Monday, May 09, 2011

Assess how your website or blog ranks for quality in Google

Last week, the Google blog,  which provides official news on crawling and indexing sites for the Google Index, published More guidance on building high-quality sites.  This specifically relates to Google's Panda update  to the Google algorithm which has had a significant effect on the visibility of websites in search results as it has been rolled out across the globe.
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on. 
Finding more high-quality sites in search (aka the "Panda Update")
Drawing of Giant panda by Friedrich Wilhelm Kuhnert 1927
click this link to find out why it's called the Panda update

On the whole Google have been fairly transparent about their aims and how they are trying to achieve them.  They're not giving the game away on how the algorithm is constructed (to avoid being "gamed") but they are telling people what matters.

It's very clear that the Caffeine update in 2010 enabled them to crawl the web much faster which in turn unearthed a lot of content of "shallow quality".  That's content which could not be classified as spam and yet it did little to add value and was, on occasion, much quoted and hence devalued.

Hence the challenge shifted from speed of crawling to access the most up to date content to achieving good quality results for every search enquiry.

Dr Amit Singhal, the head of Google's core ranking team, last week provided an additional very specific list of questions designed to help webmasters and blog owners assess whether or not their site is delivering a good quality experience to visitors.

I'm reproducing the questions below:
  • partly to make sure I've got them to hand when I want to check whether I'm doing everything as I should do!  
  • partly to provide context for any queries and comments arising from this post.
First a little bit about how they arrived at the questions.

How to assess the quality of a website / webpage / web article?

Below are the questions which Google suggests you should address if you want to protect or improve the way your website or blog ranks in Google.

How did the questions come about?

The questions were derived from evaluation with external testers.  This helped Google to identify what were the issues which mattered to people using Google.  (These questions are, in effect, the ones which have now been identified by Google in their latest post)
There was an engineer who came up with a rigorous set of questions, everything from. “Do you consider this site to be authoritative? Would it be okay if this was in a magazine? Does this site have excessive ads?” Questions along those lines.
Matt Cutts - TED 2011: The ‘Panda’ That Hates Farms: A Q&A With Google’s Top Search Engineers
The questions helped Google to identify which were:
  • the specific factors which improved an individual's impression of a site and 
  • the aspects which resulted in lack of trust or otherwise generated a poor impression and hence caused an individual to think they had got a poor response to their search query.
Google is now developing the intelligence derived from this research by adding in data about the sites that users can now block into their algorithms.

The questions have been particularly relevant to websites which generate articles about specific topics - as these were seen as a primary source of the shallow content.  These sites have been called "content farms".  However in reality any site which is generating multiple articles or posts on different topics will be assessed in the same way.  Thus Community forums, teaching websites and blogs are all sites which have the potential to be assessed in the same way as the so-called "content farms".

Think about the content you include on your blog or website - or contribute elsewhere - as you read through these questions 
What counts as a good quality site?

1)     Would you trust the information presented in this article?

2)     Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?

3)     Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

4)     Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?

5)     Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?

6)     Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

7)     Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

8)     Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

9)     How much quality control is done on content?

10)  Does the article describe both sides of a story?

11)  Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?

12)  Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?

13)  Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

14)  For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?

15)  Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?

16)  Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?

17)  Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

18)  Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?

19)  Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?

20)  Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?

21)  Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

22)  Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?

23)  Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

Google Webmaster Central Blog - More guidance on building high quality sites

A very important consideration

I believe question 7 - Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis? - has particularly important implications for the extent to which any of us contribute original material to forums and other sites.

If we take what we write on our blogs or websites and then add this to a forum we will be devaluing the original content of our own sites.  More importantly, if we write on a forum and then add the same material to our own sites, we will not be creating original material on our own sites.  Google doesn't recognise who wrote it - it only recognises what is said.  Hence by contributing to other sites we run the risk that our own site will not then be judged to be unique.

That's not to say that we can't write on the same topic.  However we need to be original each time we write and we need to be cautious about the extent to which we use original copy from our blogs on other sites.  Short extracts are probably OK but longer contributions should be studiously avoided.

For example I am no longer going to contribute text from this blog to forums unless it is in quotes and can be accredited with a link.  If other sites will not allow a text link to blog posts then the content will not be referenced.  In other words I'm not going to enhance the content of other sites at the expense of my own sites.  By the same token, I will - as I have always done - always accredit extracts when quoting content on this blog which originated elsewhere.

Does the algorithm work?
  • The good news - blog posts which provide good quality content are now much more visible - for example
  • The bad news - some good quality sites initially lost traffic eg The British Medical Journal and some techie sites (see this post for losers and winners in the UK).  However Google appears keen to hear about problems which have occurred and is making corrections to avoid a recurrence.
Probably the most important current criticism of Google is that they don't, as yet, have all the tools necessary to enable them to measure the quality and originality of content efficiently and effectively according to their own quality guidelines.  As a result some sites have been trashed by the new algorithm.

However the fact they haven't as yet got the tools does not avoid the fact that Google is endeavouring to find improved ways of measuring the quality of content.  It is also listening to feedback about anomalies.

I'd very much recommend sticking to the basic principles recommended by Google (see below) and not worrying exactly how the algorithm works at this stage.  We're in a process of transition and this will inevitably generate a few bumpy rides for a little while.

Basic principles for maintaining websites and blogs

Whether you only upload artwork to your site - or add quite a bit more in terms of words on art topics and the like - these principles are always relevant to you.

Google suggests the following as basic good practice for ALL those owning a website (or blog).
  • Provide the best possible experience for people visiting your website/blog.  Google suggests this is much more productive compared to trying to understand what's changed in the Google algorithm since all such changes are focused on measuring the quality of that experience.
  • Create a high quality site.  Google's aim is to ensure top quality sites rank highest in search engine results - hence low quality sites will progressively move to the lower ranks.
  • Make sure all parts of your site are good quality.
One other specific piece of guidance we've offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content.
More guidance on building high-quality sites
The Google SEO Optimisation Guide

You can download a copy of the SEO Starter Guide which helps all webmasters do the best for their sites.  It's a RECOMMENDED READ - even if you've read it before!

Below you can find are links to relevant posts for those who'd like to do a bit more reading around this topic.  If you have any relevant posts you'd like to suggest please leave a link in a comment.

Links to related posts on 

2 comments:

rogergregory said...

When it comes to having your blog "read" by google's robots, you need to layout your article like it is done here. Small paragraphs, each with an appropriate subheading. These tags enable the bots to read through all of your content and in time they will improve the listing of your site.

Also, the adding of bulleted points is another technique you can use, it is also beneficial for the reader that only has time to scan through the post to get the relevant points.

Many people overlook the layout of posts, but if you follow Katherine's example as it is here...its an added bonus to increasing traffic.

Gayle Mason said...

Thank you Katherine for this really informative post.

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