Episode 76: Content with more crunch with Elodie Partridge

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In this episode, you will hear a SearchNorwich recording of Elodie Patridge giving her talk "Content with more crunch". Elodie explores how Google's changing focus away from keywords and towards entities should affect your SEO strategy.

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MC: Welcome to episode 76 of the Search with Candour podcast, recorded on Sunday the 30th of August 2020. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and today, I'm going to bring you something a little bit different. After I had my chat last week with Areej AbuAli about Women in Tech SEO, I had a little bit of sadness reviewing the SearchNorwich archives. So SearchNorwich was our was our bi-monthly local SEO meetup in Norwich, we haven't run it since January, February time was the last meet up due to Covid and I've shared a few of the talks on there and I noticed there are a couple that I haven't shared with you yet, and that's what I'd like to do today.

I found a brilliant talk by an SEO named Elodie Partridge, who did a talk called ‘Content with more crunch’ and it was one of the first talks that we did at Search Norwich, and what amazed me when I was listening to it today is just how well it's aged because it really was looking ahead at how Google's moving away from this keyword based, and more to an entity based graph type understanding of content. So Elodie gives some really solid advice about how you can build that into your SEO strategy.

But before we get going with that, I’d just like to say again, thank you to Sitebulb who are the sponsors of this episode. So Sitebulb is a desktop base crawler for Windows and Mac systems, that can produce some of the finest SEO audits you will see, and on Twitter this week - I follow a chap called Martin Mcdonald, a quite well known SEO and actually I just want to read you a tweet that he wrote about Sitebulb on August the 28th where he said, ‘In case anyone was wondering, the best desktop crawler in 2020 is Sitebulb, without a doubt. It's comically good, particularly compared to services that cost tens or hundreds of times more. Not a paid endorsement, I just love it.’

So this obviously is a paid endorsement, but I also do love it and I thought it would be cool to read out a non-paid endorsement as well. Martin makes a really good point as well about services that cost tens or literally hundreds of times more and that's normally the cloud-based systems that cost so much more. One of the cool features of Sitebulb is you can schedule crawling, which means you can have a dedicated machine or you can use your current machine, out of hours. So it can really use your computer to it's full and that's one of the other issues that you sometimes have with desktop-based crawlers, is they can be a bit memory hungry. So Sitebulb has this feature which allows it to really compete on things, otherwise you would be paying tens or hundreds of times more. Sitebulb, as hopefully you know, has a great deal for Search with Candour listeners; you can get a 60-day trial of Sitebulb, you don't have to give them your credit card or sign any weird contracts to do this. You can go straight to - so for Search with Canadour. and download that trial from that URL.

Without further ado, what you're here for, here is Elodie Partridge, talking about content with more crunch.

EP: So might be a bit of a shock but Google doesn't actually want you to do keyword research, and what I mean by this is it's really granular level, single keyword research per page and it's not very scalable. So this means if your content strategy is based around single keywords, it might be time for you to move on a little bit. What's the evidence of this? So, way back in 2016 Google cut the amount of data that you could see in Google Keyword Planner, if you do PPC, and then later that year as well, the data was further restricted and no longer showed surge volume for close variants of keywords. So keywords are quite similar to other keywords, they grouped it all together, and thinking behind that as well is how search has evolved and also something called intent behind a user's search query. So that's what we're going to look at, and thirdly as well I'm going to take you on a quick tour around how the Google algorithm has evolved a little bit and how we've led to this.

So how should you structure your content now, given that? It may sound like a sugary breakfast cereal targeted to copywriters, but it's actually quite good for the health of your website. The answer is with content clusters - so this is where the crunch comes from in terms of cereal, I like to think like that but you might have also heard of similar concepts like hubs, contents grouping, different things together, categorisation, modeling - we're going to look at specifically this today, but let's take a little look at what led us to this.

So here's the rise of natural language in search, so Google's goal has always been to understand users and deliver the right answers, quickly. That's so that they can deliver the best experience to the people who use their system and they can overall, in time, predict what users actually want, which obviously helps their profits as a company.

Back in 2011, you probably remember Siri kind of came out, so that sort of voice search, very early beginnings. In 2012, as well they released a feature on their search results page, which is the knowledge graph which I'll quickly cover next, but that was quite interesting as a feature. 2011 to 2013, we started moving away from the behaviour where we search with fragmented keywords, and using natural conversational search, like we might be using when we talk in conversation with other people, so real people.

Yeah, so two major developments that followed that and that's in 2013, you've got Hummingbird, which is something really big that we're going to cover as well and then shortly after that RankBrain followed which is the AI implementation of machine learning which you might see now.

So quickly, the knowledge graph was a great indication that Google's moving away from that fragmented search. They launched this at the time saying, calling it things not strings, which means basically don't think of search in terms of disparate concepts that don't connect together, but start thinking of it as real things, real people - so that kind of, to me, suggests that the more data we can feed into the Google machine, the richer results are going to be and the better we're going to understand users etc. and predict over time. So you might see the knowledge graph in practice, while you see it all the time, if you look at a search engine results page, you've got a little knowledge panel. So you might search for your favourite band or something, and then you'll find lots of different data points that they've all collected together, and that is the knowledge graph essentially. So it's describing Google as a knowledge engine.

