- Why Do We Write for Search?
- Copywriting Preparation
- Structuring Content for Search Engines
- Structuring Content for Audiences and Communities
- Google Search Quality Guidelines
- 1. E-A-T Rating (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness)
- 2. Main Content and Supplementary Content
- 3. YMYL Content (Your Money, Your Life pages)
- 4. Mobile Optimisation
- 5. Understanding User Intent
- 6. High and Low Page Quality Ratings
- 7. The Reputation of Website and Content Creator
- 8. Needs Met Rating Guidelines
Why Do We Write for Search?
The following quote, from Drew Fortin (HubSpot) offers a good way to understand how methods for content writing can be integral to an SEO strategy...
“Modern SEO strategy is the process of organising a website’s content by topic, which helps search engines like Google understand a user’s intent when searching. By optimising a web page around topics first, you can rank well for long-tailed keywords relating to that topic.”
The blog post containing this quote offers a useful oversight into SEO and writing for search, and should be read before proceeding:
As the HubSpot blog post shares, optimising content means that a certain amount of preparation has to take place before writing the first draft begins. Such preparation helps ensure the content will be properly and thoroughly optimised for search and is therefore responsive to the search terms people are using when searching online.
Sometimes, the topic for the content is already identified, for instance as part of a Content Gap Analysis. If this is the case, Tilious will have passed across the topic information in the content brief (either a top-level or individual content brief).
Sometimes the overall topic or angle may not have been identified, but relevant keywords to rank for have been researched. If the topic has not been identified or keywords not offered to help inspire the topic, then there are several ways to do so, and some tools online to help with this.
To identify keywords from scratch:
Make a list of about 10 words and phrases associated with the product or service.
Search these terms using Google’s Keyword Tool (this will require you to sign-in using your Google account credentials) or an alternative such as Ubersuggest. Use search volume and competition as the measure to narrow the lists generated, to provide 10 - 15 short-tail keywords which are important and relevant to the business. You won’t necessarily be using these keywords within the content, although these words are important pillar keywords. Pillar words offer relevant content topics, from which other clusters of long-tail keywords can be identified and perhaps used within the content.
For each pillar word, use the keyword tool to identify 5 - 10 long-tail keywords which offer wider relevance to the original topic keyword.
Another way to identify further relevant topics is to put each of your original keywords into a Google search page. Once the search results are returned, there may be two ways to identify additional topic ideas (depending on what Google is pulling onto the first page): Towards the top, there may be a People also ask section. This is a drop-down selection which expands indefinitely as searches start to click on the options. For example, in a search for what is copper sheet, the people also ask section shows these related search terms questions, which could be additional topic ideas:
You should also scroll down to the bottom of the page. There will be Searches related to… section which will include further search terms which have been used. This offers additional information about related topic choices which may suit the content you need to write. For example, in a search for copper splashback, the searches related to section shows these alternative search terms:
Topic clusters offer a way of linking related content. Linking content this way makes content searchable both by search engines (Google’s algorithm currently favours topic-based content) and by searchers as they can easily click-through to further information/related content within a website.
Being able to do this without going elsewhere increases visitor engagement with the website and supports their conversion to potential customers, as they explore the website more deeply and begin to access the products, services and brand messaging.
HubSpot recently overhauled the content of its own site to create topic cluster based content. Specialist, Leslie Ye sums up the method to use:
“When considering whether something should be called a pillar page or not, ask yourself this:
Would this page answer every question the reader who searched X keyword had? And, is it broad enough to be an umbrella for 20 - 30 posts?
A good sniff test here is - if you’re trying to get the page you’re working on to rank for a long-tail keyword, it’s not a pillar page.
If the page you’re working on explores a very narrow topic in great depth, it’s not a pillar page.
If the page you’re working on touches many aspects of a broad topic, it’s probably a pillar page.”
