How do people ask questions?

I like it when clients come up with a question which I can’t readily answer, but ought to be able to. So it was when I received an email which said: “We’re creating some videos aimed at specific terms, and wondered: should we use ‘How do I…?’ or ‘How do you…?’ Which do you think would be the one most frequently typed into Google?”

So what we’re doing here is writing a page targeting people who search on Google for how something is done – a very good idea, because it’s a long-tail search where you can really show your expertise by being the source of the answer. Every product you sell could generate dozens of such questions and answers.

Now, the first thing to say is that I doubt Google really distinguishes between the first- and second-person. If someone types in “How do I service a blue widget?”, the words on which it will focus will be ‘how’, ‘service’, ‘blue’ and ‘widget’. But if one way of phrasing is more common than another, it’s worth targeting the one that’s used the most.

And the one that’s used the most is…? Well, it turns out to be neither of them.

I tried looking at the search volume for a set of common ‘how to’ questions, and in every case, “How do I…?” was more commonly searched-for than the equivalent “How do you…?” But also in every case, both were beaten by a simple non-question: “How to…”. So despite my endless bemusement at how many people ask Google questions, it turns out that – encouragingly – far more just go straight for the answer. If you want to write an article or make a video which will be seen by people trying to find out how to service a blue widget, write one simply titled “How to service a blue widget”.

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