As marketers, we love numbers and metrics. They help us track progress. They tell us where we are and how far we have to go.
SEO continues to be a nebulous task and a moving target. Most focus is on how an individual page ranks for a specific query.
But, do websites have an overall reputation with Google?
Wouldn’t it be nice if Google rewarded consistently high-quality websites based on a score that you can improve?
If you search for [website quality score], you will find plenty of debate about whether it exists and, if it does, how you can optimize your website for it.
But does Google have an organic quality score for websites? And does it impact your rankings?
Have questions about any other ranking factors? SEJ answers all of them in the Google Ranking Factors Guide.
The Claim: Website Quality Score Is A Ranking Factor
This topic can confuse a couple of things that are in play here.
What We Know:
Google Ads uses Quality Score. Quality Score is a number between one to 10 Google assigns to PPC ads, based on three factors:
- Expected click-through rate (CTR): The likelihood that your ad will be clicked when shown.
- Ad relevance: How closely your ad matches the intent behind a user’s search.
- Landing page experience: How relevant and useful your landing page is to people who click your ad.
Since they’re described with the same words, it’s easy to confuse Google Ads quality and organic quality scores. Remember that ads and organic search run on separate systems.
Google does not use its Google Ads Quality Score in organic ranking. We’re talking about a different idea with much less information supporting it.
So The Question Is:
Does Google use a quality score that rates an entire website with a number?
We know Google considers E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) an essential guiding concept for every website that publishes content.
E-A-T is not a ranking factor but a way of describing what high-quality content looks like.
If Google considers the quality of each piece of content, does it consider the overall quality of a domain?
And if so, could you quantify that with a PageRank-style score?
Think of it like this: I’m going to publish a post. Is it more likely to rank on a website like Search Engine Journal vs. [Insert Random Blog Name Here Nobody Has Ever Heard Of]?
That’s the hotly-debated idea of domain authority (not to be confused with Domain Authority, the Moz metric, addressed in another chapter) – that some domains have an inherent SEO advantage over others.
A website-level organic quality score would mean that an individual page might rank higher or lower based on how the algorithms view the entire domain, not just that page. A thin or low-quality page might get a boost from an otherwise high-quality website.
Does Search Engine Journal, The New York Times, or Wikipedia have an automatic ranking advantage compared to smaller competitors?
Could it be due to some sitewide organic quality score Google has assigned them? Or does Google have other methods for determining what domains users would prefer to receive their results from based on their popularity with other users?
The Evidence For Website Quality Score As A Ranking Factor
In 2010, Google filed a patent for evaluating website properties by partitioning user feedback. Within the description is a section specifically referencing a website quality score.
“In some implementations, the website quality score is derived based on a combination of multiple distributions of aggregated user feedback data, where each distribution of aggregated user feedback data is obtained according to a different partition parameter.
For example, in addition to the IR score of the top result document of the query, another partition parameter relevant to website quality is query length (e.g., the number of terms in a search query). Queries that are neither too short nor too long tend to produce results that are good matches to the query (i.e., neither too general nor too specific).
Therefore, if the clicks for documents on a website concentrate in the partitions that are associated with the high IR ranges, and in the partitions that are associated with queries having only two or three words, then it is highly likely that the website is of high quality.”
Essentially, Google could determine a score from user interactions with a particular website. The measurement of the user interactions could, ultimately, help with rankings.
The Impact Of Low-Quality Content
In 2011, Michael Wyszomierski, a technical writer at Google, gave feedback about Google’s then-latest algorithm change. That update was Google Panda, which largely impacted sites with low-quality content. He said, in part:
“…it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole. For this reason, if you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”
Does this suggest that Google could be using a quality score made up of some collection of signals to detect low-quality websites? And does that score only lead to a ranking drop for low-quality content but never a ranking increase for high-quality content?
Many in SEO, including Jeff Ferguson, have argued that Google ranks webpages, not websites.
There is evidence to support this theory. But, if it’s true, how could low-quality content on the part of a website impact the entire site’s ability to rank?
Google Patent For A Site Quality Score
In 2012, Google filed a patent for a Site Quality Score.
The patent includes the following:
“This specification describes how a system can determine a score for a site, e.g., a web site or other collection of data resources, as seen by a search engine, that represents a measure of quality for the site.
The score is determined from quantities indicating user actions of seeking out and preferring particular sites and the resources found in particular sites.
A site quality score for a particular site can be determined by computing a ratio of a numerator that represents user interest in the site as reflected in user queries directed to the site and a denominator that represents user interest in the resources found in the site as responses to queries of all kinds.
The site quality score for a site can be used as a signal to rank resources, or to rank search results that identify resources, that are found in one site relative to resources found in another site.”
Just because Google has a patent on something does not provide clear evidence that it uses the patent in search algorithms. But it shows they are interested in developing a score based on users who query specific sites in search.
During a Google SEO office hours in 2021, John Mueller answered a question about whether site quality could be quantifiable or expressed as a metric.
“I don’t think it’s quantifiable in the sense that we have kind of like a quality score like you might have for ads when it comes to web search.
We have lots of different algorithms that try to understand the quality of a website, so it’s not just one number, anything like that.”
He went on to say, however, that there is the possibility of a quality metric appearing in Search Console in the future.
“From time to time, I talk with the search quality team to see if there’s some quality metric that we could show, for example, in Search Console.
But it’s super tricky because we could create a separate quality metric to show in Search Console, but then that’s not the quality metric that we actually use for search, so it’s … almost like misleading.
And if we were to show exactly the quality metric that we use, then on the one hand, that opens things up a little bit for abuse, and on the other hand, it makes it a lot harder for the teams internally to work on improving this metric.
So that’s kind of the tricky balance there.
I don’t know … at some point, maybe we’ll still have some measure of quality in Search Console, though.”
Google Quality Score As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
While Google has hinted at the possibility of a metric to measure site quality in the future of Search Console, there has not been any confirmation of an organic website quality score to date.
The Site Quality Score patent, filed in 2012, could support evidence that Google might implement a quality score as a future ranking factor.
Wyszomierski’s comment is an intriguing hint that something of this nature could be in play in Google’s algorithms.
If websites can be hurt by low-quality content, it seems fair to assume they would be helped by high-quality content.
However, Mueller has rejected the idea of a quantifiable score, at least for now.
We have ruled out that Google uses the Google Ads Quality Score for ranking. But the principles behind it – intent, relevance, and usefulness – can easily be applied to optimizing for organic search.
Without direct confirmation, we can’t call the website quality score a definite Google ranking factor.
But, it could be possible in the future.
SEJ’s second edition of Google Ranking Factors: Fact Or Fiction addresses all the myths and truths about ranking factors. The ebook has answers if you have more questions about what is or isn’t a ranking factor.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal