Search engines use complex mathematical algorithms to interpret which websites a user seeks. In this diagram, if each bubble represents a website, programs sometimes called spiders examine which sites link to which other sites, with arrows representing these links. Websites getting more inbound links, or stronger links, are presumed to be more important and what the user is searching for. In this example, since website B is the recipient of numerous inbound links, it ranks more highly in a web search. And the links "carry through", such that website C, even though it only has one inbound link, has an inbound link from a highly popular site (B) while site E does not. Note: Percentages are rounded.
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Hey Sharon, great post! Re. dwell time – I’ve read conflicting opinions, some saying that Google DOES consider it an ‘important’ ranking signal, and others saying that it doesn’t, because dwell time can sometimes be a misleading indicator of content quality. For example when a user searches for something specific and finds the answer immediately in the recommended page (meaning that the content on the page is actually spot on) so he returns to the SERPs very quickly. I have been unable to locate any definitive statements (written/spoken) from anyone at Google that suggest that dwell time IS still a factor in ranking considerations, but it makes sense (to me, anyway) that it should be. Do you have any ‘proof’ one way or the other re. whether Google definitely considers dwell time or not?
And finally, the other really important bucket is authority. Google wants to show sites that are popular. If they can show the most popular t-shirt seller to people looking to buy t-shirts online, that’s the site they want to show. So you have to convince Google - send them signals that your site is the most popular site for the kind of t-shirts that you sell.

The transparency you provide on your website in text and links about who you are, what you do, and how you’re rated on the web or as a business is one way that Google could use (algorithmically and manually) to ‘rate’ your website. Note that Google has a HUGE army of quality raters and at some point they will be on your site if you get a lot of traffic from Google.


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If you take money online, in any way, you NEED to have an accessible and satisfying ‘customer service’ type page. Google says, “Contact information and customer service information are extremely important for websites that handle money, such as stores, banks, credit card companies, etc. Users need a way to ask questions or get help when a problem occurs. For shopping websites, we’ll ask you to do some special checks. Look for contact information—including the store’s policies on payment, exchanges, and returns. “ Google urges quality raters to be a ‘detective’ in finding this information about you – so it must be important to them.
If you are just starting out, don’t think you can fool Google about everything all the time. Google has VERY probably seen your tactics before. So, it’s best to keep your plan simple. GET RELEVANT. GET REPUTABLE. Aim for a healthy, satisfying visitor experience. If you are just starting out – you may as well learn how to do it within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines first. Make a decision, early, if you are going to follow Google’s guidelines, or not, and stick to it. Don’t be caught in the middle with an important project. Do not always follow the herd.
I’m really grateful for your generous post, Brian. I’m definitely going to implement TOC on some of my over 4k words posts, where I’m trying to become the source. 😉 And I will also use the stats on some new posts. Thanks to you, I also researched big keywords, which I’d stayed away from, and found that many of the high CPC and ranking articles are from 2014. Hoping some of my fresh new content helps rank me higher. Love what you do, sir!
Experience can educate you when a page is high-quality and yet receives no traffic. If the page is thin, but is not manipulative, is indeed ‘unique’ and delivers on a purpose with little obvious detectable reason to mark it down, then you can say it is a high-quality page – just with very little search demand for it. Ignored content is not the same as ‘toxic’ content.
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A poor 404 page and user interaction with it, can only lead to a ‘poor user experience’ signal at Google’s end, for a number of reasons. I will highlight a poor 404 page in my audits and actually programmatically look for signs of this issue when I scan a site. I don’t know if Google looks at your site that way to rate it e.g. algorithmically determines if you have a good 404 page – or if it is a UX factor, something to be taken into consideration further down the line – or purely to get you thinking about 404 pages (in general) to help prevent Google wasting resources indexing crud pages and presenting poor results to searchers. I think rather that any rating would be a second order scoring including data from user activity on the SERPs – stuff we as SEO can’t see.
QUOTE: “Cleaning up these kinds of link issue can take considerable time to be reflected by our algorithms (we don’t have a specific time in mind, but the mentioned 6-12 months is probably on the safe side). In general, you won’t see a jump up in rankings afterwards because our algorithms attempt to ignore the links already, but it makes it easier for us to trust the site later on.” John Mueller, Google, 2018
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Google WILL classify your site when it crawls and indexes your site – and this classification can have a DRASTIC effect on your rankings. It’s important for Google to work out WHAT YOUR ULTIMATE INTENT IS – do you want to be classified as a thin affiliate site made ‘just for Google’, a domain holding page or a small business website with a real purpose? Ensure you don’t confuse Google in any way by being explicit with all the signals you can – to show on your website you are a real business, and your INTENT is genuine – and even more important today – FOCUSED ON SATISFYING A VISITOR.

QUOTE: “To summarize, a lack of helpful SC may be a reason for a Low quality rating, depending on the purpose of the page and the type of website. We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of “webpages,” such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC at all.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017


Naturally, business owners want to rank for lots of keywords in organic listings with their website. The challenge for webmasters and SEO is that Google doesn’t want business owners to rank for lots of keywords using autogenerated content especially when that produces A LOT of pages on a website using (for instance) a list of keyword variations page-to-page.
Google is looking for a “website that is well cared for and maintained” so you need to keep content management systems updated, check for broken image links and HTML links. If you create a frustrating user experience through sloppy website maintenance – expect that to be reflected in some way with a lower quality rating. Google Panda October 2014 went for e-commerce pages that were optimised ‘the old way’ and are now classed as ‘thin content’.
Try and get links within page text pointing to your site with relevant, or at least, natural looking, keywords in the text link – not, for instance, in blogrolls or site-wide links. Try to ensure the links are not obviously “machine generated” e.g. site-wide links on forums or directories. Get links from pages, that in turn, have a lot of links to them, and you will soon see benefits.

If you are just starting out, don’t think you can fool Google about everything all the time. Google has VERY probably seen your tactics before. So, it’s best to keep your plan simple. GET RELEVANT. GET REPUTABLE. Aim for a healthy, satisfying visitor experience. If you are just starting out – you may as well learn how to do it within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines first. Make a decision, early, if you are going to follow Google’s guidelines, or not, and stick to it. Don’t be caught in the middle with an important project. Do not always follow the herd.


QUOTE: “In place of a pop-up try a full-screen inline ad. It offers the same amount of screen real estate as pop-ups without covering up any content. Fixing the problem depends on the issue you have for example if it’s a pop-up you’ll need to remove all the pop-up ads from your site but if the issue is high ad density on a page you’ll need to reduce the number of ads” Google, 2017
When Google trusts you it’s because you’ve earned its trust to help it satisfy its users in the quickest and most profitable way possible. You’ve helped Google achieve its goals. It trusts you and it will reward you with higher rankings. Google will list “friends” it trusts the most (who it knows to be reputable in a particular topic) at the top of SERPs.

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And so on and so on. The point of this step isn't to come up with your final list of keyword phrases. You just want to end up with a brain dump of phrases you think potential customers might use to search for content related to that particular topic bucket. We'll narrow the lists down later in the process so you don't have something too unwieldy. Once you have your final list, there are several data-driven tools available to you for finding out which keywords you're most likely to rank well for. 
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