Following that advice, the topic for this Writing for Search article could offer an example of how this ‘looks’ in relation to creating pillar and cluster content using keywords and phrases:
If we assume some of the information in this document is to be recreated as onsite content, which responds to the topic (and search term) Writing for Search, then the main introduction to this content could feature as pillar content.
Each of the sub-headers from this procedure, plus many others, could be the starting point for topic cluster-content, using short and long-tailed keywords, as shown below:
Copywriting for Google
Copywriting for SEO
Structuring content - for search, for audiences
Content creation tools
The important thing to remember is that the value of content comes from identifying topics the website can rank competitively for, rather than from identifying and over-using individual keywords.
Keywords are still important for overall SEO strategy, but topics offer the umbrella under which a keyword strategy will operate.
The charts and background for this section come from a HubSpot article explaining Topic Clusters. For further reading on this topic, the article is linked below:
Before writing any content, access and review the keyword strategy.
Using Keywords in Content
From whichever source, assemble all the keywords that a page is targetting. These should all be relevant to the page content and should all share the same intent.
Identify what searchers are trying to achieve when they use those search terms (question phrases such as what, how, how long will help).
Create a skeleton layout for the content:
Subheadings to chunk body content
CTA or follow on in tail content
Draft copy, keeping the keywords in mind, but write naturally - don’t write ‘around’ the keywords.
Redraft by going back to the keyword list. Check and add the most crucial related terms, phrases and topics as relevant and natural to the content. If this is problematic, prioritise naturally flowing content. Remember that you can always assign keywords to subheadings, so that search engines can find them there.
Review the copy and craft a hook which will make audiences want to engage with, link to and share the content.
For further information about using keywords to write for SEO, visit Moz:
Structuring Content for Search Engines
The overall structure of a website can influence whether search engines can find it easily or not. However, structuring the overall content of a website so it can be found by search engines is beyond the scope of this Writing for Search article.
Instead, this section suggests ideas for the optimum structuring of text-based content created for individual pages, so that search engines can find it.
It’s useful to keep in mind that one thing both overall site structure and individual page structure optimisation have in common is that good structure means a good user experience, and a good user experience builds engagement with the content, site and brand. And of course the more audiences visit the site, the more it becomes ‘visible’ and credible to search engines.
Optimum page structure for content should include a combination of the following.
The purpose of headlines is to primarily capture the audience’s interest and attention (see later section). However, headlines also play an important part in helping search engines scan and designate the content.
Heads up about headlines:
Headlines and titles have a very specific job to do both for search and audiences simultaneously.
For search: titles and headlines should be 50 - 60 characters long, including spaces, and should include a focus keyword.
For audiences: titles and headlines should clearly tell the audience what they’re going to learn, in a way which captures attention and interest. Further information on this in the Structuring Content for Audiences section.
The CoSchedule Headline Analyser is a useful tool to support headline writing which is responsive to the needs of search and audiences.
Originally used in journalism, but now recommended for online content copywriting, the inverted pyramid structure helps to make text scannable both by audiences and search engines. This structure also offers a way to create focused content which can help audiences engage with the brand, message and intention from the content.
This structure is particularly useful for creating content which provides answers for audiences - both ones they have searched for (search intent), and the ones they possibly didn’t realise they needed to know (sub-questions).
The lead: gives the main essentials and satisfactory answer to anyone skimming the content. A focus keyword should be included where it fits naturally.
The body: contains important detail and some contextual information. This increases the audience’s understanding and engages them with the overall content/message/brand.
The tail: offers relevant context to support understanding and to offer next steps.
In copywriting for search, this structure is broken down further so it can specifically relate to search queries, for example in featured snippets, as illustrated below:
For further information and examples of using the inverted pyramid structure in writing for search, visit Moz.
Content structured with answers to questions is more likely to be included directly in search results. This type of content is also popular, as audiences increasingly search with the answers to specific questions in mind.
Suggested ways to structure content for SEO, using questions:
Include a questions section (for example FAQ section) at the top of pages or within the introduction section of a piece of content.
