Everywhere you look in digital marketing news, the story is the same: you need great content. Good content isn’t enough, it has to be excellent! Content is what gets people interested in your brand. It encourages them to visit your site, to browse around and come back for more. But how the heck do you measure content quality?
If you’re in the business of putting content on the Internet, you need to be sure that it’s really, really, ridiculously great stuff. Otherwise, you’re likely wasting precious resources on blog posts that nobody discovers, or social posts that are mere content noise.
This article explores exactly what it means to create quality content, including Google’s quality rater guidelines, and how to measure content quality.
By the end, you’ll be able to create a list of KPIs for analyzing your own content (and probably also need a long break from the words ‘quality’ and ‘content’).
What Does ‘Quality Content’ Mean?
Quality content should be helpful, relevant, and drive business goals. If you focus on those objectives whenever you create content for your business, you’ll be just fine.
But the purpose of this article is how to measure content quality, so we have to go much deeper than that. For your content to have strong and measurable value, it needs to exceed expectations for writing, design, and/or production.
That can mean well-written, grammatically sound copy; strong and appropriate visuals; clean code and fast-loading pages; an enjoyable, accessible on-page experience; and of course, everything optimized.
Then there’s Google’s opinion on what makes quality content. And since Google pretty much decides our business websites’ fates, we have to sit up and pay attention.
What does Google consider quality content?
Google is a million times pickier than your audience.
Sometimes that’s a good thing; many current ranking factors are focused around creating a great user experience, so it’s okay to be forced to have high standards. That’s doing everyone a favour.
But grasping what Google wants can feel like shooting fish in a barrel, especially for newer websites. That’s what we’re going to explore right now.
Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines
Google has a hefty piece of public documentation called its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. This is a handbook for the humans Google pays to assess content quality.
These raters are expected to be unbiased, and to use their “best judgment and represent the cultural standards of [their] rating locale” to “measure how well search engine algorithms are performing for a broad range of searches.”
They basically look at a webpage, and the quality guidelines presented in this handbook, and rate its quality. According to the document, their rating doesn’t directly impact ranking; the only purpose is to help Google evaluate how well its AI has already ranked that page and assessed its content.
As a website owner myself, I’ve cruised this handbook and I recommend you do the same. Even though Google says it’s not being used for ranking signals, it obviously reflects the standards Google’s ranking algorithms are meant to uphold.
In general, Google wants the purpose of your page to be immediately obvious and match the search query. Facts and opinions should be supported by enough information about the author. The main content of the page should be enough to satisfy the topic, and meet quality standards.
Plus, Google wants to know that the website as a whole is reputable and not full of keyword stuffing, spammy links, bad grammar, and other nefarious deeds.
Here’s how Google’s quality rater guidelines define a high quality webpage:
- “A high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)” – we’ll dive deeper into this further down, but essentially it’s about the online reputation of the author and the website
- “A satisfying amount of high quality main content (MC), including a descriptive or helpful title.”
- “Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website. If the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions, then it should have satisfying customer service information” – this means don’t skimp on your Contact page, About page, and policies
- “Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page. Positive reputation of the creator of the MC, if different from that of the website” – don’t skimp on author bios including guest writers, especially if your site covers finances, health, and other critical your-money-or-your-life (YMYL) topics
On the other hand, here’s how Google’s quality rater guidelines define a low-quality page (one or more of these attributes is all it takes):
- An inadequate level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
- The quality of the MC is low
- There is an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page
- The title of the MC is exaggerated or shocking
- The ads or supplementary content (SC) distract from the MC
- There is an unsatisfying amount of website information or information about the creator of the MC for the purpose of the page (no good reason for anonymity)
- A mildly negative reputation for a website or creator of the MC, based on extensive reputation research
Google’s Ranking Factors
Google hasn’t published its ranking factors anywhere, and why would it? That’s like KFC handing every customer a pamphlet on the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices.
But industry leaders and the SEO community can more or less agree that there are around 200 ranking factors supported by studies and data. And when you’re assessing the quality of your content, you can’t afford to overlook them.
I won’t even try to capture the complex list of ranking factors here – I recommend bookmarking the latest version of a roundup published by a trusted SEO authority (like the one I linked above), and paying attention to updates throughout the year.
With that said, I will include known ranking factors in our breakdown of how to measure content quality from an SEO standpoint!
On that note…
How to Measure Content Quality
The best way to measure your content’s quality is by building a custom mix of key performance indicators (KPIs) focused on three primary sources of standards:
- Your audience – their searches, pain points, and expectations
- Google’s quality standards
- Your business goals
Take what these sources say your content needs to achieve, throw in a dash of what Google demands, and translate that into qualitative and quantitative KPIs that you can measure with tools.
I know, I just listed a bunch of complex processes as if they’re easy.
