Back in 2011, an SEO trend began with one simple question:
“What time does the Super Bowl start?” A former Huffington Post editor noticed how often this phrase was searched leading up to the Super Bowl, and, like many writers and editors before, used the phrase as a launching pad for an article.
He penned a short but sweet news item that included both the question and the answer, even using the commonly used but misspelled “Superbowl” as well as its correct form “Super Bowl.”
The tactic of writing about a trending topic wasn’t anything particularly new, but this, so clearly an SEO grab, was not.
The article was perfectly timed and laden with keywords, which catapulted it to the top of Google’s SERPs.
The following year, many publishers jumped on the bandwagon to compete for the top spot (which went to the NFL itself), and SEOs analyzed its usage.
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By 2013, SEO professionals and journalists were already preparing to read the trend its last rites, having seen a lackluster performance in just its third year of use.
Google shook things up in 2014 when it opted instead to provide a direct answer box for the query, lessening the chance of a click for those still ranking for the phrase.
An Evolving Trend
There are, of course, some publishers holding on (and still getting first-page placement, such as USA Today’s effort).
On the other hand, many see the effort as wasted, considering that most users are really just looking for the kickoff time and go no further than Google’s readily-supplied answer.
But there is another way. Two days before the Super Bowl, Digiday published a piece announcing that the now-legendary query has been replaced by another: “How can I watch the Super Bowl?”
While this points to another sort of trend in terms of cord-cutting, it also shows that the, “What time does the Super Bowl start?” tactic has not died, but evolved.
Digiday cited Forbes, CBS Sports and the Washington Post as having employed this take on the SEO tactic, which landed them on the front page (and sans a direct answer box).
Tackling the Trend for Business
Using a big, national event like the Super Bowl to gain clicks has been called “SEO trolling,” but there’s a gray area: if the supplied page truly answers the query, it’s still serving the viewer.
Many of the results for “What time does the Super Bowl start?” and its variations actually did supply the time of the Super Bowl, which was helpful before Google’s direct answer box (though according to Search Engine Land, it wasn’t correct at first this year).
Note that even Search Engine Land, discussing Google and Bing’s results for the phrase and not the game itself, provides the kickoff time in the first sentence of the article, which still uses “What time is the Super Bowl?” in its headline.
This may seem like an area just for news outlets, but businesses can benefit from a modified version of this tactic, and not strictly using the Super Bowl.
Local businesses thrive on community reach, and events that bring together the community present a great opportunity, even if your business is not directly part of the event itself.
If there is an annual event in your area, you can go the route of becoming a sponsor or otherwise actively participating in the event.
This tactic often results in a link on the event’s website, as well as in articles on news publishers that report on the event (though not always, of course).
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But, following the Super Bowl model, you can check if there are any local search trends related to an annual, popular event. “Where can I buy tickets for X event,” for example, or the aforementioned, “What time does X start” are common searches.
There are a couple of ways to produce relevant content around these searches, but blog posts are most commonly used.
Ensure that there are actually searches for these keywords, as targeting an audience that does not exist won’t net you any extra views.
There should also still be some link between your business and the event. Perhaps an employee is participating in some way; using that, a local business could publish a blog post introducing the employee and discussing the event, while still providing the answer to the initial question.
How you work in the keyword phrase is trickier, especially if the blog post discusses the event only tangentially. One tactic that has been used is to list the event times and locations as the questions, as follows:
- What time does the event start? 10 a.m. ET.
- Where does the event take place? In Denver.
National businesses may have more opportunities due to their larger overall presence, so physical and television events like the Super Bowl are still within reach.
Though these businesses can target big-name events, it may be harder to break through the noise if the business isn’t relevant.
A national supplier of musical instruments, for example, could have played off the numerous questions surrounding the recent Grammys, one being “Who is performing at the Grammys 2016?”
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In addition to providing the answer, they could have added content outlining what musical instruments those artists play.
Though some may call this tactic “SEO trolling,” the ones using these questions to publish content are still answering the users’ question.
Those who pay attention to what’s being asked around these events can be rewarded if you respond in time, and, of course, if you answer the question.