Pay attention to keywords - add these naturally in the questions being asked within the content.
Pay attention to the people also ask section in Google search result pages, to inspire relevant topics and questions to answer (see Keywords section).
Mirror the audience’s language when writing the question, so that the content is specifically responsive to the search query and audience demographic.
Use jump links (also called anchor links) in a table of contents so that audiences can click on the question and be taken straight to the section of content which answers it (see Jump Links section below).
Jump links support Q&A content by taking the audience to headings on the same page, where the content answers the specific question.
Jump links support writing for search engines, particularly for pages which are already ranking in Google for related searches. Jump links offer a way of refreshing content with a new look, purpose and direction but without starting over with a new blank page.
This content was structured to specifically answer questions customers’ frequently asked.
Each question (shown in blue) offers a jump link to further down the page, direct to the content which answers the question.
Whatever the type of content, each page jump has two sections - link and target text. In the context of Q&A jumps, it can be helpful to think of these two sections as follows:
The link is the question which is included at the top of the page, typically in a list or table of contents.
The target is the answer, the section of content (which may repeat the question as a subheading) but appears further down the page.
This step-by-step instruction assumes that:
The main content, including the questions, has been written. It’s always advisable to draft the content first, then add the coding afterwards.
The content exists as a draft (or live article) in WordPress. (i.e. it has been uploaded to the website).
To set up the jump links, you must be working in the Text Editor view of the WordPress post/page or page module. To do this, select the tab labelled either Text or HTML directly above the right edge of the editing area.
Target text: the code to indicate target text is written like this:
<p id=”unique-identifier”>I am the target text</p>
In the code above, the section I am the target text should be edited to act as the label for the specific target. The id=”unique-identifier” should be different for each target you create.
Check there are no spaces in your IDs, use a hyphen as shown in the example, as needed.
Link: the code to create the link in the text editor is:
<a href=”#unique-identifier”>I am the target text</a>
The unique identifier should match/pair with the id set up in the target text. Don’t forget the #
It can sometimes be helpful to set up the jump link target a little higher in the page, so that the jump takes the user to just above any titles or lead in text, rather than straight in amongst it.
It can also be helpful to create an invisible target at the top of the post or page, which has top as its ID. This can be helpful for allowing readers to return to the other questions at the top of the page. To do this, use the Text Editor tab and add the following above all of the other HTML:
Notice that there is no target text between >< this is what makes the target invisible. Alternatively, you could set up an ID for the page heading or introduction section heading, so that readers click back up to that section, for example by using:
Target text: <h1 id=”top”>Page Heading</h1> Link: <a href=”#top”>top</a>
Further how-to and step-by-step information on setting up jump links can be found at:
WordPress (text instruction) - includes additional information on using the insert/edit link button for creating jump links quickly within WordPress.
YouTube (video demonstration).
HubSpot (how-to guide).
When Google shows website content in search results, it often uses the title tag and meta description from the page. These items are known as Meta Content.
Using keywords in meta content helps to increase relevance for online search. Google shows users the relevance of the search result, in relation to the keywords used for the search, by showing the keywords in bold in the results.
The example shown below, for the search term meta description demonstrates how Google highlights the words as they appear in the search results:
Meta content is the first point of contact that searchers will have with the website content and should be written in a way which responds to both search and user-intent. Both title tag and meta description should be optimised to inform and engage users enough for them to click-through to the main content.
Title tags should follow these rules:
They should describe the content of the page accurately and succinctly. Leading with the primary topic of the page.
They should include a primary keyword or phrase that the target audience is using to find the page.
They should include key selling points, where applicable, after the primary keyword or phrase.
They should not exceed the maximum pixel width allowed within Google, which can be tested with the snippet optimisation tool referenced below.
This roughly translates to between 60 and 70 characters.
They should include the brand name.
They should be unique to the website.
