In the recently released Searchmetrics Ranking Factors Study, the case for quality content is once again highlighted as a critical SEO component. There should be any number of people out there who are rolling their eyes right about now, thinking: not another post about how “content is king.” We’ve heard it before. How many ways can you keep saying the same thing?
Well, that’s what I usually think, anyway, so I was a little surprised to see it presented as something that is “becoming increasingly important” in this report. They say “this was not the case for a long time,” which I found interesting. Quality content is not becoming important, it always has been. Right?
But then I got into the report a little further and really started to see what they meant.
From a strictly SEO point of view, content was always seen as necessary, but it usually took a back seat to other, more technical parts of the craft. Why?
Well, we say a lot about high-quality content, but who is really there to judge?
Content was a lot easier in the days of keyword density and strategic keyword placement. In those days, quality was how you managed to use the most unnatural long-tail keywords in the most natural ways possible, and hoped that no one noticed that really people didn’t actually speak like that. Or maybe you could just bold your keywords, and surely that helped the quality score shoot right up. (/sarcasm)
That kind of behavior, of course, is something best left in the past. After the release of the Hummingbird update, Google began to focus even more on semantic and context-based queries.
Do Context and Relevance Equal Quality?
One of the simplest ways to define “quality,” at least from a search engine’s perspective, is by determining the context and relevance of the content. In the past, this was a simple matter of using the right keywords in the right places. We’ve moved on from that level, though, and taken a more holistic approach.
Right now, targeting single keywords – or even keyword groups – simply isn’t enough to be effective in the modern online environment. Ever since the Hummingbird update, Google has been developing a more semantic approach to search, and that means they’re looking for semantically relevant terms (the report refers to them as “proof terms”) and other relevant terms that will speak to the overall value and relevance of the content.
This kind of “semantically comprehensive wording” certainly acts as signal that the page is relevant to a query, but consciously selecting these terms and phrases is going to be more difficult than just going through the standard keyword research. On the other hand, this should help lead to more natural content creation because if you really are generating valuable content, it should happen naturally.
The Best Part of a Semantic Focus
The benefit of this switch is that now, as writers focus on a more holistic approach, they should be able to reflect more topics in their text. This, then, makes the same page relevant for users with a varying range of search intentions. The same copy can start to rank even better for related, additional keywords without even trying. (Well, obviously, with a lot of trying, but you know what I mean.)
So, according to Searchmetrics: “If website editors want their content to rank better for specific keywords, the content should be created with the fulfillment of user search intent in mind.”
What does that mean, exactly?
It means that what we’ve been saying all along still carries a lot of weight. We always say that you should write for the user, and not the search engines. By focusing on their actual needs, you can provide the kind of quality content Google is looking for.
Is Quality about Readability?
Does your personal writing style figure into the overall quality of the content? Are you using words and phrases that are too complex for your audience just to try and sound smart? This year, Searchmetrics included a new development in its report, and that’s the legibility of the text.
It seems that the general trend is that text that is easier to read tends to rank higher. There’s even a suggestion of a mathematical formula to determine the level of legibility (get the report for yourself to check it out), but it’s unlikely that Google is using something like this to determine who well you write.
Rather, Google is equating readability with “easy to comprehend,” and so it’s probably looking at user signals, like time on the site and bounce rate to judge whether or not your users find your writing legible.
It’s interesting to note, then, that by using those signals, Google isn’t necessarily looking at quality but usability. Technically, this could mean that layout is just as important as what you say. (And when we get into rich media’s importance later, we’ll see that’s definitely a thing.)
Does More Content Equal Quality Content?
This year also saw a lot of increases in correlation to content length. The report said that: “This means that websites need to produce more content in order to remain competitive in search.”
So, that doesn’t seem to mean you need to write longer content, but just have more of it. There is a difference.
Keep in mind, though, more doesn’t automatically mean better. You still have to consider legibility and keyword/topic usage. You need to balance the amount of content with the quality features that signal your relevance. Having said that, though, it does seem that sites with more words in the copy hold onto higher ranking positions.
So ask yourself: is this another holistic thing? Is it about the site word count, or is this about the word count by page?
Rich Media Matters
Images and videos can always make content more appealing. They help increase the time on site and reduce bounce rate, which means they are an important factor in a definition of quality.
Image is all about style, though, so you can expect that this will only go so far. I.e. you’re not going to get more value out of relying on images alone. Right now, though, you’re better off leaning toward image rich at the moment.
So What is Quality to a Search Engine?
In the end, focusing on a single keyword isn’t really enough to show that your content is relevant and filled with quality signals. You need to look at topics and related terms. You need to see the site as a holistic thing. This will help you rank better for a number of related terms and establish your position in the top of the rankings.