Originally published on Forbes.com on August 25, 2014 By Jayson DeMers
“Quality content” is far more than just a buzzword marketers throw around for fun.
It’s what savvy marketers strive for, and what Google and people look for. It’s what separates the winners from the losers online; it’s what will help your site rank well in the search engines, what will naturally attract high-quality inbound links, and what will help you build trust, credibility, and authority with your audience. And yet, many business owners still aren’t aware of what “high-quality content” actually means. I’m consistently asked by my clients, “How do I know if my content is high-quality?”
While the definition of “quality” changes depending on niche, industry, type, or target audience, there are many common elements that are reliable, consistent indicators of quality. Following is a checklist you can use to determine whether your content is ‘quality’ or not.
You can use this checklist to determine how Google and your visitors perceive and evaluate your content, or to determine how reliable and authoritative someone else’s content is.
Sources used for this post include Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, Google’s leaked Quality Rating Guide, and various other sources as cited below.
I’ve also put together a handy list of 10 hidden gems from Google’s leaked Quality Raters Guidelines. You can check out the infographic at the bottom of this article.
1. Are You Using the Appropriate Length of Content?
We’re currently living in tricky times when it comes to determining the ideal word count for content. On the one hand, we know that Google certainly shows a preference for long form, ‘meaty’ content that covers all aspects of a topic. On the other hand, our mobile users are showing a preference for shorter, more succinct content they can read on the go.
With mobile having now overtaken desktop for going online, (60% of mobile web users use their phone as their primary or exclusive means of going online), this struggle is only going to continue.
When creating content, focus on your goals and on the intent of your audience: If you want the content to rank highly in the search engines and to attract links, go for longer, 1000+ word content. If you want your content to be easily accessible to mobile users, cut out anything unnecessary and format your content so mobile users can get the information they need, fast. Some ways to do this include using a lower word count, focusing on long-tail keywords that mobile users would be more likely to search for, the proper use of headings, bullet points, lists, and linking to other mobile-friendly content.
2. Are You Supplementing with Images, Video Embeds, Infographics or Other Media?
It’s possible to have high-quality content without using images or other forms of media, but we know that visual content outperforms text-only content in terms of attracting inbound links, social media shares, time spent on page, and engagement. In fact, we know that 40% of people will respond better to visual information than to plain text. It’s likely that Google factors in the use of multimedia when scoring pages for its ranking algorithm. Even if that’s not the case, it’s a fact that Google considers inbound links to a page as one of the heaviest factors in its ranking algorithm, and multimedia-based content has been shown to be shared up to 12X more than text content.
Some questions to ask yourself about your use of media include:
- Do my images or videos support claims or facts within the content?
- Do they meet quality standards from a technical perspective?
- Are they aesthetically pleasing?
- Are my infographics or other original visual content of the quality that others will want to share them or link to them?
3. Are You Using Proper Grammar and Spelling, and is Your Content Coherent?
Google has placed a huge emphasis on the trustworthiness of pages and sites, and a page with poor spelling, grammar or typos is much less likely to be seen as trustworthy. Even if Google were irrelevant (which, of course, it isn’t), your website visitors are far less likely to trust and rely on information that isn’t written professionally. For more on this, see my article, Is Bad Grammar Killing Your Brand?.
Some questions to ask yourself include:
- Is my content factually correct?
- Is the content organized in a logical way?
- Is my grammar and spelling correct?
4. Are You Using Proper Page and Text Formatting?
High quality content is aesthetically attractive, easy to read, and suitable for scanning and skimming (which is how the majority of your website visitors will consume your content). Google’s algorithm has become sophisticated enough that it can detect page and content layout, and you may be penalized in the rankings for poor content formatting. Again, even if Google doesn’t penalize you for it, your human readers will.
Optimal formatting includes the appropriate use of:
- bolds and italics;
- short, concise sentences and paragraphs;
- bullet points and numbered lists;
- appropriate use of white space; and
- headers and sub-headers to break up long chunks of text.
5. Are You Achieving An Appropriate Readability Score?
Quality content is easy to read and understand, and matches the preferences of the audience for which it’s intended. Using a tool like the Readability-Score, which is based on the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests, will help you ensure your content matches the reading level, expectations and preferences of your audience. This is particularly important when creating content aimed at kids or teens or those who have a primary language other than English.
6. Is it Written By Someone With the Necessary Level of Expertise?
According to Google’s leaked Quality Rater Guidelines, author expertise is a critical factor when it comes to determining the quality and authority of a particular piece of content: “High quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic”.
For academic topics, what credentials or degrees does your author hold? For content that may have an impact on a person’s well-being, what on-page or on-site proof do you have of the author’s credibility? This is particularly important for pages Google which Google refers to as “Your Money Your Life” (YMYL): “There are some pages for which PQ [page quality] is particularly important. We call these pages Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages. They are pages that can have an impact on your current or future well being (physical, financial, safety, etc.). YMYL pages should come from reputable websites and the content should be created with a high level of expertise and authority.”