Meta descriptions should follow these rules:
They should summarise the content of the page as best possible.
They should include keywords that the target audience are using to try and find content on the page.
They should include at least one call-to-action (CTA) or unique selling point (USP) to encourage users to click on the listing.
They should not exceed 156 characters, which can be tested with the snippet optimisation tool referenced below.
Some meta descriptions can be longer than 156 characters so short additional selling points can be appended to a meta description as these might be displayed.
Include punctuation around 130 characters to ensure mobile descriptions remain coherent and understandable when truncated for mobile search results.
They should be unique to the website.
Note: All title tags and meta descriptions can be tested using the following snippet optimisation tool to ensure they will be displayed correctly within Google’s search results:
This tool provides a coloured bar underneath the title tag and meta description input fields, which changes colour based on the length of the content entered.
Featured snippets are the boxes which appear at the top of some Google search result pages, below the paid ads but above the ranked #1 position. Because of this ‘top’ position, they offer greater potential for a click-through from audiences who don’t want to waste time scrolling and searching, particularly on mobile devices.
Google only look at answers which rank on page 1 of the search results (positions #1 - #10) to pull in content for featured snippets, as shown below:
Featured snippets are often the default response for searchers who are using voice-search, as often these featured snippets are used in reply to “OK, Google...” searches.
So optimising and writing content which becomes a featured snippet is not only very useful, it’s also a way of getting ahead of the game as writing for search becomes much more about responding to the rising trend of mobile and voice-activated searches.
“We display featured snippets in search when we believe this format will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description and when they click on the link to read the page itself. It’s especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.”
Featured snippets appear in three ways:
Paragraph featured snippet - a paragraph formatted answer to the search query.
List featured snippet - a bullet or numbered list which answers the search query (often in response to process-driven and list enquiries, for example recipes and in the screenshot example above).
Table featured snippet - less commonly, Google pulls a table into a featured snippet.
To increase the likelihood of content written for search being used as a featured snippet, it’s important to be attentive to:
The type of questions being asked in search.
The answers people are actually looking for when they perform a search.
Ways of formatting content with featured snippets in mind. This includes:-
Chunking content to include lists, paragraphs and bullet points.
Use subheadings to describe/introduce different paragraphs.
If the content’s aim is to provide tips and tactics, structure the whole piece as a list, to make it easily comprehensible for users and search engines.
Whilst there are some specialist paid tools online, there are ways to increase potential for appearing in a featured snippet by creating content which follows a few general rules:
If you are updating content, target keyword terms where your existing content already ranks on the first page of results.
Repeat the search query question (or implicit question) clearly and prominently in the page content.
Provide a short and direct answer as a lead into the content (remember the inverted pyramid).
Then answer the question as fully as possible (remember the inverted pyramid).
Remember relevance and remove any off-topic information.
For follow-up reading and a more in-depth look at featured snippets, read this article from Stephan Spencer:
Or this article by Moz:
Structuring Content for Audiences and Communities
When writing for search, it can help to think of audiences and communities rather than readers: readers can have a more passive connotation, whereas audiences respond and engage, whilst communities respond, engage and share.
People consume online content in many different ways, including through mobile devices and through verbal/auditory sources such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
When structuring content for audiences, all of the guidance in the Structuring Content for Search Engines section can and should be followed, but along with additional tweaks to help the content additionally appeal to audiences:
There are several ways to structure headlines for maximum impact on audiences. When devising a headline, ensure that the structure chosen is relative to the type of content being written.
Headline types examples:
These examples use bedding as the topic:
Direct: 100% Off Bedding for the Spring [direct headlines require product information].
Indirect: Put the ‘Sleep Test’ to Bed.
News: The Latest in Memory Foam Pillows.
How to: How to Make a Bed the Easy Way.
Command: Get the Good Night’s Sleep You’ve Been Dreaming Of.
Reason why: Five Reasons Your Bed is Ruining Your Sleep.
