Content Expansion: From Prompt to Paragraph to Published Page – Whiteboard Friday
We’ve all been there. You’re the SEO on point for a project, and you’re also the one tasked with getting great content written well and quickly. And if you don’t have an expert at your disposal, great content can seem out of reach.
It doesn’t have to be. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Russ Jones arms you with the tools and processes to expand your content from prompt to paragraph to published piece.
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Hey, folks, great to be back here with you on Whiteboard Friday. Today we’re going to be talking about content expansion. It’s a term you probably haven’t heard before because I just made it up. So hopefully, it will be useful in the future for you. But I think you’ll get the gist of exactly what we’re trying to accomplish here.
How do SEOs produce great content when they’re not subject matter experts?
You see, search engine optimizers have this really bizarre responsibility. We are often asked by our clients to produce content about things we have no business writing about. As a search engine optimizer, we know exactly the kinds of things that make content good for Google, but that doesn’t mean we have any domain knowledge about whatever it is our customer does.
Maybe your customer is an artist of some sort or your customer runs a restaurant. You might not know anything about it, but you still might have a deadline to hit in order to get good content that talks in depth about some sort of topic which really isn’t in your wheelhouse. Today I’m going to talk about a couple of tricks that you can use in order to go from a prompt to a couple of paragraphs and then ultimately to a published page, to a good piece of content.
Caveat: If an expert can create the content, they should
Now I want to step back for a second and just make one thing clear. This is not the preferred way to produce content. If you can have an expert produce the content, by all means have the expert produce the content, and then you go to work optimizing that content to make it the best it possibly can be. That’s the way it ought to be done whenever possible.
But we know that’s not the case. The truth is that most small business owners don’t have the time to write lengthy articles about their services and their offerings and what makes them special and the kinds of things that their customers might need. They have a business to run. There’s nothing unethical about taking the time to actually try and write a good piece of content for that customer.
But if you’re going to do it, you really should try and create something that’s of value. Hopefully this is going to help you do exactly that. I call this content expansion because the whole purpose is to start from one small prompt and then to expand it a little and expand it a little and expand it even more until eventually you are at something that’s very thorough and useful and valuable for the customers who are reading that content.
Each one of the individual steps is just sort of like taking a breath and blowing it into a balloon to make it a little bigger. Each step is manageable as we expand that content.
1. Start with a prompt
First, we have to start with some sort of topic or prompt. In this example, I’ve decided just bike safety off the top of my head. I’m here in Seattle and there are bikes everywhere.
It’s completely different from North Carolina, where I’m from, where you’ve got to get in a car to go anywhere. But with the prompt bike safety, we now have to come up with what are we going to talk about with regard to bike safety. We pretty much know off the top of our heads that helmets matter and signaling and things of that sort.
Find the questions people are asking
But what are people actually asking? What’s the information they want to know? Well, there are a couple of ways we can get at that, and that’s by looking exactly for those questions that they’re searching. One would be to just type in “bike safety” into Google and look for PAAs or People Also Ask. That’s the SERP feature that you’ll see about halfway down the page, which often has a couple of questions and you can click on it and there will be a little featured snippet or paragraph of text that will help you answer it.
Another would be to use a tool like Moz Keyword Explorer, where you could put in “bike safety” and then just select from one of the drop-downs “are questions” and it would then just show you all the questions people are asking about bike safety. Once you do that, you’ll get back a handful of questions that people are asking about bike safety.
In this case, the three that came up from the PAA for just bike safety were:
- Is riding a bike safe?
- How can I improve safety?
- Why is bike safety important?
What this does is start to get us into a position where now we’re building out some sort of outline of the content that we’re going to be building.
Build the outline for your content
We’ve just expanded from a title that said bike safety to now an outline that has a couple of questions that we want to answer. Well, here’s the catch. Bike safety, sure, we’ve got some ideas off the top of our heads about what’s important for bike safety. But the real thing that we’re trying to get at here is authoritative or valuable content.
Well, Google is telling you what that is. When you press the button to show you what the answer is to the question, that’s Google telling you this is the best answer we could find on the internet for that question. What I would recommend you do is you take the time to just copy the answer to that PAA, to that question. Why is bike safety important?
You click the button and it would show you the answer. Then you would write down the citation as well. But if you think about it, this is exactly the way you would write papers in college. If you were writing a paper in college about bike safety, you would go into the library, identify books on safety studies, etc. Then you would go through and then you would probably have note cards pulled out.
You would find a particular page that has an important paragraph. You would write a paraphrase down, and then you would write the citation down. This is the exact same thing. I’m not telling you to copy content. That’s not what we’re going to be doing in the end. But at the same time, it is the way that we take that next step of expanding the content. What we’ve done here is we’ve now gone from a topic to a couple of questions.
Now for each of those questions, we’ve kind of got an idea of what the target answer is. But, of course, the featured snippet isn’t the whole answer. The featured snippet is just the most specific answer to the question, but not the thorough one. It doesn’t cover all the bases. So what are some of the things we can do to expand this even further?
2. Extract & explain entities
This is where I really like to take advantage of NLP technologies, natural language programming technologies that are going to allow us to be able to expand that content in a way that adds value to the user and in particular explains to the user concepts that both you, as the writer in this particular case, and they, as the reader, might not know.
