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Google's Good Writing Content Filter
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Google's Good Writing Content Filter
By Joel Walsh (c) 2005
The web pages actually at the top of Google have only one thing
clearly in common: good writing. Don't let the usual SEO sacred
distract you from the importance of good content.
I was recently struck by the fact that the top-ranking web
pages on Google are consistently much better written than the
vast majority of what one reads on the web. Yet traditional SEO
wisdom has little to say about good writing. Does Google, the
world's wealthiest media company, really only display web pages
that meet arcane technical criteria? Does Google, like so many
website owners, really get so caught up in the process of the
algorithm that it misses the whole point?
Most Common On-the-Page Website Content Success Factors
Whatever the technical mechanism, Google is doing a pretty good
job of identifying websites with good content and rewarding them
with high rankings.
I looked at Google's top five pages for the five most
searched-on keywords, as identified by WordTracker on June 27,
2005. Typically, the top five pages receive an overwhelming
majority of the traffic delivered by Google.
The web pages that contained written content (a small but
significant portion were image galleries) all shared the
:: Updating: frequent updating of content, at least once every
few weeks, and more often, once a week or more.
:: Spelling and grammar: few or no errors. No page had more than
three misspelled words or four grammatical errors. Note:
spelling and grammar errors were identified by using Microsoft
Word's check feature, and then ruling out words marked as
misspellings that are either proper names or new words that
are simply not in the dictionary. Does Google use SpellCheck?
I can already hear the scoffing on the other side of this
computer screen. Before you dismiss the idea completely, keep
in mind that no one really does know what the 100 factors in
Google's algorithm are. But whether the mechanism is
SpellCheck or a better shot at link popularity thanks to
great credibility, or something else entirely, the results
remain the same.
:: Paragraphs: primarily brief (1-4 sentences). Few or no long
blocks of text.
:: Lists: both bulleted and numbered, form a large part of the
:: Sentence length: mostly brief (10 words or fewer).
Medium-length and long sentences are sprinkled throughout
the text rather than clumped together.
:: Contextual relevance: text contains numerous terms related to
the keyword, as well as stem variations of the keyword. The
page may contain the keyword itself few times or not at all.
SEO "Do's" and "Don'ts"
A hard look at the results slaughters a number of SEO bugbears
and sacred cows.
:: PageRank. The median PageRank was 4. One page had a
PageRank of 0. Of course, this might simply be yet another
demonstration that the little PageRank number you get in your
browser window is not what Google's algo is using. But if
you're one of those people who attaches an overriding value
to that little number, this is food for thought.
:: Frames. The top two web pages listed for the most searched-on
keyword employ frames. Frames may still be a bad web design
idea from a usability standpoint, and they may ruin your
search engine rankings if your site's linking system depends
on them. But there are worse ways you could shoot yourself in
the best web design practice, but there are worse things you
:: Keyword optimization. Except for two pages, keyword
optimization was conspicuous by its absence. In more than
half the web pages, the keyword did not appear more than
three times, meaning a very low density. Many of the pages
did not contain the keyword at all. That may just demonstrate
the power of anchor text in inbound links. It also may
demonstrate that Google takes a site's entire content into
account when categorizing it and deciding what page to
:: Sub-headings. On most pages, sub-headings were either absent
or in the form of images rather than text. That's a very bad
design practice, and particularly cruel to blind users. But
again, Google is more forgiving.
:: Links: Most of the web pages contained ten or more links;
many contain over 30, in defiance of the SEO bugbears about
"link popularity bleeding." Moreover, nearly all the pages
contained a significant number of non-relevant links. On many
pages, non-relevant links outnumbered relevant ones. Of
course, it's not clear what benefit the website owners hope
to get from placing irrelevant links on pages. It has been a
proven way of lowering conversion rates and losing visitors.
But Google doesn't seem to care if your website makes money.
:: Originality: a significant number of pages contained content
copied from other websites. In all cases, the content was
professionally written content apparently distributed on a
free-reprint basis. Note: the reprint content did not consist
of content feeds. However, no website consisted solely of
free-reprint content. There was always at least a significant
portion of original content, usually the majority of the page.
:: Make sure a professional writer, or at least someone who can
tell good writing from bad, is creating your site's content,
particularly in the case of a search-engine optimization
campaign. If you are a SEO, make sure you get a pro to do
the content. A shocking number of SEOs write incredibly badly.
I've even had clients whose websites got fewer conversions or
page views after their SEOs got through with them, even when
they got a sharp uptick in unique visitors. Most visitors
simply hit the "back" button when confronted with unpalatable
text, so the increased traffic is just wasted bandwidth.
:: If you write your own content, make sure that it passes
through the hands of a skilled copyeditor or writer before
:: Update your content often. It's important both to add new
pages and update existing pages. If you can't afford original
content, use free-reprint content.
:: Distribute your content to other websites on a free-reprint
basis. This will help your website get links in exchange for
the right to publish the content. It will also help spread
your message and enhance your visibility. Fears of a
"duplicate content penalty" for free-reprint content (as
opposed to duplication of content within a single website)
In short, if you have a mature website that is already indexed
and getting traffic, you should consider making sure the bulk
of your investment in your website is devoted to its content,
rather than graphic design, old-school search-engine
optimization, or linking campaigns.
Joel Walsh is the owner, founder and head-writer of UpMarket
Content. To read more about website content best practices, get
a consultation with Mr. Walsh, or get a sample page for your
site at no charge, go to the SEO website content page: