SEO Quality Indicators & The Heap Paradox

SMS Text

I recently held a poll on Twitter about whether a Yahoo Directory link was necessary if you are building a website in a high-competion niche. Most people said yes, a few said “not necessary.” Ugh. I hate when there’s no consensus.

Thankfully this got me thinking about SEO in general and my view that modern search engines basically sum up Quality Indicators when it comes to evaluating a website. And further thinking reminded me of this interesting puzzle I encountered as an undergraduate student in my philosophy elective course.

So I’ll do my best to accurately describe this problem as I remember it. If my description is not entirely perfect, you can consult the Wikipedia entry here. So there’s this classic paradox in philosophy that asks you to consider when exactly a heap becomes a heap. Take one grain of sand. Add another. Do two grains make a heap? How about ten? How about 100? Clearly one million grains of sand would make a heap right?

  • The paradox enters when you try to identify clear points of division between a heap and a non-heap. Is there an exact number of grains that makes a heap where if you were to remove one grain it would cease to be a heap?

Let’s leave answering this problem to the philosophers. As SEO professionals, we’re concerned with much more practical matters … like rank. Still there is a lesson to be learned from the Heap Paradox.

Search Engines are consistently aiming to return the most relevant results. As such, they are constantly tuning their algorithms to identify “quality” for their results. What makes quality? Old age? Lots of links? Links from trusted and powerful sources? Good design and CSS semantics? Editorial references? A 1-800 number? An address? A Yahoo Directory link? And finally let’s add to this stream-of-conscience list the idea that having a “brand” is a quality indicator?

The fact of the matter is that there is no single, definitive recipe for what makes a quality site. Answering the question “what makes a quality site?” is like answering the question “what makes a heap of sand?” There are clear cases of both, but there’s no clear line of division between quality and non-quality.

If your goal is to create a heap of sand, your best bet is to leave no question and gather so many grains of sand that you clearly have a heap. The same goes for a quality website. Your best bet is to go overboard and steadily increase the number of Quality Indicators on your site while reducing negative factors.

Now on to the part you really care about;-)

10 Quality Indicators You Should Aim For As A Serious SEO

1) A physical address listed on the website

An address says to both Google and your visitors “I’m not some punk in my parent’s basement who’s trying to make a quick buck.” Even if you are a punk living in your parent’s basement, at last hide that fact by paying the small monthly fee for a Suite/POBox address.

2) A toll-free number

Again, this does the same thing as an address. Get one and point it to voice mail (unless you plan to staff a person to answer the phone)

3) Lean Code and Meaty Content

Lots of issues I could cover here. First, the less code the better. The goal is to have more actual content then html or javascript. Get start by cleaning up your website’s design template. Second, and related, don’t copy and paste from Microsoft Word into your blogging platforms Visual Editor lest you trash your article with miles and miles of junk code.

For an example of ultra-lean code, check out reddit (no meaningless line breaks or spaces).

4) Content up top

Always make sure that your content shows up in the top 1/3 of the HTML source code.

5) Proper Tag Usage

I could try to explain this in this article, but it would best if you read about it over here.

6) Outgoing Link Quality

I think of this as a defensive measure that protects your site from getting flagged for link spam. As a general rule for a new site I link out sparingly and when I do link out, I only link out to established, trusted, sites.

7) Incoming Link Quality

Aim to get 20 high quality links from 20 different quality websites. One place to start is the Yahoo Directory and Next, you should aim to build content that other sites will enjoy linking to. This sets the stage for everything that follows, so do it well.

8) Incoming Link Breadth

The more sites you get links from the better.

9) Incoming Link Depth

After a while, it’s easy to plateau on the link breadth side of things. By now your site is trustworthy enough to go after some Run Of Site links (blogrolls, etc.)

10) Internal Linking

A bunch of stuff here. First, you should nofollow pages that you don’t really need to rank. Second, you should find all relevant places on your site to link to other pages on your site that you do want to rank. Third, you should shape your linking so that your site doesn’t have much if any duplicate content.

Bonus: Visibility & Branding

Google had recently announced that they are placing heavy value on “brands” in their search results. What exactly this means is up for debate, but I would worry about the specifics. The idea is that you want to wide site visibility across the web. You want mainstream news mentions. You want to show up on twitter, on myspace, on facebook. You want to be present on old crusty websites, breaking news blogs, and everything in between.

Unless Google’s indicator for “brand” takes information from AdWords spending (after all, big brands are inclined to be big ad spenders), the best you can do here is just contrive as many opportunities as possible to expose your site to the social networks, the social media and the mainstream media. Press releases might help too, I’m not sure (I’ve not had much success with press releases). My bet, though, is that at the end of the day, you want the name of your website to become a household name, with a massive footprint all over all kinds of neighborhoods on the great big world wide web.

Advanced: Semantics

It’s critical to make the search engines intensely aware of what your site is about. Sometimes this requires that you bang them over the head. Everything on your site, from tags to incoming links, serve as clues to what your site is about. Don’t be afraid to reinforce common themes with slight variation. If your site is about t-shirts, make sure that term and similar terms are clearly present in your internal linking structure. Make sure lots of your page titles have that word. Make sure that incoming links and outgoing links from your site have that word. There are thousands of quality websites out there that have done the hard work of building authority yet forgot the easy work of making sure their “semantics” are laser targeted.


