Google Wants High Quality Content, But What Does That Mean?

Okay writers and webmasters, you’re good, but you continually challenge yourself to better.  This post is ready to be a resource to you.  We’d like to explain the following:

  1. The crux about quality from the recently leaked, March 2014 Google rater’s guideline manual.
  2. What high quality means.
  3. The attributes of low quality content.
  4. What you can do to improve your website’s content.

The Rubric- Google’s 2014 Search Quality Manual

Behind the scenes, an army of quality raters double check the accuracy of Google’s algorithms before and after updates. These raters are issued guidelines, which steer their evaluations and reflect what the juices are in the current or upcoming algorithm changes. The latest handbook, version 5.0, was recently leaked. We wrote about the 2011 version, and gave an overview of the new version at Relevance. What’s important for you to know is that E-A-T, or Expertise, Authority, and Trust are now key factors when determining Google search engine rankings.  Most insiders have known that the reputation of one’s brand is an important ranking factor, but this manual gives a detailed look at the factors that determine site popularity- well, popularity isn’t even the right word.  It’s more about the culminating signals behind your site’s reputation.

If you’re the Director of Marketing, you’ll want to download your own copy of this handbook at scribd.com because it talks about design and functionality elements, too.  Since My Web Writers focuses on content creation, we’re going to drill down into that aspect of the handbook.

Definitions of Highest and High Quality Pages

I really like how Google defines quality and provides so many specific examples.  It says,

“Highest pages are very satisfying pages which achieve their purpose very well. The distinction between High and Highest is based on the quality of MC <each site’s main content> as well as the level of E-A-T and reputation of the website. What makes a page highest quality? We require at least one of the following: <1> Very high or highest quality MC, with demonstrated expertise, talent, and/or skill.  <2> Very high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (page and website) on the topic of the page. <3> Very good reputation (website or author) on the topic of the page… We will consider the MC of the page to be very high or highest quality when it is created with a high degree of time and effort, and in particular, expertise, talent, and skill. Very high quality MC may be created by experts, hobbyists, or even people with everyday expertise. Our standards depend on the purpose of the page and the type of content. The Highest rating may be justified for pages with a satisfying or comprehensive amount of very high quality MC.”

This means that as a writer, if you are writing outside of your area expertise and don’t do your homework, your average content could sink a website. Conversely, if you’ve specialized in a certain area, interest, or hobby, you could see a surge in demand for your knowledge after people get familiar with this document.  Writers, don’t be deterred from tackling new subjects, but when you do, do your homework.  Talk to experts and include their testimonies in your articles and quotes. You also can’t slop through the writing process.  Check your spelling.  Get the subject and verb agreements right.  Go deeper than what the culmination of five articles say about the topic.  Nobody wants to read repurposed articles when they’re looking for new angles. Pick up the phone and dig up unique quotes or tidbits of information that no one knows.  Google tells raters that,

“Highest quality pages and websites have a very high level of expertise or are highly authoritative or highly trustworthy. Formal expertise is important for topics such as medical, financial, or legal advice. Expertise may be less formal for topics such as recipes or humor. An expert page on cooking may be a page on a professional chef’s website, or it may be a page on the blog of a home cooking enthusiast. Please value life experience and “everyday expertise.” For some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc. Think about what expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness mean for the topic of the page. Who are the experts? What makes a source trustworthy for the topic? What makes a website highly authoritative for the topic?”

Google would also like to see secondary content on high ranking websites, if possible.  From videos to games to reviews, find ways to help users delve a little deeper and engage a little longer. Not every high ranking site has to have secondary content, but if it has good secondary content, that’s a plus.

The Attributes of Low and Lowest Quality Content

Compare what content needs to achieve top scores to what deserves low scores. First, it’s important to note, Google recognizes intent.

“We have very different standards for pages on large, professionally-produced business websites than we have for small amateur, hobbyist, or personal websites. The type of page design and level of professionalism we expect for a large online store is very different than what we might expect for a small local business website. All PQ rating should be done in the context of the purpose of the page and the type of website. The following sections discuss page characteristics which may be evidence of Low quality. Occasionally, these same characteristics may be present on smaller amateur or personal websites and are not a concern. Please use your judgment when deciding whether these characteristics are evidence of low quality on the page you are evaluating, or merely a sign of non-professional but acceptable small, amateur, or personal website design, for example, “Uncle Alex’s Family Photos” website (a hypothetical High quality example).”

Google lowers scores if main or secondary content is distracting or unhelpful.  For example, too many ads are distracting and appear to have the purpose of monetizing the site rather than helping users. If the site lacks supplementary content, this too can lower the site’s score. Poor page design or a lack of website maintenance (meaning broken links or slow load images) can hurt your site’s score.  As much contact information as possible should be added. Google tells raters that,

“We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of ‘webpages,’ such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC <secondary content> at all. Please use your judgment… Here is a checklist of types of pages or websites which should always receive the lowest rating:

• Harmful or malicious pages or websites.

• True lack of purpose pages or websites.

• Deceptive pages or websites.

• Pages or websites which are created to make money with little to no attempt to help users.

• Pages with extremely low or lowest quality MC <main content>.

• Pages on YMYL <Your Money or Your Life> websites with completely inadequate or no website information.

• Pages on abandoned, hacked, or defaced websites.

• Pages or websites created with no expertise or pages which are highly untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading.

• Websites which have extremely negative or malicious reputations.”

Image courtesy of Flat earth Society

Image courtesy of Flat earth Society

This list seems fairly straight-forward and yet, one could see where rater subjectivity could get the better of a site. Pages or websites that are “untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading” could tank a business or individual with rogue opinions or controversial views.  The overall checklist appears reasonable, however, if Christopher Columbus had a website back in his time, I wonder how he’d score? Taken in whole, the document is fairly clear that raters should look at how well you, as the content’s creator, did your homework and presented information or opinions; but, the “unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading” phrase on its own should be considered a warning shot fired about appearing half-baked in the public arena.

Definitions of Lowest Quality Content

The writer who has the depth of a baby pool probably shouldn’t be assigned very heady topics.  As a manager, find each writer’s strengths and let each write about those topics. Google says that,

“The quality of the MC <main content> is one of the most important considerations in PQ <page quality> rating. In this guideline, we’ll judge the quality of the MC by thinking about the how much time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill was involved in content creation. If very little or no time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill has gone into creating the MC, use the lowest quality rating. All of the following should be considered either lowest quality MC or no MC:

• No helpful MC at all or so little MC that the page effectively has no MC.

• MC which consists almost entirely of “keyword stuffing.”

• Gibberish or meaningless MC.

• “Auto-generated” MC, created with little time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users.

• MC which consists almost entirely of content copied from another source with little time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users.

Finally, the distinction between low and lowest quality MC is often human effort and manual curation. If you are struggling between ‘low quality MC’ and ‘lowest quality MC,’ please consider how much human effort and attention the page has received.”

When writing this article, I struggled with how much content out of Google’s manual I should quote.  My reasoning to go ahead and use as much as I have is because to date, not much has been written about the manual and not everyone, who is in a position to change their website, will read the 160 page document (though they should) or if they do, they might want further insight about it.  Thus, I think the amount of quoted handbook content is justified, given the extra value added with insight around the quoted content.

However, this is different than copying and pasting half an article without attribution or even with attribution and not adding further value to what already exists on the web. Nothing is worse than paying a writer to create original content and discovering that it is backwash.

Google says,

“Important: We do not consider legitimately licensed or syndicated content to be ‘copied’ (see here for more on web syndication). Examples of syndicated content in the U.S. include news articles by AP or Reuters. The word ‘copied’ refers to the practice of ‘scraping’ content, or copying content from other non-affiliated websites without adding any original content or value to users (see here for more information on copied or scraped content). If all or most of the MC on the page is copied, think about the purpose of the page. Why does the page exist? What value does the page have for users? Why should users look at the page with copied content instead of the original source?”

What You Can Do to Improve Content

Deliver what you promise for each keyword query you target. If you want to rank for the term “Arabian Horses for Sale” your page ought to have pictures and descriptions of several Arabian horses. You’ll want other websites to have great reviews from customers about your previous transactions. You should be registered and a thriving member of Arabian horse registries. Don’t let your content get off topic, but do make it be so rich that users will want to return and will recommend it to others. Make sure you spell check your work and don’t stuff the content with too many keywords.

We recommend reading the raters’ guidelines to learn more about how to improve the content of your website. You’ll find additional insight about what it means to have high quality content. ~Jean

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Filed under Algorithms, Branding, Business Strategy, Editors, Keywords, Reputation Management, SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

How “Tour the States” Was Made and Went Viral

In June 2014, Angie Seaman, E-Commerce Manager for Marbles: The Brain Store, shared with an IRCE video workshop audience how Marbles: The Brain Store’s Tour the States video was made and successfully went viral with over 2,760,519 hits and counting.

“That was basically a very low-tech solution to making a video.  We had the cartoonist actually come into the office, get a big white piece of paper, and he’s only holding a marker. It took him about a week to get the thing done and the video.  We were crossing our fingers the whole time that he wouldn’t make a mistake. We did have a couple things that we had to fix, but it wasn’t too bad and it took our video director about two weeks to edit all of the footage together and get it synced up with music.  It turned out great and was well worth it for us.”

As a parent who had to help a fifth grader memorize the states and capitals in the fall of 2013, I can tell you that there was nothing like it on You Tube at the time.  The song is catchy and it not only highlighted the states, but also the capitals in their locations, which was surprisingly unique for You Tube videos about states and capitals.  Marbles: The Brain Store found a need and fulfilled it for kids (and parents).

“It <the video> introduced The Brain Store as an authority on the product, which is important because these are people who don’t know our brand.  It makes customers more comfortable to transact with us and we’ve seen our conversion rate increase over time. Part of it has to do with video.”

To make a low-budget video, Seaman suggests budgeting time to experiment, picking a room with good acoustics, and finding talent who can do it all.  She says that you can get going with video for less than $1000.

“It took us a year and a half or so to really get everything.  We saw results right away, but our conversion rate has increased and actually doubled every year. Part of it has to do with other things we’re doing, but I think a lot of it has to do with video.”

From lighting and sound to editing and effects, how is your company using video this year?

~Jean at My Web Writers

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Filed under Capturing Audience, Conferences, Television Script Writing, Video Production, YouTube

Managing Brand-Consumer Relationships via Social Media, A Conversation with Miami University’s Dr. Glenn Platt

Image courtesy of @GlennPlatt

Social media relationships between brands and customers are connected to an important shift in marketing, putting word of mouth in the digital sphere and bringing brands into the conversation. According to Dr. Glenn Platt, professor of marketing and co-director of the Interactive Media Studies Program at Miami University, this change puts the focus on value and utility. He notes, “marketers are no longer in the job of selling the sizzle, but rather are about showing how there is value in that product. If you use this product it solves this problem. It makes your life better.” Social media helps facilitate that message by allowing customers and brands to connect with each other about that utility or value.

Developing the Relationship

Platt asserts that there are three important parts of a successful social media campaign—creating personal connections with the customer, showing them the utility of the product, and addressing customer service concerns. According to Platt, social media marketing is all about communicating what is best and most valuable about your brand in a way that connects with the customer’s life. “Your job is not to convince people that coffee cures cancer…Your job is to say ‘This is a really delicious cup of coffee.’ This is what it is and this is why it’s great” Platt says. “Marketers get kind of a bad rap for trying to convince people of things that are untrue, but for the social media marketer–that isn’t their job at all. Their job is to find the things that are most true about the brand and elevate them.”

A key facet of building the personal connection is addressing customer concerns. While there are plenty of stories about people who didn’t realize they were on their personal account and sent out inappropriate tweets, according to Platt, “Classic mistakes for social media marketers are not responding to your customers, responding poorly or defensively, not being authentic, or trying to mislead people.”

He says that social media has “almost become a 1-800 line for the brand” and in order to develop a strong relationship between customers and your brand, as well as a trustworthy presence in social media, it’s important to respond to your customers in a timely, helpful, and sincere manner.

Using the Right Platform

In addressing those customer concerns, not all platforms are equally useful. A visit to the Facebook page for the lifestyle subscription service Birchbox historically showed a litany of customer complaints and referral codes to a competing brand. While Birchbox didn’t delete any comments and quickly addressed them, their brand-related posts often have been overshadowed by complaints.

Platt suggests that Facebook is not a great platform for consumer-brand relationships because of the chronological nature of the site. In order to keep relevant posts fresher on the page, brands have to be selective about what gets posted: “Once you know that a company deletes Facebook posts you don’t trust them. It’s just game over. You can’t delete stuff, but you want to delete stuff.” He suggests that brands like Birchbox move customer concerns to a specific tab and publicly post that policy, as well as in a response to any posts not filtered under the tab function. A better move, however, would be to address customer service issues on Twitter. Platt notes that successful brands such as Best Buy and Comcast already have multiple Twitter accounts, some designated just for customer issues. “It’s not in their face, but it’s public, which is the important part,” he says. “You want people to say, ‘Look, I’m owning all my problems. I’m dealing with them. Here you can see I’ve solved problems and I’m not trying to push things under the rug.”

