What is Quality?
Since the Google Panda update, aka Farmer update, I've received numerous queries asking what constitutes quality content. The actual questions are pretty diverse:
- What is good content? What is poor content?
- What makes one article better than another?
- Is link bait the same as good content?
- Does how I launch an article affect its quality?
- Give me a formula for making stories go viral?
I've always gotten questions like these. The difference is that, because of Panda, now everyone wants more precise answers. They want consultants to pin down
quality once and for all.
I've struggled with this. It's like throwing darts in an earthquake. I can teach you the rules. I can show you the proper stance. What I cannot do is stop the
ground shaking beneath your feet. Quality varies depending on your audience, your popularity and where you publish.
But, you did not come here for excuses. You want an answer. Alright then, I think I can help with the assistance Mr. Analogy.
Online, Content Is Like Golf
Yep, there is my gem of wisdom. Content is like golf. Before you head for the exit let me explain.
Popularity affects the perception of quality. When written by a beloved author an article will more likely be perceived as having higher quality than the exact
same story if written by a lesser known or unknown person. That perception of quality influences or determines the number of tweets, links and mentions the article
receives, which in turn influences whatever quality score search engines chose to give to the content. So, we can say,
In golf each hole is different. Some are par three, some are par four and a few are par five. In theory a par player should average three swings on a par three,
four swings on a par four and five swings on a par five. If you have watched an LPGA or PGA tournament, though, you know that professional players are
more likely to make birdies on the par fives than on the par threes and fours.
That is because they can hit the ball farther than most down the long fairways, and with a high level of accuracy. The pros have an edge.
Now that we have established the fact that it is far easier for Neil Gaiman to get respect from Google and Bing!
than it is for you or me, let's use golf to score content.
Bogey == Low Quality Content
In golf a bogey means that it took an extra swing above par to drop the ball in the hole. If your article titled How to Skateboard begins with, Step
1 – Buy a skateboard, chances are you're writing low quality content. If you are writing just to achieve a word count you're writing low quality content. If
you are not an expert and do no research chances are you're writing low quality content.
In golf you can also make a double bogey or two shots over par. In this situation a double bogey is wretched, foul content.
Par == Average Quality Content
In golf, making par is to take the allotted number of swings to pocket a shot and no more. When I write Average Quality what I really mean is the majority
of all web content. A bell curve is a good way to picture this. Everything above the mean is above average quality. Everything below the mean is below average quality.
Within a normal distribution all content that possesses a quality score within one standard deviation of the mean or average is considered par or average quality
content. For the record, I am not saying that quality in web content follows a normal distribution. I am only suggesting that this makes it easier to imagine what
par quality content is and that most content is of average quality. Just because another site has lower quality content than yours does not make theirs below average.
A well written article that receives no links or only a few is par quality. A brief article on a respected site might be scored as having average quality. An
incredible article on a site with little authority may fall into the par quality range too.
Ultimately quality is determined by a quantitative score assigned to a document by the search engine. Parts of the scoring formula can include the number of
words, natural language recognition algorithms, links from other websites, Facebook mentions, Twitter links and anything else that can get turned into a number.
So, if you are worried that the search engines think your content is low quality or if you wonder why the search engines do not reward your excellently written
articles more and higher rankings, chances are good that a quantitative assessment of your documents falls within the wide-middle of the bell curve.
Birdie == Above Average Content
A birdie is one shot below par. That's good, but what makes this content above average? It can be many things. Earlier I wrote Watching
Seth Godin publish a blog post is like watching Phil Mickelson
golf a par 5 hole. While most of Seth's post are brief 200 word thought explosions, almost everything Seth writes will rank for something. As a website his
blog gets an incredible amount of trust and authority from Google and Bing!. He has thousands of RSS subscribers. His posts regularly receive between 600 tweets
and 1,500 tweets. Seth's link acquisition rate is faster than my pulse. This is why Google thinks Seth Godin's daily blurb is better than this long, well thought-out
article that you are reading now.
In web publishing terms, above average content is usually content that gets noticed.
- Remarkable Content – Well written content worth a few links and tweets among friends. (While I'm putting this here, remarkable content on an average
site is more likely to be considered as average quality content by a search engine.)
- Link Bait – Lots of links, tweets and likes among your extended circle of influence. When an article becomes link bait it becomes above average because
people are sharing it. That tells the search engines that it's worthwhile.
Birdie content is High Quality Content.
Eagle == Way Above Average Content
Eagle content is viral content. By viral I mean that its popularity takes on a life of its own. It's like when a country hit crosses over into Hot 100 dance
singles. You cannot plan nor prepare for it. Great golfers rarely make eagles, two shots less than par. When they do luck is always involved.
Any content can become eagle content or way above average quality. It does not have to be the best researched, best written, most trusted writing either. Yes,
skilled writing and a popular website can make going viral easier, still, the transformation from popular to out of the ballpark viral is out of any one person's
Rebecca Black's Friday is eagle content.