for search calls for professional advice, such as “Should I set up Instagram Shopping for my e-commerce store?” you can center your article around an interview with a subject matter expert and publishing their expert opinion. This gives it a more personalized and trustworthy answer than some article that just talks about Instagram shopping in general with no professional input.
Basically, you want your articles to provide the best possible answer to a user’s question, which in the end, is what posting complete content is all about.