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How Does Content Quality Affect SEO?

Matt Brady
#Digital Marketing, #SEO
Published on September 23, 2014

Learn about Google's Content Quality Rankings, and how the quality of your site's content can affect its SEO.

In the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Inbound Marketing, the conventional wisdom says that you need quality content in order to drive traffic to your site. But what exactly defines the quality of a site’s content, and how does this affect a site’s search rankings?

The idea of “quality” can seem somewhat nebulous, meaning different things to different people, but when it comes to the algorithms that Google uses to rank websites in search results, we recently received some answers that can help us understand what exactly Google is looking for. This insight came when the latest version of Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines was leaked.

The Quality Rating Guidelines are an internal document used by Google’s Search Quality team, who helps Google rate the quality of websites in order to improve their search algorithms. This document provides a wealth of information on what Google looks for when determining a website’s content quality. Let’s look at a few of the insights that these Guidelines give us about what constitutes quality content in Google’s eyes:

What is the Site’s Purpose?

One aspect that Google considers when determining a website’s quality is its purpose. Just what exactly is it meant to do or accomplish? Determining the purpose of a site helps Google understand its audience, which helps it return relevant search results for that audience. Here are some of the possible purposes of a website that Google lists in its Guidelines:

  • To share information about a topic
  • To share personal or social information
  • To share pictures, videos, or other forms of media
  • To express an opinion or point of view
  • To entertain
  • To sell products or services
  • To allow users to post questions for other users to answer
  • To allow users to share files or to download software

Google also defines a certain type of site called a Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) site. These sites can influence people’s lives and finances, and they include sites that contain medical, financial, or legal information, as well as eCommerce sites. YMYL sites are held to a higher standard of quality, so ensuring Google’s guidelines are followed is especially important for these sites.

What is the Site’s Format?

One way Google determines the quality of a page is how it is constructed, which shows how well a visitor can determine its purpose and get the information they need or perform the task they want to do when visiting it. Google breaks all the content on each individual page into three categories: Main Content (MC), Supplementary Content (SC) and advertisements.

The Main Content section of each page is the body of the page, containing the information that defines a page’s purpose, such as an article, a blog post, product information, images, videos, or anything else that constitutes the main purpose of the page. This section of the page should be easily recognizable, and a satisfying amount of information will result in a higher quality rating.

The Supplementary Content on a web page includes any information separate from the Main Content that aids the user in navigating the site or enriches the experience. This can include header, footer, or sidebar navigation, social media buttons, related articles or products, comments, or any other tools or widgets that are included on the page. To get the best quality rating, the Supplementary Content should add to the site’s user experience, providing helpful information or tools without distracting from the main purpose of the page.

Advertisements are any content or links that are included on a page for the purpose of making money from the page. These ads can negatively affect a site’s quality rating if they detract from the page’s purpose. Ads which interrupt the Main Content, aren’t clearly marked as advertisements, or distract from the site’s purpose are likely to reduce the quality rating. In order to receive the best quality rating, it’s important to make sure ads meet these guidelines.

What is the Level of E-A-T?

In order for your site to receive ideal search rankings, it is important to establish yourself as an authority in your area of expertise. Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines breaks this idea of authority down further by defining a site’s level of Expertise, Authority, and Trust (E-A-T). Let’s look at each of these factors:

Expertise is related to how well Google can verify that a page’s author is an expert in its subject matter. For instance, sites that offer medical information will receive higher quality rankings if the author of their content is a doctor or medical professional. Depending on a site’s subject matter, expertise can be easier or more difficult to verify, but one way to help Google understand this is to keep authorship information consistent and link it to social media profiles, which can help verify an author’s identity across multiple sites.

In every area of subject matter, some people or organizations will have the most Authority on the subject. For instance, an automobile company would be an authority on its manufacturing specifications, and a software company is an authority on the capabilities of their software products. While most experts in a certain field would not have the ultimate authority that these organizations do, their sites can receive a higher quality ranking if an authority recognizes them (usually through a link from their official website) as an expert in that subject.

Trust is based on how well Google thinks a page can be trusted to be a quality source of information. This can be a positive ranking, influenced by reviews or ratings on other pages, or it can be negative, if a site is affiliated with known low-quality sites like content farms or blacklisted pages. Google weighs different signals to determine whether a site is trustworthy, so it’s important to make sure these guidelines are met.

Achieving Content Quality

Considering all of the above aspects is important to ensure that Google gives your site the best quality rankings, and thus the best search results for people who are trying to find your site. However, these definitions are all somewhat dry, and you might be wondering how you can apply them to your own site. What are some things you can do to ensure that your site is achieving the best quality rankings?

Providing the ideal user experience (UX) is the best way of ensuring that your site is meeting its expected standards for quality. Making sure visitors can find the information they are looking for and understand how to navigate through your site will raise quality rankings, as will updating the site regularly, ensuring that it loads quickly, and fixing any errors or broken links. In addition, it is always a good idea to include contact information about your company (Name, Address, and Phone Number, or NAP).

SEO is a complicated, ever-changing field, and it can be difficult to keep up with all of the regular changes and updates to search engines and their algorithms. However, following these guidelines for quality content will ensure that your site is providing the best possible experience for your users, and this will help Google understand how to rank your site in its search results and guide the people who are looking for your products and/or services to where they need to go. Do you have any questions about how you can determine whether your site is meeting these standards for content quality? Please contact us to speak to a SEO expert, or feel free to leave a comment below.