The Standout Search: Creating Smarter Content to Generate Bigger Results

June 1, 2015

[ikon images/corbis]
[ikon images/corbis]

My coworker Jack, along with his wife, Tina, spent hours upon hours researching mattresses to replace their current one, which was more than 15 years old.

I asked Jack, “How many websites did you visit before you went to your local mattress retailer?”

“Oh, at least 25,” he said.

This is the new reality of today’s shopping experience. Whether you’re looking for a new mattress or a software solution for your business, many, if not most, people will conduct a thorough online search for information before making direct contact with a retailer, service provider or manufacturer.

This new dynamic is best summed up by a boat retailer I spoke with recently, who said: “My sales people don’t really sell anymore. They’re order takers. By the time a customer walks through our doors, they know exactly what they want [because they’ve been relentlessly searching online]. They just point at a boat and say, ‘I want that one in red.’”

Because consumers are narrowing their choices before your organization even has an opportunity to offer a handshake, your content must work hard at making a first impression. It must be informative, credible and offer solutions. And it needs to be shareable, so that those who are in the position of helping a person find a solution to a problem or need — such as buying a bicycle, investing in a stock, deciding between two job offers or choosing a school for their kids – can readily display that content.

So what’s the secret to creating better material? As Google has made clear through the use of specific algorithms to differentiate content based on its relevance, the answer is not about creating more content. The answer is creating higher-quality content that delivers the most relevant information to a user based on his or her search — what I call smart content. Here are some tips for creating it:

• Interview customers.

One of the most rewarding steps you can take to make your content as relevant as possible in attracting new customers is to spend quality, face-to-face time talking with current customers. Observe firsthand how your organization’s customers are using your product or service. Listen closely for the words and phrases they use in communicating the brand experience. Ask customers what keeps them up at night, as well as what motivates them. And don’t forget to ask them about trends and changes they foresee.

Insights such as these will give your content the depth and context needed to make it feel authentic, and help you obtain a better understanding of the type of customer with whom you need to communicate.

• Look right under your nose.

Every organization produces data: sales data, customer satisfaction data, user data and employee satisfaction data. For example, an online car sales website, with whom I’ve consulted, knows which models and which colors are the most popular among used car buyers, and which will be the last to sell. That’s data that can be turned into an interesting piece of content to inform and educate car buyers and sellers.

• Highlight keywords and search terms.

When someone types in words and phrases into Google, Bing or Yahoo, they are signaling their intent to buy a product or service to fulfill a specific need or want. Build your content — in particular, your headlines — around search terms and phrases. Study what other organizations offer in terms of content and seek to offer higher quality content that helps potential customers find better answers to their questions faster. Google Adwords Keyword Planner is a great tool to research keywords and phrases that every content developer should use.

• Solve problems.

What are some of the most popular pieces of content on the Internet? According to BuzzSumo, they’re how-to articles, or articles offering top 10 lists, such as the “top cities in which to retire,” or the “top 10 best cities for millennials to live.” These specialized pieces of content do one thing really well: They deliver information about a problem that someone needs to solve quickly and in an easy-to-access format.

• Tap into an emerging trend.

When our firm created a video for our private label Lakemaid Beer, we showed a drone delivering beer to ice fishermen. (Google “Lakemaid Beer drone.”)

We targeted Lakemaid’s hardcore fans: fishermen in the upper Midwest. And we tapped into an emerging national trend: the growing and controversial use of drones for commercial applications. It was a powerful combination that led to editorial coverage by leading national news media, including NBC’s Today Show, and many other broadcast news programs.

• Add a byline.

Content is social currency. People like to earn pats on the back from their friends for sharing great, trustworthy content. Adding a person’s name and bio to a piece increases its credibility; it’s perceived to have been written by a real person expressing his views or sharing her knowledge. People are more likely to share content that they deem authentic.

• Offer a range of content.

According to a BuzzSumo analysis of 100 million articles, the longer the article, the more likely it is to be shared. The problem is that most organizations don’t want to spend the time creating long-form content. So create material of different lengths — from snackable short videos to multi-page white papers — which allows customers to choose what’s right for them, based on their time constraints.

• Let the science do the talking.

For a marketing campaign our company created for a leading dental insurance firm, we identified several credible scientific studies that spoke to the powerful impact of sharing a smile with another person. We made this research the basis of a social media campaign that encouraged people to share their smiles with one another. As part of the campaign, we developed 30- and 60-second sponsored content spots, which aired on TV news websites and featured a leading dentist delivering oral health tips based on this scientific research. The click-thru for this type of content was three to six times higher than traditional banner ads.

• Seek outside experts.

If you want to build thought leadership for a person within your organization, but he or she is not well known, surround your expert with commentary and insight from specialists outside your organization. For a white paper, interview at least two other experts, whose insights and knowledge will complement the message being conveyed by your internal consultant.

• Employ consumer and B2B polling.

Hire a national polling firm to conduct research on a specific question or series of questions that may be of interest to your target audience. National consumer omnibus surveys can generate more than 2,000 responses (a minimum of 500 is essential for credibility) at a very affordable rate. For specific B2B audiences, contact one of the leading trade magazines within your industry and ask about conducting a reader survey about a specific issue or trend.

The bottom line is: If you want your content to stand out in a Google search, don’t focus on quantity. Instead, emphasize quality. Concentrate on making your content stand out for its originality, relevance, ease-of-access and accuracy. Rather than churning out content for the sake of filling up websites and social media pages, organizations that add depth and authenticity to their content will succeed in today’s dynamic shopping environment.

For more tips on how to make your content relevant, join Stephen Dupont, APR for "Creating Smarter Content for Bigger Results," a PRSA webinar, on July 14.

Stephen Dupont, APR

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (, a brand-marketing firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at Contact him at


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