High quality content is a key ranking factor to consider when you are trying to improve your position in Google. It is one thing to write a blog article, but producing one that is of high quality is a step further. This article outlines how you can write your content in a way that pleases Google and your readers.
Keywords, Keywords, Keywords
“I want a keyword density of 6%. Please put the keyword two times in each paragraph.”
Those were instructions given to me by clients when I first started out freelancing. I complied, of course, because I assumed that was how the web worked. I wish I could tell you how crazy those clients were or how wrong I was. But that was how the web worked as late as 2007. Cramming keywords in content like crazy was a sure-fire way to rank for them.
My first clue this couldn’t last was when a client wrote back to tell me he was disappointed with the article. He didn’t think it read very well. I’m the first to say that it is sometimes hard to accept criticism about my writing. But I usually see the problem when corrected. I change things even if I don’t agree. But, it was tough this time because there was no way around it. The topic the person chose combined with the keyword density requested made for an article that was readable (quite a feat with that keyword density!) but not particularly useful— it was too constrained to be useful.
I did what I could to make him happy, and I am grateful for that bump in the road because it woke me up to what should have been obvious. Keyword stuffed content wasn’t sustainable because it (excuse my language) sucked. I started to make changes then and there. Keyword density was still important but I usually managed to steer the client to allowing me to just put it in the title, first paragraph, and conclusion at the minimum. This gave me more freedom to write articles that were actually useful and read well. It turns out this was a good move. Search engines were getting smarter and so were readers. Clients saw how much better the content was when the focus was on the reader instead. They also saw that they ranked just as well, and usually better with improved content.
In this article, we’re going to focus on today’s climate of ranking content in the search engines. It’s even more critical to focus on the reader today than it was even last year. It’s even more critical to do it a certain way. There is a new way to write content to please Google and your reader. It has very little to do with the previous gold standard of writing SEO content. There are only a small percentage of writers and marketers who are writing this ‘new’ kind of content.
You’re about to be one of them. Put what you read here into practice right away and you should see better search engine rankings. You should also see improved conversions and a more engaged readership.
Have you heard that Google employs humans as well as robots? They do, in the form of raters. Certain content is kicked over to human raters so they can go through pages based on well-defined criteria. They decide what gets rated high or low and pass information on to the engineers. The guidelines used to be kept strictly for those employed raters, leaving the rest of us to wonder our fate because we had no idea how they made their decisions.
Then someone leaked the document. It felt like Christmas getting my hands on that! Finally, we could all figure out what we needed to do. Google has figured out that transparency and openness are important for website owners, so the Search Quality Rating Guidelines handbook is now freely available. It’s the ‘cliff notes’ version, but it’s going to help you write quality content and run valuable sites, for sure.
This document covers URL rating. Raters are supposed to put themselves in the shoes of the searcher. They are to consider the keyword a user might type in, in addition to user intent. Google gives the example of someone typing in ‘eBay’. They are probably aiming to buy, sell, or browse on eBay. Hint: Knowing what the end user wants out of their query is half your battle when you’re writing content you want to rank well in the search engines.
The rater is also asked to consider location. Their example is an Australian user typing in ‘football’ having a different intent than a UK user typing in ‘football.” Then, there are queries that can mean more than one thing. Dominant interpretation is what most typing the keyword have in mind. If there is no dominant interpretation, it’s all about the common interpretation. There are also minor interpretations, which are rated the lowest. These are things most typing the query in wouldn’t really know about.
The rater also has to consider what the user would want to do as a result of their search. Do they want to take action, just navigate a page, gather information, or a combination of those things? Hint: If you want to rank highly with your content, you have to do the same thing. What does the user most likely want to do after they have entered a query and clicked on a page? You want to deliver what most of them want.
So, one of the examples in the rater guidelines document is ‘cute kitten pics.’ What would you have on your page if you were trying to rank for that term? Ideally, you would have cute pictures of kittens. Unfortunately, many webmasters and content writers would instead write something like this to try to rank:
“Finding cute pictures of kittens is easy. There are so many on the web that are adorable. If you’re looking for cute pictures of kittens, you’ll easily be able to find them…”
You can probably see that a page of text saying that and continuing in that vein is not what the search user wants to see. It’s not what the rater would rate highly. Google is smarter now— you just won’t rank if you don’t deliver. It pays to keep your reader in mind for every keyword you are trying to rank for. Raters use a rating scale to grade pages. These ratings are based on reader intent and quality. Possible ratings include:
Vital– The page shows what most users want. Most users want to navigate. The user was searching for an entity. This rating does not apply for most pages.
