By richard masters, Aug 17 2013 07:19AM
Matt Cutts, head of Web Spam at Google, is one of my modern day heroes- as he has been resolute in initiating changes to the search algorithms to return the results listings that best match the users search intent. This crusade can probably be traced back to Christmas 2010 when JC Penny appeared to top the entire search listings within the NY area for just about any product. Enough was enough. A programme of algorithmic changes have followed since that date known collectively as the Penguin and then Panda updates which have progressively outlawed these dubious practices.
These changes, although often criticised at the detailed level, have been almost universally welcomed by everyone involved in Digital Marketing. With the penalising of “Black Hat” methods the emphasis has shifted to the importance to content and content marketing to get noticed in search. Marketers have thrown themselves enthusiastically onto this new altar and articles abound extolling the virtue of creating more and more content.
THE NEW PROBLEM
However, this has created a new problem- the sheer volume of low quality, boring, plagiarised content that is flooding the web, all competing for attention and Googles approval via prominent search ranking.
There is so much content nowadays that it is a full time job to even read the titles on some of the main curated lists circulated on a daily basis! This is before selection of appropriate material to read. Let alone finding the time to read and absorb and evaluate the content itself!
Recent research has confirmed that it is over posting and poor grammar are the two biggest turnoffs for consumers of this deluge of recent content
Now Googles own Quality Guidelines give us lots of clues as to what it regards as quality content but in reality this is just guidance and, in fairness, rooting out the obvious abuses is a herculean task in the short term.
It would be nice to think that user approval systems, such as Googles own +1 system, would be some help but in reality this is more a vote for the popularity of the source rather than the content, (rather like TV talent competitions!) with approval often being given without even reading, let alone evaluating, the content concerned!
So, what could Mr Cutts do address this veritable mud slide of mediocre material? Here are some suggestions based upon my particular pet hates...
1. Relegate content with numbered lists in the title.
I have reproduced, below, an extract from a curated list of articles from a well known source, this shows a whole section in which all of the articles started with some form of numbered list in the title (Three things you did not know about x etc.). Now this is an extreme example, but overall in the lists I analysed, over 40% used this device.
This format, to me, is a key indicator of potential low quality. I do not know who originally concluded that articles in this form are more successful, but it is now part of digital marketing folk law that is avidly adhered to as a winning formula. The reason it is popular, appears to me to be because it allows authors to sling together a series of partially (and usually borrowed) points and quickly produce some impressive looking content. These points have usually been assiduously culled over a period of time and inserted in a note system, or the like, under a ”content ideas” tab for later editing into a post or article.
Giving content that uses this device a lower quality score will no doubt catch a few gems but overall may well cause a significant increase in the overall quality of published content.
2. Downgrade anything with word “Awesome” somewhere in the title
Clearly to be effective, content should be well written and balanced. I find that the vast majority of pieces with “awesome” in the title are usually far from it and usually indicate either a lack of judgment by the author or indeed the desire to impart some importance to the subject matter that simply is not there.
The English language is rich and diverse with a wide choice of adjectives, indeed my battered and aging thesaurus lists awesome under “Wonderful” along with 52 other alternatives (twenty of the best ones are reproduced in the figure below)including such words as: Marvelous, Magical, Stupendous, Sensational, Extraordinary. Fantastic Unbelievable, Fabulous and even Thaumaturgic! All of these words have subtly different connotations and can only make content more informative and meaningful.
So come on Matt send content containing the word “awesome” to room 101 with a hefty quality penalty,
3. Penalize organisations which promote content publishing schedules.
I fully expect howls of outrage at this point! - but stay with me for a moment.
I am in fact a great fan of publishing schedules- but they are not right for everyone. If you are a large organisation with substantial teams of people responsible for producing content or organising content with multiple authorships then, clearly, a publishing schedule is a must for all sorts of good reasons.
Translate this into the situation of a small business or an individual (which are numerically huge compared with the former categories) and you get a recipe for poor content. The tyranny of a schedule allied to the mantra of quantity- you must publish x items daily or at least very regularly, is a formula for the proliferation of low quality dross.
I have over the years stopped subscribing from a number of blogs and the like, simply because although the authors at one time produced interesting and insightful pieces, the quality dropped off , and this was almost always was allied to an increase in the periodicity of publishing. The posts often became clearly formulaic, unoriginal, and often regularly featured the numbered list technique described above.
Unfortunately, the shibboleth that quantity is important is clearly in the best interests of those commercially involved in producing content and therefore will not be popular
4. Demote content from people who have expert, ninja or guru etc. in their description line.
I often wonder what people thing they gain by giving themselves a self appointed title which implies they know what they are talking about and therefore I should pay particular attention to their pearls of wisdom. To me it has the reverse effect.
The motives behind people who attempt to boost their credibility by adopting such titles have to be questioned and therefore, by implication, the veracity of the content they generate.
Now maybe the new authorship index will help this (certainly more than a Klout score!) but this may end up measuring popularity rather than quality- and then we are back into the quantity versus quality argument again.
Matt, in the interim, please mark them down!
This, somewhat light heated, consideration of the current trend towards the overproduction of current does throw up a number of more important considerations:
1. The importance of curation
Personally, most of the content I consume comes via curated lists of some form or another. The problem with this approach is that the vast majority of curation lists concentrate on the basic activities of aggregation and classification. The net result of this is that even scanning the lists to assess what to read in depth (or file away for later) is a herculean task in its own right. I would like to see curators come off the fence and take on the more advanced curation tasks of saying what is good and original and what is not(selecting and contextualising). Clearly this might reduce popularity- but sometimes you have to take risks to move forward.
2. Quality is always relative.
One of the dangers of advanced curation is that what is relevant to one person is not to another. Clearly the requirement of someone who is familiar with a topic is very different from that of a novice. For example, being a complete numpty at even the most basic of DIY tasks them I need really basic guides which a skilled tradesman would regards a complete waste of time and may well scoff with some of the simplistic advice given. In this situation I believe it should be the responsibility of the provider to indicate at what level context the information is being offered at. Some organisations, to their credit, do classify their content into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Wider adoption of this practice by more content creators and curators would help the consumer identify what content is relevant for them.
Well there you have It.- some off the wall ideas on how to stem the tidal wave of mediocre content and avoid having to throw the ‘baby’ of valuable content out will the bathwater of regurgitated dross..
Anybody else got any other ideas for Matt on how to achieve this?
After penning this piece, I note that Google have announced that they are indeed to produce listings of what they regard as in depth and quality pieces of content- wow that was quick Matt!
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