Testimonial: Parents Say Bedtime is the Best Part of the Day.
Question: Are You Getting Enough Sleep?
Note: Question and testimonial headlines take a more conversational tone/approach which is usually mirrored across the copy. Questions also support optimisation in response to voice-search queries.
Subheadings support skim reading. Subheadings which include keywords also help add meaning and purpose to content. Subheadings also support audiences in being able to absorb and remember elements from a first, quick scan of the content.
Content chunking is a way of breaking down large blocks of text, so that audiences can easily scan through them. It is also a way of helping to organise the hierarchy of information in a way which is logical for readers, relevant in response to the ‘question’ the text may be answering, and objective for the purpose of the text.
Chunking is also a revision technique, so chunking content is a strategy for helping make content more memorable for audiences.
How to chunk content:
Break content into sections that have no more than 2 points in each.
Give each section a subheading.
Make only one main point in each paragraph, and keep paragraphs short and clear.
Include the main point early in the paragraph and close the paragraph with something you want the reader to pay attention to or remember.
Use numbered lists to help chunk content.
Bullet points also help audiences to scan through content.
Highlight any important statements with bold or italics.
Read the draft content out loud to ensure it flows sensibly for a reader.
If the content type involves longer sections of text (for example, a white paper) include a short summary paragraph.
Further reading: For a more in-depth look at the psychology behind chunking content, and information on chunking multimedia content, there is a useful article from the Nielsen Norman Group.
When it comes to audiences, whilst the structure of content for audiences is important for search (and the way search engines recognise ‘authority’ sites) the quality of the content is also equally important in two distinct ways:
In supporting success in search results.
In supporting audiences in recognising the authority and purpose of the website, so that they engage fully with the content.
In particular, the Google Search Quality Guidelines describe how Google’s algorithm ascertains the quality of content in relation to a specific E-A-T rating:
The relevance for writers is that all of this depends on high quality content - and who is writing it (or credited with writing it). Key perspectives to focus on when creating high quality content include:
Make it credible.
Make it informative.
Make it persuasive.
Make it customer-centric.
Boost readability at every opportunity.
Make it Credible
Creating credible content means demonstrating the expertise of the author and the thinking behind the content.
For onsite content, this means including a fully up to date ‘About’ page and providing a short author bio for all contributors.
For offsite content, this means providing an author bio which demonstrates to searchers and audiences that the content is providing the highest quality information.
For instance, a short author bio at the end of an article can be used to highlight the author’s credentials and connection to the topic.
Make it Informative
There are steps to take when creating content, to help ensure it is optimised for both search and user intent, i.e. responsive to the request for information the user is likely to have used, and the reasons behind it.
Ways to ensure that content is informative include:
Using keywords - this is where your copywriting preparation is essential. Look at the variety of phrases searched and include how to, what is, ways to etc. Brainstorm content which directly responds to these longtail keyword phrases.
Headlines - devise headlines which inform audiences that they’ve come to the right place. Use keywords and varied headline structures to support audiences to engage and to recognise the authority behind the content.
Use a pillar content structure - if the topic is wide, don’t try to cram it all into one long-form page (unless that’s part of the brief). Brainstorm the topic and create informative pillar and cluster content around the topic.
Make it Persuasive
To create authoritative content, remember that persuasion isn’t directly about what you want the audience to know about the topic, it’s about what the audience wants to know and persuading them that they have come to the right place.
Once they have engaged with the content (and the brand) they are then open to persuasive calls to action. Content which attempts to persuade audiences the other way around is likely to alienate, rather than engage website visitors.
Ways to ensure that content is subtly persuasive include:
Not all of these will be relevant to every type of copy (for example informative copy may have less USP elements than promotional copy). However, elements could still be used to support points being made.
Using testimonials - using a testimonial - words and accolades from a third party - rather than straightforward copy to answer the question the user has asked can be a powerful way to persuade the audience that
(a) they are in the right place.
