Google provides a substantial number of resources on its Webmaster Central Blog about what its algorithm is and is not looking for when returning search results. While Google's overall goal — providing results users find most helpful — has not changed, the process for finding these results is constantly being tweaked.
Your firm could try to keep up with every algorithm change in an ongoing struggle to be most relevant. But the effort is likely futile and an unnecessary waste of time. You already have information about the type of content Google wants to see available to you if you are willing to do a little research.
Every online searcher has a goal. Your job — and Google's — is to understand that goal and provide content that helps the visitor achieve that goal. When you understand how to write for your visitors rather than simply broadcasting information about your firm, you will gain an advantage over your competitors. Here are some ways to dig deeper into user behavior and gain insight into what types of content will likely perform best for your firm.
Use Demographics and Interest Reports to better understand your audience
Google made all searches secure last fall and now returns results exclusively on encrypted (https) pages. As a result, site owners have seen their keyword data within Analytics disappear over the last year, and they can no longer track visitors through keyword usage.
However, Google has not left curious webmasters entirely in the dark. Demographics and Interest Reports provide data about how people of different ages, genders and interests are using your site. Age is broken into segments, starting with 18-24, 25-34 and going through to 65+. Interests are broken into Affinity Categories, In-Market Segments and Other Categories.
Affinity Categories identify groups of people based on content consumption. This data provides a broad overview of audience types, like Tech Enthusiasts, Political Junkies or Motorcycle Enthusiasts. In-Market Segments are groups of people Google believes are looking to make a purchase in a particular market. There will likely be fewer people in this group, but they are potentially high-value users.
With this information you can see beyond keywords and take advantage of audience trends. Which pages do women aged 45-54 interact with the most? Are there certain age segments who tend to abandon your site quickly? Could you tailor content to a group of people with similar interests? For example, perhaps your political junkies would be more likely to interact with content that is relevant to current events.
When you take advantage of this data, you are more likely to produce content that people actually consume, leading to more time-on-site and lower bounce rates, which benefits both your conversion and your search ranking.
Perform sample searches to discern user goals
The intent of the person performing a search underlies every keyword. People enter certain words because they want to learn something or perform a certain action, like making a purchase or going to a certain location. Understanding these goals will allow you to create content that matches up with your visitors' most prevalent intentions.
Google is a leader in analyzing user intent. Its algorithm may make mistakes, but Google relies upon returning results people want to see to maintain its market share. When you perform a search for industry relevant keywords, the results tell you want Google thinks your audience wants to learn.
For example, a search for “Personal Injury Attorney” returns some predictable results: directory services and organic listings for attorneys near the person searching. Most people looking for a personal injury attorney probably want to perform an action — contacting or visiting an attorney near them.
This information is not surprising, and it is one of the reasons keyword spam was so successful for many years. But simply over-optimizing for a popular keyword does not produce content your visitors or search engines want to see. Digging deeper into the results reveals better information. In the case of our sample searches, Google showed an “In the news” section for attorneys that predominantly displayed headlines relating to law firms achieving large settlements or rewards. The top three suggested searches at the bottom of page one were: “personal injury attorney reviews,” “personal injury settlements” and “personal injury calculator.”
From this, we can learn that users looking for a personal injury attorney are curious about the types of settlements they may receive, and we know they are looking for social proof that an attorney in their area can help them. Content explaining the lawsuit process, testimonials from clients and representative case studies are likely to be of interest to users, and therefore also of interest to search engines.
Research your audience … and your competitors' audience.
Studying your audience starts offline, by keeping track of the questions clients and prospective clients most commonly ask. Analytics allows you to look at online data, like which pages get the most visits or on which pages visitors are most likely to complete and submit a contact form. All of this information reveals the types of things your audience wants to know, and you can answer them proactively with targeted content.
Look beyond your own website for additional data. Visit legal forums to see what questions people ask most often. Answers to those questions are an excellent source of evergreen content for your own website.
Learn what types of content people are engaging with on your social media profiles through services like Tweetdeck or Social Sprout. Tweetdeck allows you to track popular and trending topics and to filter search results by user engagement or content type. Social Sprout provides engagement reports that allow you to see what types of content your followers find most compelling. Both services provide a wealth of information about what your audience sees as most helpful. Build content marketing and social campaigns off of that information.
Your competitors can also be a valuable source of data about successful content. Through social media, you can see what your competitors' followers are liking, sharing and following themselves. Websites like Quick Sprout let you look more closely at how visitors are interacting with your competitors' websites by seeing what pieces of content their audience engages with most. You can type your URL and the URLs of up to three competitors into Quick Sprout's search form and compare how your content stacks up against theirs in terms of visitor interest and engagement.
Your firm will gain more authority with both people and search engines when you provide content that matches up with the goals of your audience. Simply optimizing for keywords is not enough. Discerning user intent does not have to be complicated; it is simply a matter of taking the time to do thoughtful research. You will find that once you have a better understanding of your visitors, creating relevant content becomes a much easier task.