SEO and Quality: Google’s major ranking signal explained

  1. Internet searchers require high quality search results. For Google, this means that the best webpages for a query must appear at the top its search results page.
  2. Quality web pages must have impressive relevance for keywords (search terms).
  3. Web pages must be responsive if they are to rank high for mobile search: From 2014 more searches come from mobiles than desktops.
  4. High quality backlinks suggest high quality web pages. As Google stopped updating PageRank information for the public in 2013, Moz provides the best available indicators – page and domain authority.
  5. High quality unique and contemporary information enhances websites targeting keywords.
  6. User Signals – including time on site, number of pages viewed by a visitor and bounce rate help Google identify webpages that users find helpful.
  7. Quality social media references would be expected for quality web pages.

The role of quality in SEO and how to optimize it for better rankings

Since its arrival in 1998, Google has kept ahead of other search engines in its quest to provide the best search results. Its success can be attributed to its use of user signals. Initially, it focused on backlinks from other websites as an indicator of website and webpage authority. More recently, Google has found additional metrics of user indicators of quality.

Whether Google is in anyway altruistic, the fact is that Google is a commercial company making an enormous amount of money through paid advertisements such as AdWords. It is in Google’s financial interest to be recognised as the premier search engine so that their AdWords are presented to the majority of searchers.

SEOs naturally seek to push their websites to the top of Google for searches and this has included increasing backlinks. Google has incorporated Quality Score into its algorithm for ranking AdWords (Pay Per Click – PPC) and there is evidence that Quality Score features in Googles Natural (Organic) SEO Algorithm – By: Masha Maksimava

The place of quality in Google’s ranking algorithm

1.   Relevance and Quality of Content.

To identify webpage relevance for a search, Google looks at how well the page answers the searcher’s question or fulfils the purpose of the query. Then, Google tries to figure out the degree of relevance of the page to the query. And while this must be a complex process, it is a comprehensible one. Google will look at your page and entire website in terms of keyword-related features, like keyword usage and topic relevance. They’ll also look for some related keywords and semantically related concepts in the anchor text of links pointing to your page.

For most queries, this analysis will produce thousands of webpages that meet acceptable relevance levels which Google needs to arrange in a certain order before they are displayed to searchers, ensuring that the best results appear at the top. This is where quality comes in.

Google Panda and webpage quality

Google provides basic principles of what it considers to be good practice in web design and  specific guidelines on techniques to be avoided –

Google has a set of people who rate websites. They are human beings who type queries into the Google search bar, and rate search results by following these guidelines so that Google can improve the quality of its SERPs. The concept behind this quality control was developed by one of Google’s software engineers, Navneet Panda. The first Panda update was in 2011. There have been several updates to Panda since then.

According to Masha Maksimava, there’s one type of page Google has extremely high standards for. Those are labelled “Your Money or Your Life” pages; they are the types of webpages that can impact the “future happiness, health, or wealth of users”. YMYL pages are financial, legal, and medical information pages. I have my doubts that Google has a different algorithm for different information sectors. I suspect that Google uses the same algorithm for each section and this algorithm defines the criteria accordingly.

In the guidelines, Google is telling raters what most of us already know. ‘Content is king’. Creating high quality content takes a significant amount of time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill.

According to Google, the way content is placed on a page is also important. The following characteristics are typical of functionally designed pages:

There is no magic formula on word count that would put your site to Google’s top. I do not believe that there is virtue in looking at data such as word count of the top pages for a keyword search and using this for your web page. After all, it is quality that matters and not quantity.

2. Mobile friendliness

Usability before quality: is your page good enough for mobile SERPs?

From 2014 more searches come from mobiles than desktops.For the first time, Google’s rating guidelines focus on mobile search experiences. Interestingly, Google notes that on many occasions, mobile searchers won’t need to navigate to the landing page to find the information they are looking for — the purpose of many queries can be achieved by the results blocks themselves, i.e. your Google SERP snippet. In fact, a click to the webpage may not even be required for the evaluator to assign a rating to a result.

In fact, Google has a separate “hard to use” flag for pages that aren’t mobile friendly. That is, if a page is “so difficult to use on the small screen of a mobile device that the usefulness of the result is diminished”, that page is not even included in the evaluation. Most recent WordPress themes are mobile friendly.


Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness

Winning Google’s trust and respect: the required minimum

According to Google, the level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the website is another factor that determines a site’s quality. It’s a tricky one; basically, Google is asking raters whether they feel the page they are assessing was created by an expert in the field. Does it feel like the site can be trusted? What makes it authoritative for the topic?

On a related note, Google encourages raters to look for company information on websites, specifically:

  • About Us information,
  • Contact or Customer Service information,
  • Information about who is responsible for the content and maintenance of the site.


Reputation and why it’s your call

Google tells us that a site’s reputation (links from other websites) contributes the site’s overall quality.

What about backlinks’ quality?
How the backlink picture is changing with the new concepts in quality

Understandably, the quality of the pages that link to a site have a substantial impact on that site’s overall quality in Google’s eyes. Here’s a simplified scheme that represents how the overall SEO quality of a given webpage may be determined by Google. Penguin is the name used for that part of the Google ranking algorithm relating to link quality in contrast to Panda which evaluates page quality.


Videos and other Supplementary content

Videos tend to make users stick around on your site resulting in a quality boost.


Typically, supplementary content of a webpage includes navigation and links that allow users to visit other parts of the site.

Google quite reasonably assumes that the longer a visitor spends on a website, the more useful it must be. Google notes time on site, time on page and bounce rate as indicators of quality.

Whether you’re optimizing a blog post or a shopping page, make sure you’re helping users out by including links to related pages they may find interesting. If your site runs on WordPress, the ‘related posts plugin’ lets you do exactly that.

SEO and Google

There has been a cat and mouse game between Google and search engine optimisers. Google was the first search engine to include backlinks in its ranking algorithm and optimisers have found a variety of ways to increase backlinks to their websites.

Quality scores are more difficult for optimisers to overcome. Furthermore, Google has increased visibility of AdWords to the detriment of high organic search results. This means that the ROI for SEO has fallen and will continue to do so, particularly for local search where there maps for those who have registered with Google business.