(b) that the brand has authority in this niche.
Testimonial sources can include customers, industry bodies and professional peers or colleagues.
Using quotes - similarly, using quotes from industry bodies, other publications, news sources which back up information being given and answers being presented in the copy can be persuasive of authority, as it shows shared thinking and recognition of shared situations/issues/concerns.
Use author profiles - this may not suit every copywriting task, but even if the copy is being ghost-written for a brand, having an ‘author’ bio alongside the copy can persuade the reader of the perceived authority of the brand. This can support the brand’s overall authority status whether the content is published onsite or offsite.
Unique Selling Point (USP) - reminders about the brand’s USP can be persuasive, but again the way this is written should come from the perspective of how this USP will benefit the audience.
Brainstorm the features of the products/services on offer, which could be considered as USPs.
Identify which are the most important and what benefits they offer to those who are using them - convenience, time-saving, etc.
Ensure that the copy talks more about the benefits than the actual products/services. If these benefits can be backed up with testimonials (mentioned above) then the content becomes even more persuasive.
Use these benefits, rather than the actual product as the USP. The closer the benefit comes to solving the problem/answering the question the user was searching for, the more persuasive the copy will be in reassuring the user that (a) they are in the right place and (b) the brand has authority in this niche.
Call to Action (CTA) - Text, messages and images which prompt an immediate response or action are known as a Call to Action. CTAs encourage audiences to move along to the next step which could be:
Viewing additional content.
Signing up to a newsletter.
Accessing a download.
Making a purchase.
Basic guidance for writing CTAs:
Use a strong command verb to start the CTA.
Be clear and concise about the action the user should take.
Use words which provoke emotion, enthusiasm and interest.
Give the audience a reason to take the desired action (this might relate to benefits they’d receive, or a time-limit on the offer).
Use numbers and statistics as quick reminders of potential.
For a more in-depth look at the different types of CTAs and how they work, read this blog post from HubSpot:
Make it Customer-centric
The perceived authority of a website can be supported by creating content which is not only high-quality and relevant for search (and search engines) but also high-quality and relevant for site visitors.
Specifically, considering the demographic of the audience and targeting elements of the copy towards them, their concerns, questions and reasons for being there, can be beneficial to authority perception, engagement and ultimately sales and growth.
Ways to make content customer-centric:
The following suggestions assume that dedicated customer profiles are not available, and provide useful guidelines for writing copy which responds to elements of search, authority and customer-focus:
Use metrics - look at previous content to identify which pieces have performed well. This can inform on the type of content (and audiences to focus on) going forwards.
Create content which solves challenges - writing copy which responds to this specific user and their search intent demonstrates that the brand recognises the customer challenges and can be an authority which helps provide solutions.
Mirror customers’ language - looking specifically at the language being used in search provides insight into word choice and phrasing which could be used in copywriting to heighten a customer-centric experience and become a brand which ‘speaks my language’ for a customer. *This aspect is also true for word choices used in meta content*
Create high-quality content - use research and statistics to create concisely detailed, well presented content. Focus on one demographic at a time if necessary so that the content reflects the brand’s authority for each particular demographic of the audience.
Prioritise the content (and user intent) over sales - i.e. use persuasive techniques cautiously. If the copy is meant to be an information or discussion piece, rather than a promotional or sales piece or landing page, then focus on the content not the potential sale. CTAs can be added as a by-the-way if you want to know more method at the end of the copy, rather than interrupting the main copy itself. The overall focus of the copy is the customer and their engagement rather than direct and immediate conversion. This is how overall authority can be built up. Too much promotional content makes audiences skeptical and authority can be easily lost.
Consider value - everything which is published on behalf of the brand should provide significant value, to potential audiences and to the business. Ask questions of the value being delivered by the copy during the drafting and editing processes.
All of the methods outlined in the Structuring Content for Search Engines section are extremely relevant to providing high-quality, readable content which reflects authority and elicits engagement from audiences.