Useful— The page is helpful and high quality. They should be “highly satisfying, authoritative, entertaining, and/or recent.” Remember that freshness factor? That continues to play a role.
Relevant— The page is helpful for many or some. These pages might not be as fresh or include as much of whatever it is the user is looking for. Consider these pages to be average.
Slightly relevant— The page is not that helpful. They are often low quality, outdated, and just not up to snuff.
Off-topic or Useless— The page is helpful to no one searching for that query. They are sometimes deceptive, full of links, have misleading aspects, or are just designed to advertise. Raters can give these pages the ‘spam’ flag.
Google urges raters to consider user intent and page utility above all else when rating pages for a key term. Some people think that certain authority sites and encyclopaedia pages are unbeatable in the search engines— but that’s not the case if the “little guy’s” page is a better fit for user intent than those authority sites.
I highly recommend you go through the rater guidelines for yourself. They are eye opening and offer many great tips, as I’ve shared with you above. The bottom line— what does your content do for your user? Are you really the best page to be displayed for the keyword you’re going after? If you are, then your pages will rise to the top without all the nonsense. That’s why it can actually take less work to rank for desired keywords these days.
If you’re stuck for content, you may have considered hiring a writer. I’ve hired many writers over the years, and many writers in the past year. I’ve consistently found that most are stuck in the ‘dark ages’ of writing for the web. They’re writing thinly veiled keyword stuffed articles because that’s what they think they should do. Things move very quickly on the web. It can be very hard to keep up, especially when many marketers are still under the impression that keyword stuffing is the way to go. That’s why I urge you to share these new guidelines with the writers you hire. Feel free to pass the complimentary writer guidelines along so you’re sure to get better content back.
For the early part of this, I’m going to focus a lot on what Google comes right out to tell us. It’s shocking how few people have gone directly to King Google to find out how to please him. They don’t share every secret, of course, but they certainly share enough to help you put out fantastic content. This next bit is for those who are very new to search engine optimisation and content writing. This is an overview of Google’s help documents for webmasters.
Google crawls the web looking for pages. They follow links and scan each page in turn (remember: sites are not ranked; pages are). They sort the pages and index them (but not all of them). Google has a team of engineers that apply secret algorithms to sort this content. Their goal is to deliver great, relevant pages to their search users.
You have content you’d love Google to display at the top of its results for certain search terms. But you want to figure out how to get Google to display it for your desired search terms. It used to be that you’d just put the keyword in there a bunch of times because Google was pretty unsophisticated back in the day. There is a different way to write content now to improve your chances of being shown. But, let’s get back to how Google works. Google looks at keywords to figure out what a page is about, but it’s a heck of a lot more sophisticated now. They examine a variety of factors about the searcher as well as the content. They use a combination of clues to deliver the best results to the user.
This figure might blow you away— Google uses between 200-2000 factors to rank pages. Some of these factors include quality, freshness, and user context. We know just from this little bit of information that ranked pages tend to be clearly defined (they focus on a topic), high quality, fresh (recently written or updated), and the best content to present for the end user. Clueless fluff, spun articles, and general jibber jabber definitely don’t cut it.
Learn more about how Google works here: http://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/
I know many reading this will want to make the point that bad results are displayed in the search engines all the time. I’ve seen some SEO blogs that have researched queries and presented shockingly horrible results they found in Google. My feeling on this is— bad stuff gets through. Some marketers are extra sneaky and come up with loopholes and techniques that work…for now. You, however, are building a business you want to last through any and all algorithm updates. Follow what Google wants, ignore the bad stuff, and you will be fine.
There are some people out there who tell you to totally ignore what Google tells you. Why would Google want you to know the answers? That’s absolutely true on some level, but I urge you to think of Google as more of a partner than an enemy. You want to make sales and grow your business. You know you need to have good content on your web page to rank. So, give Google what they want. This ends up being what your user wants anyway.
In addition to the rater guidelines, you can also go to their webmaster guidelines. I have found that they are very thorough in telling us exactly what we should be doing. We should avoid automated content, link schemes, cloaking, sneaky redirects, hidden text, doorway pages, scraped content, low quality pages full of ads, irrelevant keywords, and more.
Visit Google’s Quality Guidelines for more details: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769#3
You’ll be well on your way to higher rankings and earnings if you follow what’s above. But Google has even more advice for you as a website owner that might help. They want clear navigation, a site map, a reasonable number of outgoing links per page, information-rich pages that are useful, clearly defined pages (it should be easy to know what your page is about), use of the ALT tag for images, and links back to your site. This is to name only a few of the many factors that help rank your website. Here’s Neil Patel with more about SEO ranking factors.