Synopsis — Google has always used some degree of judgment concerning the quality of content on a website, but recently the price of having less-than-prime content has become more onerous. With the recent Panda update, Google adjusted its algorithm to reward original content of high quality with higher ranking and punish websites full of derivative, misleading, and lackluster content with lower ranking or outright removal from the index. This flurry of activity has led many to question what exactly Google considers to be “quality content.”
In her article, “Digging Deep Into Google’s Definition Of Quality Content,” Rebecca Appleton discusses this issue by examining seven of the characteristics of content that Google now uses to determine the “quality content” portion of their algorithm. There are other factors, as well, but these seven are prime attributes that website owners can look to for guidance and can work to their advantage by attention to detail and ensuring that their site content adheres to the principles discussed. For each of the seven metrics, Rebecca also offers some tips to build trust to help marketers make the most of their efforts.
Based on Google’s own revelations about how they went about testing to develop the signals they currently use to identify quality from non-quality content, Rebecca’s examination of questions to ask about your content and tips to make it adhere better to Google’s wishes will help you to improve your ranking and head off a precipitous decline that may come from ignoring quality problems that may be plaguing your site.
The complete article follows …
Digging Deep Into Google’s Definition Of Quality Content
What do you understand by the term “quality content”? Can you pin it to a certain word length for articles? Do you expect facts and figures, quotations, statistics, and other data? Would an overview of a subject be enough to convince you or would you require more depth? Google asks itself these questions, plus several others, each and every day in making algorithm adjustments. What’s more, they are asked of your website content by those very algorithms that decide who is ranked where in the search engine results.
In the multi-billion-dollar search engine battle waged by businesses from every industry and every corner of the globe every day of the year, understanding how Google itself determines that a page of text is worthy of the “quality content” mantle is the key to success.
The standard of the articles that appear on your site is now a main ranking factor. Indisputably, Google will base its impression of your domain at least in part on the content you publish. You might argue that none of us truly care deep, deep down about quality content. Words are just a means to an end — a way to fill a website, build a few links, and rank a bit higher. But content is a very large stepping-stone on the way to offering a positive user experience, and that ultimately will lead to a stronger web presence and more sales. This is reason enough to spend some time understanding how Google applies its “good or bad” content formula and sidestep the markdown applied to poorly conceived sites.
Third-party sites also act as judge and jury using the quality of your information as evidence of your worth. With search a growing industry, the competition for links is tougher than ever, and the really good sites in your particular niche can afford to award links to only the very best material. If your content isn’t up to scratch, your chances of getting a link are slim to non-existent. Couple this with a less than stellar reaction from Google, and it could be a very long climb up to page one of the SERPs.
In spring of this year, Google rolled out a significant change to its algorithm called Panda. Many consider this a response to a previous algorithm change (Caffeine) which switched Google’s focus toward rewarding sites with lots of content. Caffeine had been unsuccessful at filtering out content farms (poor-quality article marketing sites and sites with pages and pages of very basic, 200-word-or-so articles developed to satisfy the algorithm change), resulting in lots of low-quality sites sitting on top of the search results. This didn’t sit well with Google or with users.
With Panda, Google went back to the drawing board to refine its previous update, keeping the focus on content but adding a more subjective requirement — quality. The search engine used human raters to help refine its understanding of how a search user judges a website. They asked questions such as, “Do you consider this site to be authoritative?” “Would it be okay if this was in a magazine?” “Does this site have excessive ads?”
Google Chrome’s site blocker extension was used for comparison purposes, but not factored in as a ranking signal. With the tool measuring an 84% overlap on sites that were blocked or downgraded, it will play a more important role in future updates.
Google has made dozens of changes since Panda’s rollout at the beginning of March. The search process is constantly evolving, and with Google itself admitting that it hasn’t yet quite got to grips with how to decide if a site is authoritative — or how exactly to define a “low quality” site — more changes are sure to be forthcoming.
As things stand, there are dozens of metrics that slot together to form the basis for determining if your content is worth rewarding. Not every piece of content you produce will hit every nail on the head, but now the dust has settled on Google’s Panda algorithm, content has climbed back onto its throne and assumed its rightful position as King of the Internet. That means the more nails you can hammer in, the stronger your position. Let’s look at some of the metrics Google now uses to algorithmically assess good, quality content.
1. Can a user trust this site?
Trust is the cornerstone of ecommerce and a prime ranking signal Google uses to decide if your site is of good quality or not. Building trust online takes time, and can be more difficult in the virtual world than in the real one. Understandably, Google wants to feel confident about the sites it refers search users to, because by presenting your site on or near the top of the results, it implicitly gives you a seal of approval. If Google is wrong and your site isn’t trustworthy, searchers are likely to take their business to Yahoo! or Bing next time.
Tips To Build Trust
In the testing prior to Panda’s implementation, Google asked real search users if they would feel comfortable buying medication from (and giving the product to their children) a site in a control group they constructed. They used the responses given to determine trust signals.
You can help your case by providing clear contact information on each page. Include a phone number as well as an email address on each news item, article, and web page, making it easy to get in touch with your customer service team should anything go wrong.
If you sell online, invest in the latest SSL encryption technology to ensure sensitive information such as credit card numbers are safe.
2. Is the content written by an expert or enthusiast?
Know your topic. You wouldn’t take an exam without studying, so don’t post content without doing your research. Articles that are shallow in nature add nothing to the web’s already-overflowing library of information.
Tips To Show Authority
You are the person who best knows your business, its products, and services, making you the most qualified person to produce substantial content. Google looks for depth of information and attention to detail, so if you’re pushed for time, commit to writing one long article per week or month rather than 10 short and superficial posts.
Including personal experiences, conducting your own research, asking clients for quotes, and citing relevant legislation or respected authors all can help you present a unique viewpoint. It also shows originality and a commitment to informing the reader, which Google will reward.
3. Does the site have duplicate or redundant articles with different keywords?
Many sites fail this test. Essentially the search engine is simply asking you to prove that you don’t have a site that is basically one page, reproduced 100 times (perhaps using different keywords). Google doesn’t want to see the same topic used repeatedly. If you don’t have anything new to say, then say nothing at all.
Tips To Avoid Duplication
Get creative content ideas by monitoring the most frequently asked questions from customers. What new topics are coming up in customer interactions?
Keep an eye on the news. What is making headlines and how does it relate to or affect your business or your clients?
Don’t live in a bubble — look at what’s trending online using tools like Google Insights for Search.
Play the devil’s advocate — ask two members of your staff to take opposing stands on a hot topic relevant to your industry and write up their arguments. The most convincing side wins.
Even if you only sell one product or offer one service, there’s always more than one point of view, one use, or a single related topic. Look at competitor websites, take to Twitter, or run a poll on your Facebook page to ask what customers want to see.
Make original content of good quality into a source of pride on your site. Would you want potential clients, suppliers, customers, or competitors to think you were simply a one-trick pony? Convince them you’re not with a rich variety of content, and you’ll find Google’s opinion follows suit.
4. Does the site have spelling or grammar errors?
As one of Google’s top five signals for determining quality content, this should be right at the top of your own content agenda. With any number of spellcheck and grammar functions available on even the simplest of word processing tools, no excuse exists for spelling mistakes, stylistic errors, or poor grammar.
Tips For Dealing With Spelling/Grammar Errors
Spellcheck won’t necessarily find common problem areas like using the wrong form of “their, “there,” and “they’re” and other correctly spelled words used in the wrong way. Do a final read through of your articles with an eye toward catching these common mistakes.
Consider using an online grammar checker such as Grammarly. The paid version has a plagiarism detector that is very good at finding duplicate content.
Have a friend or colleague read through your final copy. A second set of eyes is often useful for seeing errors that your own skip over.
Read the copy out loud. Errors and typos that you missed through proofreading may be apparent when spoken.
5. Are the topics driven by genuine interest or just attempts to guess at what may rank well?
When it comes to manipulating search engine rankings, it’s fair to say that Google has seen it all. If — in a misguided attempt to circumnavigate the duplicate content issue — you have desperately written about anything and everything, trying to make it gel with your topic, you’re in for a shock. Producing content not strongly related to your central theme, or rehashing old ground in an attempt to score better rankings, will be looked upon less than favorably by the search engine.
Tips To Express Genuine Interest
Don’t shoehorn your keywords into irrelevant content simply in an effort to generate more page views. For example, if you’re selling TV cabinetry and want to write a review of the latest episode of Bones, talk about how watching your favorite show can be made all the more enjoyable when your TV is encased in a luxury cabinet, creating a home cinema feel.
