Disclosure: “This article is personal opinion of research based on my experience of almost 20 years. There is no third party advertising on this page or monetised links of any sort. External links to third party sites are moderated by me. Disclaimer.” Shaun Anderson, Hobo
QUOTE: “Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors.” Google, 2017
There is no one particular way to create web pages that successfully rank in Google but you must ensure:
QUOTE: “that your content kind of stands on its own” John Mueller, Google 2015
If you have an optimised platform on which to publish it, high-quality content is the number 1 user experience area to focus on across websites to earn traffic from Google in 2020.
If you have been impacted by Google’s content quality algorithms, your focus should be on ‘improving content’ on your site rather than deleting content:
If you need help with optimising your website content, I can offer this as a service. If you want to learn how to achieve it yourself, read on.
Table Of Contents
Google Has Evolved and Content Marketing With It
QUOTE: “Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals. It measures the quality of a site, which you can read more about in our guidelines. Panda allows Google to take quality into account and adjust ranking accordingly.” Google
Google does not work only the way it used to work, and as a result, this impacts a lot of websites built a certain way to rank high in Google – and Google is a lot less forgiving these days.
Is the user going to be more satisfied with an exact match query on a low-quality website, OR a high-quality page closely related to the search query used, published by an entity Google trusts and rates highly?
Google is deciding more and more to go with the latter.
Optimisation, in 2020, must not get in the way of the main content of a page or negatively impact user experience.
Long Tail Traffic Is Hiding In Long-Form Content
Google didn’t kill the long tail of traffic, though since 2010 they have been reducing the amount of such traffic they will send to certain sites.
In part, they shifted a lot of long tail visitors to pages that Google thought may satisfy their user query, RATHER than just rely on particular exact and near match keywords repeated on a particular page.
At the same time, Google was hitting old school SEO tactics and particularly thin or overlapping pages. So – an obvious strategy and one I took was to identify the thin content on a site and merge it into long-form content and then rework that to bring it all up-to-date.
Long-form content is a magnet for long tail searches and helps you rank for much more popular (head) keywords. The more searchers and visitors you attract, the more you can ‘satisfy’ and the better chance you can rank higher in the long run.
Do you NEED long-form pages to rank?
No – but it can be very useful as a base to start a content marketing strategy if you are looking to pick up links and social media shares.
And be careful. The longer a page is, the more you can dilute it for a specific keyword phrase, and it’s sometimes a challenge to keep it updated.
Google seems to penalise stale or unsatisfying content.
How To SEO In-depth Content
From a strategic point of view, if you can explore a topic or concept in an in-depth way you must do it before your competition. Especially if this is one of the only areas you can compete with them on.
Here are some things to remember about creating topic-oriented in-depth content:
- In-depth content needs to be kept updated. Every six months, at least. If you can update it a lot more often than that – it should be updated more
- In-depth content can reach tens of thousands of words, but the aim should always be to make the page concise as possible, over time
- In-depth content can be ‘optimised’ in much the same way as content has always been optimised
- In-depth content can give you authority in your topical niche
- Pages must MEET THEIR PURPOSE WITHOUT DISTRACTING ADS OR CALL TO ACTIONS. If you are competing with an information page – put the information FRONT AND CENTRE. Yes – this impacts negatively on conversions in the short term. BUT – these are the pages Google will rank high. That is – pages that help users first and foremost complete WHY they are on the page (what you want them to do once you get them there needs to be of secondary consideration when it comes to Google organic traffic).
- You need to balance conversions with user satisfaction unless you don’t want to rank high in Google in 2020.
Optimising For Topics And Concepts
Old SEO was, to a large extent, about repeating text. New SEO is about user satisfaction.
Google’s punishment algorithms designed to target SEO are all over that practice these days. And over a lot more, besides, in 2020.
- Google’s looking for original text on a subject matter that explores the concept that the page is about, rather than meets keyword relevance standards of yesteryear.
- If your page rings these Google bells in your favour, Google knows your page is a good resource on anything to do with a particular concept – and will send visitors to it after invisibly rewriting the actual search query that the user made. Google is obfuscating the entire user intent journey.