Essential elements to boost readability:
Use inverted pyramid structure.
Chunk content logically in relation to user intent.
Use shorter sentences.
Reduce jargon, acronyms, cliches and “insider” words.
Use an active voice.
Simplify complex points.
Stay on point - if the topic is complex, start with a pillar and cluster the other content around it.
Check the readability score and make sure it is relevant and accessible to the target demographic.
For more in-depth information about E-A-T, read this article by Marie Haynes:
For additional insights into the E-A-T backdrop and ways to write content which responds positively to E-A-T, read this article by CoSchedule:
Google Search Quality Guidelines
No guidance on writing for search would be complete without reference to Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines.
The guidelines relate to what Google feels searchers are looking for and want to find from their web search. Broadly, the guidelines explain the criteria used by the Google search quality team to evaluate the quality of the sites which are returned in the search results.
Knowing what the team use to evaluate sites as good, bad or moderate can help to inform on content and layout, in order to help avoid falling into the ‘bad’ side of Google.
Essentially, the guidelines offer 8 important points for content writers to be aware of, when creating content with SEO in mind.
1. E-A-T Rating (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness)
Google measures whether content being published is of high-quality using the E-A-T rating criteria:
Expertise - how knowledgeable is the site owner on the subject? Expertise is based on familiarity and personal experience with [the topic]. Find ways to include credentials, accreditations, membership of industry or sector groups, expertise within content.
Authoritativeness - how credible is the website? Authoritativeness is based on knowledge and position as recognised by other sources. Create content which is clear, concise and easily understandable. Include acknowledgements and case studies as appropriate.
Trustworthiness - how trustworthy is the website? The content should demonstrate to users that they can trust the page (and website, brand). Make policies accessible, add transparency to any content related to fees or payments.
2. Main Content and Supplementary Content
Google’s definition of Main Content (MC):
“Any part of the page that directly helps the page achieve its purpose.”
The guide also states:
“The quality of the MC is one of the most important considerations in Page Quality rating and informs the E-A-T of the page.”
The MC should adequately satisfy the user’s query (should respond to the search term) with a satisfying amount of high quality MC.
MC can take the form of text, images, videos, page features or user-generated content such as reviews. MC should be:
Clear and easy to determine
Accurate and comprehensive
Created with a significant amount of at least one of the following:
Supplementary content (SC)
Google’s definition of Supplementary Content (SC):
“Any content that assists the MC in achieving its purpose.”
SC needs careful thought as it tends to either:
Help a page better achieve its purpose.
Reduce the quality of the overall experience, by interfering with the main content.
Navigation links offer a common form of supplementary content. According to Google, such links could include:
Links to related content
Features to support shopping, such as similar products etc.
3. YMYL Content (Your Money, Your Life pages)
Your Money and Your Life pages are specific Google terms which relate to websites which could potentially have a negative impact on users, in that they may “affect a user’s physical and mental health or their financial well-being.”
It’s essential that any business which falls into the YMYL category maintains high-quality content. Types of businesses affected include:
Others - broad social topics such as child adoption, car safety etc.
Any website which Google designated as YMYL which fails to deliver high-quality information will find they do not appear prominently within search results.
If in doubt whether websites and page topics are (or could be) YMYL, treat them as if they are and ensure that content is of the highest quality (look again and action E-A-T criteria).
4. Mobile Optimisation
Google has a focus on mobile-friendly websites and has allocated 1/4 of its quality rating document to mobile search.
Sites which are not mobile-friendly have a much lower chance of ranking well, so high-quality content isn’t enough. The first step is to ensure the website is mobile-friendly.
Understand the needs of mobile users:
They work in the ‘now’ and want to complete their tasks quickly and conveniently. Results should satisfy the user’s need for information and supply it quickly.
They frequently use voice search. Pages should be optimised to satisfy abbreviated and voice-queries.
