In the land of SEO, is Content always King?

By Nov.24, 2011

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In contenta always king in SEO? (credit to opensourceway)

“Content is King.” Since Bill Gates coined this term in 1996, it has become the golden rule of SEO (as well as one of its most pervasive clichés). Matt Cutts of Google has repeatedly said that quality content is key to getting to the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS).  And the bods at Bing have also said that “all SEO signals revolve around content.” But what do we mean when we talk about ‘content’? How do search engines differentiate between good content and bad content? And, in the land of the SERPS, is content always king?

Before we start looking at the ins and outs of how to produce content, we have to ask ourselves why is good content so important in the first place?

Content is the lifeblood of the internet – it’s the blog posts you read, cat videos you laugh at, maps you consult and images you use. The major search engines main objective is to deliver the most relevant data and provide the best user experience possible. It does this by awarding higher visibility to websites that offer relevant and high quality content to the searcher. But there are a thousand and one websites out there that are talking about your chosen topic – how can you create content that enables your website to get to the top of the results?

Well, there are a number of ways. You could stuff your web pages so full of keywords that it resembles a rhyming dictionary. You could employ one of those shady ‘Black-Hat’ SEO types to buy up lots of paid links to ensure that your website gets a good page ranking. If you’re feeling confrontational (and fancy stirring up a bit of a social media storm), you could ‘linkbait’ - a tactic which sees you producing content which catches people’s attention (for both good and bad reasons – for a perfect example of how Linkbait works, watch how Twitter reacts every time Liz Jones writes a feature for the Daily Mail). Or, you could be really radical and actually produce content that people want to click on.

One of the key recommendations that the Google Webmaster Team advise that you consider when you’re creating content for the web is ‘authority’. Essentially, the more niche you make your content, the more of an expert you’ll become about that topic. People will like what they see on your webpage, won’t ‘bounce’ back to the search results, and will probably visit again – meaning you’ll be rewarded accordingly in the SERPS. Whilst Google’s engineers have said that they don’t favour ‘brands’, the reputation of a brand undoubtedly has an effect on how people search, and the conversions they make once they find what they want. Indeed, research has shown that 50% of consumers are more likely to click on a search result if a brand appears multiple times on a results page.

For an example of a brand who have got it right when it comes to unique content, take a look at Old Spice. Their series of Old Spice ManYouTube videos – custom made pieces of content where their spokesman responded to questions from bloggers, celebrities and fans who posted questions – is one of the most popular viral campaigns in recent history. And with good reason. After all, who wouldn’t want a personalised video from a devastatingly handsome man?

How does Google define ‘good content’? Simply follow the Panda

In early 2011, Google launched its ‘panda’ algorithm. This had one key goal – to “reduce SERP rankings for Low Quality Sites—i.e. sites with low value to users, generally containing unoriginal or shallow content.” This meant that sites which contained unoriginal content which had been scraped off other websites, or were just pages and pages of links would be penalised, whilst websites which contained original, ‘good’ content and encouraged social engagement  would shine.

Panda was a game changer in terms of SEO.  When it was rolled out by Google, it reportedly affected the rankings of almost 12% of all search results. Websites which was considered to be ‘high-quality’ sites saw their rankings improve, while those of supposed low-quality essentially vanished from top of the rankings.

But how does the Panda algorithm define what is good content and what is bad content? Well, Google has specifically stated what they look by providing you with some questions you need to ask yourself when you’re writing for the web:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

Good spelling and grammar help too. Google evaluates the ‘quality’ of content on websites, and the ability to spell correctly correlates with PageRank. As Matt Cutts explains in the video below;

“We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page — how reputable we think a particular page or site is — the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well. The reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well.”

Of course, well written words aren’t the only aspect you need to consider when it comes to SEO. Other things you should think about when you’re optimising a site for the web are:

  • User Experience: The more engaging your website is, the more likely that someone will look at multiple pages.
  • Avoiding too many ads on your site (pop-ups are a real turn-off!): This one is fairly self explanatory. Having too many adverts makes Google think that the website exists just to serve ads rather than providing authoritative information.
  • Duplicate content: Don’t repeat yourself!  A page should contain its own unique content, title and meta description that tells the search engines exactly what it’s about.
  • Remembering that less is more: Having a lot of poor quality pages on your site can reduce your page rankings, even if you have plenty of high quality content. If you’re a Web Manager, try and do a regular audit of your website to ensure that it doesn’t contain lots of pages which contain out of date content and broken links.

