How to identify and rank for ‘hidden gems’ in SEO

How to identify and rank for ‘hidden gems’ in SEO

The rollout of Search Generative Experience (SGE) will change Google SERPs – that’s pretty much indisputable. Whether AI will dominate the SERPs altogether is up for debate. 

If you’re reading a few strategically placed Google hints, you know there’s an alternative that makes it clear Google will still respect first-party perspectives and E-E-A-T-rich content. I’m talking about “hidden gems.”

This article examines what hidden gems are, how we know Google’s committed to them as part of their future SERP strategy and your options for filling the SERPs with hidden gems that build positive exposure for your brand.

First, what are hidden gems?

As explained by Barry Schwartz on this site last November, hidden gems are when people share their first-hand knowledge and their own personal insights and experiences with others on the public web. 

As Schwartz mentioned:
“This update is not part of the helpful content system. It is part of the Google core ranking system, Brad Kellett, Senior Director on Google Search product and engineering told us.”

Platforms that provide hidden gems include forums like Quora, Reddit and others (more on those “others” in a bit) and social media platforms. And Google’s not kidding about using hidden gems for ranking. Check out this SERP example:

Can we trust Google’s commitment to hidden gems?

If hidden gems aren’t something Google will focus on in the long term, they’re putting a lot of resources into a red herring. Consider:

Discussions and forums

Launched in September 2022, this feature was an early statement from Google that it’s focusing on first-hand accounts and perspectives. When it was launched, it was a search feature (like a featured snippet) intended to promote external content.

The Perspectives filter

Launched in May 2023, Perspectives was explicitly launched by Google as a counterpoint to AI. Directly from Google: 
“[A]s we transform Search with new AI-powered capabilities, we’re not only continuing to focus on providing quick insights, but also connecting you to the people and perspectives that will help you understand what’s best for you.”

The November 2023 updates

This round of algorithm updates targeting hidden gems promised “even more firsthand knowledge in search.” Another thing to note in these updates: they included ways to mark up your content with an author profile, structured data, etc., which seems targeted to help you rank for hidden gems.

If you want actual, numerical proof that Google’s taking first-hand perspectives seriously, check out this report from Detailed, which shows that: 
“In an analysis of 10,000 keyphrases where product reviews rank highly, Google’s increasingly prominent ‘Discussions and forums’ SERP feature was present in 7,702 of them.”

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So, how do you take advantage of hidden gems?

I think of a hidden-gems ranking strategy as having two options: owned content and third-party content.

Owned content for hidden gems

There are a few ways to optimize your website for hidden gems. The first and certainly most common is a blog.

Blog posts can qualify as hidden gems if you focus on content with first-person experience and make sure the voices providing that experience are well developed, with strong structured data that establishes their identity and expertise. 

You can even write crowdsourced blog posts featuring a bunch of voices, which is a very light lift if you’ve already built an avid community willing and eager to contribute to your platform. 

Another less frequently employed strategy: create a forum or Q&A community for your site.

One of the darlings of San Francisco’s tech community, Sentry, has built a Q&A community that achieves this purpose. Another platform, Webflow, built a popular developer forum.

Third-party content for hidden gems

Writing content on Quora or Reddit to build brand awareness is a bit tricky – being overly market-y won’t work on those platforms – but there are ways you can work more authentically to highlight your business. 

One way is to seed questions or provide answers that will highlight your business – but again, not in a marketing-heavy way. One option I’ve seen work is to get the community voices connected with your brand to participate. 

For instance, ask a question on LinkedIn and let your network weigh in. (If you’re a web development platform, a question about the challenges emerging for developers in 2024 might get some insightful responses.)

Another way is to lean into personal branding – get into your preferred forum and be an expert in your area of expertise. This is a long-term play where the first steps are to:

Find your audience.

Then build credibility and clout by staying active, helpful and insightful. 

It’s also important to remember that it’s not owned traffic and won’t show up in your owned metrics (beyond referral-generated clicks, leads, etc.). Eventually, there will be ways to wedge in mentions of your company and/or pose questions that could reflect well on your company. 

Both the personal brand and owned property approaches have one thing in common (beyond being long-term strategies): done well, they build very effective moats that can be almost impossible for competitors to break into.

Using hidden gems for SEO is a long-term strategy

Although it’s possible to achieve quick wins (maybe you write a great answer on Quora that gets picked up immediately in relevant queries; maybe a first-person blog gets immediate traction), hidden gems should be a significant part of your long-term SEO strategy. 

While we’re all keeping one eye on SGE’s rollout and its impact on the SERPs, any fundamental work you can do now to build a hidden gems strategy will pay off in the long run – at least, if you believe what Google’s been telling us.Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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