How to produce high quality written contentJo Harris-Cooksley
If you own a website, you’ll undoubtedly have been told multiple times how important it is to write “high quality content”. In SEO terms, this goes hand in hand with the concept of E-A-T (Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness), which Google uses to assess the quality of content on every site.
This becomes even more important if you’re aiming to rank for YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) keywords, or topics that could, in Google’s words, “potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
But how do we achieve that in practice?
In online and SEO terms at least, we’ve come some way in recent years to getting a fairly concrete answer. Not only have studies given us solid intel about how people read content online, but Google’s guidelines help us a lot too.
As we mentioned already, a 2019 Google update told us that quality – measured by expertise, authority and trustworthiness – is a big factor when it comes to ranking content.
This doesn’t mean you need a PhD in every topic you write about. Expertise, authority, and trust can be relayed by how you write, not just what you say (although that’s really important too). Put simply: an information-packed blog post is no use unless it’s well written. High quality content means writing about things your audience will find useful in a clear, understandable way.
So if you’re wondering how to make sure that page or blog post you’re writing is high quality enough to engage readers and appear in search results, here’s some advice.
Before you start writing
Many brands try to start writing web content before they identify why they’re writing it, and what purpose it will serve their readers.
1. Identify what your audience wants to know
Your content strategy cannot be “build it and they will come” (more here on how to create a content strategy). If your goal is to create content that people will find and use, then you need to identify the topics that matter to them, and the best way to give them that information.
- Write down why your product exists, and the problems your customers have
- Search for the phrase you’re targeting and see what already ranks well
- Ask questions to get feedback on social media channels
- Use Google Find My Audience (this is aimed at YouTube, but still gives useful insights)
- Send out surveys (old school but still effective)
- Analyse what keywords and topic areas your competitors are targeting
Really get to know who your audience is, by drilling down into the specifics:
- What are the general demographics?
- What/who influences them?
- What does your audience want/need? (basic information vs. detailed tutorials, etc.)
- What questions are your readers asking and what topics would they like to see covered?
2. Do your research
As we mentioned earlier, Google is actively rewarding content that shows expertise and authority. Once you’ve done the keyword research and have a good idea of the topics you’re covering, do the research to make sure what you’re writing is well supported.
Start off by running through some basic steps:
- Identify and develop your topic: narrow down the specific topic you wish to cover and flesh out the finer points.
- Review what’s already been said: delve into what industry experts say on this topic –this will provide you with the backbone of your research.
- Identify gaps: Once you figure out what’s already been said on the topic, identify what hasn’t been said. Great content is useful and unique. You can still target the same keywords and rank with a different slant to everyone else, but you need the research to back it up.
The writing process
We know that writing for an online audience isn’t like writing an essay. There are a few best practices we can follow to make sure people stay engaged with the content you’re writing.
Your content should be unbiased and non promotional as far as possible (if people wanted a sales pitch, they’d watch your ads). Not only because most readers are hypersensitive to brands trying to sell them something or endorse a particular product, but because credibility is a component of authority – and our aim here is to impress Google with our E-A-T.
In addition to creating non promotional content, here are a few ways to boost your credibility:
- Cite all of your information/facts/statistics. Try to use a primary source whenever possible (linking to the original place you got the information)
- Qualify your experience or expertise: give an indication of your trustworthiness.
- Link to other industry experts. Citing the experts signals to the reader and Google that you’ve done your research.
- Use attribution phrases whenever possible (i.e. “according to a recent report…”)
Tip: make sure the attribution goes after the fact and that the attribution phrase is linked to the original source. (For example: people are more likely to scan than read your content, according to the NN Group.)
Make your writing actionable
When you’re writing high quality content, the aim is to make it as useful as possible. Most Google searches are made by people searching for a solution to something, so put the reader at the centre: what do you want them to do or feel after reading?
