Strategy ·

Information gain in SEO: The guide to convincing yourself, team, and clients to rethink current strategies

Amanda Johnson
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    Start building content focused on information gain, and stop creating cookie-cutter articles as fast as you possibly can.

    • The concept of information gain SEO is your solution to directly combat SERPs filled with piles of copycat content.

    • It’s also the gateway into better optimizing existing content for the ever-changing search landscape and your target audience’s unique buying journey.

    • If you’re out here in the SERPs trying to convince your team to rethink your org’s content marketing strategy quickly, this article will help—that’s the goal.

    Below, I’ll dig into some strong points to get you all geared up for information gain SEO.

    And even though we’re going to start with a “What is” question here, I promise I’m not about to introduce a Skyscraper article to you.

    Trust me on this long-form journey. (I know it’s hard to.)

    What is the concept of information gain in SEO? Is it just another buzzword?

    At Clearscope, we define information gain SEO as content that covers concepts and entities on the fringe of Google’s Knowledge Graph for the topic.

    To simplify, information gain SEO is creating unique content relevant to user’s search intent based on:

    1. New information about existing topics, and/or

    2. Covering consensus content from fresh, new perspectives with first-party information

    Clearscope founder Bernard Huang digs into the definition further—with an excellent visual—in this clip from our Clearscope Webinar Series below.

    And if you need further evidence to back up this concept, simply ask Google’s Gemini AI.

    Here's a closer look at the visuals that Bernard covers in the above video.

    This is how we visualize the Google Knowledge Graph for a specific topic. In this example, in order to rank for topics related to SEO, your content will require sufficient information gain on the outskirts of Google's Knowledge Graph. Foundational concepts like quality content or technical SEO have much consensus content that exists across the web.
    Introducing new concepts for the sake of adding information gain can be deemed irrelevant due to distance from core topic. For example, adding concepts like [ferrari], [lamborghini], and [bmw] to an article about SEO would add information gain without making much sense.

    There are several existing think-pieces that have already tackled this “what is” question in more depth than we will here if you want to do a deep dive—including:

    What I’m going to focus on for the rest of this article is why you may need to reorient quickly.

    This piece is designed to be helpful for those who need to convince a team, leadership, or long-time clients to move on from outdated SEO practices.

    But let’s pause here for a moment:

    Information gain is determined by Google based on mathematical values when comparing content in the index.

    What does that even mean?

    For a moment, let’s get very nerdy about the concept of an information gain score

    Skip ahead to the next section if this kind of thing isn’t your jam, but there’s another concept here that SEOs should know about in relation to information gain—Google’s information gain score.

    Google’s patent describes the concept of an information gain score as the following:

    Additional information that is included in the document beyond information contained in documents that were previously viewed by the user. In some implementations, the information gain score may be determined for one or more documents by applying data from the documents across a machine learning model to generate an information gain score. (source)

    While we at Clearscope have some guesses about what an information gain score could be, from our interpretation the concept of information gain and the information gain score both serve searchers as they move along in their individual search journeys.

    The late Bill Slawski’s Ranking Search Results based on Information Gain Scores article is worth reviewing for a detailed breakdown.

    But here are the high notes from the patent's own language:

    If a user is served a result by Google search that is similar to other results, and they interact with that result, it’s likely that the next series of results would include content that provides something the user hasn’t seen before in prior results for that query…

    …hence, information gain.

    So SEOs and content marketers need to be thinking about two core things when developing or refreshing content:

    1. Creating information gain to better serve people and help hedge up your own site’s content against AI-generated “consensus content” responses in search results

    2. Deeply know how your target audience is likely to move through their search journey—and then offer unique perspectives and insights along that journey that build on search intent

    These concepts might sound intuitive to some of us and brand-new to others, but now that we have a shared understanding of the thinking behind information gain and information gain score, let’s keep going.

    Here’s why you should focus your content strategy on information gain right now

    Remember when the Helpful Content Update (HCU) decimated lyric, grammar, and coding sites due to lack of information gain?

    Read more about it in Barry Schwartz’s article here, but here’s a post from Lily Ray from 2022 that illustrates:

    This is the top reason you should focus your content strategy on information gain right now:

    A lack of originality, insight, or information gain can reduce your SEO performance because of the advent of AI-generated answers in organic search results and Google’s AI Overviews (formerly Search Generative Experience, or SGE).

