What is “Useful Content” and why it matters to Google – and you?
(Or How to Change the Way You Write to Fit the Way You Read)
You may not have heard the term “Useful Content” before, at least not in relation to SEO – so let us answer this question before getting any further:
What is Google’s definition of “Useful Content”?
According to Google, Useful Content is content geared to put people’s experience first.
This is not at all a new idea. It is, for instance, the way writers have approached writing since the creation of literature. Or the way a director approaches a movie, or a musician a song. When you sit to write you think of what you want to tell, and to whom. Why websites’ writing should be any different?
What are Google’s recommendations for Useful Content?
The main item in Google’s Useful Content Updates is the content itself.
The requirements google outlines for Useful Content refer to mostly to the readability of the content. They refer to it as content that provides a positive “reading experience.” But what constitutes this “reading experience”?
We might get a clearer idea of Google’s expectations if we examine a few concepts they use to describe it
- "People first-content."
- "Human Language content."
- "Contributes to the conversation"
- "First-hand expert" / " in-depth knowledge"
- "Satisfying reading experience"
- "Focused content"
As you can already glean from this list, Google has put out there a clear mandate to write from your wealth of knowledge, addressing the reader with unique and insightful content that will match the expectations that motivated the visitor to click in your specific listing.
What not to do
There is, of course a hidden clause in there, which contains much of what really matters to Google. Theses are hidden “don’t” clauses, mostly attempting to revert the way we have perceived content creation in the SEO industry since even before the apparition of Google (yes, I am that old…).
By omission, the list above highlights some of the “don’ts” we alluded to:
People first-content means you should not write with the Search Engines in mind.
The requirement for “Human Language content” has the dual intention of warning you about the pitfalls of the pervasive use of AI in writing content, but also about the old-school SEO tendency to keyword-stuff your sentences until they are not human-sounding any longer.
The approach to writing Useful Content
This is possibly the most important lesson to extract from the update guidelines: write to arouse interest, with human readers in mind – that said, make sure you include all of the information.
Because of exponential advances in AI that now allow Google to process language almost as a human reader would, the accent in keywords and keyword phrases has been replaced by a strong accent on well develop concepts or themes. Google’s colourful way to put it is “things, not strings”.
Of course, it follows that well defined and fully fleshed-out concepts are more valuable than vague or generic concepts, not just to the search engine but also to the human readers.
The outcome of this recommendation is that the writer is free to do what it was intended in the first place: to communicate. Clearly, knowledgeably, and (why not?) passionately, where that applies.
If your concepts are clear and complete, Google will have no problem translating them into a wide set matching keyword-units.
Contributing to the overall conversation on a given subject is a key concept within the update. This can be expressed in simple terms as writing relevant, original content rather than tired old fluff.
Thinking about it from the search engine perspective the requirement makes sense: since Google is in the business of presenting answers to queries, the more efficiently and enjoyable that experience is to the viewer the better that goal is accomplished.
A rewrite of what a hundred others already said over and over, or a generic article without any actual original contribution constitutes a waste of the reader’s time. Google sees a search return highlighting such article as reflecting poorly on them, and their rankings are bound to follow this appraisal.
With all that in mind, a good way to appraise your writing is to ask yourself: why would Google choose my article as an answer on this topic, instead of any of the others?
Which is the point of the recommendation to write as a first-hand expert with in-depth knowledge of the subject.
The whole-website perspective
To prove your expertise can be a tricky business, often beyond the potential of the single page of content – no matter how well written and thoughtful.
The way you organize your content within your website will have a hand in providing evidence of this, as a context that corroborates your expertise.
Neither the expertise nor the focused content recommendations preclude your website from, offering a variety of services across a variety of industries. But they do bring up the need to structurally organize your main content pages and articles in branches that delve on the same topic families.
Usually this is better done with a top-down approach where the focus narrows increasingly with every step you take. Imagine a structure that goes like this: Sports => Soccer => Soccer in South America => Argentinean Soccer => Messi. While ultimately the page is all about the player, the website structure and all the preceding pages are signalling that you are an expert on the subject and passing that value to the page.
Can you get them satisfaction?
As we mentioned before, a satisfying reading experience is listed as one of the goals of Google. With this, Google is not asking you to embody Mark Twain. While the algorithm includes analysis for basic writing quality, favours writing which answers the queries of your visitors to their satisfaction.
This also calls for developing a coherent unit of content between tour writing, your SEO elements, and your markup, to ensure the queries that bring visitors to that page also match the page content.
One last comment: the requirement of comprehensiveness is not to be confused with a requirement of length. As Google’s own Gary Illes likes to explain, they’d like you to tell the story in as many words it takes. It doesn’t take 500 words to explain how to boil an egg. But of course, the converse is true, and it does take a lot more text to explain Quantum Chromodynamics.
To wrap it up: write for your readers, aiming at the meeting point between their interests and your services/ area of expertise. Be original and knowledgeable to the best of your abilities and present your content in a comprehensive but interesting manner. In short, Write useful content.