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Explained: The complex “quality” factors in SEO

Explained: The complex “quality” factors in SEO

Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Jane Sanderson
SEO

Countless websites are technically sound yet still struggle to rank or perform organically performance still struggles. Upon reaching out to search engines for answers and explanations, the usual response is to consider the quality of the site. Sound advice, yes, but what does “quality” actually mean? And how do you improve it?

Quality is one of the most significant ranking factors and one that is constantly being catered to. Even now, Google is rolling out the “Helpful Content Update“, an algorithm update that aims to promote original, high quality content that satisfies users’ needs (in other words, content created for humans rather than search engines). Sites that create a lot of content specifically for the purpose of ranking will be negatively impacted by this change.

The challenge is that quality isn’t a single signal but a combination of many, so it’s no simple task to judge the quality of any given website. In addition, the quality signals for one industry could be very different from another. SEO specialists can’t use a generic checklist to determine whether a website is high or low quality—they first need a thorough understanding of the site’s industry, audience, and user expectations.

Where do quality signals come from?

Signals that determine website quality stem from a program that Google has been running for the past seven years. The search giant’s Quality Raters, consisting of thousands of individuals all over the world, regularly report on their experiences with websites and search results.

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable man using a digital tablet while sitting in a coffeeshop

A Quality Rater will be sent a web page and asked to fulfill a number of tasks. They then grade their experience and explain the reasons behind the rating. These reports are used to help identify common elements on sites that users determine to be high quality.

Not all sites are judged equally

Depending on which industry your site represents, search engines will assess the quality of your content differently. This is because, depending on the industry, content has the potential to impact the heath and welfare of its users. Google coined the term “YMYL” (Your Money, Your Life) to identify the industries whose content should be held to a higher quality standard than the rest of the web.

YMYL include sites that deal with legal systems, finances, healthcare, government, shopping (ecommerce), news, and information on groups of people. Each category can branch out into a wide range of topics. For instance, healthcare can include all kinds of online content pertaining to hospitals, pharmacies, drugs, emergency preparedness, and more.

What are quality signals?

Websites that are judged to have the highest quality tend to have strong signals that represent Expertise, Authority, and Trust. The signals for E-A-T don’t only reside on the page, but can come from all over the web and even offline.

📄⬅️ On-page signals

Some of these include content being factual, original, and insightful, as well as factors like content depth, ad density, and the absence of spelling errors or grammatical mistakes.

📄➡️ Off-page signals

Depending on the type of content, off-page signals can include legitimate positive reviews, citations or links from authoritative sources, the author’s credentials, and the company’s reputation.

📄‼️ No-page signals

Beyond the written word, search engines can look at things like the company or author’s publishing history, the frequency of published works on the topic, and whether or not the company has a physical location users can visit.

DAC’s POV on quality

Content quality is one of the five key pillars to generating a successful website: Findability, Functionality/UX, Format/Structure, Readability, and Content Quality. When all pillars work cohesively together, users are more easily able to achieve their goals.

YMYL sites need to work continuously on quality signals in order to compete. However, all sites should still take heed: YMYL categories can and will expand over time, so always aim to create content to puts your audience’s needs first.

Where to get started?

Depending on your industry and your website, you can get to work on improving the overall quality by focusing on improving the E-A-T signals derived from company pages, author pages, product or service pages, blog posts, news pages, and online reviews.

Need a little help getting there? Our SEO and Content Strategy teams can help you identify all the most important quality signals for your industry and content type—and we’ll go from there.

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