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The SEO Magic Of Questions and Answers

Martin W. Smith February 12, 2013

Why Q&A Content Rocks SEO on Atlantic BT Blog graphic

Why Q&A Content Rocks Content Marketing

After joining Atlantic BT I was asked to evaluate client websites in 5 different business verticals. These verticals varied from Business Intelligence software to high end government research. A single theme kept coming up in my research – the power of Questions and Answer content. Q&A content was consistently over subscribed (high search counts) and under published (low competition). Why? Who knows, but conjecture says we often overlook the most basic things. Turns out those “basic things” when formed as Q&A content can be worth millions. This post is about how any small to medium sized business can mine the rich vein of golden Q&A content.

Evaluate websites by asking a series of cascading and linked questions such as:

Homepage PageRank (Use PageRank Checker)
Highest PageRank of Category Pages (use PageRank Checker)
# Links In (use Alexa)
PageSpread (#pages in Google, use site:www.URL.com and site:URL.com use higher number)
# of Twitter Followers (go to their Twitter page)
# Facebook Likes (go to their Facebook page)
Top 3 Competitors (who they think and then online)
* Same data as above for top 3 competitors.

Note: This post limits tool suggestions to free tools. We also use Raven Tools and SEOmoz but they aren’t free.

Know these metrics and you can know a website’s past and predict its future. One of the most difficult things to understand is how these metrics are tied to each other.

  • PageRank is a signal of SEO strength or weakness.
  • PageRank is tied to inbound links since Google places primary SEO value in links.
  • High PageRank, low # of links in means the links in are highly valuable (probably .edu).
  • High PageSpread (pages in Google) and LOW PageRank predicts low links in too.
  • etc.

Look at Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like these often enough and long enough and patterns form. Patterns form maps for where to dive for more detail.

Next Stop: Keywords

Who is your competition? Competition in the world is not necessarily the same as competition online. Use Google’s free Adwords Keyword tool to review and understand keyword demand. This is not the post to explain Google’s keyword tool, but a quick note.

There are three kinds of searches: broad, phrase and exact. Think of these as BIG, MEDIUM and SMALL result set generators. At this stage we are creating a model of keyword demand. Use broad match terms because actual values don’t matter as much as the relationships or patterns in the data.

Everything online is a model. In a model the veracity of numbers is not as important as being consistent with treatment. You aren’t searching for a mathematical truth as much as modeled patterns, actionable patterns.

You need to know three things about keywords:

  • Search demand over some time (monthly is what is normally used).
  • Estimated cost of buying the term (we aren’t buying but cost is an important data point).
  • Competitiveness of the term (sites with the term in anchors or title).

Construct a spreadsheet and then create a simple calculation of “efficiency”. Efficiency divides competitive supply by keyword search demand to identify over subscribed and under published terms, the nirvana of all keyword research. Sort the sheet by the efficiency and you’ve created a “long tail” list of keywords.

American Meltdown Durham Food TruckQ&A Content: The American Meltdown Food Truck Test

In virtually every vertical we’ve studied the most commonly over subscribed and under published content is Questions and Answers. I’ve been fascinated by food trucks since reading a feature about how popular food trucks were becoming in LA.

Today’s content strategy test is to quickly determine Q&A content to help American Meltdown.

The American Meltdown Food Truck looks delicious. The team is hard working. Let’s pretend the American Meltdown gourmet food truck and team are our clients.

American Meltdown KPIs

Homepage PR: 4
Menu Page PR: 3
Photos Page PR: 2
PageSpread: 272
Links In: 33

* Seeing these metrics American Meltdown had to be good in social since a PR4 with only 33 inbound links means support has to come from social or they wouldn’t have a PR4.

Facebook Likes: 851
Twitter Follows: 2,021

** Social strength is indeed why American Meltdown earns a PR4 with only 33 inbound links.

American Meltdown Food Truck Keywords

There are probably 3 to 7 keyword “silos” for American Meltdown. It can take a day or two to fully explore a keyword silo such as “food truck”. Today’s research is condensed into a few hours to provide a general idea of how to explore keywords.
American Meltdown Keyword Research on Food Trucks on Atlantic BT Blog grpahic

Legend: Keyword phrase, competitive ratio from Google higher is more competitive, Global Monthly Search demand for the keyword, Local Monthly Search Demand for the keyword, CPC or Cost Per Click when advertising on the keyword, Docs = documents returned a good competitive indicator with lower being less competitive and so better, Effic = Efficiency or demand divide by supply (documents) with higher being more “efficient” or more likely to generate positive Return On Investment (ROI). ..

