How to capitalize on ‘how to’ searches

Google recent­ly revealed its most pop­u­lar “how to” search­es, under­scor­ing one impor­tant way con­sumers use the search engine to find what they need – and where brands have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to not only find them, but pro­vide val­ue. And these oppor­tu­ni­ties are only...

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 3 comments

Google recent­ly revealed its most pop­u­lar “how to” search­es, under­scor­ing one impor­tant way con­sumers use the search engine to find what they need – and where brands have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to not only find them, but pro­vide val­ue.

And these oppor­tu­ni­ties are only expand­ing. Case in point: Jon­ny Demp­ster, direc­tor at dig­i­tal con­sul­tan­cy Rushh Dig­i­tal, point­ed to Google data, which shows 15% of the tril­lions of queries it process­es have nev­er been searched for before, which indi­cates users are typ­ing ques­tions as they think – and the search uni­verse is expand­ing.
What’s more, Sam War­ren, man­ag­er of mar­ket­ing and part­ner­ships at SEO ser­vice Rank­Pay, said these search­es not only get brands in front of new audi­ences, but, with good con­tent, the answers can gen­er­ate imme­di­ate trust.

But oth­er than cre­at­ing con­tent that answers ques­tions rel­e­vant to your brand, how can mar­keters cap­i­tal­ize on all of these search­es?

Here are sev­en ways:

1. Research

Bradley Shaw of SEO Expert Brad Inc. said to start with key­word research on which “how to” search­es cus­tomers are using to find your brand already.

First, check Google Search Con­sole and select queries [and] then search ‘how to,’” Shaw said. “This will pro­vide a start­ing point. Next, brain­storm ‘how to’ search­es you think cus­tomers would search for to find your web­site. We also use a few key­word research tools, then throw all of this infor­ma­tion into a spread­sheet, along with search vol­ume data and key­word dif­fi­cul­ty.”

Sim­i­lar­ly, Demp­ster sug­gest­ed look­ing at sug­gest­ed search­es for the key cat­e­gories of your web­site.

For exam­ple, if your busi­ness sells wine online, search for ‘how to buy wine’ and see [first] what Google sug­gests,” he said. “Once bro­ken out by cat­e­go­ry, you can start to cre­ate con­tent themes. Run this through Key­word Plan­ner to get an overview on how many users a month are search­ing for this.”

Or, Shaw said, search “How to…” your­self and see what’s in the top list­ings.

Why are they rank­ing, how are they for­mat­ted? Are they using bul­let points? Is the con­tent 600 words?” Shaw asked. “If so, improve the con­tent.”

In addi­tion, Caleb Ulku, prin­ci­pal at SEO firm Ulku Logis­tics, said to esti­mate com­pet­i­tive­ness of the search by look­ing to see if a wik­i­How page has already ranked for your “how to” search.

Typ­i­cal­ly, if a wik­i­How page is ranked well, it’s a sign that the search has rel­a­tive­ly low com­pet­i­tive­ness and we can set about get­ting the fea­tured snip­pet,” Ulku added.

2. Get in the Knowledge Graph

Accord­ing to Max Robin­son, SEO exec­u­tive at A Hume Coun­try Cloth­ing, Google attempts to answer most “how to” queries by extract­ing answers from web­sites and dis­play­ing this with­in the Knowl­edge Graph.

Bau­man not­ed this is par­tic­u­lar­ly true for instruc­tion-ori­ent­ed queries.

And Anna Lebe­de­va, head of media rela­tions at SEO tool SEM­rush, said this so-called posi­tion zero can bring quite a lot of traf­fic to a web­site. That’s because users not only don’t have to click on a result, but the con­tent can leapfrog all of the oth­er results.

Since the pur­pose of fea­tured snip­pets is to answer ques­tions, explic­it ques­tions like ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘how,’ ‘where’ and ‘why’ search queries will obvi­ous­ly often have fea­tured snip­pets,” Lebe­de­va said. “Also, for one thing, get­ting a fea­tured snip­pet may be less about the link met­rics and more about the actu­al con­tent on your page. So if you are out­gunned in terms of back­links, then fea­tured snip­pets could be just the thing for the busi­ness.”

3. Make lists, summaries and combinations

One way to increase the odds of land­ing a fea­tured snip­pet is to include a con­cise sum­ma­ry, War­ren said.

In addi­tion, Demp­ster sug­gest­ed com­bin­ing five to ten “how to” ques­tions in one large piece of con­tent – this is the rich con­tent that search engines love and will pull through fea­tured snip­pets and give greater vis­i­bil­i­ty.

Anoth­er way is to dis­play your “how to” con­tent in a list, Robin­son said.

Zack Rebo­let­ti, SEO con­sul­tant at SEO firm Web-Focused, agreed, rec­om­mend­ing you use an ordered list HTML markup.

War­ren agreed bul­lets are key to land­ing the fea­ture.

Rebo­let­ti, how­ev­er, not­ed con­tent is only eli­gi­ble for a fea­tured snip­pet if your web­page already ranks on page one of the organ­ic results for the search query.

4. Answer the question on multiple platforms

And, like with your own assets, you want to diver­si­fy – at least in terms of the plat­forms where your con­tent appears.

James Arm­strong, mar­ket­ing man­ag­er for KVH Media Group, said this so-called plat­form plu­ral­i­ty helps cap­ture search traf­fic for broad­er “how to” search­es, as well as with­in nich­es with high-rank­ing com­peti­tors.

