Content is the backbone of Search Engine Optimization. Without it there’s nothing to rank and optimize for. The respect for real and high quality content separates the true SEO practitioner and Web Strategists from bogus SEO experts and spammers.
I’ve always been a writer both offline and online, and the strong part of my web business comes from producing web content. I’ve written quite a huge number of real high quality content; although most of these were under different names, that doesn’t diminish my capability and experience to produce and spot well produced content fast.
But what is quality content?
Google loves high quality content. Who doesn’t anyway? The grand Panda update is all about quality content, and if you think you can still get away optimizing pages or websites with nothing but proper keyword density, then your SEO knowledge is stuck in the 90s. It’s nearing 2012, and while I’m not much of a fan of the Mayan myth I’d say 2012 is the end of the world of web trash and spam, and 2011 is the start of it.
Google released a guideline that can serve as your checklist to see if your website is of high quality. Out of these 23 points, guess how many pertains to your website’s content? 22 points. I know it’s late for a post-Panda blog entry, so I’m not focusing this entry on that, the idea is that these points should hold true as long as content matters in Search.
Below is the complete list of that 22 points, some with my personal but humble insights:
• Would you trust the information presented in this article?
This means that your content must appear professional at the very least. It must appear to be written by a professional who knows about the subject, and not by some cheap writer who charged you .005 per word written.
• Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
Not anybody can write, and not anybody can write about any subject. Writers who can write on any topic are rare. So see to it that your content is written or produced by a guy who really knows his thing. A Jack of all trade has no place in Panda update.
Ah yeah, Google said more shallow instead of shallower. :)
• Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
This is pretty self explanatory. If you have a series of content targeting the very same topic with nothing but a slight change in keyword, often obviously scraped from Google Keyword Tool then expect Google to frown upon you. So if you already have content about Copywriting Tips for Filipino SEO Specialists you don’t need to write about Copywriting Tips for Filipino SEO Specialists in Manila. Yeah it may be a lame example but I intended it to be that way. The idea of writing these two articles is already lame.
• Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
This was the only guideline that doesn’t directly address the site’s content.
• Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
Correct grammar is sexy and you can think for this instance, that Google is a meticulous guy who hates technical flaws.
• Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
You are writing for your readers and you are also writing search engines. The first idea should be obvious. The second part should be not. If it becomes obvious that you’re writing also and more for the search engines then you are dead.
• Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
Everybody hates posers and fakers. And if your content is nothing but rehashed and recycled piece of other people’s work, expect the search engine to frown up you. Re-blogging only works in Tumblr, and their pages rarely rank. I know I’m being sarcastic, but the basic rule here is if you state something you got from the web; add value to it to the point that your new work will outshine your source, add something to it like your thoughts, and your opinion – or whatever. If you want to talk about other people’s research and analysis then add your very own points to it. Analyze more. Scrutinize. Compile, compare and contrast.
• Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
So you want to rank for a certain keyword and you want to accomplish that by having high quality content. Good. This is already a cheat provided by Google. Search for the keyword or key phrase you want to rank for then check the top results, at least the first 5 or 10 entries. If you can come up with better, more useful, more linkable and simply better content then you can outrank those pages.
Gone now are the days when you only consider number of backlinks, page rank, indexed pages, domain age and other numerically measurable factors in checking your competition – this time you have to analyze their content in terms of value to the users. And that is something no tool can give you (yet).
• How much quality control is done on content?
You know why article directories were hit by Panda update? This is the answer. Many of them invest manpower on quality control. They approve a lot of articles even those that are obviously written to get links.
• Does the article describe both sides of a story?
This is a very basic rule in journalism. A good story is impartial and never biased.
• Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
Think of it as Google seeing websites as unique individuals with different sets of interests and sensibilities. Let’s take this guy Perez Hilton for example, we know he’s an authority on Hollywood celebrities so him writing about Lady Gaga or Nicole Kidman would seem natural and often, authoritative. But think of what will happen if he suddenly talks about Internet Marketing, Copywriting and SEO. Your reaction will be the same as that of the Search Engines.
• Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
Yes, there is strength in numbers and there is also quality over quantity. Balance the two and Panda will love you.
• Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
• For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
• Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
• Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
• Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
• Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
If your content is something you wouldn’t want to share with your friends or you don’t even want to be associated with your social media account then expect Google to frown upon it. Of course there are a few exceptions to this guide, like if the content is mature in nature or isn’t for the general population – that doesn’t mean it can’t be high quality content or at the very least, likeable to some.
• Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
Google says no to MFA or Made for Adsense websites. There is a conflict of interest here as pointed by other webmasters, but since the word excessive is relative, and would qualifiedly imply that you’ll have more ads than content, I’d say just put more quality content and concentrate on one or two non intrusive and non conflicting ad networks.
• Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
• Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
• Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
• Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
You don’t need to have PhD after your name to understand what Google is telling us. The idea is simple – quality. I’ll leave you guys with a shorter and simpler checklist in addition to what Google gave us:
• Would you want your name and your reputation be tagged along that content/website?
• Is the content/website something you can show to your friends, children or family?
• Is the content/website something you want people to remember you doing?
• Will Google love you for this content/website?
This was also the focus of my talk last month on the 1st SEO Organization Philippines National Membership Assembly. You can find my presentation in my How Panda Changed SEO Copywriting post.