Google is always looking to improve the quality of the search results and rankings they provide. To achieve this goal, the company is always considering new ways to evaluate and rank pages, evolving the search algorithm to meet these new considerations.
In mid-November 2015, the Quality Rater Guidelines issued by Google were updated. These guidelines set forward the best practices for websites that aim to rank well in Google results.
Shortly after the guidelines were updated, many search engine optimisation professionals started to notice movement in the rankings and quality scores of multiple websites.
It seemed that Google’s latest search update, Phantom Update III, took effect within just a few weeks of this guideline update. Phantom Update III seemed to make adjustments to ranking changes made by its predecessor (Phantom Update II), which was deployed in the summer months of 2015.
What Effect Do The Updated Quality Rater Guidelines Have?
The overall message users can derive from the latest update to Quality Rater Guidelines is that improving the user experience has grown more important than ever in the eyes of Google.
The search algorithm has also grown significantly more sophisticated, more capable of considering the context of a page.
One of the key ways the guidelines have changed is that they focus more on the user’s intent when performing a search and whether the results truly help to resolve the query by providing the information users are most likely to need.
For example, if a user is searching for the amount of calories in an avocado, they do not necessarily need a page full of content to explain the answer. They are looking for a simple sentence or two that gives the information.
Therefore, best result for this type of query may not match typical SEO best practice because there is only a small amount of text required on the page. Once the user’s intent is factored in, it’s easy to see why.
What Factors Will Effect Search Rankings The Most?
There are a few easily identifiable factors that influence search ranking under this latest update. They pertain mostly to some of the most important parts of a site’s rankings: content quality, originality and relevance of content to the original search.
Content Quality is Vital
Content quality is something Google has been emphasising for quite some time now. Pages that have a high word count but little valuable substance are finding this strategy no longer successful.
The same goes for pages that have minimal content and do not explain a product or service very well. Users in the digital age want to get information relevant to a query as fast as possible.
A page that includes irrelevant or unnecessary information just for the sake of increasing word count doesn’t satisfy the searcher’s need.
Hub pages that simply route the user on to a different network of pages are also among the type of content that no longer ranks well, for obvious reasons. Users want to get to the desired end result in as few clicks as possible. Gateway pages that simply refer you on to another page really isn’t satisfying user intent.
Duplicate Content May Not Be a Problem
Applying content on a website that had previously been published on another domain used to be a sure-fire way to get the website penalised.
Google has historically frowned on duplicated content and republished content, but as the search algorithm has improved and grown more sophisticated, they have begun to consider the instances where people are actually looking for a response that might be duplicated elsewhere.
Some examples of this type of content include encyclopaedia entries, dictionary definitions or historical written works.
While most webpages still should not be filled with duplicated content, if the reason for content duplication is valid and satisfies the searcher’s intent, it will not necessarily result in an algorithmic or pure spam penalty.
Here is an example of dictionary sites seeing an improvement in organic visibility since Phantom III:
The Intent Behind Searches for Branded Keywords and Brand Names
The intent behind searching for a particular brand name is pretty clear. Users who are searching for a specific brand name are most likely looking to purchase an item, or to find out more about the brand’s history and operations.
Therefore, simple affiliate pages or pages that sell inferior items are not ideal and have seen a drop in rankings.
If there is any message to be taken away from this latest update, it is that user experience is the most important consideration to Google as they continue to maintain their reputation as the greatest search engine in the world.
The days of putting together a page of content stuffed with keywords to rank on Google are certainly over. The strategy behind content is now a key element in ranking a website.
Digital marketers have to put more thought and planning into the content that appears on site (and the presentation of such content) to ensure that it provides the user with what they need.
By following all the steps in my SEO Starter Guide, not only will your search rankings have the potential to improve, but overall visits and conversions are likely to increase as well.