How Does Google Define "Quality Content"?

Oct 07th 2016

How Does Google Define "Quality Content"?

For over a half-decade (a near eternity in digital marketing time) there has been a constant drumbeat coming from experts in SEO and Search Engine Marketing:


Content is King.


Backlinks for the sake of backlinks are dangerous.


Write great content and Google will reward you.


This is, of course, valuable advice; a lesson that many of you have taken to heart. With Penguin 4.0 released recently, a spammy or unnatural backlink profile is a liability far beyond any potential value, and social media has made engaging and valuable content easier to share – a trend that will like continue for yet another half-decade at the least.


But creating quality content is not an easy task, and chances are good that your savvy competitors are working just as hard to push more content. In the past few years, there has been a glut of new content created across all industries. Just look at this chart of webpages indexed by Google:

Google Pages Chart

So, with all the advice to create great content, you still need to consider – How is your webpage going to stand out from the crowd? If your competitors are all looking to take a bigger slice of the pie, how are you going to ensure that your pages are the ones appearing at the top in search?


How To Stand Out From The Crowd


Another piece of advice that is often trotted out is this:


Write for users first and foremost. Google will show what people want to see.


This is true.. to a certain point. But if you put too much stock in this advice, you are at risk of ignoring the true importance of Google’s standards.


Remember, Google is likely your first, and most influential, audience. Your page will be crawled and indexed before anyone outside your company interacts with it, and even the most well-written post will fade into the 4th of 5th page of search results if it doesn’t meet certain key standards.


How Google Defines Quality Content


Luckily, Google is fairly up-front regarding their standards; after all, if their true goal is to promote great content, it pays to tell webmasters how to write. Of course, there is a fair amount of pithy and uninformative jargon here, too:


“The key to creating a great website is to create the best possible experience for your audience with original and high quality content.”


But with a little digging, we can boil this advice down into a few basic and actionable tenets. Here are the basics, pulled from Search Console Help and Google Webmaster Guidelines:


Be Useful and Informative:


The key here is to answer the questions that real users will want. If you are a restaurant, for instance, feel free to talk about your philosophy of cuisine, the atmosphere of your dining area, and local celebrities who dine there regularly. But first and foremost answer the questions that 90% of your users will be looking for: What time do you open and close? Do you take reservations? Do you have Happy Hour? What’s on the menu this week?


On the more technical side, consider the words that you use – not just on your page, but also in <title> and <description> elements. These should all be “descriptive, specific, and accurate” and should use the words that your customers are actually searching for. Remember, Google (and some less-sophisticated readers) might not realize that “Guangdong-Sichuan Fusion” means “Chinese Cuisine.” It’s perfectly fine to use the former, as long as the latter appears as well!

Be Credible


This is something we all learned in school. Don’t steal or plaigerise, and always show your sources. It’s fine to use reseearch from other sites, but always link to your source – these links are a signal that you’ve done hard work and care about showing your customers the highest quality research.


If you do include advertisements on your site, ensure that these are treated differently than resource and reference links – use rel=”nofollow” prudently to avoid muddying the waters too much. Otherwise, a link to an advertisement gets equal weight to a link to valuable research.


Be Engaging


Don’t just give dry information to your customers, delight them with good design, images, and interactive elements. Of course, Google doesn’t have a live person looking at your site to give it a score, so you must also make sure that any non-textual content can still be ‘read’ and understood by Google’s crawlers.

  • Ensure that all images have a proper ‘alt’ tag – a description of the image. More on Image best practices here. 
  • “Allow all site assets that would significantly affect page rendering to be crawled: for example, CSS and JavaScript files that affect the understanding of the pages. The Google indexing system renders a web page as the user would see it, including images, CSS, and JavaScript files. To see which page assets that Googlebot cannot crawl, or to debug directives in your robots.txt file, use the blocked resources report in Search Console and the Fetch as Google and robots.txt Tester tools.”
  • Keep an eye on your engagement metrics in Google Analytics – a high bounce rate or a low time-on-site will signal to Google that you are not doing a great job engaging users.


On the flip side, don’t drive users away with broken elements, inaccurate information, or spammy links. The Search Console Help includes this list of negative signals that affect engagement:

  • Errors such as broken links or wrong information
  • Grammar or spelling mistakes
  • Excessive amount of ads
  • Spam such as comment or forum spam

Be Valuable


This is the simplest piece of advice, but it’s incredibly difficult in real life. You need to ensure that your content provides something new and valuable. You will likely going up against other companies writing about the same topics, so make sure you are bringing new information, insights, or at the very least a fresh point of view to the table. As an absolute must, you should never, ever, be taking content directly from another site without correct citation – not only will this do nothing to make you rank higher, it will probably lead to a penalty that will affect your entire site.


Be A High-Quality Source


Of course, all these previous points have fed into this:

Don’t just write a high-quality article, be a high-quality source.


The former is a simple action, the latter is a complete shift in your marketing mindset. If you make a habit of releasing only the best, the rewards will follow. Maybe not today, maybe not next week – these ranking signals build over a long time – but if you work hard on both production and promotion, it will pay off. As Henry Adaso has said:


“Many businesses tend to treat content as an accessory to their marketing efforts; the most successful marketers treat content as an integral part of the process.”


Want to read more about Google quality signals? Check out these high-quality sources:


Google Search Console Quality Guidelines

Google Webmaster Guidelines


Search Engine Land


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