Let’s start with a sweeping and possibly unfair statement: most website content out there is badly written, badly edited, badly formatted, and badly presented. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with that statement, you surely must perceive that website content isn’t—or at least, hasn’t been—subjected to the same kind of editorial scrutiny that, say, newspaper articles or even magazine advertisements receive.
The reason for the lack of quality in website content is simple: it hasn’t been perceived to be necessary to have quality. Much website content was meant, not to be read by humans, but to be sniffed by search engines. To that end, the repeated mentioning of keywords—even at the cost of grammar, legibility, or sense—was the continually obeyed mantra. The next generation of search engines was able to filter out the more egregious keyword-stuffing abuses—such as entire pages that contained nothing but a single keyword repeated over and over—but still had no way to check for content quality. This dynamic is slowly changing, however, and SEO content providers are more and more turning an eye toward quality: well-written, well-researched content that humans actually want to read. One of the forces behind this change has been the introduction and refinement of Google Panda.
Google has recently released a series of guidelines for writing SEO content in order to please the Panda: to induce Panda to give one’s website a high ranking. Many of these guidelines seem like admonitions an editor might give a writer (in the non-Internet world) regarding producing quality work. A recent powerful inducement for introducing quality into SEO content has been that many companies are seeing their website rankings drop as a result of Google Panda’s emphasis on quality. Following is a distillation of Google’s recently released 23 guidelines for pleasing the Panda:
Before You Write
Ask yourself: am I writing to serve an actual need or just a perceived one? Will what I propose to write serve a distinct purpose; will it address an unfulfilled need? In other words: am I writing for my market? Also: will what I create be original? Is there similar, recently created content already out there?
It is very important to create your SEO content, not because you feel you’re following a trend or doing it because “everyone else is,” but because you perceive a real benefit from doing so. For example, if your website generates questions for your customers, such as the applications or uses of your products, you can create SEO content that both answers those existing questions and attracts future customers who may have the same questions but don’t know your products. The number of those who are on your website at any given moment is dwarfed by the number of those who could be, all looking for the same solution or product.
Accuracy is Vital
As the Web has matured, it has become more and more important to be able to back up your assertions. In other words, do your due diligence; fact-check and cite sources. When doing so, separate the wheat from the chaff; don’t reference some anonymous clown’s blog or the ravings posted on some extremist website. Use the same standards you expect from others when they back up their assertions: one weakness of the Web in general is that anybody can post anything at all with no vetting of themselves or the accuracy of their content. Make only supported claims, and make that support only with reputed references.
Make sure your grammar, syntax, word use, and spelling are all correct. By that, I mean not just running your content through a spellchecker or grammar checker; there isn’t such a tool on the market that doesn’t let a huge amount of mistakes slip through. Look at your writing and see if it is concise, accurate, and well-spoken. If you know someone you can trust to do the job, have them edit your work; it is notoriously easy to miss errors in your own writing that you would have caught had you been reading identical content written by another person. Think in terms of two audiences you must please: the increasingly sophisticated search engines and your no less important human audience. It is a sign of professionalism—a powerful sign—that you present well-written and thoughtfully researched content.
You should also ask yourself: is my content relevant to my readers and the products and/or services I offer? Will my readers consider it both engaging and relating to the subject at hand (i.e., the overall content of my website)? Is it a timely contribution to the body of work or current discourse on the topic? Is it focused—is there one crystal-clear point your readers can take away from reading your content? If you can’t answer “yes” to all of these, consider a rewrite.
This takes two forms: originality of writing and originality of experience. Writing originality ranges from avoiding plagiarism (a sin in any writing endeavor) to avoiding rehashing work someone else has already done. Experience originality involves the simple question: is what I am writing based on something I have done or experienced, or on the experiences of someone else? Writing from a truly original perspective guarantees that your content is not only original but “fresh” and engaging. Don’t say something we’ve all heard before.
Think in terms of tone and voice. Does my content engage and hold the attention of the viewer? Is my tone humorous, instructive, appeal to action, etc. and appropriate to the overall presentation of my site? Do I offer resources for those who want to seek out further information? Do I offer information to varying abilities of readership (such as separating out more esoteric content)? Do I provide a reason for the reader to stay on my website and further investigate my products?
Wrapping it All Up
Look at the final product from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about the subject—or find someone who fits that description. Evaluate, or have them evaluate, your content from that point of view. Does the title grab you? Is the formatting and presentation engaging? Does your content deliver what it promises in the title, the meta-description, or your initial paragraph? If you truly want a higher ranking and more traffic for your site, you need to start by answering these questions to your satisfaction, then and only then should you click on the “publish” button.