With the exception of a statistician (soz guys) no one likes a boring data story. So, as content providers, if we can deliver content with colour, diversity and verve then we most definitely should.
Well, duh.

Is the “Population of London” a Boring Topic?

The internet of today is awash with content that covers topics in styles and flavours of mammoth proportions, a simple Google query for the phrase “Population of London” as an example, reveals that there are over 8.5 million pages that mention the term (almost as many as the people who live there). Of these pages, some are bland, many are out of date or stuck in time, non dynamic, and tied to dates of old.

Not every domain runs off a CMS, not every web page is dynamically constructed or templated to account for change, so it’s understandable that returning a truly up to date, “best” result is always a challenge as at some point, the ranking factors that determine the SERP’s (search engine results pages) will miss some new perspective that is simply not yet recognised in its scoring system.

Granted, on the face of it, with this particular example, it’s perhaps not the most riveting of topics, especially to someone living elsewhere or with no interest in the topic of London.

However, replace the the word with a place that is relevant to you however, and it might become that little more appealing to you.

Google itself, determines that most people are only really interested in the top level number, evident by its attempt to give people what they want by way of a featured snippet.

For many different places, they output these snippets in the hope that it will satisfy a reader who’s either answering a question in a social setting with friends, or researching a number for some other kind of use; an article, a thesis, a research document, a blog post, news item etc.

They’ve determined (for business purposes) that people don’t really need, or want to go to some other website for the answer that Google itself (through years of content scraping) can supply. Google does of course straddle the line between answer engine and search engine and it does so because the search results and diversity thereof are important to its advertising business model.

So, if a new domain wants to rank for a term like “Population of London” then it really has its work cut out. Moreover, it’s reasonable to ask why would, or why should a new page or domain that isn’t an officially recognised source be returned for such a query, when many other existing pages already serve the purpose?

Let’s take a little look at this, and see where we go with it.

Search Engines Are Often The Gatekeepers Of The Web

It’s very easy to rank websites in Bing as their algorithm lacks sophistication and is pretty basic.

That said, it’s also very easy to get excluded from around 20% of the internet (Bing provides results for Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and other engines too) as Bing is great at deciding that it’s the final arbiter on what stays and what goes in its index and actively removes entire domains, that in its view, fail to meet its content guidelines.

The debate around the short sightedness of such an approach is a topic for another day, but at some level, for some content types, it determines that if a new domain or page deals with a topic that’s already covered, then a group of anonymous people (they blame their algorithm (written by humans) and use “quality raters” to rate new content ) will decide that your finely crafted content, doesn’t deserve to be there, even if it exceeds or surpasses the efforts of other domains in a similar space.

Google OTOH, has a different set of barriers to entry, in that it’s difficult for new domains to hit the ground running because their algorithms are more finely tuned to look for other signals that they’ve determined are indicative of quality.

Content can be great, or new, but unless it’s also hitting a bunch of other metrics, it won’t rank that quickly.

One could argue that Google is just as bad as Bing in some respects as if you aren’t on page one, then you are virtually invisible anyway, but that isn’t entirely fair or true as with Google at least, you aren’t dismissed without recourse, you have an opportunity to build equity and value over time and eventually, rank for the terms that are important to what you do, and if you are banned for some perceived guideline infraction, they’ll at least work with you to work it out.

With Bing, you simply don’t have that opportunity and your requests for help in solving your issues are simply ignored, your competitors will flourish and you’ll wither on the vine like some desiccated haemorrhoid.

So Who Should Rank For The Topic?

Whilst an obvious answer might well be “the best content dummy”, the reality is that best is a subjective term, and different people will be satisfied by different things, one man’s meat is another man’s poison so to speak.

Additionally, most top level queries have an array of subsets and people will be drawn to deeper questions and no singular page can answer every question around a theme or topic. Topics have many related terms, and the “Population of London” is no exception. Google will often show a mix of variants around a query displaying a list of ‘People also ask’ questions, encouraging people to explore further, because people are interested in the deeper questions, and will frequently query in more specific ways, especially if unsatisfied by their previous efforts.

Just Answer The Question Rob

I’m trying guv, honest. Ok, so the website also asked is a great example of how this plays out, giving expanded graphs and nodes detailing how people ask other related questions that dig beneath the surface.

It’s natural therefore, that content providers will seek to use data points that surround the questions asked, to get creative and explore these deeper topics, to build out their content experiences, often programmatically and those that do the job the best should ultimately rank for the term.

What’s That You Say? Programmatically? What The Hell Is That? Automated Content!?

Calm down dude, not all automated content is spam. Google is automated content, as is Bing, as is Amazon, as is virtually every e-commerce store template out there.

Programmatic templates when constructed well, produce web pages with useful data points, often supplemented with graphs, charts, tools, products and answers that enable people to deliver a wide variety of solutions, providing people with a creative answer to the questions they have to what are often soulless datasets.

Specific niche examples of data driven examples in action on the web today like Indeed.com and many other domains in the job space, use data from government websites and weave that data into their content to tell their users stories about the topics important to them and their business.

This is the reality across many different verticals, and helps create a healthy ecosphere of competition and diversity, so long of course, as new players have a realistic opportunity to compete and grow.

The wider point here is that you can create compelling stories with data, the however part is, that data alone is not enough. You have to go above and beyond and create genuinely useful content. You need to be able to truly deliver and ensure that all the other marketing numbers are hit too. Citations, socials etc, else your domain will likely sit in a quite corner gathering dust.

If it’s too easy; if you’re just spitting out boring old crap, then don’t be surprised if you never win or get replaced. Go above and beyond and be useful and (with the exception of Bing) and you’ll possibly do ok.

Grrrrr Bing, naughty words!!

Published by Rob Watts

I've worked in search for over 25 years with businesses of all shapes and sizes.