The Science of Creating Useful Online Content:

4546017269_ddac803025_bDo you remember the website from back in the 90’s, Ask Jeeves—the one with the animated butler character (not the Grey Poupon mustard guy, to be clear)? Well, it’s just now—but let’s be realistic, like anyone cares. In retrospect, however, I think they might have been onto something: answering questions.

In fact, several years ago, Google noticed its users were frequently performing searches by way of typing questions, no doubt looking for answers. The point being that they were not necessarily running searches on strictly terms or phrases. In other words, you might not search only the words “Kitchen remodel.” You might search, instead, “How to remodel a kitchen” or “What is the cost of remodeling my kitchen?”

Google Wants to Answer the Questions its Users Search:

Ever since Google observed this tendency, they’ve been tweaking their product [Google Search] to cater to searchers’ questions. First, they released the Autocomplete feature, which, as you begin typing your search, displays popular searches it thinks may interest you. (Side note: this feature isn’t beneficial only for searches involving a question.)

So for instance, you might begin typing, “How do I buy…” and a list of popular searches, like “How do I buy a stock,” “How do I buy a house,” or “How do I buy bitcoin,” for instance, appears instantly. You think, “Hmm… What was I planning to search just now?” and then, with perfect timing, Autocomplete leaps into action and you’re like, “Oh yeah, thanks Google—that’s what I wanted.”

More recently, you may have noticed answers to many of the questions you type in the search bar appear directly within the results page inside a box that looks as if it’s raised off the page by a drop shadow. This box is called the Knowledge Graph, a technical term used to portray how information is linked together online, and the answer inside of it is called a Rich Answer.

I might search, for instance, “What is a fixed interest rate loan?” Then, after clicking “Search,” I might find the answer to my question in the Knowledge Graph, thus eliminating the need for me to click any links or connect to any other recommended websites.

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The “Clickability” of Your Web Content is in Question:

A recent study has revealed that Rich Answers are now being displayed in approximately one out of five Google searches. Wikipedia, to no surprise—given that they tend to be a go-to source for finding answers to assorted (and often random) questions (like, “Is a whale a mammal?”)—has experienced a substantial decline in its web traffic due to Rich Answers—down 21%. Evidently, web searchers do not feel inclined to click a link when they receive the answer to their question directly on the results page.

In fact, many content creators (e.g. bloggers) are reportedly troubled by this new feature as they expect it may cost their site clicks and visitors. In my mind, however, unless your site was one of the top-listed links of any particular web query, Rich Answers pose no greater threat to its visibility (or “clickability”) than does any other site that outranks yours in the search results. What I’m taking away from all of this is that your content (e.g. blogs, videos, infographics, etc.) should zero in on specific questions or topics.

Consumers are Searching for the Specifics:

Trying to be the official Rich Answer of any given web search (like “How do I buy a house?”) is, at the risk of sounding rather defeatist, like chasing the pot of gold on the far side of a rainbow. To this point, .INC recommends staying away from overused, common topics and to instead focus in on more complex, multifaceted issues. In other words, whether writing a blog post or producing a video, for instance, attempt to take on a subject that is specific—i.e., nothing too broad or overarching. Over time, as you amass a library of particularized blogs, videos, or other forms of online content, you’ll be well on your way to establishing genuine topic authority—which, as it turns out, increases the chances of your content being featured as an official Rich Answer.

The hard part, however—the part that matters most—is formulating the right questions. Einstein said it best:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.”


Where Are Your Customers Stranded:

My advice is that you think like Red Roof Inn. Not too far back, the company learned that flight cancellations were leaving roughly 90,000 passengers stranded per day. I might have heard this figure, thought little of it, and simply gone on with my day. Not Red Roof Inn.

The company devised a method to track flight delays in real-time and trigger targeted search ads for Red Roof Inn locations near affected airports. Most intriguingly, the ads were non-branded—meaning there was no mention of “Red Roof Inn.” The ads simply asked: “Stranded at the airport? Come stay with us!”

A passenger who is, indeed, stranded at the airport as a result of a flight cancellation may perform a Google search to find a nearby hotel for the evening. Then, upon conducting this search, the passenger reads, “Stranded at the Airport?” and thinks—“Why yes, I am stranded at the airport, come to think of it”—clicks the link, is connected to the booking page of a nearby Red Roof Inn, and then finally, reserves a room.

As a result of this campaign, Red Roof Inn garnered a hefty surge in bookings. It provided a solution to the consumer’s most pertinent question: “Stranded at the Airport?”

Devise a List of Market-Specific Questions and Start Answer Them:

Admittedly, it may be a bit of a technical challenge to pull off an endeavor so sophisticated as what Red Roof Inn was able to execute. Even so, I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. Just as Red Roof Inn targeted only affected airports, perhaps you might devise a list of the questions or subjects you believe might affect consumers exclusively in your market. Where are your consumers stranded?

So in practice, instead of crafting content to answer a big, broad question, such as “How do I buy a house,” for instance, perhaps try addressing a more market-specific question, like “How do I buy a house in the Sylvan Park neighborhood, Nashville, TN in 2016,” possibly.

When it comes to content creation, my motto is: The more specific, the more authentic; the more recent, the more relevant.

Photo by Mark Hunter

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Jason Pantana, Realtor, Speaker, NashvilleJason guides real estate professionals through current and emerging trends in consumer behavior, sales and marketing, and entrepreneurship. To invite Jason to speak or to schedule a consultation, visit: