To succeed online in the long term you need to have a high quality website.
Whether you are running a news blog, a content driven website or an e-commerce store, it has to be different (and better) than the thousands of other websites in the same niche.
A high quality website will grow over time both in terms of loyal readers but also in terms of search engine trust, which is equivalent to more organic visits.
Google engineers are trying for years to make their algorithms clever enough to identify and rank websites that are of good quality.
It is not an easy task, taking into account that everything has to be decided by a computer program and not a human.
Nevertheless with the introduction of ‘Panda’ a few years ago, it seems that they are in the right path.
The ‘Panda’ algorithmic changes made a good job in identifying which websites are better than the rest and and gave those a higher position in the SERPS.
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I am not going to spend any more time on the theory behind Panda, you can read more here if you want to find out more.
What I am going to explain below, is what Google considers to be a high quality website and most importantly what practical actions you can take to make your web property match the Google standards.
Don’t forget that if a website is considered high quality by Google, then it will be considered as such by other search engines as well since Google’s standards are stricter than those of Bing or Yahoo.
What is a high quality website?
Over the years the whole SEO industry is talking about the need of producing high quality content and top experts came up with the clever quote ‘Content is king’, meaning that content is the success factor of any website.
While this is true, does it mean that a website with good content is also a high quality website?
The answer is NO.
Good content is not enough.
It is one of the factors (the most important) that separates low from high quality sites but good content alone does not complete the puzzle of what is considered by Google as a high quality website.
Characteristics of a high quality website
A high quality website has the following characteristics:
Content is unique both within the website itself (i.e. each page has unique content and not similar to other pages), but also compared to other websites.
Content is produced by experts based on research and or experience. If for example the subject is health related, then the advice should be provided by qualified authors who can professionally give advice for the particular subject.
Content is detail and describes both sides of a story and is not promoting a single product, idea or service.
A high quality website has versions for non PC users as well. It is important that mobile and tablet users can access the website without any usability issues.
Can the user navigate the website easily; is the website user friendly?
Attention to detail
Content is easy to read with images (if applicable) and free of spelling and grammar mistakes. Does it seem that the owner cares on what is published on the website or is it for the purpose of having content in order to run ads?
Optimizing a web site for search engines has many benefits but it is important not to overdo it. A good quality web site needs to have non-optimized content as well.
This is my opinion and although some people may disagree it is a fact that over-optimization can sometimes generate the opposite results.
The reason is that algorithms can sometimes interpret over-optimization as an attempt to game the system and they may take measures to prevent this from happening.
Balance between content and ads
It is not something bad for a website to have ads or promotions but these should not distract the users from finding the information they need.
A high quality website loads fast. A fast website will rank higher and create more conventions, sales and loyal readers.
Social media changed our lives, the way we communicate but also the way we assess quality.
It is expected for a good product to have good reviews, Facebook likes and Tweets. Before you make a decision to buy or not, you may examine these social factors as well.
Likewise, It is also expected for a good website to be socially accepted and recognized i.e. have Facebook followers, RSS subscribers etc.
User Engagement and Interaction
Do users spend enough time on the site and read more than one pages before they leave? Do they interact with the content by adding comments, making suggestions, getting into conversations etc.?
Better than the competition
When you take a specific keyword, is your website better than your competitors? Does it deserve one of the top positions if judged without bias?
How to create a high quality website?
Taking into account the above characteristics of a high quality website, how do these translate in practice?
What can you do today to increase the quality and ‘Google trust’ of your website?
Check your site for content uniqueness
Ensure that you have unique content in all the pages. (I use copyscape to check all content before publishing to ensure that it is unique).
Check your existing pages and if you find duplicate content either remove it or de-index it. If you have pages with similar content merge them into one and redirect the pages with 301 redirections.
Pro Tip: How to find and fix thin content
Your website should be mobile friendly. The experience of the reader is important regardless of the platform.
Tidy up your content
Check all articles/pages for spelling and grammar mistakes. Make correct use of formatting tags i.e. H1, H2 and bold.
Use small paragraphs to make reading easier and add images, illustrations or infographics to make your content more interesting and appealing.
Find out what readers want
Use the Google keyword tool to find out what people are searching and give them content they want but avoid over-optimization.
You can write content around the keywords they understand but try to make your posts social as well. Avoid using optimized titles all the time but keep a balance between optimized and non-optimized content.
Minimize the amount of ads above the fold
Google is penalizing websites having too many ads above the fold. This is also not good for the user experience. If you have good content, ads below the fold and at the end of your articles can also perform well.
Make your web site load fast
Check your web site with the page speed tool and ensure that it loads as fast as possible.
I know that it’s not the easiest task to do but it is very important.
Pro Tip: If you are using WordPress you can read this guide: How to improve the loading speed of a WordPress website.
Work on your social media promotion
Do you have a Facebook page, twitter account, Pinterest page?
If not, you are missing many opportunities.
Check your bounce rate
One of the measures you need to monitor, as explained in the Best Google analytics reports for beginners is the bounce rate.
Bounce rate is the percentage of people who left your web site without viewing other pages.
You need to aim for a low bounce rate so check your analytics and identify which pages of your site have a high bounce rate and correct them.
Although officially, the bounce rate is not a ranking factor, it is certainly a factor that can help you create better quality websites.
Check your competition
When someone makes a complain to Google about a website not ranking as high as it should, they sometimes reply with this:
Give as examples of how your website is better than the websites we have in the top positions.
In other words, what they are telling us is go and check your competitors and try to make your content and websites better!
There is nothing wrong with that, in fact this is something you should do before creating your content.
What I do before writing an article is search Google for the keyword I want to rank my article and taking a closer look on the websites in the first page.
I check things like content length, authority of the website, authority of the writer and try to make my content better and more usable.
Keep your website healthy and spam free
Last but not least, a high quality website is spam free.
One of the mistakes made by big websites (think Newspapers) is not moderating their comments. As a result you see a ton of spam comments below their articles which is not a good user experience.
As a rule of thumb, you need to keep your website up-to-date in terms of software updates and to monitor and delete spam or inappropriate comments.
I am sure that there are many more characteristics that distinguish good websites from the rest but the above guidelines are the bare minimum for producing websites that can be trusted by Google and considered as high quality.
What is your take, what do you consider to be a high quality website?