Quality content forms the basis of a solid content marketing strategy. It is arguably the single most important element for getting your site ranked in SERPs and to pull in your target audience.
But what does that term, quality content, really mean? How do search engines know you have good content? How do you determine if it’s worth a visitor’s time to consume?
In this article, I’ll share definitions of content quality according to Google, how to determine if your audience is engaging with your content, and what to do if they’re not.
Quality Content According to Google
In the last 15 or so years, Google has refined their ability to determine valuable content, dramatically changing the notion of search engine optimization. They use a combination of site crawlers and human evaluators to look at sites, judge their quality and thus determine their place in the SERPS.
First, Google bots crawl sites using AI and semantic technology to determine the topic of a page and match that to a search term’s intent. Years ago, they stopped matching search terms to keywords on a page. With sophisticated topic modeling, Google can understand the topic of your page.
They also crawl links to related content on your site and backlinks from other sites. If they find a lot of good links, that’s a positive signal.
Google’s ranking algorithms aren’t perfect and that’s where human evaluators enter the picture. Their ratings are used to train and refine Google’s algorithms.
Google has an extensive 164-page document called the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a set of rules given to their evaluators so they can determine which sites contain quality content and which don’t.
Google’s definition of high-quality content varies by the kind of site it is. In their guidelines, they explain:
“The purpose of the page will help you determine what high-quality content means for that page. For example, High quality information pages should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive. High quality shopping content should allow users to find the products they want and to purchase the products easily. High quality humor or satire should be entertaining, while factual accuracy is not a requirement as long as the page would be understood as satire by users. “
Google uses a five-point rating system to qualify a page’s quality: Lowest, Low, Medium, High and Highest.
There are several technical standards your site has to meet to get a high-quality rating, like available information about the owner of the site and the reputation of the site or site holder. But there are some important content standards, too.
You kind of have to cobble those standards together from their evaluator ratings, their support pages and their webmaster blog. I’ve looked through all three of those sources to put those benchmarks together.
1. The Purpose of the Page
Evaluators first look at the true purpose of the the page. If it has no benefit to users or provides no help, or if it spreads hate or tries to do harm, it gets a Lowest rating.
2. Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (EAT)
Pages must demonstrate these characteristics to be given a good page-quality rating. Content should demonstrate reliability through content that is either written by experts or cites expert sources.
Note that everyday people can be considered experts through their life experiences. If you have a travel blog, for instance, your descriptions and tips based on your own travels are considered expert content.
3. Original Content
Google is looking for content that doesn’t replicate anything else on your site or on any other sites. It’s not that duplicate content is inherently “bad.” There are valid reasons for its existence – content syndication being one of them. It’s just that Google has no interest in displaying duplicate content in its search results.
So, if you’re marketing strategy has been to rely on other people’s content, consider putting some more budget toward your content creation efforts. It will do wonders for organic traffic!
4. Well-Written and Well-Edited Content
Content should be clear and grammatically correct with no syntax or spelling errors. It should give the reader the impression that it was written and edited with care.
5. Content That Addresses User Interest and User Intent
Content should be relevant to your audience. It should address their pain points, their questions and their needs as a consumer.
6. Solid Backlinking and Internal Linking
Google looks for quality backlinks from other sites. That means reliable sites are linking to you and your content. You should also link internally to related content that will help satisfy user intent. That will also help Google crawl your site and recognize the quantity and quality of your website content).
Notice that there is no mention of long-form content. Good content is not defined by its word count. Essentially, Google is looking for content that is meaningful and useful to the target audience.
In fact, in one of Google’s webmaster blog posts they write “Our advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites and not to focus too much on what they think are Google’s current ranking algorithms or signals.”
So, let’s take a look at the kinds of content your audience will deem quality.
Quality Content and Your Audience
So how do you know the content you’re creating is resonating with your audience. There are a few methods you can use.
Google Analytics is a great place to start. There is plenty of data beyond pageviews that can help start to understand how well your content is doing.
The type of content being evaluated will influence the type of metrics to examine. Basic data like time on page, scroll depth, bounce rate and pages per visit will help you see how long users are staying on your content, how far down the page they’re scrolling and whether or not they’re moving on to consume more.
There are much more refined data points within GA, as well. You can look up very specific data on your audience to make sure your content is hitting its target.
Social Media Shares
Keep close track of how users are engaging with your content on your social media channels, what are people sharing and which blog posts are getting your click-throughs to your site?
Email Click-Through Rates
Likewise, look at your email open and click-through rates. Which title topics got people to open your emails and then which links did they click on to read further. Those are the topics your audience is interested in.
Finally, ask your audience. Include a survey in your next email blast or newsletter, perhaps with an incentive for completing it. Give your regular users a specific set of questions about the content that is getting the best (and the worst) engagement.
On-Page Quality Signals
If your content isn’t resonating with your audience. It’s not necessarily your topics. It could be some more technical issues on your site.
I already mentioned content that is well-written and grammatically correct. I can’t stress enough how important it is to edit your content to make sure it’s clean. If your content contains spelling or other issues, it signals to the reader that you didn’t take the time to write meaningful content. And if you rushed through the writing and editing process, chances are you rushed through your fact-checking process, too.
Other signals of on-page quality include your content’s readability, it’s tone and voice, and the overall user experience.
The tone, voice and readability level of your content should match your audience. For example, if you have a homework help site that targets kids in grade school, your content should match their reading level, using simple sentence structures and easier vocabulary. It should use a tone that’s light, fun and not condescending.
If your homework help site targets college students, your sentence structure and syntax can be more complex, and you can use high-level vocabulary. Your tone may be more scholarly, as well.
Avoid broken links at all cost and pay attention to internal links. Your content should be easy to find, with a clear navigation and organizational structure. If users can’t find what they’re looking for, they’re going to leave your site.
The example above shows an article offer a poor user experience, resulting in few on-page quality signals. There’s lots of advertising couple with little actual content.
There is no reason set up the navigation in such a way that only a couple of lines of text are shown per page. The navigation is designed to show more ads, not improve the experience of website visitors.
The final piece of the quality content puzzle is topical authority. Sites gain topical authority (sometimes called domain authority) when they have covered their chosen topics completely and in-depth.
How can you tell? MarketMuse Suite is one way.
It will evaluate your content to determine how comprehensively you’ve covered the topic, and return a MarketMuse Content Score. It also provides a suggested target word count. The goal is to achieve attain that score while staying within the target word count.
A high word count and a low MarketMuse Content score means you’ve written a lot of fluff. Note that content creators prone to keyword stuffing are prone to receiving low scores! Reverse those scores and you’re on the right track, but you clearly haven’t covered the topic fully.
At the site level, you can create topical authority by covering each of your chosen topics with a variety of content that comes at the topic from different angles.
For example, on that homework help site for kids in grade school, you may have a section on Hadrian’s Wall.
First, start with a central article (called a pillar article) on the what the wall is, where it is, and why it was built. From there, create an interactive timeline of the wall’s history, a slideshow presentation on the historical characters who are associated with the wall, another article on the life and rule of Emperor Hadrian and some videos on life in Roman England.
Come at the topic from every angle and provide as much coverage as possible in a variety of formats. Doing so signals to your readers and to Google that you have created quality content that meets the needs of your users.
A content writing process, that creates quality content at scale, is multi-faceted, and takes careful planning. Find topics that interest your users, cover them completely with well-researched and well-written pieces that address every angle and check in with your audience to make sure they are finding your content useful.
Do this and you won’t have to worry too much about what Google thinks of you. With content like that, you’re already on their good side.