Useful Content and Google: how to create SEO effective texts
SEO is constantly evolving, we know this, and in addition to technical aspects and general page optimizations, it is more necessary than ever to pay attention to content, which is one of the first elements that Google’s algorithms analyze and evaluate for ranking purposes. And if until recently the expression “quality content” was enough to encapsulate the direction to be pursued in order to hope for success (albeit in the ambiguity and polyvalence of the term quality), today there is another adjective that has become central, namely useful, especially after the introduction of Helpful Content system. So let’s look at what useful content means to Google and how we can try to direct our writing processes to achieve the desired results.
Google says: create content that is useful, reliable and designed for people
Content should curate, consider and respect the reader, putting at the center of its purpose the satisfaction of his or her needs and the fulfillment of the primary need that led that person to use Google, we said in our in-depth discussion on SEO copywriting.
Even more specifically, Google explains that its automatic ranking systems are designed to present “useful, reliable information created to help people” at the top of Search results, not those that only aim to rank well in search engines. Concretely, regardless of the content produced and who concretely produces it-whether human being or Artificial Intelligence – if we have the ambition of gaining visibility in Google Search we should strive to produce original, high-quality, people-centered content, while also demonstrating EEAT qualities, and thus “ownership” of the elements of Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustwortiness.
To help all creators determine if they are making such content, Google has published a page (continuously updated) that provides guidance and questions with which to evaluate our content to see if it is indeed useful and trustworthy. In addition, the guide suggests involving other people we trust who are not affiliated with the site in the evaluation process to get an honest opinion, and also to see if we have experienced possible declines in traffic and performance. In particular, we need to identify which pages have been most affected and for which types of searches, and then carefully analyze these aspects with the ultimate goal of figuring out whether the drop is related to failures with respect to some of the questions here.
The 16 questions on content text characteristics
The first set of self-assessment questions includes 16 different questions, which address various aspects related to concrete writing, and in particular investigate the sections “content and quality” (which also includes specific aspects on presentation and mode of production) and “expertise.” In this regard, Marie Haynes suggests that the knowledge graph and shopping graph contain “all kinds of signals to help Google understand who the subject matter experts are,” saying she is confident that (regardless of which panels are activated) “all content creators are known entities” to Google.
- Questions related to content and quality
- Does the content provide original information, report findings, research, or analysis?
- Does the content provide a meaningful or complete description of the topic?
- Does the content provide detailed analysis or interesting, non-obvious information?
- If the content comes from other sources, rather than just copying or rewriting it, do you offer significant added value and an original point of view?
- Does the page title or main header provide a descriptive and useful summary of the content?
- Does the page title or main header avoid shocking or exaggerated tones?
- Is this the type of page you would bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Would you expect this content to be included or cited in a print magazine, encyclopedia, or book?
- Does the content provide relevant value compared to other pages displayed in search results?
- Does the content have spelling or stylistic errors?
- Has the content been developed to the best of its ability or does it appear to be created without any care or in a hasty manner?
- Is the content mass-generated, entrusted for creation to many different authors, or distributed over a vast network of sites with the result that individual pages or sites do not receive much attention or care?
- Questions related to expertise
- Does the content present information in a way that allows it to be considered reliable, e.g., through clear sources, evidence of the expertise of the person who provides it, information about the author or the site that publishes it (e.g., through links to an author’s page or an information page on a site)?
- If a person researches the site producing the content, would he or she get the impression that it is reliable or widely recognized as authoritative on the topic in question?
- Was this content written by an experienced or passionate person who is objectively knowledgeable about the topic?
- Does the content have easily verifiable objective errors?
Useful content are designed for people
The second group of questions examines an aspect officially introduced with Helpful Content, namely the need to write people-first content, and thus designed and created primarily for users and not to manipulate search engine rankings. According to Google, we can test whether we take a people-first approach to content production if we answer “yes” to these five questions.
- Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find your content useful if it came directly from you?
- Does your content clearly demonstrate firsthand experience and in-depth knowledge (e.g., experience from actually using a product or service or visiting a place)?
- Does your site have a main purpose or goal?
- After reading your content, will a user feel that they have learned enough about a topic so that they can achieve their goal?
- Will a user who reads your content find their experience satisfying?
Avoid creating content designed for search engines
Of a totally opposite sign are search engine-first content, that is, content that is designed and written primarily for search engines to get good rankings and thus traffic. This method is contrary to Google’s wishes and may not bring the desired results, which is why if we answer “yes” to some or all of the following nine questions, we should probably reevaluate the way we create content.
- Is content made primarily to attract visits from search engines?
- Are you producing a lot of content on different topics in the hope that some of it will perform well in search results?
- Are you using large-scale automation to produce content on many topics?
- Are you mainly summarizing other people’s opinions without adding value?
- Are you producing content just because it looks trendy and not because you would write it for your existing audience anyway?
- Does your content make readers feel they have to do another search for better information from other sources?
- Are you making content within a specific word limit because you have heard or read that Google prefers text of a given length? (There is “no such preference,” Google reiterates.)
- Did you decide to delve into a niche topic without having any real expertise, but mainly because you thought you would receive search traffic?
- Does your content promise to answer a question that is actually unanswered, such as suggesting the release date of a product, movie or TV show when it is unconfirmed?
- Are you changing the date of pages to make them look fresh even when you have not substantially changed the content?
- Are you adding a lot of new content or removing a lot of older content primarily because you think it will help your overall search ranking by somehow making your site look “fresh“? (No, it won’t)
The guide also clarifies that these hints are not a ban or a bad evaluation of SEO, which in fact can be a useful activity if and “when applied to content designed for people, rather than content for search engines.”
