SEO (search engine optimization), like most marketing activities, requires content. This content can come in different formats such as videos, text on web pages, PDF documents, and more. In the past, content that lacks substance typically had no issues ranking highly on the SERPs (search engine results pages). However, Google’s algorithms (a form of artificial intelligence) have become very adept at filtering out low-quality pages and devaluing them.
This is because the search giant takes content very seriously. As a result, low-quality content can cause entire websites to become de-indexed overnight. A penalty can be given to any site that violates Google’s guidelines, which was primarily created to combat web spam. Sometimes, it can be virtually impossible to recover from site-wide penalties.
However, algorithmic (or silent) demotions on a page-by-page basis are much more common. These usually occur when a page triggers an algorithm designed to catch a particular violation but webmasters aren’t notified.
For example, the AI codenamed “Panda” is a Google algorithm with the directive of demoting low-quality content. Over the years the company has released several updates aimed at perfecting their algorithms to help identify low-quality content.
“Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes.” Says, Danny Sullivan, Public Search Liaison at Google.
The good news is that quality content can skyrocket your search engine rankings when utilized correctly and purposefully. Think about it. Content is what attracts people to your web pages and you will rank lower on SERPs without it. So quality content is paramount for SEO success. But what does that mean?
What Google Considers Quality Content Isn’t Rocket Science
Admittedly, the term quality content is broad and can mean different things. Also, there are several opinions with regards to what Google considers quality content in the SEO industry. A common misconception is that lengthy content (e.g. articles or blog posts) equate to high-quality web pages.
However, this is far from the truth. While length has the potential to increase keyword density, it isn’t a signal of great content in itself. PQ (Page Quality) score is an internal rating system Google uses to determine the quality of web pages.
According to their recently updated Search Quality Raters Guidelines, “websites and pages should be created to help users. Websites and pages that are created with the intent to harm users, deceive users, or make money with no attempt to help users, should receive the Lowest PQ rating” (p. 8).
With that in mind, quality content is anything that achieves its intended purpose and is helpful to consumers. From a local search marketing standpoint, this may include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Help consumers by providing value in order to build brand awareness.
- Develop useful tools to naturally earn links that point to your site in order to improve your SEO rankings.
- Increasing useful content production to improve SERP CTR (click-through-rate).
- Landing pages that capture leads such as email addresses or phone numbers.
- Content that is created to raise social media engagement and awareness.
Any piece of content that fulfills its intended purpose while being of good value to users is quality content.
Mastering E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)
E-A-T is an additional tool that Google’s manual review team uses to determine the PQ score of a given web page (p. 18, Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines).
Three factors are considered. Firstly, the content creator’s expertise with the subject (e.g. business or person) is taken into account. Secondly, the authoritativeness of the creator, content, and website. Lastly, the trustworthiness of the website, content, and its creator.
Therefore, doing well with the above-mentioned will improve your search engine rankings by increasing your PQ score.
Google “Cards” And Instant Answers
Google Now Launcher is a feature that enables Google’s App to function as your Android or Nexus home screen manager. The software is a two-part system. The “launcher” is the screen where you can place your favorite app icons or folders for easy access. Swiping right from your smartphone’s home screen will switch to the Google App where you will find Google Now “Cards”.
These cards are customized based on historical data from Google platforms (e.g. YouTube and Gmail). Cards are automatically named based on your interests. However, general cards also exist. These include Google search, movie theatres, public transit locations, nearby places, etc. In addition, users can customize their feeds by following specific publishers or blocking notifications from others.
Then there are Instant Answers, which is part of featured snippets. These are the answer boxes that show up whenever you type certain queries into the search bar.
Only the best quality websites or pages with high PQ rating show up on cards and featured snippets.
How to Create Quality Content
Tons of content is published on the web daily, but only quality content gets to the top of search engines. Standing out from the noise requires a commitment to quality.
All in all, there are three major things that will determine if your content is high-quality.
- Readability – There is no official statement saying readability is a direct ranking factor. Nevertheless, it can indirectly improve your SEO rankings. Publishing content that is easy to digest and well-written will increase the time spent on your site.This means no grammatical errors, the use of short sentences (20 words or less each), and easily understood vocabulary. All of this ensures your content is easy to consume, which fosters engagement, and that is a metric that matters.
- Scannability – Web content that is scannable is more engaging to consumers. A study by Nielson Norman Group found that most people don’t read everything on a web page. Instead, they scan to pick out parts of the content they are interested in.Google factors in scannability when determining the overall UX (user experience) of a page. The use of headings, sub-headings, and bullets, among other features, enables search engine algorithms to identify meaningful text quickly. You can see this in action by observing instant answers and cards. Scannable content is a win-win for users, search engines, and companies seeking more customers.
- Section Length – The length of your content is important but not with regards to total word-count. Rather, each section of your content should be no more than 300 words.From a visitor’s perspective, anything too long increases the difficulty involved in completely reading your content. Shorter content also improves scannability, which improves the likelihood that your content will be read.
Content is Fuel
Content is the fuel that powers your SEO strategy. Generally, what Google considers quality content is anything that is valuable, relevant, and fulfills its purpose. Certainly, quality content is critical if you want to rank highly on the SERPs. The readability, scannability, and length of each section of your content will decide how well it performs.