Google’s definition of ‘quality’September 10, 2011 7:20 pm SEO
Warning: it’s a bit of a long blog but it all leads up to what I feel is an important discussion point at the end …
If you have any interaction with Google, particularly about issues with search engine positioning, everything seems to come back to one word: quality.
In short, Google make great claims about wanting their search engine to provide the best experience for searchers.
When it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO), Google have the luxury in that they don’t give away the secrets behind what does and doesn’t work but they do often make it clear that the websites that will win are those that offer a quality experience.
But what defines ‘quality’?
Over the years people have used methods to try and ‘beat Google’. Reciprocal links, keyword stuffing, and many other tricks have been used. Many of those tricks are supposedly no longer effective and yet we all see websites that are clearly engineered to beat the system.
Let’s say you have a website and it’s all about widgets. You fill it up with great content that is without doubt the best widgets information in the world.
And that’s all you do. You don’t engineer backlinks into the website or do anything else. It just sits there. You, in short, have the highest quality website on the subject of widgets in the whole world.
And the tumbleweed rolls by your door because Google doesn’t give you the credit for that quality. That happens because, being effectively software and algorithms, it doesn’t understand ‘real’ quality and has to use other methods – most notably, backlinking.
If you type a phrase into Google, the chances are that the companies that appear highest are those that have engineered backlinks to their website (or had someone do it for them). While it’s supposed to be true that not any old backlinks are good enough for Google there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. In short, the more backlinks you have to your website pages, the more credibility you have with Google. And Google seems to think that using backlinks (quantity and quality) as a measure is adequate.
So, going back to your fantastic website about widgets, there may be other websites about widgets that provide inferior information to yours BUT they’re higher than you in the search results. How can this be? Could it be because they’ve engineered things (including backlinks)? This begs the question:
“If websites appear high in Google, that provide inferior information/services/products compared to those below them (often, much lower than them), then how can Google judge them to be ‘quality’ enough to appear at the top?”
There are so many examples of businesses engineering their positioning. Here are just a couple …
Hog roasts everywhere
I’m looking for a local provider of hog roasts in Cornwall so I type ‘hog roasts Cornwall’. In second position of Google I see a link to http://www.hog-roast-direct.co.uk/hog_roast/hog_roast_Cornwall.htm, which looks like the screenshot below …
Now I’m looking for a local provider of hog roasts in Liverpool and after searching for ‘hog roasts Liverpool’ I see a prominent link to http://www.hog-roast-direct.co.uk/hog_roast/hog_roast_Liverpool.htm. Looking at the screenshot below, does it look familiar?
You could type all sorts of variations and find replica landing pages, differing only in the location name.
From the perspective of the hog roast buyer, who is looking for a genuinely local company, is what they see a ‘quality’ search result? No, it’s a site that via the page http://www.hog-roast-direct.co.uk/online/cateringquote.php pulls in enquiries, which will probably be cherry-picked and the others sold on to other companies around the UK. If you look down the bottom of that Quote page you’ll see yet more SEO trickery that has helped them gain their positioning.
Is what they’ve done ‘wrong’? No – they’ve just understood how to beat the system. However, I’d argue that it’s wrong from a human perspective and that Google really don’t care.
Garden BBQ top position for one page
If you type ‘garden bbq’ into Google, the top result is http://gardenbbq.co.uk/. If you click on anything within that page it’ll take you into the Taskers website (e.g. http://www.taskersonline.com/categories/Cookshop/).
What’s happened here is that Google has allowed a one page website, acting as a doorway into another website, to be top of Google. I’m fairly sure that such things are supposed to be frowned upon by Google and yet, the evidence is there to see it goes on. In this case it doesn’t actually matter from a human perspective but it does make a mockery of Google’s preaching about ‘quality’.
So why does Google allow it to happen?
Two answers here:
- PPC advertising
- Lack of vision
If there’s one thing to remember about Google it’s the fact that without PPC advertisers, it’s dead in the water. There are only limited organic positions available on the first page of Google and it just happens that those companies who know how to beat the system (or bring in help to do it) will be dominant. Anyone else who wants to get first page Google positioning, regardless of how good their product, service, or information is, has two choices:
- Join in with the crowd, creating backlinks, and all sorts of other methods to ‘beat the system’.
- Pay for PPC advertising.
Because option 1 is so long-winded and usually involves time and money, option 2 is what keeps Google thriving.
Time for change
Being high in the search results means nothing about the quality of the service/product/information provided. It means that the website owner has found ways to engineer their position.
All the time that Google don’t have a serious competitor (Bing is still so far away from cutting into its market) then it has no incentive to change. It will still reap the benefits of PPC advertising and however much it preaches ‘quality’ of search results, the system is inherently not about real quality.
What will change the situation? A competitor to Google who finds a better way to position companies in the organic search results and links a revenue model to that. People want to get services/products/information from sources that have genuine credibility and I believe that they should expect search results to be linked to genuine quality.
If every company in the world had the option to pay something paltry like £100 per year (scalable by size or organisation of course), to be part of a service/product/information quality checking system, run by a major search engine, and they knew that the higher the grading they get, the better the search positioning, what would happen?
As an example, if Custwin signs up to such a scheme then there’s an obligation that all clients go into the checking process. After a certain period of time the quality of services provided are checked by the search engine (directly with the end client). Then, after a further period of time a further check (or more than one check) is made. The end result would be an average ‘score’ across all clients.
Could the end result of this being an important factor in search engine positioning?
Standards of services/products/information would rise, the cowboys would fall out of the business system, the search engine would have a decent revenue model (upwards of £100/year multiplied by millions of companies is a no-brainer), and people would have much more confidence that what they see on the first page of the search engine has real quality attached to it.
I’m conscious that I’ve whisked over the concept of how a major search engine could topple Google (or Google themselves could change) but if it’s of more interest to discuss/debate in more depth, please do get in touch.