Take a look at the actionable yoga content versus non-actionable yoga content below – you will see that the actionable example has clear step-by-step directions (plus a picture) as to what the reader should do to achieve the end results. The non-actionable example doesn’t give the reader any takeaways.
Actionable Yoga Content:
Non-Actionable Yoga Content:
If you’re having problems identifying what you want your reader to do exactly, use these tips:
- Ask yourself: “What do I want the reader to think, feel, and do?”
- Tip: Convert these points into calls to action in your content
- Ask yourself: “What do I want to talk about and what are my main points?”
- Tip: Use these points as your subheadings to create an informal outline that guides your reader through your content (this will also prevent your main points from getting buried)
Here are a few questions you can run through to make sure your writing is actionable:
- Are there clear takeaways or points of action readers can get from your content?
- Is there any call to action?
- Are there steps explaining how to do something or where to find more information?
- Does every section of your writing add value to your desired message?
Use plain English and a conversational style
There’s a time and a place for formal, flowery language: and that place was the academic essays you wrote in school.
When you’re writing for an online audience, your primary goal is to be understood. The best way to do that is to write (more or less) in the language you’d use in everyday speech.
Writing in standard English means cutting back on jargon. This is one of the most important but often forgotten parts elevating your writing from ok to great.
When Google’s EAT evaluation process was released, many of the rules evaluated the simplicity of language. Google wants to see us get straight to the point. Featured snippets already direct people straight to the answer they’re looking for in search results and are so prevalent in search – we need our words to do the same thing on the page.
Even if you’re writing about specialist topics for an audience of experts, there’s research to back this up.
“…when given a choice, 80% of people preferred sentences written in clear English and the more complex the issue, the greater that preference. But second, […] the more educated the person, the more specialist their knowledge, the greater their preference for plain English.”
Consider this: which is easiest?
“This guide will help facilitate the needs of users within your online vertical”
Or “This guide will help give your customers what they want”?
How to structure your content
If the main goal is to get people to read your content, one thing to avoid is big blocks of text. We know that users tend to scan content rather than read every single word, so we want to make sure important information stands out. Here are some ways to do that:
- Use short paragraphs (between 1-4 sentences is a good range to aim for)
- Use bullet point lists
- Make use of bold or italics to emphasise points
- Add Subheadings to guide your readers through the article. Readers should be able to skim subheadings to get an idea of what your main points are
- Get to the point; don’t include a lot of fluff or filler (e.g. As you may have seen,…)
- Put the information up front (when structuring content, but also in subheadings and links)
- Keep your content long enough to thoroughly cover the subject, but don’t drag it out (hint: if you feel like you’re done writing, you probably are)
- Use images and visual examples to give your reader a “visual break”
As you can see in the examples below, the scannable content is broken up with a subheading, a bulleted list, short paragraphs, and bolded words. However, the unscannable example has large blocks of text (especially the last paragraph boxed in red), no lists, bolded words, etc.
- Using clear, noticeable headings and subheadings to break up content and label sections so that people can scan to find only what they’re most interested in
- Placing information up front (in other words, “front-loading”) in the structure of our content, as well as in subheadings and links, to allow people to understand the message quickly while scanning
- Employing formatting techniques like bulleted lists and bold text to allow the eye to focus on the most important information
- Using plain language to keep content concise and clear
If you’ve done the work to craft a well written and well-researched article, take the take to make it scannable, so you readers are more likely to actually read your content.
You’ll notice that this blog post touches lightly on SEO best practices, but doesn’t go into detail about optimising your writing too much. That’s because Google will always value content that follows these basic principles over a blog post that is optimised for every keyword, contains every single bit of information, but will never get read.
The main points to remember are:
- Determine who your audience is and what they want to read
- Research your work well and identify gaps in available information you can fill in
- Make your writing actionable and useful
- Use a plain language and standard grammar
- Make your content easy to scan
Ultimately the best marker of high quality written content is that you want to keep reading. So if you’ve got this far, I’ve done my job.
Original author: Kyra Kuik
Updated by Jo Harris-Cooksley