Content Quality is an integral part of Google’s search algorithm. A page with high value content tends to rank better in the SERPs. Google has gone to great lengths to make this happen. So for SEO purposes, delivering only high quality content is our goal.

Optimizing content should be part of any SEO strategy. There are many ways to go about this. But in this article, we’re covering the scoring system we use internally, which we refer to as CQ (Content Quality) Scores.

The purpose of the CQ Scoring System is to efficiently improve a website’s overall content quality to increase rankings and SEO potential.

I’ll go through exactly how we score content quality (along with scoring examples), and steps to take for better content and better rankings.  We’ve seen great results using the methods below. So definitely give this a try.

I’ve also created a shared spreadsheet template, which is essentially the same as what we use. So feel free!

What Is Content Quality?

It depends on who you ask. What’s considered as quality can be very subjective. However, most can agree that content quality surrounds these two elements.

Value: How much value does it offer

Purpose: To what level does it serve its purpose

If you’re looking for information, does the page provide what you’re looking for?  Or did you just bounce back to the search engines to find something else? Or maybe it goes above and beyond, providing you with not only the information you were looking for, but also with helpful material you hadn’t even thought of yet.

Content quality is about the user, first and foremost. Not the search engines.

SEO & High Quality Content

So, why go to all the trouble of grading each page for quality?

The short answer is SEO. Content quality can and does affect your keyword rankings. And not just on the page-level, but for the site as a whole.

Detailing all aspects of how content quality affects SEO is a bit too in-depth to cover here. You can learn more about how user-experience and content affect SEO in the Moz Beginner Guide.

Google’s Focus on Content Quality

Again, Google has gone to great lengths to ensure their search results deliver real value. And they’ll continue to tweak their search algorithm with the intent of delivering high quality content.

Google Algorithm Updates Involving Content Quality:

Mar. 2017 – Fred Update (targets low-quality content)

Jan.  2016 – Panda Integration (now part of core algorithm)

Oct. 2015 – RankBrain (Google’s machine-learning AI for search)

May. 2015 – Google’s Quality Update (aka Phantom)

Sep. 2013 – Hummingbird (new algorithm, semantic search)

Feb. 2011 – Panda Update (penalty, low-quality content)

Correlation Between Rank & CQ Score

It’s very common for us to see a strong correlation between a higher CQ score and higher SERP position. Which makes sense. After all, high quality content is what Google is looking for.

In the example sites used for this article, the higher ranking sites had a much higher avg. CQ Score.

TOP 3 sites ranking for dui attorney chicago…

Avg CQ Score: 18/21

BOTTOM 3 site ranking for dui attorney chicago…

Avg CQ Score: 14/21

Content Quality (CQ) Scoring System

This is our Content Quality (CQ) Scoring system we use internally as part of our SEO strategy for clients. It was created to efficiently improve the content quality of a site. We use this kind of point-based system to help determine the weakest links, and make them better.

It’s a 3-point scoring system (1=BAD 2=OK 3=GOOD), based on 7 subjective quality criteria:


Content Quality (CQ) Scores

How We Use CQ Scores

We score the pages, then look at the overall score. This lets us efficiently locate and fix the lowest value pages. And it’s pretty straight-forward because we’ve already isolated the weakest areas for each page.

This is done for the entire website we’re optimizing.  This can include product pages, services pages, home pg, blogs, about, contact, reference pages, etc. If auditing large sites with many pages, grade in sample sets.

When To Optimize For CQ

This is important to note. The steps in an SEO strategy should be executed in the most efficient and effective order. You’ll want to optimize for content quality only after you’ve done content inventory and pruning. Otherwise, you could waste a lot of time analyzing pages that won’t be staying.

Also, we usually already have the majority of on-page SEO done at this point.

What CQ Scoring Is NOT:

On-Page SEO – We’re not looking at on-page SEO here, like Page Titles, URLs, and image alt tags. Keyword Targeting is really the only traditional on-page SEO element used in our scores.

Content Pruning – Content Pruning is trimming down the content. Usually done after performing content inventory analysis. Here we assume this has already been complete.

Exhaustive List To Determine High/Low Quality – The checklist criteria we use is by no means an exhaustive list for determining if a page is high or low quality.

Feel free to use your own standards for content quality scoring (i.e. information accuracy, calls to action, authority, etc).  But the more criteria you add, the longer it’s going to take to complete the content audit.

Quick Tool-Based Analysis – We won’t be using Google Analytics, Screaming Frog, Copyscraper, URL Profiler, or similar tools for this method. This is all manual. It will take some time. Especially if you’ve never done this type of content analysis before.

If done properly, manually scoring the content delivers the best results. But it’s also helpful to know how some tools can help with content auditing. There are lots of articles out there on the topic.

Scoring Criteria Details & Examples

(Examples using Chicago DUI Attorney)

Below, I’ve detailed how we score each of the criteria, along with examples. Examples are from 9 different websites, reviewed solely for this blog post. All are non-home page Chicago DUI Attorney pages, which I am not affiliated with in any way.

