Quality and Google SERPs ~ The place of quality in Google’s ranking algorithm

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What do we know about how Google ranks webpages in its SERPs? A lot. But very little for sure. Still, I guess everyone can agree that there are 2 major factors in play:

Relevance and quality.

To identify relevance, Google looks at how well the page answers the searcher’s question or fulfills the purpose of the query. Then, Google tries to figure out the degree of relevance of the page to the query. And while this is an undoubtedly complex process, it’s a comprehensible one. Google will look at your page and entire website in terms of keyword-related features, like keyword usage and topic relevance. Perhaps, they’ll also look for some keywords and semantically related concepts in the anchor text of links pointing to your page.

For most queries, this analysis will produce thousands of webpages that meet the relevance criteria, which Google needs to arrange in a certain order before they are displayed to searchers, ensuring that the best results appear at the top. This is where quality comes in.

But what exactly does Google mean by “quality”? The term seems incredibly (perhaps purposely) vague. But if you dig a little beneath the surface, quality becomes interesting. The concept, it turns out, has to do with many things beyond the website itself. And beyond backlinks, too.

Back in November, Google revealed their latest Search Quality Rating Guidelines, a 160-page read of “what Google thinks search users want”. This document is used by Google’s quality evaluators who rate webpages in SERPs; based on their feedback, Google can develop changes to their ranking algorithms.

That’s right. Human beings sit down, type queries into the Google search bar, and rate search results according to these guidelines so that Google can improve the quality of its SERPs.

In this article, we’ll look at factors, or features, that make a site a high quality one, and dive a little deeper to explore how Google may be weighing those — and what you can do to improve on them.

But before we get down to the factors themselves, it’s important to note that there are different standards for different types of pages.


Your money or your life!
Google’s quality standards for different types of pages

There’s one type of pages Google has extremely high standards for. Those are labeled, perhaps a little too humorously, “Your Money or Your Life” pages; they are the types of webpages that can impact the “future happiness, health, or wealth of users”.

Understandably, YMYL pages are financial, legal, and medical information pages. But also…

“Shopping or financial transaction pages: webpages which allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills, etc. online.”

That’s right: if your site sells anything online, then welcome to the YMYL club. Chances are you’ll need to try hard to prove you’re trustworthy, reputable, and authoritative enough to be displayed within the top search results.

But that doesn’t mean that you can sit back and relax if your site isn’t an online store. While your transactional peers may be judged more strictly, you still have the same criteria to meet to qualify for a high quality resource — only at a different level.

Thankfully, Google does give us a few hints on what it expects from quality sites — and it turns out, there’s a lot you can do to improve your quality score. Let’s get down to the very factors that determine whether your site is deemed high quality or not.


Main content
Write it well, place it right, size it smart

Google divides the content of every webpage into main and supplementary content (and, optionally, ads), main content being the part of the page that “helps it achieve its purpose”. In the guidelines, Google is telling raters what most of us already know. Content is king.

“For all types of webpages, creating high quality MC [main content] takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill.”

According to Google, the way content is placed on a page is also important. The following characteristics are typical of functionally designed pages:

  • The main content should be prominently displayed “front and center.”
  • The main content should be immediately visible when a user opens the page.
  • The design, organization, use of space, choice of font, font size, background, etc., should make the main content very clear.

And it’s not just the quality and placement of the page’s content that matters; its amount also plays a part. And while there’s no universal, one-size-fits-all content length, Google encourages raters to use their judgement to determine whether the content length on a given page is right for the query in question and the purpose of the page.

But let’s dive a little beyond the guidelines. No magic formula on word count would put your site to Google’s top, but… here’s some interesting data form serpIQ’s study of the correlation of content length with Google rankings (the experiment involved analyzing the top 10 search results for over 20,000 queries).

You can see that on average, Google’s top ranking pages have at least 2,000 words of content. And yet… If you run a few experiments yourself, the high and low points of the demonstrated averages will turn out to be incredibly far apart. If we take quick informational queries (like, say, ‘retention definition’) and broader ones (‘what’s the ideal length of a blog post’) where the searcher, perhaps, is looking for an in-depth article, we’ll end up with very different word count averages within the top 10 listings. 846 and 5030 respectively, to be exact.

So how do you determine an ideal content length for a specific page, niche, and the keyword you’re targeting? Hint: you look at your top ranking competitors.

By: Masha Maksimava

This article first appeared on SEOPowerSuite’s Web site.
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