The compromises which make high quality content

What makes content high quality isn't drawn from just one discipline, it's creating a page that fulfils a multitude of tasks and carefully balances rankings against wider needs.

Page content and especially copy, plays a role not only in the different ways Google assesses and ranks a page but also in how a potential customer behaves once they get there. When optimizing a page for SEO there may well have to be an element of compromise in the changes made depending on the purpose of the page. Optimizing high quality content isn't straightforward.

Uniqueness

With around 4.5 billion pages within the indexable web, there's an awful lot of content out there. Any search term that gets a reasonable amount of traffic is going to have many 000’s of results, meaning pages which are relevant to that term. So why should Google index and rank your pages above any of these?

Before you write your content, think to yourself, what does this add to the conversation? That’s what Google is looking for - new information. It makes sense that when someone is searching, Google tries to show variety in the returned content. In this way Google is more likely to fulfil the searcher's query.

So having content which merely repeats what existing content already says isn’t an attractive proposition for Google. It wants something unique that adds value to the search results. This is further shown in the way that duplicate content is treated. Google will choose not to rank content which is too similar to content already found in the index.

Writing style and quality

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Google does look at the quality of copy and we know from previous search results filters that Google is capable of assessing the reading age of copy.

Google is on the lookout for generated content, which can be a mix of copy and images scraped from other sites then combined on one page. This makes the duplication harder to spot, especially when the copy is automatically re-written (words are swapped with synonyms and sentences changed round). This often results in copy that may technically make sense, but to a human reads very badly. Google therefore looks at the quality of the writing to make sure that if it displays that page in the results, someone clicking on it would be happy to read the content.

Low-quality copy is also often a flag for scams and sites which harbour viruses or may otherwise be looking to do something shady. There are some very good reasons why Google would be looking at the quality of copy on-page.

Relevance

The content must be relevant to the search query, or it’s not going to be called from the index and placed into the results. There are a few key parts to keeping content relevant, not least is the use of keywords on-page.

Check out this article on how to optimize a web page for more information about using keywords on-page. It’s about making sure you’re placing the keywords in the right page elements as well as using the correct mix of terms.

Links and social sharing

Good content gets shared, mediocre or bad content doesn’t. It means that creating really strong, high quality content is going to pay dividends over the value of the content itself.

As content is shared it leaves a trail and Google is looking for that trail as a ranking factor. Links are a great example of this. Good quality content attracts more links which in turn increases the content's rankings.

Social sharing is also worth remembering. Although social signals themselves may not be that strong right now it’s worth considering the knock-on effect that these can have. Once again getting shared via social is also going to generate traditional links and the additional benefits to rankings these create. Citation - the number of times a brand is mentioned on the web - is another factor which is worth considering.

Conversions vs SEO

Ultimately it’s not always about achieving the best possible rankings for a page. In the real world it’s often a compromise of the many purposes a single page may be serving. Let’s have a look at some of these, starting off with one of the most important.

Homepage content

Compromise is especially true for product pages and higher level pages, such as a site's homepage. Often those pages form a key part of a site's sales funnel, so blindly making SEO changes without paying attention to how these might impact conversions is poor technique. Instead you need to identify what role the page plays in conversions and balance your SEO changes against this.

Some useful tools for making these kinds of decisions are your analytics and CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation) testing software. Google Analytics is great for the former and I use a product called Optimizely for the latter. This allows you to split test on-page changes and measure the effect on conversions.

A homepage can often be one of the most difficult areas to balance SEO against CRO needs, with both forming important parts of the purpose of the page. You want the page to rank well and so be found, but you also want users to convert well once there.

It’s likely that the same content rules that apply elsewhere on a website may not need to be followed as stringently on a homepage. Having a large block of content is going to be a poor choice for CRO. It’s more often the case of allowing design and CRO to lead, then tweaking with SEO changes. Areas such as the title or description and using slight changes in wording can be key. However, make sure any on-page changes are properly tested, especially if working on an established page.

Product pages

Product pages create another issue with balancing CRO and SEO. Placed at the end of the buying cycle, when a user falls on a product page they are seeking to purchase a product. This means that although each page might individually gain low traffic, it should convert exceptionally well. If your product pages don’t convert, you’re in big trouble. However, the traffic captured from search to those pages is highly valuable.

Unlike a homepage there are often more opportunities to include content with product pages. However a site may have 000’s of these, so hand-writing content is impossible. Instead, that content is often dynamically inserted and may include default manufacturer's descriptions and images.

SEO should form a much more integral part of the design process within product pages, feeding into the placement and use of the dynamic content, with the proper rules followed to create the page headings, place captions around images and combine text with brand terms to create elements as unique as possible. The page title and description should both feature dynamic content mixed with brand terms to create a unique set for every product page.

For an established site identify the products which show the most promise such as those that:

  • Already rank well and can be solidified
  • Rank in the 4 - 6 positions and so can be ‘tipped’ into 1 - 3 with a little effort
  • Have a high basket value
  • Have strong internal visibility (many organisations have a few flagship products that wider success is judged on)
  • Are identified internally as under-performing
  • Have strong conversions (regardless of number of sales or ranking)

The top products should be manually edited. Larger companies will often have copywriters you can brief on creating SEO friendly content as well. If there are already staff who create unique product pages, getting internal buy-in into the value of SEO is vital. A solid test which shows rankings before and after changes for an existing product page can be a very effective way of doing this.

Engagement

Sometimes content isn’t created to gain rankings or conversions, but instead to create more user engagement and build and connect with a greater audience. Blog content is a great example of this. Often temporary, blog content may only be relevant for a day or two before sinking out of sight. Part of the Google algorithm is QDF or Query Deserves Freshness which is geared towards this sort of time sensitive content.

This does need to be balanced though, as often a blog article can rank consistently well for a long period of time. This is especially true where the content is unique and matches a longer tail search term well. You may have found this when stumbling across a blog article written years ago when Googling the answer to a technical issue, only to find someone has written about that exact problem.

Once again the role SEO plays in the design of the blog comes into play here. Making sure that the CMS (Content Management System) that powers the blog is set up to generate the page title and url from the title of the post is often a good start. Having an introductory paragraph or excerpt to be filled out separately can also be used to fill in the page description dynamically. Alternatively these can be created as separate sections on-page to be filled in before a post is put live.

Once again, working with any in-house team which deals with the creation of content is important. A good option can be to create a crib sheet with a checklist to run through before a post is put live. This will ensure that the basic options are covered and that there is a good level of consistency no matter who authors the post.

SEO as a compromise

More often than not the purpose of a page will be multi-faceted. Working on a client's site or your own you will need to balance the needs of a single page so that rankings do not come at the cost of other requirements.

Remember to assess what the purpose of a page is, properly test changes which may affect the conversion rates of pages within the sales funnel and work directly with other internal teams. It’s striking this balance, rather than just blindly recommending SEO changes, where the real skill lies. Anyone can work through a checklist of SEO changes. The value is being able to properly judge the cost/benefit of those changes and implement them in such a way as to provide an overall benefit to the site. That’s what makes truly high quality content.

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