The idea for this post came from a question I had while building out a user-friendly credit card search site (which happens to be a terrible niche to get into right now with the economic crisis at hand). The question was: should I submit this site to the Yahoo Directory or not? I haven’t used the Yahoo Directory much in the past, as I’ve managed to build successful sites without it. But I’m fully aware that this niche is extremely competitive. Yet for some reason I thought to myself that one single link couldn’t really make much of a difference.

That was the wrong way to think of things. The Heap Paradox is informative because it shows us that the solution to our problem as SEOs does not lay in debating whether each individual piece of sand is necessary. Instead, if our ultimate goal is to build a heap, we should aim to pile up as many grains of sand as we can possibly get our hands on. The same goes with building a quality site. You should never ask yourself the question “is this quality indicator essential.” Instead, the best way to go about building a site is to say to yourself “I’m going to accumulate as many quality indicators as possible so there is no longer any question as to whether my site counts as a quality site.”

If you’d like help improving your site’s quality indicators, Ryan would be glad to help. Please see his consulting page for more information at Ryan Caldwell Consulting.

Ryan Caldwell
Ryan Caldwell, along with many other things, is currently working with a good friend to build a web hosting review site that actually matters and... Read Full Bio
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Carrie

    Love what you’ve done here – made it simple to see the steps I’ve skipped. And I find it very interesting you put the advanced keyword stuff at the bottom. Helps me make the case with my peers that we’re starting at the wrong place, we need to make sure we’ve done the basics, before we go after the extremely variable world of keyword ranking.

    Thank you Ryan.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I find that the best approach is when you can incorporate as many different angles as possible into your online marketing approach. A diversity in links is where you will see the best results even if that includes that Yahoo directory link.

  • Michael Martinez

    Google did not announce they are placing emphasis on brands, but rather that they have tightened trust filters for certain queries.

    Google’s CEO has suggested that brands may be a solution for some of the Web spam problems Google struggles with.

    Of course, it would be easier for Google to clean up its mess by not relying on link anchor text and PageRank. The quality of their search results would improve drastically if they stopped allowing links to pass value.

  • John Wooton

    Excellent post. I didn’t know about the emerging value of a brand in search marketing, but thinking about it logically with the emergence of social media on the web and the proliferation of brands in that medium, I guess it would be expected that Google would try to connect the dots between all instances of a brand.

  • Gurutej

    Thank you for this clear concise article I will be RT it and sending it to non tweeters.


  • Joshua Sciarrino – Refuge Design

    This is where I pick marketing over SEO.

    I have to disagree with #2 about the 1-800 #’s. I read a study done in the past year that said people tend to prefer local #’s as compared to 1-800’s and they cited “people think that there will be a person, not an automated response, at the other end of the line”.

    The stats said about a 36% increase in phone calls.

    But if you need to go the other route, I’d get a vanity 1-800 because it will increase your recall rate by 84%.

    Also, I have to agree with Michael, “Google did not announce they are placing emphasis on brands, but rather that they have tightened trust filters for certain queries.”

  • Jared Huber

    #’s 1 and 2 seem ‘head-smackingly’ obvious, but this is the first I’ve heard of physical address and phone number having an SEO impact. I’m curious to see the specifics. Is there a study that you can point us to?

  • Ryan

    I would say that the complaint about Google not announcing the emphasis on brands is mere semantic quibble and not worth debating. What has happened is 1) SERPS have clearly started reflecting a brand emphasis 2) Google’s CEO announced a philosophical shift.

    I take that to not only be an announcement, but to be an announcement backed up with action.

  • Steve Hall

    Once again it seems to come back to the tried and true.

    Quality user friendly content and links.

  • Barry Welford

    I still feel that most often it is useful to have a blog structure for the whole site or at least for part of the website. The RSS feed mechanisms bring important extra leverage in getting extra incoming links as movers and shakers become aware of the new content.

  • uunwssn

    Thank you for very good article.

  • Dawid Ryba – Make Money Online

    Good content. Just wanted to add some points here that may be helpful for those looking out for professional SEO services. There are tons of SEO companies offering different SEO packages and solutions at highly competitive rates. However, when looking our for these services, its important to not only look at the affordability factor but also what is unique about their SEO service and what differentiates them from other companies.

    While choosing an SEO company its equally important to analyze the SEO company’s website in terms of their Rankings, Yahoo links, Google index, Alexa ranking and similar such factors which indicates the company’s expertise in the field of SEO. So make sure you are doing enough research and smart work before investing your advertising spend.

  • Jeff

    I have found that your last point on Semantics is MOST important of all to listing high in SE’s. Further, it is more than “bashing” them over the head with keywords, but more about the finesse with which you use combinations of related keywords together – Google gives you this with their own keyword suggestion tool – hint…hint


  • Millionaire Acts

    Very nice content you have here. I hope Google will filter more quality content blogs or websites in their search engines. They should not solely rely on how old the post is or how many links are linking to that post. This has been a practice of some SEO bloggers who build a lotm of links but do not provide quality contents to their blogs.

    • Boston SEO

      In response to that, yes the article may be old, but the PR the article contains is probably the most important. That will confirm if the article has good quality facts and comes from a legitimate source.