January 23, 2023

How does Google identify low-quality pages?

The primary task and the main difficulty for an SEO specialist is to identify low-quality pages.

What is “quality” from Google's point of view?

So, Google has some ideas about what constitutes high and low quality pages. Some factors are obvious, and almost everyone is familiar with them, while others are more intriguing. Let's look at them in more detail.

  • Google wants to see unique content.
  • The search engine wants to make sure that the content has a unique value for users.
  • The value of the page should be undeniable in comparison with others.
  • Google wants to see many natural links to the page. Their presence informs the search engine: the page is most likely of high quality, since many resources link to it.
  • High-quality pages that link to a specific page are important for Google, not just sites and domains. These can be both external and internal links. Accordingly, if a high-quality page has a link to another page on the site, then Google often defines the both as high-quality.
  • The page must successfully respond to the user's request. This is just an unobvious factor.

For example, a user wants to search for “pressure washing”. He types “pressure wash”, and Google immediately offers him a certain page.

The user follows the link and stays on the page, and then returns to Google and types a completely different keyword. After that, he visits another site, opens an email. All this tells Google that the page has responded to the user's request.

If the user had visited the page, saw that it was of poor quality, returned to the search results and selected a different website, then Google concludes that the page could not respond to the user's request.

If this happens frequently, then Google calls this activity "pogo-sticking".

This term implies that a user visits one page, it does not respond to his request, then he visits another page and gets what he needs. At the same time, there is a high probability that the result that did not satisfy the user will be lowered in the SERP, because it is perceived by Google as low-quality.

Site quality criteria

  • The page should load quickly with any internet connection.
  • Google wants to see an intuitive and user-friendly design on any device—on a smartphone, desktop, tablet, and laptop.
  • Google gives preference to error-free pages. This point may be surprising, but we conducted a number of tests and found out that the presence of spelling and grammatical errors can lead to the removal of extended snippets of pages from Google.
  • Non-text content must have a textual alternative. That's why Google encourages the use of the alt attribute and welcomes the presence of transcription to the video.
  • Well-organized content that is easy to consume and understand is also an advantage. This aspect is evaluated in a number of different ways. At the same time, Google's machine learning systems are definitely capable of conducting such an assessment.
  • The quality, according to the search engine, is also indicated by the presence of content that points to additional sources for obtaining more information or further completing the task.

This list is not exhaustive. But these are some factors, evaluating which Google makes a conclusion about the quality of pages.

How can SEO specialists identify low-quality pages on a website?

To do this, you can use the process described below. We don't have information about each of the components that Google can evaluate. However, we can analyze a number of aspects that can help identify low-quality pages and decide what to do with them next, delete or improve.

In general, it is not necessary to focus on such indicators as:

  • time on the site, “raw” time on the site;
  • “raw” bounce rate;
  • organic transitions;
  • associated conversions.

A long time on the site may show that the user is very involved in interacting with its content, but this indicator may also indicate that the user simply cannot find what he needs. In the second case, a person can return to the search results and select another result that will quickly respond to his request.

Perhaps there are a lot of pop-ups on your site, users cannot immediately find the “X” button to close the window, and are forced to scroll down the page. Therefore, they are unhappy with the search result.

How does Google identify low-quality pages?

How to use the bounce rate to identify a low-quality page

The bounce rate works similarly. A high bounce rate can be a positive thing if you quickly respond to a very simple request, or the next step involves moving to another location, and this step cannot be performed on this resource.

In this case, the bounce rate can reach 80-90% despite the fact that the page responds to the user's request.

So the website does what Google wants it to do. Accordingly, the bounce rate is an uninformative metric.

The same applies to organic search traffic

A low-quality page may, for one reason or another, receive a noticeable amount of organic traffic, even if its content does not match the user's request. This can happen if it is still ranked high by long tail keywords.

This option is a little better in the long run: returning to the analysis of this page after a few weeks or months, you will be able to get a more realistic idea of its effectiveness. However, this does not eliminate the fact that the page is of low quality.

Associated conversions are another great example. For example, page visitors are not converted. 

This can be considered as an opportunity to refuse the collection of cookies, launch remarketing or invite users to subscribe to an email newsletter. The fact that they are not converted immediately does not mean that the page contains low-quality content.

What is the best way to start the analysis?

When evaluating the quality of pages, focus on a combination of metrics. It can be a combination of metrics:

  • Total number of transitions
  • External and internal transitions
  • See how many pages users view during a single visit.

If the user, after going to the page, begins to navigate through other pages of the site, this is a good sign. If the viewing depth is very low, this is an alarming sign. However, this indicator should not be considered in isolation from other metrics. This data needs to be analyzed in combination with indicators of time spent on the site, bounce rates, the total number of clicks and external clicks.

You can combine several offsite metrics. For example:

  • External links
  • Number of referring root domains

Here you can look at indicators such as the credibility of the page and the number of reposts on social networks: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you see that a certain page receives a large number of reposts, then it is most likely a high-quality page, even if it does not meet the needs of users performing a search.

Search engine metrics

You can analyze the following indicators:

  • Indexing. By entering the URL into the search bar or the browser address bar, you can see if the page has been indexed. You can also check which pages are ranked by their own titles.
  • In the Search Console, you can check the clickability indicators.
  • The presence of duplicate content. You can enter your URL into the search bar and see several pages of your site. If, when entering the page title, you see several URLs, this indicates a problem with the uniqueness of the content.

Perform a manual check of a number of pages

Pages from subsections and subdomains – do they help users making a search? How relevant is their content, is it outdated? Does the content of these pages meet the standards of the organization?

  • Divide all the pages into three groups
  • Using combinations of these metrics, you can divide all pages into three groups.
  • To do this, you need to export all URLs to a table. This can be done using tools such as Screaming Frog, Moz, DeepCrawl, etc.
  • Then you need to add metrics that will be analyzed. After that, you can start sorting.
  • You can create some algorithm, some combination of metrics that, in your opinion, allows you to determine the quality of the pages.
  • The result can be rechecked manually.

Divide the pages into the following three groups:

  • High quality. High-quality content that you intend to keep.
  • Requires improvement. This category will include those pages that are good enough to stay in search engines. They do not harm your brand and obviously will not cause penalties for low-quality content. At the same time, they do not meet your expectations or hopes. This means that you can re-publish this content or improve it.
  • Low quality. These pages do not meet the standards described above, but they should not be deleted immediately. Run some tests.
  • Select the worst pages, delete them from the site, keeping copies, and see if deleting several hundred or thousands of such pages will help to increase the crowling budget, the number of indexed pages and search traffic.

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