How Google’s Panda Update Evaluates Your Copy

When it comes to the world wide web, quality is not subjective. Google’s got the patent on that, actually. The arbiter of online search results has developed a Page Quality ranking system for placing all web pages on a 9-tier scale, ranging from Lowest to Highest. Google’s ultimate goal is to cut through the junk and connect audiences to the info they’re seeking. The search engine giant uses the quality scores to define algorithms that determine how visible you are to the vast majority of global searchers.

This week’s update to Google’s Panda algorithm puts even greater impetus on penalizing lower-quality pages. In a recent article, marketer Terrence Mace explores all the factors that influence scores, drawing on information contained in Google’s content quality patent and ratings guidelines that were leaked this summer. Based on these insights, we’ve brought you some best practices, both for securing high marks with Google and scoring high with your target users.

1. Proceed with Purpose

A successful web page announces its purpose and then delivers. You don’t want someone landing on your landscaping company’s home page only to find pictures of puppies and pop-up requests to play Bejeweled. Every page should present something valuable, whether it’s information on a particular topic, products/services for sale, files for download, or simply some giggle-inducing Gifs. Quality Scores are assigned based on how well a page serves its supposed purpose, as determined a real life quality evaluator.

As long as your aim is to help users in some way, evaluators don’t prejudice particular intent. A page designed to deliver uproarious memes, for example, may rank just as highly as a one offering hard-hitting news. Google does, however, insist on a “first do no harm” policy: pages that exist to mislead users or profit without delivering benefits are destined to receive dismal scores.

Though Google doesn’t prioritize one purpose over another, it is super-scrupulous when it comes to a certain type of page: Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages—those that can have an impact on a person’s future happiness, health, or wellness—are held to higher standards. Shopping sites and pages providing financial, medical, or legal information fit into this category. If you are presenting information or services with some kind of real life impact, you’ll want to be extra sure your site is in shape.

2. Create a Little Structure in Your Site

A high-quality website is like a well-written novel: it’s structurally sound, descriptive, and keeps readers hooked. Every page should fit into the larger “story” of your site. There’s a lot to pack on each page aside from main messaging—contact information, comment sections, social media badges, links, ads etc. Like most things in life, it’s all about achieving a balance.

Google evaluators break every page down by Main Content, Supplemental Content and Ads. Main Content is that which helps the page achieve its purpose. On an “About” page, for example, this might be the text that tells your company’s story or a cool explainer video. On a sales page, Main Content is probably a collection of product images and details. Supplemental Content is all the stuff that adds to the user’s experience but is not directly related to the point of the page. This includes navigation, social media buttons, comment sections, calculators, links, and so on.

According to Google’s guidelines, a satisfactory page has a good amount of high-quality Main Content and Supplemental Content that contributes to the user’s experience on that page. Quality Main Content is that which is informative, accurate, and up-to-date. Factors that contribute to crappy scores are things like duplicate content, factually inaccurate content, spelling and grammar mistakes, and obvious keyword-packing. (All aspects that MarketSmiths’ copywriters and content auditors are trained to catch!).

A good indicator that your page does its job is users who stick around (and Google can track that). Don’t let a tangled web of words, media, and distracting ads turn people away from your page in seconds. The key to snagging users is structuring information in a coherent way that allows users to easily navigate, explore, and navigate the rest of your site. This means keeping relevant information above the “fold” (point where users start scrolling), making sure that supplemental content is not distracting, and making sure ads don’t intrude on the user’s experience.

3. Maintain Your Messaging

Clear and precise messaging is the key to earning a high quality score. If the purpose of a page isn’t immediately clear, then how can evaluators determine whether or not it meets its intent? The larger your site, the harder it is to make every page count, but it’s important. A low quality score on some overlooked page can drag down the rankings of your whole site.

Regular maintenance will keep your page content relevant, error free, and on brand. Refreshing content on updateable pages (blogs, news feeds, forums) also keeps Google happy. If the last “news” you posted was an article on Obama’s first inauguration, your blog page is probably getting pretty paltry ratings. Make sure you keep these kinds of pages fresh by crafting new blogs posts and articles, or finding awesome writers to do the job.

While all this seems daunting, it’s important to remember you’re not doing it just for Google. Quality scores are designed to reward sites that create the best possible experience for users. A high score isn’t just a high-five from the Internet—it means you’re on the right to creating lasting relationships with your audience. If you’re not sure that your purpose is clear, your messaging’s on target, and your structure is sound, then it might be time to join forces with a web-savvy copywriter!

A winsome wordsmith, Gregory M. Lewis loves nothing better than absorbing new information and crystallizing it into clear, captivating copy. Greg brings his incisive insight and easy-going approach to every project. In his free time, the Chicago native can be spotted at Nets games, art galleries, and local concerts in Brooklyn.

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