The overwhelming majority of sites that I audit have been hammered by either Panda, Penguin, or both. Sure, there are some sites where the drop in rankings can’t even correlate to a known Panda or Penguin update. Some of those can track with fairly high confidence to other updates, such as the EMD update, and some just show a steady, more time-neutral drop in rankings.
Regardless of the source, by the time I am even partway through a forensic site audit, enough patterns have emerged to inform me that weakness exists across the same common range of problems. And whatever that range is, the patterns that stand out consistently in regard to what’s wrong can be summed up in five words.
Whether it’s on-site or off, content level or code level, clearly identifiable as user experience-related or muddier as far as “is this truly a user experience issue?” — or some combination of these, it always comes down to the big five, or as I like to refer to them, “Super-Signals:” QUART.
All SEO Super Signals Matter
It’s important to understand that all signals count in SEO. And when it comes to the 5 super-signals, if you come up short in any one signal, you need to compensate for that shortcoming with even more effort across the other four. If you come up short in any one too much, or fail on too many of the five, your site will inevitably suffer.
Quality: It’s not an island unto itself
Create great content. Obtain high-quality links. Create a quality user experience. These are the oversimplified statements most often associated with the Q in QUART. When you bake critical thinking into it, we’re talking about “match the content to your business’ purpose AND searcher intent.” Take the time necessary to craft content to convey the highest level of relevance, to reinforce to the visitor that your brand is trustworthy, and you have the experience (authority) to provide the best solution for that unique need.
Quality here also means unique content – not something people can find seven thousand other places on the web. Which means something about your products or services, or something about the supporting services around those, or other authority or trust signals truly do set you apart from the competition all in ways that users are effortlessly able to see, read and identify with.
Users, users, users
Since SEO is really communicating that your site is a brand to be trusted (even if it’s a new site with only three pages and no existing customer base), and since that is determined at least partly by how people react to your presence, user experience really is golden for SEO.
Is it a high-quality user experience when your site’s page speeds (not through your personal browser stopwatch but through Google’s page speed, URIValet.com’s page speed and WebPageTest.org’s first pass speed) approach 15 seconds per page every day of the week? Or even if that only happened three days each month? No, it’s not.
And is it a high-quality user experience when you bombard them with 59 widgets on every page of the site? Nope. No way. No how.
And is it a high-quality user experience when you have 5,000 links in your main navigation bar? Or in your site-wide footer? Nope. Still not.
Quality needs to be seen from all angles in every aspect of SEO, calls to action, and ultimately, conversion flow.
Uniqueness without quality is (nearly always) useless
Basic SEO (yes, it really is a basic concept, not an advanced concept) dictates you need enough content that is truly unique to a given page, and within a given section of your site, and across your entire site, to even have a chance at ranking for any given phrase. Yet we can’t stop there. Within the unique content, you need to also communicate quality, relevance, trust and authority. Because no matter how many sites you’ve been able to create, or your SEO provider created that were pure garbage and “tricked” the search engine algorithms over the years, the days of those methods are rapidly winding down.
And while you still may be able to have a fake blog where every article contains four paragraphs and you stick three links into every article, and you have a link wheel that YOU believe is good enough for link signals to a site you really care about, that crap is going to take all of three seconds where a real human will know it’s a piece of crap.
Even if you THINK that’s helping you now, or if you need to recover from Penguin or a manual link penalty, or you want to avoid a future iteration of Penguin or a future manual penalty, you need to stop playing those games. Instead, recognize the long-term value of unique content that really does bake in QART.
Authority – Either You Are The Best or You Are Not
What are you doing to convey that “in this field, area, market, we are the go-to source for the most trusted quality” or in a way that conveys “these people are hacks?” Have you taken the time to ensure your blog article authors have a consistent web of multi-point presences across the Internet that reinforces the notion “this person knows what they’re talking about” or are all your articles written by “admin” and posted to “uncategorized”?