The Google Panda update ranks websites that publish crappy content lower than sites that offer detailed, meaningful content. That’s good news for you because you want to create content that makes the web better, right? But how do you create that kind of content?
Well, over at Google, Amit Singhal suggests that you think like a Google engineer. So in that spirit, I’ve come up with 13 questions that are designed to help you do that so you can create quality articles that your readers and search engines love.
Question #1: Is what you wrote original?
First and foremost, anything you write for your blog or website must be original. This means that the content can’t be redundant, duplicated or stolen.
By redundant I mean content that basically repeats itself. For example, let’s say one day you might write an article on 14 SEO copywriting tips and another day you might write about SEO copywriting advice. Those two articles are redundant if they basically say the same thing, so you’ll want to either get rid of one of them or revise the other so it’s unique.
Stolen content is self explanatory, so let’s look at duplicate content because you can have duplicate content problems without really trying.
For example, here are some common ways to duplicate content:
- Affiliate programs – because of the way that search engine spiders read links, any content your affiliates’ link to could be seen as duplicate depending on how your affiliate program is setup.
- Syndication deals – when you spread your content through a syndication distributor, other websites will pick up the article and post it. Unfortunately there is no way of telling which one Google will choose as the relevant article. The page on your site may get filtered out and rank below the syndicated version.
- Subdomaining – When you build a site and structure it like example.com, swimming.example.com and lifting.example.com, and then share content over all three.. you can run into problems of duplicate content. You need to reunify duplicate content and get it right or perish.
When it comes to affiliates, the best and easiest answer is probably to ask your affiliates to not jack your content and make sure you aren’t creating pages with duplicated content just for your affiliates. If you are, use the rel=“canonical” tag.
When it comes to your own site, take some time to shut down any potential duplicate content problems you might have. For the variations of the pages that you have eliminated, 301 redirect them to the live version of that page. The redirect will tell the search engines that you have made that move.
Question #2: Can you provide practical advice or relevant research?
One of the best ways to create value for your readers and to earn great links is to think of problems or issues that your readers are dealing with and then provide how-to articles or tutorials on that topic.
Original research can serve the same purpose if it turns out to be something your audience wants or needs. Original research is content that has facts and ideas that have no known sources. You did the interview or dug up the story all yourself and are providing not only the facts, but the analysis too.
You can also analyze or combine other analysis and facts to come up with original material. Search Quality Strategist Kaspar Szymanski at Google Dublin suggests:
Survey or original research results can serve the same purpose, if they turn out to be useful for the target audience. Both methods grow your credibility in the community and increase visibility. This can help you gain lasting, merit-based links and loyal followers who generate direct traffic and “spread the word.” Offering a number of solutions for different problems could evolve into a blog which can continuously affect the site’s reputation in a positive way.
Question #3: Did you correct any spelling, grammar or factual errors?
Did you know that your site could rank low because of bad spelling? On October 5, 2011, Matt Cutts posted a video explaining that he and his team saw a correlation between sites with a high Page Rank and better spelling against sites with a low Page Rank and poor spelling.
Matt also mentioned that the quality of reading level was also a signal they tried to study to determine a sites quality level. In fact, you can determine the reading level of your site by using the advanced search function in Google.
Here is Quick Sprout’s reading levels:
You can see that 93% of content on Quick Sprout is basic, while 7% is intermediate, with 0% being advanced. Notice, too, how each search engine result has a reading level below the URL.
Writing for a fifth-grade level is something I try to do even with complex information, so it seems like I am succeeding!
Question #4: Is the topic of interest to a reader or a machine?
SEO copywriting is a hot field, but unfortunately there seems to be some misunderstanding about what an SEO copywriter is supposed to accomplish. I’ve always felt that by putting so much attention on the “SEO” part that you could provide content that search spiders love, but people hate!
When you put the needs of search engines above your readers, you’ll crank out some pretty bad copy. Machines may like it but people won’t! At the end of the day, it’s people who matter because they are the ones who buy your products or subscribe to your email newsletters.
So write for readers first, and search engines second. It’s important that you use keywords in your headlines and body copy when you write, but do that after you’ve written the content for your readers.
Question #5: Is the article well edited?
Another thing that Matt Cutts noticed was that pages that were well edited tended to be more reputable pages. People appreciate it when you take the time to not only spell correctly but when you organize your thoughts clearly and concisely.
How do you edit well? Well, my process is simple and maybe it can work for you.
I like to do my research first and throw all my facts and thoughts together on a page. Then I start to sort through all that content, arranging, adding and deleting. When I have a first draft, I like to set it aside for a couple hours, or even a day if I have time. Then I’ll sit back down with a fresh set of eyes and revise it again. My final step is to have someone else look at it.
If you put in the time to edit, your readers will not only appreciate it, but so will search engines.
Question #6: Does your site have authority?
In general, authority means that people look to you as an expert on a particular topic. That’s important on the web, but when it comes to Google and search context, authority means relevance, links, keywords and quality traffic.
The main things your site needs if you want it to have Google authority are:
- Natural, organic growth based on sound promotion behavior.
