Since the roll out of Google Panda 4.0 there has been a lot of debate over how businesses should react and should be adapting their content strategies. We have had multiple clients ask us about this so we thought we’d do our good deed for the day and shed a little light on content best practices and the weight of importance that Google Panda has for ranking factor.
What is Content?
Content is the words and images/ media on the page. This is extremely important in both the eyes of the search engines as it is what the page is about, and what is essentially useful (or not) to the reader. Usefulness to the reader is usually measured with a combination of low bounce rate, the amount of time spent on page and high authority links endorsing the pages quality.
Different forms of content mean different things to search engines with regards to results. For example an image can be shown on the image searches, and a video can be ranked in a thumbnail video result which is displayed on the first page. Some SEO’s have made a claim that you should now always incorporate a video with each page to increase chances of ranking. Please ignore this advice as we would recommend against it, and here’s why. Granted it is a good idea to have a video on a page to increase chances for high ranking, but this is a dangerous path to follow unless you have the resources and depth of valuable content to be able to do it.
So, which content type is the best?
Neither. The best type of content is a collective mix of content. Each type of content has its benefits, and they are typically utilised when used together. Arguably the leading example out there unsurprisingly comes from Moz’s Whiteboard Friday (below), which displays a video, a snapshot image of the whiteboard (great if you are in a rush) and then a transcription of the video as the text content. This is catering for UX (User Exerience) first and foremost but also appeases search engines with the variation and depth of the information. It is a concern for the future, and I happen to agree with this theory, that transcriptions may not always be acceptable for search engines as they may become intelligent enough to transcribe the video, and interpret the video and text as duplicate content.
Can pages rank without a lot of content?
Yes, they can if they are performing well with other ranking factors. Certain ranking factors carry more weight than others, for example links are still one of the most important indicators of search engine rank, so if the content isn’t very thick but there are more links than any competitors (along with other optimizations) then it is possible for the website/ page to rank highly. This could be done successfully if you were trying to rank for a low competition keyword; however content makes all the difference in highly competitive markets.
Content has always been important, what’s changed?
Many people have pointed out that content has always been a vital component to any marketing strategy, which is very true. Aside from the variety of content which we have already talked about, there are a few things that also influence what search robots consider quality content.
I believe synonyms are becoming more and more important. With search robots becoming more intelligent, it can detect synonyms of keywords and produce them as search results. As a result of this ability it identify synonyms, it gives further indication to search engines exactly what a page is about. Quality content should include multiple variations of a keyword to reassure search robots what the topic of the page is.
Panda 4.0 came down hard on duplicate content especially. Ebay took a huge hit when it began rolling out as they were full of duplicate pages. Press Release websites (there are exceptions here) also had big drop-offs in the search rankings as their content was not deemed as quality information, which is likely because of the nature of link building practices that takes place on these sites.
The depth of content does take the number of words into account when it comes to quality content, but this does not mean sacrifice quality for quantity by any means. Content for contents sake is more widely known as ‘fluff’ as it just pads out the page without offering any value to the user. If you can write a piece of content that is detailed, unique, and useful to a reader without going off topic (unless it is relevant, of course) then you would be better off keeping it short and informative and focusing on other ranking factors. We would recommend that you aim for at least 600 words, but ideally if it is possible a good quality piece of content would have 1000 words in it.
Unique Keyword Density
When we say ‘unique’ keyword density, we are referring partially to avoiding ‘keyword jamming’. One of the old prominent SEO tactics was to throw the keyword you wanted to rank for into the content and metadata as many times as possible. That tactic was always doomed to long term failure. Now search engines have reached the advanced level where they can detect this behaviour, we must be innovative with our language and ensure that our keywords are wrapped in diverse sentences that speak around a variety of different scenarios where that keyword is relevant and useful.
This is something that has a lot of debate in the SEO industry this year, and we are likely to write an entire blog posts about what they mean now and could mean in the future. For now, we will say that they have worked their way into ranking factors and are now beginning to represent what users are judging as quality content. Social signals can be shares, likes/ followers, and some have even put forward the idea that clicks could have some influence.
There are many theories as to what the absolute best content is, but one thing that is unanimous in our industry is that Google is trying to create a better web for the user. This means that providing your content is genuinely valuable to the user, you really can’t go wrong. The real problem with that is that some webmasters are finding it increasingly difficult to produce high quality content, as a result of many content and knowledge gaps being filled.
What do you think is the perfect content length? Do you think there are ranking factors outside of the indicators we have highlighted? Let us know in the comments.