It’s been just over seven months now that Google has been returning ‘in depth articles’ in its search results for broad search queries — terms like ‘investment’, ‘terrorism’, ‘net neutrality’, and even ‘cheese.’ According to the blog of the programmer that created the quirky mechanic behind the results, the purpose is to display “thoughtful in-depth content that will remain relevant for months or even years after publication.”
So right away, you know that ‘in depth’ means at least two things — it means content that goes into detail about a topic, and a topic that is evergreen in nature. Run a few hundred searches for those broader keywords, and you’ll rapidly come to two more conclusions: one, you almost have to be a big-name, almost brand-name-level content creator (New York Times, Huffington Post) to consistently get your content listed; two, if you’re not big-name, only the more novel and quirky in-depth articles will get much attention.
Fortunately, Google has told us what the minimum requirements for inclusion are, and we already know a few of the search engine’s preferences past that: brand strength, novelty, detail, evergreenity, and depth. So let’s look at those requirements:
Use The Right Schema Markup
Google uses metadata — that is to say, data about the data you’re presenting — to index your content. They allow you to create your own data’s metadata be using what’s called ‘schema article markup’ — essentially adding tags to your content that tells Google about the content’s:
- Date published
- SEO Title
- and Image
These tags are also sometimes referred to as ‘microdata’ (but even the nerdiest of people doesn’t refer to a single one of them as a ‘microdatum.’ Just don’t go there.)
These markups get entered into the existing HTML structure in a way that tells Google first what the item is (div itemtype=”http://www.schema.org/Article”), and then what the subsections of the item are (h2 itemtype=”http://www.schema.org/headline”, span itemprop=”DatePublished”), and so on.
The more metadata you stick all over your article, the more Google can determine how in-depth your article is and, essentially, how much work you put into it.
Use Google’s Authorship Markup
By using Authorship Markup, you’re telling Google exactly who is taking credit for the content that its spiders are reading. By consistently creating decent content, you can earn ‘author cred’ with Google and get your stuff more consistently valued. You’ll also get more click-throughs from the search engine because your picture will appear next to content that you’ve created.
Google also uses Authorship Markup to figure out who is an expert on what subjects — so by writing consistently good content about your area of expertise for long enough, you’ll get ‘expert cred’ on top of your author cred and find that anything in your area that has your name attached to it gets more attention just because it’s from you. You can learn exactly how to claim your Authorship by clicking that link right there.
Stop Paginating Stuff
While Google isn’t bad at parsing pagination if you use rel=next and rel=previous properly, it’s relatively easy to forget or screw up, and Google’s spiders aren’t terribly forgiving. There’s really only one good reason to use pagination: when you’re returning so many results to the user that loading them all at once doesn’t make sense (i.e. you’re eBay returning results for “wristwatch”). I realize that lots of cheap-ass websites that try to make money off of advertising revenue love to paginate the hell out of their articles in order to maximize ad exposures. The problem with that is you’re killing your user experience (and, via Panda rules, your SEO value.)
Instead, put all of your content on the same page, and make sure you’ve canonicalized that page correctly.
Make Sure You Have a Sweet Logo
If you’ve gone through the proper steps to set up Authorship, above, you’ll notice that your Google+ page gives you the opportunity to set your logo. For most authors, you’ll want the logo to be a picture of your smiling face, but that’s not a rule — just a good idea. If you’re posting as a business, for example, you can totally use the business’ logo as your Authorship logo and feel totally legit doing so.
Stop Restricting Content — Or At Least Use FCF
Ideally, you’ll stop pissing away your user experience scores by hiding stuff behind subscription or registration demands or pay walls. But obviously there are those websites that are only afloat because they use dirty tricks like that, so there’s a place for it. If you’re in that boat, look up Google’s First Click Free protocol and implement it fully.
That’ll give Google the ability to properly crawl and index your content, as well as giving your visitors one article free when they arrive on-site. Their next click can be as restricted as you want it to be, but that first click needs to give total access to whatever content they came to view. In most cases, this is a good idea for a membership site anyway, as being able to see the killer-ity of your content should inspire them to want to register so they can see more of the same.
OK, so that’s the minimum requirements — you now have content that might show up as an In-Depth Article one day. But it’s not bloody likely unless you’re doing a lot more than the minimum. By way of review, we know that Google likes to have its in-depth content be:
- Strongly branded
- in-depth (Surprise!)
