As we stated in the post, Why the Recent Google Panda Update Means More Work for SEO Content Writers
, “The recent Google Panda update has sent webmasters, bloggers and online retailers into a tizzy. Many are scrambling to invest in SEO content now because their sites have lost rank and one of the main things Google tells site owners to invest in if they want to rank well is quality content.”
As this Google algorithm search change caused quite an uproar, the company has come out with a 23 question “test,” if you will, of what content should be on websites. The WebProNews.com article, Google Panda Update: New Advice Directly From Google, explains:
The company [Google] is careful to note that it’s not disclosing actual ranking signals used in its algorithms, but these  questions will help you “step into Google’s mindset.” These questions are things that Google says it asks itself as it writes algorithms.
SEO Copywriting: Google’s Content Writing Guidelines — Does the Copy You Create for Clients (and for Yourself) Pass the Search Giant’s 23-Question Test?
Here, we delve into these questions one by one, giving you a bit more insight to help you create better content for your clients (and for yourself) that will drive more traffic to your site – and drive it back up in rankings (if you lost rank when Google made its latest algorithm search change).
1. Would you trust the information presented in this article?
Remember, one of the main reasons for the Google Panda update is that searchers were complaining about articles from places like content farms – eHow, Helium, AssociatedContent, etc. — that ranked ahead of other, more trustworthy content.
For example, would you trust information about Level 4 brain cancer from a freelance writer on eHow with no credentials in the field?
2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
The reason trust is important on the web is because many sites try to “game the system,” creating content just to rank well.
And, the vast majority of it is not sourced (ie, backed up by research) and/or written by a credentialed professional, eg, a journalist or an expert on the topic.
3. Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
In this sense, Google is not referring to the duplicate content penalty (which is really not a penalty).
As discussed in Question 2, content created to “game the system,” will often be the same regurgitated content, just written using different keywords so that a site can rank well for different keyword phrases. Many niche sites cover a topic in depth, so the same subjects will be covered over and over again.
HOWEVER, they will be covered from different perspectives for various reasons (eg, a recent industry change, agreement/disagreement with another source, etc.).
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4. Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
Some sites inspire trust; others don’t. Sometimes there’s just something that sits in the pit of your stomach that makes you not trust a site. Content creation is a part of this. Is the info presented professionally, is it in depth or general, is it keyword stuffed, etc.?
This piggybacks on the next question, which is . . .
5. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
If a site is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, it makes it hard to trust the actual facts of the content.
While a misspelled word here and there happens perhaps more in web writing than print (because content tends to be presented in real time on the web), if an article is not professionally presented, eg, spell checked, fact checked, etc., it lowers the quality of the content.
Apparently, Google is paying attention to this now in ranking sites.
Editor Note: Learn How to Write SEO Copy That Sells
6. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
Niche it, niche it, niche it – as in, when a site is created by someone who has a genuine interest in a topic, this will be reflected in the content. It won’t be driven by keyword research, which goes back to sites created just to game the system (eg, made for AdSense (MFA) sites)).
What are Made for AdSense Sites?
Some scraper sites are created to make money by using advertising programs. In such cases, they are called “Made for AdSense” sites, or MFA. This derogatory term refers to websites that have no redeeming value except to lure visitors to the website for the sole purpose of clicking on advertisements. [Source: Wikipedia.com]
7. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
Many MFA sites use content created by $1 per 300-word SEO article writers that is just recycled information that can be found in a 30-second web search. In the old days, many of these sites would rank high – if they had the right keywords.
Apparently, no longer.
Google wants content that provides actual value to web searchers.
As an aside, can we get an “Amen!” to this!
8. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
See #7. And, ask yourself, how your content compares to what’s already out there. Practically no topic under the sun is new. If you’re going to write on a subject – even when 10,000 others have already done so — be sure to provide actual value by giving readers a different point of view, new/different insight, new/different research, etc.
This is what we surmise Google means by “substantial value.” In short, just remember not to recycle what’s already out there.
9. How much quality control is done on content?
Has the piece been researched, fact checked, spell checked, grammar checked, etc.?
One other non-obvious thing here – if the topic has been discussed on your blog/website before, does it contradict what was said before? If it does, an explanation should be given as to why.
It’s ok to change stance/position on a topic, but an explanation should be given to the end user (web surfer) as to why so they aren’t confused. This is another reason intra-site linking is one factor Google considers when ranking sites.
You see, when you write genuinely (eg, NOT based solely on keywords or to rank high in search engines), you’re bound to cover a topic from various angles. Hence, the need/opportunity to link out to other articles you’ve previously written.
10. Does the article describe both sides of a story?
Sites that have content created to sell something will often only tell one side of the story. While selling something (eg, affiliate products) is not a problem, remember, Google wants sites that provide “value” to the web surfers.
Full disclosure (telling both sides of the story) is part of presenting value.
