What Counts as Quality Content?
Speak to any SEO expert in 2015 and they’ll tell you the key to ranking highly in Google searches is to have ‘quality content’ on your website. But what is quality content, anyway? What defines high-quality in web content versus low-quality?
These days, the core principle that defines high-quality SEO content is that it’s written for people, not search engines.
Your content should be for the benefit of your users. It should be interesting, entertaining, engaging, and if you’re a business owner, it should convert casual users into paying customers.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? In truth, this has always been the ‘point’ of SEO – after all, Google search exists to provide its users with the highest value results for the search queries – but it’s only relatively recently that some SEO practitioners are catching on to it.
The trouble is, in the past, SEO has sometimes been viewed as a simple game of ‘beat the search engine’. Misinformed business owners have hired dodgy SEO ‘experts’ to help them ‘be number 1 on Google’ for their chosen keywords, assuming that a high search rank will always equal more sales.
This has led to a lot more internet spam over the years. Thin, insignificant content has been churned out to ‘tick the boxes’ for SEO and chase those elusive number 1 spots – with little or no regard to the people who are going to be reading it!
The arrival of Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates a few years back has helped to banish low-value content from search results, and has highlighted the fact that content is for people first and foremost.
So, how do you write for people? Your content needs to be…
Focus on communicating your message to the reader as clearly as possible. On product/service landing pages, your message is ‘You should buy this, and you should buy it from us’, so you need to provide straightforward and tangible reasons for why your customers should do just that.
Each content piece should be coherent, logically-structured and easy to follow, with confusing jargon kept to a minimum. Techniques such as bullet points and bold/italics emphasis can help to break up and simply complex sections of text when used appropriately. Make sure you use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, as excessive mistakes can make you look unprofessional and untrustworthy.
Pages can still be driven by keywords, but don’t just shoehorn your keyword phrase awkwardly into the content in the hope the page will rank – take time to assess the intent of the user searching for those keywords, and produce your content to meet their needs.
Your content needs to be closely targeted and highly relevant to your ideal site user. It needs to inform, fascinate, excite and entertain. There are a number of ways of approaching this.
One such way is to post timely content about recent events which affect your target audience, such as posting your own commentary on new innovations in your industry, writing about changes in legislation which your customers need to know, or reviewing the latest design trends for your products.
Another strategy is to appeal to the emotional intelligence of the reader. Rather than producing a bland case study, turn it into a narrative; readers are encouraged to empathise with the struggles of your client, then feel happiness for them when you reveal how you solved their problem and improved their business with your products and services.
Visual content such as images and video work wonders for engagement, allowing you to communicate your message in a more appealing, entertaining and intuitive way. Just don’t get carried away with the production and end up with something that doesn’t meet any of your customers’ needs.
Does your content look and feel exactly the same as all your competitors? If the answer is yes, you’re not really providing a huge amount of value to web users – you’re not likely to engage them with content which they’ve seen before or they can get elsewhere. Creating unique content is very difficult, but very rewarding if you can pull it off.
Being able to write authoritatively on your area of business or expertise is a huge plus. For example, if a blog article contains exclusive insider information which helps your site visitors, it can help them build trust in your business and convert them into customers.
If you’re posting great unique content regularly, it’s more likely that social media users and other websites will be linking to it. Google has used external links as a ranking factor since the beginning – generally speaking, if real people are directing their own followers/users to your site, they must think your content is worth consuming, so Google are more likely to rank your content higher in their search results.
Beware of copying other people’s content (or your own, for that matter) word-for-word. Google is good at recognising if you’re reusing content to influence search rankings rather than helping web users. If you do use content that already exists on the web, be sure to add extra value to it – a prime example of this would be offering a point-by-point rebuttal of someone else’s opinion post, and quoting elements of their post in your article.
Appropriate in length
Now, this one’s tricky. 300 to 500 words has long been touted as the best length for a search-optimised content page. However, the rise in mobile traffic over recent years has driven a push towards more short-form content, which is easier to read and navigate through on smaller screens.
In any case, the length of your content should be optimised for how long the user will be happy to spend reading it. The purpose and context of the piece will help you work this out – for example, if it’s a detailed blog article full of analysis and commentary, it’s usually fine to go into the thousands. If it’s a mobile-optimised landing page advertising a product, the content should be more brief and succinct, and it may be wise to hide it behind a button.
Avoid trying to fill up the word count with ‘waffle’ (such as repeating points you’ve made earlier in the article). Everything you put into your content should be there for the benefit of the reader.
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