How do your audience and search engines assess content?
When it comes to content creation, there’s okay content, and then there’s great content. Great content takes research. It takes real planning and thought to produce something both your audience and search engines will find valuable.
Where do you start? I’ve got some tips to help you boost your content from okay to great, and keep your target audience coming back for more.
As I mentioned above, there are two factors to consider when assessing quality content: how do humans determine quality content and how do search engines determine quality content?
Once upon a time, these two benchmarks were merely distant cousins. But as search engines get smarter, the determinants of quality content for both groups are quickly becoming one and the same.
What Makes Great Content Great?
According to the Havas group, 84 percent of people surveyed expect brands to provide content that entertains, tells stories, provides solutions or creates an experience. They’re looking for more out of their brands than a product or a service.
High-quality content that provides value for your target audience helps your brand gain trust. It makes for a simple yet effective content strategy. But how do you know the content you’re creating is hitting the mark?
To create quality content that speaks to your target audience, there are some questions you need to answer:
Does It Hit Your Target Audience?
Putting content out for the sake of creating content won’t win you any popularity contests. Content should immediately address the kinds of queries your target audience is typing into search engines.
The best way to understand what they’re looking for is to create buyer personas. Dive deep into the kinds of people your product or service draws (or the kinds you’re trying to attract).
Go beyond age, race, gender, and income, and come up with a “real” person. What hobbies do they tend to have? How do they typically vote? How do they consume information online and when?
Answering questions like these help you create content areas beyond your brand, draw in a larger audience and build authority. For instance, when I worked for an HR services brand, I discovered that a lot of the HR executives I was targeting had kids. A few articles about work/life balance and providing support services for employees with kids went over very well with my client.
Does It Satisfy a Need?
In one way or another, your unique content must satisfy a need. It should entertain, inform, support, provide an experience or solve a problem.
And it really depends on your brand.
Red Bull has done remarkably well in providing experiences by becoming one of the biggest supporters of extreme sports, while Pampers provides information and support for new parents on topics that go way beyond diapers.
They both looked at their brands and their audience and found a unique way to fill a void.
Are You Working With Experts or Influencers?
According to a Nielsen study, 85 percent of consumers regularly seek out credible, third-party articles and reviews before making a purchasing decision. And Google now actively seeks expertise in content.
If you’re the expert in your market, that’s great! You probably have studies of your own to point to. Use them to create blog posts, white papers, and infographics.
If there are other experts or influencers whom people trust, reach out to them to write for you, or source them in your content.
Is It Well-Written and Free of Errors?
When you come across a piece of content that’s full of grammatical errors and misspellings, what do you do? You click away, right?
Poorly written content signals to your audience that you didn’t put much effort into it. So how can they trust the message you’re trying to convey?
Take the time to think through the right tone and voice for your audience. Outline your content pieces before writing, and leave time for editing.
Does It Speak to Your Audience, Rather Than at Them?
One of the biggest mistakes I see is content that talks at an audience, rather than to them. Readers want content that sounds like a well-informed friend talking to another. They don’t want to be bombarded by statistics and industry jargon. They don’t want to be talked down to with poorly used slang and simple sentences, either.
Make sure you’re setting the right tone for your users.
Is It Something Shareable?
A really good indicator of quality content is the number of shares it gets. If you’ve satisfied someone’s need, they’re more likely to share out your content to spread the word. And the more shares something gets, the more trustworthy it becomes.
How Search Engines Determine Quality Content
When search engines assess the quality of your content, they have a few more objective benchmarks than your target audience does, but there are some areas where the two intertwine. Here are some of the best indicators of quality content for SEO.
In 2015, Google released its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (pdf) for the first time. In that huge document, they made one thing clear: they are looking for expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT) when ranking sites.
If you can show these three factors in your content, you’re more likely to rank in search engines like Google.
Having quality outbound links goes back to the principle of EAT. If your information is backed up by trustworthy sources (or your own research you can link to), then you are deemed more credible.
Of course, if people link back to you as a trusted source, it only boosts your credibility in the eyes of search engines.
Time on Page, Scroll Depth and Bounce Rate
All of these metrics show how long people are sticking with your content, which is a good indicator of its quality. If your scroll depth and time on page are low, while your bounce rate is high, it could mean that your content isn’t satisfying a need, and people are leaving.
Meta Tags and Images
Search engines also look at quality meta tags and images. Meta tags for your images as well as your content should directly relate to your topic and include your long-tail keywords.
If you’re writing an article about the best hairstyles you can do in under five minutes, for example, and you include an image, your meta tag shouldn’t be “girl with braid.” It should be “a braid is a great 5-minute hairstyle.”
On-page SEO is all about optimizing those factors that you control on the page.
Search engines also put a lot of emphasis on social shares. If people are sharing your content, it stands to reason that it satisfies a need, and users are spreading the word.
All of these benchmarks give you a picture of how likely your content is to rank. Determining how to make it meet these requirements will depend on how thoroughly you research your audience and meet their needs.
How to Write Comprehensive Long-Form Content
While smaller pieces of content are great for social media, long-form content that covers your chosen topics in depth creates a great experience for both visitors and search engines. Here’s how to create high-quality content at scale.
Research and Verify Topics
Don’t underestimate the effort required to create a mega post. Take time to research the topics in which your audience is interested. Use your audience persona, themes your competitors are covering and timely events to create a well-thought-out content calendar. Research good, long-tail keywords to include with each subject.
Outline Your Assignments for Writers
Think about every topic thoroughly. Write a brief that includes subtopics, questions to answer, and all keywords to include. Use the traditional 5Ws and H (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How) to make sure you’ve covered your topic thoroughly for your readers.
Leave Time for Editing
As I mentioned above, poorly written content that doesn’t cover all the bases, or content that’s full of grammatical and spelling errors will not win you an audience. Leave time in your content planning for editing and perhaps a few revisions by writers.
Once your content is published, keep an eye on it. Assess it not only for page views but for bounce rate, time on page, scroll depth, social shares, and inbound links. If your piece is doing well, optimize it regularly to keep it timely and see if you can create content clusters around the same topic.
Good content is a great way to get a lot of eyeballs on your product without investing a lot of money. Follow these steps to take your blog content from good to great.
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Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, and content consultant and adjunct professor at Fisher College. Her work includes the development and execution of content strategies for B2B and B2C companies, including marketing and audience research, content calendar creation, hiring and managing writers and editors, and SEO optimization. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.