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Google's unabridged Page Quality rating guidelines were released in November 2015.
Whilst some outlets covered this at the time, I thought I'd do so in purely practical terms.
So, here's a very simple checklist, based on Google's approximation of highest and lowest quality content.
It by no means covers everything in the guidelines, but references those bits that caught my eye.
1. Improve your 404 (page not found) message
The Google guidelines give many examples of low, medium and high quality pages. One of the examples of a medium quality page was a particular 404 page.
Unfortunately, unless you're a Google verified user, you can't look at the pictures linked to from the guidelines document. However, the following lines are revealing.
Some websites do a nice job of not only alerting users about a problem, but also giving them help.
...However, this particular page displays the bare minimum of content needed to explain the problem to users, and the only help offered is a link to the homepage.
This would indicate that your 404 page template should:
- give possible explanations as to why the page couldn't be found.
- include an automated list of relevant internal search results.
- point the user towards your search functionality.
- provide a list of popular links - not just the homepage.
2. Don't be stingy with contact information
This is a common gripe of the user, who often wants a contact telephone number, or an email address instead of a contact form. See the following extract from Google's Quality Rating guidelines.
...[for] pages which require a high level of user trust, an unsatisfying amount of any of the following is a reason to give a page a Low quality rating: customer service information, contact information, or information about who is responsible for the website.
Just an email address and a physical address may not give users enough information to feel the website can be trusted.
Whether you're running a small ecommerce operation or doing some freelance photography, adding more contact information may help in improving the perceived quality of your site.
3. Maintain your hero content
There's nothing wrong with 'old' pages. Google makes plain that for news sites, for example, the definition of maintenance is through the publication of 'new' news articles. Maintenance is at the website level.
However, for some websites (eg. those giving legal or medical information), page content must be maintained to avoid inaccuracy of important information (to stay up to date).
Even if you don't publish such sensitive content, you should consider revisiting your most popular content to augment and refresh it every few months if it is likely to date.
Common to all web pages, however, is the need to keep on top of broken links or images, which can also reduce the perceived quality of a page.
4. Think carefully about ad formats
The ad blocker backlash of 2015 showed the extent to which user experience has been compromised by advertising.
Much of Google's Quality Rating guidelines mentions ads and supplementary content, and their part in page layout.
Though Google states that the 'presence or absence of ads is not by itself a reason for a high or low quality rating' it gives examples of pages with poor design and layout, which should be rated low quality:
- 'Many Ads or highly distracting Ads on the visible part of the page when it first loads in the browser (before you do any scrolling), making it difficult to read the main content (MC).'
- 'Repeated insertion of Ads between sections of the MC, so that the page jolts the user back and forth between MC and Ads in a way that makes the MC difficult to read.'
- 'Invasive Ads, such as popups that cannot be closed.'
- 'Text ads, placed beside or within the site's navigation links, which may confuse users.'
As users increasingly demand better user experiences in 2016 and beyond, particularly on mobile, publishers should be wary of making a fast buck at the expense of long-term revenue.
5-8. Be a good student
Google's guidelines use a 'bad student' analogy to illustrate the motivations for and appearance of some low quality content.
Most students have to write papers for high school or college. Many students take shortcuts to save time and effort...
Unfortunately, the content of some webpages is similarly created. We will consider content to be Low quality if it is created without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill.
As Google lists some of these 'bad student' shortcuts, it's easy for us to draw some practical inferences.
5. Make sure there is enough 'main content'
That bad student might be tempted to fill the report with 'large pictures or other distracting content'.
The implication for web pages rests in Google's definition of content as either main content (MC), supplementary content (SC) or advertisements/monetization (ads).
Having an appropriate ratio of MC to SC to ads is important for web pages to be seen as high quality, though it does depend on the context of the information or action provided.
6. Be doubly vigilant for typos and bad grammar
'Writing quickly with no drafts or editing' is another shortcut according to Google. Some of Google's examples of low quality web pages include proper noun typos (e.g. Hilary Clinton).
Of course, as a user-focused writer, you should already be looking for poor spelling and grammar.
But knowing that Google Quality Raters are looking for them, too, offers extra incentive.
7. Check your facts
A kick-in-the-face obvious instruction here, but Google warns not to invent things like that bad student might.
Interestingly, Google cites a website that gives Christopher Columbus' nationality as Australian. This is obviously incorrect and would have resulted in a low quality rating, were it not for the fact that the page in question was apparently built by teachers to teach about interpreting information on the internet.
In this instance, the website is deliberately incorrect and Google's Quality Raters are instructed to look deep enough to see the context of everything, from page design to seemingly incorrect facts.
However, Google is clear, incorrect information is indicative of low quality pages.
8. Don't be tempted to cut and paste
'Copying the entire report from an encyclopedia, or paraphrasing content by changing words or sentence structure here and there'; another trait of the bad student.
In creating web pages this translates to cutting and pasting content without reference or beyond acceptable levels.
Incidentally (ironically?), I'm quoting some chunks of the Google guidelines in this post, but that's fine - I'm not claiming it as my own and I'm linking to the source.
9. Make sure content has an author where appropriate
Articles on some business websites can be guilty of lacking an author, whether that be a generic business name or a named person.
Google uses a university website example to explain how a lack of page maintenance and author can impact perceived quality:
Although this is a well-known, highly-respected university with a high quality site, this [medium quality] page is on a very specialized section of the university website.
No author is listed and the page may have been a one-time project, possibly from a student, which is no longer maintained.
Granted, in this instance the publisher may not particularly want to rank for this page, but the point still stands.
10. Remember the three page-quality considerations
Aside from the detail, it pays to remember Google's broader definition of page quality (PQ), quoted as follows.
'The top three most important PQ considerations are:
- Quality and quantity of Main Content (MC). Examine the MC carefully. Given the purpose of the page, evaluate the quality and quantity of MC.
- Level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the page and the website. The level of E-A-T is extremely important for YMYL pages ['your money or your life' pages, so called because their quality could negatively impact users’ happiness, health, or wealth].
- Reputation of the website. The reputation of a website is very important when the website demands a high level of trust.'
11. Understand, it's not about aesthetics
We might cover trends in web design and rich content on Econsultancy, but when it comes to high quality pages, looks aren't everything. Google puts this succinctly.
Are we just giving High quality ratings to pages that “look” good? No! The goal is to do the exact opposite.
These steps are designed to help you analyze the page without using a superficial “does it look good?” approach.
12. And that kittens are simply not enough
Finishing on a fun note, the following example of a medium quality page made me chortle.
Video of a kitten miaowing a lot: This is a professionally-created video of a cute kitten miaowing.
This page is OK for its purpose, but it doesn’t display characteristics associated with a High rating.
For some practical SEO tips, see a content manager's practical guide to doing just enough SEO or book onto one of our SEO training courses.