In the beginning was Google . . . and Google said that we all needed to be aiming for high-quality content. Of course, Google did not really define what that meant, so we all took a stab at it and figured out our own definitions of “high quality,” eventually reaching consensus based on our SERPs. Now, Google reps have made comments that have many SEO experts scratching their heads: it seems that high quality content is not always more useful to search engine users.
Doesn’t High Quality Translate to Better Results?
The argument may go on for years about whether Google should or can rank pages higher simply because of the quality of the content. However, that does not answer the more basic question: how useful is that content to end users? What Google seems to be saying is that equating “high quality” content with authoritativeness, accuracy and depth is not necessarily the way to go.
Some of this depends on what a user wants. If you are looking for a recipe for sourdough bread, a website that lists the ingredients and gives you the steps is probably preferable to a scholarly article on the development of the sourdough recipe by miners who had no access to food preservation. Relevance, in other words, may be more important than depth in that case.
On the other hand, if you are looking for information about a particular type of cancer, do you really want to be directed to Wiki Answers where Joe from Buffalo describes how his mom beat cancer by drinking apple cider vinegar? In that particular search case, you may want to be directed to a more authoritative source, such as the Mayo Clinic, rather than a user-based message board.
How Does This Apply To Me?
The good news is that you have a great deal of control over both the content on your website and the quality of that content. The secret to getting great search results seems to be less in the scholarliness of your content and more in how useful it is to users. Lots of traffic drives up your search engine rankings and helps Google see you as more valuable.
This does not mean that a website, particularly a legal website, should “dumb down” content. However, if you are tempted to write in legalese, remember that the people landing on your pages do not, by and large, have a law degree. They need to be able to read the content, understand it, and get something useful out of it. This will help Google recognize you as both authoritative and useful to your readers.