There have been a number of Google updates through 2017 – 2018 focused on ‘quality’. This article looks to uncover what ‘quality’ is and how you can leverage this knowledge for organic growth.
March 2018 saw the biggest Google algorithm update I’ve seen for a long time, impacting sites globally – some with huge swings in visibility.
Here’s the impact of quality on two medium size sites I track in a niche here in Australia.
And on a larger scale, here’s Giphy.com (the host of most of those GIFs we love in messages/slack etc)
More on the why behind that later. First – some context.
Awareness of SEO Algorithms is Declining
I was initially surprised – bemused even – at the small amount of chatter as well as the general lack of awareness of this March update.
Client’s had no idea…but then again… why would they? It wasn’t really talked about outside SEO circles, and even inside SEO it was quite light really compared to previous updates.
It was huge though. Why so little chatter?
There’s been strategic shift in how Google have addressed updates over the years.
Google used to publicly announce algorithm updates, going to far as to indicate what exactly they were targeting and giving them names, E.g. Panda and Penguin.
However, this has changed and information is generally limited without the constant digging by the SEO community for answers (which are drop fed and sometimes contradict each other). Why? Perhaps the public got bored of the ‘just create quality content’ or the infamous ‘just make awesome websites’.
But what is quality?
Quality is as subjective as subjective can get. Google persist with promoting ‘quality’ but without explicit guidelines many outside of SEO are lost as to exactly what quality is.
This quote from John Mueller at Google encapsulates this, but does also provide some insight in how to look specifically at content quality.
I’ve highlighted the part I feel is particularly pertinent;
I wouldn’t worry about the technicalities – how much you can write about how many topics – and instead just make sure that the content which you’re creating is really of the highest quality possible.
This isn’t something you should do for search engines, it’s really something you’re probably already doing. You almost certainly know yourself where the content that you’re creating is thin, and where it’s really significant, unique, high-quality and compelling to users.
The awesome stuff is what you should be aiming for — and from my point of view, you should be doing that independent of any algorithms (real or not).CheersJohn
So what is content quality for SEO?
Firstly, lets talk about my belly…(bear with me).
I look at content quality in the same way as I feel about my Dad-bod. If I’m honest with myself, I know exactly why that spare tyre has formed and it’s no accident.
Changes can be (and have been!) made to how I approach ‘quality’ for my body by prioritising diet, exercise and sleep (go me!) however it requires an absolute change in mindset and investment in the right areas. It’s not a quick fix.
Content quality is the same thing.
Invest in the best and don’t take shortcuts.
Investing in the right things
Whilst we’re being honest – are you investing in being the most helpful to your users? Or are you;
- Creating mass pages for Google that don’t really answer the question and/or
- Copy and pasting content from other sites that don’t add value
On the depth of content – would you say the same things if you met a user face to face or would you be a bit more helpful, more in depth and understanding of their needs?
Would you refer them to other places they can get more information? Probably. So why the reluctance to link out to other sites? Weird eh.
On that note, if you want to read more about focusing on a mindset of creating helpful content, I recommend reading Youtility by Jay Baer (Why Smart Marketing is about Help, not Hype).
Quality According to Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
Google do provide an insight into quality via the guidelines provided to Human raters.
What makes a High quality page?
A High quality page may have the following characteristics:
- High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EAT), including the EAT of the publisher and/or individual author for news articles and information pages on YMYL (Your Money or your life) topics.
- A satisfying amount of high quality MC (Main Content – by this Google mean the meat of the article itself)
- Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website or satisfying customer service information, if the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions.
- Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page
In other words….relevant source, relevant content.
Onto the 7th March Quality Update & It’s Impact
This global algorithm update was massive. It impacted many sites, of all sizes, in a big way and there’s been nowhere near enough discussion on it.
Danny Sullivan – Search Liaison at Google, when pushed, provided this statement. I’ve highlighted the areas of particular interest.
