How to make sure your content is still king when optimising your website

Published: 28/10/2022 By Dakota Murphey

‘Content is king’ is an adage that has been around SEO for a very long time. But you might not realise where it originates from. It appears that, while he probably wasn’t the first to use the phrase, it was the exceedingly wealthy Microsoft supremo Bill Gates who popularised the term with regard to the internet.

“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting,” said Gates, in his 1996 essay titled ‘Content is King’. “One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.”

He was right, of course. The internet spawned a revolution in the creation and publishing of content. And it is awash with content on virtually every topic imaginable. However, over time and the rise of Google, the phrase ‘content is king’ began to take on a slightly updated and more nuanced meaning in relation to SEO.

When did content become king?

In the early days of search engines, the algorithms were fairly simple and mostly relied on specific phrases written in the text. If your URL, website heading, meta description, meta tags and body content all mentioned ‘cheap holidays’, the chances are your website was going to rank well of the search term ‘cheap holidays’.
Google’s arrival in the search engine marketplace changed the game. Specifically, Google saw the importance of credibility. It established this by taking a look at which websites were linking to others. It considered that if lots of websites all linked to your website, it probably meant that your site was a good source of information. Similar to an academic citation in an essay; the more times the other websites mentioned yours, the better you would rank.

In the following years, Google would update its algorithm, as the system of looking at links to establish credibility could be too easily manipulated. And this is perhaps where the importance of content became paramount.

The rise of Panda

In 2011, Google released its infamous Panda update. The Panda update cracked down on sites that were using poor quality content - either duplicated from other sites, or simply not up to a high standard. Arguably, this was the first sign of the vital importance of content to SEO and how your website ranked on Google.

Over time, Panda and various proceeding updates have increased the complexity and scope. It has got to the point where Google is able to assess content for its quality to establish what is good and what is not.
This led to the absolute importance of having the highest possible quality content on your website. It was no longer enough that content wasn’t duplicated - content had to be up to the standard where it could keep the interest of readers, or Google would look on the site disfavourably.

As Bill Gates had predicted (although not exactly why he predicted it): content was king.

Good SEO was bad for content

It is important to recognise, however, that content was not the only ranking factor for Google. Nor was it the only important component of digital marketing. In fact, increasingly, competing factors have threatened to depose the king from his throne. Content became an afterthought to how it is was actually delivered.

The delivery of content came through other aspects of search engine optimisation: understanding keywords, maximising metadata, and the strength of links pointing to the page. All of these are the factors in how content is found, and making sure it could be found became more important than the content itself.
In essence, it became more important that users could find your content than it was for the content to be worth finding. Websites would stuff their text with clunky keywords and focus far more on ensuring the content was good for Google rather than good for people.

Re-thinking content

While Google was now able to find content easily, there was now the issue that the actual content itself wasn’t very effective. Content that is created for machines generally isn’t impressive to human readers. And Google was very much aware that while its algorithm was presenting content in the way it wanted it to be presented, the result was putting off searchers.

This led to a rethinking of what Google considers to be ‘good’ content. Some of the key principles behind Google’s new attitude to content is that pages should be made primarily for users, not for search engines. It also wanted websites to avoid using tricks to enhance their search engine performance.

This would mean avoiding techniques such as hidden text, automatically-generated content, using re-directs unnecessarily and using scraped content.

What does great content look like?

Trying to use these techniques today would be disastrous for your website. And ultimately this is how content has truly reclaimed its title. But it can be difficult to understand exactly what we mean when we think about ‘great content’.
One of the most effective ways to think about content is to follow Google’s own principles and that means focusing on E-A-T. It stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness - and that tries to break down in a nutshell what Google is looking for when it assesses a page for quality.

Writing well is a given, but content also needs to be fresh and regularly updated. Interestingly, Google wants you to cite your sources. Transparency is considered an important factor in where information comes from, and if you are backing up your claims with credible sources, this is viewed very positively by the search engine.

Content is still king

As we have talked about, there are many different factors that make a website palatable to search engines or engaging to humans - but it is arguable that content is still the most important. Ultimately, high-quality content showcases your business as an expert in the industry and helps you to develop trust with potential customers.

You can do all the SEO and digital marketing work you like, but if the end result is a bad page, it is so much harder to get visitors to convert. Content is king, and long live the king.