James Parsons is the founder and CEO of Content Powered, a content creation company. He’s been a content marketer for over 10 years and writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and many other publications on blogging and website strategy.
The 9 Best Tools to Check the Quality of Your Blog Posts
Modern blogging is all about creating high quality content. The thing is, what constitutes “high quality”? Google, of course, is the arbitrator of quality decisions, since they’re the ones in control of web traffic almost entirely.
Unfortunately, Google tries to provide help, but almost all of their guidelines are focused around what you shouldn’t do. It’s all negative signals. Don’t spam keywords. Don’t spam links. Don’t hide content or pages. Don’t be deceptive. Don’t scrape content. Don’t let your site get hacked. You know, easy stuff.
What Google doesn’t do is provide the positive quality signals that indicate content is high quality. You can find some tips scattered here and there throughout other help center pages, in the webmaster academy, and elsewhere, but there’s no one central document.
This is partially by design. Every time Google says “hey, do this and you’ll get an SEO bonus”, everyone and their mother scrambles to do that so much they beat it into the ground. Remember Google Authorship? Freaking content mills were getting their unpaid freelancers to sign up just for their SEO benefit.
Google just, in general, wants content to be of value to their users. If a web searcher performs a search and clicks on a piece of content, and that content isn’t any good, that user is going to lose some trust in Google. Individually, that’s nothing. In aggregate, it could greatly diminish Google’s market share, so they want to avoid it at all costs.
By analyzing and aggregating various tips and rules, you can piece together some key factors that make a piece of content high quality. For example:
- High quality content should be free of spelling and grammatical errors.
- High quality content should be informative and useful.
- High quality content should be easy to read and understand.
- High quality content should be evocative and attractive.
- High quality content should avoid technical errors on the webpage.
There are also site or brand-level factors, like credibility. Your site should be free of coding errors and use a modern design, so users aren’t skeptical about your expertise or knowledge.
Of course, it can be difficult to judge some of these factors. What makes a piece of content evocative and attractive? What makes it easy to read? Heck, something I find easy to read might be too dense for some people, and too simple for others.
One thing you can do is look at Google’s judgment guidelines. It’s a poorly-hidden industry secret that Google’s “algorithm” is part machine learning, part human feedback. They hire thousands of contractors through companies like LeapForce and LionBridge to do “search engine evaluation” tasks for them. These tasks generally involve reading a guidelines document, then ranking the accuracy of sampled search results according to those guidelines.
Basically, spot-checking the results of the algorithms, based on the rules the algorithms are fed.
Google’s search rating guidelines document was secret for years, but a few years ago it was leaked, and Google eventually decided to just release it publicly. You can see the full 168-page PDF here.
This document reflects the priorities Google has in their system. For example, sites should have a high EAT score: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
I don’t expect you to read the full PDF, though it’s very interesting if you want to. This post on SearchEngineLand has a great rundown of what’s in the document, as well as other sources for information on quality content provided by Google.
I’ve taken some of this advice and found tools to help you implement it. The nine tools below all help you check various quality signals, identify problems, and fix them. I’ve also provided a few alternatives to some tools, when they’re available.
One of the easiest bars to clear with blog writing is technical writing errors. A good writer will have internalized most of the common issues we see in web writing, and can produce content free of those errors with regularity. Even still, sometimes a typo slips through, or a local idiom is misused, or a grammar rule is ignored. Sometimes that’s fine, but sometimes it’s an indication of something wrong with the content.
Grammarly is one of the most widely recommended tools for bloggers. They have an online check, browser toolbars, an app you can buy, and are generally everywhere you need them to be.
In addition to a simple spelling and grammar check system, Grammarly also handles things like word choice, pronoun disconnect, incorrect phrasing, tone and style issues, and more. The whole system can help boost your content to the next level.
Trust me here. You might think you write pretty well and free of errors, but you don’t. Grammarly will find all manner of problems you might not even know are problems. And, sure, some of them aren’t really problems, just quirks of style, but some of them are legitimate errors you want to fix. It’s the next best thing to having an actual professional copyeditor go over all of your content before you publish it.
