SEO

4 Ways Google Defines ‘Quality’

One of the most frustrating elements of search engine optimization has been Google’s attempt to address quality.

Most people think that their site is quality already. They spend time and money creating and maintaining it. Thus it’s confusing and somewhat insulting to suggest the site must improve to rank highly in search results.

Now we have Google’s definition of “quality.” In a blog post this week, Google listed 20 questions that determine quality, across four key areas: “content and quality,” “expertise,” “presentation and production,” and “comparative.”

One of the most frustrating elements of search engine optimization has been Google’s attempt to address quality.

As you read through this post, assume you’re a shopper who has never been to your site and has never heard of your brand. Can you then answer these questions positively?

Content and Quality

The first category that defines quality refers to the value of your content. Google awards high rankings to sites that provide a thorough analysis of a topic from multiple angles, especially those pages with original information or research. It requires content “that is beyond obvious,” versus rehashing what everyone else is writing about.

The headline for the page is also important. We know the importance of using descriptive, keyword-rich headings. But headlines also impact Google’s view of quality. Shocking or leading headlines that bait clicks are a poor-quality indicator in Google’s eyes.

Some of the most insightful questions in Google’s list are:

  • “Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?”
  • “Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?”
  • “Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?”

Expertise

Google has always emphasized authority.

From the very beginning, Google’s PageRank algorithm included measures of links from other sites. In that algorithm, inbound links confer authority based on the topic and quality of the linking sites.

But your site’s content and the authors who write it also impact authority.

Google employs humans — “quality raters” — to review individual sites. The guidebook (PDF) for these evaluators uses the acronym of E-A-T — expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness — to asses quality. Search optimizers have seized on E-A-T to establish better rankings.

For example, when a site has longer content — such as articles, meaningful FAQs, shopping guides, impartial product reviews, and how-to videos — the expertise and authority of the author has become increasingly important to Google.

Does that person have a positive reputation and a strong presence in the industry? Is she quoted elsewhere, active in forums, or at least published somewhat regularly on your site? Does she have active accounts with biographical information on Twitter, LinkedIn, or other professional networks?

If the author is not widely known, addressing each of those areas can help develop her brand and your company’s. Otherwise, the author could be your founder or president, or someone in marketing, product development, or customer service. The key is someone who is trustworthy with strong topical knowledge. A knowledgeable editor is helpful, too.

Trust is strongly tied to authority. Consumers need to trust your site and the accuracy of your content. In some ways, Google values authority more than consumers, since most users don’t research or vet a site or its content.

Your site’s reputation — based on reviews and comments on Google, Yelp, industry reviews sites, forums, blog posts, — impacts Google’s ranking.

This is especially true for ecommerce sites, which tend to have less written content and rely on other sites to validate. Having no reputation can be only slightly better for a brand than a bad one, especially when combined with other poor ranking signals.

Google’s key questions in this area are:

  • “If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?”
  • “Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?”
  • “Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?”

Presentation and Production

Presentation and production are table stakes. A professionally-designed site that is free from formatting, spelling, and grammar mistakes is essential for ecommerce. If your site is sloppy, how can you expect shoppers — let alone search engines — to trust you?

A mobile-friendly site is required for ranking these days. Ideally your site is responsive. A separate mobile site is acceptable provided the user experience is positive.

Google’s most interesting questions in this area address tactics that can trigger manual penalties or algorithmic rankings.

  • “Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?”
  • “Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?”
  • “Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?”

Comparative

Lastly, no quality review would be complete without a competitive analysis. You don’t need a perfect site to rank well, just better than those that currently rank for important keyword phrases.

Google’s list in this area is short, focusing on whether your content is what consumers want and “provides substantial value when compared to other pages in search results.”

Jill Kocher Brown

Jill Kocher Brown

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