I wanted to write a simple guide for my clients to make it easier for them to write effective blog posts so I thought, why not lead by example. Using my personal blogging experience over the past few years combined with some hours of research I thought I’d give it a shot.
The key to writing a blog post that drives traffic comes down to the quality of the user experience. Ideally the article should either provide the best answer or the most helpful information to the user searching for the particular topic. Everything else being equal, the reputation and authority of the site as well as the author relating to the topic will determine which post ranks higher.
In July 2018 Google released a paper which told us how it determines what is known as a ‘Search Quality Rating’. In its 164 pages it provides guidelines originally intended for its Search Quality Evaluators team to assist in manually rating web pages for search quality. The data accumulated from this process is used to improve Google’s automated search algorithms which are used to rank pages. These algorithms are updated fairly regularly with significant changes rolled in every year. In effect, this document is telling us how Google determines search ranking or intends to determine search ranking in the near future.
What is evident now is its getting more difficult to game the system to promote web pages in search rankings without putting in the necessary work to create quality content and a positive user experience. Keyword stuffing, back-link spamming and link sharing have long been rendered obsolete by Google’s algorithms. Now they are putting new emphasis on content creator reputation, expertise and content quality.
1. How does Google Rate a Blog Post?
Google sees a blog post as it sees a web page. Google provides this advice in the Search Quality Guidelines document for rating page quality:
Here are the most important factors to consider when selecting an overall Page Quality rating:
- The Purpose of the Page
- Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Use your research on the additional factors below to inform your rating.
- Main Content Quality and Amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
- Website Information/information about who is responsible for the MC: Find information about the website aswell as the creator of the MC.
- Website Reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the MC : Links to help with reputation researchwill be provided.
‘MC’ refers to ‘Main Content’ of the page. The above quality rating factors determine the overall user experience of visiting and viewing your web page or blog post. What we know about Google today is that they’re more focused on the quality of the user experience. They want to ensure users are given the most reliable information they can and the user experience they were looking for. The website reputation as well as the author’s reputation and authority are now a significant search ranking factor.
1.1. How is Site Reputation and Authority Measured?
When advising it’s search quality raters, Google uses a term known as E-A-T or Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. These are factors are used to evaluate the creator of the post and hence the value of the content. Ideally the author should be an expert in the field they are writing about otherwise some practical experience relating to the nature of the post will be regarded favorably for page quality.
The most recent Google search algorithm update in August 2018 placed specific focus on ‘Your Money, Your Life’ content or YMYL. These are web pages that provide information or services relating to health, legal or financial well-being of users. For such content Google treats site reputation and authority with importance. i.e. they don’t want the user taking advice from someone without necessary credentials if their finances or health are placed in peril. e.g. content relating to a medical condition or advice should be provided by a medical professional, legal matters by a legal professional, financial advice by a financial expert etc. If a creator cannot be verified as having E-A-T for YMYL content then they cannot expect the article to be given a high search quality rating.
For non YMYL content, it is expected in future that Google will give priority to E-A-T as it has indicated this in its page quality guidelines road-map. Therefore if you’re writing about fashion or clothing you’re likely to gain a higher ranking for a quality post if you’re recognized within the fashion industry or you’re at least an established retailer. If you’re writing about dancing or sports then you better make sure you can display your credentials such as academies or clubs you belong to or training and coaching experience. For such content, you needn’t have formal expertise, but some personal experience is desirable.
1.2. How is Author Reputation Determined?
Google’s search quality raters are advised to look for “about us” and “contact” pages to determine who created the content and who owns the website the blog post resides on. They are encouraged to search the web to verify an author’s credentials and reputation.
1.3. How to Improve Your Credibility
Create an about page and ensure it specifies your expertise and credentials relating to your topic. Other places you can specify about information are in the byline of the blog post which can be a short bio. You may also link to a linkedin profile and ensure this profile specifies your achievements in a given field.
External links within your blog post should only link to high quality sites. Sites that would achieve a high E-A-T rating from Google.
