A lot of people ask me how to gain an edge in the SEO game. But they say, “Don't tell me post quality content, everybody says that.” Obviously, if everybody says it, it's because it's crucial. Otherwise, it would only be said by a few.
I've said this before: at its most simplest, SEO comes down to two things. Focus on those two, and you will do well. They are:
- The quality of your content;
- The quality of your experience.
In other words, give good content and make sure the user's experience in consuming that content is just as good. That's it.
But a lot of people want specific advice. They ask me, “Sure, but what defines ‘quality' then?” The answer to which is subjective, even with Google. Why? Because Google doesn't arbitrarily decide what “quality” is.
Sure, it uses a scoring system that looks at a number of aspects. But what decides the weight of each aspect is not neatly defined. Some are based on a number of factors, including traffic, feedback, data, behavior, intent, etc.
In other words, “quality” is not defined by a series of attributes. Many content marketers tend to define quality as technical (e.g., length, grammar, citations, well-researched, fact-checked, etc) and/or esthetic (e.g., formatting, structure, visual aids, writing style, links, etc).
But none of these, in and of themselves, matter.
The most popular attribute of the bunch is size. Some say that quality content must be at least 500 words, 1,000 words, 1,500 words, or more. But neither of these is true. Length doesn't matter.
So why does long content seem to rank well?
Correlation doesn't mean causation.
Long content ranks well possibly because there are more keywords, more variations of those keywords, more research, more references, more on-page assets such as meta-data, images, subheads, etc.
Does this mean that writing long-form content will increase my chances of ranking well? No. Unless the content is good. Good to the reader, that is. Which is the point: Google's algorithm uses several signals that will help determine what it thinks human beings will attribute quality to.
In fact, in March 2020, Google said the following:
“Since we originally wrote this post, we have been occasionally asked if E-A-T is a ranking factor. Our automated systems use a mix of many different signals to rank great content. We’ve tried to make this mix align what human beings would agree is great content as they would assess it according to E-A-T criteria. Given this, assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that our automated systems use to rank content.”
I could go on and on. But the truth is, some short content ranks extremely well.
However, Google made an important distinction as to what constitutes quality content. When it comes to professionals like you, the number one indicator is Google's EAT, i.e., expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
Google prefers content that is well researched, relevant to its audience, and is valid as much as it's valuable (to its users).
In other words, is the content solid, written by an expert (or reviewed by an expert)? Does the content indicate that the author is an expert and showcases her expertise (such as in the “about the author” resource box at the end, the author schema markup code, or on a separate “about page” on the site)?
Is the author someone with a great reputation (or is it published on a site with a great reputation)? Is the content considered by other sources as reputable and authoritative (including backlinks and mentions from reputable sites)?
These are just some indicators. But they're important ones.
There are many more. Other signals that tend to indicate the content is of high quality is traffic. Direct traffic is influential to the degree that it signals to Google that the site has authority and content that users value.
Google sometimes say this is not true. But keep in mind, Google doesn't want SEO experts (particularly black-hat SEOs) to game the system. So they tend to play with cards close to their chest.
But one marketer I know conducted an experiment that proved this.
A popular YouTube show mentioned a website that had little to no traffic, and very little rankings. Of course, the site got an immediate spike in traffic.
But what's interesting is, after the spike dissipated, and over a period of a few months (without any new content or other optimizations whatsoever), that site's rankings and its organic traffic started to climb. Some dramatically.
This is proof that traffic is a factor. But other user actions (e.g., pogosticking, time on site, bounce rates, conversion rates, etc) are factors, too. Behavioral data like this provides Google with feedback that indicates that a) the content and b) the user experience are good.
If you want a good report on what ranking factors have been observed, tested, and benchmarked, take a look at SEMRush's Ranking Factors Study 2.0.
Bottom line, if you want to write good quality content, don't worry so much about what you think “quality” is or even what Google thinks “quality” is.
What matters is what your audience thinks.
Do they visit it? Like it? Share it? Link to it? Quote it? Mention it? Report it? Discuss it on social media? Bookmark it? Email it to others? Write followup posts about it? And so on. You get the picture.
Now, these are just examples. But don't write with the objective of creating content that generates that kind of traction. Just focus on your audience, serve them well, give them the right information that's trustworthy and solid, and chances are your content will rank extremely well.
Maybe not overnight, maybe not in a week or so. Some content I've written took six months. But when it took off, it soared. For years.