Google’s quality guidelines have been changing over the years, but few brands have been keeping up.
Google has been working hard on improving the quality of its results by introducing content quality updates and“product review updates” that aim at rewarding helpful content and useful product reviews by ranking them higher in organic search.
But what does “quality” mean? And how can we evaluate it?
The quickly growing popularity of AI writing tools that can create content in seconds makes the topic of “high-quality” content even tougher. ChatGPT can write better articles than a college student can produce. Is it quality?
Google hasn’t shared exact metrics that would help publishers to identify high-quality content, but they do have guidelines that can be used in auditing and content planning:
What does Google recommend?
Getting into a little more detail, this is a core ranking algorithm change as opposed to any kind of Panda or Penguin update (which are filters), and it will focus on how it analyzes quality signals.
This essentially means that Google is changing the weight for certain factors that they’ve always used to assess quality. It could also mean that Google is adding new features to assess, but since they already look at so many, that is more unlikely. Unfortunately, Google won’t reveal what’s exactly changing.
Google’s official recommendations insist on providing useful information that puts the user first. Here are the criteria for identifying good content:
- People-first content: Instead of trying to optimize for Google, cater to your audience’s needs. What were they trying to accomplish when searching for a particular search query? Will your content satisfy the needs of the searcher, or was it created to satisfy a search algorithm?
- First-hand expertise and/or experience: Mention why the writer is qualified to write on a specific topic. What makes them an expert?
- Novelty: Does your content have anything unique or is it just retelling someone else’s article?
- Transparency: If you sell or promote anything, be transparent about it. This is especially important if your site was affected by a product review update.
There are more guidelines to keep in mind:
- Don’t use “extensive” automation to create content (We don’t know what is “extensive,” so better don’t use automation at all)
- Don’t create content for each and every query you discover: Too much content is not a good thing
- Don’t write content if you are not an expert on the niche (Don’t enter a niche just because you think you can rank in Google). Set up a detailed author byline detailing the expertise behind content.
- Don’t write on trending topics in hopes to generate traffic. Put your audience first when picking a topic.
- Don’t use artificial content quality metrics (like word count). Google isn’t taking them into account.
Auditing your content
Basically, you will likely be dealing with two types of content here:
- Content that lost traffic (especially if that happened during one of the content-related algorithm updates)
- Outdated or expired content
Content that lost traffic
Google’s Search Console is the easiest way to spot content that suddenly delivered fewer clicks. These may very well be articles deemed not helpful enough by the Google algorithm.
To find that content:
- Go to the performance section of the Search Console
- Click “Clicks” to see this data on the chart and in the graph
- Click on the date range filter
- Select the “Compare” tab
- Select “Compare last 3 months to a previous period” or select your own period
- Click “Apply”
- Scroll down and click the “Pages” tab
- Sort the table by “Clicks difference” to see the pages getting fewer clicks on top
Look at every article in the report and evaluate it based on Google’s criteria above. Edit the article accordingly.
Run your content through Text Optimizer to identify if it is semantically optimized:
Unfortunately, what many businesses find when completing a content audit is a lot of outdated content, which can mean several different things:
- Listings. Job listings often expire when a position has been filled, and real estate listings expire once a property has been sold.
- Products. Products can become outdated if they are no longer sold at a specific location, they are seasonal, or they are out-of-stock.
- Information. This is the type of outdated content publishers tend to deal with the most. You might create a great post about how to use Facebook that is completely outdated now, or have a “How To” post about something that can now be done on a computer or in an easier way.
Whatever the reason you’re finding that a web page is outdated, you’re going to have to do something about it. Update it if it can be updated. Delete it if it is no longer needed.
Dealing with affected content
There are really only three major ways to deal with content that has been affected by Google’s algorithm. These options include:
Set up 301 redirects
These should be used if the page isn’t getting much traffic. Listings and expired product pages typically fall into this category. A 301 redirect simply sends users from one page to another. They are easy to set up if you use plugins.
This will make sure that your SEO stays intact so you don’t lose all of the link equity while still making sure that readers are being taken to a closely related page. The term “relevant” here is key. You don’t want to redirect them to any old page, but you want it to be related. Find a category page that is similar but isn’t going to become outdated in the future.
Re-work the content on the page
If the page is still getting a good amount of traffic and could easily be made relevant, simply update your content.
You don’t want to continually be re-working content; however, so use your best judgment. Is that topic likely to change again soon? If not, pasting a new article over some of that content might be a good idea. Just keep the title and tags similar.
Delete the page altogether
If you have a page that is getting no traffic and has absolutely no links, you can just delete the page.
Tip: Stay on top of your content throughout the year
Although we don’t know much about the new algorithm update, it’s still important to remind yourself what Google looks for in quality content and some of the basic things to keep in mind. Below are some of the top (and very basic) things you should know about creating and maintaining quality content for not only your readers (your most important audience members), but the Google search bots as well:
- Make sure content is always useful and relevant. This should go without saying, but relevance and information are important matters. This not only refers to long-form blog posts but even just makes sure you publish contact information and market for any upcoming events. Make sure your content editorial guidelines include these points.
- You have to offer valuable information that is different from competitors’. Plain and simple, you have to be unique and set yourself apart. This means your content should cover different angles and aspects than your competitors. Google will know!
- Always focus on credibility. Using original research, reputable reviews and testimonials to back up your work, and linking to authoritative websites will help you build credibility. Using social commerce is a great way to build those up.
- Content has to be engaging. This means you should be creative and offer more than just long-form articles. Create infographics, videos, polls and surveys, and more to help get your audience engaged and interested. Coupling your content with your social media accounts can also help you improve your comments and CTR.
- Load time and navigation are important. Don’t forget that part of quality content is actually making your way through the content. This means focusing on load time, making sure none of your links are broken, your statistics are up to date, etc. This is all very important to Google for a good user experience.
Of course, it’s best to always keep on top of your outdated content so that you don’t have to deal with everything at once at the end of the year. Every time you create a listing, make a note somewhere of the date when that listing may expire or go change the status to expire right away so you know something needs to happen to that web page.
As for outdated information, keep an eye out in your industry to see if anything changed that might have affected some of your content. Other than that, you may just want to consider doing a content audit every few months instead of every year.
Now is the perfect time for businesses to go through their entire website and conduct a content audit, or look through each piece of content and determine which content is still relevant, earning traffic and engagement, and which content just isn’t cutting it.