A stream of topical articles will make your case. If you report on a piece of legislation being debated, follow up a few articles later with the results of the changes or new thoughts. Returning to crucial issues with a new take on the subject or updates to an ongoing story shows a genuine interest and commitment to the topic at hand.
6. Does the content provide original content, reporting, information or analysis?
Repeating the information you just read elsewhere is a quick route to a new blog post or article, but detour from it if you want to keep in Google’s good graces. The search engine is skilled in sifting out duplicate content, so it can easily determine content lacking originality. If your article simply paraphrases a piece found elsewhere, why wouldn’t Google choose to rank the original article higher?
Tips To Express Originality
Use an existing news story or high profile topic as a source of inspiration, but make it your own by providing your specific opinion, add personal experience or —even better — do some independent data gathering. This may be as simple as asking 10 of your clients or co-workers if they agree or disagree, and then incorporating your findings into the article.
The more in-depth and original your research, the better it is — why not incorporate your social media activity and ask for tweets on the topic or comments on your Facebook wall? Not only will you gain an instant pool of quotes, but you can also collate opinion into your own original statistical reference.
7. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative resource when mentioned by name?
In the immediate aftermath of Panda, much was made of the fact that sites like the New York Times were favored over smaller operations when it came to allocating search results. Google explained their rationale that such sites are recognized as authority figures, capable of educating and informing their readership. Developing a similar standing takes time and a large back catalog of information.
Tips For Becoming A Recognized Authority
Don’t focus on the bigger picture — see the smaller picture. Unlike the New York Times or similar, your site almost certainly doesn’t need to cast such a wide net. You aren’t trying to appeal to the population at large. Rather, you’re trying to make an impression on the leaders in your circle and those with buying power within your own particular niche.
Work on building your profile with an active social media presence and regular website updates.
Actively seek promotional opportunities such as guest blogging or interview with a local newspaper, radio, or TV station.
Offer your services to a relevant ezine or magazine and be an active contributor.
Supply helpful answers and suggestions in forums and message boards.
Identify publications in your field, introduce yourself to their chief reporters and editors, and make a point of sending them your latest news or suggesting story ideas.
Always request a link back to your site along with a brief bio when pursuing any of the above ideas.
Conclusion: Going Forward Without Falling Behind
Optimizing a site and building an online resource where web traffic would be happy to land can seem about as easy as building a house on sand. With the goal posts constantly shifting, how can you ever be sure you’re doing the right things? Just as you get to grips with one requirement, it changes and another five take its place.
The reality is that most changes to ranking signal interpretation and algorithm change are merely refinements of previous updates. If you’re committed to providing good-quality content, have successfully identified your target market, and update your site on a regular basis, you are halfway there. Your content production should be future-proofed in the sense that you’ll already be doing the things the search engine wants to see.
Keeping on the right side of Google isn’t really about ranking positions in any case. Read through the tips above, carry out more research into Caffeine or Panda, and look at any of the sites consistently ranked at number one for your keywords. One constant should be apparent. Good content isn’t about Google. It’s about providing the user with the information, product, or service they are trying to find — the crux of recent algorithm changes that underlines all of the requirements set out for topping the “good quality” list.
The most important point to take away from all of this is that high-quality websites aren’t built for Google. They are built for the user. Focusing only on the search engine and chasing better rankings invariably ends in disappointment, because then your site is tailored to a computer program or “bot.”
As powerful as Google is, the search engine isn’t yet the one that lands on your site, sees a product or service it likes, and taps in its credit card information to complete the sale. It may bring us there with its all-powerful research abilities to point us in the direction of things we want to find online, but the individual is the ultimate provider of sales on the spreadsheet, cash in the bank, money on pay slips, or food on the table.
Losing sight of your customer and trying to build pages for better rankings leaves you exposed to the risk that hard-won traffic will land on your site, be unable to make sense of content stuffed full of keywords, and leave without converting. They won’t be back. They’ll go to a site that talks to them in a language they can understand, gives clear product descriptions, provides ample supporting information, convinces them of the value of the product or service, and makes it easy for them to buy. That is the true definition of a high-quality website and Google’s “perfect child.”