There have been a number of Google updates in recent years focused on ‘quality’. In this article we’ll look closer at what signals Google use to ascertain ‘quality’ and how a clearer understanding of this can yield positive gains in SEO visibility.
Whilst Google haven’t exactly been forthcoming as to the exact nature of algorithm updates, the information provided around quality has been frustratingly vague.
We’ve been left with pretty unhelpful, non-actionable statements such as:
There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) March 12, 2018
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.– John Mueller
So… how do we know what to do? What can we action to make a difference if traffic has tanked or conversely how do we know what worked so we can do more of it?
Defining Quality for SEO
Quality is obviously highly subjective. Combine that with the SEO world where there are no set rules and a variance in experience between ‘experts’… and you’re left with a huge disparity in where the quality threshold is and how it’s measured.
For me, it’s about being honest.
Where is the site…well, a bit shit?
Let’s start with content
Is all of your content the most helpful it can be for your users…? or..are you…
- Creating mass pages for SEO purposes that don’t really answer the question and/or
- Republishing content from other sites and not offering incremental value?
- Creating content that, well, could be better researched, more in depth and useful.
On the depth of content, think about whether a real life conversation matches the quality of your written content in terms of how you approach it, the topics you cover and what you leave the reader with.
You may not think this matters for SEO, but it does – massively.
If this sounds a bit like you, or your business, then I can wholeheartedly recommend reading Youtility by Jay Baer (Why Smart Marketing is about Help, not Hype).
It changed my mindset to content and it could transform your business.
In terms of hygiene factors, I really feel that the weighting on mobile friendliness and page speed was dialled up in these updates.
I know, I know – you’ve been hearing for years how these are important and you might be thinking ‘my site already works on mobile’ – but have you actually been through the site yourself?
Set somebody else a task to achieve on your site; send an enquiry, call you, read an article, learn about a product – anything – and I think you’d get some pretty helpful feedback on things you can improve.
Ticking mobile friendly boxes is not enough. It needs to be easy.
My personal opinion – and I’m not seeing this talked about much in relation to these updates – is that the experience in relation to on-page advertising was a huge part of the August update.
In terms of thresholds, I’d refer closely to the Better Ads Standards, noting specifically the follow for MOBILE;
- Pop-up ads
- 30% Ad density
- Large Sticky-ads
Case Study of a Site Benefitting from Updates
Here’s a small site of mine that I run in a health related niche.
Whilst at a low base, traffic skyrocketed following the updates – growing from 500 to 15,000 visits per month from organic search in a 6 month period.
30x in 6 months.
What are the characteristics of this site?
- It’s niche and focuses solely on a single topic area
- All the content is well written, researched and cited
- It’s flawless on mobile and loads in <2 seconds
- The content is regularly updated (with ‘Last updated’ date noted)
- THERE ARE NO ADS
- And, there’s no ‘Expert’ Authors on this site, contrary to advice on the SEO-mill. In fact, there’s no Authors on the site at all.
What’s interesting (to me anyway) is that this growth is driven solely by just a few articles and the site has just a handful of links.
These articles however stand-out in terms of ‘quality’ and absolutely answer the user intent with specific, detailed and well-researched information.
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 my gut, I know it’s better and I know I spent way longer on those pieces than the others.
And most importantly; the site is niche; it specialises in this particular topic area.
Another Case Study
Here’s two sites I track closely in the education niche. Education sites inform people in making large life changing decisions so are classic sites to be classified by Google as YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) – which were more-so impacted by these quality updates.
Anyway – here’s the sites and check out March! Boom!:
These two sites differ hugely in their SEO approach;
|Site 1 – Green||Site 2 – Blue|
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
Each URL targets a particular keyword/topic (similar to the example above) however the ‘answer’ they are providing the user is simply links to two products.
Has long ‘gamed’ their SEO by creating thousands of pages – with largely similar or blank/thin content – targeting millions of low volume queries.
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 updates in 2018-2019 were 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? Match the intent and be helpful
- 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). Remove this – you’re not losing anything valuable anyway!
- Update your valuable content regularly to stay current and fresh (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.
- Review how well ads are integrated into the site on mobile. Remove any ads that interfere with content and ensure you don’t have over 30% ad density (measure by pixel height)
- Be honest with yourself. Is the site a bit shit? :)
As always, any thoughts or feedback welcome! :)