Google’s John Mueller, Martin Splitt and Gary Illyes discussed site quality in a recent podcast, explaining the different ways of thinking about site quality and at one point saying it’s not rocket science. The discussion suggests that site quality could be simpler than most people know.
Site Quality Is Not Rocket Science
The first point they touched on is to recommend reading site quality documentation, insisting that site quality is not especially difficult to understand.
Gary Illyes said:
“So I would go to a search engine’s documentation.
Most of them have some documentation about how they function and just try to figure out where your content might be failing or where your page might be failing because honestly, okay, this is patronizing, but it’s not rocket science.”
No Tools For Site Quality – What To Do?
Gary acknowledged that there’s no tool for diagnosing site quality, not in the same way there are tools for objectively detecting technical issues.
The traffic metrics that show a downward movement don’t explain why, they just show that something changed.
“I found the up-down metric completely useless because you still have to figure out what’s wrong with it or why people didn’t like it.
And then you’re like, “This is a perfectly good page. I wrote it, I know that it’s perfect.”
And then people, or I don’t know, like 99.7% of people are downvoting it. And you’re like, ‘Why?’”
“And I think that’s another thing.
How do I spot, I wrote the page, so clearly it is perfect and helpful and useful and amazing, but then people disagree, as you say.
How do you think about that? What do you do then?
How can I make my content more helpful, better, more useful? I don’t know.
…There’s all these tools that I can just look at and I see that something’s good or something’s bad.
But for quality, how do I go about that?”
“What if quality is actually simpler than at least most people think?
…What if it’s about writing the thing that will help people achieve whatever they need to achieve when they come to the page? And that’s it.”
Martin Splitt asked if Gary was talking about reviewing the page from the perspective of the user.
“No, we are reframing.”
Reframing generally means to think about the problem differently.
Gary’s example is to reframe the problem as whether the page delivers what it says it’s going to deliver (like helping users achieve X,Y,Z).
Something I see a lot with content is that the topic being targeted (for example, queries about how to catch a trout) isn’t matched by the content (which might actually be about tools for catching trout) which is not what the site visitor wants to achieve.
Quality In Terms Of Adding Value
There are different kinds of things that relate to site and page quality and in the next part of the podcast John Mueller and Gary Illyes discuss the issue about adding something of value.
Adding something of value came up in the context of where the SERPs offer good answers from websites that people not only enjoy but they expect to see those sites as answers for those queries.
You can tell when users expect specific sites for individual search queries when Google Suggests shows the brand name and the keyword.
That’s a clue that probably a lot of people are turning keywords into branded searches, which signals to Google what people want to see.
So, the problem of quality in those situations isn’t about being relevant for a query with the perfect answer.
For these situations, like for competitive queries, it’s not enough to be relevant or have the perfect answer.
John Mueller explains:
“The one thing I sometimes run into when talking with people is that they’ll be like, “Well, I feel I need to make this page.”
And I made this page for users in air quotes…
But then when I look at the search results, it’s like 9,000 other people also made this page.
It’s like, is this really adding value to the Internet?
And that’s sometimes kind of a weird discussion to have.
It’s like, ‘Well, it’s a good page, but who needs it?’
There are so many other versions of this page already, and people are happy with those.”
This is the type of situation where competitive analysis to “reverse engineer” the SERPs works against the SEO.
It’s stale because using what’s in the SERPs as a template for what to do rank is feeding Google what it already has.
It’s like, as an example, let’s represent the site ranked in Google with a baseline of the number zero.
Let’s imagine everything in the SERPs has a baseline of zero. Less than zero is poor quality. Higher than zero is higher quality.
Zero is not better than zero, it’s just zero.
The SEOs who think they’re reverse engineering Google by copying entities, copying topics, they’re really just achieving an imperfect score of zero.
So, according to Mueller, Google responds with, “it’s a good page, but who needs it?”
What Google is looking for in this situation is not the baseline of what’s already in the SERPs, zero.
According to Mueller, they’re looking for something that’s not the same as the baseline.
So in my analogy, Google is looking for something above the baseline of what is already in the SERPs, a number greater than zero, which is a one.
You can’t add value by feeding Google back what’s already there. And you can’t add value by doing the same thing ten times bigger. It’s still the same thing.
Breaking Into The SERPs By The Side Door
Gary Illyes next discusses a way to break into a tough SERP, saying the way to do it is indirectly.
This is an old strategy but a good one that still works today.
So, rather than bringing a knife to a gunfight, Gary Illyes suggests choosing more realistic battles to compete in.
Gary continued the conversation about competing in tough SERPs.
“…this also is kind of related to the age-old topic that if you are a new site, then how can you break into your niche?
I think on today’s Internet, like back when I was doing ‘SEO’, it was already hard.
For certain topics or niches, it was absolutely a nightmare, like ….mesothelioma….
That was just impossible to break into. Legal topics, it was impossible to break into.
And I think by now, we have so much content on the Internet that there’s a very large number of topics where it is like 15 years ago or 20 years ago, that mesothelioma topic, where it was impossible to break into.
…I remember Matt Cutts, former head of Web Spam, …he was doing these videos.
And in one of the videos, he said try to offer something unique or your own perspective to the thing that you are writing about.
Then the number of perspective or available perspectives, free perspectives, is probably already gone.
But if you find a niche where people are not talking too much about, then suddenly, it’s much easier to break into.
So basically, this is me saying that you can break into most niches if you know what you are doing and if you are actually trying to help people.”
What Illyes is suggesting as a direction is to “know what you are doing and if you are actually trying to help people.”
That’s one of my secrets to staying one step ahead in SEO.
For example, before the reviews update, before Google added Experience to E-A-T, I was telling clients privately to do that for their review pages and I told them to keep it a secret, because I knew I had it dialed in.
I’m not psychic, I was just looking at what Google wants to rank and I figured it out several years before the reviews update that you need to have original photos, you need to have hands-on experience with the reviewed product, etc.
Gary’s right when he advises to look at the problem from the perspective of “trying to help people.”
He next followed up with this idea about choosing which battles to fight.
“…and I think the other big motivator is, as always, money. People are trying to break into niches that make the most money. I mean, duh, I would do the same thing probably.
But if you write about these topics that most people don’t write about, let’s say just three people wrote about it on the Internet, then maybe you can capture some traffic.
And then if you have many of those, then maybe you can even outdo those high-traffic niches.”
Barriers To Entry
What Gary is talking about is how to get around the barrier to entry, which are the established sites. His suggestion is to stay away from offering what everyone else is offering (which is a quality thing).
Creating content that the bigger sites can’t or don’t know to create is an approach I’ve used with a new site.
Weaknesses can be things that the big site does poorly, like their inability to resonate with a younger or older audience and so on.
Those are examples of offering something different that makes the site stand out from a quality perspective.
Gary is talking about picking the battles that can be won, planting a flag, then moving on to the next hill.
That’s a far better strategies than walking up toe to toe with the bigger opponent.
Analyzing For Quality Issues
It’s a lot easier to analyze a site for technical issues than it is for quality issues.
But a few of the takeaways are:
- Be aware that the people closest to the content are not always the best judges of content is quality.
- Read Google’s search documentation (for on-page factors, content, and quality guidelines).
- Content quality is simpler than it seems. Just think about knowing the topic well and being helpful to people.
- Being original is about looking at the SERPs for things that you can do differently, not about copying what the competitors are doing.
In my experience, it’s super important to keep an open mind, to not get locked into one way of thinking, especially when it comes to site quality. This will help one keep from getting locked into a point of view that can keep one from seeing the true cause of ranking issues.
Featured Image by Shutterstock/Stone36