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This Year in SEO: Optimize for Quality

As you’re coming down off your New Year’s high and starting to get your hands dirty with your business, I wanted to hit you with some advice.

When you’re working on how to grow your organic traffic in 2018, optimize for quality.

Google has stated previously that quality content and authoritative backlinks are the two most important factors that influence a site’s ranking. Last year, though, there were several updates from the beginning of summer through the end of autumn that really demolished a lot of lower-quality sites.

In previous weekly updates, we covered those algorithm changes and some of the things that triggered a site to lose ground in the SERPs. One can only assume these are going to continue into 2018.

What Constitutes Low Quality

There’s never just one reason a site loses ground in the search results, so it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes a drop in rankings. However, this is something that gets scrutinized every time an algorithm update arrives, so we’ve got a good idea of what consistently causes site owner’s to start drinking have a bad day.

Prioritizing Revenue Over a Good User Experience

Look, I know you gotta make money, and I know advertising revenue for site owners is at an all-time low. But throwing your site’s user experience under the bus for a little extra revenue is like speeding in a school zone. You might get a little extra in money (time), but eventually you’re going to get busted by Google (the cops) and you’re gonna have a bad time.

It’s just not worth it anymore on a site that is your main source of income.

Similarly, no one wants to go to a website with 1,000 Amazon affiliate links on each page. Just as advertising has a taken a hit, I know that Amazon’s affiliate payouts decreased last year as well. But a page filled with affiliate links is not only kind of gross, but it has to call into question the integrity of the content and recommendations.

Like a good spice, use sparingly.

Affiliate-Link Bae

Thin or Shitty Content

Not only has Google been judging your new content more harshly, but 2017 saw them start going through content they already judged as “high quality” and reevaluating it with better algorithms and stricter guidelines.

As content is, by Google’s own admission, one of the top 3 ranking factors the algorithms consider when deciding where to rank a site, it’s going to get harder and harder to game.

A Broken-ass Site

Internal links that lead to a 404, using Flash like it’s 2005, broken code–whether PHP errors on your WordPress site or weird Javascript or Ruby on Rails errors, these are just some of the many ways a site can break.

Google would obviously consider navigating through a site with those and similar errors to be a bad user experience, and thus, low quality.

Example of a High Quality Page

Rather than just show you what NOT to do, let me show you a great page you can emulate.

Keyword: “How to Buy Ethereum”

If you Google “How to Buy Ethereum” at the time of this writing, and ignore the featured snippet of CNBC bandwagoning the crypto-craze, you’ll see this page ranking #1:

With 24 referring domains to the page (and 603 referring domains to the root URL), this page is crushing all others for this super-valuable and highly-searched keyword.

The site is very clean, with no pop-ups at all, no big screen-hogging advertisements, a minimal-approach, and a page that loads quickly.

On the right is a table of contents that gives a clear overview to what the page is about. There’s a total of 10 affiliate links presented in a very readable and helpful way.

The content is educational, well-written, and 5,000+ words. It doesn’t feel gratuitous (long for the sake of being long), but rather feels like it covers a topic with depth and expertise.

How it Compares With Other Sites Ranking in the Top Spots

There’s a CNBC page on buying Ethereum that’s only ranking well because of the insane SEO value of the CNBC root domain.

Coinbase’s “How to Buy Ethereum” page is next, ranking for a similar reason to the CNBC page: it has a ton of authority. And while it has much less authority than the CNBC site, it has a ton of relevancy, which matters a lot. The content on the Coinbase page is very short, but in Google’s view, the page is extremely relevant to someone searching for how to buy ethereum (and rightly so).

The last page I’ll compare is the “How to Buy Ethereum” page on Interestingly, this page ranked #1 for this keyword early last year, but has fallen several spots. As always, it’s hard to say why, precisely, a site has gone down in rank, but when comparing 99bitcoins to EthereumPrice, you can see several differences:

  • 99bitcoins’s content is 1500 words vs. 5,000+
  • The 99bitcoins site is busier, and I got hit with a request to allow browser notifiations
  • 99bitcoins loads very slowly: over 15 seconds vs. EthereumPrice’s 1.7 seconds

With (a lot of) high quality, relevant content that answers all the right questions, a clean page layout that prioritizes a smooth browsing experience, and a quickly loading site, it’s easy to see why is ranking in the first spot for a very competitive keyword.

More Examples

If you want some more inspiration in crafting high-quality pages that will come through future algorithm updates looking down on the rest of the SERPs, here are some of my favorites (I’m just listing them out here, but you can apply nearly everything I said in my above review to the sites that follow):

Keyword: how to start a podcast

An easy-to-navigate page with a simple layout. The content goes in depth and answers nearly every questions someone investigating this topic may want to ask.

Keyword: best managed WordPress hosting

This is a good example of how to structure a page where you’ll be including a high number of affiliate links. Lots of good, relevant content.

Keyword: how to do a handstand

Again, you’ll see a clean page, lots of media, relevant, in-depth content, on a quickly loading site.

Checklist to Optimize For Quality

Make sure your site doesn’t take more than a few seconds to load.

Look at the SERPs to determine if your content should be educational or product-focused

Write in-depth, relevant content that answers a searcher’s questions

Don’t write long content just for the sake of having a lot of content

Feature your content, not a bunch of ads, optins, or affiliate links (they’re OK to have, just dial it back)

Give your site a clean lay-out, with as little distractions as possible

Having a Good Year in SEO

Hopefully that gives you some guidance and some inspiration. To wrap it all up, here’s my advice:

Optimize your site for quality, and let us do everything else.

Here’s to a great 2018

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Sean Markey

Sean Markey

Obsessive consumer of SEO news and strategies, writes the This Week in SEO column. Loves playing drums and writing fiction. Bets you he can throw a football over them mountains.
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