How to Write the In-Depth Articles that Google Loves

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Hey marketer, are you a lover of long-form content? In-depth reporting? Then you’ll love this statistic:

Ten percent.

That’s the percentage, according to a recent Google study called Daily Information Needs, of people who might want detailed, long-form information from search.

And like we always say around here, “go where the data indicates.”

On August 6, 2013, Google did just that and announced the inclusion of in-depth articles in search results on broad search terms like cheese, investment, chess, terrorism, football, censorship, or abortion.

But this move really shouldn’t surprise us … Google has been heading this way for quite some time, notably with its Panda updates.

Neither should it surprise you that the engineer behind this new search feature is none other than Pandu Nayak — the guy behind the Panda algorithm.

On the Google Search blog Pandu writes:

I’m happy to see people continue to invest in thoughtful in-depth content that will remain relevant for months or even years after publication. This is exactly what you’ll find in the new feature. In addition to well-known publishers, you’ll also find some great articles from lesser-known publications and blogs. If you’re a publisher or webmaster, check out our help center article and post on the Webmaster Central blog to learn more.

How can you read that and not think of the practice of writing cornerstone content — a staple that Copyblogger has been preaching since day one? This is good news for content marketers.

Under the hood of In-Depth Article search results

Here’s how this new feature works.

Search for “prison reform” and you get a snapshot of articles from Washington Monthly, The Daily Beast, and The American Conservative —  including a thumbnail image, title, brief description, source, and logo.


That’s fine and good for politics and culture, but is this new feature relevant to the business world? Indeed, it is.

Search for “marketing” and you get in-depth results from Fast Company, New York Times, and Mashable.


I have to admit … those results were hardly relevant to the term “marketing.” Furthermore, when I search for “content marketing,” “email marketing,” “landing pages,” or “copywriting,” there were no in-depth articles available (although our cornerstone content landing pages for those topics rank prominently).

Off the top of my head I can think of at least one article for each of those subjects that could qualify as an in-depth article. Something is afoot.

What’s clear is that articles between 2,000 and 5,000 words in length and written by big brands dominate these new search results. Not too inspiring considering Google’s promise that “you’ll also find some great articles from lesser-known publications and blogs.”

Search Engine Land, however, did show up for “search engine” — but the article rendered was a peculiar choice:


As were the others.

One wonders if novelty and surprise are the distinguishing requirements for inclusion. Perhaps not a far off premise considering Wikipedia can give us detailed, but vanilla, information on topics like cheese, Facebook, and chess.

My biggest concern boils down to this: why those three articles and not three others? Strange choices for such broad terms. And is semantic search even at play here? Is it even possible to sniff out user intentions with such broad terms?

It’s still early in the game, and Google could be tweaking the system to eventually rank in-depth articles on long-tail keywords that more accurately reflect a users intention.

So should you invest in in-depth articles?

YES. In fact, my hope is that you already have been as part of your over all content marketing strategy. 

And don’t worry. Not every article you write needs to be epic. One a month is a good rule of thumb. But you do have to optimize your articles for in-depth search.

Here’s how …

Adapt schema article markup

For the non-technical among us, don’t let this scare you.

Google uses optimized metadata to find and properly index your content. The microdata we are talking about includes:

  • Headline
  • SEO title tag
  • A crawlable and indexable image
  • Description
  • Date published
  • Article body

If you use the Genesis Framework for WordPress and other tools like Scribe then you are already familiar with these terms. Schema article markup just takes that information to another level.

At the moment the best method to achieve this is through the Schema.org Article markup. That page will probably make your head explode, which is one of the reasons our Genesis 2.0 update included simple-to-use Schema markup.

Here’s how Copyblogger Media’s Director of Marketing for Synthesis and StudioPress Jerod Morris puts it:

What Schema support means is that Genesis 2.0 allows you to output microdata in your site’s code. This enhances your site’s search engine optimization even further, and ultimately its conversion optimization, in numerous ways.

Claim your content with Authorship Markup

When you claim your content through Google’s Authorship Markup, anything you write online — whether on your site or someone else’s — can be connected to your global author profile.

Also, the benefits you get from the rich snippets include higher visibility and an increase in click-through-rates in search.

Furthermore, as Mark Traphagen stressed, Google is now using Authorship markup as a means to find relevant authorities on specific subjects to render in search results — the first of such public admissions.

Have you claimed your content with Authorship markup? You can do it in three simple steps on your Genesis/WordPress site or go the traditional route.

Paginate and canonicalize long content

To break up long-form articles many online publishers split the article into multiple pages.

While the suggested purpose for this practice is “better user experience” (which is debatable) what gets lost is the extent of the article’s depth …

Proper pagination markup will fix that. Using rel=next and rel=prev helps Google’s algorithms identify the scope of your articles.

