Google has a history of classifying your site as some type of entity, and whatever that is, you don’t want a low-quality label on it. Put there by algorithm or human. Manual evaluators might not directly impact your rankings, but any signal associated with Google marking your site as low-quality should probably be avoided.
If you are making websites to rank in Google without unnatural practices, you are going to have to meet Google’s expectations in the Quality Raters Guidelines (PDF).
Low-quality pages are unsatisfying or lacking in some element that prevents them from achieving their purpose well.
There is ‘sufficient reason’ in some cases to immediately mark the page down on some areas, and Google directs quality raters to do so:
- An unsatisfying amount of MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low-quality rating.
- Low-quality MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low-quality rating.
- Lacking appropriate E-A-T is sufficient reason to give a page a Low-quality rating.
- Negative reputation is sufficient reason to give a page a Low-quality rating.
What are low-quality pages?
When it comes to defining what a low-quality page is, Google is evidently VERY interested in the quality of the Main Content (MC) of a page:
Main Content (MC)
Google says MC should be the ‘main reason a page exists’.
- The quality of the MC is low.
- There is an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page.
- There is an unsatisfying amount of website information.
POOR MC & POOR USER EXPERIENCE
- This content has many problems: poor spelling and grammar, complete lack of editing, inaccurate information. The poor quality of the MC is a reason for the Lowest+ to Low rating. In addition, the popover ads (the words that are double underlined in blue) can make the main content difficult to read, resulting in a poor user experience.
- Pages that provide a poor user experience, such as pages that try to download malicious software, should also receive low ratings, even if they have some images appropriate for the query.
DESIGN FOCUS NOT ON MC
- If a page seems poorly designed, take a good look. Ask yourself if the page was deliberately designed to draw attention away from the MC. If so, the Low rating is appropriate.
- The page design is lacking. For example, the page layout or use of space distracts from the MC, making it difficult to use the MC.
MC LACK OF AUTHOR EXPERTISE
- You should consider who is responsible for the content of the website or content of the page you are evaluating. Does the person or organization have sufficient expertise for the topic? If expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness is lacking, use the Low rating.
- There is no evidence that the author has medical expertise. Because this is a YMYL medical article, lacking expertise is a reason for a Low rating.
- The author of the page or website does not have enough expertise for the topic of the page and/or the website is not trustworthy or authoritative for the topic. In other words, the page/website is lacking E-A-T.
After page content, the following are given the most weight in determining if you have a high-quality page.
POOR SECONDARY CONTENT
- Unhelpful or distracting SC that benefits the website rather than helping the user is a reason for a Low rating.
- The SC is distracting or unhelpful for the purpose of the page.
- The page is lacking helpful SC.
- For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating
- For example, an ad for a model in a revealing bikini is probably acceptable on a site that sells bathing suits, however, an extremely distracting and graphic porn ad may warrant a Low rating.
- If the website feels inadequately updated and inadequately maintained for its purpose, the Low rating is probably warranted.
- The website is lacking maintenance and updates.
SERP SENTIMENT & NEGATIVE REVIEWS
- Credible negative (though not malicious or financially fraudulent) reputation is a reason for a Low rating, especially for a YMYL page.
- The website has a negative reputation.
When it comes to Google assigning your page the lowest rating, you are probably going to have to go some to hit this, but it gives you a direction you want to ensure you avoid at all costs.
Google says throughout the document, that there are certain pages that…
should always receive the Lowest rating
..and these are presented below. Note – These statements below are spread throughout the raters document and not listed the way I have listed them there. I don’t think any context is lost presenting them like this, and it makes it more digestible.
Anyone familiar with Google Webmaster Guidelines will be familiar with most of the following:
- True lack of purpose pages or websites.
- Sometimes it is difficult to determine the real purpose of a page.
- Pages on YMYL websites with completely inadequate or no website information.
- Pages or websites that are created to make money with little to no attempt to help users.
- Pages with extremely low or lowest quality MC.
- If a page is deliberately created with no MC, use the Lowest rating. Why would a page exist without MC? Pages with no MC are usually lack of purpose pages or deceptive pages.