    LLMs are here to stay, and they’re really good at one thing: Providing information based on consensus.

    But information gain? Well, that’s something the humans are still in charge of.

    And if you want to protect your site’s organic search visibility over time, incorporating information gain into your SEO strategy is crucial.

    Need even more reasons to invest in information gain?

    1. Copy-cat and consensus content is boring and repetitive.

    2. If Google’s recent algorithm updates have told us anything, it’s that perspectives and experience are crucial.

    3. Google’s AI Overviews have rolled out.

    4. Fresh insight and data can organically earn backlinks.

    5. Information gain SEO content pairs well with all of your other marketing efforts.

    We’ll look at each of these below.

    #1: Copy-cat and consensus content is boring and repetitive

    On June 28, 2022, Ryan Law—one of the top voices in search—took to discussing the concept of information gain almost two years ago on the Animalz blog (mentioned above), calling it “the most important idea in content marketing today.” He also laments with all of us by saying:

    The practice of information gain content is just… a good content practice. It’s time to work it into your content production if you’re not doing it already.

    #2: If Google’s 2023 and 2024 updates have told us anything, it’s that perspectives and experience are crucial

    Search engines are fighting hard against cookie-cutter copycat content, because not only are people tired of it, but it hinders our desire to use traditional search routes (imagine that!).

    As you likely have already experienced firsthand, AI-generated content is rampant across the web, which feeds into generalized consensus content.

    LLMs are best at creating "consensus” or “non-information gain" content, as they generate responses based on information that already exists as generally agreed upon.

    LEARN MORE: When Garrett Sussman of iPullRank reviewed this article to give his feedback, he kindly pointed out that Google uses this concept of consensus for the existing Featured Snippets SERP feature. If you’re interested, read more on the Google Blog or over at Search Engine Land.

    So it’s no wonder that first-person, perspective-driven experience was rewarded in Google’s 2023 updates, shown by Cyrus Shepard’s Google update case study.

    And as Cyrus demonstrates in his research—there’s a strong correlation that kind of content is rewarded.

    Cyrus Shepard completed a 50-site case study to determine what on-page factors are associated with sites that see big gains or declines after Google updates. Tap the image to see his original report.

    This is a big note to brands who have struggled with the concept of personalizing brand voice: It’s okay to use first-person pronouns, to include opinions, and get really voicey.

    #3: Google’s AI overviews has rolled out

    AI can serve up consensus content to answer a searcher’s query, but it can’t generate original, factual interviews, survey data, product reviews, and new perspectives based on new experiences or research—all the first-party data that builds information gain.

    And this is one of the strongest reasons for the need to create “information gain SEO content.”

    After his year-long analysis of 250 B2B websites, Tom Shapiro of Stratabeat reports that "B2B SaaS websites that conducted original research tended to increase Google Top 10 organic ranking keywords. The average increase overall between January 2023 and January 2024 was 25.1%."

    And that study was completed before March 2024 Google algorithm updates—across the SEO industry, we're hearing that Google continues to reward content that includes original research. (See more insights from the Stratabeat study in Tom's Clearscope webinar session.)

    Generative AI has changed search marketing forever, and many of us have been able to coast through repeatable pillar + cluster strategy templates and consensus content articles for far too long.

    It's time to invest in new information.

    I remember in 2022-2023 when ChatGPT had its initial heyday. I was discussing the phenomenon with my supervisors (at another role before Clearscope) about how we were going to have to pivot our strategy quickly to accommodate AI being incorporated into search. I was met with graciousness and a valid:

    Well, it will take consumers some time to catch up to playing around with this technology so let’s not rush.

    But something that I understood from listening to other SEO experts is that AI was likely going to be incorporated into search functions soon—whether general consumers or late adopters were ready for it.

    And it was. At lightning speed. 

    So if you’re reading this and your SEO or content pro is asking you to pivot from creating:

    • Majority skyscraper content

    • Baseline consensus content

    • Copycat content similar to your competitors

    Well, they’re right.

    And if they’re advising you to invest in primary research, customer and expert interviews, case studies, cleaning up your site structure and user experience (UX), and a deep refresh of your existing content library, well…

    They’re right about that, too.


    #4: Fresh insight can organically earn your site backlinks

    Information gain content can help you earn links, because when you're creating new insight from fresh perspectives and searchers cannot find that unique information elsewhere, what’s left to do but link to your content?

