December 18, 2015

What search engines like on websites? Google says, Q (quality) and R (reputation) with E-A-T. Read on...

Best practices, adapted from Google rating guide
In the previous post in this series, we talked about the importance of these two qualities of websites for getting high search ratings from Google: (i) helping the user, and (ii) quality of web content. In the present post, we'd talk further about the quality aspects and also other factors that impact a website's standing.

[In this 2-part series, we present the gems of search engine optimization (SEO) that we have collected from the recently released Google's Search Quality Rating Guidelines. In trying to emphasize certain important points or to make it simple for common users, we have added our own interpretations and expressions.]

Content quality

Google raters will give good quality rating to a webpage or a website if it has sufficient amount of relevant content which must also be of high quality. Please note that the matter must be of high relevance to the topic; it must be in good quantity and updated; and it must be of high quality.

Quality would include correctness of information, its presentation in standard language and without grammatical errors. It would also mean that the content is original and not copied. In websites that deal with medical, financial and legal advice etc, the standard of advice given must be very high so that it does not endanger others' lives and well-being. The givers of such advice must have the necessary competence and experience in the field.

If you expected that Google search engine is just a piece of software that scans billions of webpages a day and it won't insist on the intrinsic qualities of text content such as readability, lucidity and grammatical correctness, you are mistaken. Google gives a low rating to unedited and poorly written passages. Similarly keyword stuffed content, gibberish and meaningless expressions, auto-generated and copy-pasted matter - all these pull the quality down in the eyes of Google.

Google says, "Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful MC [=main content] to help users should be rated Lowest."

Google also says, it does not consider as "copied" the content that is legitimately licensed or syndicated. It frowns upon content that has been reproduced from others without adding value. So, just copy-pasted matter lowers your website's quality even if you give credit to the source.

The presence or absence of advertisements is not by itself a reason for a high or low quality rating. However, if ads are too many and distracting, and have been put there to lure visitors away from the main content, such ads badly reduce the quality of the website.

Expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of the page for the topic.

Google gives the three attributes an interesting acronym, E-A-T. Yes, a webpage with high level of expertise and authority on the part of its author and that can be trusted upon deserves to get a very high ranking on search results.

All subjects do not need the same level of expertise.
As mentioned earlier in this series, the author of a blog of personal nature is not expected to show formal expertise on the matter he discusses. Advice on forums need not always be of high expert level unless from moderator. A cooking blog only talking  about experimentation with cooking is fine as long as the blogger does not misrepresent himself as a celebrated chef. In Google's view, 'everyday expertise' in general matters is OK but pages on advice on life and happiness matters (e.g. financial, legal or medical advice) without high level of formal expertise get a poor rating.
Trustworthiness comes with people trusting the content and the trust comes with quality of content and proven expertise and authority over the subject. The views of independent sources about the author, content and website matter a lot.

To quote the Guidelines on E-A-T, "Highest quality pages and websites have a very high level of expertise or are highly authoritative or highly trustworthy... Types of pages or websites which should always receive the lowest rating: pages or websites created with no expertise or pages which are highly untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading."

Question-answer pages as in forums or FAQs or blogs have answers of all types. On forums, it is expected that the community is active and engaged. Everyday expertise is OK but preponderance of too general and valueless advice would harm the reputation of the forum.
Genuine expertise too can go wrong. For example, if the website or blog is not updated, the old advice or information may not only become obsolete over time, it might mislead the reader, even endanger him.

Good reputation of the website for that topic.

Reputation is people's commendation that you earn with time by serving E-A-T content. Reputation also comes from your conduct. As in real life, reputation matters in winning friends and influencing people.
Google says, "A very positive reputation can be a reason for using the High rating for an otherwise Medium page."

Good deal of information on the site about the owner

A websites must have information about the site itself and its owner. One can do so in different ways, e.g. through an 'about us' page, by giving contact details and by providing customer service details. 

The argument is, people who show up their identity do voluntarily offer themselves to public scrutiny. They are making themselves available for contact. They are also less likely to be fakes.

What if somebody fakes his identity? In such cases, his reputation (known through independent opinions) and overall impression based on the content come into play.

There comes this question: How much information should one give on the website, especially on a personal blog? Google suggests that the amount of information needed depends on the purpose of the site. A personal blogs giving email address is enough; for a television seller, we assume that giving details of service centers and grievance redressal officials is a must.

Page / website design

Page design must be functional, and must allow users to focus on the content (and not digress them into buying or taking them to unrelated or misleading pages).
Google despises design in which the main content is disturbed or overwhelmed by ads, calls to buy or other distraction. The distraction can be a popup, use of animation, bigger and brighter fonts than the main content, or use of ads in a way that they are mistaken as information.
If a page is pretty at the cost of navigation, it might hurt the rating of the page. Similarly, a page created in an obsolete design and the one with confusing layout are not the best of pages because such poor design lowers user satisfaction.
Ads are OK, as said earlier, if they serve a legitimate purpose and do not distract from the main content. However, it is not OK when ads are too many in relation to the useful content, or when they distract or impose themselves.

Proper maintenance of the website.

Google says, proper maintenance of websites requires that "Links should work, images should load, content should be added and updated over time."

Just changing a date of an old post and republishing it does not amount to updation. Updation done with effort counts for website quality. As we also mentioned earlier about the right frequency of posting on blogs, Google feels that the desirable frequency of updation depends on the subject and type of website. (e.g. News websites must update fast while websites on a narrow subject of research will not need that fast updation.) Some pages are created once for ever (e.g. photos from a picnic); they will not need updation but the website, overall, should not give the feel of not being maintained. Updation is especially important for blogs

Happy blogging!

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