If Content is King, then Linking is Queen

As we’ve established, good content is vital to getting your website noticed. But it’s nothing if you don’t have a good link building strategy in place. It’s not enough to put  words, pictures and videos onto the web and hope that they get linked to by an ‘authority’ website. If your content is good, you need to shout about it!

  • Think about trading reciprocal links with your peers: (I write a food blog – Little Red Courgette – and I get a number of clicks to that from fellow blogs which have links to that on their pages). Just one link from an ‘authority’ website  can have a massive impact on where your website appears on Google.
  • Leave comments on others blog posts which include a link back to your website: You get to tell someone you like their stuff and you get to promote your own website! Don’t be an idiot though – no one likes an idiot on the internet (well, unless they’re this kind of idiot).
  • Use good anchor text: If you’ve ever used ‘click here’ for a link, give yourself a slap on the wrist. Now. Then remember to never to do it again.
  • Alt tags are your friend! This is especially relevant when it comes to any images you’re hosting on your website. Make sure you add a full description of what the picture contains and any important keywords you’re trying to target.
  • Create ‘internal’ links to various pages on your website: This tells the Google spiders which pages on your website are important and which aren’t.
  • Add “rel=”nofollow” tags to your links where possible: This  is an HTML  command which instructs some search engines that a hyperlink  should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. It also helps to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of search engine spam, thereby improving the quality of search engine results and preventing spamdexing from occurring.
  • Make your content easy to share across social networks: The easier it is to share, the more likely people are to share it.

Don’t forget to be social

It feels as though every post on this blog is about Social Media, but it’s with good reason. Content is the fuel of the social web. According to data from a recent Nielsen content sharing study, 27 million pieces of online content are shared daily, and more than one in five social media messages include links to content. Quality content that can easily be discovered online is a preferred method of product research with a lot of people, and it also tends to lead to the most customer conversions. Nearly three-quarters of shoppers prefer information from companies in the form of blog posts and articles over advertisements, and 42 percent look to blogs for information about potential purchases. Plus, shared content frequently mentions brands by name. Judging from Google’s recent launch of its own social network, Google Plus, it’s clear that search engines wish to prioritise websites that actively encourage visitors to share content with others. So, what does this mean for us as web content creators?

If 23% of conversations on the web include links, then we have to create content which users actively want to share. We also have to make it as easy as possible for people who are coming to our content to share it with others – be it via email, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or any other social network.  One way in which we can do this is by transmitting it via our own social networks (at LIPA, where I work, each piece of new content uploaded to the website is promoted via our Facebook and Twitter accounts).  You can also add ‘share this’ buttons to your content which allows viewers to share it across a number of social networks with a single click of a button.

SSMM Social Media

Another good rule of thumb when creating content for the web is to think to yourself ‘is this the kind of thing I’d be happy to share with my social media networks?’ Granted, a remarkable amount of (arguably) awful content is passed around social networks on a daily basis, but having a single tweet retweeted by someone with thousands of followers can lead to your content going viral. This means lots of new followers and customers for your website and a higher page ranking on the SERPS.

What can we conclude from this?

Content is undoubtedly the most important consideration to take into account when you are devising a strategy of how to get your website a better ranking on the search engines. And if a blog post, video or picture is engaging enough, then it will always be shared across the internet by people. But as Content Creators, Web Managers and Social Media users, we should always be thinking about how we can engage users and encourage them to share our content with their own networks. The implementation of Google’s Panda algorithm has shown that the emphasis is slowly shifting away from paid links and content farms to content which is truly ‘social’.  Yes, good content is important. And when it comes to SEO, it probably always will be. But the impact of sharing links on social media really cannot be underestimated – and it’s an impact which is only going to increase in size over the coming years. Perhaps from now on, SEO specialists mantra should be that if content is king, then social is emperor.

Agree? Disagree? Or perhaps you just want to say hello? If so, feel free to follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/misscay, or you can add me on LinkedIn.

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4 thoughts on “In the land of SEO, is Content always King?

  1. Great blog. Excellent content, well written.I will be returning to study more a few more times soon.

  2. Ognyan says:

    Interesting topic in an interesting area.

  3. SEO in Kent says:

    Really interesting post Christina!

    I think it’s really important not to underestimate the relationship between traditional SEO and social media. Site’s like Twitter and Facebook not only have a great PR value for brand’s, but more and more I’m noticing site’s with a strong social presence are performing better in SERPs; especially those with key-word focused branding. There’s obviously a lot going on behind the curtain at Google right now.

    Best wishes, Alex.

  4. Anjlee says:

    Fab post Christina, you’ve managed to distill quite a few really valuable insights from the course here.

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