For us at the receiving end, it all boils down to writing content that meets a specific user intent and does it better than competing pages.
We are not trying to beat Google or RankBrain, just the competition.
Pages looking to, genuinely, help people are a good user experience. At the page level, satisfying informational search intent is still going to be about keyword analysis at some level.
SEO is about understanding topics and concepts as search engines try to.
A well-optimised topic/concept oriented page that meets high relevance signals cannot really fail to pick up search traffic and, if it’s useful to people, pick up UX signals that will improve rankings in Google (I include links in that).
Are Poor Spelling and Bad Grammar Google Ranking Factors?
Is Grammar A Ranking Factor?
NO – this is evidently NOT a ranking signal. I’ve been blogging for nine years and most complaints I’ve had in that time have been about my poor grammar and spelling in my posts.
My spelling and grammar may be atrocious but these shortcomings haven’t stopped me ranking lots of pages over the years.
Google historically has looked for ‘exact match’ instances of keyword phrases on documents and SEO have, historically, been able to optimise successfully for these keyword phrases – whether they are grammatically correct or not.
So how could bad grammar carry negative weight in Google’s algorithms?
That being said, I do have Grammarly, a spelling and grammar checking plugin installed on my browser to help me catch the obvious mistakes.
Advice From Google
John Mueller from Google said in a recent hangout that it was ‘not really’ but that it was ‘possible‘ but very ‘niche‘ if at all, that grammar was a positive ranking factor. Bear in mind – most of Google’s algorithms (we think) demote or de-rank content once it is analysed – not necessarily promote it – not unless users prefer it.
Another video I found is a Google spokesman talking about inadequate grammar as a ranking factor or page quality signal was from a few years ago.
In this video, we are told, by Google, that grammar is NOT a ranking factor.
Not, at least, one of the 200+ quality signals Google uses to rank pages.
And that rings true, I think.
Google’s Matt Cutts did say though:
QUOTE: “It would be fair to use it as a signal…The more reputable pages do tend to have better grammar and better spelling. ” Matt Cutts, Google
Google Panda & Content Quality
Google is on record as saying (metaphorically speaking) their algorithms are looking for signals of low quality when it comes to rating pages on Content Quality.
Some possible examples could include:
QUOTE: “1. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?”
QUOTE: “2. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?”
QUOTE: “3. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?”
QUOTE: “4. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?”
Altogether – Google is rating content on overall user experience as it defines and rates it, and bad grammar and spelling equal a poor user experience.
At least on some occasions.
Google aims to ensure organic search engine marketing be a significant investment in time and budget for businesses. Critics will say to make Adwords a more attractive proposition.
Google aims to reward quality signals that:
- take time to build and
- the vast majority of sites will not, or cannot meet without a lot of investment.
NO website in a competitive market gets valuable traffic from Google in 2020 without a lot of work. Technical work and content curation.
It’s an interesting aside.
Fixing the grammar and spelling on a page can be a time-consuming process.
It’s clearly a machine-readable and detectable – although potentially noisy – signal and Google IS banging on about Primary MAIN Content Quality and User Experience.
Grammar is ranking factor could be one for the future – but at the moment, I doubt grammar is taken much into account (on an algorithmic level, at least, although users might not like your grammar and that could have a second order impact if it causes high abandonment rates, for instance).
Is Spelling A Google Ranking Factor?
Poor spelling has always had the potential to be a NEGATIVE ranking factor in Google. IF the word that is incorrect on the page is unique on the page and of critical importance to the search query.
Although – back in the day – if you wanted to rank for misspellings – you optimised for them – so – poor spelling would be a POSITIVE ranking looking back not that long ago.
Now, that kind of optimisation effort is fruitless, with changes to how Google presents these results in 2020.
Google will favour “Showing results for” results over presenting SERPs based on a common spelling error.
Testing to see if ‘bad spelling’ is a ranking factor is still easy on a granular level, bad grammar is not so easy to test.
I think Google has better signals to play with than ranking pages on spelling and grammar. It’s not likely to penalise you for the honest mistakes most pages exhibit, especially if you have met more important quality signals – like useful main content.
And I’ve seen clear evidence of pages ranking very well with both bad spelling and bad grammar. My own!
I still have Grammarly installed, though.
Google is policing their SERPs.
Put simply Google’s views on ‘site quality’ and ‘user satisfaction’ do NOT automatically correlate to you getting more traffic.
This endeavour is supposed to be a benchmark – a baseline to start from (when it comes to keywords with financial value).
Everybody, in time, is supposed to hit this baseline to expect to have a chance to rank – and for the short, to medium term, this is where the opportunity for those who take it can be found.
If you don’t do it, someone else will, and Google will rank them, in time, above you.
Google has many human quality raters rating your offering, as well as algorithms targeting old-style SEO techniques and engineers specifically looking for sites that do not meet technical guidelines.
How To Do “SEO Copywriting“
Good Content Will Still Need ‘Optimised’
The issue is, original “compelling content” – so easy to create isn’t it(!) – on a site with no links and no audience and no online business authority is as useful as boring, useless content – to Google – and will be treated as such by Google – except for long tail terms (if even).
It usually won’t be found by many people and won’t be READ and won’t be ACTED upon – not without a few good links pointing to the site – NOT if there is any competition for the term.
Generalisations make for excellent link bait and while good, rich content is very important, sayings like ‘content is everything’ is not telling you the whole story.
The fact is – every single site is different, sits in a niche with a different level of competition for every keyword or traffic stream, and needs a strategy to tackle this.
There’s no one size fits all magic button to press to get traffic to a site. Some folk have a lot of domain authority to work with, some know the right people, or have access to an audience already – indeed, all they might need is a copywriter – or indeed, some inspiration for a blog post.
They, however, are in the minority of sites.
Most of the clients I work with have nothing to start with and are in a relatively ‘boring’ niche few reputable blogs write about.
In one respect, Google doesn’t even CARE what content you have on your site (although it’s better these days at hiding this).
Humans do care, of course, so at some point, you will need to produce that content on your pages.
You Can ALWAYS Optimise Content To Perform Better In Google
An SEO can always get more out of content in organic search than any copywriter, but there’s not much more powerful than a copywriter who can lightly optimise a page around a topic, or an expert in a topic that knows how to – continually, over time – optimise a page for high rankings in Google.
If I wanted to rank for “How To Write For Google“? – for instance – in the old days you used to put the key phrase in the normal elements like the Page Title Element and ALT text and then keyword stuffed your text to make sure you repeated “How To Write For Google” enough times in a block of low-quality text.
Using variants and synonyms of this phrase helped to add to the ‘uniqueness’ of the page, of course.
Throwing in any old text would beef the word count up.
Now, in 2020, if I want to rank high in Google for that kind of term – I would still rely on old SEO best practices like a very focused page title – but now the text should explore a topic in a much more informative way.
Writing for Google and meeting the query intent means an SEO copywriter would need to make sure page text included ENTITIES AND CONCEPTS related to the MAIN TOPIC of the page you are writing about and the key phrase you are talking about.
If I wanted a page to rank for this term, I would probably need to explore concepts like Google Hummingbird, Query Substitution, Query Reformation and Semantic Search i.e. I need to explore a topic or concept in fully – and as time goes on – more succinctly – than competing pages.
If you want to rank for a SPECIFIC search term – you can still do it using the same old, well-practised keyword targeting practices. The main page content itself just needs to be high-quality enough to satisfy Google’s quality algorithms in the first place.
This is still a land grab.
Tip: Beware Keyword Stuffing E-commerce Website Category Pages To Rank For Various Other Keywords in Google
Google’s John Meuller just helped someone out in this week’s Google Webmaster Hangout, and his answer was very interesting:
QUOTE: “The site was ranking the first page for the keyword (widget) and(widgets) in Australia since two weeks we moved all the way down to page five. Technical changes haven’t been made to the site the only modification was we added more category landing text to rank for various other (keywords)“
QUOTE: “the modification that you mentioned (above) that you put more category landing text on the page that might also be something that’s playing a role there. What I see a lot with e-commerce sites is that they take a category page that’s actually pretty good and they stuff a whole bunch of text on the bottom and that’s essentially just kind of roughly related to that content which is essentially like bigger than the Wikipedia page on that topic and from our point of view when we look at things like that our algorithms kind of quickly kind of back off and say whoa it looks like someone is just trying to use keyword stuffing to include a bunch of kind of unrelated content into the same page and then our algorithms might be a bit more critical and kind of like be cautious with regards to the content that we find on this page so that’s one thing to kind of watch out for.
