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Google is increasingly valuing ‘quality content’ when it comes to search rankings, according to a new report.
This isn’t exactly news to most marketers, but the way in which Google determines quality is evolving.
According to the study, positive signals such as the amount of time spent on a page are having an increasingly significant impact on rankings. This means it’s more important than ever to keep the reader engaged.
With that in mind, I’m going to use this post to try and explain how you can achieve ‘quality content’ on your site based on some of the key findings from the study.
1. Make it relevant and readable
The study found that ranking factors such as word count and Flesch readability have increased. The average text length of the top 30 pages increased by 25% since 2014, which suggests Google is increasingly valuing longer form content that is easily digestible.
This makes sense. If your content is too short it's unlikely to go very deep into a subject and with so much content to compete with these days publishers need to offer more than just top-line information or news.
2. Focus on user experience
Creating a brilliant user experience is something we often talk about on this blog, and it is no surprise that good UX can impact on Google rankings.
If your content is well-structured and easy to navigate then people are less likely to get fed up and go somewhere else. More time on the page signals to Google that your content is relevant and interesting.
These days, however, it is not enough to only focus on desktop user experience. Making sure your site works well on a mobile device is also hugely important, and 30% of the top 30 pages use responsive design. We can only expect this trend to increase as mobile's popularity grows.
3. Stop worrying about keywords
We all remember those 'digital marketing blog London' dark days of the internet before Google started clamping down on black hat digital marketing techniques: sentences stuffed with nonsensical phrases and not a readable piece of digital marketing blog London writing in sight.
Thankfully those days are over, and the result has been a boom in the kind of content a human being would willingly read. Consumers benefit and marketers get to use their creative side once again.
When you’re writing a piece of content, whatever it is, your primary aim should be to make it fit for human consumption. This means it needs to be both readable and enjoyable.
If the content you’re writing is actually relevant to the search term, it should naturally contain keywords relating to that subject anyway. As you can see from the chart below, the top-five ranking pages contain far fewer keywords in the body text than the next five.
4. Backlinks are becoming less important
According to the study, year-on-year correlations between backlinks and search rankings are decreasing.
This suggests unnatural link building is an increasingly poor use of your time. Instead you should focus on creating the kind of content that people will naturally want to read and share.
Backlinks with keywords in the anchor text have significantly declined, which is likely a result of Google's attempts to combat unnatural link building.
5. What about social signals?
The jury is still out as to whether social shares directly impact on search rankings, but there is certainly a correlation between social shares and SERP rankings. Webpages at position one have twice as many Facebook signals as those at position two, for example.
Whatever the link, the more shares your content gets the more people it's going to reach. This is important not only from a brand awareness point of view but also as a way to drive more traffic to your site.
But social signals are also a good way for marketers to gauge whether their content appeals to consumers or not. If nobody is ‘liking’ or sharing your content, perhaps it isn’t relevant or interesting to your intended audience.
Conclusion: confirming what we already suspected
We’ve been hearing about the importance of quality content for a while now, so the results of this study are not necessarily going to surprise people.
But what they show is that marketers were correct in their assertions that the days of trying to ‘game the system’ are pretty much over, and now it’s about putting time and effort into creating content that is genuinely valuable.
Personally I think this can only ever be a good thing, for both the marketers who have to feel motivated to come into work every day and the consumers who have to read this stuff.
To read the full Searchmetrics report go here.