If you’re looking to increase your general and voice search visibility, then you should start thinking about incorporating unique How-To content into your SEO strategy. But how do you find the best topics to cover and frame that in a way that puts the reader before the search engine? Contributor Steve Wiideman covers all angles on how to attract links naturally, and get ahead of your competitors in voice search results, whilst there’s still time!

Using ‘How To’ articles is the perfect way for any business focused on search engine optimization to earn inbound links and to start appearing in voice search results. The technique requires some simple keyword research, amazing content, drawing inspiration from top-ranking pages, and performing outreach to subject matter experts.

How ‘How To’s Attract Links

Rarely do any high-quality articles online get hand-typed from scratch. Most great content is inspired in part from other content and from research. Experienced writers know the importance of citing references, and experienced SEO’s know the importance of a great outbound link to a trustworthy domain. We’ll even be citing examples and sources in this article.

That said, if your ‘How To’ is discovered when a content writer is performing their research, because you did your research to get your page ranked in the first place there’s a reasonable probability of having your ‘How To’ cited as a reference.

Solving problems with the best answer available online becomes the catalyst of natural inbound linking, and reduces or eliminates the need to ask webmasters to link to content, a passé method of link building that pretty much died with the Google Penguin Update back in 2012.

Why Voice Search is Important

If you’re a SEO practitioner, you don’t need to hear more presumptuous forecasts on the percentage of mobile users who will be primarily using voice over the next few years. However, you may want to give some thought to how non-mobile voice searches will evolve with new digital assistant technologies, such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri, IBM Watson, and dozens of new voice assistants you haven’t even heard of yet.

Innovators are working to untether users from their phones and leverage voice recognition to perform searches anywhere an input is available, be it a refrigerator, a car, a cashier console, or a mall kiosk.

Unlike web and mobile searches, voice searches return fewer results and there’s no such thing as “Page 3” of Google in this ecosystem. Therefore, today is when you want to start learning and exploring methods of having your business appear within voice search results, before your competition does.

‘How To’s, like recipes, are one of the top ways users are beginning to consume voice-assisted content. Ask your Siri, Google Assistant or Amazon Echo a ‘How To’ about your industry now and see if your name is returned as a result.

Keyword Research for ‘How To’s

Many of the common keyword research tools now allow for filtering data based on buyer journey phase, which for ‘How To’s is “upper-funnel”. Below is a screenshot from SEMRush on the topic of Local SEO:

Local seo questions

Another popular tool among enterprise brands is Conductor Searchlight Explorer. While not the cheapest keyword research option, it does a phenomenal job of not restricting upper-funnel content opportunities to just questions when filtering keywords, using “Customer Journey Stage”:

local SEO questions conductor

Free tools such as AnswerThePublic are great, but don’t always offer search volume predictions (though these are meaningless beyond understanding popularity).

What do you do with all those ‘How To’ keywords? Simple: organize your keywords by user intent and decide where to emphasize them within SEO focal points such as titles, headings, and subheadings.

Example (numbers are made up):

  • “how to clean white shoes” has 6,600 monthly searches – use in the title tag and in content
  • “ways to clean white shoes” has 4k monthly searches – use in the h1 tag
  • “how to clean white shoes with baking soda” has 3k monthly searches – use in an h2 tag
  • “how to clean white shoes with toothpaste” has 2k monthly searches – use in an h2 tag
  • “how to clean white shoes in the washer” has 1.5k monthly searches – use in an h2 tag

See what we did there? We basically created the outline for our page. Now we need only find some data sources, create some awesome images and fill in the blanks, which brings us to creating the best content online if we hope to achieve high keyword rankings.

Amazing Content versus Boring Content

In 20 years of building high-ranking content, there are two properties I’ve noticed that seem to make the difference: Uniqueness and Page-Flow. Without uniqueness, Google and other search engines may add your page to their omitted search results. Without good page-flow, the user’s subconscious will know your page wasn’t written to help them, it was written just for Google rankings.

Creating unique content has little to do with copying and pasting content from someone else’s webpage to your webpage. That’s a no-brainer and is commonly referred to as duplicate content in the SEO industry. When we use the word unique, we’re talking about creating something that truly stands out as an idea or suggestion that the user hadn’t already thought about.

It also means creating custom images and rendering them in high definition.

Testing Unique Images in Content

In one test, we took two separate pages across two very similar businesses serving two different areas with equal search volume and created new content for both.

In the first page we used a stock image, where Google has likely already recorded the binary of the image and knew it wasn’t created just for our page. For the second, we had a photographer take custom photos in a courtroom at an old courthouse-turned-museum. We used schema.org/ImageObject on both images, with descriptive information, and around 1,000 words of decent persuasive content written by two different paralegals.

Within three weeks, the second web page (with the unique images) made it to Page 2 of Google for a medium-competition search term. The first page never even made it to Page 2; and sat in position 54 at the end of the three weeks. This was tested using mobile searches on Google made by third parties without personalized results.

Video is also an incredible way to create unique content. Many businesses simply won’t invest the time required to create short 30-second to 2-minute videos for each page. Those that do, where the video is high quality and helpful, do typically see higher rankings than those without video. As a bonus, add schema.org/VideoObject markup and include the video with descriptive title, description, and tags to a Video XML Sitemap.

Improving Page Flow

Creating the assets above and marking them up is actually the easy part of creating amazing content. The difficult part is making the page flow well for readers. Most SEO agencies are so hung up on the SEO focal points that they can’t seem to get readability down. This is sort of the same problem designers have with development, and that developers have with design.

A popular framework for converting visitors is Neil Patel’s graphic on The Anatomy of a High Converting Landing Page, which offers suggestions on what types of content to have above and below the scroll point and where to place it, respective of other content.

