The Essence of SEO: What Is High-Quality Content?

by 47 10/11/2013

In the wake of Google’s Hummingbird update (and all the other animal-related updates too), there’s one question that needs to be revisited…

What exactly is high-quality content?

To answer that question, you can’t simply talk about content marketing. You have to understand Google’s ultimate aim for search.

Let take a deeper look at search, how it’s evolving, and how that affects us as marketers. Then we’ll review the challenges you face as a content creator and what you need to do to create higher quality content on a consistent basis.

Google’s apparent anti-SEO stance

Hummingbird wasn’t the only major change Google threw at marketers recently. Their removal of the keyword tool was a doozy. Even Moz hasn’t found a perfect solution for this one.

But I think the message is clear: Focus on content, not keywords.

Panda and Penguin already had emphasized quality content as a deciding factor for ranking well. And Google’s quality guidelines clearly spell out what they’re looking for. Here are their exact words:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

The third point spells out Google’s stance in Panda and Penguin: avoid tricks. That’s essentially what SEO had become—a bag of tricks for ensuring your pages could rank well without you having to do any real marketing.

The fourth point tells you what Google really wants: Optimizing your website should be a marketing activity, not a game.

  • Find your unique selling point.
  • Differentiate yourself.
  • Offer value to your customers.

Do that, and you’re sure to be found, not just by Google, but by your customers too.

It’s a game change…

For SEOs, this is a major game change, but without traditional keyword research, the game doesn’t seem to have any rules. And it’s especially hard on those of us who “get” the importance of writing for people.

Yes, we do want to create useful, engaging content. But we still want to tell search engines what we’re doing.

We want to wrap our high-quality content around keywords so we’re confident our content gets found.

How are we supposed to do that now? It seems we have no choice but to walk the path Google is blazing.

We’re got to let go of the traditional SEO tactics and produce high-quality content.

Why all the fuss about high-quality content?

It’s important to understand why Google is moving this direction.

Remember, search is a business, the product being search results. (Okay, ads too, but mostly SERPs.)

Google is in the business of answering people’s questions, and they want to do it as intuitively as possible, integrating with the way people now use technology.

Our goal is to get you to the answer you’re looking for faster, creating a nearly seamless connection between you and the knowledge you seek. 

Keywords used to help with that. But now, keywords are a hindrance. Marketers are misusing them to the point that they don’t reliably tell Google what a page is about. And people don’t always use the right keywords to ask a question.

That’s what all the algorithm updates are about. Each iteration gets Google that much closer to being able to intuit what you’re looking for, depending on the context of previous questions, your location, and (most likely) other criteria.

Like Apple’s Siri, Google wants to provide an interactive experience.

For instance, in years past, when I wanted to look up a word, I visited a dictionary site, typed in a word and waited for the definition to come up. Now I simply type in the word, followed by “definition.” Here’s what I get:

sample quick answer from Google

What used to be three steps that took a minute or so is one quick step. Overall it’s a better user experience, which makes me lean on Google (not the online dictionary) when I want to look something up.

That’s where search is going.

The evolution of search

Search is changing because technology is changing. One day we won’t be typing inputs into a search bar, we’ll just talk to our devices. Google is getting ready for that day. We probably should try to keep up.

What this means for marketers

Search engines aren’t trying to make life harder for website owners. They see search as a product, and as they improve their product, the game changes by default.

To keep up with Google, all search engines have to provide the best possible search results. They’ll continue to refine their ability to find the best, most useful content online.

That’s why quality content is your best tactic for showing up in SERPs.

Here’s how Google says it in its information on affiliate sites. I’ve highlighted the phrases that stand out to me:

Google believes that pure, or “thin,” affiliate websites do not provide additional value for web users, especially if they are part of a program that distributes its content to several hundred affiliates. These sites generally appear to be cookie-cutter sites or templates with no original content. Because a search results page could return several of these sites, all with the same content, thin affiliates create a frustrating user experience.

Notice that last phrase: “frustrating user experience.” Google wants to be the go-to search engine, the one that understands people’s intentions when they ask a question and gives the quickest (and best) answer.

They don’t want to give an answer that’s frustrating or wastes people’s time.

Low-quality, keyword-loaded content won’t help them achieve their goals. So they’re refining their algorithms to weed out that type of content.

What they want to deliver are Web pages that provide the richest experience for the user. Hence the term “quality content.”