Searches are often very specific. Metadata should be used to full potential.
They need to move on quickly. Ensure design is mobile-friendly, with icons large enough for human fingers to navigate.
5. Understanding User Intent
The guidelines subdivide user queries as follows:
Know query: The user is searching to know more about something which is not too complex, or has a limited amount of potential answers. E.g. many controversial topics are know queries because there are differing opinions. Example know queries: [Justin Timberlake], [Batman].
Know simple query: The user is searching a question which needs a specific answer and would fit in 1 or 2 sentences or short list. Example know simple queries: [Justin Timberlake Age], [Batman Release Date].
Do query: The user has a goal or activity they want to achieve. Examples from Google’s Search Quality Guidelines:
Device action query: A device action query is a specific type of Do query, where the user instructs the device so they can take an action, such as open an app, send a text, view an image. Examples from Google’s Search Quality Guidelines:
Results for this type of query are highly personalised to the user, as the query contains a clear action word and intent.
Website query: When the user is looking for a particular website or page, this is a website query. The user may or may not use the whole URL. If the user does not use the whole URL, for example types or says YouTube, this is known as an imperfect URL query.
Visit-in-person query: This query is made by a user looking for a specific business or organisation, using terms which suggest they are likely to be making a physical visit to the location. Example from Google’s Search Quality Guidelines:
6. High and Low Page Quality Ratings
Google’s focus and public understanding is that having a quality page that delivers true value is essential to excel within organic search results. Google rates high and low quality pages in the following way.
High quality pages:
Websites/pages which have a true beneficial purpose to deliver specific value to its visitors. The better the user-experience and the usefulness a website provides to visitors, the higher the page quality will be rated.
High quality pages include high quality main content. High quality MC is factually accurate for the topic; it may be supported by expert consensus. Page features and functionality also fulfil the needs of the topic.
Refer to E-A-T. Google trusts a site when its users trust it. It’s vital to have clear and satisfying website information, as well as information of the person who is responsible for the website, to help users feel comfortable and to sense honesty and transparency from the brand, website and site owner reputation.
Low quality pages:
A low quality website/page may have a true beneficial purpose but be failing to achieve this or to deliver specific value to its visitors.
An inadequate level of E-A-T.
The quality of the main content is low.
In the context of the purpose of the page, the amount of main content is unsatisfactory or doesn’t fit the page purpose.
The page title is bad or irrelevant.
Ads and supplementary content distract from the main content.
The general website information and information on the person responsible for the site is unsatisfactory.
Negative reputation of a website or reputation of site owner.
7. The Reputation of Website and Content Creator
Google now looks at both the reputation of the website and of the creator of the main content, if applicable.
According to Google, the reputable external sources which provide independent reputation information about the website or creator may include:
Ratings from independent organisations
Customer reviews *but Google raters are advised to try to find as many reviews as possible when interpreting them.*
When there’s only one creator for the website and content, creating a short bio and then a link to a full author page which includes information such as credentials and experience can be an added advantage. If there are several creators involved, this can be more difficult but ensuring a high quality team page may help.
8. Needs Met Rating Guidelines
Google search quality raters are asked to evaluate how helpful and satisfying the result a website returns for mobile users is, which will be rated as follows:
This rating helps Google to understand how search queries are related to user intent, and how helpful the search results are to them, so that they can improve their own service.
For instance, if the search results for a certain query brings up only low-quality Fails to Meet pages, Google would need to work on delivering better, more relevant results for that query.
From a content perspective, ensuring the content is able to answer the search queries in ways which are relevant and useful is essential. Getting a large amount of traffic but a high bounce rate can be a sign that content needs to be looked at more carefully.
In-depth reading: The full guidelines, Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines, last updated May 2019, is around 166 pages long. It’s not essential to read it all, but it may be useful to look at some of the examples and explanations given as to what ‘good’, ‘moderate’ and ‘bad’ ratings look like to Google.