You’ve heard it a million times: if you want your website to rank on the first page of Google’s search results, you need to create quality content, your website should be user-friendly and high-quality. Quality, quality, quality.
The problem with any qualitative evaluation is that there is no magic formula that you can apply to calculate exactly how high the quality of your content is, or how much under the 100% website-quality you are.
It all comes down to opinion. And when speaking about SEO, at the end of the day, the only opinion that influences the end result is Google’s opinion. Nonetheless, you have probably already read a ton of articles on how you should not write your content for the machine, but rather write it for your customer, in a natural way, etc, etc. The question is: what other items does Google have on its checklist while evaluating quality? Are there any indirect signs that one website is of better quality than the other?
Nobody, but Google’s employees, knows the full answer to that question. But we can still try to ‘guess’ the main directions of such appraisal. And to do this we are going to use a document created by Google – the ‘Quality Raters Guidelines’.
Maybe you are not aware of this, but Google does not rely 100% on its algorithms, however advanced and smart they are. There is a team of people – the Quality Raters – who have two very important missions. First, they evaluate the quality of the search results, notice where the algorithm could do better, and teach it. Secondly, for those ranking signals that Google thinks are important but has yet no way to measure through an algorithm, they do this measurement/ evaluation manually. However, each Quality Rater does not decide things on his or her own; they have a 170-page document (the ‘Quality Raters Guidelines’) to follow in order to get to their conclusions.
So, today we are going to take a sneak peek into that document and see which factors are included in it. And though those factors are not officially confirmed ranking signals, if Google thinks they are important in figuring out the overall quality of the website and its content, then they definitely deserve our attention.
We will not go into detail on the factors that are also measured algorithmically and are widely known by website owners, such as, for example, the quality of the written copy, the amount of content matching the intent of the page (if you are not sure about this one, just google your target keyword and see the amount of content on the top 5 results – this is your correct amount of content), not exaggerating with ads and not creating annoying ad layouts, backlinks, page title and description, etc.
Let us rather see some less obvious items on the raters’ checklist:
- Signs of abandonment of the website
If the website looks like it hasn’t been updated, or even opened by the owner in a long time, and it makes the users’ journey on it more difficult, that is definitely a bad sign.
How may raters figure out if the website might be abandoned? Easily. Functionality problems (buttons that don’t work, 404 error pages, links that do not lead to the correct destination, etc), outdated content (products and services that you obviously no longer provide, content regarding conditions from some years ago, old articles), not controlled comment section (no response to users’ questions, spam looking comments that are not deleted, and so on). All these issues will tell a rater, or any user for that matter, that the website is ‘abandoned’. Will you buy something on a website that not even its owner opens?
So what should you do? Create a routine where, at least once in every 6 months, you run a quick functionality audit and update the content that needs to be updated. If you have a comment section, check it daily.
- Your website’s online reputation
The raters are asked to look for signals that may indicate the overall reputation of your website (i.e. business). And of course, they will not assess that on your ‘About us’ page, where you’ve written an extensive list of reasons why your company is the best. They will be looking at places OUTSIDE your website – reviews, mentions in the news, Wikipedia articles, any sources of information that are independent from you.
What can you do? Encourage your customers to leave reviews online (especially in Google My Business), answer the reviews, and, most importantly, do your best when reacting to the bad ones. Grow your backlinks profile – be news-worthy. The more people are talking about your business, or just mentioning it, the more well-established it seems.
- Your content trustworthiness
Here the array of signals to tackle is rather big, starting with the HTTPS protocol that your website should be on, as it is more secure; continuing through to the way you engage with users (comments and questions answered, loyalty programs, etc), and finishing with the quality of the content on your customer service (your ‘About us’, ‘FAQ’, ‘Delivery and Return Policy’ pages, support contact, etc, should be very easy to understand, transparent and… be there – i.e. exist – to begin with).
- Author expertise
Today anybody can have a blog and give any type of advice or information. But Google is interested in providing users with the best quality information there is, so it is very important who the author of an article you’re publishing is. You need to prove your author’s expertise on your website (by having a clickable author name with a well-written description of the its expertness level); but it is also important to work on the author’s reputation outside of your website, the same way you work on the website´s reputation (see the above ‘ Your website’s online reputation’ point), because the raters will briefly check the background of the author online.
So, did we manage to give some new ideas on the ‘directions’ of your SEO work?
As you can see, SEO is no longer ‘insert that word into the h1 tag’. It needs to be a systemic and profound work that encompasses the technical part, the creative part, and also a PR part through the management of your company’s online notoriety and reputation.