Hemingway is a tool in the same vein as Grammarly, but with a different focus. It’s an editor you can use to write your blog posts, or that you can paste your posts into for a scan and check.
Where Grammarly is primarily concerned with spelling, grammar, and language usage, Hemingway is concerned with style and tone. The tool will point out things like passive voice, overly-complex sentences, adverb usage, and even a “hard to read” check.
I consider Hemingway an advanced tool. It’s much more automatic and much less AI-powered than Grammarly, so it will point out many errors that aren’t errors you want to change. If you strive to be “perfect” in Hemingway, you’re going to end up with flat, lifeless writing.
To give you an idea, Hemingway marks “Grammarly” as an adverb, because it ends in -ly. Omitting the name of the tool I’m talking about isn’t an error I want to fix, though.
Hemingway can help you identify some common problems with your writing style. I personally have a tendency to make fairly long and complex sentences, and Hemingway is very capable at pointing those out. You just have to be familiar enough with language to identify which errors are errors you should change, and which are just part of your casual blogging style.
One of the more abstract concepts Google estimates is “readability”. It’s not really a great metric, because it depends on a very American-centric view of literacy.
The way you use this tool is by running a blog post through it. You can link to a post you already have published, or you can copy and paste a post into it, and it will scan it for readability indicators. It then ranks your content on a few different scales:
- The Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease Scale. This is a number between 1 and 100, with a lower score being easier to understand. Simple words, simple sentence structure, and so on keep your score low.
- The Flesch Kincaid Grade Level Estimate. This is an indicator of what grade of schooling in the USA would find the writing appropriate. Largely meaningless, IMO, but it’s also an indicator of simplicity or complexity.
- The Gunning Fog Score. This is another complexity estimate that is based entirely on the number of words per sentence.
- The SMOG Index. This is a more complex algorithm for words per sentence.
- The Coleman Liau Index. This is another words per sentence calculation, but it also considers characters per word.
- The Automated Readability Index. This is similar to the Coleman Liau index, with different math.
Basically, you can use this tool to estimate the overall complexity level of your writing. You generally want to aim for the low end of average. Too simple and your writing suffers, but too complex and you might confuse your audience.
CoSchedule is one of the best content marketing companies out there, and they’re chock full of great information and resources. This analyzer is no different. The goal is to plug in your headlines and see how they stack up in terms of quality, attractiveness, and power.
For example, the headline for this post you’re reading right now scores a 67. It has a few common words in it, like The and Your. It has a little bit of emotion and a little bit of power. It’s certainly something I could improve, but this post is meant to be more informative than emotional anyways.
The tool also analyzes the length of the title – overly long titles don’t work as well, and too-short titles are unclear – and the number of words. CoSchedule generally prefers titles on the shorter side of things, but that’s not always possible.
On top of that they analyze things like sentiment, keywords, how it looks in Google’s search results, as an email subject line, and so on. It’s all a pretty robust tool, and the only downside is that you have to fill out their lead gen form before you can use it. A small price to pay, IMO.
This is a much smaller and much stranger headline analyzer than CoSchedule’s. It’s provided by the Advanced Marketing Institute. At first glance, it looks a little janky. You paste in your headline, and then you choose the business category you’re writing in. The list is pretty broad, so just choose the closest option.
So what does it do? They analyze your headline for scores related to it’s emotional impact, its empathetic resonance, and its spiritual significance. It’s called the Emotional Marketing Value system, and you can read more about it here.
When you run a blog title through the analyzer, it gives you the EMV score. This is mostly the density of words that are emotional, spiritual, or empathetic, in proportion to words that aren’t in one of those categories. For reference, the average copywriter headline will have a few filler words and will end up in the 30-40% EMV range. People focusing on tight, snappy titles might get up to 50-60%, and it’s virtually impossible to hit 100%.
