In-Depth Articles: Worth Watching, Not Chasing

Google’s knowledge graph is expanding.  There are more search queries than ever that result in a quick answer provided directly by Google in the form of cards (see below).  Things like definitions, bios, important dates and others are being served quickly at the top of the results.

A google knowledge graph card

Although this is useful for quick answers, there are still searches out there that require more.  How many searches you ask?

According to the Daily Information Needs Study, Google discovered that about 10% of total searches require more than a “simple answer”.  This finding led to the installment of In-depth articles, a new element added to Google’s SERPs.

What Do We Know About In-depth Articles

Google has been pretty clandestine about their future plans for in-depth articles but thanks to some systematic poking around, Dr. Peter J. Meyers and Denis Pinsky have put together some interesting findings about these new data sets.

I’ve created an infographic (click the image below) to highlight most of the statistics the duo found, but the main things to point out are:

  • Major publications like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are dominating the in-depth article content but Google hints at any publication being able to compete.
  • Short-tail search terms most often yield in-depth article results so a crucial strategy may be incorporating head terms into your long-tail strategy.
  • Most in-depth articles served were published in the last 5 years.

In-Depth Articles Statistics (Infographic)

Data taken from Dr. Peter J. Meyers and Denis Pinsky in Forbes article found here.

Click the image for the full graphic.

Preview of the in-depth articles infographic

Embed this infographic on your site.

Google Encourages In-depth Article Markup

It’s interesting to note that from what little testing I did myself, it seems like if a source appears in the “In-depth articles” section it won’t rank higher than that block.  I don’t think this is very significant.  It probably just goes back to Google trying to thwart multiple organic results for the same domain.

In an effort to maintain some of its transparency Google actually addresses how webmasters can optimize for In-depth articles.  As you probably expected it involves some markup.

If you don’t know what is I suggest you read up on it and visit their site.  Basically, it’s universally accepted code for rich-snippets in the SERPs.  It’s how people display those fancy review stars, movie show times and other fancy data.

Read more about what Google is looking for here but basically they want markup for the headline, publication date and images along with canonicalization of the full article and rel=prev and rel=next for pagination.

Now of course just because you add the preferred code doesn’t mean you’ll start showing up for in-depth results, but it does add a few more doors into your site for Google to knock on.  According to Pinsky and Dr. Pete’s data, it looks like the authority of the publication still plays a significant role in how the articles are chosen.

Evergreen Content is More Important Than Ever

This could all just be Google experimenting with data or it could be a glimpse into the future of content marketing.  What do in-depth articles mean for SEOs and copywriters?

There two types of articles you can write.  One is based on a hot topic that will get a lot of search volume now and the other is evergreen content, something that will be relevant for months, or even years, to come.

When you’re blogging for your business or your e-commerce site what are you doing it for?  Chances are one of your goals is more traffic (as it should be).  Each one of your blog posts creates a funnel into your site that grabs users from all over the search universe and pulls them into your “storefront”.

Think of each piece of content as an investment, a long-term investment.  If you sell handbags online you could write an article about the difference between types of textiles, fabrics or leathers that are used in making bags.  This will always be relevant to people (unless everything in the future is made out of some kind of mandatory, uniform eco-friendly silly-puddy-like substance – let’s hope not).

Your evergreen articles are generally going to target short-tail keywords because they need to address broader topics.  An article called “What Is Content Marketing” is an evergreen article because it is always something people will want to know, or more importantly, search for (at least for a couple years).  But an article called “5 Ways the Obama Campaign Uses Content Marketing”, although interesting, doesn’t have the same longevity as the more general topic.

This is important to think about because for the most part, it seems that the majority of the In-depth articles being served are evergreen articles.  This of course may change after more testing and implementation of the In-depth article block.  Hell, it may not even exist in a few months just like their page preview function – where did that go?

Also, Rebecca Churt raises a good point in this Hubspot article that to be recognized by Google as “in-depth”, your content and research better be extremely thorough.  That means doing real research with real data and contributing something to the topic or community.  Google isn’t going to serve your blog post just because your meta tags are all shipshape or because you hit that 2,000 word mark. They are looking for those write-ups that are detailed and that have proven their worth on the subject.

Side-thought: I’d love to see some data on the average word count for in-depth articles.


It’s pretty much business as usual for all you SEOs.  Create original and unique content, research the hell out of your subject, make sure the proper markup is added, then set it and forget it.

I’d say there’s no point in going after in-depth article inclusion at this point.  Google is most likely just playing in their playground.  But it doesn’t mean we can’t sit back, watch, and learn.

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About the author: Scott Taft
Scott Taft loves good writing, good coffee and good music. He currently works at SEER Interactive in Philadelphia but in his spare time he loves blogging about content right here on OG Content. Learn more about Scott Taft here.

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