    And who doesn’t love a well-earned, organic backlink that requires zero outreach? (Me! I do!)

    There are challenges here, especially if your information is shared and isn’t correctly attributed, which we’ll discuss in the detailed 3-part plan on How to add information gain to your content.

    But overall, linking for attribution, correct sourcing, and offering references to first-party data is just good journalism and SEO. You don’t have to be afraid of linking out to external sites.

    Ross Hudgens of Siege Media has an excellent take on this link building concept. Read more about it here or check out his Clearscope Webinar session on the topic.

    #5: Information gain pairs well with all of your other marketing efforts

    Based on my anecdotal evidence and experience in working with past clients, I’d argue that newsletter subscribers usually don’t want to get another “What is X?” article or tried-and-tired content play crafted by AI in their inbox.

    (Caveat here: You know your audience best, and if you’re engaging with a lot of top-of-funnel folks, they may crave that kind of content.)

    No matter who you’re serving, unconventional takes, new data, and first-person interviews are interesting and can boost your other marketing touchpoints, including:

    • Emails

    • Direct conversations with customers

    • Sales presentations

    • Social media engagement

    Heck, content with brand-new information or interesting takes works well even for nerdy conversations with strangers in the grocery store or talking to your friends and family over the dinner table (which are my personal fave marketing touchpoints, other than organic search of course.)

    Information gain success story

    The following example has been anonymized and generalized for the sake of privacy, but it absolutely happened… much to the surprise of the marketing team in question.

    At the time, one of the sites I was working on was not investing in holistic content-led SEO and had very few blog resources and infrequent publishing. The site in question was earning about 300-600 organic clicks per month (if that).

    They had no backlink strategy. No regular content creation routine. No intentional user experience (UX) efforts across the site. Nothing.

    They decided to create a “new seasonal take” article on a topic they wanted to rank for. No one was writing about this “new seasonal take” in their industry space. Consumers were experiencing a highly specific seasonal pain point and topic curiosity that no one was tackling

    In fact, the only reason the internal team knew enough to consider writing about it was because the team employed top experts in the field and had a deep understanding of the target audience.

    After publishing the “new seasonal take” article that was bursting with information gain, within 6 months, they had earned a featured snippet in the target topic of the article. This helped build a case for the organization to invest further in SEO.

    After a holistic content-led SEO strategy was implemented, it started the snowball of topical authority growth. (And yes, copycat content soon appeared, but the site held strong for the original take.)

    Within 12-18 months of the “new seasonal take” article being published, the site was earning almost 100K organic clicks a month in peak season—on blog content alone.

    Organic traffic growth over time, fueled by a content-led SEO strategy focused on information gain. We grew the brand's topical authority by utilizing expert opinions, first-person perspectives, and developing "show and tell" type expert-reviewed content.

    You know what one of the consistent top-performers was?

    The “new seasonal take” article.

    The overall content inventory consisted of about 150 ranking pages, but about 15 to 20 ranking pages were bringing in the majority of that traffic—and most of them were directly related to the “new seasonal take” topic.

    The organization itself ceased investing in digital marketing and SEO—and a holding pattern in organic keyword rankings followed—but the ownership of the related topic for the site still holds strong after December 2022 Helpful Content Updates, March 2023 Core Updates, September 2023 Helpful Content Update, and March 2024 Core updates.

    And it all started with publishing a content piece directly rooted in information gain—a piece that the marketing team wasn’t quite sure would be successful based on its estimated monthly search volume.

    Wrapping things up on information gain SEO

    I’m going to “go all meta” for a moment here.

    Does this particular article offer information gain not only to the general topic, but to you? Only you, time, and the SERPs can tell us if I hit the mark.

    While we have a lot of work to do in our own inventory of educational resources here at Clearscope, one thing is for sure:

    Using the good-ole human element of creative thinking to come up with new ways to showcase information gain in content-first SEO is going to be quite the fun challenge, if you’re up for it.

    And if you are, check out our simple, 3-part plan for adding information gain to your SEO content next.

    A huge thank-you to Bernard Huang of Clearscope, Garrett Sussman of iPullRank, Tory Gray of The Gray Dot Co., and Kevin Indig of The Growth Memo for reviewing this piece and providing their invaluable, intelligent feedback. Go give them each a follow!

    Written by
    Amanda Johnson
    Senior Marketing Manager at Clearscope
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