We all know quality content is essential to a winning SEO strategy but how do you measure something like ‘quality’?
In this article, we’re going to start by defining what quality content means in modern SEO – something many brands still struggle to clarify. Then we’re going to look at how you can check content quality before you publish it, and look back at the content you’ve already published on your site.
What does ‘quality content’ actually mean?
This term gets banded around so much that it’s lost all meaning over the years. Of course, it doesn’t help that ‘quality’ is a highly subjective thing, but your content is going to fall short if it doesn’t meet the following criteria:
- Valuable: Offers something of value that your audience can’t get elsewhere.
- Accessible: Content that’s there when users need it and provides a positive user experience every step of the way.
- Compelling: Titles that compel users to click through and content that compels them to take action.
Before you create any kind of content, ask yourself – what problem is this going to solve for our audience? Also, bear in mind there’s little value in repetition. Instead, create content that tells search engines and users that you have something unique to offer. You’re not like the other brands in your industry; you’re better.
Accessible content needs to be two things. First, it needs to be in the right place when users are looking for it – ranking for a search term in Google, visible to the right audience in Facebook, part of a targeted remarketing campaign, etc.
If your content isn’t within reach when your audience needs it, it’s worthless to them.
Once users click through, your content also needs to be accessible on your site. This is where untimely popups, poor layouts and other UX issues can prevent people from engaging with your content.
Finally, quality content also needs to be compelling enough to inspire action – otherwise, where’s the value in it for you? This starts with headlines, images, thumbnails (or a previous page in your sales funnel) that compel users to click through. As for the destination page, every piece of content you publish should have a defined marketing objective, whether it’s likes, shares, conversions, email signups or simply directing users to the next page in your sales funnel.
The point is, every piece of content should have a clear goal and should convince users to take the desired action.
How can I check content quality?
It’s much easier to check and manage the quality of your content as you create and publish it, rather than retrospectively grading content you’ve already published. So we’ll start with the checks you can run with every piece of content you create before we move on to the more challenging task of checking your existing content.
Check #1: Content value and originality
From your audience’s perspective, this is by far the most important characteristic of quality content. In terms of value, it should be absolutely obvious what any piece of content has to offer users. If it’s not obvious to you, it certainly won’t be to them.
As for originality, the first thing you want to check is that your content isn’t plagiarised. There are plenty of tools like Copyscape for this but only helps you stay away from duplicate content. It doesn’t tell you whether your content is original in terms of topic or approach.
Google is actually the best tool for testing this. First, search for the keyword you’re targeting and then type in your title ideas to see what comes up for both searches.
If you get a page full of the exact same kind of content you’re planning to publish, you need to question whether it’s worth targeting this keyword at all and (if it is) how you can create something unique that offers value.
Check #2: Spelling, punctuation and grammar
Machine learning has drastically improved the capability of spelling and grammar checking software. With tools like Grammarly you can create content with added confidence that the majority of your typos and grammar slips will be flagged up for correction.
The majority isn’t good enough though.
The best way to check for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes is to have human editors check everything before you publish. This counts for graphics, videos and any other content that includes text as well.
Don’t expect your writers or designers to proofread their own work because they won’t be able to see their own mistakes clearly.
Check #3: Fact check
Since 2015, Google has been actively looking at ways to rank content based on the accuracy of information included. We also know the search giant has enough machine learning smarts to answer a wide range of queries with featured snippets, based on information it deems to be accurate.
You may have also noticed people on the internet are very quick to point out misinformation, spelling mistakes or any other faults they can pick up on – none of which is good for brand reputation.
So check your facts.
Related reading: Fact checking guide for content marketers
Check #4: Formatting
Ideally, you should have a style guide in place that means everything you publish follows a fairly strict format. Above all, you want to make sure your content is formatted to make it easier to read and more engaging – plus tick the following boxes for search engines:
- Conversational language
- Short paragraphs
- Headings to break up different points
- Bullet point lists
- Images and other visuals breaking up chunks of text
Above all, your content should be easy to scan so users can quickly get an idea of the main points and then delve in for more detail where they need it. Make sure any images or visuals you use are relevant, optimised for search and correctly attributed where necessary.
Check #5: Keywords
While you should never force keywords into your content, it’s always a good idea to include them in the following places where possible:
- Your page title
- Your introduction
- Headings (h1, h2, h3 etc)
In most cases, it should be relatively easy to work keywords into your title and introduction. It’s great if you can work your keywords into headings, but focus on creating descriptive headings that help users understand what your content includes. Don’t force keywords in there.
Elsewhere on the page, use keyword variations and related terms to avoid repeating the same phrases over and again. Repetition can sound awkward, spammy and, in extreme cases, could get you flagged up for keywords stuffing.
Check #6: Outgoing links
Every page you publish is going to link externally to other pages in some way. At the very least, you’ll be linking to other pages on your site, so you want to make sure all of these links are working and pointing to the right place.
In many cases, you’ll also link to other websites in your content; this is best practice for every blog post you publish. However, make sure you’re linking to trusted sources and information that’s relevant to your own content.
How can I check the existing content on our website?
The checks we covered in the previous section can all be applied to your existing content as well. The problem is, doing this manually for every piece of content you’ve ever published will be time-consuming. As we say, it’s easier to run these checks as you publish content.
However, there are a number of automated checks you can run to flag up potentially ‘low quality’ content that could hurt your search ranking.
- Outgoing links: Check for any broken outgoing links, especially to other pages on your site that might need updating (after switching to HTTPS, for example).