Q&A Content Wins Again

FoodTruck spelled with no space is our standout winner with high search demand and a small number of pages focusing on the term generating the highest “efficiency”. Efficiency means the chance of creating a positive return on investment (ROI) for work done on a keyword. It may seem strange to say “small” when there are a quarter of a million pages, but most search terms have millions of returns.

Answer Hub on Atlantic BT blog logo and link Another solid content phrase is, “What is a food truck”. If we use a tool such as the AnswerHub to create Q&A content to answer these questions there is a very good chance our content will rank well. There is something about forming a Question combined with an Answer that Google loves.

The best way to use a tool such as AnswerHub.com is seed some starter Q&A content, provide social capital for customers to create User Generated Content (UGC) and gamify the environment so it is easy to find loyal supporters.

American Meltdown needs a content strategy that can work while they are on the truck. This is another advantage of UGC generated Q&A content. Setting up an AnswerHub mini-site is easy and cheap compared to the SEO returns.

There are other Q&A tools from Bazaar Voice and OSQA, but I like AnswerHub’s gamification, ease of use and easy installation. AnswerHub.com is located in Cary and they have a supportive, creative and smart team.

Every website should have a store and every website, including our friends at American Meltdown, should have a dedicated Q&A environment powered by UGC and an occasional post from the team. I should have included AnswerHub in our 5 Magical Do More With Less Curation Tools, a post that went “mega-viral” with an audience past 1M thanks to power retweeters.

Q&A content can be worth millions in traffic and conversions for B2B and B2C websites. The keyword research above is only a beginning. If American Meltdown was our customer I would spend several days before finding the 5 keywords like “FoodTruck” that could be magical.

How would I use “FoodTruck”? Write content such as:

  • 5 Differences between Food Trucks and FoodTrucks
  • The FoodTruck Manifesto.
  • Why FoodTrucks are way cooler than Food Trucks.
  • Why American Meltdown is a FoodTruck not a Food Truck.
  • FoodTruck Swag (the t-shirts etc. to support American Meltdown’s brand building).
  • Etc.

If we wanted to create a castle around the keyword “FoodTruck” we might buy 2 to 7 URLs such as FoodTruckSwag, FoodTruckManifesto and FoodTruckGifts. These URLs are available and could prove immensely supportive to American Meltdown’s content strategy.

I would also be sure to create pages for Durham Food Truck Rodeo, What is a Food Truck and Food Truck Locations. American Meltdown has a calendar, but it is hard to engage with and understand. Since knowing where they are = money, I would rework the locations and calendar page substantially.

Since it seems like they have a regular circuit I would create pages for each place in the circuit. On these pages I would have a link to the “tracker”, pictures, some copy about what they like about that location and a Twitter roll. Twitter rolls, if positioned in the code correctly, can keep a webpage “alive” to Google. Some of this content I would put in the Q&A area, some I would include in the “stack” of American Meltdown pages.

Might want to take a quick look at Advanced SEO: Bleeding, Siloing and Bottling for more on how to form content silos for maximum impact.

Don’t Forget SEO Basics

Buying URLs with keywords is advanced Internet marketing. Before you go there, check SEO basics such as:

  • Is your page title keyword dense?
  • Do you have unique page titles?
  • Is your body copy aligned with the listings you want?
  • Are your images using alt text with keywords?
  • Can visitors easily share your content via Facebook, Twitter and G+?

American Meltdown needs some SEO tuning. These days I tune AFTER working out a storytelling and User Generated Content (UGC) strategy. Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm changes made constantly improving site heuristics the most important metrics.

“Constantly improving” heuristics imply:

  • Storytelling to promote page views.
  • Photos and videos to promote time on site.
  • Contests and games to promote user engagement.

Overwhelmed yet? Remember the power of Q&A content and you’ve found the secret RPG of content marketing.

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