Content-driven SEO: What you can learn from watching "Friends"

In this blogpost we look at the success of the Friends sitcom and how we can adapt some of these learnings to create a content-driven SEO strategy.

Marco Schlauri


More and more instant answers are displayed in the search results today with the effect, that fewer users effectively click through to your website.

However, there is still no other channel that generates more quality traffic than search.

Surprisingly, overall organic traffic has actually increased in recent years and is responsible for 53% of visitors on average!

In comparison: All social media channels combined only account for 5% of traffic.

Evergreen Content

There is a good reason for this. Once relevant content has been ranked for a selection of high traffic keywords, little additional work is needed to keep up the incoming flow of organic traffic. 

This is not a concept that was brought to us by search engines. Rather, evergreen content or perennial sellers, as Ryan Holiday calls them have been around for a long long time.

The famous TV series "Friends" stopped shooting over 15 years ago, but each of the actors still earn $20 million in royalties every year - the same amount they earned during the shoot!

A content-driven SEO strategy in that regard takes advantage of two factors:

  • High-quality content continuously generates new traffic (and sales). Once a ranking is achieved, it requires little effort to maintain it.

  • With editorial content, the possibilities are almost endless. We can create content independently and are not limited by the technical setup of a website, nor service or product pages and can cover a wide range of topics.

The creation of evergreen content can therefore pay off several times over. Since every company would like to have a top ranking and the competition for popular keywords is high, it’s not that easy though to create content that effectively ranks.

When it comes to search engine rankings, SEO tools and data can help you make the right decisions. But that doesn't mean that you should simply optimize a text for a certain keyword. If Google has made something clear with the latest "Quality Updates", it’s that there is no room for inferior content in search results.

Clients are not data

Finding an attractive keyword is usually not very difficult for an experienced SEO. To create content that ranks for the keyword, generates traffic and converts users to customers - that’s the challenge!

If we start a project head first with keyword research and focus solely on keywords and rankings, it usually leads us down the road, right into the superficial content trap. Data from SEO tools can help to create better content - but should definitely not be the only insight that drives content creation.

Content that is created based on keywords and search volume, rather than customer conversations, learnings and years of industry experience, usually has a poor chance at dominating the search results and converting customers.

That’s because there is effectively no concrete and authentic "insight" that guides content creation. The selection of topics based on keyword research is purely opportunistic. Nobody "wants" to write about the topic. 

In the past, the content creation process looked like this:

From our point of view it should rather look like this:

Only if we put customer needs first and match them with our own offerings, truly original and authentic content be created. The insight that guides content creation should come from our experience in dealing with existing customers or concrete target group analyses - otherwise it is of little value.

"friends" by NightingaleVoice is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

NBC executive Warren Littlefield chose the Friends series because there was a huge untapped audience of younger viewers, who wanted to see themselves reflected on the screen. "There was a fear of telling stories about first jobs or first serious relationships or roommates - these shared, collective experiences that weren't being told at the time."

In order to create unique, successful content, we recommend that you first define exactly who the target group is and what their goals and needs are - in the end, the content is only created to reach those people.

At Digital Leverage, we use the proven jobs-to-be-done framework and try to learn as much as possible about what our clients' jobs, pains and gains are.

Supply meets demand

These jobs, pains and gains must now be matched with the company's own offering in order to determine to what extent you are able to create real value for your chosen customer. But often this is something many companies struggle with.

In our view, the culprits are often a focus on rankings coupled with insufficient industry experience of the marketer or copywriter. The internal expertise that exists within a company therefore often cannot be translated into valuable content. The reason for this lies with the issue, that few of the core employees within a company know how to write well, while most writers and marketers don't have the experience or know-how to do so.

The consequence: Companies still create far too much "mirage" content, which is not really tailored to the needs of the target group and does not communicate a clear point of view.

Before we can go one step further, it must be clear to us how we can effectively generate real value for this specific target group and outperform the competition. 

"Where lies our unique expertise?" and "How do we get it down on paper in a way that’s appropriate for the target group?" are questions that should be asked before you even begin with content planning.