I think it’s good to / help provide more context to things that you have on your website but kind of be reasonable and think about what users would actually use and focus on that kind of content so for example if if the bottom of these pages is just a collection of keywords and a collection of sentences where those keywords are artificially used then probably users aren’t going to scroll to the bottom and read all of that tiny text and actually use that content in a useful way and then probably search engines are also going to back off and say well this page is is doing some crazy stuff here we don’t really know how much we can trust the content on the page.”
If you are keyword stuffing e-commerce category pages, watch out. Google tells us these things for a reason. Adding optimised text to e-commerce category pages ‘just for the sake of it’ is probably going to work against you (and might be working against you today).
Keyword stuffing has been against the rules for a long time.
John previously stated back during 2016:
QUOTE: “if we see that things like keyword stuffing are happening on a page, then we’ll try to ignore that, and just focus on the rest of the page”.
Google has algorithms AND human reviewers looking out for it when the maths miss it:
7.4.2 “Keyword Stuffed” Main Content
QUOTE: ‘Pages may be created to lure search engines and users by repeating keywords over and over again, sometimes in unnatural and unhelpful ways. Such pages are created using words likely to be contained in queries issued by users. Keyword stuffing can range from mildly annoying to users, to complete gibberish. Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful MC to help users, should be rated Lowest.’ Search Quality Raters Guidelines March 14, 2017
While there is obviously a balance to be had in this area, Google classes keyword stuffing as adding ‘irrelevant keywords‘ to your site. There are warnings also about this age-old SEO technique in the general webmaster guidelines:
General Guidelines: Irrelevant Keywords
QUOTE: “Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.
Examples of keyword stuffing include:
- Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
- Blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for
- Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for example:We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How To Improve Your Website Content
This is no longer about repeating keywords. ANYTHING you do to IMPROVE the page is going to be a potential SEO benefit. That could be:
- creating fresh content
- removing doorway-type pages
- cleaning up or removing thin-content on a site
- adding relevant keywords and key phrases to relevant pages
- constantly improving pages to keep them relevant
- fixing poor grammar and spelling mistakes
- adding synonyms and related key phrases to text
- reducing keyword stuffing
- reducing the ratio of duplicated text on your page to unique text
- removing old outdated links or out-of-date content
- rewording sentences to take out sales or marketing fluff and focusing more on the USER INTENT (e.g. give them the facts first including pros and cons – for instance – through reviews) and purpose of the page.
- merging many old stale pages into one, fresh page, which is updated periodically to keep it relevant
- Conciseness, while still maximising relevance and keyword coverage
- Improving important keyword phrase prominence throughout your page copy (you can have too much, or too little, and it is going to take testing to find out what is the optimal presentation will be)
- Topic modelling
A great writer can get away with fluff but the rest of us probably should focus on being concise.
Low-quality fluff is easily discounted by Google these days – and can leave a toxic footprint on a website.
How To Get Featured Snippets on Google
QUOTE: “When a user asks a question in Google Search, we might show a search result in a special featured snippet block at the top of the search results page. This featured snippet block includes a summary of the answer, extracted from a webpage, plus a link to the page, the page title and URL” Google 2018
Any content strategy in 2020 should naturally be focused on creating high-quality content and also revolve around triggering Google FEATURED SNIPPETS that trigger when Google wants them to – and intermittently – depending on the nature of the query.
Regarding the above image, where a page on Hobo is promoted to number 1 – I used traditional competitor keyword research and old-school keyword analysis and keyword phrase selection, albeit focused on the opportunity in long-form content, to accomplish that, proving that you still use this keyword research experience to rank a page in 2020.
