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How to find questions your users are asking

Monday, September 30th, 2013 by Dave Colgate

Every time someone puts fingers to keyboard on Google, they’re on the hunt for information. Whether their search is informational, transactional or navigational, they have a question in mind that starts with one of these words:

  • How
  • What
  • When
  • Why
  • Who
  • Where

Here are some examples for you:

  • How come when I talk to girls on Facebook they don’t answer me back?
  • Chuck NorrisWhat is Tuna made of?
  • Why don’t girls fart?
  • Who invented friction?
  • Where is Chuck Norris I’m feeling lucky?
  • When will World War 3 start?

(Yes, these are all genuine – read on to get the links where you can find most of these)

Of course there are other questions that people ask through search too, such as:

  • Is it impossible to lick your elbow?
  • Do midgets have night vision?
  • I can’t feel my fingers (why’s that?)
  • Can you wear wool in the rain?
  • I accidently slept with my sister (what do I do?)

(Again, source links provided further down – I know, I couldn’t believe them either)

However, a vast majority of them can be captured using the ‘Five W’s and one H’.

How is this useful?

Sign post with Solution and Problem

Image Source – Microsoft Problems

Knowing how people start questions is important when you’re trying to give your audience what they want. Finding out what questions they’re asking and providing answers to them is one great way of getting quality content on your site. Your content should be helping your users find answers to their problems.

Ideally, your product or service should be the main driver for this, but you don’t want everything you’re writing about to be self-promotional. There are always lots of other problems your users have that are related to your business for which you could provide solutions. These can also then lead to brand awareness, as well as possible purchases or leads. The problem is – how do you know what those questions are?

Finding the questions

As you may or may not know, Google has very kindly made some changes – or is making some changes – to how we view keyword data in Google Analytics. With this in mind I recommend giving the ‘Google Analytics’ suggestions a go quickly, before you can no longer do it!

Using Google Analytics

  1. Login to your account in analytics
  2. Select a reasonable time line – 12 months I find best
  3. Navigate to the organic traffic section of analytics
  4. Within the keyword search box, type, one at a time why, what, when, who, where and how
  5. You’ll see all the search terms that drove traffic to your site that contained that phrase
  6. Voila! Potential headings and titles for new content! Actual questions people are asking that are landing on your site
  7. Export the list for each one or pick and choose

Using Webmaster Tools

  1. Login to your GWT account
  2. Navigate to the ‘Search Queries’ screen under ‘Search Traffic’
  3. Try and export as many of the queries on the ‘Top Queries’ tab as possible and open in Excel or another spread sheet program
  4. Filter the queries for anything starting with one of the 6 words: how, when, why, who, where and when
  5. There you go! You now have a list of questions that potential visitors and customers are asking where Google is showing you in the results

Remember, the above tactics are not limited to just Google’s products. You can also use the same principle on Bing’s tools as well.

Using the data you collect

Once you have a collection of potential headings, you need to sort through them, removing the ambiguous and keeping the logical. Anything that’s not working towards your business goals isn’t going to help you, so remove them. Also discard anything that clearly doesn’t align with your site, business or offering. Anything that is low volume is worth checking in a keyword tool to see what the demand is like. You may also consider using Google’s trend tool to look at historic demand also.

Search on Google for "Who invented Friction?"

I also recommend doing a search on Google using the question you found. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What content (if any) already exists and how can I do it much better?
  • Are any of my competitors answering these questions?
  • What are the types of content that are ranking for this search?

This should give you all the information you need to figure out how to answer the question and what to provide. Textual based content isn’t always the best way to answer a question – this is especially true if there’s already plenty of content available. So, make something different using video or imagery. You’ll have a better chance of ranking and you’ll stand out more against everything else that’s available.

The fun stuff

Here’s the links to where I found the delightfully entertaining strange searches:

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About the author

Dave Colgate

Dave Colgate

Dave came on board with Vertical Leap in 2010 with a strong SEO and web development background, having worked on Content Management Systems and eCommerce websites. With a creative flare, Dave combines his knowledge of design, usability and SEO with advanced technical skills for a broader view of search that achieves great results. Follow me on Google+