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Direct From Google: How To Build A Quality Website In 2012

By Ana Hoffman
53 Comments

I hear a lot of webmasters complain day in and day out about all the changes that Google constantly makes to its algorithm and how they affect our search engine placement.

Let me break it to you: it’s not all about what Google has done and will do to update its algorithm.

It’s about what you SHOULD BE doing.

I am sure we all can agree that Google’s ultimate goal is to help people find the most relevant and highest quality sites in Google’s search results (whether they are any good at it is not the question). They are not putting out all these updates just to mess with you.

So what do I think you should be doing to show Google you mean business and deserve higher rankings?

1. Ask Yourself the Right Questions

As per Amit Singhal, one of Google engineers, these are the question we should be asking ourselves when writing high-quality content for our sites:

2. Watch Your Ad Balance

On that list is: “Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?

Who defines “excessive” or “interfering”?

Let’s take a look at this example:

ad space above fold

EzineArticles.com was one of the article directories that was hit pretty hard by Google Panda update.

If we take a look at their above-fold content, we see three sections with Google Adsense. Are they excessive? Yes, in my opinion. Do they interfere with the content? I’d say so.

At the recent PubCon in Las Vegas, Matt Cutts addressed the issue of possibly penalizing ad-heavy pages:

If you have ads obscuring your content, you might want to think about it… Do they see content or something else that’s distracting or annoying?

And that they’re testing algorithms that determine…

What are the things that really matter, how much content is above the fold.

Speaking of PubCon…

3. Google Says, We Listen

Once again, it doesn’t matter whether we agree with all the changes Google constantly makes or not. They’ll do it anyway, right?

However, if we listen closely enough, we’ll have all the knowledge we need to build a site that Google loves.

So here’s what Google had to say at PubCon:

1. Google is getting better at communicating with webmasters.

2. Mobile and social are the future.

3. Google is getting better at understanding more of the content that resides on a page – specifically how much content is above the fold.

4. If you have too many ads (not specified as AdSense ads, mind you) that distract from the content, you may have problems.

5. Better understanding of page factors that improve quality is a focus of Google.

6. Layout of the page will matter even more in the future.

7. People using Google Voice and Siri still go to Google when those things fail.

8. Google might roll out some kind of replacement for the “+” operator which was recently changed (in favor of Google+ Direct Connect, as we now know).

9. Google might start communicating with webmasters about certain software being out of date the way they do with WordPress.

10. Google wants to be more transparent about algorithm updates (here are the most recent ones), and will announce them as they go (we’ve already seen this with the Panda and Freshness updates).

11. Google suggests telling Google when you publish content using email alerts and set up pubsubhubbub in Webmaster Tools to help them better see that you publish the content before scrapers scrape it. (Ana’s note: tried to figure out what they are talking about; not-techie enough for that.

12. Doorway pages are a bad idea.

13. High quality content is something you can send to a child and they can learn something from.

14. Google says Panda has been a positive change across all of its known measurements, but they acknowledge that no algorithm is perfect, and encourage webmasters to report issues.

15. Google has an excel sheet of 500 sites from a thread in Google Webmaster Help Forum (presumably the one discussed here).

16. There is a person responsible for false positives.

17. Google says that while they don’t care about brands, per se, there is something about brands that users associate with relevance.

18. Google has spam fighters in 40 languages.

19. Google says you should expect search to become more personal in the coming months.

20. Google will not back off on SSL, but might move forward on it.

21. Links obtained by using press releases are only helpful when people pick them up and create their own stories from them.

22. As Google focus on quality, who wrote it (authorship) and who their friends are (social) are main focuses.

23. Google tries to remove parts of sites that are spamming. Sometimes action is taken on the entire site. Google says it reserves the right to cut parts of sites.

24. When asked about Google not tracking keywords in analytics, and why they’re not providing more detailed query data in Webmaster Tools due to the SSL feature, Google says you can get the top 1,000 queries and 96% of sites get all queries . To give it to the other 4%, would increase their data storage by 4 times. They are looking to upgrade it via download or APIs.

4. Social is the Future

I am sure you’ve heard it before, but it’s time to take it to heart: who and how many people you know online matters!

Notice what Google said at PubCon:

As Google focus on quality, who wrote it (authorship) and who their friends are (social) are main focuses.

How does social come into play?

It’s becoming more and more obvious as Google Plus is claiming its fair share (and then some) of social media.

Let me give you an example.

I was doing some work for a client who was trying to rank for a highly competitive term “start a small business“.

I started by simply googling the term to see who was listed on the first page.

Lo and behold, my friend Gail Gardner of GrowMap.com was right there at the top along with established sites like SBA.gov and Entrepreneur.com!

Why did I see her listed there?

social media ranking for growmap

Since Gail and I are connected through every imaginable social network out there, Google decided that showing her listing for the keyword I was searching for might be more relevant TO ME.

As you probably have guessed, in actuality Gail’s blog post is not listed anywhere close to the first page for this particular keyword…

Tip: if you want to see the most accurate Google rankings, use Google Incognito.

Bottom line: who your friends are matters and here’s where you can learn more about how your social media reach influences your Google rankings and what you can do about it.

Marketing Takeaway

We all want higher search engine rankings.

However, we need to show Google we deserve them first.

If your site doesn’t look like what Google might consider a “quality site”, if you lack social activity (comments, social media sharing), backlinks, if you are trying to make a quick buck by overwhelming your readers with ads, what do you expect?

When Google talks, we listen.

Ana

About Ana Hoffman

Traffic, traffic, traffic... Can't do without it, but don't know how to get it?
Ana does, and she freely shares her web traffic advice that doesn't suck on her Traffic Generation Cafe blog. And don't forget to pick up Ana's 7 Steps to Complete Search Engine Domination free SEO report while you are at it - stop hoping for more search engine traffic and go get it!

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53 Comments

  • Having a web presence is just one avenue online, as there’s always new websites being launched everyday. Now to make your website a success on the web, you need to look at the bigger picture, by building your brand online though social media, blogs, and forums. You want to ensure that your website is the one that others trust and can relate to.
    Going back 10 years, yes just having a website and doing a few tweaks here and there would get you to your goals, but just like everything else around us, we need to adapt to the change and implement this into our online business.
    Ana thanks for putting together the above list, a good point of reference for new / old websites.

  • Hi Anna

    Google stated 2 years ago that the amount of conversation of your page via social media will determine page rank in the future – marketers in general just didn’t listen until Google made them listen with an update.

    If we strip away all the layers, good ranking comes down to simply good content and a good user experience. When you have that people naturally start linking to you and sharing your pages, which all lead to good rankings.

    It’s the core of very good business practice… something which you have done very well with on your blog, and thus naturally the success that has followed you.

    • I agree, Dee – in the end, it all comes down to great content.

      As far as social media is concerned, I keep telling my readers to get on Google+. Just look at how it affects our rankings! Yet, very few are listening.

  • Google+ and Authorship are just proving one thing, you cannot fool Google anymore. So called Back Hat SEO Techniques won’t work. You need to have good content for others to see. Google+ will eventually determine your search rankings. The Future is Social.

  • Raj

    I too agree with the above commenter’s POV. If we write content that is useful and interesting to the reader, Google will automatically like it. People sometimes spend more time on the indicators than creating good content!

    • I wouldn’t necessarily agree with “automatically” liking good content, Raj.

      Even if you write killer blog posts, but live in a vacuum, i.e. not link building, then Google will never rank you for anything but possible extremely low competition keywords.

      What Dee was saying is that good content will naturally attract links and that’s what will push it to the top.

      Again, link building, including through social media sharing, is still a huge factor in your rankings.

  • Hi Ana, thanks for putting together the above list. One thing is sure, whoever wants to succeed doing any form of online business, must now get down to serious work. Armed with an understanding of what good and quality contents entail.

  • Hi Ana,
    A very detailed post about building a quality site the Google way. At least now we all have a barometer to judge our sites by.

    • SEO is not that difficult once you know what is expected of you, Justin.

      I find these guidelines to be great to build readership as well as rank well on Google.

  • I can’t stop reading this blog. You’re so wonderful. At mid this year, some of my blogs became a victim of Panda too and since then I’ve been looking for a way to make the rest better.

    However, I want to get something clear from number 11 above.

    11. Google suggests telling
    Google when you publish
    content using email alerts
    and set up pubsubhubbub
    in Webmaster Tools to
    help them better see
    that you publish the
    content before scrapers
    scrape it. (Ana’s note:
    tried to figure out what
    they are talking about;
    not-techie enough for
    that.

    Pls how can I do this because I have so many contents copied from my blog and those sites even rank higher than me. I will love to make this work by telling Google each time I publish a post on my blogs.

    • I am not a techie and, as I mentioned in the post, I tried to figure out what they meant, but it went right over my head.

      The only way I know to establish authorship is by implementing rel=”author” tag; you can Google it to find instructions on how to do that.

      Other than that, maybe some more tech-savvy readers can give us a better input on this one?

      • Thanks for your reply. I will search and make use of the rel=author tag.

  • Debra Gould

    Ana, this is an awesome post. Thanks for sharing all these great pearls of wisdom. I too would like to know more about letting Google know that content originates on my site since much of my material is used elsewhere.

    The other thing that strikes me about all this is that if you have a target market that’s 45+ and not especially tech savvy or Internet-focused, you aren’t going to get the same degree of interaction and linking as you would with a different market. That said, all competitors would at least be facing a similar challenge.

    • You are very welcome, Debra.

      Quite honestly, I’ve never had any scraped content rank higher than mine. I think it’s more of an exception than the rule.

      If natural linking is not going to happen, then you have to take matters into your own hands, like article marketing, guest blogging, etc.

      And sounds like it should be that difficult to outdo your competition!

  • Hi Ana, I didn’t realise that social contacts impacted on your google ranking. That’s really major, and something people need to know. Does that mean then that we’re back to the days of focussing on quantity rather than quality? It’s rather confusing when you think about facebook friends and Twitter followers? I used to go for quantity, now have been going for quality. But based on your post above it seems we’re back to quantity and quality!?

    And what is a doorway page please?

    Thanks for the useful information.
    Cassie.

    • I always went against the grain when it came down to social media, Cassie.

      I was always about quantity.

      Reason: I believe that it’s nearly impossible to maintain quality relationships in social media without it having a serious impact on your business because of the time-constraints.

      My main goal with social media has always been to bring my followers back to my blog, where I can actually engage and build relationships.

      So, yes, quantity does matter.

      Doorway pages are simple pages that are design with one goal in mind: to rank for a particular keyword. They don’t really provide any value and are built purely for SEO purposes.

  • Awesome post Ana, I have to say the Panda was great for me, a lot my sites moved up in the ranks, I guess it’s because I update a lot, don’t use black hat methods, but also didn’t really even use white hat methods, I just worked on my websites. Now I’m starting to do SEO work, but making sure it’s legit stuff, I don’t want to even try to fool Google, I wouldn’t do anything I didn’t think was on the up and up.

    • It’s always nice to benefit from other junk being pulled out of the search engine rankings, Jamie. Sounds like you are doing just fine with your SEO – letting it evolve naturally.

  • Thank you for the quality information. I had great search engine traffic when my site first started, but I then made a mistake by switching blogging platforms and not having a redirect to my new site. My site was pulling up 404 errors and my traffic suffered big time. I figure now that I have everything in place, and I hope to increase popularity for Google plus before the next update (I’m praying it’s within 3 months of the new year!)

    • That was definitely some mistake…

      But done with it now – good for you!

  • Talk about a title guaranteed to get not only the click thru, but the read as well! :)

    I’ve managed to survive each of the algorithm changes just fine, but the one that raises my eyebrows and that I hadn’t heard of till you just pointed it out to me is the “Ad Balance” one. I’m wondering how they can possibly calculate that accurately. If a site is heavy on the ads on the home page, but has 1000 high quality articles is that balanced?

    So much to think (worry?) about, so I think I’ll simply work on creating high quality content and watching my traffic stats.

    Thanks Ana, as always a terrific post!

    • I have Yaro to thank for the title. LOL

      As long as your ads are not plastered all over your home page (bad for conversions as well), I think you are safe, Warren.

      As you said, sometimes it’s too much to worry about.

  • Interesting comment on Press Releases, simply submitting them to PR directories is not enough anymore as it seems (according to your comment) that Google is only giving weight to PR that has been re-published.

    Then I wonder how they differentiate from dup content which usually indicates the first published source is the one that gets credit?

    Jeff

    • Good point on dupe content, Jeff – have no idea how Google treats it in this case.

      It wasn’t my remark, by the way; all from Google’s mouth…

  • There is always so much to learn about SEO, and then when you think you’ve licked it, google changes things up. Arrgh

    Thanks for the article though, good read. :-)

  • I’ve never really understood how SEO works completely, but even if Google is changing everything to make it more relevant there are still sites ranked above mine that are seemingly just signed up to link exchanges and it works for them somehow!

    • I don’t think you are alone, Harry – there’s never one answer to anything in SEO.

      I seriously doubt it that link exchanges work for anyone these days…

  • Great post. As a business owner, it is imperative to stay on top of the latest changes in the SEO world, because of the huge impact it can have on a business. Thanks for helping show is the way. I really appreciate it!

  • Hi Ana,
    I agree with most of your points you mentioned, but there is one thing that I would like to add. Everything is going in circles here and eventually Google is going to come up with an algorithm that will spot original ideas and useful content going all the way back to the origin of a blog or a site. If anyone manages that and not focus on a keyword or anything else but quality and useful information it will eventually get picked up and shine in the crowd. Think about it.

  • Hi Ana, thanks for this info!

    To clearify the point about scrapers: Google is suggesting that you use the pubsubhubbub system to alert Google to content that you’ve published before a scraper site steals the content.

    Scraper sites scan the web for new content, then steal that content and post it on their site which has ads. This devalues your site because it looks to Google like there is duplicate content, and if the scraper grabs your content and tells Google that they are the original author before you do, then your original story is further devalued by Google because it doesn’t look like you are the original author.

    Pubsubhubbub allows you to alert Google to your newly published content in nearly real time, and hopefully before the scrapers grab it and show it to Google as their own.

  • Ann

    Thanks for this, will try and tweek the site!!

  • Thank you for a great example of Quality Content! It’s one of those things we know to do, but don’t see enough real world examples of (myself included). Also a great reminder that I need to be paying more attention to Google+. The value of our social networks certainly isn’t going to change anytime soon!

  • Hi Ana, thanks for your awesome post.

    To be honest, sometimes, it’s pissing me off when i search through Google and land to a page, and all i can see are some random keywords or tags, without the real human content there. It’s so wasting my time.

    I really hope what Google does with this new “policy”, there will be no SPAM content anymore in the SERPs. So eventually, Google can give the best and the most relevant results for us in the future.

    Anyway, i like your closing speech.

    “When Google talks, we listen.”

  • Good post explaining about the google panda update. I think alot of people create sites on the internet just to make a quick buck and this is why the content, design, and code is just not as great as a site that has been given ample attention for very good development. People should remember that if there sites are not ranking the way they want, then they shouldn’t get mad, instead they should simply work on improving their site for both their visitors and search engines alike.

  • [...] Direct From Google: How To Build A Quality Website In 2012 - However, if we listen closely enough, we’ll have all the knowledge we need to build a site that Google loves. [...]

  • SEO is not that difficult once you know what is expected of you

  • Very good post Ana, full of useful info, I’ve had to print it for furthere reference though. :) I’m not very much sure about the role of social media as regards being really useful for websites or not. I mean I know it is but I don’t think is a universal tool. I haven’t so many friends on Twitter or Facebook yet I find pretty difficult to get the interesting stuff out of the flow, so to speak. Reason why I’m very seldomly on them. I think the interaction we can have with comments is much better, but it’s just my opinion.

    Anyway I’ve checked your blog and now I’m following it, good stuff. :)

  • Better late than never. :-) I found out about this post because I got a trackback today from another blog that duplicated the entire post – and the owner of this blog might be interested to know that the duplicate is dated THE DAY BEFORE your date. Anyone interested in the pros and cons of syndicating content and how that affects search engine results will want to check out which sites are ranking for the text on this page.

    I recently came out AGAINST using Trackback plugins and plugins that auto-syndicate content because they both enable the continued proliferation of spammy and MFA (Made for AdSense) sites that litter the Internet and push quality sites down in the search engines.

    • A duplicated post with the date before the original post? That’s a real problem as it’s the only defence againt content thiefs, and the main tool for Google to undestand who’s the real owner of the content. Doesn’t publishing only extracts in feed protect us from this?

  • Just discovered this article – it’s an interesting read. Basically, they are saying what they’ve always said – quality content matters. And now that the social signals are more important than ever, every blog should have a social sharing widget, etc. In the end, if you create remarkable content you will succeed, attracting backlinks naturally; sadly, I guess that only one in a thousand people will be able to do that successfully.

  • Great post, a must read for anyone wanting to understand how to do it right. Like the first poster (Wasim Ismail) said, it’s no longer enough just to have a website, people need to work at their website and understanding what to do it crucial otherwise it can be a waste of their time. Thanks again!

  • Hey Ana, I was wondering who wrote this until I got to the last part of the article :) You rock as usual and I love this. Social is the future!

  • Jan

    Great article! My essence of Google’s policies described here is: Google is getting better and better and able to detect quality and non-quality content. Cheating does not make sense! Just publish quality content with all its consequences (backlinks, references, social media …).

    Jan

  • Thanks for the very interesting post Ana.

    My results have actually improved on most of my sites since the update.

    That said, I noticed many of my sites lost in page rank but have increased in traffic, so somewhat confusing to say the least. I am sure it is some form of penalty from google – but that is OK.

    Happy New Year

    Ron

  • With regard to the devaluation of links from PR releases, it seems to me after reading the comment is that, Google is not assigning any value from links posted on release sites themselves…but does assign value if someone else assigns value by picking up the news item and attributing it properly. I simple list of release sites to ignore would accomplish that.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. For me, at least, white hat is soooo much easier.

    Robcarl

  • Anna, google is sure making it easier for bloggers with good content to rank well and at the same time making it difficult for people who mock on google.

  • I believe that focusing too much on Facebook, Twitter, and other such social media sites will be counterproductive. The purpose of them is to connect with your friends, loved ones, and followers. Those in the business of content producing try to divert their attention on such media sites (which eventually would turn out to be an artificial way), the very purpose of relying on good content as a measure of good ranking gets defeated. Content after all should be judged on the basis of content alone. Yes, if such content gets natural followers, then it can help search engine to judge quality because search engine needs parameters. But just having large number of facebook, twitter followers for contents the proactive way may form part of a negative SEO technique and so penalized.

  • Good tips on how to do it right! Wasim Ismail’s earlier comment hit the nail on the head, these days it’s pointless just having a website, constant work is needed on the website and knowing what to work on is crucial important so as to not waste time. Thanks for the post!

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