What qualities does Google look for in a web page?

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How does Google determine the relevance and quality of a web page and what factors does it consider before including the page in its index and search results?

On August 1, Google published a document discussing one of their algorithm “updates”, and offers some revised rules and advice on what aspects they look for in a web page. These aspects are important because Google then decides how prominently that page will appear in the Google search results page.

We’ll mention some of the aspects included in the document published by Google, mentioned above, but first, we’ll explain the basic criterion that Google (and the multitude of moderators and analysts who work for Google) has in mind when evaluating a website: page quality.

Google doesn’t just index and analyse pages automatically, it also employs a whole army of moderators and analysts who check the results provided by Google in order to determine how relevant and qualitative they are in relation to searches. These moderators have the ability to rate the pages that appear in the results, and confirm to Google that the changes they have made to the algorithms are effective.

In a 160+ page guide for people analysing the quality of search results, Google includes an entire section on analysing page quality. In this document, Google urges moderators that when evaluating a web page, they should try to discover what the main purpose of that page is. The main purpose is not always what the site owner claims and is not immediately obvious when the page is loaded. This analysis is done through the content of the page.

Operators who analyse websites and rate their pages are advised to look for the purpose of each page’s existence before rating it. Web pages are not judged by how pretty they are, how well they are laid out or what pretty pictures they have on them, but rather by determining the purpose of the page and assessing how well the page fulfils that purpose.

The purposes of web pages can be:

  • Provide information on a specific topic
  • Facilitate the transmission of personal or social information
  • Distribute photos, videos or other forms of material
  • Express opinions or views
  • Provide entertainment
  • Sell products or services
  • Allow users to ask questions and receive answers
  • Allow distribution of files, software, etc.

Google’s evaluators put themselves in the shoes of ordinary users and try to answer a question like: does the page succeed in achieving its goal, or does it pretend to do one thing when it actually does something else?

In other words, the only thing Google wants your site’s pages to achieve is this: to align as closely as possible with the intended purpose.

So all the other (technical) factors Google includes in their analysis are secondary compared to the factors of visitor interaction, time spent on the page, actions taken by users while on your page.

Basically, your page needs to help visitors achieve the goal you drew them there for as easily, quickly and to the point as possible.

Going back to Google’s announcement about the algorithm overhaul, below are the major questions I advise you to ask yourself when evaluating your page.

The questions are accompanied by brief comments or explanations from me of what they mean and what we should do from now on (if we’re not already doing) to increase our site’s chances of being appreciated by visitors but also seen well in web search results.

Questions about website content and quality

Does the content provide original information, reports, research or analysis?

Original information is the raw material for success on the web. All bloggers agree with the expression “Content is king”. And rightly so!

If you simply copy text and information from another site, you won’t succeed! Google has become an expert in detecting clone sites with stolen or duplicated content.

The phrase of the day: unique content. You don’t have to forget that at all.

Does the content provide a substantial, complete or exhaustive description of the subject matter?

I face a similar dilemma very often: should I publish a shorter, quicker article just so I can say I’ve published something new? Or should I spend a week or two writing a truly exhaustive article?

It’s easier to just type a few words, two or three sentences, and hit “Publish.” Among Google’s latest search algorithm updates, there was a little phrase that caught my eye: Google considers pages without much content unimportant. They call them “thin content,” and it’s very hard to show up in the engines with these pages because they have nothing of value that isn’t found on other sites that the authors put more effort into.

Does the content offer insightful analysis or interesting information beyond the obvious?

It doesn’t mean that every site has to be a 300-page academic publication, but still, if you write an article in which you try to explain a concept, present a tutorial, or discuss a point of view, it helps if you try to discuss the issue from all angles, include as much useful information, quotes, various opinions, links to additional resources, so that the reader is left with the impression that they have learned everything they need to know.

If the page draws inspiration from other sources, does it avoid simply copying or regurgitating these materials and instead provide information of substantial value and originality?

Much has been written about blogs and sites that simply take articles from other successful sites, rewrite the material, reverse some words, phrases and republish them. Although at the moment it seems that these sites have new, much, “valuable” content, they soon drop in results and do not stand the test of time.

Google encourages creators, writers, to produce fresh, original information from different points of view.

Does the page title provide a descriptive and useful summary of the content?

