It used to be that in order to rank highly in search engine results, marketers crammed their pages with keywords and links to other pages of their own content. After Google Panda’s “quality update” in 2015, however, these tactics no longer give quite the lift they used to.

The update tweaked the 200-ish factors making up Google’s ranking algorithm, with the purpose of promoting content to satisfy the user, and winnowing out that which holds less value, ranking it lower in search results. While some technical factors like keyword-title match and unique referring domains still hold a lot of sway, the newer mix gives more weight to factors that indicate high-quality content; word count, dwell time and media inclusion.

#Google’s algorithm gives more weight to factors that indicate high-quality #Content.
Word Count

Thoughtful long-form content is ranked more highly than short content that treats a topic in broad strokes. When Google pulls a page to the top of its’ search results, the average word count of that page is upwards of 1500. Pages that rank highly have a unique knowledge offering and are highly descriptive; points are deducted from sites that use templates or duplicate copy across multiple pages.

Comprehensive, in-depth content that aligns with the user’s search intentions ranks higher than shorter content that matches only on keywords. This is a major way in which Google had changed to recognize and promote high-quality content, and the reason why a search like “SEO best practices” delivers entries on the ranking factors and quick guides to setting up effective content, in addition to Google’s SEO handbook.

Google’s algorithm thinks beyond keywords, trying to surmise the intention behind the search. For example, what does a user need when she searches for “SEO best practices”? Does she need help developing her content strategy? Does she want t to remedy her page’s high bounce rate? Successful content will offer something of value to the user—new information, the solution to a problem, or even an emotional connection via a powerful story, infographic, or piece of media.

Dwell Time

Long-form content goes hand-in-hand with dwell time, or the amount of time that people spend reading the information contained on a page. Points are subtracted from sites with high bounce rates—when users land on a page and don’t immediately find a reason to keep reading, they navigate away and your search ranking takes a ding. The word “storytelling” is thrown around a lot in today’s content marketing circles, but this is where one basic element of storytelling—the narrative hook—plays a role of critical importance.

Strong narrative hooks in #BrandedContent will keep bounce rates low & reader’s interest high. #Storytelling

Medium, arguably the king of quality content, has found the optimal reading time to be seven minutes, and says that stories that take twice as long to draft have an 89 percent increase in total time read. It’s proof that investing the resources in crafting an interesting and compelling read delivers positive results.

Media Inclusion

Another factor that not only directly boosts search rankings but also serves to capture and hold the user’s attention is the inclusion of quality media. Content with at least one image dramatically outperforms text alone; apart from the obvious benefit of leveraging the image fields that are searchable by crawlers and contribute to your ranking score, media immediately captures interest and compels the reader to keep reading, increasing your dwell time.

Quality media boosts search rankings & captures interest. #SEO #ContentMarketing

Google is researching machine-learning tools to automatically detect, classify, and label photos, but until that technology is available, it’s important to make the most of your title tags, alt tags, and image titles. Use descriptive, concise titles that accurately convey why the image is important.

Takeaway: as search engines evolve, they continue to prefer quality content. What makes good quality? A thoughtful narrative and captivating images boost SEO rankings and foster longer dwell time—another factor that influences rankings.

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