Quality content may mean different things to different people.
In real life, there’s no hard definition. In one instance, readers may find short, focused content that answers one specific question very well valuable. In another, a long, detailed post presenting a well-reasoned point of view might be exactly what they are looking for.
If your idea of quality depends on on how well the content answers a searcher’s question, how different must the definition be for various kinds of people?
For a small business owner, and even for some seasoned SEOs, subjectivity makes SEO a moving target.
What exactly is quality content?
While you know what you define as quality content, does Google define quality by the same measure? There’s quite a lot of buzz around that question, and the answer varies with your audience. Who they are tells you a lot about what you should write to interest them.
Figuring out what your audience wants isn’t always easy, and not only does your content have to please your readers, it has to please Google.
Let’s start with readers.
A good content strategy always starts with your readers.
If you’re reading this, you already know that JeffBullas.com is a high authority site packed with quality content. So if I were writing for Jeff (oh, wait, I am!), I would start at Buzzsumo, which happens to be my favorite tool.
What topics most appeal to Jeff’s audience?
I’m seeing a lot of content topics in the most-shared list (including one of mine, woohoo!). Obviously, quality content is a hot topic… and how to generate high quality content consistently is still something of a mystery.
Content and SEO are the most popular topics in my industry and with my readers, but what will resonate with your readers? To find the answer, do exactly what I did. Search by topic, keyword, or stalk the most popular sites in your niche. Look for what’s missing. What parallels or suppositions are not being made?
Make a list of potential topics, and then brainstorm KILLER titles.
Knowing what your audience wants and crafting great titles are your content cornerstones, but you’re not done yet (not even close).
Feeding the Google beast
To really make your content sing, you have to think about what Google wants, and to do that, you need to be familiar with the Google Quality Rater Guidelines.
Intended to help their employees evaluate websites and help weed low quality crapola from search results, the guidelines can also help you craft higher quality content.
What makes a high quality page?
Google defines high quality in excruciating detail. It breaks down to: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T), high quality main content (MC), and a good reputation.
Here’s what you need to know:
Expertise + Authoritativeness + Trustworthiness, or E-A-T
The E-A-T concept is absolutely nothing new. Google has made its goals clear from the start: delivering the most useful possible results to users.
Semantic search makes it possible to find, not just a random page that mentions keywords over and over, but a page filled with informational, relevant content.
Let’s take E-A-T one element at a time.
You have to know your stuff. It’s that simple. Content crafted with nothing but fluff and keywords written by people who know nothing about the industry, your product, or your audience is not only ineffective, it’s poison.
If you hired some SEO “expert” in the 90s and he stuffed your website with poorly written nonsense, take it all down. You’re better off with an empty blog than with garbage.
Does this mean you have to write it yourself, or hire a writer who is an expert in your field? No. If you have the writing skills, the knowledge, and the time, you can write your own blog.
Google doesn’t expect you to be a recognized expert. The guidelines specify that “everyday expertise” counts.
If you don’t have time (or writing skills), hire great writers and work with them to craft a content strategy. Keep in touch and send regular information – bullet points, post ideas, facts, reports and interesting news you come across.
Talented professional writers are expensive. You’ll stop bitching about that when your site moves up in the SERPs and your business notches up with every incremental rise in rank. Content is a long game. Follow the Google guidelines and you’ll be penalty proof, now and in the future.
Authority is related to expertise, but it’s not something you can show off. You have to earn it. You can’t just tell people you’re the best. They have to agree.
To determine authority, Google quality raters are instructed to look for signs that real users and industry experts consider your site valuable. Awards, comments, endorsements, traffic, and quality backlinks all come into play. If the information on your site is bogus, there will be complaints.
Moz offers a free tool to measure Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA). Keep an eye on your score, and act quickly if you start losing ground.
Authority is especially important if your site is identified as “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL), a page that might impact the happiness, health, or financial stability of users. For example:
- Any page where a user can make a financial transaction, such as shopping, paying bills, or transferring money.
- Pages offering financial information or advice.
- Medical information pages that provide health or drug-related information.
- Pages with legal advice or information.
- Any other type of page where bad, false, or misleading information could adversely affect the lives of users.
Trust is another earned quality. If you meet E and A, T should be no problem. As long as visitors find the quality information they are searching for, they will trust you, and so will Google.
To up your trust factor, make sure the people responsible for your content are identified, and your contact information is up to date.
Majestic Topical Trust Flow tool using example data
Nick Chasinov, SEO expert and founder of Teknicks, explains: “Simply add an ‘About’ section to your website to showcase the knowledge and experience of your team. Provide information on your brand and authors. This will demonstrate your industry authority and trustworthiness.” Chasinov adds, “Showcase your awards and professional highlights on your site. Sell yourself as an industry expert through positive customer reviews while creating a community of loyal followers that help support your company.”
You might have noticed that several of the quality distinctions Google uses to determine quality rely on reactions to your content. In other words, quality content must also attract positive attention.
So…how do you do that? What makes content popular?
For years, Neil Patel has been advocating long form content. Specifically, he said “You have to create long form content, meaning 2000+ word, high-quality blog posts.”
Make note of the “high-quality” distinction, because long alone won’t cut it. Your long form content can just be a collection of rambling ideas. You need focused subjects and in-depth exploration.
Rand Fishkin, on the other hand, completely disagrees. He argues that great content does not have to be long.
Not sure where the idea that “great content” = “really, really long content” came from, but we need to dispel that myth.
