How Important Is Content to SEO (According to Google)?

Google is not the only search engine. But when it comes to ranking factors, it’s pretty much the only one that matters. By handling 90% of the worldwide searches, Google is the go-to source of information for search engine marketers.

There’s a tiny problem, though: Google is also notoriously stingy with releasing official information about what helps with ranking and what doesn’t. So the SEO community is left picking up crumbs and trying to pull words out of Google officials in every interview. 

However, we do have some facts that come straight from the horse’s mouth.

What Does Google Say about Content as a Ranking Factor?

Google handles more than 5.4 billion searches per day. Every day. To keep their huge market share of 90%, they absolutely need the results of those searches to be relevant. And they are.

The crux of relevance is the content the websites that rank high offer their users. If the content is not what the user expected, they will bounce back to search results and look for another option. If this happens too often, they will eventually switch search engines altogether and move to another one that offers better results.

Of course, Google does not want that to happen. So they make sure the websites that rank in the first positions have excellent content and a great user experience – the two major pillars of SEO.

In Google’s words:

There you have it.

Right on Google Search Central, you can find out that content will “likely influence your website MORE than any of the other factors discussed here”.

Content and SEO marketers will tell you the same thing, myself included: if you change one thing to your website to make it rank better, make sure that thing is content. I’m not saying that the user experience doesn’t matter or that a mobile responsive website is just nice to have. Not at all.

But all things being equal, content is the starting place of the SEO revolution for any website.

I’ve noticed this time and again with my agency’s clients. They hired my team to create new content and that we did. We never touched the technical part of their SEO. Still, one of our oldest customers now ranks in the top three positions in Google for ALL the keywords they aimed for, while another generates 50% more organic leads in a very crowded industry

We’ve seen the same happen to our own websites. The better our content got, the better our ranking got too. Today, my agency generates 95% of leads and new customers from content. Some of it is on our own websites, while other is from guest posts like this one that trigger people to contact us.  No paid ads, no influencer marketing.

How can you get similar results? Well, the recipe itself sounds simple enough. The implementation, however, is a bit more nuanced. Let’s take a look:

What Type of Content Does Google Want You to Write?

The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines speak at length about how your content is supposed to be written to win Google’s favor. There are two acronyms that you should never ignore:

  • EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness): your content should be well-researched, thorough, in-depth, and written by experts in the field. Pay extra attention to the bios of the authors on your website!
  • YMYL (Your Money or Your Life): this acronym refers to pages that can impact a reader’s wellbeing, health, freedom, or finances. If you cover topics about: medicine, finance, happiness, mental health, or physical health you should be extra careful with the links you use and with how you choose to cover each topic. Again, it’s very important to have experts covering sensitive topics – so don’t forget to create relevant bios for everything you publish.

One important note here: for “regular” pages and articles, almost anyone can be an expert with enough research. Or, they can at least produce well-researched pieces of content that are factually true and offer valuable information to the reader. For YMYL topics, though, “official” credentials are important. Think of it this way: not everyone writing on a medical topic should be an MD, but it never hurts.

At my agency, for instance, we hire engineers to cover technical topics for this precise reason: we want to make sure that every article we create and our customers publish is factually accurate and valuable. Even for “lighter” topics like beauty, home improvement, XaaS, or marketing we have specialists who may not have a university degree in the field they cover, but have spent years writing on these topics.

One last aspect that I consider to be crucial but that’s rarely covered in SEO writing guides: ranking is just part one of the task. If you write commercial content, it means that your ultimate goal is not to rank in SERPs or to have millions of visitors each month, but to sell your products or services.

Thus, besides SEO-friendliness, your content also needs a marketing edge, a way to get the reader to take the action you wanted – subscribe to newsletter, download an eBook, buy, or share on social media.

I learned this the hard way, sorting through dozens of writer applications that look great on paper but who fell short during the hands-on assessments each of our staff members have to pass. In a nutshell: they were amazing writers, but their work had no spark. At least one of them could well become the next Hemingway, but they couldn’t sell a bottle of water to a man walking in the desert.

This is why we never hire writers with zero marketing background anymore. We can easily teach them the SEO guidelines and how to conduct their own research, but teaching them how to understand and implement basic marketing principles in their content takes much longer.

Bottom line: never create content that just ranks. Unless your business makes money from AdSense-type services. Otherwise, traffic is not going to pad your bottom line.

Focus instead on content that does three things:

  • Ranks
  • Answers a real need or a real problem for your readers
  • Converts readers into leads or paying customers.