It is said that the title of an article or page contributes most to the success of an article, because it is the first thing potential readers see.

If the headline is interesting, engaging and intriguing enough, the reader will click on it and go to your page. If it’s boring or irrelevant, it will be ignored. Plain and simple.

Google also places a lot of importance on page or article titles, analyzing the words and phrases included in it, and then comparing those keywords to the rest of the page.

If the paragraphs in the rest of the article confirm, support, develop, detail, explain the information found in the title, then the conclusion is drawn that the article does indeed address what the title promises.

One of the ways Google does this is by analysing keywords found on other sites, contained and mentioned in similar articles.

For example, in an article titled “Best coffee makers”, it would be reasonable to find not only the words “machine” and “coffee”, but also other related words such as “filter”, “milk”, “water”, “temperature control”, “cappuccino”, and so on.

This strategy is also used by those who want to “steal” a site’s place in the search results, in the keyword research phase: they simply analyse the competition and write a longer, better, more exhaustive article than them, and above all, they don’t forget any keyword used by the competition. They even add new ones.

If the competitor’s site forgot to mention information about “energy consumption of coffee makers” or “how long it takes the machine to make a coffee”, these are opportunities for you to include a section about that, and then your article is more complete.

Does the page title offer any exaggerations or shocking phrases?

You won’t believe what some people do on the web!

You’re certainly no stranger to the fact that in recent years, many websites have used this tactic to attract visitors. Post an article with a sensationalist or shocking headline, and visitors simply won’t resist clicking on it!

This practice has become so prevalent that Google, Facebook and other social networks have begun to downplay the impact of these sites as they have gotten out of control. Clickbait articles are no longer given the prominence they once had, and rightly so!

Is this page one you’d like to bookmark, send to a friend or recommend?

Every webmaster’s dream: lots of visitors who share the site with their friends. As many “likes” and “shares” as possible.

But to get there, you really have to provide value on your site! It’s very hard to assess how valuable your page is, because you are involved in its creation and you can’t be impartial. You have to do your best to put yourself in the shoes of the visitors or customers you want to attract.

You can’t go wrong if you ask yourself questions like:

  • Have I included all the information I want to know?
  • Did I forget to explain a term?
  • Am I biased about the level of expertise of visitors?
  • Are visitors as familiar with the subject as I am?
  • What basic concepts have I mentioned without explaining them?
  • What objections might someone reading this article have? May I address them?

Many bloggers claim that the most “shareable” articles are lists of stuff. Often lists that list various useful concepts or resources are the ones that get bookmarked and shared on social media. Can you create some useful lists? “40 ways you can make coffee”, “20 great ideas for Christmas dinner”, and so on.

Would you expect to come across this content in a print magazine, encyclopaedia or book?

Questions on content or author expertise

Does the content present the information in a way that inspires confidence, clarity about the sources from which it was drawn, evidence of expertise, information about the author or the source website, such as links to the author’s page or “About” page?

If you were to do a bit of research on the site presenting this content, would you be left with the impression that it is a trusted site or recognized as an authority in the field?

Is the content written by an expert or enthusiast? Is it obvious that this person knows the subject in depth?

Is the content free of factual errors that would be easy to verify?

If you include a claim, quote, fact, or statistic that might be wrong, or that someone might contradict, it’s important to “do your homework”, find out who stated the idea and cite the source.

If the information comes from a study or survey, include a link to that study, not just to prove you’re right, but because it’s the right thing to do – to give credit to the sources from which you get your information.

Could you trust this content in matters related to money or your life?

Most of the questions in this section have to do with the authority and expertise of the person writing the content.

Last year, Google made an algorithm update in which it gives more weight to sites that are “experts” in a particular field, and disfavors those that claim to be experts.

This change has been dubbed the “medical update” because it drastically affected sites in medical, fitness, diet, psychology and other specialized fields.

We know that the internet is full of sites with weight loss advice, psychological analysis or financial and medical advice – but often, the people producing these sites have no medical studies, but make recommendations gleaned from other, unverified, non-authoritative sources.

The idea behind the update was: if the people writing content on this site are not experts in the field, then they have no business giving advice in that field because instead of helping, they could be doing worse!

That’s why Google uses this designation in this section: money or life. Would you trust to apply the advice received on this site to your personal finances (money) or your health (life)?

