Have you ever typed a question into Google and the ranking results were from a mass produced “how to” site? Even if you don’t know it…you have. Instructional, Q&A, and How-To sites have popped up in a variety of forms and many of them are having a great deal of success commercially and in the rankings simply by answering the specific questions people are asking.
If your business website is not seeking to do the same, then you are missing out on opportunities to get links and to offer better service. The more information you can provide a customer the more credible your business becomes. Try going to a Big Box store’s electronics department and asking the sales clerk the difference between 1080i and 1080p in an LCD TV.
Be prepared for copious stammering while they desperately seek an escape via a spill on isle 3. However, if you walk into an electronics specialty store and ask the same question you will probably get an intelligent answer which makes sense to you. Suddenly you have a lot more confidence in both your purchase and the place where you are purchasing it. The more information you can provide a customer, the more comfortable they will feel about doing business with you.
And that’s just real life, online, consumer confidence and corporate credibility are only two aspects of a much more important reason to fill your site chock full of useful information. That reason? Links of course!
The notion of using consumer questions to drive content development has a long history:
- Lisa Barone once talked about creating content to answer natural questions.
- Dazzlin Donna, mentions using question sites when she talks about intelligently crafting content
- And Debra Mastaler wrote a great piece about gleaning question inspiration from Ask.com.
I’d like to go even further with these ideas of using questions to build links. This method in particular is a very special brand of link building. The kind that takes forever and makes you want to hurt people, ya know, the good kind.
Step 1. Find out what kinds of questions your customers are asking.
This may be easier than you think. In fact, all of the information you want it is probably accessible on your lap top without ever having be a face to face with a single human being.
To start with an obvious source, the Wordtracker Keyword Questions tool is a god send in this department. The numbers associated with these questions may be a bit misleading though. For starters, the tool only goes back 140 days, so there will be drastic seasonal variances. For instance at the moment the top question for the word “how” is “How to cook a turkey.” It’s doubtful that will be the case in July. Trends and seasons are a good case for re-visiting this tool every few months.
If you treat the numbers as more of “popularity gauge” than a hard fast rule you’re in the right frame of mind. And numbers aside, the questions themselves can be really telling about your customers…and in some cases about the internet using world. Like the fact that the #1 question returned for the word “Where” is “Where do Jon and Kate Gosselin live”. Really people?
Aside from the keyword questions tool, there are others sites which have already done the work for you. In addition to Search Engines’ “Most Asked Questions” lists there are hundreds of sites which make a living answering peoples every day questions. As a link builder, you can capitalize on those efforts. Some great examples of sites that can work for this project are answers.com, ehow, wikihow, about.com, howstuffworks and instructables just to name a few. You may notice that Yahoo! Answers is conspicuously missing form this list, it’s GREAT for questions, but the individual pages don’t tend to have a lot of back links. Once you chose a site or sites to work with, run this search operator:
Site:quesiton-or-how-to-site.com “keyword relevant to your business”
This should give you a boat load of questions, and how-tos. With sites that offer more than just how-to’ instructions or have questions mixed into other information, try adding a ”who”, “what” “where” or “why” to the keyword to find entries which address questions. These results should represent honest questions that real people are asking which are related to your product or service. These are the topics that your consumers want to know more about, are you trying to be the authority on these topics? Well, why not?
Step 2. – Pick the best content
Now that you’ve got some great content ideas, yeah, you could re-create an article based on every question that you find, if you can afford to create 300 articles and promote them all. Sure. But it may not be in your best interest to write a detailed article about how to cook a turkey or how to stalk Jon and Kate Gosselin.
If you have limited resources, the best way to start is by looking at popularity. If a question is extremely popular you should probably address it somewhere on your site for the sake of providing good customer service. But just because a question is popular in Keyword Questions, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something that people are linking to. This is where looking at people’s existing linking patterns comes into play.
When you run the site command above, I highly recommend doing it with an SEO toolbar or plug in. SEO Quake is a good choice for this project because it automatically displays each page’s back links.
Using this kind of tool will save you a LOT of time. Looking for specific instructions or an answer which already has back links you can find a pre-existing audience of potential linkers which is far better than starting from scratch. But just for your own sanity, check the quality of those back links before creating the article.
Step 3 – Do it better and promote it
Once you’ve picked a few questions to answer in content, it’s not enough to simply regurgitate what’s already on another site or to whip off a cheap two sentence answer barely worthy of an FAQ page. It’s important to bring something new to the party. What makes you more reliable than any generic instructional site or Wiki-what-now?
You are (or should be) an expert in your space. That expertise gives you credibility. I’m much more inclined to believe a carpet store’s advice on how to get a grape juice stain out of my Berber than the insights of a pretty pony-tailed avatar. We all know club soda is magic on stains, but I’ll give you bonus points if you can tell me why.
- If you find a question that has real merit, but the answer page doesn’t have a lot of back links or even if it does, try searching that question without any operators. Find the most relevant, ranking answers and scour those back links for decent linking prospects to add to your list of contacts.
- If you can answer multiple, similar questions within one article go for it; it doubles the number of people you can contact for links.
- Find a method of organizing your articles and research. Keep track of the articles you are creating, the websites that are linking to an existing answer for the question or questions your article will address and the contact information for those people.
- Make sure to use the exact question you are answering or instructions you are giving as the page’s title tag. This can help you be found as a respectable answer to the question in the future.
- Don’t forget a call to action, as people come into your site through these new content pages; strive to keep them moving deeper into the site.
The Final Step
Now that you have found and answered a burning question take that information to the people who are already linking to a less impressive answer. You should have a limited number of contacts, so be sure not to waste any of them by sending out a generic email template, you’ve taken the time to research the topic, so take enough time researching the contact to at least know their name or make an insightful comment about their site. You also have brand new content that is worth promoting so continue to search for sub-par information on the subject and let people know that you’ve just done it better.
Where do you get your content inspiration from?
Jennifer Van Iderstyne is the Online Marketing Director for Search Slingshot, an internet marketing company based in Albany, NY specializing in SEO reports and consulting. Jen can be found on twitter at http://twitter.com/Vanetcetera