Google’s Search Quality guidelines are the closest we get to looking into Google’s ranking algorithm. While the guidelines don’t reveal how the ranking algorithm formula works, and they don’t give the secret to ranking on page one they do offer invaluable insight into what Google defines as quality and the type of site they want to present at the top of their page results.
In 2013 Google released a condensed version of their Search Quality Guidelines – however on November 12, 2015 Google rocked the SEO world by releasing the entire document. The document weighs in at a substantial 160 insight packed pages, so it’s not exactly light reading for the daily commute.
So it’s easier to digest, here are the key takeaways that you need to take into consideration in 2016.
Takeaway #1 – Quality raters have no influence on the rankings of the sites that they rate
Essentially, quality raters could score your site low. This score alone however wouldn’t be reflected in real time search results. Google uses the quality raters for experiments and assesses the search result quality in this controlled manner.
Takeaway #2 – These guidelines are what Google thinks searchers are looking for and what result they want to find
Search intent is a phrase that all SEO professionals should be familiar with. In recent interface Google has taken this a step further and evolved beyond 10 blue links, displaying results screens they feel best matches search intent. For example when searching for the conversion rate between dollars and euros, a conversion box appears above the site ranking in first position.
There are now more than 85 features in addition to the 10 blue links that can appear on page one of Google such as news results, real time tweets, images, video thumbnails and event site links.
Takeaway #3 – Your money or your life pages are still important
Your money or your life pages (YMYL) are held in very high regard by Google as they often contain information that can directly influence a searchers life (either medically or financially). Google has five categories of YMYL pages, these are ecommerce/transactional pages, financial advice/information pages, medical information pages, legal pages and ‘Other’.
While in theory, anyone can create a page about specific medical conditions or financial planning, Google wants to ensure that the YMYL pages on page one are as high quality as they can be. You can improve your score by linking to and referencing high authority resources, being linked to as a resource, including ‘expert’ opinions and providing additional content (and downloads).
Notably, Google sees ecommerce sites in the same vein as YMYL pages. It’s therefore vitally important that any site with a store element is functional, secure and free from glaring errors.
Takeaway #4 – Remove low quality content from your site
Thankfully, Google gives some indication as to what they consider low quality, some of these points are already known within the SEO world – but it’s always nice to have Google back up the point further!
Main site content is of low quality – If your content is spun or has been written poorly with incorrect grammar or spammy links, it will be seen as low quality. Low equality equates to low rating.
Your page has thin content – It’s been known for a while now that thin content is not the Panda update’s friend, however it’s more than having 500 words on a page. In some cases, short content works – however if your page title warrants more than a short paragraph explaining it fully, you probably should look at expanding it. This isn’t saying that all short content is bad, for example Know Queries and Know Simple Queries are the driving force behind featured snippets in SERPs and are often basic questions that can be answered in one or two sentences (and there is a general consensus that there is one agreeable answer).
Your site has a poor reputation – Google has a vested interest in whether or not its users find what they are looking for when they search, if they don’t – they could decide to use Bing or Duck Duck Go by default. Therefore Google takes into account your site’s reputation. While your ranking can be improved by enabling rich snippets for reviews and ratings, it can also be negatively impacted if people post a number of bad reviews online.
Your page has distracting/irrelevant content – Commonly this is not having ads plastered all over your site, autoplay video also comes into play. Ads shouldn’t be intrusive to the user experience.
Takeaway #5 – Make sure all your content is unique
It’s almost 2016, you cannot get away with copying other people’s content. Google instructs its raters to ask whether or not the content adds any value to the page it’s on and they also instruct them on how to find stolen content. If you’re stuck for content ideas, there are also a number of resources available online, such as lists of blog post ideas that can get help you get out of your creative rut.
Takeaway #6 – Not all ‘new’ content has to be ‘fresh’
There has been a lot of talk (and experimentation) lately surrounding updating your onsite content and in some cases, changing the published date on some of your content to make it appear more recent without changing anything on page (others do add small updates or even overhaul the page’s content). This is now taken into account by Google and thanks to resources such as Wayback Machine, if there is any question about a piece of content’s published date – raters can find answers.
Takeaway #7 – Make sure your site appears trustworthy
Every now and again we all come across an abandoned blog or website that hasn’t been updated in months (if not longer). However a site could be active and still active, but if there is no moderation on the blog and it’s full of spammy, bot generated comments about great pharmaceutical products or it looks like the site has been hacked/isn’t formatting correctly – it sends all the wrong signals and that the site is untrustworthy. If a site owner doesn’t care enough to make sure the site formats correctly and isn’t full of spam, why should a site user trust the site and the company supposedly maintaining it?
So what to do with this information?
My first action would be to audit your sites supporting content and how it supports the main content on each page. Adding related articles found elsewhere on your site is a quick way to of providing additional value for site visitors (as well as a lure to keep them onsite for longer).
When you’re reviewing your content you need to be thinking about the value it provides potential visitors first, then about which keywords the page needs to rank for.
Also when looking at your site’s content, make sure you’re not including excessive pagination or advertising – especially on your money or your life pages. While advertising may be a necessary revenue stream, a balance between user experience and excessive advertising needs to be struck.