Google has been very busy these days, rewriting quality guidelines for its website raters and updating its Penguin spam algorithm and Panda filter. What should all this mean to a really good corporate website or intelligent branded content? It may not change that much. For your average site and content — well, that’s another story entirely. And even though larger brands have usually been allowed to slide by with some less than pristine practices, they too need to be a little more circumspect.
Many corporate sites have relied too long on such manipulative practices as buying links or padding websites with duplicative or thin and keyword-stuffed content in vain attempts to generate traffic. The problem is simple: Webmasters are spending too much time gaming Google and not enough time on really understanding and then producing the kind of content that will resonate with the audience their sites are targeting.
The latest version of Google’s Quality Rater’s Handbook puts an emphasis on just what its name implies: quality content. By that, Google means content must reflect expertise and be authoritative and trustworthy — E-A-T, as the quality rater’s guide refers to it. Lacking E-A-T should be sufficient reason for a rater to give a page or site a low rating.
Google’s algorithms rely heavily on votes, in the form of links by Web denizens, on whether content is in fact high quality. Google looks for the number of shares and links, and if they are plentiful, the ranking of the content is high. These criteria left the system open to a lot of manipulation with sites buying links and manufacturing fan clubs, but frankly it also meant that low-quality content that happens to be funny or profane or just so stupid it’s watched, even without shenanigans, might garner a higher rating than it may deserve. Not necessarily much E-A-T there.
Now, Google seems to be asking for raters to look beyond sheer popularity into the substance of a site, which is where perhaps the emphasis should have been in the first place anyway. At the same time, the Panda filter recently was updated to stop the abusive practice of press release churning — writing a press release every time a CEO placed a lunch order, while Penguin continues to ding sites with phony back link profiles filled with a collection of paid links.
The problem is simple: It isn’t easy to come up with an algorithm that assesses amorphous things like quality. So even though we may have wanted to remove subjectivity from the equation, making everything an apples-to-apples number-based decision, the end result may have been to punish some quality content that only a human can appreciate.
What does this all mean for weary webmasters and content producers? Stop gaming the system and start putting your money and effort behind the production of quality, authoritative content that actually is valuable to users.
Here are five things to keep in mind to make sure you are heading toward the kind of content that will attract superior search ratings:
- Follow the helpful document provided by Amit Singhal, a Google fellow, containing no fewer than 23 questions you can ask to ascertain whether you are producing a website that will attract a high rank in Google searches.
- Spend those hard-earned dollars on data, analytics and insights on target audiences to understand better their needs and interests.
- Accept that brands now need to be great storytellers.
- Be sure to create the type of content that will satisfy the questions your customers are asking.
- Clearly demonstrate your expertise and authoritativeness in all of the content you produce, and don’t be afraid to reach outside the corporate family to experts your own smart people respect.