Then Hummingbird came across and this was a major change, what you'd say like a core, a complete change to the algorithm basically, and it's all around natural language and semantics. So yeah, this is what you can kind of see now with the advent of voice assistance and voice-operated technology; this is all based on Hummingbird. This update was essentially around understanding context behind a user's search, and we'll look in a little while at what I mean by context. Quickly, RankBrain, so that was in 2015 and this has two jobs as well and it's to just understand search queries better and also measure user satisfaction from search results, but it's machine learning, so over time it gets better and better and better. It also gets better at delivering more accurate queries and more accurate answers to user search as well. So essentially, context plus content equals better search rankings.

This is just a takeaway from all of this, the most important thing, these updates in search have resulted in how you guys can create content to respond to it, and we have to look at a user's context. I've summarised it here, this could be things like where they're located, what device they're using, what their preferences are, also their search history- if you think of logged in, logged out as well - you're giving loads of data, you've got the time of day. This is stripped back a little bit, but if you think of yourself as a user, you might actually change a lot of these things based on your mood as well, so that's context, how you're feeling as well. Similar searches by others users as well, search is collating all of that information together, and it gives context. So the major one is the user's intent, so what is it your user is actually searching for, what do they want when they search.

So how can you see this for yourself? Do a little testing search. If you search for, first console by sony, you'll find that it understands what you're looking for and you want to see PlayStation. You didn't actually write PlayStation, but it's the understanding of the context of what you're looking for, and that's awareness of entities. So what shows awareness of location and intent? Search for pizza, you will get really localised results and Google will understand that you're probably looking for a restaurant or a takeaway and you want to eat it, so they're the results that you'll get and you might get a lovely local panel there. An awareness of intent search, for any heart of a spell word, and you might get a dictionary result, a definition, so it knows what you want with that as well and over time with the RankBrain algorithm, it's refining those answers as well. So if it found it didn't give you the right answer, it will keep trying with more and more data and more and more experiments, and Google will be doing experiments all the time to their search results. So if you see something change one day from the next, they're just testing things out and seeing what sticks.

Looking at your websites, your apps, your content, what is your site about? So, with an understanding of context behind a user's search, Google's then looking to match up your query with trustworthy content; so content that is of quality and it's going to deliver the right experience to users and satisfy their intent or their question. But traditionally, content marketers might have just all produced blogs without a clear structure and over time this gets really messy, and you might end up with loads of similar posts, targeting the same sort of keyword, cannibalising each other and the overall structure looks a bit like this. There's no clear hierarchy, users will find it hard to navigate and so will robots - so you might not see great rankings for the content that you've lovingly produced. So what should we do?

On the other hand, content clusters look a bit more like this, so you target your content around a central pillar page, which is a really detailed piece of content which related topics then connect to, and if this is in depth as well and the structure of the website supports this, it is going to be much easier for the RankBrain algorithm and users to understand the hierarchy of your content, what's important on your site to you, and you'll be rewarded in results as well.

Trust is a really big factor here and Google is only really interested in delivering the best answer to questions because that's going to satisfy users again, and so just ask yourself whether the content on your site, the pieces of content, are useful resources for your audiences and also, have a look at your links and your profile as well because you need other people or other places on the net to vouch for you as and your content. So we'll look at that as well, in terms of what you should do next.

So what sort of steps are we looking at to integrate content classes as part of your content strategy? well we recommend, especially if you produce content already, restructuring it and having a look at those relationships between different pages on your site. what you need to do is identify the key topics that you want to cover, and create those pillar pages those really in-depth pages about that topic, and you'll find that that actually helps you rank for a load of keywords and has actually made your keyword research job a lot easier and it's quite a natural way of doing it because you've planned it around your users as well. so the more detailed, the more time you really invest in getting this right, you'll just reap the rewards essentially, and then you can build related content around that into your cluster format and model it so that you can rank well in such.

So in practice, how can you do that? You can do it with digital tools, however you like really or even try a card sorting exercise. You might have seen lots of site maps and trees and things like this, you could visualise it as those be the pillars and decide where things fit, or you could do in spreadsheet format or again just whatever tools that would suit you. But what we'd say is think about the topics, and think about relations, and think about connections as you do this.

So, here's some tools to help you - SemRush is a great all-in-one marketer's tool, it's got loads of handy tool kits, it's quite cheap - there's also free trial options I believe and there are other link tools as well that feed into quite beefy tools like SemRush. You might have your Majestic, ahrefs, and there's lots of crawler tools as well for you to be able to audit your current content and see what it actually looks like, maybe to a robot and there's a free version of ScreamingFrog as well up to like 500 URLs. Obviously, there's lots of analytics software for you to be able to identify if you already have good pillar content on your site. If you have got really well ranking pieces as well and you know which pieces, then you might want to adapt, repurpose etc and not lose. So we also use content production software to scale this at Selesti as well, and that can be really handy if you're working in a team environment and you want to collaborate, and you don't accidentally produce the same pillar page at the same time or something. It's all important to stay focused to your niche because that's really going to help in search as well - if you're staying on topic and you're really good at that topic, you're the authority on that, it's going to rank and you're going to see the results you're looking for and a more positive return on investment as well, which is what we all want.

