Originally published Hackmamba
Why do we invest so much effort in competitive analysis before creating content? Why are keywords, their usage within competing articles, frequency, and word counts such crucial aspects of our content strategy? And why do countless organizations allocate substantial resources to SEO tools?
The answer lies in the very fabric of the content industry—competition. Our reward for toiling over a 2000-word article is the prospect of it being seen by readers. This recognition primarily hinges on securing that coveted top spot on the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). Indeed, achieving top ranking on SERP within your niche can result in a click-through rate of 39.8%.
However, amid numerous brands vying for supremacy on Google’s search rankings, SERPs have morphed into a sea of homogeneous content. Each article reiterates the same arguments, offers identical solutions, and adopts an indistinguishable stance—all in a relentless pursuit of targeting keywords and scaling the ranking ladder, as illustrated below.
This model exhibits inherent flaws. The SERP landscape is diluted, the user experience plummets and consumers are unsatisfied and even frustrated. As dissatisfaction grows, more users turn to AI to address their queries, diminishing search volumes, web clicks, traffic, conversions, and sales. The stakes are high for content creators, consumers, and businesses alike. However, our collective fortunes could change by reducing competition and embracing a more collaborative approach to content creation, especially in the face of AI threats.
What is collaborative content?
To dismiss any confusion, collaborative content in this context is not about co-writing articles with others or pooling resources to create content as a group. Instead, collaborative content involves building upon the work of others, not trying to outdo them.
Drawing from my research background, academic researchers investigate a topic methodically, review prior scholarly publications, identify areas of research that have not yet been covered, and then focus their research on filling these gaps. This process creates a continuous stream of knowledge, like puzzle pieces coming together.
Similarly, collaborative content aims to fill gaps in existing articles, not replace them. It offers fresh insights from original research rather than rehashing what’s already out there. The goal is to provide more value while complementing existing content.
Why collaboration matters
Content optimization tools, relying on commodity data and term frequency technologies, have long been integral to SEO and content strategy. However, their effectiveness diminishes when confronted with the question: “How can I create original content while ensuring it aligns with the user’s intent for the chosen topic?”
When your goal is to produce content that imparts fresh knowledge, shapes your brand’s identity, and establishes your genuine expertise, you may find the traditional SEO methodology falling short, along with its attendant drawbacks:
- Crowded Search Results: Too many similar articles make it hard for users to find what they want in search engine results.
- Poor User Experience: Users get bombarded with repetitive content, leading to a less-than-ideal experience.
This competitive model, once effective, now has limitations. Collaborative content, however, offers a promising alternative. By shifting from competition to collaboration, content creators and businesses can collectively tackle the challenges posed by AI while fostering a more enriching and cooperative content environment.
Practical steps to writing more collaborative content
Creating content that promotes collaboration requires a shift in mindset. Instead of viewing your content as a stand-alone entity, it should be considered part of a collaborative ecosystem. Your goal should be to enhance the information ecosystem rather than just outdoing your competitors.
I find Ryan Law of Ahrefs’ recommendations highly effective, and I apply them when creating content prompts and outlines for our clients at Hackmamba (see the screenshot below). You, too, can benefit from these suggestions, including the practical examples I embed in each recommendation. Sample article prompt:
Sample article outline:
Enhance existing knowledge through your content
Think of your content as a tool contributing to a collective effort. As opposed to trying to outshine other articles, aim to complement them. Consider that your readers may have already come across similar posts. How can you provide them with additional value?
Offer a logical “next step” that builds upon the existing content
For example, if you’re writing about a programming language, your collaborative content might focus on advanced usage or practical application after readers have learned the basics from another article.
Probe deeper into critical concepts mentioned in other articles
If a competitor discusses the importance of cybersecurity, take it further by exploring specific cybersecurity best practices, tools, or recent threats in your content.
Create a more comprehensive version of what’s already available
If a popular post provides an overview of a new software development framework, go for a complete guide with step-by-step tutorials, troubleshooting tips, and real-world use cases.
Innovate with unique perspectives and approaches
Embracing innovation and distinctive viewpoints can set your content apart. Contrary to merely emulating top-ranking content, dare to be different. Here are some examples:
- Address unmet needs: Identify gaps in the existing technical documentation or tutorials. If no comprehensive guide exists for integrating a specific API with a popular programming language, create one that covers the process in detail.
- Fill information gaps: If a widely referenced article lacks up-to-date information on the latest software version or framework, produce content that offers the missing updates and insights.
- Challenge misconceptions: If there’s a prevailing but inaccurate belief within the tech community, such as a common programming myth or security misconception, create content that debunks it with factual evidence.
Empower your content with original research
Conducting your research can be a powerful way to offer fresh insights and establish authority. While it may sound challenging, here are some practical ways to incorporate original research into your content:
- Share your experiences and perspectives: If you’re writing about a software development project, share your firsthand experiences, challenges, and lessons learned. (NB: Google added a second ‘E’ (Experience) to the previous ‘E-A-T’ (Expertise, Authority, and Trust) quality rater guidelines for this reason. See here).
- Leverage surveys and user feedback: Conduct surveys among your technical community or users to gather data and opinions on emerging trends, software preferences, or everyday challenges.
- Seek expert insights: Interview subject matter experts in the software engineering field and include their quotes and recommendations in your content.
For instance, if you’re writing about adopting a new programming language, you could survey software engineers to gather data on their experiences, preferences, and success stories. Incorporating these findings into your content enriches it and establishes your content as a valuable resource within the technical community.
By following these practical examples, you’ll create collaborative content that resonates with your technical audience, fosters knowledge sharing, and reinforces your position as a trusted source in your niche.
How Google rewards collaborative content
Most people forget that Google is a business that takes user experience seriously. Those who make Google’s users happy get a boost, while others fall behind with every algorithmic update. It’s as straightforward as that! In fact, Google’s topmost philosophy is all about user experience. Here’s a snippet of it: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”
This principle means Google is committed to providing the best user experience possible, especially regarding search. Among Google’s many updates, one stands out for those creating collaborative content: Google’s Information Gain patent of 2018, accepted and published in 2020. The late Bill Slawski presented an expert analysis of information gain scores. If you’re curious, you can read the official patent here. But for now, Bill’s analysis gives us what we need to understand this ranking principle.
The patent deals with a big challenge Google faces when ranking pages on various topics. Many documents on the same topic have similar information. Google wants to determine how to rank these documents based on how much they add to the overall understanding of a topic. This makes sense because it leads to better search results.
Information gain scores are here to level the playing field. Instead of fierce competition, the SERPs will become more collaborative. It marks a departure from the old dog-eat-dog mindset and ushers in a cooperative era where content creators unite to enhance knowledge and the user experience. So, if you’re a content creator bringing fresh ideas to your topics, Google is likelier to send more traffic through search engines. People will also keep coming back to read your unique perspective. That’s a win-win.
As MarketMuse puts it, “There’s something even better than landing on the first page of search results for a topic you care about. It’s creating content that makes people say, ‘These folks really know their stuff.’ It’s content that makes former colleagues and friends ask, ‘Who’s behind your content?'”*
Competition has long driven content creation, but it’s time for a change. The race for the top spot on search results often leads to similar, repetitive content. Consumers deserve better. Collaborative content, which builds on existing work, is the answer. It enriches knowledge and pleases users and search engines, like Google’s Information Gain score.
This shift towards collaboration is the way forward. It helps content creators and enhances our digital world by promoting fresh ideas, innovation, and a more enjoyable online experience for all. At Hackmamba, we always go above and beyond to help our clients and, by extension, their customers meet their content needs. Join us, and let’s create something exceptional together!