7. What Else has this Author Written?
Although the term ‘Author Rank’ isn’t one that’s officially used by Google, it’s well known concept among the Internet marketing community that holds that the more content an author publishes, the higher that author’s content will rank in Google search results. We know that Google is trying to decrease anonymity when it comes to online content. The credibility and reputation of an author increases and improves as he or she creates and publishes more (high-quality) content on trusted, authoritative publishers. Authors can achieve this through guest blogging.
As you choose writers or vet guest authors for your own website, keep in mind what else he or she has written, and where that content has been published. Have they been published on other trusted, high-quality publishers like Forbes, Huffington Post or leading industry websites? Take a look at how their other content ranks in the search engines; if it tends to rank well, this is a good indication that Google already sees them as a credible and reliable source of information.
8. Does the Content Have Social Media Shares?
While Google has claimed that social signals from Facebook and Twitter aren’t part of their ranking algorithms, there is evidence to the contrary; multiple correlation studies have shown clear ties between higher amounts of social shares and higher search engine rankings. Even though correlation is not causation, it’s logical that the more a particular piece of content is shared, the more awareness and inbound links it will generate; and inbound links are absolutely a core ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. For more on this, see my post Does Google Use Social Signals from Facebook and Twitter in its Rankings?
Another indication of quality content is whether social media share buttons and counters are present. Not having them may simply be an indication that the website owner isn’t technically savvy or doesn’t realize the importance of social media. The lack of social counters may also indicate that the content isn’t being shared…and this may be a sign of poor-quality content.
Google’s reason for claiming that they don’t use social signals in the ranking algorithm is that their crawler can’t access Facebook and Twitter. However, they have not addressed the fact that their crawler can easily access the social share counts present on social share counters. Additionally, their crawler is not limited to crawling their own social media channel, Google+, which has repeatedly shown the highest correlation to rankings. For these reasons, the smart bet is to integrate your content with social media channels by sharing it across your own, and encouraging your readers to share it as well.
9. Does it Have Good Internal and External Links?
One of the most important indicators of the credibility of a site or a piece of content is its inbound and outbound link profile. We know that links to bad neighborhoods or known spam sites will kill the credibility of the article or site in Google’s eyes. We also know that Google frowns on the excessive use of internal linking; particularly unnatural internal linking or the overuse of exact-match anchor text.
Likely the most important indicator of the quality of a page is the number and quality of inbound links to that page. Who is linking to the page? If well-known, reputable sites are linking to it, that’s a good indication to Google that the content is trustworthy and credible. If there are no links to the page, or if the links are from small, unknown, or spammy sites, this can a good indication that the content is low quality or untrustworthy.
10. What Domain is it Published on?
A piece of content can potentially meet all the criteria for being high quality, but if other pages on the site are deemed to be poor quality, this can negatively impact the rankings of even the high-quality content. When determining the quality of a piece of content, look at the surrounding content as well: the pages it links to (as mentioned previously), as well as the homepage, root domain, and other articles on the site.
11. Are Comments Enabled, and What is the Quality of the Comments?
Sites or pieces of content that have commenting enabled, and that have a high number of thoughtful comments may be deemed as higher quality than those that don’t. Sites that have commenting enabled, but that allow spammy, link-filled comments to go unchecked are likely to be seen as negligent or unconcerned with the quality of the site (thus lowering the overall credibility of the site).
If you have a healthy number of comments on your site, don’t be afraid to draw attention to the fact by increasing the size of your comment counter, or by moving the counter to the top of your blog post. When people see that others liked your content enough to comment on it, they’ll be more likely to do the same.
12. Does the Content Provide Value?
While it’s difficult for search engines to determine whether content provides value, it is, ultimately, the only thing that matters for human readers. Value can be derived in a number of different ways, but the most common include:
- Does this content solve a problem?
- Does it answer a question?
- Does it provide entertainment?
- Does it make people laugh?
- Does it provide unique, expert insight?
Search engines want to only rank content that provides value for human readers. But since search engines don’t have the ability to comprehend content like humans do, they rely on the rest of these signals to determine whether content provides value, and thus, whether it’s truly “quality.” Content that provides value tends to have the other elements in common.
If you’re publishing content for the sake of search engines, without providing real value to readers, it’s time to re-think your content strategy. As you review the content you’ve published thus far, as well as the content you plan to publish, refer to the above elements to determine whether your content can truly be considered “quality.” Here’s an infographic that illustrates specific elements of quality, based on Google’s leaked Quality Rater Guidelines.
I de-mystify SEO and online marketing for business owners.
I graduated from the University of Washington in 2008 with a degree in Business Administration (Marketing), and immediately entered the professional online marketing world. I founded AudienceBloom in April 2010, and have since become a columnist for Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, and Huffington Post. My personal blog is located at AudienceBloom.com/blog. I guest lecture for marketing classes at the University of Washington, and currently reside in Seattle, WA.