- Valuable and unique content tailored towards people rather than search engines.
- A solid foundation and human-centered design.
In the end, the big question that Google wants to answer when it comes to your site is this: Does it add value to the web?
Question #7: Are you providing insightful or interesting information beyond the obvious?
What gives the world of blogging a bad name are the thousands of bloggers who pump out the same-old content that is already out there.
Before you sit down and write an article, it’s important to search the web for articles like your idea. One of the things that I do is take the headline that I’m thinking about using and drop it into the Google search box. Then I look at what comes up.
Do I have a topic that is unique or are there hundreds of titles similar to mine? If so, how can I make mine unique? Sometimes that means I have to narrow my focus. But after I narrow my focus, I have to make sure that I’m providing information that goes deeper than the surface level.
For example, in my 7 Habits of Highly Successful SEOs post, I didn’t write about the obvious habits of SEOs, like page optimization or managing PPC campaigns. I talked about the not-so-obvious intangibles, like creativity, risk-taking and the unexpected… highly effective SEOs don’t just rely on SEO! I gave you something that was insightful and interesting. Something you won’t find anywhere else.
Question #8: Would you bookmark your article?
A good article is one that gets bookmarked because you’ve provided the reader with information they want to use and reference in the future.
How do you write an article to get it bookmarked? Here are four key characteristics to think about:
- A detailed report with credible sources on a current event.
- A compelling story with believable characters.
- A thorough “how-to” article on a topic that has never been covered before.
- A long list of sources like The Social Media Handbook-57 Resources for First Time Entrepreneurs.
Question #9: Is your article cluttered with call-to-actions, ads or promotions?
A simple test of figuring out if your site fails this question is to step back and look at your site. Where does it seem like your eyes should focus? Where do you want reader’s eyes to focus? Is it obvious on what you want people to do?
For example, when I was writing this blog post, one site that I was on was WebProNews. When I landed on their site, this is what I saw:
Do you notice all the ads? What about the headline… where is it? It’s below the fold on my screen.
Unfortunately a great article is buried by ads and other 3rd party stuff. This might not be confusing for search engines, but when it comes to readers, it’s confusing. So it’s best if you keep a simple, clean design on your website that readers love.
Question #10: Would a magazine or journal print your article?
When the blogging world opened up over a decade ago, it gave people the power to publish without the typical gatekeepers like magazine and newspaper editors. It created an army of writers who have provided you and me with some exceptional stories, news and tutorials.
But this lack of a gatekeeper has its downside. There is no quality control unless you make yourself do it. Like the above question about editing, this question forces you to look at how your work compares to articles that are printed in professional magazines and journals.
To see if your work stacks up, spend some time in a bookstore and looking at all of the magazines you admire. It could be the New Yorker or Wired. Don’t just read articles, but try to analyze them.
How do they open the story? How do they close it? What makes this story so interesting? Was it because it was a tragedy with a happy ending?
You can find a good example of this process in the article 7 Proven Headline Formulas That Work. The article picked apart the headlines on the cover of a Prevention magazine.
If you want your writing to improve you need to look at examples of exceptional writing and model your writing after it. Your readers will not only appreciate it, but your pages will become more reputable in the process. And remember, it’s a process that takes time.
Question #11: Is your article short, weak and useless?
Which article would you think Panda would reward and which do you think Panda will penalize on the topic of ACL injury… the top one or the bottom one?
The one on the top is clearly detailed and useful. The one on the bottom is short, weak and useless. It is likely not a reputable page, but the one on the top likely is. In fact, the one on the top appeared in the top three results of Google. The one on the bottom appeared at the bottom of the second page of the search results.
You want to create long, powerful and useful blog posts. If that means posting only two or three times a week, like I do here on Quick Sprout, then so be it.
Question #12: How much time and attention did you give to detail?
Your answer should be “a lot.” Like the two examples above, adding detail is important for building pages that are reputable. Google’s Panda update was meant to encourage the creation of long, detailed useful posts and discourage the creation of shorter, shallow posts.
How long should your posts be? While there is no magic number to the length of a blog post, it is important that there are at least 300 words on the page. But don’t worry about making them too long, because it’s not a question of it being too long, but of it being interesting.
Question #13: Would someone complain if they saw this article?
This may seem like a strange question to ask, but think back to the bottom ACL injury example. If you were looking for information on that topic and you came to that page, would you be pleased or unhappy? You’ll probably be unhappy and go elsewhere.
The content on your pages is like someone ordering food at a restaurant. If you bring out a plate with a skimpy amount of meat and potatoes, they have every right to complain. But if you bring out a plate loaded, then they’ll be happy.
Think of your blog posts in the same way. Are you feeding people content so they are full when they leave your site…or are they hungry, looking for more? If they are still hungry, your readers probably won’t come back.
Writing high-quality content for readers and Google’s Panda update takes time. It takes patience and hard work. But the payoff is worth it because the community on your blog will start to grow and your organic traffic will increase.
What other questions should you ask when it comes to creating high-quality content?