You can view the example URLs and their CQ score totals here. Or audit your own content with the CQ template

1) Formatting

Is there enough usage of bold, italics, paragraph separation, images, icons, links, and headings so that it doesn’t look at all like just a bunch of words

First off, well-formatted content is just easier to digest. It’s that simple.  Without supporting images, emphasis on words or sentences, or breaking up long paragraphs, content can look like a research paper and be difficult to skim/scan.

  • Formatting Score Details
  • 1 (BAD)
    Lack of headings, sub-headings, images, paragraph separation, bullets, etc. make it difficult to scan content.
  • 2 (OK)
    Decent use of formatting, but there are some obvious improvements that can be made.
  • 3 (GOOD)
    Clear effort and thought was put in to content formatting, and it frames the content well.

Formatting Example Scores

1) BAD – This page gets a CQ Score of 1 for Formatting. Font size is too small. Headings are hard to establish, so it essentially looks like one big block of text.Formatting Score 1/3

2) OK – Score 2 out of 3 – not terrible.  Obvious effort with the headings and sub-headings to help with segmentation. Nice bullet list, those always help. If it weren’t for the last 2 walls of text at the bottom, I would give this a Score of 3.

Formatting Score 2/3

3) GOOD – Definitely not perfect, but solid formatting here, so this Scores 3. Good use of headings, bullet lists, links, bolds, and separating paragraphs.

Formatting Score 3/3

2) Length of Content

Is it long enough? This can change with the type of page you’re working on, as some pages need to be longer than others

This is a tough one for some. Because really, there is no definitive answer.  But here are a few main considerations:

  • Is there enough content on the page to rank?
  • Does it address what it’s supposed to?
  • How long is it compared to other similar pages around the web?
  • Length Score Details
  • 1 (BAD)
    Way too short OR way too long. Content length is not even close to that of similar pages.
  • 2 (OK)
    It’s right on the cusp of being too short. But usually, a 2 here is for unnecessarily lengthy content
  • 3 (GOOD)
    It’s long enough to cover the topic at hand without going overboard.

Length Example Scores

1) BAD

In the 9 example attorney pages being analyzed, none received a score of 1 for Length.

2) OK – Image below is not the entire piece of content. In fact, it was so long I had to cut it off in the screenshot below.  But this is just too long, it isn’t necessary.  Long-form content is great, but not when it reads like someone had a word count quota to hit.

There are a ton of redundancies. If I were to edit this, Id probably cut the word count in half, while maintaining all the key points.  Score = 2 of 3

Length Score 2/3

3) GOOD – No issues here, length is solid. Length Score of 3 of 3

Length Score 3/3

3) Level of Fluff or “Filler”

Is “fluff” and “filler” content kept to a bare minimum? Too many unnecessary and/or repetitive sentences dilute content quality. 

Content needs some level of “fluff”. But when overdone, it’s very obvious the person writing it had to hit a certain word count.

  • Fluff Score Details
  • 1 (BAD)
    There’s more filler content than actual information. Largely off-topic, repetitive, and unnecessary.
  • 2 (OK)
    Some unnecessary or repetitive content, but far more “meat” in the content than “fluff”.
  • 3 (GOOD)
    Most sentences in content serve a purpose, are on-point, and not overly repetitive.

Fluff Example Scores

1) BAD – There’s a lot of unnecessary “padding” in this content. It mentions contacting the DUI attorney at least a dozen times. 2 or 3 times is fine. But I would cut out most of this as it adds nothing to the content. And adding “DUI attorney” at every turn does not help with SEO.

Also, try to avoid sounding like Captain Obvious…

If your license is suspended or revoked you could face problems getting to and from work.

Fluff Score 1/3

2) OK – this could have been a 2 or 3. Close call. The entire first section could probably be cut in half. I would just do a little trimming on some of the unnecessary and redundant phrases.

Fluff Score 2/3

3) GOOD – I  thought filler content was kept to a minimum here. Which is exactly what we’re looking for.

Fluff Score 3/3

4) Uniqueness

Any duplicate or spun content? Content should be unique, not found elsewhere on another page or another website. 

This is an important one to check for when looking at content quality. Duplicate content will likely hurt your keyword rankings. Lack of unique content happens all the time, and you might not even be aware of it.

  • Unique Score Details
  • 1 (BAD)
    Majority is duplicate content from another web page.
  • 2 (OK)
    Some duplicate content found.
  • 3 (GOOD)
    100% unique content, originally created for this web page.

Unique Example Scores

1) BAD – I found that just about all of the content on this page is duplicate content.  Looks like a mix of duplicate content of another page on the same site, and duplicates from this lawyers other websites.  Big no-no.  Score of 1 of 3 for uniqueness.

Unique Score 1/3

2) OK – Score of 2 out of 3.  Found oddly similar content on other sites, where even the image is the same.  Also, this attorney has other websites which include very similar content.

The CQ Uniqueness Score for this page could easily be a 1.

Unique Score 2/3

3) GOOD – Unless I messed up, looks like they wrote this 100% from scratch. Aside from some technical issues, the content here is unique.

Unique Score 3/3

5) Keyword Targeting

Are keywords, variations and synonyms incorporated into the content? Is there keyword stuffing?