- Incoming links: Regularly check your link profile to assess the quality of links pointing to your content and disavow anything that could hurt your ranking.
- Bounce rates: High bounce rates (for sessions without a conversion) suggest users couldn’t find what they were looking for on your page.
- Time on page: Low time spent on your page (for sessions with no conversion, only one page visited) suggests users quickly decided they didn’t like what they found on your page.
- High traffic vs no conversions: Your content is getting a lot of views but people aren’t taking action.
- High impressions vs low CTR: For ads and social content, this suggests your headlines and snippets aren’t compelling users to click through.
- Drop-off: When a user leaves your sales funnel, your content hasn’t convinced them to take the desired action.
The above signals don’t tell you that low-quality content is the problem specifically but they are good warning signals. More importantly, these are all reports that can be automated so you don’t have to manually assess every page on your site.
Tools to help you check content quality
To help you check the quality of your content, there are a number of tools you can use. Each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses but you can quickly run your content through each of them for a fairly comprehensive quality check – at least on the technical side of things.
SEO Review Tools’ Content Analysis tool
Content Analysis by SEO Review Tools is a free online tool that acts as an in-browser word processor, grading your content as you write it. At the bottom of the page, you’ll get a summary of your “SEO Score” with a breakdown of what you’ve done well and not so well. Aside from getting suggestions on how to improve the quality of your content, this also a great tool for learning the on-page SEO essentials.
Contentseochecker is another online tool based on the word processor format. It’s not as in-depth as the Content Analysis tool for on-page SEO checklist but there’s one crucial score it does provide: SemantiQ Density.
This tells you how relevant your content is to the search intent behind your target keywords, not only the specific search terms themselves. It also grades the readability of your content, although it doesn’t give a great amount of feedback on how to improve this.
The Yoast SEO plugin
If you’re running your website on WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin is a great tool for checking your content before you hit the “Publish” button. In terms of on-page optimisation, Yoast does a similar job to SEO Review Tools’ Content Analysis tool, showing what you’ve optimised well and what could be improved.
However, the Yoast also provides feedback on the quality of your writing to help you avoid common errors – such as overusing the passive voice and making your sentences too long.
Hemingway Editor is a basic online word processor that improves the readability of your writing. It highlights repeated words, sentences that are difficult to read, sentences using the passive voice and unnecessary adverbs that are taking the impact out of your messages.
Apollo Insights is our in-house analytics suite that uses machine learning to monitor website/content performance and spot opportunities for improvements.
Moving beyond the on-page SEO basics, Apollo provides a number of metrics that can be used as indicators of content quality and performance. Things like word count, page depth and the number of backlinks, which can be cross-referenced with other metrics like impressions and clicks, allowing you to see whether a page is working as it should – and how performance has changed over time.
If these metrics don’t look right, there are three key things to address:
- Make sure your content is being published and promoted in the right places.
- Remove any UX issues preventing people from engaging with your content.
- Assess the quality of your content.
If you’ve already addressed the first two issues, content quality is your problem.
Update your existing content
The final and best way to check your existing content for quality is to update everything you’ve published every few years – perhaps even more regularly. Industries evolve over time, the resources you link to become less relevant and your target audience’s needs will also change as the years roll by. To keep your content fresh and relevant, and to maintain the level of quality you worked so hard to achieve, update your old content to make sure it keeps getting results.
Related reading: Content: How to reduce, reuse and recycle
Above all, make sure your content remains valuable, accessible and compelling to your target audiences over time – and relevant to the topics covered.
Once you’ve got that covered, make sure your existing content also meets Google’s updated quality guidelines regarding expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
E-A-T and Google’s content quality guidelines
Last year, Google updated its Search Quality Rating Guidelines (PDF) with a heavy emphasis on expertise, authority and trustworthiness, which the search giant has coined into the acronym E-A-T.
E-A-T is mentioned in those quality guidelines 134 times – far more than any other reference to content quality and recent algorithm updates have confirmed how important this is to modern SEO.
Here’s what Google has to say about E-A-T in the guidelines:
“For all other pages that have a beneficial purpose, the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important. Please consider:
- The expertise of the creator of the MC.
- The authoritativeness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.
- The trustworthiness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.
Keep in mind that there are high E-A-T pages and websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages, etc. In fact, some types of information are found almost exclusively on forums and discussions, where a community of experts can provide valuable perspectives on specific topics.”
Google wants to see content written by genuine experts or people with demonstratable knowledge/experience of the topics they’re writing about. This applies to gossip and fashion websites but it’s especially important for technical subjects where advice should only be provided by people with genuine knowledge and an ability to provide valuable insights to your audience.
How strict Google is about applying E-A-T criteria can vary a lot, depending on the nature of your content.
“Some topics require less formal expertise. Many people write extremely detailed, helpful reviews of products or restaurants. Many people share tips and life experiences on forums, blogs, etc.”
“These ordinary people may be considered experts in topics where they have life experience. If it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or her an “expert” on the topic, we will value this “everyday expertise” and not penalize the person/webpage/website for not having “formal” education or training in the field.”
For example, travel writers will want to make sure they have work published under their own name on various travel websites, ideally with publisher profiles on each site. Another key indicator might be having a YouTube channel dedicated to travel content and other social platforms that can be linked to in their bios.
The important thing for the travel websites hosting this content is that they need to source their content from writers with this kind of tangible knowledge/experience and make sure the infrastructure of their website supports it with writer bios.
The same thing applies to all websites, regardless of the topic.
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