For exam­ple, imag­ine you’re a small ecom­merce paper retail­er, Pete’s Paper Sup­plies, aim­ing to cap­ture traf­fic from ‘how to make a paper plane?’-type search­es. But you’re com­pet­ing with Paper Corp PLC – a mas­sive multi­na­tion­al paper con­glom­er­ate who’re out­rank­ing your blog post about how to make papers planes, because their web­site is much old­er, much big­ger and has a link-pro­file you can’t hope to match,” Arm­strong said. “All the tra­di­tion­al SEO and con­tent mar­ket­ing the­o­ry still applies; make your post as rel­e­vant, and as high-qual­i­ty and as tech­ni­cal­ly per­fect as it can be… and then cheat by using oth­er plat­forms to spread your con­tent.”

That includes Q&A plat­forms like Quo­ra and Red­dit, as well as YouTube, rel­e­vant social media com­mu­ni­ties and even influ­encers, he added.

Cre­ate par­al­lel con­tent for them all, pro­mot­ing and ref­er­enc­ing your con­tent. Paper Corp’s web­site might still out­rank your blog post… but you now have con­tent all across the SERP for ‘how to make a paper plane’ – and your brand’s con­tent will be claim­ing a greater per­cent­age of that traf­fic (even if it is on third par­ty websites/platforms), which is exact­ly the type of brand aware­ness boost that you want for top-of-the-fun­nel traf­fic com­ing from ‘how to’ search­es,” Arm­strong said.

Stan Tan, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing man­ag­er at event brand­ing firm Selby’s, agreed cre­at­ing one piece of con­tent won’t cut it in part because there are mil­lions of pieces of con­tent com­pet­ing for search terms. The query “how to tie a tie,” for exam­ple, has 26.9 mil­lion results.

Per Tan, the way to stand out is by cre­at­ing mul­ti­ple pieces of con­tent relat­ed to a giv­en query, such as:
1. How to tie a sim­ple tie
2. How to tie a tie dou­ble knot
3. How to tie a school tie
4. How to tie a busi­ness tie
5. How to tie a Wind­sor tie

All this helps with your website’s author­i­ty and helps you rank bet­ter not only for the key­word ‘how to tie a tie’ but the oth­er relat­ed key­words as well,” Tan added.

5. Pay special attention to YouTube

David Erick­son, vice pres­i­dent of online mar­ket­ing at PR firm Kar­wos­ki & Courage, point­ed out “how to” search­es are a huge cat­e­go­ry for YouTube because con­sumers pre­fer demon­stra­tion videos to writ­ten instruc­tions when they want to learn how to do some­thing.

I’ve come across stud­ies that indi­cate peo­ple are more like­ly to retain knowl­edge after watch­ing some­one do some­thing than sim­ply read­ing about how to do some­thing,” Erick­son said. “I’m a gui­tarist. Back in the day, if I want­ed to learn a song, I had to lis­ten to it over and over and over again to try and fig­ure out how to play it. Now, I just go to YouTube and search ‘How To Play One by U2’ and there are a hand­ful of demon­stra­tion videos show­ing me how to play it. It’s awe­some.”

Jason Bau­man, senior SEO asso­ciate at dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency Trin­i­ty Insight, agreed the intent behind a “how to” ques­tion is gen­er­al­ly do-it-your­self.

6. Use content to highlight your expertise

For his part, Ryan Scol­lon, team leader at a UK dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency, point­ed out an oppor­tu­ni­ty in this atti­tude to win new cus­tomers as many “how to” search­es are made by peo­ple who are not will­ing to fork out the mon­ey for a pro­fes­sion­al to do some­thing.

I know of a few busi­ness­es who are scared to do ‘how to’ posts on a ser­vice that they offer because they are scared that peo­ple will just do it them­selves instead of hir­ing them to do it,” Scol­lon said. “The real ben­e­fit of a ‘how to’ post is you get the chance to show the read­ers how com­pli­cat­ed a job can be and [it] real­ly makes them real­ize the val­ue of your ser­vice. They could find your post and think, ‘For­get doing all of that, I’m not skilled enough to be doing this,’ and will final­ly decide to hire a pro­fes­sion­al. And where bet­ter else to look for the pro­fes­sion­al when they are already on your web­site.”

Scol­lon said this holds true in the SEO indus­try.

Many peo­ple try to do SEO them­selves, but once they start read­ing these ‘how to’ guides, they soon real­ize how much expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge is required to get the job done prop­er­ly,” he said. “They are usu­al­ly impressed with the amount of detail our ‘how to’ guides go in to, mak­ing us their first point of call when they decid­ed to choose a pro­fes­sion­al to get the job done.

7. Tap into paid search

In addi­tion to cre­at­ing con­tent that answers “how to” ques­tions uncov­ered by key­word research, Natasha Kvit­ka, dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing strate­gist at gift deliv­ery ser­vice Gift Bas­kets Over­seas, said to use the same insights in paid search by cre­at­ing ad groups with mes­sag­ing that address­es these ques­tions and sends a poten­tial cus­tomer to a land­ing page that will answer the ques­tion in more detail.

For exam­ple, we used the sim­i­lar strat­e­gy for ‘how to send [prod­uct] to [coun­try]’ search­es,” she said. “But the bet­ter results were achieved with send­ing a client not to the blog post or ‘how to’ page of the web­site, but to [an] inter­me­di­ate page.”

That page includ­ed three options: to pur­chase, to learn more and to chat.

With those options, we tried to move the ‘how to’ searcher to the pur­chase with less trac­tion and actu­al­ly received trans­ac­tions from ‘how to’ key­words that usu­al­ly are from cus­tomers in [the] ear­ly con­sid­er­a­tion stage of their pur­chase jour­ney,” she added.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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