The Functional Content Masterplan – Own the Knowledge Graph Goldrush with this On-Page Plan
[Estimated read time: 17 minutes]
On-page content is certainly not one of the sexier topics in digital marketing.
Lost in the flashing lights of “cool digital marketing trends” and things to be seen talking about, it’s become the poor relative of many a hyped “game-changer.”
I’m here to argue that, in being distracted by the topics that may be more “cutting-edge,” we’re leaving our most valuable assets unloved and at the mercy of underperformance.
This post is designed not only to make it clear what good on-page content looks like, but also how you should go about prioritizing which pages to tackle first based on commercial opportunity, creating truly customer-focused on-page experiences.
What is “static” or “functional” content?
So how am I defining static/functional content, and why is it so important to nurture in 2016? The answer lies in the recent refocus on audience-centric marketing and Google’s development of the Knowledge Graph.
Whether you call your on-page content “functional,” “static,” or simply “on-page” content, they’re all flavors of the same thing: content that sits on key landing pages. These may be category pages or other key conversion pages. The text is designed to help Google understand the relevance of the page and/or help customers with their buying decisions.
Functional content has other uses as well, but today we’re focusing on its use as a customer-focused conversion enhancement and discovery tactic.
And while several years ago it would have been produced simply to aid a relatively immature Google to “find” and “understand,” the focus is now squarely back on creating valuable user experiences for your targeted audience.
Google’s ability to better understand and measure what “quality content” really looks like — alongside an overall increase in web usage and ease-of-use expectation among audiences — has made key page investment as critical to success on many levels.
We should now be looking to craft on-page content to improve conversion, search visibility, user experience, and relevance — and yes, even as a technique to steal Knowledge Graph real estate.
The question, however, is “how do I even begin to tackle that mountain?”
Auditing what you have
For those with large sites, the task of even beginning to understand where to start with your static content improvement program can be daunting. Even if you have a small site of a couple of hundred pages, the thought of writing content for all of them can be enough to put you off even starting.
As with any project, the key is gathering the data to inform your decision-making before simply “starting.” That’s where my latest process can help.
Introducing COAT: The Content Optimization and Auditing Tool
To help the process along, we’ve been using a tool internally for months — for the first time today, there’s now a version that anyone can use.
This link will take you to the new Content Optimisation and Auditing Tool (COAT), and below I’ll walk through exactly how we use it to understand the current site and prioritize areas for content improvement. I’ll also walk you through the manual step-by-step process, should you wish to take the scenic route.
The manual process
If you enjoy taking the long road — maybe you feel an extra sense of achievement in doing so — then let’s take a look at how to pull the data together to make data-informed decisions around your functional content.
As with any solid piece of analysis, we begin with an empty Excel doc and, in this case, a list of keywords you feel are relevant to and important for your business and site.
In this example, we’ll take a couple of keywords and our own site:
Content Marketing Agency
Running this process manually is labor-intensive (hence the need to automate it!) and to add dozens more keywords creates a lot of work for little extra knowledge gain, but by focusing on a couple you can see how to build the fuller picture.
We start by adding our keywords to our spreadsheet alongside a capture of the search volume for those terms and the actual URL ranking, as shown below (NOTE: all data is for google.co.uk).
Next we add in ranking position…
We then look to the page itself and give each of the key on-page elements a score based on our understanding of best practice. If you want to be really smart, you can score the most important factors out of 20 and those lesser points out of 10.
In building our COAT tool to enable this to be carried out at scale across sites with thousands of pages, we made a list of many of the key on-page factors we know to affect rank and indeed conversion. They include:
- URL optimization
- Title tag optimization and clickability
- Meta description optimization and clickability
- H1, H2, and H3 optimization and clickability (as individual scores)
- Occurences of keyword phrases within body copy
- Word count
- Keyword density
- Readability (as measured by the Flesch-Kincaid readability score)
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start your analysis. The example below shows an element of this scored:
Once you have calculated score for every key factor, your job is to then to turn this into an average, weighted score out of 100. In this case, you can see I’ve done this across the listed factors and have a final score for each keyword and URL:
Once you have score for a larger number of pages and keywords, it’s then possible to begin organizing your data in a way that helps prioritise action.
You can do this simply enough by using filters and organising the table by any number of combinations.
You may want to sort by highest search volume and then by those pages ranking between, say, 5th and 10th position.
Doing this enables you to focus on the pages that may yield the most potential traffic increase from Google, if that is indeed your aim.
Working this way makes it much easier to work in a way that delivers the largest positive net impact fastest.
Doing it at scale
Of course, if you have a large site with tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of pages, the manual option is almost impossible — which is why we scratched our heads and looked for a more effective option. The result was the creation of our Content Auditing and Optimisation Tool. Here’s how you can make use of it to paint a fuller picture of your entire site.
Here’s how it works
When it comes to using COAT, you follow a basic process:
- Head over to the tool.
- Enter your domain, or a sub-directory of the site if you’d like to focus on a particular section
- Add the keywords you want to analyze in a comma-separated list
- Click “Get Report,” making sure you’ve chosen the right country
Next comes the smart bit: by adding target keywords to the system before it crawls, it enables the algorithm to cross-reference all pages against those phrases and then score each combination against a list of critical attributes you’d expect the “perfect page” to have.
Let’s take an example:
You run a site that sells laptops. You enter a URL for a specific model, such as /apple-15in-macbook/, and a bunch of related keywords, such as “Apple 15-inch MacBook” and “Apple MacBook Pro.”
The system works out the best page for those terms and measures the existing content against a large number of known ranking signals and measures, covering everything from title tags and H1s to readability tests such as the Flesch-Kincaid system.
This outputs a spreadsheet that scores each URL or even categories of URLs (to allow you to see how well-optimized the site is generally for a specific area of business, such as Apple laptops), enabling you to sort the data, discover the pages most in need of improvement, and identify where content gaps may exist.
In a nutshell, it’ll provide:
- What the most relevant target page for each keyword is
- How well-optimized individual pages are for their target keywords
- Where content gaps exist within the site’s functional content
It also presents the top-level data in an actionable way. An example of the report landing page can be seen below (raw CSV downloads are also available — more on that in a moment).
You can see the overall page score and simple ways to improve it. This is for our “Digital PR” keyword:
As we’ve already covered in the manual process example, in addition to pulling the “content quality scores” for each URL, you can also take the data to the next level by adding in other data sources to the mix.
The standard CSV download includes data such as keyword, URL, and scores for the key elements (such as H1, meta, canonical use and static content quality).
This level of detail makes it possible to create a priority order for fixes based on lowest-scoring pages easily enough, but there are ways you can supercharge this process even more.
The first thing to do is run a simple rankings check using your favorite rank tracker for those keywords and add them into a new column in your CSV. It’ll look a little like this (I’ve added some basic styling for clarity):
I also try to group keywords by adding a third column using a handful of grouped terms. In this example, you can see I’m grouping car model keywords with brand terms manually.
Below, you’ll see how we can then group these terms together in an averaged cluster table to give us a better understanding of where the keyword volume might be from a car brand perspective. I’ve blurred the keyword grouping column here to protect existing client strategy data.
As you can see from the snapshot above, we now have a spreadsheet with keyword, keyword group, search volume, URL, rank, and the overall content score pulled in from the base Excel sheet we have worked through. From this, we can do some clever chart visualization to help us understand the data.
Visualizing the numbers
To really understand where the opportunity lies and to take this process past a simple…