Google’s SEO Starter guide states that compelling and useful content is highly important, more than most other traditional ranking factors. Because getting content right is so important for ranking, I asked Jeff Coyle, the co-founder and Chief Product officer of MarketMuse.com if he had any insights.
He shared a view from the perspective of the content strategy employed by the winners and losers.
MarketMuse is an AI-powered Content Strategy and Intelligence Platform. Understanding what kinds of content ranks well is a topic Jeff is expert in.
Jeff offered four insights from the data he collected about the kind of content strategies that were affected by the recent Google core algorithm update. Then he had three actionable suggestions for improving a site.
Useful Content is a Key Factor for Ranking in Google
Google’s SEO starter guide discusses site navigation, headings (H1, H2) and other traditional SEO factors. Those are for communicating what your page is about.
But out of everything discussed, Google singles out useful content as by far the most important.
“Make your site interesting and useful
Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means.”
Compelling and useful content attracts more enthusiasm which leads to the signals that demonstrate that users want to see your site in the search results, which is a hallmark of relevance.
A sign of success is when people independently discuss your content on forums and social media. That’s when links and other ranking related signals begin to happen. THIS is the pragmatic reason why usefulness wins.
Simply talking about “quality” is shallow. It’s more helpful, in my opinion, to approach the ranking problem from the point of view of usefulness.
So it makes sense that content should be updated to meet the needs of users, whose own needs continue to change.
Four Insights About Content and the March 2019 Google Update
Jeff analyzed the search engine results pages for trends that might indicate how Google was interacting with content. He discovered four interesting insights.
1. Sites that Changed Domains
Jeff noted that a great many sites that had split their sites into multiple sites then relaunched were heavily hit by the latest algorithm update.
The typical situation is when a publisher has a site for a long time and it started to drop. The publisher response to that situation was to break the old site into multiple sites.
In a conversation about this, Jeff observed that this strategy had worked for the last 18 months but that it now looks as if time may be catching up with them.
Here is what Jeff said about these sites:
“Publishers that have engineered their sites and relaunched them after having a negative historical drop and done so by changing domains and relaunching same or similar content had significant flux.”
2. Long Form Lists
Jeff noticed there was a lot of flux in SERPs containing pages with long form lists. Long form lists are pages with topics like 101 Reasons to Leave California and Move to Arizona.
He couldn’t reach a firm decision on what exactly was causing the ranking changes both up and down. He suspected that, for some sites that trended upwards, although the user experience was poor, that maybe off page factors like links and authority signals were saving them from dropping off.
Here’s what he said:
“There’s something connected to long-form lists existing in a result set with other long-form lists, but, we haven’t drawn conclusions
Basically there’s a lot of flux when there’s multiple of those in play.”
3. Lower Quality Content
Jeff also noticed a pattern with low quality content that hadn’t been updated were hit hard.
“Lower quality content that has historically performed above expectations, hasn’t been updated, and that lives on sites/networks with lower than expected publishing patterns was impacted dramatically.”
4. Sites with an Active Publishing Schedule
Sites that tended to have an active publishing schedule were able to ride out the update better than others. The reason for this could be that their active publishing schedule might encourage signals of interest from users. Sites that are popular tend to be actively publishing content.
So although these kinds of sites did well, the reason why may not be solely from publishing more content alone.
If I were to speculate, I’d say that publishing quality content on a regular basis that users enjoy and link to is a good strategy that helped sites stay relevant.
Here is what Jeff said:
“Sites with a heavy focus on updating content and steady content creation were less likely to decline (small samples)”
Advice for Publishers:
Jeff had three pieces of advice for publishers:
1. Content Creation needs to be in tandem with Content Updating/Optimization – If you don’t have a consistent methodology and strategy for prioritizing content updates or you cannot execute promptly you are in a risky spot
2. Updating only — without creation against the topics where you hold authority is a risky strategy
3. Low-quality content that has performed well is at risk more when the site is standing still overall or on the topics covered by that content.
Content quality is an important factor for Google. Scientific research papers as well as patents published by Google hint that understanding content and search queries are important areas for updating within Google’s algorithms.
Nobody outside of Google can say whether content quality is a factor in the March 2019 Algorithm Update. However, Jeff’s advice for creating content is sound and worthy of consideration of incorporation into any content strategy.