Proper keyword targeting is still a large part of on-page SEO. The key here is sprinkling your keyword (variations and synonyms) in the content itself, without going overboard.

  • Keywords Score Details
  • 1 (BAD)
    Lacks keyword targeting to the point where it’s likely hindering ability to rank. Or major keyword stuffing is apparent (i.e. chicago dui lawyer used 24x in a short article).
  • 2 (OK)
    Keyword target is obvious, but lacks some basic keyword targeting in the content. Or some obvious overuse of target keywords, but not likely to directly hurt rankings.
  • 3 (GOOD)
    Solid use of target keywords, variations, and synonyms, sprinkled throughout content and headings, w/out going overboard.

Keywords Example Scores

1) BAD – Major keyword stuffing going on here. “Chicago DUI attorney” is mentioned a whopping 24 times!

Keyword Score 1/3

2) OK – This gets an OK score of 2.  Keyword targeting is lacking a little bit.

Target keyword here is “chicago dui attorney“. But there’s only a single use of eitherchicago duiORdui attorneyORdui lawyer“. And that 1 mention is just from the heading at the top, nowhere in actual content.

Keyword Score 2/3

3) GOOD – Good job of keyword targeting here, without stuffing.

Keyword Score 3/3

6) Readability

Is it easy to read through the page, top to bottom? Or are there friction points causing you to slow down?

Make sure sentences aren’t too lengthy, and that content is easy to read (scan). A lot of this can be dependent on your target audience, so keep that in mind as well. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • How much industry jargon is used?
  • Any nonsensical or confusing phrasing?
  • What is the target reading level? 7th or 8th grade level in most cases
  • Are grammar and spelling an issue?
  • Lots of run-on sentences?
  • Readability Score Details
  • 1 (BAD)
    Confusing and unnecessarily long sentences, grammar/spelling, and other issues make content very difficult to read (scan).
  • 2 (OK)
    No major issues reading content, but there are multiple friction points negatively affecting the overall readability.
  • 3 (GOOD)
    Well-written content, easy to quickly read top to bottom.

Readability Example Scores

1) BAD
2) OK – The very first sentence messed up the flow for me, it doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t grade a 2 of 3 just for that though.

The overall readability isn’t great. It reads like someone wrote it that had a quota to meet on number of words, and so they made every sentence as long as humanly possible. I’d go back to simplify a lot of the phrasing.

Readability Score 2/3

3) GOOD – Good content/reading flow. And they’re not afraid to throw in shorter sentences. Readability Score of 3 of 3.

Readability Score 3/3

7) Content Structure

Deconstruct the content to where each paragraph is a summarized blurb. Does this structure make sense?

Essentially, reduce the whole piece on content into just a few bullet points. Just summarize the intent of each paragraph, and jot them down in order. Look at this summarized version top to bottom.

Does it flow? Does it make sense? Is it helpful and informative? Is anything missing?

  • Structure Score Details
  • 1 (BAD)
    No structure. Content points are in no particular order. Content points go completely off topic.
  • 2 (OK)
    Content talking points seem a bit out of order, go slightly off topic. Content is somewhat difficult to segment into summarized bullet points.
  • 3 (GOOD)
    You can easily summarize entire content. There’s obvious flow and order to talking points, and it all stays on topic.

Structure Example Scores

1) BAD – Obvious content structure issues here. I was quick to add a Score of 1

Structure Score 1/3

2) OK – Just because this page is so long, doesn’t necessarily mean it gets dinged for Structure. But it does mean it will take longer to score…

To score for Structure, I summarize each section, then see if it makes sense.  Below is the summary I made for this page, in order. After that, it was a pretty obvious 2 for me.

DUI is hard, we can help with all types of DUI
DUI Police Reports are scary, we can help?
Consequence: License can be suspended
What to do if your license is suspended
Consequence: License can be suspended (or revoked)
License suspension vs revocation
Contact us, we can help
How a DUI can occur
What happens during a DUI
Petitioning license suspension
Contact us, we can help
Contact us, we can help
Defenses for DUI (during and after)
Contact us, we can help

Structure Score 2/3

3) GOOD – The structure of this page seems just fine. It makes sense, top to bottom.

Below is the summary I made for this page…

DUI carries harsh penalties in Illinois
We can help
How a DUI charge can become a felony
Especially if you’re an immigrant
We have a lot of experience helping immigrants
We can help with felony DUI
Consequences of felony DUI
We can help

Structure Score 3/3

Improve Low-Scoring Pages

What you do at this point is up to you. It depends on the outcome of your analysis. But in most cases, it’s a good idea to focus on the pages with the lowest CQ scores – say, anything with 16/21 and below.

Then work on improving the content in the areas needed, until the scores are all above 16/21.

And lastly, be sure to recrawl the pages after you’ve made major improvements. This can be done in Google Search Console.

In the end, you should be left with only high quality content, improving your SEO at the page-level and domain-level.

Clint Henderson

Clint Henderson

Inbound Marketing Strategist at Wired SEO
Seasoned internet marketing consultant, founder of Wired SEO, digital marketing company specializing in SEO, Paid Search, and Social Media Marketing.
Clint Henderson
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