Questions related to website presentation and production for Google

Is the content free of spelling or stylistic errors? Has the content been produced with care, or does it appear sloppy or hastily created?

Do not publish pages with mistakes in the text! Always, the least you can do is check the text for spelling mistakes – use a spellchecker! Also, wording should be clear, succinct and easy to understand. Write at the level of the audience you want to serve but without compromising professionalism. If you want to convey a professional, serious, respectable impression, the quickest way to discredit yourself is to write with mistakes.

When it comes to styling, not to mention: what professional website have you gone to that had garish colored text, animated backgrounds, funny fonts (yes, we’re thinking Comic Sans), and other “cute” ideas? Always use a clean, simple, uncluttered site design with an easy-to-read font and a well-defined visual hierarchy. As the English say, “Less is More” or “KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

Is the content mass-produced by a large number of (external) creators, or distributed across a large network of sites, so that individual pages may not get the attention or care they deserve?

The focus here is on “web directories” or sites that collect content or articles from hundreds and thousands of sources, pile them up with a title, a small excerpt from the article and a link to the original site.

These types of sites only waste visitors’ time. If you’re looking for answers, you’ll jump from one site to another, instead of solving your problem in one place.

It’s preferable to try to answer the question in the search directly, not serve the page just as a way to get traffic and get a few clicks and cents from ads.

Does the content have too many ads that clutter or distract from the main content?

Speaking of ads, doesn’t it annoy you when you visit a site, start reading and suddenly a pop-up appears? You close it, try to read on, but an ad bar pops up. Scroll down and a video starts playing out of nowhere! You close it, scroll further and every 2-3 paragraphs an ad pops up. Oh, and here’s another ad bar that’s pinned to the bottom of the browser!

Recognize the experience?

Nobody says don’t monetize the site, don’t make a few pennies from ads, but when the visitor spends the first few seconds on the site trying to swat away ads like flies, you’ve gone too far!

Monetization should not be the main goal of your site, rather try to provide the best experience, the best content, answer visitor questions, educate and help – that way visitors will spend more time on the site and appreciate it. This will always result in higher ad or sales revenue as well.

Don’t sacrifice visitor experience for short-term gain. Most of the time, if my experience is that bad, I close the page immediately. This action sends a clear signal to Google: the page is poor quality and should be moved down in the results.

Does the content display well on mobile devices? – Google

In the last two years, traffic on mobile phones and tablets has far outstripped desktop traffic (computers, laptops). It is estimated that more than 60% of traffic is now on mobile devices. Google has switched many sites to mobile crawler indexing.

In 2019 it is imperative that websites are responsive, adaptable to different screen sizes. Websites also need to load quickly, not consume a lot of bandwidth (optimised images), text should be comfortable to read on small screens, buttons should be large enough to press with your finger, and so on.

Comparative questions

Does the content offer added value when compared to other pages in the results?

Back to the discussion above: be better than the competition. Offer added value, discuss the topic – whatever it is – in more depth. Leave no question unanswered. Follow what the competition is doing and do better!

Is it obvious that this content seeks to serve the interests of site visitors, or does it seem to exist just because someone is trying to guess what kind of information performs well in search engines?

There are many websites and articles that give you advice on what keywords to choose, how to write keywords, how to manipulate search engines to rank higher.

Lots of “experts” tell you which keyword to target, where to put it, how many times to repeat it on the page, to fool the search algorithms. Maybe these strategies work in the short term, but later, when priorities change or algorithms catch up with these tactics, you won’t rank so well – you’ll always be affected by these changes.

But if you focus on serving your audience the best you can, you won’t be affected much by these algorithm changes. At the moment, you may not rank very high but your content will stand the test of time. Focus on writing for your audience, not for the search engine.

In conclusion

In trying to please Google, we actually came to another conclusion: focus all your effort on the users, the visitors to your site, to give them the best possible experience.

I think it’s clear that if you put the effort into building a useful, comprehensive, user-friendly website, you’ll rank well in Google too.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to agonize too much over what Google likes, but what your visitors are looking for. That’s the solution. It will be hard work, you’ll have to be better than the competition, it will take longer, but by always focusing on the personal experience, your site will be seen well in the search engines too.

All the signals users send are recorded and evaluated by Google: bounce rate, click-through rate, time spent on site and more.

If you have any questions, suggestions or queries, don’t hesitate to write in the comments!