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Oct 28, 2008
How To

Google Knol Primer: Strategies for Writing Content, Getting Started, Designing Layout

SUMMARY: Editorial content can build your credibility with clients, drive more traffic to your website and attract new customers. But your content has to be seen to work.

In Part 1 of a two-part series, discover the ins and outs of Knol – a recently launched Google platform that can give you some quick search rankings and a new outlet for your content. Includes strategies for getting started, designing your layout, and writing the perfect article.
Editorial content is effective when it is seen. Visibility can come from major publications, blog press or good search engine rankings. But exposure can be tough to earn and expensive to buy.

Google recently launched a new way for your content to get exposure – its free beta product, Knol. In Knol, anyone can write an article, called a knol, or a “unit of knowledge.” Users can comment on articles, review them, rate them, make suggestions and even edit them – if the author allows it.

Knol is not for blogging. Google seeks in-depth fact-based articles on specific topics – not typical blog posts.

Knols can show off your expertise as a thought leader, and build credibility and awareness. They can also rank well for target keywords in search engines.

We talked to four marketers to find out how they created knols that reached the top five search results with little effort -- and not just in Google. They told us that these articles rank quickly and that their clients mention them during phone calls. In one case, knols even have been directly responsible for generating new business.

Find out how to write and maintain knols, and what settings to use to avoid problems.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Knol


Knol is comparable to Wikipedia in that it strives to be a collaborative user-generated database of information on an array of topics. The difference is that Knol attributes credit for each article – the authors’ face and name are next to their submissions.

The Knol platform encourages the community to give feedback on articles through:
o Ratings - a five-star system
o Comments - similar to blogs
o Reviews - much more in-depth than comments, can be written by any user
o Community contributions - writers and users' edits, suggestions - depend on the knol's settings

Google made the free beta product available to the public in July. Google would not reveal how many knols have been created, but there are more than 45,000 search results for term “a” in Knol’s search box.

How you manage your settings determines the degree of collaboration and ownership of your knols.

Three categories of involvement

o Owners

Every knol has an “owner” who controls the administrative settings. A knol can have multiple owners, all of whom have the same control over content licensing, collaboration, advertising options and article-related aspects. Choose your co-owners carefully as they can delete your ownership status, add other owners and invite other users to collaborate on a knol as co-authors.

o Authors

A knol’s authors can edit its content but cannot change higher-end management settings, such as advertising options and licensing.

o Reviewers

Reviewers do not write knolls; they critique them. There are two types of reviews: solicited and unsolicited. Anyone can write an unsolicited review of any knol; it will appear as a link alongside the original knol.

You can also invite people to review your knol. The knol can still be unpublished. Seek out well-known industry authorities and ask them to give your knol an honest critique to build your credibility.

Licensing Settings

Knol has four content licenses that you can adjust for each knol or apply to all knols. While you might feel possessive of your content, don’t be afraid of sharing -- it’s in the spirit of the community.

The four settings:
1. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
2. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License
3. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
4. All rights reserved

The first three settings are designed to allow others to access some of your content under certain conditions. Google calls them “some rights reserved” licenses.

We suggest using the noncommercial selection that restricts people from selling your content. However, we are not attorneys; consult legal counsel to make sure that your settings and policies are in accordance with the law.

Levels of collaboration

Knol emphasizes collaboration. You should enable some level of community input to be considered a fully-functional member. Google lets you choose among three settings for every knol:

1. Closed collaboration
Only authors can modify the content. This setting makes knols similar to traditional online articles; it is not in the spirit of the collaborative community.

2. Moderated collaboration
Anyone in the community can suggest modifications to your knol. The modifications will not be made until you or another author approves them. We suggest this setting for most of your knols. It will allow you to interact in the community without opening your content for the world to edit.

3. Open collaboration
Anyone in the knol community can modify your knol at any time. This setting maximizes your community interaction. While creating one or two open knols is a great way to engage the community, we do not suggest using the setting for all your content. Remember, your face and name are at the top of the page.


You can run ads from Google’s AdSense advertising network on your knols. Use an existing AdSense account or establish a new one solely for this purpose.

We do not suggest allowing AdSense ads to be displayed on your knols. The ads undermine the user experience and may diminish your search rankings. The point of using Knol for marketing is building a reputation and finding possible customers – not adding to your advertising revenue.

Name verification

It’s easy to lie about who you are online, and reader skepticism abounds. Knol offers a way to prove your identity by verifying your name through your credit card or phone information. Google will check that information with a database provider. If all is clear, your name will be displayed as verified.

You should verify your name before writing knols. This exercise is about building credibility and proving to readers that you’re genuine.


Your profile should illustrate that you’re an expert on your topics, and it should reveal a bit of your personality. The more you’re planning on interacting in the community, the more personal the information should be. At a minimum, you should provide your occupation, location and photograph; they will be shown on all your knols.


If you’re writing in Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese or Korean, you’re in luck. Knol is available in those languages, and its engineers are working to add others.

“We’re seeing exciting growth in other languages, even for languages we are still developing interfaces for. This opens the door for many new ways for people to access highly localized types of content,” says Cedric Dupont, Product Manager, Knol.

Creating Credible Content

Your knols will help build your credibility and get your information in front of more people. Do not use Knol to sell products directly. The point of the service is to educate the public. Teach them about your industry’s fundamentals.

Write what you know

Writing about your industry works especially well for marketers selling specialized products that most people are unaware of. The readers learn about the unique product or service from a supplier -- you.