Furthermore, it’s important that canonicalization is done correctly, “with a rel=canonical pointing at either each individual page, or a ‘view-all’ page (and not to page 1 of a multi-part series).”

Optimize your logo

Google serves up logos to give users a quick glance to know the source of an article. There is a three-step process to optimizing that logo for in-depth search:

  1. Connect your website with your Google+ profile (see authorship markup above).
  2. Choose the logo.
  3. Specify your logo with organizational markup (more schema.org markup).

I’m told your logo may not show up right away in Google search, so be patient.

Implement First Click Free (FCF) for restricted content

This one is optional.

If you have content behind a subscription, registration, or pay wall … and want that content indexed in Google search … then implement Google’s FCF protocol.

FCF not only gives  Google permission to crawl your hidden content, index it, and then serve it up in meaningful search queries, but when a user clicks through to your site from the search results page, they get access to the entire article.

The moment they click on any other link that leads to restricted content, however, they are forced to register. This is clearly something online newspapers can use, but equally successful if you are building a membership site with a registration-protected content library.

Create killer cornerstone content

Finally, the rubber is meeting the road.

If you’ve been creating meaningful, original, and thorough (2,000 words or more) content, you are more than half way to showing up in Google’s in-depth article search feature. You could knock all the steps above in an afternoon, and get back to writing.

But if you are new to the content marketing world, here are six more “in-depth”articles to help you get started:

Good luck, and here’s to rocking the new “in-depth articles” world!

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Comments

  1. This is golden, Demian! Thank you so much for explaining this so well.

  2. In-Depth Articles is an intriguing concept especially if the once-a-month epic article follows your schema model. Prison Reform vs. Marketing are OK examples, and let’s hope this new algo metric evolves into using “longtails” with an FAQ bent and Google includes “Legal” to the in-depth article short list, so Injury Attorneys who protect accident victims legal rights and the massive amount of in-depth details these personal injury attorney have to uncover to litigate and win their trial.

  3. Really happy to see that Google is beginning to value in-depth articles. For people looking to really increase their knowledge on a subject rather than find a quick-fix top ten list, this is great news!

    However, it is obvious from your examples that Google has a long way to go in making it so that content that is actually relevant to the search criteria appears. Still, though, I’m really happy to see that Google is making the effort.

    Thanks for the the optimization tips, too, Demian. There’s a couple of these that I will definitely put into effect!

  4. hi Demian

    I have a small network of 300+ niche blogs/aged domain names, and when I create a new site I ensure the home page is at least 1,000 words, although that’s not a set in stone rule. I add videos and photos to enhance readers’ experience and perform the on-page SEO.

    Even articles that we write focusing on long tail keywords should be lengthy and insightful, is it?

    Best!

    • Exactly. It’s not that Google isn’t into short content, but it’s into deep, original, strong content. Two thousand words are more per article is what seems to be the length minimum for this new feature, so bear that in mind.

  5. I’ve been practicing this for a while now, in-depth content that is. Most of my posts are 1000+ words (no fluff), and my pillars are 3000+. I have friends tell me tldr, but I use jump tags and a table of contents so users can navigate around the post.

    So far my long tail and short tail rankings are doing amazing with very little link building. The majority of which is url and brand anchors. My top 4 landing pages average 2000 words and 0 manual links built to them.

  6. This sounds great to me as a writer, but I have a hard time understanding why they would cater to 10% of searchers. Obviously that stat means that 90% of searchers don’t want long form content. Other webmasters specify that they won’t publish articles over 800 or 1,000 words because users don’t respond to them. I felt weird publishing an article I wrote yesterday that was just over 1,200 words.

    • This new feature isn’t by any means perfect, but keep in mind that what Google is trying to do is deliver something more than what’s usually delivered for broad terms because ten percent of users might want information like that. This is why they aren’t devoting the entire search page to in-depth, unless it is relevant.

      And I might suggest to those webmasters that the reason they aren’t getting good response to articles over 800 words isn’t because of the size but the quality of the writing. Copyblogger routinely posts 1,000 words or more with good response. And so do a lot of other blogs/websites. It’s never about the length, but whether it is interesting.

  7. When I read the following:

    “Hey marketer, are you a lover of long-form content? In-depth reporting? Then you’ll love this statistic:

    Ten percent.

    That’s the percentage, according to a recent Google study called Daily Information Needs, of people who might want detailed, long-form information from search.”

    I thought to myself, “Does this mean I should go back to writing 500 word blog posts?” But then I read:

    “On August 6, 2013, Google did just that and announced the inclusion of in-depth articles in search results on broad search terms like cheese, investment, chess, terrorism, football, censorship, or abortion.”

