Confession time. I work with website content every day but I don’t think I’ve ever stuffed a keyword. Sure, I’ve added the odd one to the final copy if the subject doesn’t quite speak for itself, but in the main, a website is about what it’s about. I’ve been relying on Google to lead people who are searching for that subject to the site.
And, in nearly all cases, that’s been happening.
According to Google’s recent update, my faith in this simple approach will now be rewarded even more. The ‘Panda’ algorithm change earlier this year was designed to assess website quality. Later, Google said: ‘Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content.’
Google will never disclose exactly how they are attempting to discern “high-quality” – an element so ambiguous it comes with its own set of speech marks – but they do provide a telling list of questions to provide guidance. A bit like Eastern mysticism, the questions will lead us, trembling, towards an unknowable higher state…
The list of questions is worth bookmarking, and there are common themes to pull out of the list. If I had to sum up what Google is looking for in online content, this is what I’d say:
Authoritative and trustworthy
Authority and trust permeate the list, which is tricky, because you can’t just turn up one day and proclaim that you are either (well you could, but no one would believe you). To become authoritative and trustworthy, you need to write strongly and accurately, provide information that checks out, on a website with an experience that doesn’t leave users anxious or confused. You need to make a name for yourself with reliable content over time, and care about the subject.
Original and useful
These two go together like Jedward or Brangelina. I bang the usefulness drum all the time, because if your website is not useful, people simply don’t stick around. But useful alone is not enough – your content must also be original. In other words, it must be more useful than the other websites showing up on the same search results page.
It might be in more depth or take an unusual slant on the subject. It might provide unique information, be comprehensive, or be presented in a more compelling way. Whatever it is, you must avoid your content being too short, unsubstantial or unspecific.
And ‘original’ has another application: Google likes content that is original on the site, that is, not duplicated among your pages. Repetition is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to SEO.
Well duh. Of course it should be well written. But if that’s the case why do so many businesses spend so little on quality, error-free writing?
Good writing is not something abstract and hard to pin down. In fact the Google questions nail it. They talk about quality control, and eliminating spelling, stylistic and factual errors. They mention the role of editing, attention to detail, producing a print level standard of writing.
Hint: if you’re mass-producing copy through a large number of creators (and probably paying them very little), then you haven’t got a hope. I like this question: ‘Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail?’ Well, are they?
There is a strand in the reasoning of Google that is best summed up as: don’t piss people off. Write content for readers, not to get them. Tricking them to your site undermines your trustworthiness. Bye-bye. Don’t produce content that is likely to draw complaint (which is not the same as controversy). And guess what? Excessive adverts annoy people.
All of which is hardly surprising, and yet people still get a glimpse in their eye when a spammer tries to flog them peripheral SEO services to pimp up their search performance.
Of course it’s important how you structure your site, what you do with the metadata and keywords. But these are lesser considerations compared with creating core content that is authoritative, original, useful, well-written and doesn’t drive people mad.
In Google’s own words: ‘focus on delivering the best possible experience for users.’
Or, as Socrates said: ‘endeavour to be what you desire to appear.’