Make sure your name is known in your industry and other reputable websites mention your name or brand independently. Google’s raters will be looking for these. You may wish to assist by linking to those sites as references in your about page.
1.4. Characteristics of High Quality Rated Blog Posts
In its page quality guidelines, Google provided several factors and examples for high quality rated web pages.
A summary of relevant factors to consider for your blog posts:
- comprehensive content
- satisfies a user query thoroughly
- contains quality images
- good grammar and quality text formatting
- limited number of ads that don’t distract from main content
Google tells us what makes high quality content…
The quality of the MC is one of the most important criteria in Page Quality rating, and informs the E-A-T of the page. For all types of webpages, creating high quality MC takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill.
You may start to get the picture here that gaming the system by specifically optimizing for SEO is no longer a valid nor sustainable strategy to get a high Google search ranking for your page. Passing SEO tests does not equate to high rankings in the real world of Google search.
1.5. Characteristics of Low Quality Rated Blog Posts
Apart from obvious issues with poor page quality, other things you should avoid if you don’t want to receive a low quality rating include:
- Posts lacking Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness
- Insufficient content (post is too short, doesn’t satisfy the need required by the user)
- Distracting Ads and Content Blocking Pop-ups
- Large percentage of copied content – even if its credited, plagiarized content
- Content that misinforms users
- Offensive or poor quality images
- Not mobile friendly
- Poor formatting and/or grammar
2. The Basics of Writing a Good Blog Post
Last year I wrote an article about the basics of writing a blog post to promote your website. Adopting this mindset is a good starting point as is structuring your content in such a way that it is readable by search engines and easy to follow for the reader. What I want to cover now relates to advice on the content of your post.
2.2. Choosing a Topic
I’m going to assume you have a general idea of what you want to write about. Ideally your post should either be about a niche topic or a niche aspect of a topic that has been insufficiently already written about by high authority sites. It should be something a critical mass of people are interested in but has not been over-saturated by supply of existing blog posts. For example, “How to Lose Weight” as a topic will be near impossible to rank highly with all the existing competition that exists for that phrase. “How to Lose Weight Without Exercising” is a finer level of granularity but also over supplied. Weight loss in general is way over saturated. “Best Chinese Restaurants” wont get much traction, however “Best Chinese Restaurants in Western Sydney” might. “Best Vegetarian Chinese Restaurants” however might be pushing it a bit.
Your topic needn’t be completely unique on the internet and nor should it be. If no one has ever written about it, chances are no one cares to read about it. What you want is a topic where high rankings are achievable and there is some demand for better content than what already exists.
2.3. Choosing a Title
There are many ways SEO experts use to generate blog post titles that are optimized for search that involve hours of key phrase research combined with tools that generate variations on searched queries relating to those phrases. I’m not going to examine all of those here and assume you’ve done some groundwork on the topic you want to write about. I will give a couple of examples however to help.
There is one simple method that anyone can do to assist in coming up with a title using the Google search box. Begin typing your title idea in Google search box and see what suggestions pop up. Choose one that closely matches what you’re intending to write about. This is likely a search query that users are actually typing. Next click on that query and see what results Google returns. If there aren’t any or too many quality results then this is an opportunity to fill a gap in supply that some users are demanding.
You will also see in the footer of the search results other related phrases that Google is suggesting. These too can be used as possible title ideas.
Another method involves a website called Answer The Public. Type a few keywords or phrase relating to your topic in the search box on this site and it will generate content ideas the ‘the public’ are actually searching for in Google relating to those keywords or topic.
2.4. A Template for Writing a Good Post
Now if you want to know how to start writing a good blog post, lets use an example of a typical ‘response post’ – that is a blog post which directly answers a question posed in the Google search box.
Start with a paragraph introducing the topic of your post. The second paragraph should provide a short summary of the answer to the question. Bold this text as this makes it easier for the reader to scan the post and determine if they’ve come to the right place, i.e. the place that answer’s their query. The added benefit to this is if your answer is considered the best by Google’s algorithm you may win the rich snippet which lends further credibility to your article and can improve click through rates. Higher click through rates mean higher search rankings, but more on that later.
Structure the remaining content of your post into sections designated by sub-headings that elaborate on the topic in more detail. Choose around 5 sub-headings and assign them h2 (Heading 2) tags. You may use h3’s or h4’s if you wish however hierarchy order must be followed at all times.
Research the content you are writing about. Ideally personal experience is the best research. Otherwise where not possible ensure you thoroughly research sources with high E-A-T.
2.5. A Word About Yoast
The Yoast plugin for WordPress is a useful tool for ensuring beginner blog authors provide structured content however it does not do the work of SEO for you. Metrics such as keyword density are no longer relevant when ranking a blog post. In fact it may be counter productive to begin a post with keyword focus in mind.
The most useful feature of Yoast however is that it allows you to easily edit your SEO title and meta description. Both critical factors in driving traffic to your page. You should spend sufficient time to optimise both.
2.6. How Long will my Post take to Rank?
Google’s bots will usually do an initial indexing within the first couple of days of when you publish your post. However, it takes much longer until your post is tested against user interaction data and Google’s algorithms can rank it where it deems it deserves. Income School determined the average amount of time for a new blog post on a new website to reach 90% of its highest search ranking was around 35 weeks.
3. How do Google’s Algorithms Measure Page Quality Metrics?
Google’s automated search ranking algorithm currently relies on specific metrics for evaluating the user experience of your web pages. Here are several important factors that are considered:
3.1. Pogo sticking
If users click into your site from Google search results and regularly click the back button in the browser to look for another result, Google’s algorithm will detect this and your page may fall in rankings. This is an indication that the user did not find what they were looking for.
3.2. Content length
Less main content, or short blog posts will be regarded as less valuable. The user is also likely to spend less time on that page. I recommend at least 1200 words. Posts of less than 800 words are more than likely going to be a waste of time. Quality longer posts simply rank higher than short posts on the same topic.
3.3. Use of images or other multimedia
Images and multimedia enhance the user experience. Quality original images and engaging media are likely to hold the reader’s interest for longer. *Note: make sure you have usage rights to use and modify images. Swiping copyrighted content from Google image search results will eventually get you sued and its happening more and more often to bloggers. For free images I recommend Pixabay.
3.4. Time on page
This is critical. If users spend little time on your page then its likely they didn’t get the experience they were looking for.
3.5. Clean formatting and organization
Text and other elements must be easily understandable by the search engine. Following sound document formatting rules will achieve this. I also recommend that a blog post is easily visually scannable by the user. This will provide an early indication that this is a post they want to read.
3.6. User interaction on page
Page shares and comments on articles, much like social media is a valuable metric for search engines in determining whether your content is worthy material.
3.7. Click through rate
CTR is determined by the number of clicks on your site from search results compared to the number of impressions, or number of times your page link is seen in Google search results.
Too many ads and distracting supplementary content indicates that your post is not providing value to the user, but rather begging for money. Whilst there is nothing wrong with including ads on your post page per se, don’t over do it.
4. Summarizing How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog Post
Write a quality blog post on a topic that hasn’t been sufficiently covered by high authority sites.
Make sure you do your research and where possible demonstrate your credentials on the topic. Sharing personal experience is a form of expertise. For Your Money, You Life topics formal expertise is required. Build your reputation by posting useful engagement on other blogs.
Some patience is required as it will take more than 8 months for your post to reach its full search ranking potential.
Remember high quality content requires time, effort, expertise, talent/skill which includes your original input. Write with your audience in mind. Be helpful, provide value and the audience will come. The user experience is everything and Google will reward you for it. The most difficult aspect you’ll find is choosing that sweet spot topic. When you do you only need follow this advice.
For more information about how Google rates the quality of web pages and author reputation check out…