2016 Google Content Guidelines: A Marketing Checklist

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When people talk about needs, subjects like “food” and “shelter” come up. If you’re having an in-depth conversation, someone might mention “love,” “esteem,” or “self-actualization,” which you might recall from an Intro to Psychology class in college.

In November 2015, Google devoted 85 pages to Needs Met in the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, which provides instructions on determining content quality. For the search algorithm sovereign, “Needs Met” has nothing to do with Maslow’s hierarchy or anything else you see in search results when you Google “needs.” Instead, “Needs Met” evaluates whether users can find exactly what they are looking for when they search a specific term.

Content marketers should be thinking about “Needs Met” when prioritizing and optimizing content. Needs Met is the search algorithm of what content marketers have been talking about for years: it’s not about what the business wants, it’s about what the customers want.

To optimize for your customers, then, you have to think about how you can meet their needs with your website.

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Based on the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, here is a checklist — or a hierarchy, if you will — of Needs Met.

1. Is your website easy to read on a mobile phone?

You may be in shock that “mobile-friendly” is the very first question we’re addressing, but Google’s Needs Met criteria are specifically concerned with search results on mobile phones. Google doesn’t consider desktop irrelevant, but more than 50% of searches are from mobile phones these days, so Needs Met specifically concerns on mobile search results.

2. Is the content developed with a specific purpose in mind?

Are you hoping to reach users searching with a Know, Do, Go, or Buy query? If you are optimizing for a keyword where intent is clear — for example, “craft store reviews” — then it’s easier to define the purpose of your page and provide content that immediately meets the user’s needs.

Overbroad topic keywords like “knitting” may be highly searched, but don’t indicate intent. A person searching knitting may be looking for stores to purchase knitting supplies, knitting techniques, or local knitting collectives. The search doesn’t indicate the intent, so in Google’s eyes, no one search result can meet a user’s needs. For this query, Google includes several knitting research and community websites, as well as local stores with knitting supplies.

How do you balance meeting a customer’s needs through a search results page and reaching the most users through purposeful content with a wide reach? It’s a delicate balance — and it’s where a data-driven keyword analysis and content strategy comes into play.

3. Does your content depend on location?

If you’re searching on a mobile phone, you’re likely to be looking for vendors or services in your immediate location. “Near me” no longer has to be a part of the search query; search results for seemingly general topics like “spinning” or “knitting” show local 3-packs and local websites within search results. In 2014, local businesses dominated 60% of Google SERPs for generic keywords without location modifiers — whether you’re a local business or not, your location matters.

4. Is your content helpful?

So here’s where we get into blurred boundaries. “Helpful” is absolutely a concept that is dependent on the original user. For the purpose of Needs Met, “helpful” means “enough information to help a user answer one or two questions” — but “helpful” generally leads to more questions or leaves some questions unanswered. In analytics terms, “helpful” means that users spend a little bit of time on the page reading but do not complete a conversion or even look for more information.

Sometimes, especially in research phases of a consumer path to purchase, “helpful” is all some pages can be until a user is ready to convert. “Helpful” is what creators should aim for when initially developing a piece of content.

5. Is your content satisfying?

“Satisfying” is the step up from “helpful,” and it absolutely depends on the query. What will satisfy a user on “best types of yarn for knitting” will not necessarily satisfy the same user for “knitting circles near me.” Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines talk extensively about satisfaction — but do not quantify what comprises a satisfying page. For the purposes of Needs Met, we can determine that “satisfying” content leaves no unanswered questions based on the original query — and leads users to convert on to the next step of their journey. Some metrics to consider when benchmarking satisfaction include bounce rate and conversion rate.

6. Is the content expert?

Google outlines Expertise-Authority-Trust as a measurement of a website’s overall content strength and proficiency around a specific set of topics. While the below metrics can apply to a single page, the top of the pyramid considers how the content fits into the website as a whole. Can a searcher find everything they need on one website? This measurement can also be called domain authority, and it takes into account the level of knowledge of the content’s creator, overall brand and domain reputation, quality of content overall, and general authority on the given topic. Expertise, Authority, and Trust can take years to build and represent a significant content investment around specific topics.

Moving Forward

Although the definitions of “satisfying” and “helpful” may vary from person to person, establishing a baseline of content quality — along with benchmark data — can help your marketing team determine how to create content to meet the needs of your users, based on what they are searching for. With the above checklist in hand, you’re on the road to creating highly valuable content that can last for years to come.

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