- Broad core algorithm update means it’s not going away
- Under-rewarded pages means (in my opinion) turning the dial up on relevant content over links (this is the meat of the issue)
- Theres no ‘fix’ for pages means you can’t ‘fix’ a dad-bod beyond doing the right things over time
‘Under-rewarded pages’ = EAT, Relevant & Helpful
My take on this, and I don’t have a lot of evidence to back this up so take it with a pinch of salt, is that the update now rewards pages with content that directly answers the user’s query and intent over pages from sites that more links.
More detailed answers are, in their very nature, more likely to be provided by smaller, specialist sites. The same sites that have generally struggled to gain higher rankings due to having less links that the larger, generalist sites.
These pages have less links. The domains have less links too.
What are you getting at Andrew?
In short I think we may be witnessing the dial being turned down on the huge weighting Google has always placed on the strength of a domain in terms of links in favour of relevant, specialist content from seemingly reputable sources.
This absolutely makes sense when you consider Google moving away from being a search engine to an answer engine (I.e. featured snippets, instant answers, knowledge graph and voice search).
An Example of an Under-rewarded site growing
Here’s a very small test site of mine that I run in a health related niche. Whilst at a very low base, traffic has literally doubled month on month since the March update.
What’s interesting (to me anyway) is that this growth is driven solely by just two articles.
These articles however stand-out in terms of ‘quality’ and absolutely answer the user intent with specific, detailed and well-researched information.
Note that step change at the start of March – from ~1k > 2k impressions in 1 day before progressively climbing another 50% towards 3k impressions per day.
For a couple of blog posts? Blimey.
The site jumped up to #1 rankings for ~10 primary keywords and gained featured snippets above veteran general health related sites with multitudes more link authority.
Why? Because this content is frankly just better; it’s better researched, is deeper, longer (~2k words each) and well formatted for readability across devices.
It’s split with clear headlines, relevant images and links out to relevant websites. In by gut (my dad-bod gut) I know it’s better and I know I spent way more time on those pieces that the others.
And most importantly; the site is niche; specialist in this particular topic area.
It’s all about Relevancy
John Mueller again confirmed this relevancy call, commenting in relation to why larger sites had dropped in ranking;
“Maybe the sites aren’t seen as relevant in the overall picture of the web anymore”.
Back to the example I spoke to earlier.
These two sites – operating in the same niche – very much differ in their SEO approach;
Green – Helping Users With Relevant Content
Focuses on text heavy, information rich pages that absolutely addresses user queries with helpful answers. Content is split over tabs to make it easier to read, answering different facets of the query itself (when the query is quite broad).
The content within these tabs is accessible to Googlebot, the site has a good UX with an easy to use layout, works well on mobile and is fast to load. Tick, tick, tick.
Blue – Gaming the Algorithm For Clicks
Has long ‘gamed’ their SEO by creating thousands of pages – with largely similar or blank/thin content – targeting millions of low volume queries.
Each heading targets a particular keyword/topic (similar to the example above) however the ‘answer’ they are providing the user is simply links to two products.
It’s not relevant.
It’s not helpful.
…and it’s not ranking anymore.
And if it did rank, I bet it would have a high bounce rate.
The update in March was bigger than many realise and it’s an amazing growth opportunity if you approach it in the right way as so many sites are sleep walking into a decline.
Here’s what to do about it;
- Be relevant! Look at the query you want to rank for. What is the user wanting to achieve when they search for this? What format would they want this information provided? Are you being as helpful as you can be?
- Audit the pages on your site and either update or delete low performing (low traffic/high bounce) and/or low value content (little to no content). If you have huge swathes of content within a particular subdirectory/section of your site then you may see that whole category suffer.
- Update your valuable content regularly (Pro-tip – add a ‘last-updated’ time stamp to your content to trigger a freshness boost).
- Address UX – how easy is the site to use? Does it work on mobile? How quick is it? Get some independent feedback and focus on making the site intuitive and easy to navigate.
- Be honest with yourself. Why does the site exist? Does your content live up to your mission statement and brand values? Or is it a bit shit in places? If the latter, fix it!
As always, any thoughts or feedback welcome! :)