I’ve been working in marketing since 2003 and a lot of that time has been spent carrying out search marketing activities. Over the years, when working on the seo of websites we’ve got closer and closer to working on the quality of the content. If you’re managing your own website you’ll have heard about the fabled Quality Content Google suggests makes sites rank in its listings, but as quality is a subjective concept I thought I’d review how to create quality content that will help your website rank.
I meet with marketers and SEOs both in online forums and in the various networking events I attend and it’s clear to me that whilst they all talk about the need for quality content, if you ask them to define what Google means when it refers to quality content in its webmaster guidelines, most will struggle to define quality content.
When you ask the question “what is quality content” you often get a word count. I’ve done this myself. This started with research carried out by Rand Fishkin which analysed on page content and determined that pages with around 1000 – 1200 words was best for SEO. Of course that was a number of years ago and the world has moved on. For one thing, many people are creating content that’s long form in this definition.
However the word count is still the main response, and you’ll often hear people defining how long the content should be depending on where it sits with in the customer buying cycle. You’ll hear things like: “600 words is good for an awareness piece”, “1200 to 2000 is best for an in-depth interest piece”, “500 is fine for an evaluation piece”, whilst “400 if fine for a retention piece” and perhaps “you can get away with 200 for a loyalty piece”. As always, when setting rules like this for content, the point is being missed. Quality content isn’t defined by its length. If you are searching for the height of a mountain the answer can be relayed in a sentence. You don’t need to understand about the name of the mountain, the geology of the area, the population around the mountain.
So far so good. The other word you’re going to hear a lot of when you speak to people about quality of content is relevancy. SEOs and marketers are always banging on about making content relevant. But this is also subjective word which is difficult to define and poor quality content can also be relevant.
When people give you an answer like this I’m not arguing that they don’t understand or have some tacit understanding about what quality content is and what types of content makes a website rank in Google. What I am saying is it’s not nailed down. There will be a few SEOs out there that can talk to you about specific Google patents, perhaps discussing things like machine learning and RankBrain. I always feel more sceptical about SEOs who justify everything they do in terms of their deep understanding of Google patents, just as much as I do those that never mention patents or algorithm changes and just go off their gut feeling.
What does Google consider quality content?
If we look at what’s said in the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines we see there’s a lot of information about what you shouldn’t do but there’s very few guidelines that give information about what you should do. I’ve optimised websites and marketed business in which there are 50+ competitive websites and I can honestly say that they’ve all producing quality content, and they’re all marketing their socks off. So how do you differentiate between all these websites if everyone is following Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines?
Google does provide a section that discusses how to create valuable content which forms part of Google’s Webmaster Academy course. Similarly to Google webmaster Quality Guidelines they tell you what you shouldn’t do, with most of the recommendations including maintaining your content, making sure that links aren’t broken and that you don’t include spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. The problem still remains what if everyone is doing this?
Unfortunately as with quality, Google tends to suggest you should make your content valuable without actually defining what value means.
When creating content on your website Google says you should make content:
- Useful and informative: If you’re launching a site for a restaurant, you can include the location, hours of operation, contact information, menu and a blog to share upcoming events.
- More valuable and useful than other sites: If you write about how to train a dog, make sure your article provides more value or a different perspective than the numerous articles on the web on dog training.
- Credible: Show your site’s credibility by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials. An author biography or testimonials from real customers can help boost your site’s trustworthiness and reputation.
- High-quality: Your site’s content should be unique, specific and high-quality. It should not be mass-produced or outsourced on a large number of other sites. Keep in mind that your content should be created primarily to give visitors a good user experience, not to rank well in search engines.
- Engaging: Bring color and life to your site by adding images of your products, your team or yourself. Make sure visitors are not distracted by spelling, stylistic and factual errors. An excessive number of ads can also be distracting for visitors. Engage visitors by interacting with them through regular updates, comment boxes or social media widgets.
I think the credible section here is the most important – this is still the classic way in which Google has always reviewed content and it’s likely these are still going to be some of the most important factors. But it’s essential that the others are considered. So reviewing what everyone else is doing and then making sure it’s better based on these guidelines is going to be important. But I’ve done that loads of times and it still doesn’t always mean you will outrank your competition.
Google Panda and understanding content quality
I remember when the Panda algorithm came out. Panda struck fear into the hearts of website owners who had engaged an SEO or who had taken part in content farming and it marked a shift in the way Google ranked websites. The Panda algorithm is all about understanding a website’s quality through an algorithm by targeting those websites which rely of low-quality signals – but once again (you might be seeing a theme here) Google doesn’t do much to target or reward high quality signals.
