Ever since the Panda update rolled out in 2011, search marketers have been obsessively concerned with the quality of their content. Content quality, in onsite copy, ongoing blogging, and even offsite articles, is one of the most significant factors that culminates in your eventual search ranks. While the number of articles you produce and the locations where you publish and syndicate them are both important, they can only help you if the foundation of your articles—the quality—is strong.
Over the years, Google has made adjustments to the way it determines the authoritative strength of a given article. Numerous iterations to the original Panda update have refined Google’s approach to some degree, and quite recently (at the beginning of May), Google released a new “quality assessment update” that revised these determining factors even further. Google has been tight-lipped about the specifics of the update, but a handful of contextual clues can lead us to firm conclusions about what Google looks for in content today.
Combining the knowledge we have on the Panda update and its subsequent revisions, as well as this new quality assessment update, we can determine the main factors responsible for qualifying content as “good,” according to Google:
First, you’ll need to make sure your content is error-free. If Google detects any typos, misspellings, or improper use of grammar in your article, it could flag it as a low-quality entry. These errors are small and easy to fix, so take the extra time to scan each of your content pieces thoroughly before submitting to publication. One little mistake won’t cost you much, but it’s not worth taking the hit if you can easily prevent it.
Ambiguous content doesn’t fly anymore. Online users seek content when they need answers or solutions, and Google wants to provide them with the most detailed information possible—so make sure your answers are as thorough as possible. Accordingly, the majority of your articles should be of substantive length—3-400 word articles were once held as the golden blogging standard, but today 800-1,000 words is a much better range.
There’s too much existing content out there to trifle with something someone else has already done or has already done better.To get noticed by Google (and by your audience), your topics should be as specific as possible, delving into niche problems and speaking to a very specific target audience. Otherwise, you’ll blend in with the massive volumes of general content that already exist.
“Well-written” is an ambiguous term, so let me be clearer on this; it has to be evident that a native speaker wrote your content. Google’s quality evaluation algorithm is so complex that it can pick out various phrasing and sentence structuring issues that are characteristic of poor writers or non-native speakers. If you’re ever concerned about this quality of your work, try reading your article aloud—if anything sounds unnatural or awkward, it needs to be rewritten.
Great articles don’t rely exclusively on written words. The majority of your articles should be accompanied by images, embedded videos, or any other supplemental pieces of material that enhance the quality of your piece. Even if it’s just a header image to improve the visual nature of your content, Google loves to see supplementation.
Your article isn’t an island; it should be interlinked with other articles that relate to it. On your own site, you should be linking to other articles and other pages that elaborate on points you make in the body of your content. Similarly, if you cite specific statistics or facts from other sources, you should link to those external authorities to validate your points.
If you have an 800-word article that’s all lumped together in one massive paragraph, Google is going to dock you some quality points. The formatting of your article is a major factor in its quality. For example, articles divided into sections with subheadings, clear distinctions, and various content structures like lists are more visually appealing and allow readers to navigate the article more easily. Take advantage of these principles—your readers will thank you too.
This is a somewhat minor element compared to some of the other factors, but it is worth noting. The level of vocabulary you use should appeal to the widest possible audience—as a general rule of thumb, that means targeting a high school reading level. Don’t use vocabulary that is too basic or too advanced—strive for the middle of that bell curve.
Google likes to see articles written by an authority, so the authorship of your work also plays into its quality value. As your domain authority increases, the value of your content will correspondingly rise (it’s a mutual relationship). Similarly, if an individual authority (like a guest blogger) is the author of an article on your blog, the value of that piece will increase. You can develop your reputation as an individual author by getting more work published on external sources and building up a greater social following.
Google can’t directly measure how engaging your article is because algorithms can’t emote. They can, however, gauge the reaction of your followers to your content. The more likes, shares, and comments your article generates, the better its quality will be, so do everything you can to stir people up and get them talking about your work.
If you can write an article with all these elements, you can consider it a good piece of content—if not great. Do this consistently, and do it on as many publication platforms as possible, and you’ll have no trouble rising to the top as Google quality indicators promote you to the level of a high authority.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.