So what is quality content?

Content isn’t merely a blog post or Web page that you post to your website. In reality, it’s information you submit to search engines to be given to searchers.

So quality content is anything that Google decides is worth sharing.

It’s real answers to real people’s questions.

It’s content that people want to digest because it helps or entertains them, tells them how to do something or where to find something.

It’s information that people talk about in their own blog posts or around the water cooler.

It’s the stories they pass along to their own circles or mention in social media.

It gets quoted, linked to, and shared.

That’s quality content.

Create that, and create it well. Add to the knowledge graph, and you’ll rank well with Google and your users.

The challenge of creating quality

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when you make it a goal to create quality.

1. Quality is a subjective goal.

Who really knows what it is until you hit it? Is it long, short, funny, serious? It could be any of the above. It could be none of them. So an important part of your content strategy has to be defining this word for your brand.

2. Quality implies trust.

That’s why Google shares stuff that they see other people sharing. They see that as a vote of confidence, a tick mark on the quality scoreboard. So while you’re building the quality of your content, it’s important to put energy into building trust too.

3. Higher quality content may seem to directly conflict with your profit goals.

You can’t use content to promote your products. Yet most businesses don’t want to pay writers to write materials that aren’t promotional. From my perspective, this is one of the biggest challenges for marketers—providing profit-building content to please the C-Suite and readable, useful content for users.

4. Higher quality content requires a bigger investment.

You’ll have to invest in better writers and graphic artists. You may also need programming help to create interactive content.

5. The ROI on quality content may not be immediately evident.

It takes time to build a reputation as the go-to resource. You may have to invest a lot of time and money on the front end, trusting that you’ll reap the rewards down the road. This is another reason you need to have a written content strategy that defines “quality” for your business, outlines the tactics you want to pursue and details your expected outcomes.

6. It’s risky focusing on quality.

Quality content is usually different than anything else out there. You have to be willing to make waves or stand out. Try hard not to simply copy other brands’ strategies, but to come up with something that works for you.

How you can consistently create higher value content

1. Get to know your readers.

Content marketing is a customer-centric strategy. Your blog posts, special reports and other content aren’t product brochures. They’re a way for you to connect attract and connect with your ideal customers.

Because of that, your first task as a content marketer is to get to know your readers.

You need to find out what they’re interested in, what questions they’re asking, what worries them, what their goals are, and anything else you can find out.

Remember, in the eyes of Google, quality content is content that answers your readers’ questions. So by all means, answer their questions.

2. Talk in their language.

This is especially important now that Google’s keyword tool is no longer available. Instead of asking Google what search terms people are using, listen to your customers.

Go to forums where they ask questions. Connect with them in social media. Watch their comments on your blog and other blogs in your industry.

What words are they using to talk about your products? Those are the words you need to use when you talk about them. And by doing so, you’ll automatically optimize your content—because it will match the queries they type into search engines.

3. Keep the focus on customers, not selling.

Blog posts aren’t sales pages. Remember that. Use blog posts to answer questions and generate interest in your products. Then link to sales pages in case readers want to learn more.

Create content that builds relationship. Your objective should be to build trust and credibility among your target audience. Not to sell. Not in your content. Let that come later, after you’ve earned their trust.

4. Create content for every stage of the sales funnel.

Write down every question your customers are likely to ask at every level of the funnel. These are the same questions they’re going to type into a search engine. So create content that targets those keywords.

But don’t stop there. Create additional content that simply provides useful, actionable information.

5. Create content on a regular basis.

Consistency builds trust. It also makes you credible. And the more content you produce, the more search queries your content can rank for.

So set a schedule you can reasonably maintain, and get busy producing content.

6. Go the extra mile.

To be higher quality, your content has to be better than the stuff everyone else is doing. So you have to step up your game if you want to have the highest quality content online.

Think outside the box. Get creative. Then start delivering.

Are you up for it?

It’s a new game, with little guidance except that weird, undefinable word, “quality.” But for now, it’s all we’ve got.

So are you up for it?

Do you have a plan for creating quality content? What are your biggest challenges? Share in the comments.

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About 

Kathryn Aragon is editor of The Daily Egg, publisher of the C4 Report and founder of Top Marketers Only. She is committed to helping businesses communicate, connect, convert... and capture their market. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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47 COMMENTS

Designer Rob Russo

I think quality is more important than keywords and this seems like a logical move for Google.

