By Leslie Ramey
Twenty-twenty-one planning is in full motion for most marketing teams, making now the perfect time to evaluate your content guidelines. Are you still holding on to archaic rules that used to produce results but slowed the creation process? Many of these guideposts were created years ago and don’t hold as much weight as they once did. Furthermore, they create blocks to creativity and quality content that your readers need. Let’s dive into the top five content quality myths and why they don’t hold water.
For years SEOs pushed for more content on our sites. We had lists of key terms and target pages that we needed visitors to find. We beat our drum and begged for content to help us drive those numbers. Getting content back then was no easy feat. Trying to prove an ROI on content and the cost of bringing writers to the team were real blocks to our success. As the industry has morphed, we now have C-suite buy-in on content creation. What once was difficult to get has become a standard procedure for web page creation.
This change has had an additional impact on our site in the shape of page bloat. We needed content to prove our authority and we didn’t stop once we had access to resources. Now, the challenge is how do we control our crawl budget so old content that is not as useful isn’t taking away from fresher and more relevant content?
We know that too much content can be a detriment, especially when that content is old, thin, or has poor performance. As part of your 2021 planning consider adding content pruning to eliminate underperforming pages. Martin Splitt and Lily Ray suggest evaluating content that has high impressions but low click-through-rate. If users aren’t reading this content is it worth keeping on the site? Can you combine short articles into a long piece?
When it comes to content, it’s not about how much you have, but how good is the content as decided by your audience.
This brings us to the next myth: we should be refreshing all old content. A standard SEO strategy is to refresh the content on high-value pages. For example, the homepage, services, products, and category pages. This project is designed to update the content on these pages to reflect industry changes, pivoting customer needs, and as a sign to search engines that these are valuable pages. However, this strategy has started to bleed over into the idea that all content should be updated regularly.
From a capability perspective, this is a big project to undertake. If you have a large website refreshing your content could take all year. The reality is that not all of your content needs to be refreshed. There are ways to improve on existing content and drive new visitors to your site, but this needs to be done with intent. Pages should be evaluated for impressions, click-through-rate, user behavior (do users then go to pages that allow them to convert), and search trends. If your site hosts content about annual events, then these pages should be updated before the event occurs. However, if you have evergreen content that doesn’t convert it’s worth asking if it makes sense to rewrite or remove the content.
In addition to the sheer challenge of updating all of your content, you can increase your risk of creating duplicate reading content. When writers are creating articles on the same topics over and over again the likelihood of accidentally repeated themes is high.
Add content refresh to your 2021 planning, but do it with intention. Choose the pages that need extra love, that convert, but are seeing a slowing of traffic, and have trending topics that will be relevant in the near future.
Location pages, they are critical to businesses that serve a number of cities and neighborhoods. They are also the bane of SEO existence. The challenge of targeting small neighborhoods and multiple cities is daunting, especially when we try to make each piece unique. If you have five locations that can be an easy project, if you have 500, well… you have a never-ending project.
The good news is we don’t need unique content on every location page anymore. Thanks to schema mark-up and search engine improvements you can differentiate your location pages based on where they are without describing the different flowers and trees that grow in each town or how many little league championships they won (although, if you know these things, use them- readers will love it). This mark-up provides search engines with the detail it needs to show users who are looking for your services in their area without needing superfluous content to prove you are where they need you to be.
If you have the resources to create unique content for each of these pages, then by all means use those. If you don’t, don’t stress about it. Ensure that your location pages have all the proper mark-up they need so that when a user is searching for that service you will show up.
It wasn’t that long ago when SEOs created content recommendations we added a neat little requirement; the keyword must be used 3-4 times throughout the piece. This became known as keyword density. You wanted ideally 1% of the words on your page to be your keyword and this is how search engines would learn what your pages were about. At the time it was a great way to educate writers about the difference between writing for SEO and other formats. Now though, this is an archaic concept.
Search engines have developed intuitive capabilities so that they are able to understand synonyms and grouped term concepts. Latent semantic indexing is one way that this is accomplished. This was the beginning of how search engines would understand the content. The technology has continued to grow and become more refined. DeepRank is an example of how Google is further working to teach it’s machines to read and understand language in a human way. What does this mean to your content strategies?
Great question, removing the keyword density requirement from your writers frees their creativity. Giving them the freedom to create content that covers the entire subject and all of its subtle nuances. The articles you get are going to be more precise, useful for users, and therefore perform well in the SERPS. It is still a good idea to offer guidelines so you can get target key terms and themes that are important to you. Without the pressure of keyword density, you can also target long-tail terms and lesser-known concepts that drive higher conversion rates.
Many years ago SEOs were told that content that was thousands of words long would rank better than shorter content. Research has shown that the longer the content the more time users spent on-page. These results are still being seen with mobile readers of news articles. These results are pretty intuitive. The more words on a page the longer it takes to read. The study then goes on to say that while the length of time on page for long articles was higher than short articles the number of visitors was essentially the same. Meaning that your readers may spend more time on these long pages, but doesn’t necessarily mean more visitors to your site.
When it comes to choosing how long your content should be you need to evaluate the impact of content length and organic traffic. Compare content quality for active vs inactive ULRs is a great start to answering that question. How long are your most active pages? Is the difference between the cost of producing a 5,000 word page worth the additional visitors? Are these long-form pieces converting? If not, do you really need it? The key is to create content that explains your services and expertise in a way that is best understood by your audience. Mixing in long-form with shorter pieces is a great way to educate your users while proving topic authority to search engines.
As your planning for 2021 gets rolling, spend time evaluating the myths you are still adhering to. Look at your content, data, and how user experience is being impacted. What opportunities are there to give your writers the freedom to create? You may just be surprised by what they produce and how your audience and search engines will receive it.