Quality Content Factors: A List That’s Actually Helpful

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We’re all chasing “quality content” — but what does that actually look like? In an apparent effort to help publishers cope with Google’s intensified focus on “content quality” as a ranking factor, the search giant released a notoriously unhelpful list of questions that publishers should ask themselves when developing content.

Bing was a little more resourceful with their more recent guidelines for quality content. But there are still plenty of holes.

So, here’s my attempt to one-up Google and Bing — a list of twenty concrete, proven characteristics to help content creators hit the formerly-elusive Quality Content mark.

1. Help The User Complete A Specific Task

Create content geared toward a clearly defined keyword + user intent combination, rather than a list of arbitrary keywords. Understanding how to discover user intent, and organizing that data, will enable you to design content that leads the user quickly and efficiently to his/her next step.

2. Organize Thematic Subsections

Google’s fight against keyword stuffing has led to smart algorithm updates that recognize authoritative topical content by identifying keyword synonyms and related terms and phrases.

Help search engines decipher your page by identifying the most important related keywords, and structuring each into its own subsection.

3. Make Sure It’s “Made To Stick”

In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck, authors Chip and Dan Heath outline a framework to identify if an idea is “sticky.”

The six concepts central to “sticky” content (central to “SUCCES”) ask if it is Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and/or uses Stories.

4. Write A Strong Title & H1

It can be tempting to get creative and/or clever with your titles, but readers don’t have time to decipher subtleties. Be clear and concise, and make sure to use a tool like Moz’s Title Tag Preview Tool or Portent’s SERP Preview Tool, to make sure it’s not too long.

5. Make Sure It Inspires, Educates And/Or Entertains

A combination of two or three of those qualities is even better, but — especially for starters — identify the primary purpose of the content and be faithful to it.

This one has a lot to do with titles too: make sure the title and headers set the reader up for the kind of content you’re providing.

6. Ask Yourself If You Would Share It

Great content has inherent, spreadable value. Intentions aside, does the content actually speak to you? Would the people in your social networks — friends and/or industry contacts — be interested in it?

7. Make Sure It’s Relevant

Hopefully this doesn’t really need to be said, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been caught off-guard by clever media, or a guest post, that doesn’t seem to have much to do with a brand’s niche or a website’s topic.

Don’t sacrifice relevancy in an attempt to be entertaining.

8. Watch Your Word Count

There are no hard-and-fast rules here, of course, and the very best thing you can do is test different content lengths with your unique audience. In general, longer content seems to be the favorite. In terms of ranking, about 1000 words seems to be ideal, according to Searchmetrics’ 2014 ranking factors study.

searchmetrics-ranking-factors-2014

For social shares, 1500 words is even better, according to a piece written by Neil Patel on the Quicksprout blog.

But user experience is always priority #1. Don’t compromise quality in an effort to hit a certain word count, and don’t take any study results as the final word for your particular audience.

9. Write For Your Audience (Not Your Peers)

This is a special challenge in tech and niche industries. SEO, for example, written for SEO experts is much different from SEO written for business owners and traditional marketers.

If your audience is industry professionals, don’t talk down to them. If your audience is not familiar with the details of your expertise, don’t get fancy and lose them in technical jargon.

10. Proofread!

(My editorial team made sure I included this one.) It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this, everyone misses a keystroke or reverses characters once in a while.

Double-check for spelling and grammatical errors. Nothing erodes professionalism and credibility like a simple mistake that you were too lazy to corrcet.

11. Ease Up On The Primary Keyword

Keyword stuffing was never a good idea, and Panda keeps knocking it down further. Still, lazy writing can lead to unintentional keyword stuffing too, especially in headers.

Once your content is written, do a Command+F/Ctr+F search for your primary keyword(s) to make sure it’s not saturating the page. Rewrite or replace with synonyms as needed.

12. Fact-Check

Click those links one more time and just make sure that a digit didn’t get copied incorrectly, and check the date on any study you’re citing.

Every topic and industry will have different definitions of “old,” but don’t cite social media statistics from 2008. This goes for new and existing content.

Check your analytics periodically, and look for old content that may still be performing well. Go back to those blog posts and make sure they’re up-to-date!

13. Clearly Define Author(s) On The Page

Google Authorship may be a thing of the past, but Author Rank is still a factor.

A picture and a short bio on every piece of content will give search engines the information they’re looking for and enhance the user experience.

14. Check The AlchemyLanguage API

Make sure the AlchemyLanguage API is identifying entities, keywords, and concepts as expected.

AlchemyAPI offers a great tool that displays what Google’s crawlers probably see when examining your website.

15. Don’t Send Mixed Messages

Make sure each page stays on-topic. This ties in with understanding user intent — and creating unique content to help each intent complete a specific goal.

But if you haven’t gotten that far, it applies to existing content as well. Don’t throw a sales pitch in the middle of resource content.

16. Link To Good Sources

Practicing SEOs know this, of course, but it deserves to be on any content checklist. Make sure the content links out to a reasonable number of reputable, high-quality sources.

17. Link Natural Phrases

Make sure those outbound links are using natural phrases. Don’t stuff the <a href> with keywords, and don’t hyperlink the word(s), “here” or, “click here.”

18. Avoid Bad Sidebar Content

There is reason to believe that supplemental or sidebar content that is useless or distracting can cause an adverse reaction with a certain Panda.

19. Make It Visually Appealing

Text on the page should be broken up into bite-sized pieces: no long paragraphs, use headers consistently, indent quotes, use bullet points for lists, etc.

And make use of images and video wherever reasonably possible to add color and visual interest. (Just make sure your page design is supporting your SEO strategy.)

20. Offer Unique Value (Not Just Unique Content)

Any good writer can rearrange words on a page to create content that doesn’t technically appear anywhere else on the internet.

But good content offers a unique value by providing readers with insights and actionable takeaways that no one else does. Does “unique value” sound difficult? Well, it is, but it must be done.

Bonus: What Makes Content ‘Thought Leadership’

Moving from high-quality content to thought-leadership material doesn’t necessarily mean going wider as much as it does going deeper. The checklist doesn’t get much longer, but each element becomes weightier. If you haven’t had enough yet, Bob Buday from The Bloom Group shared his team’s eight requirements for thought-leadership material.

  • Relevance – Addressing a burning issue for your target audience
  • Novelty – Having a fundamentally new way to solve a problem
  • Depth – Possessing substantial knowledge about the problem and how to solve it
  • Validity – Proving your solution works through real examples of companies that have solved it your way with measurable benefits
  • Practicality – Demonstrating you have a well-thought-out approach to solving the problem, and understand how to overcome the obstacles to adoption
  • Rigor – Having hard-to-dispute logic about the problem and the best way to solve it
  • Clarity – Communicating the point of view in words your target audience understands
  • Coherence – Having frameworks or models that simplify the problem and/or solution

Does every blog post need to meet all eight of those criteria? Does every content asset you publish need to reflect all 20 of the factors above? Perhaps not, but the more you can hit, the better chance you have of appeasing (Google head of Webspam) Matt Cutts’ (and the real world’s) demand for quality content.

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