Website Content Guidelines – What is it and How to Write It

Rewarding high-quality helpful website content is a primary goal at Google HQ and is stated as being at the core of both Panda, Helpful Content and sundry interim algorithm updates. In light of that, perhaps some clarification of the “content quality” concept is in order. To meet Google’s content recommendations, you need to understand what the hell they are on about, right? Please read on to learn what I think you need to do…

Creating 'good' website content - a conceptual illustration
We must create ‘good’ website content to avoid low-quality penalties and to address the need for ‘helpful content.’ This is Google’s way of neutralising manipulative SEO tactics to ensure pages are written for users, not search engines.

What Is Great Content?

In the past year, it’s gone way beyond ‘good’ and it now has to be ‘helpful’ too! Google doesn’t want to send a searcher to a 2,000-word page of fluff and warm fuzzies. Instead, they want to ensure the searcher finds exactly what they need.

“The helpful content system aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.”

Don't Create Search Engine First Content - Screenshot 2023 10 06
Write for people, not for search engines

What Defines Good Website Content?

You need to understand why visitors are coming to each of your website’s pages. Are they looking for information on a product or service? Then you must satisfy their intent and purpose, and create content that gives them exactly what they’re looking for. A good web page full of high-quality content is:

  • Written by an authority on the topic, in his/her own words, and conveying valuable information to site visitors
  • Defines a problem, proffers a solution and explains how it will work for the reader.
  • Keyword research has determined the audience’s needs, and the page is written for the specific viewer’s demographic.
  • Contains relevant keyword search phrases in current use that a searcher is likely to use to find the Topic.
  • Accurately and verbosely described in key areas (headings, titles, metadata)
  • Keyword/s in both page and image URLs
  • Correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Take a leaf from the pages of the Public Speaking 101 book…

  • Tell them what you are going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you told them

Don’t be vague, don’t waffle on about trivial stuff. Focus more on what your visitors need from you, and on solving their problems. Focus less on why you are so smart, handsome and witty. The best SEO solutions are based on “white hat” SEO techniques.

Content Volume / Word Count

There was a time when Google and SEO practitioners thought you could summarise a topic in less than 300 words and look like an expert at the same time. Obviously, that’s a superficial approach to creating content on a complex Topic, and the ante has been upped on quality by considering volume and topic coverage.

Therefore, a page on a complex Topic will be wordier than a page on a simple topic. How much to write depends on your goals for the page and can be loosely defined as:

  1. Short form: less than 1,000 words. An overview of a topic or a particular aspect of it, and is much easier for visitors to read and comprehend.
  2. Long form: generally more than 1,500 words. Contains far more detail on a specific topic, as per a blog post, how-to guide, documentation, and cornerstone pages.

Website content is made up of multiple elements, and is primarily the;

  • On-page visible text
  • Images and image Alt text
  • Anchor text in hyperlinks to internal or external pages
  • Hyperlink titles in links and menus
  • The descriptive Title and Description meta-data

In the context of Google, a picture is not worth a thousand words! Moreover, words must be accessible, not embedded in images, Flash movies, JavaScript slideshows etc. What you write matters!

In over 20 years as a freelance SEO consultant, if there’s one common denominator evident on websites, it’s that there is a profound reluctance to expend, time money and creative energy on unique text, let alone helpful content optimisation. Brevity is the watchword – and economical use of words is encouraged by design, branding and marketing advisers!

  • The branding gurus want you to use the textual equivalent of sound bites – bullet points and short sentences!
  • The website designers want the entire content of the page to be above the fold – no scrolling!
  • The marketing team want the warm fuzzies – in preference to explicit descriptions of what you sell or do!
  • The owner wants to constrain the budget…
  • The SEO guy who knows how potential visitors actually search online won’t get employed until traffic volumes don’t meet expectations

That is generally how it goes for the majority of commercial websites… the inevitable result is;

  • A very low number of words on all pages
  • Image domination at the expense of text
  • Minimal originality in textual elements
  • Vagueness in the page’s descriptive elements

The net result is nothing much for Google et al to work with in terms of assessing an individual page’s relevance to a specific keyword search phrase!

Keywords are still important – but in a very different way!

Older sites which have had an SEO package applied may now find they are – in Google”s eyes – guilty of over-optimisation. Such sites will incur penalties for “keyword stuffing” because previously, keyword density and getting the right words in the right places was what worked. That’s part of the ‘new normal’ paradigm shift – now the new acronym is TF-IDF – which is a way of calculating what words and phrases other than the target keywords would be most likely to appear on a very “good” page on a specific topic. There’s a mathematical equation for that…

Tf IDF formula - screenshot
Tf IDF formula – source is Wikipedia

However, implementing this is very time-consuming on a given page and it will probably be beyond the resources of many site owners. Doing so requires access to some good (expensive) technical content auditing software.

What Google wants to find on your website…

The intent and purpose of Google’s search results pages is to deliver the best possible answers to a searcher’s query. A well-written piece of content will include:

  • The Introduction: A brief outline of what you’re going to tell them, and how it helps them.
  • The Main Content: The meat and potatoes of the Topic your page is written about.
  • Calls To Action: one or more offers, a contact form, an email subscription button or a clickable phone number…
  • A summary: a brief outline of what you told them, and an outline of what they should do next.
  • References: links to more details on the same topic by authoritative sources.

What is bad website content?

This is generally a subjective assessment, but some or all of the following elements will be evident within the website;

  1. Duplicated/plagiarised from your other website/s, and competing in the same web space, copied from a similar site and passed off as your own
  2. Homogenized content – finding a series of top-ranking pages from authoritative sources, blending them and paraphrasing them together into a new page for your own site.
  3. AI-generated content – which, not to put too fine a point on it, is basically another version of paraphrasing but over a much larger volume of information.
  4. More images than words, or words embedded in images
  5. Over-optimisation of content
  6. Content generated by JavaScript, Flash or Frames
  7. Dominated by vaguely worded, non-explicit, warm and fuzzy drivel from branding and marketing pitches.
  8. Word-for-word product descriptions copied verbatim from the manufacturer
  9. Lack of precisely targeted content that fails to fill a defined search need
  10. Doorway or Thin Content pages – produced to target a series of keyword phrases but bereft of intrinsic merit
  11. Page and image file names are cryptic, devoid of explanatory keywords
  12. Riddled with misspelt words, grammatical errors and incorrect punctuation

Basically, you must present your subject (products or services) in an intelligent and articulate manner. You must accurately define precisely what the point of the page is, and what it contains. To do otherwise inevitably means it is going to be seen as substandard and confusing content.

If you “borrow” extensively from other people’s creative content at best, you are immediately second best. At worst, you are clearly guilty of;

  • Copyright violation
  • Theft of intellectual property
  • Plagiarism

Why would anyone expect Google to reward them for that???

A page with 750 words that is original and gives better coverage of the topic in question can expect more exposure to the golden light from Google… That makes perfectly coherent sense to me, but not necessarily to those in the Branding or Marketing departments… In 2023, the average number of words on top-ranking pages is approx 1,400. So, here’s how to fix the Panda penalty on content issues.

Sure, There Are Shortcuts

Basically, creating good content takes a lot of time and creative ability. Actually, it takes damn near as long as the time and effort that goes into designing ways to cheat the system! However, some people instinctively prefer short-term gains derived from;

  • engaging in black hat SEO tactics such as content cloaking
  • giving Google one thing and visitors another
  • engaging in dodgy schemes to make their site appear better than it really is

When it all goes belly up, it’s incumbent on them not to blame Google though…

Read more:

Google Panda – marked as 10 out of 10

Actually, I heartily agree with the goal of rewarding good content. When I’m searching for something, I want the most relevant and helpful page to appear at the top of the list.

Is There a  Fatal Flaw in the Google Logic?

The algorithms make automated and arguably objective judgements of content on the basis of defined and extensive criteria. In many situations, some subjective judgement is essential and it makes sense that peer comments from external sources are incorporated into the relevancy ranking algorithm. The latest algorithms place far greater emphasis on external public online commentary from Social Media websites. That’s great, kind of…

But what about the thousands of excellent online businesses that have been providing exemplary services to customers for decades but;

  • They are not on the Social Media radar – they don’t understand it, can’t be bothered with it etc.
  • Owners are not computer literate, nor do they comprehend Google’s local search strategy or current best practices in SEO and the need to evolve.
  • Their websites meet the needs of their current and potential clients
  • They’ve always had decent rankings in their particular niche
  • Their website routinely delivers a significant portion of their new business clients

Suddenly, Google arbitrarily changes the rules on established websites and their…

  • The website drops from page 1 to page 6
  • Traffic drops by 75%
  • Enquiries dry up overnight
  • Income is slashed

To add insult to injury, competitors who’ve been copying their content and stealing their ideas are suddenly ranked higher than them! That’s the consequence for a great many good businesses across the globe in the aftermath of some previous Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) ranking formula adjustments at Google.

What is not factored in is that some website classes/niches/industries simply don’t fit the Social Media referrals mould well… In a Social context;

  • You might readily choose to “like” a page on a travel destination /hotel/tour operator/fishing guide website…
  • You are far less likely to “like” a plumber, electrician, lawyer, gynaecologist, proctologist, hypnotist etc

Any external referencing mechanism that assigns a  social media weighting to niches that are not well represented tends to tip the scales in strange directions.

Have Search Results Improved?

Frankly, I remain unconvinced that the results of Panda or Helpful Content have been a resounding success as yet;

  • More harm than good has been done to thousands of innocent businesses;
  • The garbage content in many built-for-Adsense / scraper sites still dominates some niches
  • Authentic local businesses are still dominated in local search by parasite sites – particularly in niches such as bed & breakfast, hotels and rental cars. The leech sites that suck out commissions from the businesses that provide the services continue to prosper.
  • In location-specific searches, doorway pages from major sites, albeit containing minuscule content, still dominate rankings

From what I see on a daily basis, there is a hell of a lot of collateral damage, but many primary targets are still intact!

Do Heavyweight Sites Get Too Much Clout?

Why should a skinny page on Travelfish, Tripadvisor, Infohub, Agoda, HotelsCombined etc. out-rank a location-specific town / provincial website? That would seem counter to the revolution. But there’s an old adage:

He who pays the piper calls the tune”

Collins English Dictionary

Google’s Ad revenue probably does drive some of their decision-making, and the big spenders are going to get some preferential treatment. That said, and to give the devil his due, Google also give some free traction to small businesses so claiming and optimising your Business Profile is heartily recommended!

If you operate an accommodation business in a town, is it fair that the top “accommodation” rankings are dominated by the people who don’t operate accommodation facilities? Instead, the tech-savvy, big-dollar accommodation promotion sites get top billing, and you have to either pay them to appear on their site and/or give them a booking commission.

For example, try a search for: “bed & breakfast New Orleans

To me, the results reveal a clear and unequivocal inconsistency (if not a double standard) in Google’s avowed dislike of selling/purchasing links.

  • Are those Bed and breakfast book & website promoters that sell advertising placement to bed and breakfast operators immune from paid link penalties?
  • Are those bed and breakfast advertising sites truly more valuable in search results than a list of actual providers of bed and breakfast services?

The same logic and questions apply across a wide range of niche markets, where the service provider’s website is arbitrarily devalued in favour of the parasitic sites that live off the efforts of those providers… Or did I miss something profound in there somewhere?

The First Law of Physics applies: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” If you’ve succumbed to the endless blandishments from foreign SEO providers, sometimes weird shit happens to your website! Hiring a local SEO company to help you makes more sense than employing cheap services from the third world.

Website Content – The Conclusion

To succeed in generating new business via online marketing, Google’s goal of giving the best and most relevant content to searchers must become your goal too!

To rank higher than your competitors, your website content must be demonstrably better than your competitors.

  • Take a long hard look at every page on your website and ask yourself what its purpose is, and how well it meets that purpose.
  • Take a long hard look at your competitor’s websites, and their competing pages and decide if they are doing a better job.

Try and figure out what your visitors are looking for by conducting some online keyword research – Google’s keywords tool gives some great information in that respect. This beats the hell out of keyword brainstorming sessions around the office coffee table!

Assess what the most important searches are to your business, and which pages relate to those searches. Rewrite and expand each page to ensure it incorporates the targeted keyword phrase/s, and provides an answer/solution that is specific/relevant to the topic in question. Make sure the keyword phrase is prominent in the heading, the title and the description. Some of the new content concepts may be

There is an old Chinese proverb to the effect that one should  “Buy expensive, and cry once only!” Translated into the website context;

  • If you make the upfront investment in high-quality website content, it’s a one-off cost
  • If you pay for quick and dirty results, expensive repairs will be necessary on a regular basis

If you would like a professional assessment of your website’s standing,  click here for a website SEO audit


Page last updated on Thursday, October 12, 2023 by the author Ben Kemp