Redefining Quality Content For The Web

    December 4, 2006

When I first started writing for the web as a freelancer, my conception of content was, naturally, focused on writing. As I was drawn further and further into the online world and my understanding of the web grew, I realized that content applies to a broader spectrum of web-related mediums besides writing. Recently I was browsing online and thinking about some forums I’d visited that were debating the definitions of quality content; needless to say, it got me thinking.

After researching the term and trying to come up with a specific definition, I realized that it just wasn’t possible, because quality’ content can’t be defined by itself; it has to be defined by its audience. The main audiences concerned with quality content online are:

  • Users;
  • Search Engines;
  • Website owners, Webmasters & SEOs.

Quality content from a user’s perspective

From a user’s perspective, quality (or my preferred term, valuable) content, whatever the medium, is characterized by one essential factor: it fulfills the user’s needs at the time they’re looking for it.

While average, informational, well-structured content may be considered “quality” content, for users, true “quality” comes in the form of any unique idea, tool or medium used to give people the information they want on a given topic. This can range from humor-filled or debate-stimulating articles and crazy video blogs to interactive websites or those just offering expert advice. Essentially, any material that engages their emotions, expresses opinions, invites interaction, commentary and debate, and most importantly, meets their needs.

For example, in the beginning of my web-based writing career, I put too much emphasis on the particulars of writing: if it was well written, if it was long enough, if it was grammatically correct and well-structured, etc. I soon came to realize that, while these factors are still important, they are not necessary to creating “quality” content. Authors of wonderful, incendiary or groundbreaking articles struggling with structural and grammatical errors ranked above many of mine every time because they gave people what they were looking for.

Quality content from a search engine’s perspective

From a search engine’s perspective, quality content seems to be determined by the most on-topic (relevant) and trusted material in the online community.

Relevancy is affected by the number of links to a page’s content (like ‘votes’ for the page), the content’s significance, how well the search engine algorithm understands the meaning of the page (semantics) and how well the content matches the searcher’s topic.

Trust is the other part of the equation, and is determined by the types of sites that link to a webpage. For example, .edu sites are generally more trusted than other domains. Because of this, sites with lots of .edu links will probably do very well. Sites highly trusted on a particular topic, or “authority” sites, range from smaller websites with lots of ‘quality’ content to larger sites considered leaders in their field. The search engines love these sites, so if several link to your page’s content, it gives your page validity with the search engines.

Note: this is a purposefully broad generalization; there are many subtleties that go into how a search engine determines the quality of content, but I’m not writing a book; I’m simply taking a stab at generally understanding how the search engines analyze ‘quality’ content.

Quality content from a website owner, webmaster or seo’s perspective:

From a web owner’s, web masters, or website owner’s perspective, quality content is simply content that garners links, offers value to users, is properly optimized and draws traffic that can be used for brand recognition or monetization.

More recently, a large determinant of a website’s quality of content has been its ability to gain links through a number of methods, including social bookmarking. If a user likes a site, they can bookmark it or link to it; this in turn increases the site’s prominence.

In his guest article on, Aaron Wall of Seobook states that “you can write a thousand pages all day long on your site and absolutely nobody is going to care if they do not know who you are.” I see where he’s coming from, as most content offering basic tips, a glossary about thingies or a how-to guide will be ignored by most people. Users will go to the sites they trust, the people with the rep, or sources like Wikipedia before they read an unknown website or blog-unless you create content with a unique slant (opinionated, editorial, catchy, humorous, creative) or content that’s ultra detailed (e.g. a fifty page guide to thingies or a super reference site).

However, I think that a large part of problem also lies in the fact that many website and blog owners don’t know how to market or promote their content properly. If they lack an understanding of seo, internet or viral marketing and other methods they can take to get themselves noticed, such as commenting on blogs and in forums, optimizing their site or blog correctly, etc., they have no chance to compete against the big guys, no matter the quality of their content. However, if they have valuable content, know how to promote themselves effectively and use the vast array of online tools available, the little guy can win, even without the rep. Acclivity’s blog, Stir Crazy, is an excellent example.

We set out with the intention of creating enough valuable content that our blog would take off with a running start. And it did. Less than a week after we launched Stir Crazy, Chris Crum approached us with an invitation to join WebProNews as a blogging partner; needless to say, we did, and one of our articles was even featured on the main page of Searchnewz (as of Dec. 3). The website and blog have been up less than two weeks, and we already rank for some decent terms.

In the end, quality content means different things to different audiences. So give ’em all what they want and reap the benefits: universally valuable content that offers unique ideas, meets their needs, satisfies their algorithms and gets them links.



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About the Author

Aurora Brown is the editor and head copywriter for Social Media Systems online marketing company and specializes in producing powerful, accessible content for the web. She co-authors the 3net Search Engine Marketing Blog and is working on her first novel.