How to use Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines when creating content
The most recent Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines can be found here. They really are worth a read. Historically this document was only available to Google’s Search Quality Raters. The responses from the surveys of the raters serve to validate (or otherwise) Google’s experiments. Your SEO should be able to demonstrate that they have some understanding of the content of this 160+ page document.
In this document high-quality content is defined as having some of the following qualities:
- High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
- A satisfying amount of high quality MC (Main Content)
- Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website, or satisfying customer service information if the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions
- Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page
Probably the most valuable concept here is the idea of E-A-T, which Google expands and defines as:
One of the most important criteria in PQ (Page Quality) rating is the quality of the MC, which is determined by how much time, effort, expertise and talent/skill have gone into the creation of the page and also informs the E-A-T of the page.
Consider this example: Most students have to write papers for high school or college. Many students take shortcuts to save time and effort by doing one or more of the following:
- Buying papers online or getting someone else to write for them
- Making things up
- Writing quickly, with no drafts or editing
- Filling the report with large pictures or other distracting content
- Copying the entire report from an encyclopedia or paraphrasing content by changing words or sentence structure here and there
- Using commonly known facts, for example, “Argentina is a country. People live in Argentina. Argentina has borders.”
- Using a lot of words to communicate only basic ideas or facts, for example, “Pandas eat bamboo. Pandas eat a lot of bamboo. Bamboo is the best food for a Panda bear.”
Google discusses user intent as being an important factor in determining page quality. This is all about understanding what questions your customers and potential customers are asking when they search in Google and create content that simply return those answers.
When reading the quality guidelines it starts to become clear that when Google talks about quality what they are really discussing is the creation of a webpage that delivers an answer to the question the searcher is asking. It’s that simple.
Here are the questions Google ask its own engineers to put to themselves when working on the Panda algorithm:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic or factual errors?
- Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research or original analysis?
- Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- How much quality control is done on content?
- Does the article describe both sides of a story?
- Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
- Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
- For a health-related query, would you trust information from this site?
- Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
- Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond the obvious?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend or recommend?
- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
- Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
- Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
We can see a theme coming through about getting spellings right, grammar being correct etc as well as making sure there are no factual errors as well as a theme about authority (remember these questions were posed to the engineers before the industry started talking about E-T-A factors).
What quality signals can you easily fix?
Many of the search quality signals mentioned here are difficult to fix, although some of these are relatively straight forward. If you’re spelling isn’t top notch you need to make sure you’re getting someone else to check through your work before it goes live.
This is something I’ve been guilty of not following on my own blog over the years and I know there are niggles in the content I’ve created for myself, however when creating content for others I always make sure it has been read by another and the context of the content fully sense-checked. It’s tough if you’ve got a large body of week because it requires a proof reader to go through everything you’ve ever written and make sure it’s sound and it may seem the ROI isn’t worth it, but in the long run it’s likely doing it could give you an advantage.
Broken links are a quick win though, you can quickly crawl your site with something link Screaming Frog and work through fixing any that are broken.
Making sure your content is factually correct is all about the research you do first (learn the six Ps of Preparation and you’ll be fine), but also keep a log of the content you’ve produced because over time it maybe that history proves you wrong and your content is no longer factually correct – this is then easier to put right.
As with any type of marketing it’s essential that you understand who you are talking to. This blog post is aimed at three audiences. The primary audience is business owners with some interest in SEO. It’s probably a bit longer than it would be if I was speaking directly to an SEO audience because there is a lot of contextualisation having to go in here and I’m not as reliant on industry terminology as I could be. Just make sure you get the level of jargon and explanation right for your audience.
There are of course the technical side of seo that needs to be considered. Site structure is important, but most new websites are built such a way that it will likely have the basic levels of optimisation. In addition you want to look at the speed of your website. This can be a tougher nut to crack for a none-technical person, however not impossible and for not a huge investment you can resolve most site loading issues.
Of course building an authoritative website and trusted reputation doesn’t happen overnight. The only thing you can do about that is to create content that sites in the E-T-A spectrum. This takes time, but if you’re consistent it will happen. My tip on this front is to look out for the niches your website is starting to gain traction in and concentrate on becoming an authority in that niche rather than going for the top level to start off with – this will give you the greatest traction in the shortest amount of time.
How do we define quality content at GrowTraffic?
Once you’ve got all the onpage seo components covered it’s fair to ask the question “How do you define quality content at GrowTraffic?”. So I’ll share with you some of the signals we choose to concentrate on when thinking about what makes content quality content.
The first thing we think about are Entities. Entities are “a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.” Dave Davvies define this as:
- Relatedness: Relatedness is the idea that an entity is related to a subject, keyword or other entity. Google outlines how they determine this by referencing co-occurrence. Essentially, by comparing the number of times two entities are referenced together on the web, Google can determine whether they are related.
- Notability: Notability refers to how notable an entity is as it relates to a query or to another entity. Google does this by comparing the global popularity of the entity (that is, the number of links, social mentions, etc.) and dividing that by the value of the type of entity itself. We’ll look at how this works below and how you can use it to determine targets.
- Contribution: The contribution metric is based on external influence points such as reviews, fame rankings, etc. and can be weighted such that specific types of contribution metrics (such as reviews) are given more impact. A critical review from a well known reviewer for example would have more impact on the contribution metric than a Yelp user review.
- Prize: The prize metric is pretty much what it sounds like, a value assigned to prizes. This includes things like Nobel Prizes, Oscar’s, etc. and assigns a value to the entity based on the prize and it’s perceived value to a category.
Try using the Alchemy API service to get an understanding for how your website is optimised when compared to other websites you are competing with. You can find the free trial here: http://www.alchemyapi.com/products/demo/alchemylanguage
By analysing the results of the highest ranking websites for the queries that page is targeting you should start to get a good feel for the keywords that should be in there and those that shouldn’t.
You should also be looking at the co-occurrence of words within the content of the page. There are plenty of keyword analysis tools out there – for example you might want to check out http://www.webseoanalytics.com/free/seo-tools/page-analyzer-keyword-density-tool.php this is a really handy tool as it gives you a feel for if you’ve used a word too many times (and we all do it from time to time!).
From there you’ll want to look at a tool such as Ultimate Keyword Hunter which will help you to search out related keywords (you can find the download here: http://ultimatekeywordhunter.com/download.php).
In addition I’d also suggest using tools such as SEM Rush and Moz’s keyword explorer, both of which will give you a good understanding of which terms to include in your content.
Crucially, use a number of tools and you’ll get a better picture of the terms that need to be included.
Ensuring you’ve covered everything is important. One of the best ways of doing this is to put everything through Google Adwords Keyword Planning tool – you’ll need an Adwords account for this but you don’t have to spend any money to set one up. This should give an indication of the topics and keywords that Google attributes to a subject.
You might also want to take a look at http://answerthepublic.com/ which will give you some good ideas for content topics. For example I’ve just check what comes out around SEO Consultant and it spouts out the following pieces of data which would make great blog posts in their own rights:
- finding a good seo consultant
- how much does a seo consultant make
- become a certified seo consultant
- how much does a seo consultant cost
- questions to ask a seo consultant
- what does a seo consultant do
- what is a seo consultant
- selecting an seo consultant
- choosing an seo consultant
- how an seo consultant works
- hiring a seo consultant
- become a seo consultant
Have a go and find out what content you can create around your primary search phrase. From these you can create a nice group silo, which is essential if you want to give some relevance to the primary page you are trying to rank for. I mentioned about the 5 stages of the buying journey above and how SEOs start thinking about covering this from a word count perspective, well by creating content using these kinds of headings you should be able to come up with a silo that catch your users no matter where they are in that process (especially in the early stages).
10x Better Content
I think the line that Rand Fishkin has been taking with Moz is an interesting one. Rand has been talking about producing content that’s 10x better than any anyone else is producing and I think that’s a really interesting way of looking at it. We’re all producing content and we all want to produce quality content but that doesn’t mean to say we have to produce content that’s 10x bigger just 10x better and not just a bit better as it’s easy to think about producing content that’s just a bit better.
So what does this all mean for creating quality content?
Probably the first thing to say is stop looking for a formula for creating quality content. If you want to follow a strict set of rules about the content you create for seo you’ll fail because it misses the point of understanding the user’s intent. By addressing the user’s intent you can’t go wrong.
Once you’ve created content it doesn’t end there, you need to access it against your competitors and improve it. You also need to be creating content you can share and promote because without that amplification it’s going to take a lot longer to reach the realms of authority.
Do your homework. Get a process in place and then produce the content. Once you’d done that improve as you go. That’s the key to ranking. And once you’ve done that, be clear that you’re producing content that fits in the buying cycle of your customers. Be clear that you can then promote it – what’s the point of producing all that content if it can’t be promoted?!
At all times you need to be asking yourself is there a piece of content out there that answers the questions posited and which does it better. If yours is just a bit better you need to ramp it up. Exponentially.
What tools do you use to determine the quality of your content? How do you improve your content once it’s live?