For online marketers and content creators, we just have to figure out how to deliver what our specific customer wants.

For me, being consistent and timely is the constant struggle. I have a lot on my plate (don’t we all?) and need to focus on creating quality content on a consistent basis.

October 11, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    You’re exactly right, Rob. Being consistent and timely is a big key to success–both in content marketing and SEO. Now to carve out the time to make it happen. lol

    October 11, 2013 Reply

klauster

Kathryn, Good post, I go along with that. Open you browser, research something and you can see there is a grotesque problem with the quality of information on the Internet. As online user I expect an interactive experience to satisfy my needs for information. Many websites (web services) fail on quality content and you can see why – I receive at least two emails from SEO services every day promising to put me website on high rank for few bugs.

October 11, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    I know! I get those emails too. They’re hoping to hit up people know don’t know any better, I guess. Quality content isn’t a quick fix, and there’s no way to guarantee page-one rank (which no one can guarantee anyway), so most people are going to avoid it as long as possible. But that gives us a real advantage if we’re willing to put the work in.

    October 11, 2013 Reply

      Mohdfikrin

      What about grammar..im have quite good knowledge in my industry..but my english not that good..will it effect my rank?

      September 19, 2014 Reply

        Kathryn Aragon

        Hi Hohdfikrin. I don’t know that it will affect your rank directly, but I do believe it could have an indirect effect. People don’t have time to figure out writing that isn’t clear or is worded unusually–and that’s what often happens when we’re writing in a second language. If you want more readers, you need to work on your English skills. Then consider hiring an editor who can help you get your knowledge into a form that’s easy to read.

        September 19, 2014 Reply

Rahul Kuntala

Change before you’re foreced to change.

Instead of blaming Google for coming up with various animal updates, it’s better to change our perspectives to rank better.

And you explained it in a nice way Kathryn.

Cheers,
Rahul Kuntala

October 11, 2013 Reply

Atul

Recently, i was asked in an interview what is the definition of quality content ? If i were to summarise the answer in a few lines, how should i go about it Kathryn.

October 12, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    That’s a challenge, Atul, but I’d have to say it’s any content that offers value to the readers–answering their questions or providing information they want or need. If you can entertain them in the process, all the better.

    October 12, 2013 Reply

Atul

Thanks Kathryn for a nice answer.

October 14, 2013 Reply

Matthew Ortner

That was incredibaly great and so knowledgeful read. And it’s all proves that Inbound marketing is the future of Internet marketing. All marketer shoud chage their marekitng stragey to make their presence more social with user and don’t worry about any algorithum updates or kick-ass link build tecniques. Just open your heart to your user inform, educate and then go for convence.

What you think? Thanks!

October 14, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Hi Matthew. Thanks for commenting. It sounds like you’re on the right track. I write for people first, then perform light optimization to make it readable by search engines. My biggest concern is whether I’m engaging my readers–and with that mindset, each algorithm update improves my rank. IMHO, that’s the best strategy.

    October 14, 2013 Reply

Erik

Great article. The thing I am asking myself more and more these days if I think about my content? Is there still a win to look into SEO? I try to focus on my readers/clients. I hope that these desicions are in line with the wishes of the largets search engines. However, if they are not, I’d rather please my (potential) clients instead of some SEO goal.

October 20, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    That’s the mindset you have to have: customers first, search engines second. Thanks for sharing, Erik.

    October 20, 2013 Reply

Shikha Jain

You nailed all the basics here. I like the idea of bumping up post frequency. The content needs to be good, and relevant, but if you are willing to push yourself and bring guest authors on board you will get your SEO game down pat.

The challenge lies in finding good, relevant ideas to blog about which resonate with your target market. As you note keyword research as well as analyzing your audience’s preference can do a world of good in nailing down helpful blog post ideas.

Read niche blogs. What are people talking about or complaining about or dreaming about? Keep your ear to the cyber street. This is a wonderful starting point for any aspiring or even veteran blogger.

October 23, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    I agree, Shikha. The biggest challenge for me, and I assume I’m not alone, is finding compelling ideas. That’s one of the reasons I do so much curation in my social strategy. It keeps me on top of the trends. I see the topics people respond to. And it helps me make new connections and generate ideas. Thanks for sharing.

