Google has done it again. It has quietly released yet another tweak to its search engine that will have a dramatic impact on how a company’s website performs when viewers are searching. The bottom line for organizations: The user experience is becoming more and more important to a site’s rankings.
If you’re a marketing executive who has devoted a lot of time and resources to improving your SEO, you may find that keyword analysis and other search engine techniques are no longer enough. While still important, other site attributes may play just as big a role in where your site ranks in search results.
You may recall the last significant adjustment from Google, dubbed in the media as “MobileGeddon.” That update simply noted that a user’s experience from a mobile device was important. If a website wasn’t appropriately mobile-optimized for viewers, its ranking would be lower when a visitor was searching from their mobile device, and sites that were mobile-friendly would rank higher. That version of the Google algorithm got a lot of attention.
This latest rev has been well under the radar screen. There were no announcements from Google. In fact, it only came to light after search engine aficionados began sounding the alarms in early May, when they noticed that some sites’ rankings were plummeting. Two weeks passed before Google gave any official acknowledgment of what the company simply calls its “Quality Update.” Search engine wonks have dubbed it the “Phantom Update.”
So what does it do?
“How Google assesses quality is sometimes a thing of mystery,” writes Thomas Smale of Entrepeneur.com, “but we do know that it wants to provide users the the best information possible.”
The new Google update rewards sites that have a good user experience in addition to what it considers quality content. Having high quality content is important, but it’s also about rewarding sites that deliver a better experience, and punishing those who don’t deliver a good experience. So while redundant and thin content will get dinged, so too will sites that have self-starting videos, banner ads, and 404 errors.Here are four ways to make sure your site delivers the type of user experience that will be rewarded by Google’s search engine:
1) Get Rid of Thin Content. According to Google, this can include automatically-generated articles, thin affiliate pages, thin content from other sources such as the “scraped” content of low-quality guest blog posts, and “Doorway” pages created to rank highly for specific search queries, which Google views as bad for users because they end up taking the user to essentially the same destination. These techniques don’t provide users with substantially unique or valuable content. As a result, Google has applied a manual spam action to the portions of a site that include this type of thin content.
2) Remove Any Auto-Play Videos. Like many disruptive ad formats these are seen as providing a bad user experience and are punished by Google.
3) Filter User-Generated Content. That means having a strong moderator function for user-submitted posts to make sure that any blatant self-promotion or answers that are too general to be useful aren’t marked as spam by Google.
4) Eliminate Annoying Ad Formats. If your site begins to attract enough visitors so that advertisers want to pay for that real estate, be cautious. Excessive and disruptive ad displays, including above-the-fold ads, pop-ups, and similar techniques, are viewed by Google as a bad user experience and treated accordingly.
Websites should be designed to do what they were intended for in the first place; delivering a high-quality experience to users. That’s what Google likes and rewards in the race for page rankings.