What is quality content?
We’ve all heard that content is king and that you need to write high-quality content, or now “10x content,” as coined by Rand Fishkin. Ask SEOs what “quality content” is and you’ll receive a lot of varied and opinionated answers. Quality is subjective, and each person views it differently.
Ask SEOs what Google considers to be quality content, and you will get a lot of blank stares. I know because I like to ask this a lot.
The number one answer I get, sadly, is that content should be x number of words, where x is usually 200, 300, 500, 700, 1,000, 1,500, or 2,000. More content does not mean better content. A simple query about the age of an actor can be fully answered in a sentence and doesn’t require their life story and filmography.
Another answer I receive is that the content should be “relevant.” The problem with this is that low-quality pages can be relevant as well.
Other SEOs I’ve asked have given amazingly detailed answers from patents or ideas from machine learning about word2vec, RankBrain, deep learning, count-based methods and predictive methods.
Is there a right answer?
Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines
Google has quality guidelines here. However, you may notice that there are many guidelines around negative signals but few around positive signals. When reading these, think for a minute what happens when two, ten or a hundred websites aren’t doing anything bad. How do you determine the quality difference if no one does anything wrong?
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
Avoid the following techniques:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or links
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans or other badware
- Abusing rich snippets markup
- Sending automated queries to Google
Follow good practices like these:
- Monitoring your site for hacking and removing hacked content as soon as it appears
- Preventing and removing user-generated spam on your site
Google on how to create valuable content
Then there’s this section from Google’s Webmaster Academy course, which tells you how to “create valuable content.” There are a few good tips here on what to avoid: broken links, wrong information, grammar or spelling mistakes, excessive ads and so on. These are useful tips, but again, they focus on what not to do.
There are some tips on how to make your site useful, credible and engaging; however, when it comes to being more valuable or high-quality, Google basically says, “be more valuable or high-quality.”
As you begin creating content, make sure your website is:
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.
Google’s Panda algorithm
Panda algorithmically assessed website quality. The algorithm targeted many signals of low-quality sites but again didn’t provide much in the way of useful information for positive signals.
Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines
There were a lot of signals for both high- and low-quality content and websites in the Google Search Quality Ratings Guidelines. It is worth reading in its entirety multiple times, but I pulled out some of the important parts here:
What makes a High-quality page? A High-quality page may have the following characteristics:
- 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
They expand further on the concept of E-A-T. This was the part of the guidelines I found the most interesting and relevant in determining quality of content (or a website in general).
6.1 Low Quality Main Content
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.”
I found the part of about large images amusing. I’m not a fan of hero images unless they are exceptional. Unfortunately, most end up being generic. Some publications make it worse and use generic hero sliders. Remember, there is an algorithm for “above-the-fold,” and I feel like hero images are completely against this. Most hero images provide little to no useful content without having to scroll.
In section 7.0, “Lowest Quality Pages,” Google notes that the following types of pages/websites should receive the Lowest quality rating:
- Harmful or malicious pages or websites
- True lack of purpose pages or websites
- Deceptive pages or websites
- Pages or websites which are created to make money with little to no attempt to help users
- Pages with extremely low or lowest-quality MC
- Pages on YMYL websites that are so lacking in website information that it feels untrustworthy
- Hacked, defaced or spammed pages
- Pages or websites created with no expertise or pages which are highly untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate or misleading
- Websites which have extremely negative or malicious reputations
- Violations of the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines
Speaking more specifically about page content in section 7.4, “Lowest Quality Main Content,” the guidelines note that the following types of Main Content (MC) should be judged as Lowest quality:
- No helpful MC at all or so little MC that the page effectively has no MC
- MC which consists almost entirely of “keyword stuffing”
- Gibberish or meaningless MC
- “Auto-generated” MC, created with little to no time, effort, expertise, manual curation or added value for users
- MC which consists almost entirely of content copied from another source with little time, effort, expertise, manual curation or added value for users.
Finally, in section 7.2, “Lack of Purpose Pages,” Google notes that:
Sometimes it is impossible to figure out the purpose of the page. Such pages serve no real purpose for users. For example, some pages are deliberately created with gibberish or meaningless (nonsense) text. No matter how they are created, true lack of purpose pages should be rated Lowest quality.
I love how these sections are all basically saying that your page needs to have a purpose and be understood. I’ve seen many marketing pages that use so much lingo, jargon or marketing-speak that even people at the company can’t tell you what the page is about. What’s worse is when good content is stripped away to make more of these kinds of pages.
There are also some interesting snippets regarding the different elements and signals of trust that might need to be included based on the type of website. This information is extremely important, and it’s easy to brainstorm the different website elements that a local business would need (such as “about us” or “contact”), compared to an e-commerce store that might need reviews, pricing and so forth.
The point is that you need to understand the questions your customers are asking and provide that information to them.