Search engines like Google want to provide the best answer to searchers’ questions as quickly as possible, so when asked “What can I do to rank?” Google’s answer is often “Create high-quality content” — but what does that mean exactly?
Content quality: for humans and for robots
While the end user for the content we write is our real human audience, it matters how search engines perceive our content as well. If search engines don’t perceive our content as high quality, it might not have a chance of being seen by our audience at all.
For example, quality perceived by robots can impact whether pages are crawled by search engines or not. If a page or a section of a website is low quality, search engines may decide to deprioritize it, allocating little or no crawl budget to it. If the page isn’t crawled, it won’t be indexed, and if it isn’t indexed, it won’t rank when your audience is searching for it.
Quality perceived by users also matters for content that’s explored and indexed in search engines. For example, if people are finding your content because it ranks in search results, but poor quality causes them to quickly bounce off your page, Google may use this human feedback to modify their search results to provide a better searcher experience.
If the quality of our content is what makes or breaks its performance in search engines, then we need to care about analyzing for quality. The question then becomes, “What is ‘quality’?”
“Quality” doesn’t mean the same thing for every website
Search engines don’t have the same expectations for different types of websites and pages, and neither do searchers. Webpages differ by industry, topic, and user intent.
For example, a product page on an e-commerce website or an ad page on a classifieds website will usually have very little content by nature. Contrast this with websites in the publishing industry, which are full of highly unique, content-heavy articles.
These differences mean that there are no universal “best practices” in terms of things like content length and uniqueness. Because Google knows the difference between a news website and an e-commerce website, for example, what performs and doesn’t perform will differ from site to site, rather than all content being held to the same standard.
How to analyze your content for quality
If there are no universal best practices for content quality, but we know that content quality can affect how our pages do or don’t perform in search engines, then how can we analyze the quality of our own website content?
The answer lies in evaluating our content like search engines do, and understanding Google's expectations for our website.
Where is the actual content vs. template?
Search engines can analyze the true size of your content. In other words, these bots understand what content on your page is part of the template (ex: header and footer, navigation menu, widgets with the same content on many pages, etc.) and what content is specific to that individual page.
Knowing the difference is a prerequisite for advanced content quality analysis because Google wants to rank content on the basis of what the page is truly about, what searchers visit the page for, and what human visitors will perceive as the true content once they land on the page.
[Pictured above: The page’s actual content is in green, the template content is in red.]
If you are using tools that evaluate the full page without separating actual content from template, or do a poor job of making the distinction, content size indicators will be meaningless: you may consider a page is content-rich while it's actually thin, with a rich template.
What content is original vs. overlapping?
When search engine bots are exploring content, they need to be able to understand what’s new and what’s already been stored. If search engines come across content that overlaps with content that’s already in their index (it’s basically another variation of content the search engine already has plenty of), search engines may choose not to store it. If search engines come across content that has a significant amount of new information, they will likely keep the page - index it as opposed to dismiss it.
Because search engines use this as a criteria for evaluating content, we need to be able to evaluate our content through this lens as well.
In addition, if our pages contain a high proportion of unique content, search engines will, with a certain amount of pages, cover more information than they would if there were significant content overlaps. By feeding more information to search engines within the same crawl budget, we play more cards, and are likely to rank for a wider variety of user queries.
What content has changed?
One often overlooked aspect of content analysis is content change. Say, for example, you have a core group of pages driving the most organic search traffic to your website. If you update the website and those pages' content changes significantly, you risk possibly losing traffic.
Changes that affect the website content often go unnoticed until traffic drops, but good content analysis also focuses on detecting these changes before any real damage is done.
Content changes on pages can be difficult to detect at scale, especially if the content size, H1 tag, title or meta description, linking, and other key indicators remain the same. But because search engines are able to detect changes in your content, and those changes can affect how your pages perform in search engines, you need to be able to detect when this is happening.
You'll also need to be able to raise a flag only when changes happen where they are not supposed to: while it's normal for a portion of the content to change over time on a category page which lists products, as new products are added to the catalog, one does not expect an individual product page to change drastically - unless this was a planned update.
Putting content quality analysis into practice
As we’ve seen, content quality is critical because it can affect how search engines crawl, index, and rank our content, as well as how searchers engage with our content. Evaluating our content like search engines do isn’t easy though.
In part two of this post, we’ll walk you through how Botify makes advanced content quality analysis easier. You’ll learn about our content quality indicators as well as read example use cases that show you how to put this all into practice.