What is quality content? Is it the text you write, or is ir the overall perception a user has of your website? Is Quality measurable? And if so, how does Google measure quality content?
I’d say, these are some of the most asked questions by site owners, webmasters and SEOs since Google launched Panda. Since then, basically everyone with a presence on the web has been trying to decode what Google perceives as quality content or a quality site. What are the all the bits and bytes factored by Google; and the recipe to escape a low quality stamp while making the least effort.
Panda launched February 23rd 2011 and, even today, I get asked at conferences that darn question! Let’s see if we can put this misconception to bed, once and for all… While, at the same time, we can make sense of what makes a high quality website at the eyes of Google.
A few months after Google launched their Panda quality update, on February 2011, Amit Singhal posted an article with more hints on what makes a high quality website. This post was largely criticised by SEOs for being vague, and not giving actionable items to webmasters. Everywhere, I read articles claiming Google was not being transparent, and was on the path to ruin businesses and families… Oh the agony!
Taking aside the fact that, if you were pulling a “wise guy manoeuvre” on monetising low quality content, you should have seen this coming. By trying to quantify quality, you are trying to turn something that is relative to an absolute. In fact, Google gave webmasters something very valuable and actionable. But of course, everybody wanted the easy recipe for success while using a “don’t make me think” approach. What many webmasters wanted, was something they could just tamper with, while trying to hit the next bar with the least effort. Instead, what they got, was something they cannot influence directly — because asking what is quality is the same of asking what is cold and what is hot. Quality is an opinion (relative), not a fact (absolute) and you can’t make recipes out of opinions.
Who decides what is quality content?
So, basically, many webmasters have been trying to answer the “What is quality?” question. But they didn’t understand that they’re the wrong person to answer this question — wait, what?… Try to keep with me here.
As a webmaster, or site owner, you must understand that you’re not the best person to assess what is quality on your site. Also, Google doesn’t assess quality unilaterally either. Meaning, Google doesn’t dictate what is quality or not…
You see, the problem at Google is not the data, but what to do with it. Google doesn’t decide what is quality on a website, your users do! Google is clever enough to evaluate user behaviour on your site, and use those signals when it needs. So, basically, that set of questions published by Amit Singhal, is the user behaviour on your website, which Google tries to analyse.
Search engines, can analyse user behaviour, and extract data trough a complicated set of algorithms, which ends in something similar to an “Organic Quality Score” (if it existed officially). If I learned something, from my 6 years in the Search Quality Team at Google, is that no decision is unilateral… Especially those that will impact a large set of websites. Quality decisions are made, because there is, at least, a significant percentage of improvement over previous results. And, user behaviour and opinion, are the most valued when making these decisions.
So how can you assess quality on your site?
When Google decided to go this route, they made a bet in sites that are willing to have a solid business model behind. Mostly because, a serious business owner, is more willing invest time and effort in his online business than the wise guy, trying to capitalize on thin affiliations and content made for ads. That said, the owner of a business with long-term goal, and a rock solid business model, will be more willing to care about his customers. This means, for example, investing in customer satisfaction surveys, asking all kinds of questions — like the ones in Google’s blog post. A business owner, will want to know how he can improve customer satisfaction in his website. They will ask about quality to their users, not to Google. Google will merely reflect a user/customer opinion at scale.
There are many ways you can to do this, even if you are a small business. For example, you can use polls on your website, offering users a discount in exchange for their time and opinion. And, you can complement that using data from tools like CrazyEgg or MouseFlow. Recently, Google also launched their Consumer Surveys, a very useful market research tool.
So, by now I hope you understand that quality is not a set of absolute factors which Google decides upon. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. The best way to assess quality on your website is to go ask your users and customers about it. Ask them what is their perceived level of quality of your website — be as broad as you can — and very likely you will have an answer.
Image credit: ShutterStock