Connecting with Influencers

Aside from helpfully addressing customer concerns, to make the most of your efforts on social media, it is important to get the attention of influencers, the people who will help get your posts and your brand seen by more people. As explained by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, there are different types of influencers, too. The first type of influencer is an expert, someone who contacts and friends turn to for their expertise on a particular topic. The second type is a curator or maven, a person who finds and shares interesting products, articles, etc. and tends to accumulate a lot of information. The third kind of influencer is the connector, a people’s person who is good at connecting people to each other. For example, if you have a question, a connector might not know the answer, but probably knows someone who does and would send you his or her way.

Platt says that influencers can be identified through social media by looking at the ripple effects of posts and retweets, tracking how information spreads throughout a social network: “Some people look to social media influencers to see how large their networks are…People with more followers are probably going to have more influence than people with fewer followers.” An influencer can be a big name celebrity or expert or someone with a smaller, more local network, as long as their activity makes ripples in social media activity. Platt argues that while people with big social networks may have more reach, because there are anthropological studies that suggest that a community can only really have 150 members, it is important not to neglect influential people in smaller more local communities. For example, he points out that in his local community there is a Facebook group for mothers and certain members of that group have a lot of influence. When they post events or activities, their posts tend to have a big, tangible impact in the community.

There are a number of ways to get the attention of influencers on social media, from direct messages to sending samples or products. Because bloggers are required to disclose if they have been given a free product for review, however, Platt suggests that more subtle methods may be more effective. “People immediately are not going to trust it as much when they see that [free products were supplied],” he says, “even if it is an honest post.”

Instead, Platt thinks an effective method of getting influencers’ attention is communicating to them how your product or brand is valuable to them or their community: “The trick with influencers is to find those things that are true about your brand and find a way to get them in front of them. Like someone who’s an influencer in the mommy group here in Oxford, they genuinely would be grateful to know if there’s a kids eat free day at Bob Evans.[…]And so simply reach out and let them know that, finding ways to just make them aware, not pushing it, not making it look like you’re bribing them.”

The bottom line in creating a solid social media relationship is cultivating a trustworthy presence through honest answers to customer concerns and product marketing that meets customers where they are, showing how your product or page adds value to their experiences.  ~Kasey

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Filed under Facebook, Social Media, Twitter

How to Apply for Media Entry at Conferences and Events

Writers, did you know that you can scoop great industry stories at conferences just by asking conference coordinators for media passes?photo (20)

Visit Your Favorite Conference for the Price of a Story

In most cases, you’ll need to be a staff writer, videographer, or photographer for a credible news organization, blog, or online journal.  Even freelance writers selling stories to publications, magazines, or newspapers can qualify.

About IRCE Media Badges

Maura Bruton, Internet Retailer Press Assistant, says that you need to be a writer

“for a publication, as far as whether that’s a blog or whatever, we are looking for people who are coming to cover the show or the exhibitors.  Sometimes people are looking for a press badge in more of a sales capacity and those people do not get press badges.”

IRCE is a great show to cover topics in e-commerce, selling b-to-b, or technology. Bruton adds,

“There are a lot of stories here.  There are a lot of spokespeople, whether for companies, keynotes, speakers, or presenters.”

If the journalist asks for assistance, IRCE will provide images and arrange interviews with speakers.  Quite often speakers and companies hunt down the press at the show for free coverage.

photo (19)Credit, of course, must be given to the show and speakers for images, videos, and quotes.  IRCE offers a full-service press room during the show, coordination with speakers prior to the show, press releases, and a complimentary conference badge. The press can take pictures and videos, if speakers approve, but press tags must accompany cameras.  Online credit should be linked back to the IRCE website.

To apply for a press badge for an IRCE event, go to IRCE.com and contact the press coordinators.  They’ll review your application and get in contact with you. Bruton suggests looking at IR Events Group to find shows that fit your upcoming conference calendar.

The Perks of Writing

Even if technology isn’t your beat, many other conferences and events provide free entry to members of the press in exchange for your content creation and distribution.

Hey, you could even go to Disney World for two days on a Hopper Pass if you can prove that you write for a travel blog or are affiliated with an established news organization.  Live in New York?  Start planning your Macy’s Day parade coverage by applying for a New York press pass.

If you write for a living (or just for the fun of it), go find budding stories in your interest areas by attending conferences and special events.

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Filed under Audience, Conferences, Editors, Marketing, Reviews, Writing Careers, Writing Resources