    October 23, 2013 Reply

James Meaden

Dear Kathryn

Once I’ve created the content, and say I do it often… Where am I posting it, to my own blog? Or somewhere else? Just would like to know the strategy on what to do after the content has been created.

Also after you upload the content, so you just sit back and hope for the best? I have clients wanting to see real results and often show me how their competitors are ranking much higher than them. The creating content and hoping for the best just seems like a very slow and uncertain process?

Please advise, thanks

December 15, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Hi James. Great questions–probably worth an article or two. The quick answer is that you may be approaching content creation backwards. Ideally, you should start with your purpose (strategy), then create the content. That way your content is customized for the intended audience. You also want to add a little SEO value to be sure your audience will see it in SERPs. Then after it’s live, you promote it through email, social media, and any other channel you can think of. There’s no room here to go deeper, but I’ll try to write some articles about it. Hope that helps.

    December 15, 2013 Reply

Anirban Pathak

Great Article. I like the idea of bumping up post frequency. The content needs to be good, and relevant, but if you are willing to push yourself and bring guest authors on board you will get your SEO game down pat.

December 18, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    It does take a bigger time investment, but if you can keep your quality high, it’s worth it. Glad you stopped by, Anirban.

    December 18, 2013 Reply

Sharpreet

Highly informative!!! Thank you it helped me a lot and you are ravishing

January 4, 2014 Reply

SEOMOV

I strongly agree this part “good quality content might be conflict with profit goal” it is really hard to achieve both at the same time for some niche. Some marketing message need to be very promotional, however it might not seems good quality to some none targeted consumers. Does it mean bad quality content?

January 6, 2014 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Generally, content won’t be promotional. It will be educational, entertaining or answer user questions. That’s not to say you won’t have sales pages–which should be promotional. The difference for me is the mindset. In sales pages, I’m looking for a direct response. I want to move readers deeper into the sales funnel now. With content, I want to gain a follower and build trust. The call to action isn’t to buy now, which may feel like it’s a waste of marketing dollars. But down the road, I know that trust will translate into sales.

    January 6, 2014 Reply

      SEOMOV

      Yes this is a very good explanation, however not many client will buy this idea. I will used your reply to tell my clients next time :)

      January 8, 2014 Reply

Spook SEO

“Hello Kathryn!

I tend to agree with you that we really need to focus on contents and not on keywords if we really want to rank in search engines. Actually, the Panda and Penguin update already had emphasized quality content as a deciding factor for ranking well. We must put in mind that we need to make our page primarily for users and not for search engines. We should also not deceive our users and lastly, we should avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.”

January 19, 2014 Reply

rarotech

I do similar with you, here I would like to say that keyword related uniqe and resourceful content might be a feature of quality content. Thank you for a nice post.

January 20, 2014 Reply

Mike

Hmm. Does this mean SEO is dead?

March 14, 2014 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Back to the original question, eh, Mike? Optimization will never be dead. But old-style SEO gaming the system, yes, is dead. Or should be.

    March 14, 2014 Reply

adam K

I really got a lot from your post. Thank you. I feel there are a set of questions people call and ask. Aknowledging those questions, but more importantly letting them know that no call to us is wasted. If we can’t help them with our service, we are going to utilize our industry knowledge and relationships to get them get connected to someone that can help them or just give them ideas to get them in the right direction. To really make it clear that a lifelong relationship is just one call away. Am i missing the point????

April 30, 2014 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Adam, you’ve got it! By creating a people-oriented business that gives honest, useful answers to common questions, you become the type of site that Google wants to rank well. Then, from a conversion standpoint, you let people know exactly what you do and don’t do. That way the only people in your funnel are qualified prospects. While you do want to be people’s go-to resource, it always pays to direct them to a better resource if you can’t help them. That’s just good customer service and creates the Like Factor, which is key to sales. :)

    April 30, 2014 Reply

    neil

    Adam, you are right on point. I think it’s all about being unafraid to ask the important questions :)

    April 30, 2014 Reply

Lai

My blog rank top on google for 10 years now and I think that is because of the quality content. I was hire some one who named justin thosoju on the facebook to write my blog content. I was get 3000 natural links.

July 10, 2014 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    That’s awesome, Lai. You can’t go wrong by putting your energy into high-quality content.

    July 10, 2014 Reply

    Neil Patel

    Lai, focus on quality content and the rest will follow :)

    July 10, 2014 Reply


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