Posted by Isla_McKetta
In a post-Hummingbird world, we all know content matters. But many SEOs are still trying to work around this update because we think we don’t have the tools to gauge content quality. If you’ve said, “I’m not a writer,” or, “How do I know what will resonate with my audience?” And even, “Content is hard and takes time; do I
really have to?” You might be suffering from content anxiety.
Content quality anxiety can come in many forms:
- What is content, really?
- I hired a content team or agency. How do I know if they’re any good?
- How can I calculate the value of content?
Help is available.
Read on for your guide to understanding what makes good content (and improve your SEO in the process).
1. What is content, really?
First, just to make sure we’re on the same page, a quick operational definition: Content is the sum of all of the words, images, videos, and audio on your site, social pages, emails, and beyond. A good content creator is thinking about everything from the language on your newsletter subscription text to the tone in your order confirmation email or even the wording on your delivery envelopes.
2. I hired a content team or agency. How do I know if they’re any good?
In-house or agency, knowing if a content creator or team is up to snuff can be one of the most intimidating things for non-creatives. While there are a lot of tips and tricks to
creating great content, there is no secret code for recognizing great content. Use these guidelines and you’ll be golden.
Are the ideas original?
If you want your content to stand out in the crowded Internet (and who doesn’t), you’re going to need original ideas and content. Before you even decide whether you like the ideas, do a quick pass through your memory. If your content team’s first set of big ideas sounds uncannily familiar, dig deeper.
The tricky part about this is that every wedding provider in this SERP is trying to speak to a very common need that brides have: finding creative ideas for a fall wedding. But your content team or agency should be able to help your customer find that information in a new and exciting way. It’s okay to insist on originality.
Is the content appropriate for your audience?
You also don’t want your ideas to be so shockingly original that you and your audience can’t relate to them. For example, if I was to suggest an interactive game based around
Waiting for Godot for your dog food business, I’d expect you to cry bullshit unless your audience is entirely composed of literary professors and playwrights.
Do you feel like the content adds value to your site?
Shiny objects can be great for attracting new visitors to your site. Make sure that big new idea attracts the kind of attention you want.
Big content is an investment. And while it’s great to take some risks, your content team should be able to convince you what value that content adds and make a case for how it might be received.
Does your content tell a story?
This one isn’t strictly a necessity, but do not underestimate how far a good story can go to making your content memorable. This can take the form of an anecdote that illustrates the point, or the whole page can be a story in itself.
In the case of Warrior IPA from Left Hand Brewing, the beer becomes a character. And while it would have been hard to fit a full beginning, middle, and end in one paragraph, hints of this warrior’s story pair perfectly with the illustration on the label. This product description is so good that the beer nerd info is purely a bonus.
Does it raise the hairs on the back of your neck?
Probably the best test of content ever: pay attention to how you feel when you first experience the content. Trust your gut. If you’re engaged and can’t get enough, it’s good content.
this example from the Distilled blog, Harriet Cummings reaches deep into the soul of someone who wants to be a better public speaker and pulls all the right strings to cement that engagement.
You don’t have to know why a piece of content blows your mind (that’s the content team’s job), just pay attention to how it makes you feel.
Is it Internet-friendly?
Reading content online is a lot harder on the eyes than reading on paper. Breaking up the text with headings, bullet points, images, and shorter paragraphs helps keep your customers on your page.
As for non-text content, make sure your images, video, and audio all load well and as quickly as possible.
Does the writer use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
We’ve all seen examples of a gorgeous, well-planned infographic that’s perfect except for just a few typos. You may not be one of those sticklers who judges the work of others based on proper grammar, but you can bet that someone in your audience is using grammar, spelling, and punctuation as a measure of the quality of your content.
This is my final impression of one of the most gorgeous interactives I ever saw online. Sad face.
Do you immediately want to share the content?
One of your goals involves social shares, right? Or at least you wouldn’t be sad if you got a bunch of them. If you’re excited to share whatever you’re reading, others will be too. If you find it dull, well…
3. How can I determine the value of content?
How do you prove the value of something that’s everywhere, anyway? There are lots of possible answers. As an SEO, you probably understand most of these measures already, but here’s how to tweak them to evaluate content. You’ll likely want to use overall traffic plus a combination of the things below depending on what type of content you’re focusing on.
While content is everywhere on your site, the things most of us think of as content (blog posts, landing page text, and yes, even infographics) are rarely the last touch before a conversion. Attribution modeling helps you assign a portion of the value of a conversion to all the pieces of content that a visitor sees before converting.
For example, if they read a blog post, click through on an email, and read an FAQ, you can give each of those touches partial credit. Read more about
A/B and multivariate testing are great ways to measure the value of some forgotten areas of content like the text in form fields and pop-ups. These tests can also tell you when you don’t actually need content in those areas. Don’t forget that less can be more.
Engagement matters and social shares are definitely one way to measure engagement. Of course social shares are probably a better measure of blog posts and product descriptions than of the copy you use in the checkout process.
In a perfect world, great content earns links. Don’t assume your content is valueless if you aren’t earning links, but do celebrate when it does. Use Open Site Explorer to find and keep track of links.
Yes, it does seem like fewer people are commenting on blogs these days. But, as with links, this just means the comments you do get, usually a signal that a reader is deeply engaged, are all the more valuable. Dan Shure explains this in depth in
The Broken Art of Company Blogging (and the Ignored Metric that Could Save Us All).
Our blog editor, Trevor Klein, has developed and refined a personalized metric for Moz called the
One Metric. This system combines a variety of the signals above and then weights them to give a quick overview of what’s succeeding and what’s failing. We’ve already been using that information to inform decisions about future content efforts.
The success of content cannot always be measured in numbers, and if you invest only in projects that have a predictable rate of return, you’re missing opportunities. Rand calls this
serendipitous marketing. Just make sure as you’re considering the value of your content that you leave room for Serendipity.
Is this SEO?
Yes. Remember how I mentioned the Hummingbird algorithm up above? I know that this is the algorithm update most of us would like to forget, because we think it’s so much easier to spot spammy links than quality content. But it’s really a lot simpler than that. Google is looking for content that answers users’ queries. And according to Marie Haynes, “Google’s goal with all of these algorithm changes (Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird) is to encourage webmasters to publish content that is the best of its kind.”
So if you’re an SEO (or anyone else) with content anxiety, let it go. You have the tools to tell when content is good and to select a team that knows what makes it great. Go ahead and let that team try to sell you on an idea. You can trust yourself to make the final call on whether or not it’s actually worthwhile.
And if you’re part of a content team that’s trying to make the case for your big ideas, please join me on September 9 for “The Storytelling of Content Strategy.” This Mozinar will cover one method of creating more engaging (and persuasive) strategy docs.
Do you ever experience content anxiety? What are your measures of content quality? Has a particular experience with content made you either gun shy or wildly enthusiastic about content? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.
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