But once you’ve gone through the chore of figuring out exactly which metrics will tell you about your content quality, the battle is won. You can create a dashboard in your favourite tool, pulling all the data into one place from then on.
Then it’s a matter of regularly auditing your content, tweaking it as needed, and periodically updating your KPIs to reflect changes in your audience, Google’s latest updates, and your goals.
Obviously we’re also going to cover how to do all of that, right here. After all, my goal is for this article to be a quality piece of content (wink).
Common Qualitative Content Quality KPIs
“Qualitative content quality KPIs” is a mouthful that sounds like jargon, but I promise you it’s just kind of meta. What we’re talking about here are qualitative methods you can use to analyze your content – for quality.
This part is the hardest to explain and to actually measure, which is why we’re getting it out of the way first.
They aren’t actual metrics, otherwise they’d be in the ‘quantitative’ section, and not being actual metrics means you need to interpret this information in the way that makes the best sense for your audience, content, and goals.
There are two key qualitative ways to measure your content: E-A-T and the composition of your copy and media.
If we take out the subjective aspects of content quality – what “quality” means in various industries and to individuals – we’re all still bound by one universal standard for online content: Google’s.
What I’m talking about is that first line from Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines: “A high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).”
“E-A-T is probably the most contentious issue within the SEO community, due to its arguably algorithmic ambiguity,” says our Sr. Digital Strategist, Braeden Matson-Jones. “It is not a ranking factor, nor is it an acronym representing three individual ranking factors.”
What does that mean for your content? E-A-T isn’t a direct ranking factor, but Google says that E-A-T does matter because humans want to trust the source of what they read. Therefore, so does the search engine.
In short, optimizing your content for E-A-T can have an impact on how Google perceives your quality, so use it as a framework to guide your work.
Here’s how to use E-A-T to create quality content:
- Recognize if your content is the kind that needs maximum proof of expertise, such as health and wellness or financial (YMYL) information
- Include credentials next to your team members’ names on your About page and/or on their individual staff bios
Make sure that all post authors have a proper bio associated with any page that features their name
- When appropriate, include a line or tag that communicates the level of expertise behind the content – this isn’t just for YMYL content; it can benefit reviews of all types, product comparisons, interviews, and any other piece of content that features an opinion
- For YMYL topics you can take it one step further and publish a page that outlines your editorial process, such as how experts are chosen and facts are checked, and link to that page from each post
- Always link to legitimate outside sources – choose strong websites, check their facts before citing them, and never link to unsecure (http) sites
- Regularly audit your content for broken links using an SEO tool; you don’t want broken links that support the content’s trustworthiness
- Use schema to help Google understand entities related to your content, and spell out the key points Google should display in search results – you can use SEO plugins for this
- Regularly update the facts and sources in your content, especially evergreen posts, cornerstone pieces, and all of your top organic search traffic earners
Although it’s a more abstract measurement system than I prefer, you can assume that if you provide – and regularly update – strong supporting information for everything from authors to sources, you have produced quality content.
Google also looks at a website’s reputation, not just your authors. Stay on top of your backlinks (regularly audit them for spam situations), Google Business reviews, other citations (like Wikipedia or media mentions), and ensure that if you win awards or certifications your website is linked from those pages!
When it comes to written content, there are actually lots of qualitative ways to measure your quality.
This is more like a yes/no checklist. If your answer is yes, then your content is likely good quality. Is it:
- Written for the target audience – using familiar language, on a relevant topic
- Grammatically sound – the odd typo or intentionally playful spelling is fine, but Google won’t give a good ranking to a site full of bad grammar
- Accurate – facts are checked, sources cited, no broken links, and information is accurate/current
- Styled for readability – scannable with good use of headings, lists, and media, and all of that is responsive (easy to read across multiple devices)
- Right length for topic – provides complete information, not inflated to achieve word count or too short to be helpful
- Accessible – legible type, appropriate language, navigable using a screen reader or voice command
- Optimized – uses correct keywords and search intent to attract the right visitors
- Valuable – not just regurgitated content that can be found in every other search result
- Goal-oriented – relevant to your business, targets the right audience, and either builds brand awareness or moves the reader to a next step
Now, here’s a general quality checklist for multimedia. Is it:
- Created for the target audience – a medium they like to consume, on a topic that interests them)
- Clear – appropriate dimensions and resolution to look great across multiple devices
- Accessible – images have descriptions, videos have captioning
- Valuable – images or video tell a standalone story or support a larger piece of content, not just plucked from a quick stock site search because you know you need an image
- Goal oriented – if you’re putting the extra time and effort into creating branded images and especially video, they should align with strategic goals
Other General Content Quality Standards
- Use links strategically: don’t include too many links, try to earn quality backlinks, audit for spam or low-quality backlinks, audit for broken links, and plan internal linking so that authoritative pages point to your most important content
- Informational, non-sales content should be free from sales pitches
- Headlines and meta descriptions should directly reflect the content, and be enticing
- There should be minimal or no intrusive interstitials (pop-ups that distract from or impede the reading experience); these are included in Google’s quality rater guidelines as an indication of a low-quality site
- Google rewards sites for freshness, so a good way to measure your overall website quality is if you regularly add new content; whether it’s copy or videos or podcast sessions, if you continually add useful, relevant content, you’re doing it right
- Bonus quality points if copy is supported by helpful (not superfluous) data visualizations, infographics, or interactive elements like calculators, converters, or buttons that advance a process.
