What the Google Quality Update Means For Your Site

Posted on Friday, November 20, 2015 by D. Fowler

Every update to Google's search rank algorithm is worth exploring to make sure your site complies with the latest SEO guidelines. Unlike most of the search engine's updates, the "Google Quality Update," took effect quietly in the Spring of 2015 without an official press release.

Analysts originally called it the "Phantom Update" due to its questionable provenance and broad effects. Some features are reminiscent of Panda, others would suggest Penguin. Here are items to consider so that your SEO strategies remain in order. 

Sites with Ranking Shifts

The effects of the Google Quality Update began to appear on May 3 when some sites started seeing their search rankings drop significantly. A few weeks later Google confirmed with Search Engine Land that it had updated its algorithm again. Some of the sites that suffered setbacks include About.com, Examiner.com, WikiHow.com, Answers.com, HubPages.com, eHow.com and RottenTomatoes.com. Deeper content sites such as Amazon, Genius and Thesaurus benefitted from the change.

Analysts have noticed that certain "how-to" sites have been hurt by the update. Search Metric has observed that the adverse effects on "how-to" sites are more related to how the sites are based on user-generated content packed with ads. Sites at risk of falling in the rankings due to the Google Quality Update are those which house more fluff and ads than informative depth. 

Adjustments to Consider

If your site relies on duplication or thin content, you need to start adding more substance to your web pages. Self-starting videos, banner ads and 404 errors also jeopardize your standings. Not all user-generated content sites have been penalized, as Quora is an example of a how-to site that actually moved up in search rankings. Quora's secret might be that it maintains high standards for quality content, as it avoids self-promotion and vague responses, which can be tagged as spam. 

Sites that rely on user-generated content need to strengthen their policies so that users know not to post weak content that Google frowns upon. Examples of thin content that Google downgrades include: doorway pages that are designed to direct users to a new page, automated articles, syndication that doesn't provide original content, and sites flooded with affiliate ads. Ask yourself: what do any of these gimmicks offer the reader? 

The most important thing you can do to ensure your site's compliance with the Google Quality Update is make sure your site is free of clutter. Start by checking to see if your old articles contain dead links or outdated information. Replace any content that lacks substance with articles that dive deeper into research and analysis. 

Stay Focused on Quality Content

The Google Quality Update continues to move in the consistent direction of rewarding useful informative sites while punishing sites that do not offer a rewarding user experience. Search Engine Land analyst Barry Schwartz offers guidance on issues such as correctly interpreting the trends that precede an "algo[rithm] hit," adjusting bounce rate for more insightful analysis of which pages engage your visitors, and effectively using Google Webmaster Tools.

What sites like Examiner, HubPages and eHow may still not understand is Google has not been rewarding that business model in a long time. Anything that is structured like a content farm (site featuring a wide variety of articles based on  insubstantial content) isn't where search engines really want to take their users. Instead of light quantity written by anybody trying to make money off ad-sponsored content, Google rewards niche sites that feature actual authorities who share their expertise. 



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