Last week Google published a lengthy blog post outlining some of the thinking behind their search algorithm changes and the importance of understanding these if you would like to continue to rank highly in searches.
In the blog they discuss the sheer volume of changes being made to their algorithms, some are very minor and go unnoticed, whilst other changes represent a big shake up and are known as Core Updates.
After the release of these core updates, it’s not uncommon for sites to notice a difference in their ranking, for some they might find they drop a few places, whilst the lucky few might find that the changes work in their favour and they see a boost in their position.
Google is keen to reassure site owners, that whilst they might see a dip in their position following an update, this isn’t necessarily an indication that their site has done anything ‘wrong’ but it might be a good time to reassess your content.
Google have said:
“We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”
What more motivation is needed to cast a critical eye at the content on your website and make sure it is still relevant, high quality and performing as you’d like.
Google suggests asking yourself the following questions:
Understanding Google’s Content & Quality Questions
Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
What do they mean by this? Put simply, there is masses of content available for users online, but what searchers, and Google, are looking for is informative and interesting content that isn’t simply regurgitated from another source. In the climate of ‘Fake News’ they are also looking for content with integrity that can be backed up by supporting evidence and analysis.
Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
When a searcher clicks on your website in the results does the page they land on answer their query as thoroughly as it could? Now is a great time to look at pages where your content is a bit thin and look for opportunities to bulk it up. In doing so, you will likely find that you have added lots of additional juicy LSI keywords that you hadn’t even set out to do, all of which offer new ranking opportunities.
Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
What makes your content different and why should a user choose your site as their source over the multitude of others available to them? Look for ways that you can bring a unique perspective to an issue and insight that most users wouldn’t be able to provide and you will begin to position yourself as a thought leader.
If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
There that word is again, ‘Originality’. Google knows that there is a lot of noise to cut through when connecting searchers to a result, and if a page has been left stagnant for a number of years, how could it possibly still contain original content? It is likely that much of how you have phrased your content, particularly well-written content, will have been used by others to ‘inspire’ their content and will no longer have the original edge it once had.
There may also be new and creative ways for you to add more substance to your content, could you for example add an infographic to illustrate a process? Would a short video enhance the user experience on a page? Maybe a PDF download would add that extra bit of user value to your content? These things do take time, but let’s remember that at least 90% of the clicks on Google happen on the first page, so if they help you get there, it is surely time well spent?
Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
The way users consume information on a website has changed. Most of us, me included, are looking for headlines and summaries to reassure us that we have landed on a page that stands a good chance of answering our query. We look to headlines and summaries to sign post the key information and break up chunkier paragraphs.
Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
This point ties in nicely with the question above. We all will have at some point fallen foul of a misleading headline, often referred to as ‘clickbait’. It may be tempting to add a headline that over promises on the content that follows, and yes, you may also find that it gets the clicks, but what you (and Google) will also find is that users are far more savvy now and can see through this cheap trick. What will end up happening is that with clickbait headlines, you will see a spike in your bounce rate (the number of people who exit after only viewing one page) – a metric that Google plays close attention to when ranking sites. A high bounce rate, particularly on one page, is a good user signal to Google that the content is poor or misleading.
Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
Take a look at the bookmarks you have saved on your browser and think what they have in common? Chances are they will be a resource that is valuable or a tool that makes your online life a little easier. What about the content you share with your friends or recommend to other users? Google favours sites that users love, so make sure there is content on there to woo them.
Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopaedia or book?
We all aspire to have our content shared and there is no bigger compliment than seeing it find its way into a printed publication. The bar for printed content is often set higher than online content but striving for a print level of quality in your content is a good goal to set. This can be simple things, like paying close attention to spelling and grammar as well as the imagery used on the page.
Understanding Google’s Expertise questions
Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?
We often speak with clients who are so busy making sure the pages relating to their products and services are well written, that they neglect important pages like their About page. This is an opportunity to tell your story, to give users a feel for the values and ethos of your business and to start building that trust with people.
If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
This is where you need to look at how your business is being portrayed on other platforms. Most people when researching a new company to do business with will take a look at how they are being talked about online and their social voice. Simple things like keeping up to date Google Reviews, or using services like Trustpilot can help create the right impression before someone ever thinks to pick up the phone.
Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
Who could ever be more passionate and knowledgeable about your services and your industry than you? A user on your site will soon see through content that has been written by someone with no enthusiasm or expertise on a subject and will disengage, so make sure you let the passion and your industry knowledge shine through!
Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors?
Not taking the time to fact check any facts and figures you have cited or adding information that is very obviously incorrect will tarnish your credibility with users and with Google too. One of the easiest ways people are tripped up by this is taking all the information on Wikipedia as gospel. Wikipedia allows users to contribute to pages which can sometimes mean the information shared isn’t accurate. Always check if it says ‘citation needed’ next to information as this hasn’t been verified by experts.
Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
There are few things in life that people are more guarded with than their money and personal information so we can understand why Google is using this as the yard stick by which to measure people’s trust in a website. A quick way you can demonstrate to users and Google that you are to be trusted is to add an SSL certificate to your website.
Understanding Google’s Presentation and production questions
Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues?
Ignoring spelling and grammar issues can be a sure-fire way to undermine your content and raise red flags with readers, after all, if you don’t take the time to review your own work, how can they possibly expect attention to detail in any work you do for them? Proper styling and consistency in your site is also so important, for sites with multiple webmasters, make sure you have a protocol for styling such as when to use headings, the imagery that is appropriate, and don’t tinker with the font or you could quite quickly find issues with site continuity.
Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
Slap dash content is another thing that will be off putting to users. Whilst it is great to write topical posts and strike whilst the iron is hot, this shouldn’t be at the expense of quality. You need simply to look at the Daily Mail comments section to see how users pull apart sloppy writing!
Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
If your content appears on multiple sites, why would anyone choose to visit yours? Whilst building a great backlink network should certainly be part of your SRO strategy, outsourcing all of your content or regurgitating the message across multiple sites isn’t going to help your search engine position.
Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
According to a consumer studies, 83% of people surveyed said that "Not all ads are bad, but I want to filter out the really obnoxious ones." If your website uses ads, this is something to keep in mind! Some of the biggest gripes are pop up ads and autoplay videos and it seems one of the biggest perpetrators of ads * cough we are looking at you here Google * has taken stock of this and is looking for websites to serve their adverts in a more user friendly format. This means don’t restrict peoples view with garish pop ups!
Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?
Last year Google swapped to what’s known as the Mobile First Index, this means that whether your users are accessing your site on mobiles or not (chances are a good chunk are) Google will still consider the mobile version of your website to be the primary version. This means if it’s not responsive and users struggle to find the information they are looking for, you are likely to struggle to rank for competitive keywords.
Understanding Google’s Comparative questions
Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
Competition on Google is what spurs change, we are all trying to improve on our own successes or chase the tails of our competitors. So, what is it that will make your content different, what makes you stand out from the competition? By paying attention to the content questions posed by Google and using that to help you create well written and engaging content that is regularly refreshed and improved on you should begin to see results!
Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
Lastly let’s think about what Google’s job is. Google exists to connect users with the most useful information to match their search query. In order to continue to dominate the search engine market, they have to look at more than a website that happens to be designed nicely or has checked a few SEO boxes such as adding meta descriptions (this is still important, but not as a stand alone strategy) but is actually trying to genuinely answer a searchers query.
Wow – if you have made it to the end of this blog post, we will safely assume you are someone who really cares about delivering a great experience on your website which is great news!
We hope this blog has highlighted some areas where you can improve your content and see your hard work pay off in the search results!