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) March 30, 2016
So… where did the idea originate, and which of these industry powerhouses is right?
Everybody in this conversation is, technically, right.
Backlinko released this report in January: We Analyzed 1 Million Google Search Results. Here’s What We Learned About SEO.
One of the key takeaways was the impact of long form content. Brian Dean and I were chatting over email before the report was released. I was thinking about writing a long report about what really goes viral (and how) – that I never got around to.
He sent me a list of specific points on that topic, and I’m just going to quote most of the email here:
- We found that long-form content significantly outperformed short content. In fact, the average word count of a first page Google result is 1,890 words.
- Topically relevant content tended to rank higher than shallow content.
This also has important implications for producing viral content.
Even though most people view “viral content = cute cat videos”, you and I know better. We understand that most content that goes viral is in-depth content that covers a single topic.
And using a software program called MarketMuse, we were able to measure the topical relevancy of content. In general, the more topically relevant a piece of content was, the better it ranked.
Just like with content length, writing content that goes “an inch wide, a mile deep” is likely ideal for going viral and for ranking in Google.
- Using at least one image made a page significantly more likely to rank in Google.
I don’t need to tell you how important images are for content. You use them in all of your columns!
But it’s nice to have some data to back this up.
Again, there’s crossover here in terms of what makes content likely to go viral as others have found that social media posts that contain images perform significantly better.
That settles it, long form content must be the definitive answer!
Sorry, not that simple. Take a close look at this interactive graphic from Funders and Founders about the most popular media on the web. While a lot of long form content is represented, very little, if any, is business or brand related.
And if you really want to bang your head on your desk, check out this list of top brands from Shareablee. A lot of the top brands (including NatGeo, their team is absolutely crushing it on social media with stunning photographs) offer mostly short and often fluffy content. 18 Pictures Only People With Sisters Will Recognize has 1.1 million shares since it was published on Buzzfeed in January.
In a post for Coschedule, Neil Patel (that guy is everywhere, he’s kind of a big deal) makes great case for visual and interactive content.
This trending post on IFLScience.com has 27.2K shares (right now), and is less than 500 words.
Confused? I know!
Now that I’ve thrown a ton of conflicting information at you about what quality content is, let me break it down. Short and sweet.
- Know your customers. Understand where they hang out, what they talk about, what’s important to them, what’s on their minds – in relation to your brand. How does your brand fit into their lives and solve their issues?
- Understand E-A-T and follow the guidelines to become a trusted industry expert. Build your brand and your audience on real, honest quality.
- Create content that fits your brand. National Geographic is doing what it has always done – what its reputation is built on – epic, unbelievable photography from all over the world. That is their brand. Not yours. (if you have some time to kill, here’s NatGeo on instagram)
Photo: @SteveWinterPhoto Happy #WorldTigerDay Eastern Hemisphere…and good morning! I figured you could help kick this day off a bit early for us in the Western Hemisphere. And to do so, here is an outtake from my #Tiger assignment from the December 2011 issue of @NatGeo. Friday July 29th is International #TigerDay. It’s a day to #takeaction on behalf of the approx. 3400 #WILD #tigers left in this #world. That’s not a lot considering there were over 100,000 in the 1900’s. At this rate, all wild tigers could be extinct in 5 years! Lost of habitat, illegal poaching and animal-human conflict are three of the biggest issues facing today’s remaining tigers. The good news is there are solutions to these issues and many tiger #conservation groups are working to implement them. So let’s do more than #LIKE this photo. Click on the link in my profile to learn how YOU can help their survival or visit TigersForeverBook.com. Want to learn more? Check out the @NatGeo + @WildAid PSA – “When the buying stops, the killing can too” here -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81MKjmsnEgM Visit National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative, www.causeanuproar.org #bigcatsforever @natgeo @wildaid @stevewinterphoto #photooftheday #photography #conservationphotography #love #tigers #cats #beautiful #followme #RichardParker #canon
A photo posted by National Geographic (@natgeo) on
- Make your content as long or short as it needs to be. This turned out to be long because it’s a complex concept with no definitive answer; the kind of thing you just can’t condense without cheating your audience.
- Vary your content. Video is a hot commodity right now. Visuals still draw in reads and shares, and I don’t think that’s going to change. Visuals are emotional. Side note: One of the best ways to build trust is video endorsements. If your customers are willing to put their face on camera and say nice things, it’s a far more powerful message than words on a page.
Rohan Ayyer advises caution on the video front, “…unless you can afford to create it for the “fun factor” or unless it is the best format to educate your customers – it is still deep water for most businesses.”
- Check your SEO. I can’t emphasize SEO enough. Each piece should be designed to meet the strategic objectives laid out in your SEO strategy. Content SEO is far complicated than it was in the past; those halcyon days of repeating keywords are long gone. While keywords are still a thing, it’s less formulaic (repeat X times per 100 words) and more intuitive now. It pays to regularly update your working knowledge of SEO, because things change.
If your goals are in line with Google’s – and they should be – you will meet their standards, and that will protect you from the Google smackdown over quality. As a bonus, the great content you produce will earn you shares, traffic, and backlinks, and it will raise your rank in the SERPs.
I wish I could say this is the definitive guide to everything content, but it’s not. I’m pretty sure that’s a book that never ends. Don’t get me started on promo. Maybe next time.
Guest Author: Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, FL, currently suffering the burbs of Orlando. She’s a science geek, a business and marketing writer, and an unapologetic fan of all things bacon. Connect with Sherry on Twitter@sherisaid or on Linkedin.