The role of on-page experience in creating useful content
Useful content generally provides a good on-page experience. It is with this effective and stark sentence that a new page in Google’s documentation opens that clarifies the relationship between useful content and page experience and helps us consider the on-page experience more holistically, including as a relevant part of the content creation process.
The guidance signed by Danny Sullivan clarifies, first of all, that there are no major new aspects of the on-page experience to consider compared to previous guidance — and, therefore, if we’ve paid attention to “the things we’ve talked about in the past, such as Core Web Vitals, everything stays the same.” And although it is not a requirement for content to be considered useful, ensuring a good on-page experience is one of the aspects that Google takes into account when evaluating content and page for ranking purposes, and generally these two aspects go hand in hand.
How to ensure a good page experience with content
Google’s main ranking systems aim to reward content that provides a good on-page experience, the guide specifically says, but to be successful we must not focus on just one or two aspects of the page experience. Rather, we need to check whether we are providing a very good overall experience on the page in many aspects.
More specifically, Page Experience is the name Google has given to the ranking system that brings together a number of key signals and aspects of the on-page experience that site owners can focus on, such as meeting Core Web Vitals thresholds, HTTPS, absence of intrusive interstitials, and optimization for mobile devices. As for content, the primary criterion is still relevance, which is crucial even if the on-page experience is poor. For many queries, however, “a lot of useful content is available”: in these cases, Google says, ensuring “a great experience with the page can contribute to success in Search,” the element that makes the difference in positive terms.
EEAT, another compass to write useful content
At this point, Google’s page introduces another fundamental concept toward which to direct our work, namely the EEAT criteria found in the guidelines for quality raters, the latest update of which was in December 2022.
The process is described as follows: Google’s automated systems are designed to use many different factors in order to rank quality content, and after identifying relevant content (and thus relevance is and remains the first ranking factor), these systems aim to prioritize those that seem most useful. To this end, they identify a combination of factors that can help determine which content demonstrates experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, summarized in the acronym E-E-A-T.
Of all these aspects, it is trustworthiness that is the most important: the other elements contribute to trustworthiness, but the content need not demonstrate all of them. For example, some content might be useful based on the experience it demonstrates, while other content might be useful because of the experience it shares.
EEAT criteria is not a specific ranking factor, and Google uses guidance from its quality raters to obtain general information about the quality of the results shown and improve algorithm performance, especially after changes and modifications: in particular, raters are trained to understand whether content has a high EEAT level, following the criteria described in the appropriate search quality raters guidelines. For example, search engine systems give greater weight to content that is in line with a high EEAT standard for topics that could significantly affect people’s health, financial stability or security or the well-being of society-the classic YMYL topics, “Your Money or Your Life”.
It should be remembered that quality raters have no control over page ranking, and the data it provides is not used directly in ranking algorithms. Rather, Google uses the information in a way similar to what “a restaurant owner would do with scorecards filled out by customers, i.e., as a form of feedback to help us understand whether our systems are working.”
While not having a direct effect on ranking, reading the guidelines can help us evaluate for ourselves the effectiveness of our content in light of EEAT principles and understand what improvements to consider, as well as conceptually align content with the various indicators used by Google’s automated systems to rank it.
Explaining the “who, how, and why” of content to people
The last section of the guide to creating useful content is a very recent addition that calls for considering how the content itself explains the “who, how, and why” to readers to stay in line with EEAT criteria and what Google’s systems seek to reward.
- Who (created the content)
Making it clear who created the content is something that “helps people intuitively understand the EEAT of the content itself,” says Google, which defines this as the “who” to consider, answering some related questions during content creation.
- Is it obvious to your visitors to understand who created your content?
- Do the pages carry a signature, where the reader might expect it?
- Do subheadings lead to more information about the author(s) involved, providing information about them and the areas they write about?
- If you clearly indicate who created the content, you are probably aligned with EEAT concepts and on the road to success. We strongly encourage adding accurate author information such as signatures to content where readers might expect it.
- How (the content was created)
It is also helpful for readers to know how a piece of content was created, and there are some ways to bring out the “how” in our content. For example, with product reviews, it can build reader confidence to know how many products were tested, what the test results were, and how the tests were conducted, all accompanied by evidence of the work done, such as photographs.
Many types of content can have a “How” component, even automated, AI-generated, AI-assisted content: sharing details about the processes involved can help readers and visitors better understand any unique and useful roles that automation may have played.
If automation is used considerably to generate content, there are some questions to be answered:
- Is the use of automation, including AI generation, evident to visitors through disclosure or in other ways?
- Are you providing information on how automation or AI generation has been used to create content?
- Are you explaining why automation or AI was considered useful for producing content?
Overall, openly stating the use of artificial intelligence or automation is useful for content where someone might be thinking, “How was it created?” Google therefore suggests considering adding these disclosures when they would be reasonably expected.
- Why (the content was created)
“Why” is perhaps the most important question to answer about any of our content, and specifically “Why did I write them?” (which we can then consider the fortieth and final question):
- Why did you write that content?
The answer, and the “why,” should be that we primarily intend to help people by writing content that is useful to visitors if they come directly to the site: if we follow this perspective, we are in line with EEAT in general and with what Google’s basic ranking systems seek to reward.
Conversely, if the “why” is essentially to attract visits from search engines, we are far from what Google seeks to reward. Even more so, using automation, including AI generation, to produce content for the main purpose of manipulating search rankings is a violation of anti-spam regulations.