    So… I guess long-form content is here to stay. :)

    I’m checking out the schema.org markup for organization logos to see what I have to do.

    This is one heck of an in-depth post. I will read it again and again!

    • That’s a natural response. You could probably safely ignore that market. Or you could see it as an opportunity to dominate. That’s why the overarching message is to keep on doing what you do … because it’s not so much about the length but the relevancy. And giving what your audience wants.

  8. Thanks Demian, While I have done well with content marketing, I guess it is time to step it up a notch to hopefully make the cut… Well, off to give it my best, thanks for the insight!

  9. Hi Demian,

    I often have to bookmark your posts for later, and I’m not just saying that … I always go back and read them, carefully (just like your contributions in the eBook series). They’re THAT good. So, I just wanted to say … thanks!

  10. I was just re-reading an Fast Company article on this topic and said to myself “I wonder when Copyblogger is going to say something this?” You guys are freakishly good!

  11. Thanks for this post. My posts are usually 1,000 +, so, I’ll have to continue to what I’m doing.

    I’ve bookmarked this post already, and I think I’ll add it in my “finest articles” folder.

    Thank you, Demian.

  12. Two months ago, I wrote a blog post that was basically a 2,500 article on a very, very specialist topic. It was aimed at my local clients. 25,000 hits from 90 countries later, I’ve realised that it’s the most comprehensive coverage of this topic online.

    I hadn’t thought to check the rankings until I read this article, but the article is ranking google #1 under its two word search term, above the images result, with its header image on display too. That’s in over 30 pages of results – at least that’s how far I’ve checked.

  13. In the world of fractured attention & 140 characters or less, it’s refreshing to read an article esteeming the virtues of long-form content. Thanks, Demian, we hope to see more of your thoughts on this subject.

  14. This article is worth its weight in gold! So glad to know that Google sees value in lengthy thought-provoking posts. I love the term ‘cornerstone content’. I will aim to create one every month.

  15. @Jane : Two months ago, I wrote a blog post that was basically a 2,500 article.

    Wooww…2500 article……..

  16. Awesome advice Demian, especially the super-easy, dummy-proof advice you gave on setting up Google+ authorship. Thank you :)

  17. Really interesting, I would love to see if this articles depends also on cache, localization etc…!

  18. I like the title. Specifying that this will help me write in-depth content that Google will love got me really interested.

    Ten percent seems like a really low number but I agree that it’s enough to create hope for long-form content. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • That ten percent is also why you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket on long form … especially if you are on a daily writing schedule. Once a month or one every ten posts is great.

  19. Totally agree so far.
    Of course, there remains a big problem: what if you’re a guest contributor because in your country you can’t reach to a certain audience, so you go to a good authority blog written in US/UK English? And you write a 1500+ word piece, but apparently the blog owner decides to publish your in-depth article without offering you an author bio? Let alone a backlink.
    Of course, Google does nothing as I don’t find a tool/option to define which in-depth article is really written by blogger X and not just stolen under a false promise of a “yeah, sure, I will let you guest blog on my blog”. This just happened a few days ago to a friend of mine, I’m still in shock.

    Another thing I would add (perhaps it was mentioned in previous comments): There’s this great plugin called Schema Creator by Raven, where you can easily implement Schema.org into your blog content. And it’s doing a pretty good job for WP platforms.

    Otherwise, I can’t wait to read and see more in-depth articles. I’m so tired of reading 500word junks. And more case studies, mini-online experiments. We learn from experience and some of us small marketers still want to keep things professional and entertaining for our audiences. :)

    Lots of inspiration to everyone and have an awesome weekend (just right across the corner).

    • That’s clearly a bad deal. Unfortunately, in-depth feature is not designed to fix that kind of problem. That’s on the human level. I’d ask them to take it down.

  20. The secret to writing content Google loves is to forget about Google altogether! Write for users and not search engines and you’ll be on your way to greatness. Keep writing for Google and you’ll keep turning visitors away. It’s that simple.

    • Yep, that is the key. ;)

    • I didn’t know Matt Cutts read Copyblogger….

      • We do tend to beat the same drum that Matt does, which is: Publish good stuff that people actually want to read/watch/listen to.

        So many people put in a thousand times more work on the tricks than they would if they just created strong content (or outsourced it to a genuinely capable content creator) in the first place.

        • I completely understand this point and there’s certainly some validity to the statement. There are no tricks to SEO or content marketing. And no easy ways to get thousands of links overnight.

          But it doesn’t make any sense to ignore search engines entirely. For instance, what’s the harm in looking over your organic search queries in analytics and using the phrases when appropriate or building content around topics your readers are clearly interested in?