For marketing content, Copyblogger has a great article on Ways to Get People to Read Your Content, and Smart Insights offers a few great tips to understand and create great page flow via the AIDA Model, even if your conversion action is to simply subscribe or read more content.

The AIDA model

Source: Smart Insights

Be Unique, But Don’t Neglect Top-ranking Pages

There’s an idea top copywriters share that you should never look at top-ranking pages for an array of keywords you want to rank for; that you should come up with your own idea for content. We’ve always believed that’s a naive perspective to have, since there’s a reason search engines are ranking those pages, and we owe it to ourselves to understand why.

So take an hour (or as long as you need) to really look at the competing pages for the ‘How To’ you’re trying to rank for. Take note of the following:

  1. What keywords are used in the page URL?
  2. What keyword(s) are emphasized in the title tag?
  3. What compelling message do they have in the meta description?
  4. What schema markup are they using? Article? BlogPosting? Try the Structured Data Testing Tool to find out
  5. What keyword(s) are emphasized in the H1 heading? What about the H2 subheading?
  6. What are the image names? (keyword.jpg?)
  7. What are the common themes or topics mentioned between the top-ranking pages?
  8. Try a keyword density tool to analyze a list of words and phrases, then aggregate and compare between pages

The Power of Subject Matter Experts

In 2018, Google released an algorithm update that affected websites that might require more scrutiny as they pertain to a money or health. The SEO community went wild with dialog centered around changes to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, including a popular post on the topic of E-A-T by Marie Haynes in February of 2019 (where E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness).

Having an author with no authority on a topic write your content may have less of a positive impact when Google initially crawls the page than a writer whose name is already synonymous with a topic category and correlates to specific topic keywords.

This is difficult to explain without an example. A Google search for “steve wiideman” and “seo expert”, and including the operator “-wiideman.com” to exclude my own website from the search, shows that Google has thousands of pages of content that include both of these phrases, correlating my name to that phrase and the category topic of SEO.

SEO expert Steve Wiideman

Therefore, to create truly awesome content, enlist industry experts in your field to help write or at least contribute to your ‘How To’ content, even if you’re just adding a few quotes to the page and linking to the expert’s official biography to prove credibility.

Outreach for a quote is easy. Why do you think I wrote this article? Do you think I have time to send emails asking if I can write guest posts? As owner and CEO of my firm, I barely have time to enjoy a meal, let alone spend time volunteering to write content. But when asked, I’m always happy to find the time to help or contribute if I feel enough readers will benefit.

Here are some tips for performing outreach to experts:

  1. Roundups are losing value, so avoid starting with “I’m doing a roundup post”.
  2. Start with social media before sending emails. It’s public and the expert would appear to be rude if they didn’t respond to you in a public forum.
  3. Call. Seriously, pick up the phone and call. Most experts aren’t teens who only use text messaging (Try “I was hoping to get a quote for an article I’m writing on X”)
  4. Send a snail-mail card thanking them for inspiring something else you’ve written and/or shared online and include your phone number and Skype, asking for 5 minutes to get a quote for the article you’re writing.

The co-occurrence of the expert and the keyword may be a great starting point, but the real value comes when they themselves share and link to the content; that’s the vote that passes the real authority from an SEO standpoint. It’s not always easy to build and nurture relationships, especially if you’re a webmaster and tech nerd like me. Just be yourself, be humble and always be transparent and forthright.

BONUS: How to Get 100 Mentions of Your Short Answer

When it comes to Voice Search, it’s typically the short answer or checklist that the assistant technology will recite as the answer, and it’s that same content that needs to be found on other websites for search engines to know it’s a “best answer”. Don’t believe me? Perform a recipe search in Google and copy a phrase from the Featured Answer in quotes into the search box.

Example:

A search for “pumpkin pie recipe” returns a featured answer from Very Best Baking. If you take the phrase from the first step and search for it in quotes, you’ll notice over 2,800 other websites have shared that phrase and the recipe.

featured answer pumpkin pie recipe

Structured markup can help search engines understand the content and may play a role in featured answers as well, but it’s been our experience that syndication is the key to long term “stickiness” in the coveted Position Zero.

So how can you get other websites to share without spammy tools or techniques? Below are some ways we’ve seen clients get citations of a featured answer that helped to get their answer to the top spot:

  1. Set up a Google Alert for each ‘How To’ keyword targeted in an article – drop your answer whenever it’s appropriate
  2. Look for articles mentioning the current Featured Snippet and recommend your answer as an additional recommendation – or use the comments if appropriate
  3. Social media – use your business page and have the author share a link along with the short answer in a timeline post
  4. Media sharing – when you pin to Pinterest (or other image-sharing platforms) or upload your video to YouTube (or other video-sharing platform), drop your short answer into the description field
  5. Ask the experts who contributed to your article if they’d be willing to share “the summary paragraph” if they plan on mentioning or referencing the page
  6. Question and Answer websites such as Quora or Reddit seem almost common sense to share your answer to, or to create the question if it hasn’t been asked yet

Be creative, but never spam. Remember you are representing a brand, and good brands don’t need a reputation for spamming to influence search engine results.

What’s Your First ‘How To’?

Now that you know why ‘How To’s benefit your SEO strategy, and have the tools to find the right questions to answer with content, along with the ways to level-up the awesomeness of your page with media and good page flow, and the value of expert contribution followed by syndication, what ‘How To’ are you going to start with?

Drop a link to your first ‘How To’ below, taking into consideration all the recommendations above. Share your experience and challenges and what you did to overcome them. (That sounds like the makings of several new ‘How To’s, now that I think about it!)