The Friends series was strongly inspired by the experiences of producers Marta Kauffman and David Crane, who lived in New York themselves, when they were in their 20s. In creating the characters, they drew on experiences from their own lives. "I'm a bit of a control freak," Kauffman reveals about the similarities between her and Monica.

In addition, Kauffman worked on several sitcoms before Friends and acquired the necessary industry know-how to make such a success even possible. David Crane even worked on six other shows before the real breakthrough came.

Keyword Research, Search Intent and Funnels

1. Keyword Research

If SEO ought to play an important role in your content marketing strategy, then now is the time to get into keyword research. The intersection between the customer needs, your offering and possible keywords determines how your SEO strategy will turn out and where potentials arise.

However, this does not mean that if there’s no search volume, it does not make sense to write about a topic. It just means that SEO as a channel may not be well suited to reach your target audience in regards to that specific topic. In a first step, we therefore want to find out how users search for content to get a first idea about potential keywords.

2. Search Intent

Before you decide on a specific keyword, you have to check what the search intent behind a keyword is. The best way to do this, is to check the search results for the selected keyword.

If Google only shows me booking platforms for the query "Hotels Central Park", it is possible that even the best blog article will not make it to the first page. The search results suggest a strong commercial intent and an informative article may not satisfy this intent.

Behind a search query such as "holidays in fall" (which might become even more popular after the corona crisis) lies another intention and an editorial article has a much better chance of ranking prominently in contrast.

If you are looking for matching keywords on topics that have been identified through a target group analysis, it is important to stay true to the original concept.

Bending the initial idea behind an article just to fit an attractive keyword makes little sense in most cases and might even address the wrong target group, which may generate traffic, but ultimately not convert.

3. Customer Funnel

When we select a keyword, we should not only think about the search intent, but also about the customer journey.  In other words, we should think about the different steps our customers take to find a solution that helps them accomplish their “job”.

We should be aware of the situation in which someone deals with a topic for the first time, but also what the most important decision criteria are that become relevant when buying.

If someone types "holidays in fall" into the search engine, they are still at the very beginning of their journey. If they are looking for "temperature new york city in october", they are already one step further, and if they then effectively search for "hotels near central park", they know exactly what they want.

In the long run, our goal is to create content that covers the whole funnel. We want to make sure that we position our company as a thought leader for a topic at an early stage, but also that we are there when the customer is specifically looking for a product or service.

The concept

Neither SEO nor content marketing are simply channels that can be easily switched on and off. This makes it all the more important to write a sound concept based on your findings.

Through the analysis we know what our target group's jobs are, where the pain points lie and what their goals and wishes are.

Through a strategic positioning of our offer, we define for which topics we want to establish ourselves in relation to the target group and the competition.

Through keyword research we gain a better understanding of how online searches are conducted and how the concrete search intentions are to be interpreted.

The final step is now to define a concept that summarises all the findings and then breaks them down to a common denominator.

Krzysztof Stefaniak /

In 1993, the inventors of the Friends series, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, presented their concept to the NBC television station:

"It's about sex, love, relationships, careers, a time in your life when everything's possible. And it's about friendship because when you're single and in the city, your friends are your family."

The concept addresses the jobs (finding friends, a job, a flat), gains (new love, great relationships, security) and pains (fear of not finding the right partner, fear of being alone, fear of being hurt etc.) of a young target group that felt underrepresented in classic TV formats. 

A sitcom was chosen as the format and New York City as the backdrop, as both authors themselves had experience in these areas. The series was first broadcasted on NBC in 1993, today it’s running on Netflix and still enjoys millions of viewers.

The Last One

In our case, we first want to focus on SEO as a distribution channel. But in our opinion, good content will prevail regardless of the chosen channel. As long as one keeps the needs of the target audience in mind and creates content that adds something valuable and new to the lives of the readers, one can practically do no wrong.

If you are hesitating to write your first evergreen content piece or are still not exactly sure how to go about it, our SEO & content marketing team is more than happy to help!