Home / Articles  / The Write Stuff: How to Reverse-Engineer Your Content Strategy


Content marketing has become such a cliché topic that even articles declaring it cliché are old hat. Many companies have bloggers publishing on a daily basis – I’m sure there’s a light-switch manufacturer out there with a very compelling listicle about dimmer switches. Google has been forthright about the importance of having quality content on your site, and that’s why so many businesses feel obliged to go beyond the simple product listing page.

Along with this opportunity comes the danger of creating content that no one (including the search engines) is interested in consuming. A search for “dimmer switches” doesn’t return any listicles on the first page of results. Google hasn’t seen users dive into editorial content for this query, and so product landing pages are getting the attention. Take the hint.


When content marketing is aimed at improving organic rankings, its intent must match the search engine’s identified intent for the keyword in question.

For example, if you’re selling a book about Charles Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic crossing, “flights to Paris” would be a poor keyword choice. That query is obviously going to deliver airfare listings. Don’t shoot arrows into the dark and hope someone finds them, or even worse – you hit a potential customer and lose the sale.

To this end, marketers can perform a bit of due diligence to reverse-engineer a content strategy that focuses on the right themes and formats to earn organic traffic.

To show how it can be done, let’s imagine a telescope shop. Right now the retailer’s website is mostly product pages with minimal editorial content. The owner would like to get some traffic on queries about telescopes, but doesn’t know where to start. He needs a content strategy.

If we perform the broadest possible search using the keyword “telescope”, we get a SERP dominated by major manufacturers. Five of the links go to transactional pages, while three lead to educational and/or informative pieces. Just like our example with dimmer switches, Google has determined that “telescope” is a query with strong purchase intent. The search engine is favoring product pages over editorial content. The SERP is also leaning heavily towards major manufacturers, and that’s bad news for our humble shop.

Dive inside Your Customer’s Head

Our hypothetical retailer is not out of luck – he just needs to find more fertile ground to plant his content. Here we borrow a bit from long-tail keyword targeting. An experienced hobbyist will be familiar with the lingo, and may search for “refracting telescope” to hone-in on the instrument he/she wants. The Google SERP for this query looks much different:


Users are presented with both an explanatory box of scraped Wikipedia text, as well as images. The first three organic links are informational. Only four of the nine results are for merchant sites, and they’re down-page. In this case, Google has clearly decided that those searching for “refracting telescope” are looking for some level of detailed information. Though merchant listings rank lower in this instance, that doesn’t mean traffic is limited to high school students doing research. Rather, consumers conducting these kinds of specific searches may be further along in the customer decision journey, comparing and contrasting their options.

What does this have to do with content marketing? A savvy telescope retailer will recognize that his pages on refracting telescopes cannot simply consist of dozens of product listings – the site will struggle to compete with the informational content currently occupying the SERP. A listicle on “10 Telescopes That Look Like Steve Buscemi” probably won’t do the trick, either.

Instead, content that provides a decent rundown of how a refracting telescope works, a bit of history, and the pros and cons versus other types of instruments could add enough editorial heft to satisfy the threshold Google has set for this keyword.

That listicle about Steve Buscemi might be successful on Facebook or Twitter, where you’ll pop-up in people’s feeds. It’s attention-grabbing and entertaining. However, Google will probably be confused by the association of two disparate entities.

So I Don’t Need a Blog?

You still need a blog, or somewhere to host your content offerings. Remember, we’re just talking about getting content to show up in organic rankings. Galleries, videos, and quizzes may excel on other platforms.

I’d Like Another Example, Please

Sure. A search for “how to change windshield wipers” reveals a SERP with a Quick Answer Box ahead of two YouTube videos. The familiar blue links are below that. The obvious takeaway for a content marketer is that this query deserves a video. If you don’t have budget for that, a nice list will do just fine. That simple format, paired with the authority of the site, earned Allstate the Quick Answer Box. In fact, all the other organic links go to some form of list, sometimes in gallery form. This content needs structure, which makes sense for a “how-to” query.


The internet is full of content that no one is reading. That’s fine if you’re sharing poetry on your personal blog. However, if someone is paying you to create a piece intended to improve their brand visibility in the SERPs, the least you can do is make sure the ship is headed in the right direction. With any luck, you’ll hit on both topics and templates that connect with your prospects and earn the attention you need to compete.


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Gregory Sidor is the Content Lead for Earned Media at The Search Agency. Prior to his arrival in 2014, Gregory worked as a content producer at the L.A. Daily News, Myspace and The Walt Disney Company. He has a passion for smart websites that deliver on their meta descriptions. He also enjoys stand-up comedy, astronomy and exploring Southern California’s beautiful landscape.

1 Comment
  • David Hughes
    David Hughes

    As they say, content is King! Saw a report about Disney this morning talking about how they are the ultimate in content creators and know almost better than anyone how to leverage content across their assets.

    March 13, 2015 at 12:58 pm Reply
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