The seemingly endless chain of search engine updates has moved the world of SEO slowly toward one fundamental goal - the creation of high quality content.
While the other aspects of search engine optimization like link building and in-depth keyword research are still just as important as they ever were, quality content has taken the stage as the star of the SEO show. Content is, was, and always will be king, but how can you continue to create quality content in a world so saturated with content that nearly everything seems to be similar to something else?
The Hallmarks of Quality Content
Quality content is usually defined as content that is original, valuable, and engaging. That definition, however, is as specific as it is vague, and it can often leave someone feeling as though they've entered the Twilight Zone of search engine optimization. Google has released webmaster guidelines that specific what they believe quality (and quality content) to be, replete with a bullet list of attributes the content should possess. Google even provides some guidance on their interpretation of content that is empty or devoid of originality.
While any content can be modified to make it original, valuable, and engaging, the true hallmarks of quality content are:
Content that possesses value to the reader by imparting information relevant to the reader's wants or needs
Content that answers a question, fulfills a desire, meets a need, or solves a problem for the reader (even if it may be a question or problem the reader was unaware of when they began their search)
Content that is presented in a unique way or via a fresh perspective, departing from the "same old, same old" rehashing of information found to already exist in countless online locations
Lists Are Typically Not Considered "Quality" Content
Lists are extremely popular in blogs and online articles because they provide information in a format that is easy to read. This method of delivering information is preferred among many because the majority of online users are scanners; they skim content to find that which appeals to them, is unique in some way, or meets their needs. With many lists, it is actually the headline itself that grabs the reader's attention and motivates them to examine the list in detail.
Despite the popularity of lists, they are not considered to be quality-infused content for the most obvious reason - they are nothing more than a retelling of information found somewhere else. While one list may be significantly different from another, the basic data contained within the list is culled from other lists, making it as lacking in originality as possible. The reader, most often, is looking through the list to find something they've yet to see, which is why the format itself is quite successful.
How To Create Content That "Wins" the Quality Contest
Google provides, in part of their Webmaster Tools, a course module for creating content that is high quality. While you can follow a specific set of instructions and create content that could be considered rich in quality, it still may fail miserably among your readers.
The first (and most important) way to create content that is quality-rich is to define your audience. After all, you cannot give them what they want if you don't know who they are. If you are thinking globally, whittle it down to a more reachable target. Choose one segment of your desired audience and write for them. Find out what they want or need, discover a problem that is plaguing them, or learn what questions they have for which they've yet to find answers.
When you have defined your audience, it is much less challenging to create content that will appeal to them, and it also gives you a better definition of what content will appeal to them. Once you know who you are writing for and what they want to know, the rest is easy by comparison.