- applicable to a broad search term
- and detailed
Balancing Broad Search Terms with In Depth and Detailed
You might think — I know I did — that when you’re looking up broad search terms, you’re not particularly looking for in-depth or detailed information. Google, however, already did a study on this and determined that a whopping 10% of broad-scope searches only achieved a ‘happy ending’ upon reaching an article that went into surprising depth and detail on a subject. That’s what inspired the whole ‘in depth article’ mechanic to be created in the first place. You can approach the target from either direction: determine ahead of time what broad search term you want to target and then write the detail, or find a subject you can feel comfortable writing in detail (and depth; see the next point) about and then once it’s written, go back and retroactively engineer it to appeal to a broad search term.
In-depth vs. Detailed
Wait — aren’t ‘in-depth’ and ‘detailed’ the same thing? Well, not really. It’s possible to go into great detail on a subject without going into depth. For example, imagine that you have an article designed to appeal to the broad search term ‘magic tricks’. You can talk for tens of thousands of words about magic tricks — listing hundreds of different tricks and how do perform them — but is that detailed and deep? Yes, it’s got lots of details, but it doesn’t really give you any context for what a ‘magic trick’ is. If you want depth, you want sections like “the history of magic tricks”, or “street magic vs. stage magic vs. epic magic”, or maybe even “legerdemain or prestidigitation?” — essentially, to use the terminology from earlier in the article, providing the ‘metadata’ on magic tricks along with the ‘data’ — the depth along with the detail.
Novel vs. Evergreen
Here’s another seeming paradox: evergreen content is content that is continually relevant to people’s lives; content that isn’t dependent on a specific point in time, event, or current product. For example, an article on “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure” is less evergreen than an article on “Skylanders video games”, which is in turn less evergreen than an article on “video games with figurines.” Spyro’s Adventure has already more or less expired as an interesting topic; we’re like three games past that now. Skylanders will eventually collapse as a topic as well — but you can be sure that with new entrants like Disney Infinity onto the market (and an epic business model motivating them), ‘video games with figurines’ will be around for a long time.
Yet, as you can plainly see, the more evergreen you get, the more generic you seem to get as well. So given the tendency toward genericity, how do you also squeeze ‘novel’ in? There’s exactly one way: say something no one else is saying. You don’t have to say the opposite of what everyone else is saying — just come up with a perspective that isn’t on the first few pages of Google. For example, an article comparing the secondary market on trading-card games like Magic: the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh with the used-figurine market for Skylanders and Disney Infinity might get a lot of traction while remaining evergreen in that you’re addressing the markets themselves, not the specific games.
OK, so hopefully now you’ve got an idea of what you need to be writing — how do you actually write a long-form, in depth article that will meet all of the minimum requirements and maximize the elements that Google wants to see?
The first step, as you might expect, is research — but you might be surprised as you what KIND of research it is. You have to start by researching the broad search term you hope to get your in-depth article listed on. There are two (important) kinds of results you’ll get that will shut you down instantly.
The first is the result that simply has no in-depth results on it in the first place. That, in general, should tell you that Google doesn’t consider the search to be worth putting in-depth results up on in the first place — unless you’re sure that the subject is growing in popularity fast enough that it will get in-depth results quite soon, don’t waste your time.
The second is the result that has in-depth results listed and every single one of them is from an uber-brand like HuffPo or the Wall Street Journal. Frankly, the likelihood that you’ll ever be able to outrank one of them for one of those three sacred slots is essentially nil — again, don’t waste your time.
So keep searching until you find a broad term that has at least one result that’s from a non-huge-brand source — preferably two or three. That’s the kind of result you know you can compete for.
Actually Writing the In-Depth Article
Start here. I’m not going to rehash all of that when I’ve already written a Compleat Guide on the matter. In fact, you should probably read Part III as well — it may be geared toward WordPress and blogging, but the advice for getting your content out there and shared on the social media networks is kind of a key part of earning enough out-of-the-gate juice from your article for Google to pay attention to it at all in the first place.
Why Would I Go to All This Work?
That sounds like a reasonable question, and the answer is just as reasonable: because articles that weren’t on the first page of Google get on the first page of Google if they get listed as ‘in-depth articles.’ Neil Patel wrote an excellent article describing how his site had a 13.5% bump in traffic overnight when In-Depth Articles went live, because his site had so much long-form evergreen content that a good many of them were chosen for broad terms like ‘SEO’ and ‘Internet marketing.’
I’m not going to say that those kinds of numbers are in any way common — they’re not. But any SEO will tell you that content that gets on the first page of Google (no matter how it gets there) is a hundred — nay, a thousand! — times more valuable than content that doesn’t. If you put in the effort to nail a truly high-quality in-depth article and you promote it carefully, it’ll score solid points for SEO whether it gets chosen for an in-depth article or not — but if it does, you’ve hit it out of the park, and you can feel really good about it.
Just don’t let that keep you from continuing to push out the badass content. Laurels are for Roman emperors — this is the Internet game; the only rest you get is the one you do at the end of the day after a solid day’s optimizing.