What is quality content?

What is quality content?

Learn what it takes to create quality content that is helpful for users, ranks well in the SERPs, and surpasses the competition.

Quality content is subjective. Some people will want a beginner-level summary while others want more depth and expert insights. Quality content will be better than the content that currently exists and readers will find it useful, memorable and are likely to share the content.

As SEOs, we typically write about things that people are searching for. This makes the content useful, but if you read many top-ranking sites, they often say the same things. Reading the first few results might feel like you’re reading the same content over and over again.

There are a lot of buzzwords like 10x content or skyscraper content, but all you really need to do is to make something better than what exists.

When writing new content, you have an advantage. You can see the content that ranks, and that’s the bar you need to exceed.

Let’s look at how to do that.

How to create quality content

Creating quality content is part science and part art. It also requires a lot of hard work and expertise.

SEOs have access to a ton of data. We can see:

  • All the things people search for with keyword research.
  • All the things that top content ranks for.
  • All the things that existing content talks about.

Many people making a query intend to find basic information in a quick and easy format. Content that is organized, simplified, and easy to read and scan is useful.

Much of the content created by SEOs is intended to rank in search engines, but it’s also useful for users. We tend to cover what users are searching for and answer questions about the topic. For many users, that kind of content makes for a great introduction to a topic.

The problem is that, in many cases, we’re just faking expertise, or we have writers who are faking expertise.

To create quality content, you need real expertise. 

You can differentiate your content from what currently exists by:

  • Sharing your experience, stories, and insights.
  • Including data only available to you.
  • Having an opinion, a unique take or a different viewpoint.

Many of the pages that are currently ranking have likely been ranking for years. They may have updated and refined their content in that time to make it better.

Existing content may also have a lot of powerful and relevant links. There’s a phenomenon where top-ranking content tends to get more links, making it difficult to beat.

You have to be extraordinary and put in the effort to overcome content like that. It won’t be easy. 

If you want to beat them, you likely need a team of people. 

  • An SEO to do the research.
  • A great writer and storyteller.
  • An expert for their unique insights.
  • An editor to correct any mistakes. 

Each person adds valuable skills needed to create quality content.

Creating this kind of content takes more effort than most companies are willing to invest in. Without showing some sort of initial results, it can be hard to get buy-in. Once you have a couple of hits or some initial results, it can be much easier to argue for the resources needed to create this content.

A trap I find many companies fall into is creating content as a one-off task rather than an iterative process. You can always improve your current content when you have more resources and want to get better results.

For example, this is actually my second time writing this article for Search Engine Land. I originally wrote a piece about quality content for them back in 2016, and I have a lot more experience and expertise to share now than I did all those years ago.

How to measure quality

Measuring quality is hard because it is subjective. Many SEOs will look at things like word count and keyword density, but these are bad metrics. Some queries, like a person’s age, can be fully answered with one number. You don’t need their entire life story. 

There’s no one right way to measure quality. 

SEOs may want to look at:

  • Rankings.
  • Traffic.
  • Links.
  • Mentions.
  • Social shares. 

Businesses will want to measure:

  • Conversions.
  • Qualified leads.
  • Revenue. 

You may also want to consider things like user satisfaction.

Search engines have the difficult job of figuring out what are good results for many different users with many different wants and needs. In general, they tend to show a variety of content that meets different user intents so that each person will likely find something useful to them. 

Let’s take a look at some of the guidance search engines have provided for creating content.

How search engines think about quality content

Google created many algorithms intended to determine what content is best for users. They also provide a lot of guidance on what they are looking for. 

Some of the terms they use to describe the type of content they are looking for are:

  • Expert.
  • Authoritative.
  • Trustworthy.
  • Relevant.
  • Useful, helpful.
  • High-quality.
  • Original.
  • Comprehensive.
  • Interesting.
  • Insightful.
  • Factual.
  • Detailed.
  • Engaging.
  • Credible.
  • Informative.
  • Valuable.
  • User-centric.
  • Authentic. 

Most of those are subjective adjectives and are hard to measure. Still, they provide a lot of guidance with the questions their engineers are asking themselves and even the guidance they give their quality raters.

Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines

Google has quality guidelines, which are:

Basic principles

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

Specific guidelines

Avoid the following techniques:

  • Automatically generated content intended to manipulate search rankings
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Creating pages with little or no original content
  • Cloaking
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Hidden text or links
  • Doorway pages
  • Scraped content
  • Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
  • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
  • Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
  • Abusing structured data markup
  • Sending automated queries to Google

Follow good practices:

  • Monitoring your site for hacking and removing hacked content as soon as it appears
  • Preventing and removing user-generated spam on your site

Google on how to create valuable content

Then there’s this section (archived via the Wayback Machine) from Google’s Webmaster Academy course, which provided guidance on how to “create valuable content.”

As you begin creating content, make sure your website is:

Useful and informative: If you’re launching a site for a restaurant, you can include the location, hours of operation, contact information, menu and a blog to share upcoming events.

More valuable and useful than other sites: If you write about how to train a dog, make sure your article provides more value or a different perspective than the numerous articles on the web on dog training.

Credible: Show your site’s credibility by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials. An author biography or testimonials from real customers can help boost your site’s trustworthiness and reputation.

High-quality: Your site’s content should be unique, specific and high-quality. It should not be mass-produced or outsourced on a large number of other sites. Keep in mind that your content should be created primarily to give visitors a good user experience, not to rank well in search engines.

Engaging: Bring color and life to your site by adding images of your products, your team or yourself. Make sure visitors are not distracted by spelling, stylistic and factual errors. An excessive number of ads can also be distracting for visitors. Engage visitors by interacting with them through regular updates, comment boxes or social media widgets.

Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines

It’s worth reading the Google Search Quality Ratings Guidelines (multiple times). I’ve pulled out some of the important parts specific to quality here:

4.1 Characteristics of High Quality Pages

High quality pages exist for almost any beneficial purpose, from giving information to making people laugh to expressing oneself artistically to purchasing products or services online.

What makes a High quality page? A High quality page should have a beneficial purpose and achieve that purpose well. In addition, High quality pages have the following characteristics:

• High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).

• A satisfying amount of high quality MC, including a descriptive or helpful title.

• Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website. If the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions, then it should have satisfying customer service information.

• Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page. Positive reputation of the creator of the MC, if different from that of the website.

4.2 A Satisfying Amount of High Quality Main Content

The quality of the MC is one of the most important criteria in Page Quality rating, and informs the E-A-T of the page. For all types of webpages, creating high quality MC takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill. For news articles and information pages, high quality MC must be factually accurate for the topic and must be supported by expert consensus where such consensus exists.

For each page you evaluate, spend a few minutes examining the MC before drawing a conclusion about it. Read the article, watch the video, examine the pictures, use the calculator, play the online game, etc. Remember that MC also includes page features and functionality, so test the page out. For example, if the page is a product page on a store website, put at least one product in the cart to make sure the shopping cart is functioning. If the page is an online game, spend a few minutes playing it.

The purpose of the page will help you determine what high quality content means for that page. For example, High quality information pages should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive. High quality shopping content should allow users to find the products they want and to purchase the products easily. High quality humor or satire should be entertaining, while factual accuracy is not a requirement as long as the page would be understood as satire by users.

The amount of content necessary for the page to be satisfying depends on the topic and purpose of the page. A High quality page on a broad topic with a lot of available information will have more content than a High quality page on a narrower topic. Here are some examples of pages with a satisfying amount of high quality MC.

How does Google define helpful content?

Google has also provided best practices and questions to ask yourself around some of its major algorithm updates – Panda, Core, Product Review and helpful content.

You can find that all compiled in this article: What is helpful content, according to Google.

Google algorithms and related resources:

  • Panda
  • Core Updates
  • Product Reviews Update
  • Helpful Content Update

How Microsoft Bing considers content quality

Microsoft Bing also provides some guidance that breaks down content quality into three “pillars”:

  • Authority: Can we trust this content?
  • Utility: Is the content useful and sufficiently detailed?
  • Presentation: Is the content well-presented and easy to find?

Final thoughts

Creating quality content takes time, effort, resources and expertise.

You have to put in more work, be more creative and have more knowledge than those who came before you to create something great.

If you can pull it off, you can create a moat that makes it difficult for others to cross. Even if they manage to surpass you, with a little more work you may be able to retake the top spot from them.

Keep at it and create something awesome!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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