30 second summary:
- Content quality is key to high rankings on Google Organic, but it’s not easy to tell what a search crawler thinks is high quality.
- High quality content is certainly one that is semantically relevant to a target query and covers the given topic deep enough to satisfy a search user. So semantic relevance is probably the strongest SEO signal.
- The content structure helps Google and its users to quickly grasp the most important points of the page. Current and logical sub-headings can therefore be a sign of a good copy.
- Readability and accessibility may not be direct ranking signals, but they may improve engagement on the page, which may result in some quality signals being sent to Google.
- Relevant outbound links that add depth to the content may (or may not) be direct ranking signals, but they definitely add to the user experience on the page (and therefore can influence Google’s opinion of your page).
Google’s mantra has always been “creating great content”. While creating great content might not really help 15 years ago, we’ve finally got to the point where that recommendation paid off. The truth is, high quality content is the key to higher rankings these days. But what is great content? In other words, how do you tell a good copy from a mediocre one?
Answering this question is actually more difficult than it seems. A person can somehow say whether a text reads well and delivers a value, but how can this be evaluated from an SEO point of view when a machine can decide on these rather subjective criteria.
Well, we don’t know for sure. We can only make (well-founded) guesses based on the statements of Google representatives, various experiments, personal experience and knowledge of search algorithms.
What makes a good copy?
While it may be easy for a human to tell a good copy from a bad one, what can pull the trigger when it comes to search engines?
Here are some calculable criteria that can directly or indirectly define the quality of content:
- Semantic relevance (is the copy relevant to a target search query? Is the copy detailed / comprehensive enough?)
- Well-defined content structure (are there sub-headings that reflect important points?)
- Accessibility (Can the content be easily understood by a person with a disability?)
- Readability (How easy is it to read your content?)
What is content relevance? There is no good answer to that as this can also be very subjective.
That’s why Google used semantic analysis to create its own understanding of the relevant topics and determine whether a particular document is relevant to a particular search query.
I already shared instructions for semantic search and what semantic analysis really is. In essence, semantic analysis involves grouping a topic into related concepts and entities and examining the relationships between all of these concepts and entities.
Using the document semantics, you can more or less determine how close it is to a topic and how comprehensively it answers a search query. There are tools that translate relevance into numbers.
Text optimizerFor example, take your copy and compare it to Google’s search results for your target search query. The higher the score on your copy, the more relevant it is to your target topic:
Source: Text optimizer
To get a higher score in the Text Optimizer, select other related concepts that the tool suggests. Here is a quick and easy explanation too how it works.
For years, the content structure has been the second most important on-page SEO factor (after the page title).
In the content structure, use the sub-headings H2 / H3 / H4 to introduce new sections of the copy. Without sub-headings, your copy would be just a wall of text.
Google uses sub-headings to help (and often does) understand the key points of a copy Generate organic sitelinks). It has long been believed that Google uses sub-headings to figure out which keywords are more important than the others in a web document.
Nowadays we know that Google pays a lot of attention to the sub-headings as it now uses H2 / H3 tags to find parts of the documents that deserve to be featured.
You can analyze your (or your competitor’s) usage of content sub-headings with the help of SE ranking. It provides a handy page checking tool that allows you to see your H sub-headings at a glance. You can also click any day to highlight it:
Source: SE ranking
Traditionally, you want these extracted sub-headings to make sense without seeing the full copy.
Many web users tend to search through these sub-headings before deciding whether to stay on the page and read carefully. So, you want these sub-headings to do a good job keeping all of these lurkers busy. Here is more about it Creation of an effective content structure with sub-headings.
Outbound links (references)
Outbound links have long been the center of many SEO misconceptions.
Do they contribute directly to your website ranking? Can they be a signal of depth or quality of content?
I guess we’ll never know for sure, but what we do know about links is this:
- Google uses them to move from page to page, from website to website
- Links are part of your content quality: whether you use a trusted source to back up your copy depends on how trustworthy your content is
- Links are your content-related calls to action: they define your readers’ browsing journeys by inviting them to check your external references.
You want your content links to add to the usefulness of your copy.
Site Checker does a good job of analyzing outbound links on every page. The reason I prefer this tool is because it shows the anchor text (and highlights possible errors) and gives you an idea of whether you are well controlling your readers’ browsing journey.
As with sub-headings, make sure you can guess what your copy is about by just looking through the links.
Neither take the effort not to follow these outbound links either. Only link to the resources that provide helpful information. That way, your readers’ experience will matter and Google will catch up on that.
Google doesn’t seem to use Readability as a direct ranking factor, but a readability rating can help you determine a particular type of audience that you are using.
Because of its readability, your content will be difficult to understand for people with various cognitive disabilities. This can be another indirect signal to Google that your content is suitable for a limited audience.
These two signals can be negative ranking criteria.
For security reasons, avoid high readability values. Not only does this improve accessibility, it also makes it easier and faster to understand your content (and thus improve engagement on the page, which is certainly a ranking signal):
- Make sure your sentences and paragraphs are short
- Avoid lesser-known (and complicated) terms and jargon
- Use active language instead of passive language whenever possible
- Make lots of lists
- Use sub-headings here too
Yoast The plugin rates the readability of your copy while you are still working on it. Here is how to install and set up.
Again, most of the above points (content structure, links and readability) contribute to the accessibility of your content. Google representative do not provide confirmation whether Google uses accessibility or ADA conformity as a ranking factor. However, we do know that it was Google desperate try to establish and standardize guidelines for the accessibility of the web resources displayed in Google SERPs.
As we know from years of work on Google’s SEO, the various efforts made by Google to enforce something are usually reflected in the guidelines for webmasters. It did so at the speed of the website, which started out as a mild initiative. It did so with the signals for mobile user experience, which are now included in Google’s guidelines.
Whether it is a direct ranking factor or not, internet accessibility is an important factor in engaging on the page so that more users can properly interact with your content. It’s a big topic too, so read the whole thing ADA Compliance Guide to better understand the concept (and the legislation behind it).
Of course, checking content quality involves more than just running the tools above. However, it is helpful to know some of the metrics that can be improved.