Posted by willcritchlow
If you’re a big site competing to rank for popular head terms,
where’s the best place to focus your content strategy? According to
a hypothesis by the good folks at Distilled, the answer may lie in
perfectly satisfying searcher intent.
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Authority metric discussed in this episode will be updated on
March 5th, 2019 to better correlate with Google
algorithm changes. Learn about what’s
Hi, Whiteboard Friday fans. I’m Will Critchlow, one of the
founders at Distilled, and what I want to talk about today is
joining the dots between some theoretical work that some of my
colleagues have been doing and some of the client work that we’ve
been doing recently and the results that we’ve been seeing from
that in the wild and what I think it means for strategies for
different-sized sites going on from here.
Correlations and a hypothesis
The beginning of this I credit to one of my colleagues, Tom
Capper, THCapper on
Twitter, who presented at our Search Love London conference a
presentation entitled “The
Two-Tiered SERP,” and I’m going to describe what that means in
just a second. But what I’m going to do today is talk about what I
think that the two-tiered SERP means for content strategy going
forward and base that a little bit on some of what we’re seeing in
the wild with some of our client projects.
What Tom presented at Search Love London was he started by
looking at the fact that the correlation between domain authority
and rankings has decreased over time. So he pulled out some stats
from February 2017 and looked at those same stats 18 months later
and saw a significant drop in the correlation between domain
authority and rankings. This ties into a bunch of work that he’s
done and presented elsewhere around potentially less reliance on
links going forward and some other data that Google might be using,
some other metrics and ranking factors that they might be using in
their place, particularly branded metrics and so forth.
But Tom saw this drop and had a hypothesis that it wasn’t just
an across-the-board drop. This wasn’t just Google not using links
anymore or using links less. It was actually a more granular effect
than that. This is the two-tiered SERP or what we mean by the
two-tiered SERP. So a search engine result page, a SERP, you’ve got
some results at the top and some results further down the page.
What Tom found — he had this hypothesis that was born out in
the data — was that the correlation between domain authority and
rankings was much higher among the positions 6 through 10 than it
was among the top half of the search results page and that this can
be explained by essentially somewhat traditional ranking factors
lower down the page and in lower competition niches and that at the
top of the page, where there’s more usage data, greater search
volume and so forth in these top positions, that traditional
ranking factors played less of a part.
They maybe get you into the consideration set. There are no
domains ranking up here that are very, very weak. But once you’re
in the consideration set, there’s much less of a correlation
between these different positions. So it’s still true on average
that these positions 1 through 5 are probably more authoritative
than the sites that are appearing in lower positions. But within
this set there’s less predictive value.
The domain authority is less predictive of ranking within this
set than it is of ranking within this set. So this is the
two-tiered SERP, and this is consistent with a bunch of data that
we’ve seen across the place and in particular with the outcomes
that we’re seeing among content campaigns and content strategies
for different kinds of sites.
At Distilled, we get quite a lot of clients coming to us wanting
either a content strategy put together or in some cases coming to
us essentially with their content strategy and saying, “Can you
execute this? Can you help us execute this plan?” It’s very common
for that plan to be, “We want to create a bunch of big pieces of
content that get a ton of links, and we’re going to use that link
authority to make our site more authoritative and that is going to
result in our whole site doing better and ranking better.”
An anonymized case study
We’ve seen that that is performing differently in different
cases, and in particular it’s performing better on smaller sites
than it is on big sites. So this is a little anonymized case study.
This is a real example of a story that happened with one of our
consulting clients where we put in place a content strategy for
them that did include a plan to build the domain authority because
this was a site that came to us with a domain authority
significantly below that of their key competitors, also with all of
these sites not having a ton of domain authority.
This was working in a B2B space, relatively small domains. They
came to us with that, and we figured that actually growing the
authority was a key part of this content strategy and over the next
18 months put out a bunch of pieces that have done really well and
generated a ton of press coverage and traction and things. Over
that time, they’ve actually outstripped their key competitors in
the domain authority metrics, and crucially we saw that tie
directly to increases in traffic that went hand-in-hand with this
increase in domain authority.
But this contrasts to what we’ve seen with some much larger
sites in much more competitive verticals where they’re already
very, very high domain authority, maybe they’re already stronger
than some of their competitors and adding to that. So adding big
content pieces that get even more big authoritative links has not
moved the needle in the way that it might have done a few years
That’s totally consistent with this kind of setup, where if you
are currently trying to edge in the bottom or you’re competing for
less competitive search terms, then this kind of approach might
really work for you and it might, in fact, be necessary to get into
the consideration set for the more competitive end. But if you’re
operating on a much bigger site, you’ve already got the competitive
domain authority, you and your competitors are all very powerful
sites, then our kind of hypothesis is that you’re going to be
needing to look more towards the user experience, the conversion
rate, and intent research.
Are you satisfying searcher intent for competitive head terms?
What is somebody who performs this search actually looking to
do? Can you satisfy that intent? Can you make sure that they don’t
bounce back to the search results and click on a competitor? Can
you make sure that in fact they stay on your site, they get done
the thing they want to get done, and it all works out for them,
because we think that these kinds of things are going to be much
more powerful for moving up through the very top end of the most
competitive head terms.
So when we’re working on a content strategy or putting our
creative team to work on these kinds of things on bigger sites,
we’re more likely to be creating content directly designed to rank.
We might be creating content based off a ton of this research, and
we’re going to be incrementally improving those things to try and
say, “Have we actually satisfied the perfect intent for this super
competitive head term?”
What we’re seeing is that’s more likely to move the needle up at
this top end than growing the domain authority on a big site. So I
hope you found that interesting. I’m looking forward to a vigorous
discussion in the comments on this one. But thank you for joining
me for this week’s Whiteboard Friday. I’ve been Will Critchlow from
Distilled. Take care.
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