Antonio Centeno, President, A Tailored Suit, writes about men’s fashion. “Because of the way I describe, let’s say shirt collars, you’re not going to be able to walk into any department store and really find that selection of shirt collars. You’re going to find probably two selections for shirt collars. By getting that information out, we qualify ourselves as experts; then, the customer comes to us already having read a lot of our information.”

Don’t worry if someone has already written a knol on your topic. You’re free to write on the same topic. It can give you an opportunity to improve on the other author’s content by writing a better knol with a superior headline. Use the other article as a benchmark to beat.

Optimize the content

Search engines offer a great way to get your content in front of more people. The marketers we talked to are seeing their knols rank quickly; Knol makes that feat even easier. But you have to be thinking like a search engine while you’re writing to maximize your exposure.

Follow the traditional SEO copywriting tactics (see links to MarketingSherpa articles below). The marketers we’ve talked to mentioned that the article’s title is of supreme importance.

Heed the headlines

“Right now, what we have found is that the title of the articles is what Google is indexing at this point. If you try to do a search on the description, the part that shows up under the article, we haven’t been able to find our articles [by searching for that] yet. Right now, the titles are the big thing in how those rank,” says Rodney Liber, Director of Web Services, The Turn Group.

Make sure your knols’ titles contain the words or phrases that someone would type into a search engine to find the content you’re providing.

Offer unique content

Two of the marketers we talked to are using original content for their knols. One is modifying older content to make it appear more unique.

We do not suggest reusing content you’ve already published online. Search engines often harshly penalize duplicate content and may bury your knol at any time.

Maintain authoritative and clear voice

Write with the voice of an expert. You’re educating the public about the fundamentals of your business. You should sound as if you know what you’re talking about.

Also, avoid jargon-heavy language. Knol is used by an audience looking for information on a wide array of topics. Your article should avoid the casual-conversation style of blogs; instead, explain clearly the complicated industry terms to those who might be unfamiliar with them.

Back up your statements and take a stance

Rather than asking readers to “take your word for it,” point them to credible resources that support your claims. Aim for publications, such as trade journals, magazines and newspapers, or anything that people consider factual. Look for statistics from reliable studies -- they’re almost irrefutable. Cite your resources at the end of your knol and provide a link when possible.

If you share an opinion or take a position, you must provide the facts behind the thoughts. Remember to address the other point of view. List the key opposing arguments and then cite factual sources that disprove them.

Knol length matters

Aim between in-depth and too long. Your knol should serve as a preface to a topic. Keep the information introductory and do not make your topic too minute. Certainly write more text than what would fit onto one screen – the reader should have to scroll down.

The technical details


Links on Knol are marked with “no-follow” tags and, therefore, will not improve the search ranking of the pages you’re linking to.

o Limit the number of links to your site

Some marketers link to their company’s websites as a way to drive traffic, but those we spoke with said that Knol was sending them a tiny amount of traffic. Therefore, using multiple links to your site might be more of a hindrance than a help because it can decrease your perceived objectivity.

Select the number of links to your site with discretion. Too many might strike readers and reviewers as distasteful. Most marketers we spoke with were using one to two links in every knol.

Damien Patton, Founder and CEO,, has a team of writers making content for his website and Knol. Their knols rarely link back to their company website. Instead, they have a sentence in italics at the end of every article: “Information provided courtesy of, an online flooring information resource written by flooring professionals.” Occasionally, “” is hyperlinked.
After visitors read that line, “people are smart enough to go to if they want to,” he says.

o Link to other sites

Linking to other sites is a valid idea, but do not go overboard. The links are a resource for the readers. Link to credible sources with vast amounts of valuable information. You might want to link to the resources you’re citing as a courtesy.

A high number of links (i.e., more than 10) can seem “spammy” to readers and will make your knol harder to read.

o Link to your knols

Having a link from your website to your knols will help drive traffic, but not nearly as much as when others provide that link. Try to get an industry blogger -- or any relevant expert -- to review your knol and link to it. The links will drive more traffic and boost your search rankings.


The layout of your knol is extremely important. Liber found that knols that included ways to break up the text, such as bulleted lists, headlines, sub-headlines and images, had a 12% lower bounce rate than articles that consisted of mostly straight text. Monitoring the bounce rate is not a standard feature of the service.

o Automatic table of contents

Using headlines and sub-headlines will also help Knol automatically generate your table of contents. If you use the H1, H2 and H3 HTML tags to create headings (ask your resident coder), Knol will automatically create a linked table of contents and place it at the top of your knol.

o Compatibility issues

When you’re adding formatted text from one program to another (i.e., from Microsoft Word to Knol’s text editor), the formatting can be altered. This can be frustrating to those who meticulously format an article in one program, only to have it changed in another. “That happens in Web development all over the place,” Liber says.

Liber suggests writing articles in a simple text editor, such as Microsoft Notepad, copying the text into Knol, and then using Knol to format the text. Notepad does not offer any formatting capabilities, so it is less likely to supply text that will cause problems down the road.

Useful Links related to this article:

How to Get Your Company Listed on Wikipedia, Part 1

How to Get Your Company Listed on Wikipedia, Part 2

SEO Tactics to Quadruple Lead Gen - Link-Building, Keyword Targeting & Landing Page Tests

How to Get Better SEO Traffic: 4 Strategies to Increase Leads 58%

Creative Commons Licenses

A Tailored Suit

The Turn Group

Sun and Ski Sports




See Also:

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