What is Content Quality & How Do You Measure It?

Marketers and publishers use plenty of metrics to gauge content quality—site traffic, for example, and search rankings.

But here’s the thing: neither of those metrics really speaks to content quality. Content that drives a ton of search traffic isn’t necessarily effective content. Neither is content that ranks well for its intended keyword. Chasing these metrics often leads to low-quality, copycat content that doesn’t speak to its intended audience.

The truth is, engagement is the only true measure of quality content. If your audience doesn’t engage with your content, that content is worthless to you—regardless of where it shows up in the SERPs. It won’t educate top-of-funnel readers, it won’t bring leads into your marketing funnel, and it won’t convert new customers.

Below, we dive into how popular SEO scoring tools play into the copycat content problem and how you can better identify and measure content quality by focusing on engagement.

Table of Contents

SEO tools can’t measure true content quality

In the rush for search rankings and organic traffic, many marketers have recently turned to third-party SEO scoring tools. These are tools like Clearscope and Yoast that score content based on its likelihood to rank well in search for a given keyword.

These platforms can’t provide a real picture of content quality. That’s because SEO tools base their judgment off the characteristics of what’s already ranking for a given keyword—which leads to bland, copycat content that doesn’t take the publisher’s own audience into account. Here’s what content marketing agency Animalz had to say about the scourge of copycat content:

[Companies are] fixating on their keyword research tools and SEO briefs at the expense of originality and personality. They’re curating other people’s work, instead of creating their own. They’re choosing to make content longer, instead of better.

As explained in the same article, SEO tools inherently recommend the same topics and headers to everyone because they’re using data from the existing SERPs. “Quality” comes down to really basic scoring factors, such as the following:

  • Word count/length
  • Latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords and subtopics
  • Reading level

When content creators focus entirely on reaching a certain search score, it’s easy to lose sight of what actually matters—content that’s compelling, authoritative, original, and valuable.

How did we get here?

Back in the early days of search engines, content creators used to be able to publish thin, keyword-heavy content, and, like magic, it would rank on Google. That’s not the case anymore; search engines are smarter now, and readers demand an experience that prioritizes humans over Google.

With the Panda update of 2011, Google demoted thin content and placed a greater emphasis on more in-depth content. That’s when SEO managers started pushing for longer-form content as the default to avoid getting penalized for “low-quality content.”

Instead of focusing on making their audience happy, publishers were still focused on making Google happy. Concerns about who their audiences were, what those audiences found interesting, and what they engaged with fell by the wayside and became secondary to search. This is how SEO tools gained so much traction as a means to help marketers gauge “content quality.”

But as any marketer today can tell you, longer content, SEO-optimized content doesn’t always equal good content.

Quality content is engaging content

When measuring content quality, the only thing that matters is what your audience cares about and engages with.

When we talk about engagement, we aren’t referring to the metrics Google Analytics calls “engagement.” We aren’t talking about bounce rate, exit rates, or Google’s version of time on-page. Instead, we’re talking about true engagement—how your audience actively reads, watches, or listens to your content. That’s fundamentally different from what traditional page and site analytics measure. (We’ll dig into this distinction in the next section on engagement KPIs.)

For publishers who want their content to connect with their audiences, and eventually convert them, true engagement is the be-all, end-all goal.

Content analytics measure content quality

You might be wondering how to measure true engagement. The answer is content analytics.

Despite its popularity among content marketers, Google Analytics isn’t built to measure engagement. The tool was built for advertisers and direct-response websites—not content professionals.

Our tool, Parse.ly, is a content analytics solution specifically designed for content creators and publishers. Because of that, we measure web sessions and engagement in a way that’s fundamentally different from how Google Analytics captures data.

Google Analytics data relies on “exit events,” which means it can’t measure the last page of a session or any single-page session. That means a lot of sessions end up unaccounted for, and aggregate and time-based metrics are unreliable. According to our estimates, Google’s aggregate metrics don’t account for up to 40% of pageviews.

Plus, Google measures only web sessions, meaning you need special integrations and workarounds to bring in data from social—which is crucial to understanding the quality of your content.

Instead, Parse.ly, uses a “heartbeat” pixel to check in on web sessions every few seconds. Our proprietary algorithm doesn’t rely on exit events like Google does. That means we can track whether or not the browser tab is currently open and whether the user is actively engaged with the page—even for last-page and single-page sessions. We’re able to accurately track the journey from initial pageview to the end of the user’s visit—without relying on the next pageview as an exit event.

Parse.ly also measures whether or not a visitor is actively reading your content (instead of having the page open amid a sea of other browser tabs). We identify this based on things like cursor movement, scrolling, video playing, clicking, and more. That means you can rely on the time-based metrics our tool provides—you know the visitor was truly engaged with your content during that time.

Create content that works

Lastly, we know that content quality isn’t dictated solely by what happens on-page or in the SERPs. That’s why our tool brings together data from across platforms (including web and social) to give publishers a holistic view into content quality and performance.

Engagement Metrics for quality content

When you measure content quality with a tool that’s built for content, you unlock several KPIs that offer an accurate, reliable measure of true engagement and quality. Here are five of the content-quality metrics we often recommend our customers track with Parse.ly’s content marketing analytics tools:

  • Total engaged minutes: A step beyond Google Analytics’ time-on-page and session-duration measurements, this metric tells you how long visitors are actively engaged with your content. That means you get a true sense of how much and how long visitors are consuming your content.
  • Average engaged time: Our data on average engaged time includes every visit to your content—not just multipage sessions. In other words, it’s a more meaningful way to gauge how engaged your audience is across each piece of content you publish.
  • Top posts by author, section, or tag: With Parse.ly, you can break your content quality metrics down to find the top posts across sections, tags, authors, and more—making it easier to identify successful content, so you can create more of it.
  • Subscription and newsletter sign-ups and form fills: Parse.ly is built for content, not ads, so the tool includes conversion tracking designed for content marketers and publishers, including subscription sign-ups, newsletter sign-ups, form fills, and more.
  • Social referrals and interactions: Social media sharing and conversations are key pieces of the content engagement puzzle often left out of the conversation. Parse.ly accurately measures and attributes social media referral traffic and social interactions (likes, shares, reactions, etc.). And you can view social data from the same dashboard as web analytics, giving yourself a complete picture of content engagement across channels—without all the back-and-forth.

Meaningful content quality analytics from Parse.ly

From Google Analytics to third-party SEO tools, traditional web and SEO analytics can’t tell you about the quality of your content—how future content will perform or how existing content is performing.

Content analytics solutions, on the other hand, are designed to measure content quality. They can help you pinpoint the most engaging content for every audience that comes to your site—enabling you to double down on the promotion of existing quality content and optimize future content creation strategy.

Want to to explore what further actionable insights you can surface about your content right away?