My favorite is a site called dandelion.eu. It’s completely free for a certain amount of uses. But if you’re going to be producing a lot of content, I would highly recommend you sign up for their API services. What you’re going to do is extract and explain entities.
Imagine you’ve got this featured snippet here and it’s talking about bike safety. It answers the question, “Why is bike safety important?” It says that bicyclists who wear their helmets are 50% less likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries in a wreck or something of that sort. That’s the answer in the featured snippet that’s been given to you.
Well, perhaps you don’t know what a traumatic brain injury is, and perhaps your readers don’t know what that is and why it’s important to know that one thing protects you so much from the other.
Identify and expand upon terminology for your questions
That’s where entity extraction can be really important. What dandelion.eu is going to do is it’s going to identify that noun phrase. It’s going to identify the phrase “traumatic brain injury,” and then it’s going to give you a description of exactly what that is. Now you can expand that paragraph that you originally pulled from the featured snippet and add into it a citation about exactly what traumatic brain injury is.
This will happen for all the questions. You’ll find different terminology that your reader might not know and then be able to expand upon that terminology.
3. Create novel research
Now the one thing that I want to do here in this process is not just take advantage of content other people have written about, but try and do some novel research. As you know, Google Trends is probably my favorite place to do novel research, because if there is any topic in the world, somebody is searching about it and we can learn things about the way people search.
Use Google Trends
For example, in this Google Trends that I did, I can’t remember the exact products that I was looking up, but they were specific bike safety products, like, for example, bike lights, bike mirrors, bike video cameras or bike cameras, etc. In fact, I’m almost positive that the red one had to do with bicycle cameras because they were becoming cheaper and more easily accessible to bicyclists. They’ve become more popular over time. Well, that’s novel research.
Bring insights, graphs, and talking points from your novel research into your writing
When you’re writing this article here about bike safety, you can include in it far more than just what other people have said. You can say of the variety of ways of improving your bike safety, the use of a bike camera has increased dramatically over time.
4. Pull it all together
All right. So now that you’ve got some of this novel research, including even graphs that you can put into the content, we’ve got to pull this all together. We started with the prompt, and then we moved into some topics or questions to answer. Then we’ve answered those questions, and then we’ve expanded them by giving clarity and definitions to terms that people might not understand and we’ve also added some novel research.
Rewrite for relevancy
So what’s next? The next step is that we need to rewrite for relevancy. This is a really important part of the process. You see chances are, when you write about a topic that you are not familiar with, you will not use the correct language to describe what’s going on. I think a good example might be if you’re writing about golf, for example, and you don’t know what it means to accidentally hit a golf ball that goes to the right or to the left.
Find relevant words and phrases with nTopic
Which one is a hook and a slice? Now, those of you who play golf I’m sure know right off the top of your head. But you wouldn’t know to use that kind of terminology if you weren’t actually a golfer. Well, if you use a tool like nTopic — it’s at nTopic.org — and you write your content and place it in there and then give bike safety as the keyword you want to optimize for, it will tell you all of the relevant words and phrases you ought to be using in the content.
In doing so, you’ll be able to expand your content even further, not just with further language and definitions that you know, but with the actual language that experts are using right now whenever they’re talking about bike safety or whatever topic it is.
Examine (and improve) your writing quality with the Hemingway app
The next thing that I would say is that you really should pull things back and take a chance to look at the quality of the writing that you’re producing.
This whole time we’ve been talking mostly about making sure the content is in-depth and thorough and covers a lot of issues and areas and uses the right language. But we haven’t spent any time at all talking about is this actually written well. There’s a fantastic free app out there called Hemingway app.
If you haven’t heard of it, this is going to make your day. [Editor’s note: It made mine!] Every writer in the world should be using a tool like this. You just drop your content in there, and it’s going to give you all sorts of recommendations, from correcting grammar to using different words, shortening sentences, passive and active voice, making sure that you have the right verb tenses, etc. It’s just incredibly useful for writing quality content.
Two important things to remember:
Now there are two things at the end that matter, and one is really, really important in my opinion and that is to cite.
1. Cite your sources — even if they’re competitors!
You see, when you’ve done all of this work, you need to let the world know that this work, one, isn’t only created by you but, two, is backed up by research and information provided by other professionals.
There is no shame whatsoever in citing even competitors who have produced good content that has helped you produce the content that you are now putting up. So cite. Put citations directly in. Look, Wikipedia ranks for everything, and every second sentence is cited and links off to another website. It’s insane.
But Google doesn’t really care about the citation in the sense that somebody else has written about this. What you’re really interested in is showing the users that you did your homework.
2. Take pride in what you’ve accomplished!
Then finally, once you’re all done, you can publish this great piece of content that is thorough and exceptional and uniquely valuable, written well in the language and words that it should use, cited properly, and be proud of the content that you’ve produced at the end of the day, even though you weren’t an expert in the first place.
Hopefully, some of these techniques will help you out in the long run. I look forward to seeing you in the comments and maybe we’ll have some questions that I can give you some other ideas. Thanks again.