So, the key thing here is, again like Google and search engines bang on about, is the focus to your users, to real people because they are ultimately the ones consuming your content and you want them to perform an action from your content. So think about their need to, think about who they are, so write for your audience and then think about the context that they might be in as well as your writing, so you can tailor the content even more. There's even some tools to help you do this as well - we've got Answer The Public because it's just this lovely visualisation and it's really quick and easy; you can just enter in a keyword and it will just show your visualisation of all the related keywords to it and you can play around with that - that's Answer The Public. You've obviously got Google Trends and the free tools by Google, there's many that you can just play around with, but we all have our preferences so just give them a go - there are free versions of most things, I'd probably recommend starting with Answer The Public, just to see what's out there for your topics and maybe the kind of topics that you're not actually going for, but that could be quite related for you as well, so new opportunities.

Then, how do you focus that to the right audience? Well you'd also look at your analytics, you might want to think about creating personas. So these are fictional profiles and you can use analytics here, we've got an example of using the affinity category and you can look at demographic data, you can look at sort of the topics they're interested in. Google's released other features, they do all the time - like in market audiences, look at the commercial interests as well and then build hypothetical profiles about your target customers which will help you produce the content later on, but in a more scalable fashion because it's aggregated data and you can be quite confident that your content is going to stick with your audiences.

So with your audience in mind, you've got to ask yourself, are you the best person to write this content? If not, how can you be? So if you don't think you are the best in a certain niche, maybe it's not the right topic to go for right now, but it might be one that you can add later in the pipeline and you can think about creating the steps to become the best in your niche as well. Part of using these tools and doing the sort of auditing of your existing content, you might end up unearthing lots of interesting insights from who your competitors are and whose ranking in your place.

So when it comes to extracting the value from your content, I'm talking here about return on investment and also being able to analyse the content that you've produced and restructured and also, how you can continually build on it and improve your content because search never stops. As we've seen from the little evolution, that's not going to stop, that's going to continue and with voice as well, there's lots of fun ways you can do this creatively. There's a bunch of features you could probably try. Analytics has things like content groups, so you can make it easy for yourself to analyse a set of pages together which might be sitting under your pillar and you've got custom channels that you create, but also your customers are your most valuable source of information. So just ask them if they like it, and do feedback campaigns, every piece of content - and when I say content, I mean that broadly - they could be a video, it could be anything - but your customers will give you the truest picture.

Make it part of your business plan, so the great thing about doing content clusters and sitting in the SEO as well, from my point of view, is optimising content and using structure. It's amazing how doing that integrally from the very beginning can have amazing results later. So don't think of SEO as an afterthought, think about optimising your content and bringing it in with everything else that you're doing and believe me, it's worth it. This is how it works essentially, if it was a perfect linear model - so this is how customers or potential customers, might turn from strangers to advocates of your brands, if you're mapping out that process, if you're producing the right content, if you're answering their questions in the right way because of all the effort that you put in previously. Get this right, and you'll have brand advocates for life.

You can also report on all of this as well and I'm sure in our various businesses, you'd want to report back about ROI and how successful this strategy is, and you can still track keywords, keywords still have value, but we recommend to group them by topic. So you're structuring your content by topic, you might as well measure by topic as well and this is also another way of making that a little bit more scalable. It means you can also measure visibility by that; so visibility here, we mean how many queries your site shows up for and how relevant it is as well. So you might see that graph just going up and up and up, if you're following a strong content strategy. Do the same thing as we've seen with content groups. Make use of the features available to you, Google Analytics is completely free, which is great and you can do it at every level.

I've kind of sped through there, but to summarise what you need to do is just identify the topics that you want to be visible for and remember, if you've already produced content, you might already have this. Restructure that content around those central pillar pages. Research and write genuinely useful content and usefulness, you can look at the same metrics that search engines will be using as well to try and determine that, so on-site behaviours, actual feedback from your customers, that continued improvement process with your content production, all of that. Then obviously, building your reputation and credibility within these topics would mean, like there, you want to promote your content as well, so you want to get it out then you'll get your message heard, so think about links as part of this and Google have become very good at understanding how content relates, without the need for links, so that's why structure is so important because you are essentially helping Google rank your site because you're doing them a favour, you're making it easy to navigate and they can see the value from your content like that.

So again, just measure the results by a topic and make it part of your business plan because the ROI comes from doing that and having a holistic approach to this because there's so many different factors and so many different signals in search, map it out a little bit and you'll get the results that you're looking for. Thank you for listening to me.

MC: That was Elodie Partridge, I hope you enjoyed that talk and got something from it. We will be back in one week's time which will be Monday the 7th of September. I hope you'll tune in then, and if you are enjoying the podcast, maybe take a moment to leave us a review or subscribe, really appreciate it and I hope you all have a wonderful week.

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