Elements of Quality Writing for the Web, Part 3: What Google Says (and Bing, too!)
I don't normally go in for reading updates and guidelines from Google. To me, it's all Pythian prophecy: half-truths and vagaries designed as much to control as to inform. So I generally leave that to our Search Engine Specialists and focus on one central principle. Google has stated that its goal is create a search engine that ranks sites the way a human would, given time enough to consider all the relevant factors. I write primarily for my human audience, which will be the subject of the next blog.
But it would be a mistake to ignore Google's prophecies altogether. After all, one does not want to risk the wrath of Apollo. So let's take a look at what Google says about quality.
First, in the Design and content guidelines, we find this:
- Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
- Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
Sufficiently vague, but it includes a few hints. Good writing is "information-rich" and both clear and accurate. It also tells us that if we are trying to target particular keywords, we should write content that includes those words.
A little bit further on, in Quality guidelines, they add: "Make pages primarily for users, not search engines." This reaffirms the basic principle that our main audience should be the human one.
There are a few blog entries with general nods toward the notion of content and quality, including the idea that websites should be designed to put content "above the fold." But the most straightforward guidance on quality writing came after their Panda algorithm change.
Specific Guidelines Related to Panda
In More Guidance on Building High Quality Sites, Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, offers more than a score of questions to ask about the quality of a site. Here are ten important ones:
- 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 site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
- Does the article describe both sides of a story?
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
- Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
- Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
Based on these questions, specific benchmarks for quality include:
- Depth of coverage, including specific details and examples
- Freedom from grammar and spelling errors
- Factual accuracy
- Comprehensive coverage, including addressing of multiple viewpoints
- Originality and insight
- Page length
In addition to these specific guidelines, there is an overall emphasis on content that is produced out of love for the subject and love for writing. The questions are shot through with words like "care," "attention," "interest," and "enthusia[sm]." The engagement of the writer in the content seems to be a central focus here at least, and the goal is to separate content written by writers-for-hire from content written by people who are genuinely invested in what they write.
What about Bing?
It was a little bit harder finding quality guidelines from Bing:
Just kidding. In fact, Bing has some pretty specific articles about writing quality content that supports optimization. These are a little wordy and in their way even less clear about some things than Google, but there is still some valuable advice.
Architecting Content for SEO gives both sitewide and page-level hints. Most are directed at optimization, but some speak directly to the reader experience. It includes some of the same advice as Google, such as "Avoid redundant content between pages," and "Don't use hidden text or links."
Other pieces of insight include: "Make page copy actionable and unique," which means always writing in reference to the reader and making your content interesting and "give your readers something they can do," which is very much in line with Bing's schtick as the search engine for people who are acting, not researching.
Are You Content with Your Content? has a more page-level focus. Here is what it says about making your content better.
Fix simple problems, which includes spell checking and removing grammatical errors. It gives this advice for bad writers: "consider investing in the services of a professional editor for a thorough review of your site’s text. While you might get a 12-year-old kid to work for free to fix your iTunes connection, you’ll want more qualified help for this. Don’t pinch your pennies here -- this is valuable work."
It also tells people to make sure the content "include[s] clear expressions of your site's goals."
Then: "Most importantly," it says, "show off your expertise in your subject area." Content should be "interesting and informative," and "regularly refreshed."
Self Promotion: Bing also reminds us that sharing content in social media, linking to it with press releases, and writing articles for publication all support your content.
Bing sums up the emphasis on content: "The greats pay attention to their website content. They build it over time, keeping it fresh and insightful. They know that new, expert content will draw new, and more importantly, repeat visitors to their authority sites."