posted in search engine optimization  on 16 May 2013
by Andrew Lang 
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Does Great Content Rank Well in Google?

Listen to Matt Cutts (chief PR man of Google's spam team), and he'll tell you to write great content. He doesn't say you'll rank well if you do so, but he keeps telling us to write great content. It's good advice, after all. Great content leads to more sales and more recommendations. Great content helps sell the product or service you're promoting. It's common sense advice regardless of whether great content helps you rank well or not.

However, a lot of people misread his advice to assume he's insinuating that Google rank great content well, and therefore we should create great content on our sites to rank well. This is simply not true. There is no correlation between great content and high ranking in search engines. You can find examples, but there is no "rule" here to observe, because Google simply cannot determine what good content actually IS. They can use a proxy - namely, inbound links - to hazard a guess, but this is very often an unreliable signal for a few reasons:-
  • a website can create fantastic content, but it belongs to a niche that has a target audience that don't naturally link out - they're not webmasters or bloggers
  • people are linking out a lot less now anyway because of a lot of link paranoia - site owners are actually not always happy when someone links to them for fear Google may punish them
  • most people link out from social networks like Twitter and Facebook. However, these links are ephemeral - they appear on a Twitter feed / Facebook updates page - and are pushed down / archived with new data replacing it. Hardly what you would call an "evergreen" authorative link
  • even if you belong to a niche that has an audience that link out freely, most blogging platforms automatically stick a rel=nofollow tag onto outbound links, nullifying its value
  • links are easy to create, therefore it's easy to "fake" that your site has great content via creating "artificial links" - often done through deals between publisher and linked-to site that are utterly undetectable by Google. It's why you often see sites that rank high with such obviously poor content.

Using Brands as a Shortcut to Determining Quality

With links providing an evermore unreliable "quality signal", Google decided that brands would be a safe bet to rank high in the results pages. Big brands may not offer the best results for a particular search, but they're safe and furthermore, instil confidence in the shopper who will be familiar with these brands. The results pages "look good" in this sense when big brands show up.

Does this Make Google a Better or Worse Search Engine Than Before?

In my opinion, Google are forfeiting their strengths here for expediency. It's expedient for Google because brand signals are fairly easy to identify. Google's strengths lie in their sheer processing power - literally millions of servers that can index the entire web and keep that index very fresh. No other company on this planet can compete with that. At the same time, spam is a big problem for Google, and in tackling this problem, they are greatly shrinking down their index (on commercial searches at least) by relying a lot more heavily on brands.

Google Are the Deaf Man Judging a Singing Competition

Google in a way are bit like the deaf man judging a singing competition. The deaf man relies more on what other people are saying about the singers because he can't hear them himself. And the people he relies on to give him their opinion are often paid-off by some singers to give positive opinions, or are "plants" by other singers to do the same. The deaf man is aware that this goes on, and he threatens these people with punishments, but it still goes on since he's so very bad at distinguishing between real and fake opinions. Now, in this singing competition, there are a few well known stars competing amongst hundreds of amateurs. He recognises those well known artists, and he decides to judge them favourably simply because they're well known. He can never really know if they're BETTER than the amateurs, but they're a safe bet, so he always gives them high scores.

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