Despite all the obfuscation, time delay, keyword rewriting, manual rating and selection bias Google goes through to match pages to keyword queries to, you still need to optimise a page to rank in a niche, and if you do it sensibly, you unlock a wealth of long-tail traffic over time (a lot of which is useless as it always was, but what RankBrain might clean up given time).
- Google is only going to produce more of these direct answers or answer boxes in future (they have been moving in this direction since 2005).
- Focusing on triggering these will focus your content creators on creating exactly the type of pages Google wants to rank. “HOW TO” guides and “WHAT IS” guides is IDEAL and the VERY BEST type of content for this exercise.
- Google is REALLY rewarding these articles in 2020 – and the search engine is VERY probably going to keep doing so for the future.
- Google Knowledge Graph offers another exciting opportunity – and indicates the next stage in organic search.
- Google is producing these ANSWER BOXES that can promote a page from anywhere on the front page of Google to number 1.
- All in-depth content strategy on your site should be focused on this new aspect of Google Optimisation. The bonus is you physically create content that Google is ranking very well in 2020 even without taking knowledge boxes into consideration.
- Basically – you are feeding Google EASY ANSWERS to scrape from your page. This all ties together very nicely with organic link building. The MORE ANSWER BOXES you UNLOCK – the more chance you have of ranking number one FOR MORE AND MORE TERMS – and as a result – more and more people see your utilitarian content and as a result – you get social shares and links if people care at all about it.
- You can share an Enhanced Snippet (or Google Answer Box as they were first called by SEOs). Sometimes you are featured and sometimes it is a competitor URL. All you can do in this case is to continue to improve the page until you squeeze your competitor out.
We already know that Google likes ‘tips’ and “how to” and expanded FAQ but this Knowledge Graph ANSWER BOX system provides a real opportunity and is CERTAINLY what any content strategy should be focused around to maximise exposure of your business in organic searches.
Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword if you take a long-term view. Google is, after all, looking for easy answers so, eventually, it might not need to send visitors to your page.
To be fair, these Google Enhanced Snippets, at the moment, appear complete with a reference link to your page and can positively impact traffic to the page. SO – for the moment – it’s an opportunity to take advantage of.
Focus on Quality To Improve Conversion Rates
However you are trying to satisfy users, many think this is about terminating searches via your site or on your site or satisfying the long-click.
How you do that in an ethical manner (e.g. not breaking the back button on browsers) the main aim is to satisfy that user somehow.
You used to rank by being a virtual PageRank black hole. Now, you need to think about being a User black hole.
You want a user to click your result in Google, and not need to go back to Google to do the same search that ends with the user pogo-sticking to another result, apparently unsatisfied with your page.
The aim is to convert users into subscribers, returning visitors, sharing partners, paying customers or even just help them along on their way to learn something.
The success I have had in ranking pages and getting more traffic have largely revolved around optimising the technical framework of a site, crawl and indexing efficiency, removal of outdated content, content re-shaping, constant improvement of text content to meet its purpose better, internal links to relevant content, conversion optimisation or getting users to ‘stick around’ – or at least visit where I recommend they visit.
Mostly – I’ve focused on satisfying user intent because Google isn’t going back with that.
You don’t need only to stick to one topic area on a website. That is a myth.
If you create high-quality pieces of informative content on your website page-to-page, you will rank.
The problem is – not many people are polymaths – and this will be reflected in blog posts that end up too thin to satisfy users and in time, Google, or e-commerce sites that sell everything and have speciality and experience in little of it.
The only focus with any certainty in 2020 is whatever you do, stay high-quality with content, and avoid creating doorway pages.
For some sites, that will mean reducing pages on many topics to a few that can be focused on so that you can start to build authority in that subject area.
Your website is an entity. You are an entity. Explore concepts. Don’t repeat stuff. Be succinct.
You are what keywords are on your pages.
You rank as a result of others rating your writing.
Avoid toxic visitors. A page must meet its purpose well, without manipulation. Do people stay and interact with your page or do they go back to Google and click on other results? A page should be explicit in its purpose and focus on the user.
The number 1 ‘user experience’ signal you can manipulate with low risk is improving content until it is more useful or better presented than is found on competing pages for variously related keyword phrases.