On the more technical side of things, there’s more to a high quality blog post than just the writing. Google looks at a lot of different technical elements on your site, and rolls them all up into a general website quality score that they maintain internally.
One such check is based on links on your site. Links are the foundation of the web. Google uses them as a huge part of what informs their search engine ranking, the associations between webpages, and the value of content on a page. A blog post with no links is isolated, but a blog post with links to sources, further reading, related topics, and the occasional affiliate product is much better.
There are a lot of considerations for links, like if they should be followed or nofollowed, if they have descriptive or generic anchor text, whether they have any other link attributes attached to them, and so on.
One of the most important parts of a link, though, is simple: does it work? That’s what this tool checks. If a link leads to a 404 page, a missing domain, or an HTTP error, or even just a redirect to a homepage, it indicates that something may be wrong. It happens! Old content moves or disappears, copy and paste errors lead to broken links, blogs change domains or URL structures.
This tool just scans full URLs, but you can do a more robust check by using a stand-alone program like Screaming Frog as well.
Another on-site technical aspect of blog quality is the meta and SEO data for your posts. Everything is important here, from image alt tags to meta descriptions to proper use of heading and subheading tags.
Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that handles all of this for you. Or, well, not exactly for you, but it gives you the tools to do it yourself. It makes it easy to implement and edit all of that meta information and on-page SEO you need to make your posts a success.
The main reason I’m putting Yoast on this list is not for its robust tools, but for the SEO analysis build into it. Every blog post you write, every page you publish, has an analysis attached to it. It can tell you things like whether or not the page has a focused keyword, whether or not you’ve specified a meta description, if images have appropriate captions and alt information, the state of links on it, and so on.
There are, of course, a range of other tools out there to do this. I like Yoast because it’s built in to WordPress when you install the plugin, but you can also use tools like SEOptimizer, SEOMater, or even just manual checks.
A heatmap is an interesting tool with applications far outside of web design. Heatmaps track traffic and activity. They can tell you where people congregate on a show floor. They can tell you the most traveled paths from two different points, or multiple points. They’re really cool as a way to visualize data.
On a website, a heatmap gives you an idea of where your users are looking and clicking. Now, you can’t get an eye-tracking heatmap without special equipment, but you can track mouse cursor position, viewport position, and click events. This allows you to identify things like:
- The elements users most click on.
- The elements users most click on, that you haven’t made into clickable links.
- How far down users scroll the page.
- Any passages of text that users highlight more frequently.
The biggest benefit here is to find lost opportunities for links. If you use a chart as an image, users might click on that chart hoping to find the source of the data linked. If you don’t have a link, you’re missing out.
HotJar is just one of many heatmap providers, so feel free to look around for one that has the right selection of features for your budget.
Google Analytics has approximately a trillion features buried in various sub-sub-sub menus, many of which a lot of people never even think to try out. You can find all manner of different ways to improve your content with data given to you by Google Analytics.
For example, you can check the most visited pages on your site, for all time, for the last year, for the last month, or for whatever other time span you want to check. By identifying your best, most visited content, you can look for trends and topics to help you optimize your current posts and produce new posts.
Using GA in an advanced way is worth an entire website dedicated to it, not just a passing mention in a blog post. I highly recommend reading up on some of its more obscure features and ways you can use it to harvest unique data.
So there you have it: nine powerful tools you can use to approach your content from new angles and with new insights, to improve it and make it the best possible content you can produce. Go forth and succeed!
A commenter had me take a look at this post and helped me remember that there’s a 10th tool that I recommend for larger-scale operations: Clearscope. Previously, Clearscope did not publish any public-facing pricing, and you had to request a demo to check it out.
Now, anybody can sign up for Clearscope directly from their pricing page. This is pretty heavily focused on SEO and will help you find opportunities to mention other keywords, synonyms, and improve your content relevance. This is a great tool to use when you’ve already done your editing and grammar checking to see if there are any other improvements you can make to your blog post.