          • I would say absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s one way to learn more about your readers and write the content they want. The kind of tricks Sonia probably has in mind are ones that game the system at the expense of the readers — ones that violate Google’s link policy for example.

    • I’d say instead, write for readers first. Make your content work for readers (or viewers, or listeners, depending on format). Serve your audience, not the search engines.

      Then once you have done that you can modestly tweak a few things like title tags, etc. to allow the search bots to understand what you’re writing about. But if the content doesn’t work for a human audience, there is absolutely no point in creating it.

  21. Nice article Demian.

    I agree that currently a lot of what is being shown skews towards bigger brands. I would think though that G will get better over time in figuring out searcher intent despite it being a head term. i.e. With more data and time one would hope that the in-depth articles that show up solve the users’ query rather than give the best 3 in-depth articles from the available big brand articles.

    Either way it’s a positive step to those who have been producing this type of content already.

  22. Abhinab Choudhury :

    I would still say that this will ONLY benefit brand names rather than really helping out users who are searching for in depth articles. The main beneficiaries will be the old pages which were losing charm due to inactivity or articles pertaining to obsolete data. With the recent algo changes such dumb back dated pages were pushed to the 3rd and 4th page but since adsense is the tool behind playing the game, Google wanted to do something to bring them back on the front again. This is the ONLY reason I see which has led greedy Google experts to make this decision.

    Since you have a good and well supporting argument that small brands may well be seen but I bet it wont be more than 1-2 percent of the total web. Have you ever thought why Google news is so much affiliated to a few websites and still they say they show relevant organic results in the News snippet all the time?

    Earlier it was 10 organic results which was cut down to 7 organic plus a news template. News from where? Established sites which are running as Fat revenue sources. Again, when Google saw that it was not enough they are adding another In depth zone where the results will not be organic but rather very much related to the highly searched topics. Why is it limited to only highly searched topic but not for every important keyword? The Algorithm to extract such data will be the same for all keywords irrelevant of how much search volume it has.

    I am NOT an expert in such things but one can clearly see through the whole plan. Why not utilize the right side panel to list In depth articles along side the organic results. Why did they not push the news template to the right empty space? The basic theory is lessen the organic results and push on your earning sources and then dominate the whole traffic in the front page. Google cannot be biased with the organic results as they are monitored by ethical organization round the clock 24X7. But they can sure do whatever they want with these specialized snippets and no one will question why. Just think about it.

    P.S: Dear Google if you read this please don’t hate me for being so skeptical about your Evil plan. I am just a simple webmaster who blogs about your updates.

  23. I have no articles that have more than 2000 words. I have to improve my writing and length of my articles.

  24. Every marketer wants to rank in Google search results, no matter what it takes. And if it means being visible in the in-depth search results, they must do it.

    I’m a believer of writing short posts if you can get the point across in less than 1000 words. But in this case, if marketers want to be successful, their writers should be able to create REAL in-depth articles, like 2000word articles with no fluff.

    However, I don’t think that writing in-depth posts applies to all the companies and brands online. But what I do know is that if Google thinks this way, content writers have to adjust their way of writing as well.

    Thanks for this!

  25. Very informative! Well; the secret to writing is to write for the readers and not for the search engines. That’s what google loves!

  26. Sheetal Sharma :

    Useful stuff here, thanks for sharing, it will definitely enable me to access the depth of my articles and i think this is very important form the point of view of a marketer.

    Regards,
    Sheetal Sharma
    Synechron

  27. Hi Demian,
    Just wanted to let you know that we enjoyed this article so much we included it in our Monthly Resource Roundup: http://www.northcutt.com/blog/2013/09/august-best-seo-social-media-content-marketing/.

    Cheers!

  28. This is one of the best articles on the subject that I’ve read so far. As a writer, I honestly don’t know how I feel about the 2000 word count. I’ve always thought that the shorter and more concise the entries, the better.

  29. Thanks Demian for publishing this article. I will have to start combining my posts in to single larger posts. I have been giving readers nibbles at a time to get the follow back/look forward for more. I understand the thinking of in depth articles.

    Thanks Again,
    Paul

  30. This is a great and comprehensive article, and may just qualify for the in-depth article ranking on search engines. I must say, I need to refresh my SEO knowledge. The only thing I see with this new feature of Google is that it is favoring high brands for now. I hope other less known websites will be given a chance in the coming days.

  31. Thanks Damien, great informative article and well written. I was used to writing articles with around 700 words thinking I was publishing something google would like. The old “500” word articles are obviously long gone. Looks like I’m going to have to spend another hour or 2 on writing not to mention the time to research! But it’s all worth it in the end. I have bookmarked your post for future reference.