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What is Content Depth?

6 min read

Content depth is measured by expert coverage of a broad range of subjects around a given focus topic. This includes content items and domains as a whole.

Content depth has been a major rankings factor since at least 2010 when Google’s MayDay update started penalizing articles for being too thin. However, it’s starting to play a more significant role in rankings effectiveness.

Article length alone is not enough for ‘depth’ to occur. Successful depth requires including a host of subjects that are carefully selected. These must be selected in terms of relevance and user interest, lending far higher relevance efficiency (aka more rankings juice per word).

As Google continues to update its algorithm, keywords are being abandoned in favor of content depth approaches. Let’s take a short look at why this is happening and how to transition to a ‘content depth’ approach. It’s a game-changer in the competitive rankings landscape.

Leaving Keywords Behind

Content planners often formulate article creation around several in-demand keywords. However, this approach fails today, because it doesn’t take into account the broadness of topical scope rewarded by Google’s algorithm.

The use of only several keywords is also often far too narrow to serve a more specific user content match.

‘Thin’ content leads to poor domain authority. It disconnects content from the user experience, and thus from the richly clustered website content architecture that many users (and Google’s algorithm) tend to reward.

This content also leads to lower click-through rates. This is particularly true when keyword prioritization overshadows article quality and user intent.

When was the last time you read an article and were satisfied because it met your desired keyword count? Most likely, never. To a reader, the inclusion of keyword is seldom useful, aside from being an indicator of initial interest.

The Value of Deep Content

In-depth content is designed to meet a reader’s needs with expert knowledge on a variety of related subjects around a focus topic. This is precisely why Google has made updates to its algorithm to reward genuine efforts at providing a depth of knowledge, and why it started punishing editorial attempts at optimization made more or less disingenuously (i.e. with disregard for the reader interests).

Note that there is nothing wrong with optimizing content from a technical standpoint. We’re talking about factors like site structure, speed, and crawling visibility. These are legitimate and useful ‘edges.’ However, there’s no point in spending resources to optimize content that lacks enough meat and bones to hold a reader’s interest. That said, it is important to minimize harmful optimization footprints because this can cause penalties.

Most content planners working today understand that a healthy cadence of quality content is the key factor in bringing organic traffic to a website, and thus one of the primary sources of revenue growth from sales and marketing perspective. This requires meeting many content imperatives and keeping your content knowledge up to date.

However, planners face a challenge in getting a quick, reliable depth of knowledge upon which to base their content formulation, i.e., something a writer can execute on without first needing to do tons of inefficient manual research (which often requires unavailable in-house SEO knowledge as well as deep subject matter expertise).

Mistakes Made in Long-Form Content

‘10x content’ and ‘skyscraper content’ are popular approaches to challenges of breadth and depth in strategies geared towards publishing long-form content, but these typically burn editorial resources, have mediocre rankings results, and fail to give a good experience to the reader.

It simply takes too long to read through the top articles on a subject and to combine them all into one giant article. It also makes for unwieldy content items. Writers will find themselves throwing in all the subjects that may seem relevant without verification as to their search ranking value.

Qualitative content analysis is just not enough.

So, how can you execute successfully from a content depth perspective without doing tons of manual research?

Authoritative Content Knowledge via MarketMuse

Let’s take a look at MarketMuse , a SaaS solution which, among many other features, surfaces data points around a given focus topic to assist with article creation.

Writers are utilizing this platform as a reference point to increase topical relevance around a subject, as it provides real-time feedback on the depth of their content as they make changes to an article’s draft.

Key data points include competitive landscape, content score, word count, and a ‘related subjects,’ the last of which helps writers boost an article’s content score by revealing what relevant subjects are currently missing from the article and need to be added for optimal SERP results.

This helps increase the breadth and depth of an article, adding opportunities for users to find a suitable content match within your article or domain.

Article Depth vs. Article Length

Although longer articles tend to have higher content scores, they often show poor content depth efficiency and therefore can rank worse than shorter pieces.

For instance, below are two articles with the same word count, but with very different rankings success. This search was done using the topic “Content Planning Tips,” something we figured you’d take an interest in.

Article 1:

Article 2:

Despite having exactly the same word-count, these two articles have very different content scores. Their position in the SERPs is also dramatically different.

The in-depth analysis performed by MarketMuse AI software helps content planners bridge this gap.

Content Depth Process

The MarketMuse Suite is used by writers to see where their content is lacking based on AI modeled data drawn from tens of thousands of relevant websites.

A quick update to an article based on this feedback warrants far better rankings results. It also helps writers work much faster because it eliminates most of the time that would otherwise be needed to do manual research.

A ‘content depth’ approach works for newly generated content as well as content that needs to be refreshed and optimized, dramatically increasing the outcomes of efforts around creating authority around one or more desired subject areas.

Take for example the post you’re reading right now.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Optimize for the topic 'what is content dpeth'.

When this post was originally published in May 2018, its Content Score was significantly better than the competition with a word count that was more than adequate. During the intervening time, the competition has heated up, placing greater emphasis on creating comprehensive content that addresses this topic. As a result, the present-day target Content Score and word count are both much higher.

The Impact of Article Depth on Rankings

Long-form content ranks better. That phrase has become a mantra among content marketers. However, many content strategists are discovering it’s not the length that counts; it’s content depth.

Web analytics and SEO expert Jeff Baker conducted an in-depth analysis of how MarketMuse boosted their rankings solely through optimizing content depth.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

John is a Content Strategist at MarketMuse providing strategic deliverables to enterprise clients using AI and machine learning technology to increase organic traffic.  You can follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.