Common Quantitative KPIs for Content Quality
Now that we’ve waded through the hard part, let’s get to the fun stuff!
I love quantitative content measurements because they produce a tangible number that point-blank tells you if you did a good job. And you can easily action them.
What’s considered quality content for your audience won’t be the same for another business. With that said, there are plenty of frequently used, quantitative quality KPIs that you can use to get started, and to inspire your own ideas for unique metrics.
Here’s a list of popular quantitative quality KPIs:
- Average number of pages viewed per session
- Increased traffic from the desired source or channel
- Percent of visitors who read 75% or more of the page/post
- SERP position of content for target keyword(s)
- Rankings movement related to the content
- Increased click-through rate (CTR)
- Earned backlinks
- Social media shares
- Good page speed score from core web vitals or other tools
- Achieves mobile-friendliness in Google Search Console
- On page actions (like playing a video or downloading a PDF)
- Conversions after viewing content
- Increased brand awareness (direct traffic, mentions, tags, etc.)
Bounce Rate is Not the Way to Measure Content Quality…
At Forge and Smith, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about bounce rate because it’s entirely dependent on context.
I wrote a whole post about how a high bounce rate can be good, a low bounce rate can be bad, and how to fix bounce rate problems. The key takeaway is that some content is meant to fully satisfy in a single use, which means a high bounce rate is just fine. Other content is intended to move people down the sales funnel. That content should have a low bounce rate.
Just don’t go slapping a generic bounce rate goal, such as a supposed industry average, onto all of your content. That’s not how it works.
… and Neither is Average Session Duration
Lots of marketers still include average session duration in their reports like it’s a valuable metric, often displaying it at the top alongside bounce rate.
Here’s the thing: your average session duration figure includes all of your bounced sessions, which are logged as zero seconds. Even if the person spent five minutes reading a post, if they took no other action before exiting, it’s logged as a big, fat zero.
- If your bounce rate is 65%, that means that 65% of the session durations logged by Google Analytics and used to calculate the “average” were ZERO SECONDS
- In this case, only 35% of the sessions had correct times logged, which is a smaller sample pool
- And that 35% is bogged down in the calculation by all those zeroes
- If one person spent 3 minutes looking at 2 pages before exiting your site, another person spent 5 minutes looking at one page (a bounced session), and another spent 2 minutes looking at a page (another bounce) – Google Analytics will calculate 3+0+0/3, which is an average of only one minute!
- If you have a popular blog or other standalone content, there’s a good chance your bounce rate is much higher – so your average session duration is even less accurate
That’s why I prefer scroll depth for measuring engagement and thus, quality. It’s not perfect, but at least it’s an event that fires every time the page is viewed, regardless whether or not the person bounces.
Tools to Measure Content Quality
The best part about quantitative content quality measurement is that not only is it easier to wrap your head around, but you can also make tools do all the work.
- Google Analytics is the long-standing, go-to tool to measure content quality. From a piece of content’s traffic source data to custom events and goals like page scroll depth, downloads, and purchases, Google Analytics is where it’s at.
- Google Search Console is great for tracking your content’s average position for target keywords, your CTR, and mobile usability.
- SEO tools are where to look for new rankings relating to a piece of content, and changes in your ranking. They also include the means to track backlinks, which is a HUGE sign of success (if they are quality links), and to run technical SEO audits and check for passes or fails relating to content quality, like issues with your code or optimizations.
- Page speed tools are also a great way to ensure you’re delivering a great experience, and get a score that literally tells you if you have a quality page or not. We like GTMetrix.
- Social media analytics are a fantastic way to measure how a piece of content performs. Each platform delivers quantitative data on how people engaged with content (reach, views, clicks, plays, saves, shares, etc.), and if it helped earn brand awareness signals like tags, comments, and mentions.
- Reporting tools like DashThis can pull data from all of these sources and more into one place, where you can create widgets that reflect your chosen content quality KPIs.
That was a lot to take in!
Measuring content quality isn’t easy, because of all the factors you need to consider. But to reiterate the point I made eons ago, at the top of this article, “Quality content should be helpful, relevant, and drive business goals. If you focus on those objectives whenever you create content for your business, you’ll be just fine.”
If it’s content that your audience genuinely wants, with strong writing and design, delivered in their preferred medium and/or on their favourite platform – it will tick all the boxes.