As an aside, if you promote affiliate products on your website/blog, one of the best ways to do it is to write unbiased reviews. Tell the good and the bad about the product/service. Learn more about affiliate marketing in the “Affiliate Internet Marketing for Beginner’s Newsletter.”
11. Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
When you create value-based content, readers will share it with others as a matter of course. They’ll tweet it, share it with their friends on Facebook, discuss it in groups on LinkedIn, etc. All of this creates backlinks.
What are Backlinks?
Backlinks are simply when another site links back to your site. They drive traffic and position your site as an authority site. For a fuller explanation on why and how, read more about backlinks and the benefits of article marketing. [Source: Article Marketing Tutorial: How to Write a Resource Box That Increases Traffic & Generates Sales (Part III of III)]
12. Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
Here, we surmise that Google is trying to cut down on the power of content farms / content mills.
While sites with multiple authors are not a bad thing — sites deemed content mills have thousands of authors (aka content creators) – remember search engines want value-based content created by webmasters who are vested in (ie, passionate about) their niche.
If your site is about freelance writing, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to post content about it one day, then an article about tomato sauce the next day (unless you’re discussing how freelance writers can break into recipe writing).
13. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
See #’s 1, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
In-depth content takes time to create. It has to be researched, fact checked, spell checked, cross checked, etc. You can’t “hastily produce” quality content.
14. For a health-related query, would you trust information from this site?
We think this is as a result of content like the article mentioned in Question #1, which you can gain more insight from in the article, Demand Media CEO: Google Not Talking About Us.
Possible New Google Guidelines for Certain Content?
As an aside, could special requirements for certain content (eg, medical, legal) to rank well be far behind? For example, will sites have to certify that the content produced is by a licensed doctor, lawyer? If not, will a disclaimer have to be included (eg, “This content was not created by a licensed professional. Please do further research or consult a qualified professional in order to learn more.).
Hmmmm . . . just something to think about.
15. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
Certain sites are automatically trusted as authorities, eg, Komen.org for breast cancer; Realtor.com for real estate; SuzeOrman.com for financial advice.
This is because they are undisputed sources for dispensing content that can be trusted because it has been sourced, proofed, fact checked and created by credentialed professionals.
Your site can become one of these, but it takes time. Keep in mind when you write every post that you’re buliding a brand; one you want people to come to recognize as a trusted source of information.
16. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
Content created just to rank well may sometimes have a compelling headline to draw you in, but it doesn’t deliver on the promise of the headline. This can range from completely shallow content, to being totally off-topic altogether.
Don’t do this. While you may be able to draw visitors in that first time, they won’t be back. And, a good web business (any business) thrives on repeat visitors / repeat customers). So, deliver/over deliver on your topic; repeat visitors (and sales) will follow.
17. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
See #’s 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15 and 16.
18. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
This underscores the point of being an authority site (see #10), as opposed to one created just for AdSense (see #6).
19. Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
Again, see #6.
20. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
Here, what we deduce Google is after getting at is . . . is the article professional enough, trusted enough, fact-checked enough that it could appear in a trusted printed publication.
While there’s a lot of bad writing on the web, many blog and website owners consistently create in-depth, well-written content that could be a piece taken from The New York Times or Time magazine. It’s one of the reasons that blogging has matured, attaining “mainstream press/journalist” acceptance.
21. Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
While length is not the sole indicator of quality content, it is one – one that Google is paying attention to. In fact, some blogs/websites require short posts by the very nature of their subject matter (eg, a blog that posts stock updates) . . .
BUT in general, it is hard to give “helpful specific” insight in 50 or 100 words. This is why some internet marketing experts state that blog posts should be at least 400 words, with 500 or more becoming more the norm for many.
Gain more insight on this in 3 Things to Consider When Deciding How Long Your Blog Posts Should Be.
22. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
This obviously has to do with the quality of the content produced, which we’ve discussed ad nauseam here, but also the design – eg, have special graphics been created for a particular post, have web writing guidelines been observed, have multi-media features been included (eg, video, podcasts, etc.).
The bottom line is – has care, thought and “attention to detail” been given to the post. This requires time – something MFA and sites created JUST to rank well often lack.
23. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
If a user is searching for info on wedding dresses, yet when they click through your site is about gaming, they might be a bit peeved and report the site to Google as a spam site. Other reasons web surfers report sites range from phishing scams to hate material to porn to content theft to online scams.
Any and all of these can get a site banned from search engines.
Google Algorithm Search: What Do You Think of These “SEO Content Writing Guidelines?”
These 23 questions can be thought of as Google’s SEO content writing guidelines. Now that you know what it (and quite possibly other search engines) look for in content, take a look and see if yours measures up.
Are there more guidelines you can think of that should be added to this list? Do you think these guidelines are too restrictive or not strict enough? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
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