Earlier this month, Google’s search engine results shifted. Any time rankings drop without warning, Google has done something behind the scenes to adjust its algorithm — the way sites are measured for quality and relevance.

Webmasters and publishers quickly determined that this ranking shift had nothing to do with “mobilegeddon” — Google’s recent change to the way sites are ranked in mobile searches. So what was it? Google was quiet at first, refusing to acknowledge whether or not this was another major change to the search engine’s core algorithm.

Websites live and die by Google rankings

HubPages, a how-to site publishing user-generated content, saw a stunning 22 percent drop during the shift. This major declined seemed to be part of an overall trend targeting sites with lots of tutorial and how-to articles.

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We now know that the update wasn’t about mobile-friendliness but quality of content.

Sites that churn out content that may not be well-researched or valuable won’t rank as highly as sites publishing quality content that truly benefits the person searching for answers.

It’s creepy to imagine quality of content being evaluated by what’s essentially an enormous math formula, but that’s where we are. Even computer programs can tell if your content isn’t valuable.

How do you create search-friendly content?

As Google evolves, making public and secret changes, there’s no magical way to ensure better search engine rankings. But a good place to start is to publish solid, quality content.

  • Provide useful information. Think about the human being you’re communicating with via your website. Are you helping that human being out or just trying to boost your SEO?
  • Be clear and honest. How would you communicate to website visitors if you were standing in front of them in a room? Be straightforward and never make claims you can’t back up.
  • Don’t pull a bait and switch. No one likes click-bait. Make sure your headlines and links accurately reflect the content of your blog posts and pages.
  • Use keywords wisely. Keywords are your friend, but if you overuse them, you look like a spammer. Use them judiciously in ways that make sense. Don’t sacrifice readability to cram as many keywords onto a page as possible.

Publish robot-friendly content, but never lose sight of the humans consuming it.

Quality content is the foundation of your successful website

These content guidelines would be relevant even if Google had nothing to do with website success. You need search engine optimization to get visitors on your site, but those visitors will bounce to somewhere else on the web if you don’t give them what they’re looking for.

Quality content converts visitors to leads and leads to customers. Quality content makes you a thought leader in your industry. Quality content sets you apart from your competitors. Make content strategy a priority from day one. It isn’t just insurance against search engine penalization — it’s the foundation of your site’s overall success.

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