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:
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:
- How to tie a simple tie
- How to tie a tie double knot
- How to tie a school tie
- How to tie a business tie
- 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 is a senior reporter for The Drum, where she covers the digital and search marketing industries. She’s a graduate of Columbia’s Journalism School and has also written for CMO.com, ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal.