When it comes to your content, Google can be fighting for you or against you.
Google wants to promote great content: the “heroes” of the online world. And, of course, it wants to demote poor-quality content – which we’re going to call the “toads”.
In this post, I’ll take you through what makes for H.E.R.O.E.S. and what creates T.O.A.D.S., letter by letter.
The six components of online HEROES
1. High value
Google wants to give readers what they want – and that means content with high expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T). These relate not only to your actual content but also to your own credentials and to your website as a whole.
To increase your E-A-T value, you can – among other things – make any relevant credentials you have clear (E); make sure all your content is well-written and on topic (A); and include an “About Us” page and customer service information (if visitors can buy from your site) (T).
Does your content grab readers’ interest? Are they likely to share it on social media, comment on your posts, or tell a friend or colleague about it? Engaging content gets shared and talked about … and that’s a great signal to Google that it’s something other readers will enjoy (potentially helping it rank more strongly).
One easy way to boost engagement with your content is to ask questions. Encourage readers to share their ideas or tips in a comment, if appropriate. Make sure, too, that it’s easy to share your posts – perhaps with social media buttons so readers can share with a single click, or with tweetable quotes.
Is your content relevant to the reader? This doesn’t just mean that it should match with the keyword they type into Google (keyword relevant), it should also satisfy them by providing the content and answers that they’re looking for. Google’s RankBrain algorithm attempts to understand the “user intent” of a keyword.
When you’re crafting content, think about what would create a great experience for the person reading or viewing it. If they’re searching for information on how to accomplish something, for instance, they probably don’t just want a handful of disparate tips – they want a detailed step-by-step guide.
Does your content really add to what’s already out there? Google wants to promote original content … not things that have already been done dozens of times before. Well-thought-out pieces should add real value to your industry and community.
While it’s fine to give your own angle on a well-worn idea, or to explain crucial concepts in ways that are easier to understand, do be careful not to simply rehash the thoughts of other experts in your niche.
I’m sure it goes without saying that you should act ethically with your SEO efforts: be a white hat SEO, not a black hat. This means, in short, obeying Google’s guidelines: creating content that’s primarily for users, not for search engines, and avoiding dubious tricks to improve SEO (like hidden text or paid links).
As well as making sure that your own behaviour is ethical, you also need to ensure that no-one else has had a hand in making your site unsafe in any way: you should promptly remove any spam comments, for instance, and if your site gets hacked, you should take down the hacked content as soon as possible.
Have you noticed, when you run a Google search, that Google displays how quickly it returns its results? It’s usually under a second.
Google is a bit obsessed with site speed … and you should be too. Users expect pages to load in less than two seconds: if they don’t, they’ll likely hit the back button and find what they’re looking for somewhere else instead. (If you want to be really speedy, try to match up to Google’s sub-second page load time.)
There are lots of recommended tools and great tips from Wordtracker here for improving your site’s speed. A couple of key things you can do are to use web-optimized images, avoid using too many videos on a single page, and minimize the use of scripts.
The six components of online TOADS
So what shouldn’t you be doing with your content? Let’s take a look at the TOADS…
1. Thin content
You don’t want to write a post that adds very little value to your industry: Google Search Console may label this as “thin content with little or no added value”. As well as being original (see above), your post should be easy for readers to engage with: something that genuinely helps them or improves their day in some way.
If your content is thinly veiled self-promotion, a “doorway” page as discussed here by Matt Cutts, or if it’s a hasty rehash of points that others have made over and over again, it’s unlikely to be adding real value. Think about your audience, and what will be truly useful to them.
While you might think SEO means the more optimization the better, there’s such a thing as over-optimized content. This shades into unethical behaviour, which we mentioned above, but even if you’re not outright cheating, your content can become distinctly spammy.
Over-optimized content might involve keyword spamming (shovelling keywords into your text so that it reads unnaturally), anchor text spamming (always going for the same “money” keyword with your backlinks), or having a suspiciously high “link velocity” (gaining lots of links all at once in several huge spikes, with few or no links coming between those spikes).
Anything that artificially increases the number of likes, views, comments or similar that your content receives is considered “artificial traffic spam” by Google -- a form of black hat SEO. The gap between what Google said you should do and what you could get away used to be very wide … but now you can just about post an envelope through it!
While this concept is normally applied to YouTube (and thus video content), it’s also relevant for other types of content. Paying a company that promises more comments on your blog, for instance, is an unwise idea.
4. Duplicate content
When content is the same on one web page as another, we call this duplicate content. If you copy content from another website (especially large chunks), this is seen as form of plagiarism by search engines. If it happens a little bit, with no ill-intent, that’s tolerable … but a lot of duplicated content can be a problem. If you’re sending out Press Releases, for instance, you might want to think carefully about also publishing them on your own website.
If you have the exact same text on two pages on your own site, that can also be a problem. Google won’t know which version of your page to rank. Keep in mind that while you might think you only have one copy of each page, Google might think differently (this article on Wordtracker does a great job of explaining how duplicate content happens, and how to deal with it).
While a speedy site will help you rise up the rankings a little, a really slow site can see you getting knocked way down the rankings – past the first and second pages.
If the average webpage is around 2MB and your web admin uploads a couple of 5MB image files to your homepage, you'll probably run into trouble, especially with Google's mobile-first index. Make sure that everyone adding content to your website knows how to optimize images appropriately. For more ways to speed up a slow website, check out CrazyEgg’s advice.
Let’s recap: the HEROES of online content that we’ve discussed are:
● High value
The TOADS are:
● Thin content
● Duplicate content
Which of Google’s HEROES have you perhaps been neglecting? Are there any TOADS that might be causing your site problems? If you can’t tackle them immediately, come up with a plan for how you’re going to make improvements as soon as possible.