The Content Corner: How Google Judges Your Content

Mar 7, 2016

Every week my main goal is to usually provide new ways to help you feed the content beast. However, today I am going to remind you of why feeding the beast is important, especially when it comes to your search engine rankings and helping users find your content.

I’ve discussed key search engine optimization (SEO) tips previously and there is no shortage of SEO content available, but today I am going to focus again on how quality and quantity of your content can have an impact on your search engine rankings and how that content appears on search engine results pages (SERPs).

More, More, More…

I discuss it almost endlessly and we all know that we need to be generating new content on a regular basis, weekly, daily, hourly depending on your platform and audience. At times it simply becomes like a reflex, we have fed the beast for so long and so often that we forget the reasons why.

This ongoing drive to create content is of course to keep providing our users with helpful content that they can use and is an expectation of the always-connected, always-sharing modern world of ours. The other is a bit more practical, new and fresh content is rewarded by the most used search engine in the United States: Google. While their market share is shrinking, as of September 2015, Google still holds around 64% of the search engine market in the U.S. If you want people to find your content, you’re going to depend on Google to some extent.

Right or wrong, one of the ways Google measures quality is whether or not content is updated regularly. Google also helpfully suggests that your site should have “a satisfying amount of website information”. How the term satisfying is measured in this context remains unclear, but most interpret that to mean “more is better”. However, Google also measures the quality of the content itself and has humans (you remember those?) to rate your content as part of the overall process.

Several of the things they penalize you for are:

  • automated content,
  • pages with little or no content, and
  • any of the old SEO tricks like hidden keywords or link schemes.

I’m pretty sure no public sector website is engaging in any old SEO tricks, but we may have pages that are light on content. Be sure to review site areas where several pages could plausibly be combined into one, making it more valuable for the user and better for your SEO.

Also be sure to review site areas regularly (probably as part of an audit or content strategy) for information that can be updated. Again, what’s good for your user is usually good for your SEO.

Engaging Content

I could almost just add links to several of my previous posts of The Content Corner, but I also want to look at this topic through the lens of SEO and how you appear on SERPs.

There is a lot of discussion about “quality content” and I like to toss around the term “efficient content” but what many of us don’t do a great job of is trying to help you find ways to quantify or define what that is. Google prefers the term “valuable content”, so of course one of the first steps is to have as great an understanding as possible of what the user is looking for or what they will find value in.

One of the best ways to do this, if you haven’t already, is to develop personas and then leverage those as you consider your content and what this person may be searching for or expecting to find.

If a user is using search, then many times their intent will be pretty clear: they’re typing it directly into a box that you can reference. This can help drive not only content creation, but also how you title that content and can help you develop your description metadata.

Search data can also help you determine if certain site content is not meeting your user’s needs. Monitor your bounce rates and when they seem particularly high, review the content and determine whether it can either be pruned or improved in some way based on personas or user search terms. Your titles or descriptions may need to be tweaked if you see lots of users quickly leaving your pages. This is a clear sign that what they thought they were getting was not on your page at all.

Don’t Forget that Content Pillar

Way back in my first post, I shared with you the content pillar concept and it remains a wonderful way to solve some of the issues I have raised in this post. By building a pillar around any piece of content it allows you to address both the quantity and the quality content struggle by providing additional content types that users will value.

The content pillar can help you develop video, infographics, and other images to include with your content to provide a more engaging experience for the user.

As an example, NASA appears in three of the top four search results for “Pluto”. One of the many reasons for the high results most likely stems from the use of images that dominates the space agency’s posts. We all can’t be NASA, but a content pillar can still help you discover alternate content types to share with your users and improve the quality of your content.

In the end, it remains fair to say that user-focused content creation is your best SEO strategy. That is certainly the impetus behind Google’s ongoing tweaks to their algorithms and the Quality Rater Guidelines. But as I said, Google (and the other search engines) are a critical part in helping the public find our content, so we need to be aware of how well our content will abide by their rules. This means things like:

  • remembering content length is important (the Goldilocks Zone is also applicable to content),
  • leveraging your subject matter experts to create knowledgeable content (Google implicitly discourages novice writers), and
  • citing and linking to other expert and recognized sources (like we strive to do with every post at DigitalGov).

So, when in doubt do what is best for the user always, but it doesn’t hurt to remember the rules of the game that we are all participating in.