- Webpages that are deliberately created with a bare minimum of MC, or with MC which is completely unhelpful for the purpose of the page, should be considered to have no MC
- Pages deliberately created with no MC should be rated Lowest.
- Important: The Lowest rating is appropriate if all or almost all of the MC on the page is copied with little or no time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users. Such pages should be rated Lowest, even if the page assigns credit for the content to another source. Important: The Lowest rating is appropriate if all or almost all of the MC on the page is copied with little or no time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users. Such pages should be rated Lowest, even if the page assigns credit for the content to another source.
- Pages on YMYL (Your Money Or Your Life Transaction pages) websites with completely inadequate or no website information.
- Pages on abandoned, hacked, or defaced websites.
- Pages or websites created with no expertise or pages that are highly untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading.
- Harmful or malicious pages or websites.
- Websites that have extremely negative or malicious reputations. Also use the Lowest rating for violations of the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines. Finally, Lowest+ may be used both for pages with many low-quality characteristics and for pages whose lack of a single Page Quality characteristic makes you question the true purpose of the page. Important: Negative reputation is sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating. Evidence of truly malicious or fraudulent behavior warrants the Lowest rating.
- Deceptive pages or websites. Deceptive webpages appear to have a helpful purpose (the stated purpose), but are actually created for some other reason. Use the Lowest rating if a webpage page is deliberately created to deceive and potentially harm users in order to benefit the website.
- Some pages are designed to manipulate users into clicking on certain types of links through visual design elements, such as page layout, organization, link placement, font color, images, etc. We will consider these kinds of pages to have deceptive page design. Use the Lowest rating if the page is deliberately designed to manipulate users to click on Ads, monetized links, or suspect download links with little or no effort to provide helpful MC.
- Sometimes, pages just don’t “feel” trustworthy. Use the Lowest rating for any of the following: Pages or websites that you strongly suspect are scams
- Pages that ask for personal information without a legitimate reason (for example, pages which ask for name, birthdate, address, bank account, government ID number, etc.). Websites that “phish” for passwords to Facebook, Gmail, or other popular online services. Pages with suspicious download links, which may be malware.
- Use the Lowest rating for websites with extremely negative reputations.
Websites ‘Lacking Care and Maintenance’ Are Rated ‘Low Quality’.
Sometimes a website may seem a little neglected: links may be broken, images may not load, and content may feel stale or out-dated. If the website feels inadequately updated and inadequately maintained for its purpose, the Low rating is probably warranted.
“Broken” or Non-Functioning Pages Classed As Low Quality
I touched on 404 pages in my recent post about investigating why has a site lost traffic.
Google gives clear advice on creating useful 404 pages:
- Tell visitors clearly that the page they’re looking for can’t be found
- Use language that is friendly and inviting
- Make sure your 404 page uses the same look and feel (including navigation) as the rest of your site.
- Consider adding links to your most popular articles or posts, as well as a link to your site’s home page.
- Think about providing a way for users to report a broken link.
- Make sure that your webserver returns an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page is requested
Ratings for Pages with Error Messages or No MC
Google doesn’t want to index pages without a specific purpose or sufficient main content. A good 404 page and proper setup prevents a lot of this from happening in the first place.
Some pages load with content created by the webmaster, but have an error message or are missing MC. Pages may lack MC for various reasons. Sometimes, the page is “broken” and the content does not load properly or at all. Sometimes, the content is no longer available and the page displays an error message with this information. Many websites have a few “broken” or non-functioning pages. This is normal, and those individual non-functioning or broken pages on an otherwise maintained site should be rated Low quality. This is true even if other pages on the website are overall High or Highest quality.
Does Google programmatically look at 404 pages?
We are told, NO in this recent hangout – – but – in Quality Raters Guidelines “Users probably care a lot”.
Do 404 Errors in Search Console Hurt My Rankings?
404 errors on invalid URLs do not harm your site’s indexing or ranking in any way. JOHN MEULLER
It appears this isn’t a once size fits all answer. If you properly deal with mishandled 404 errors that have some link equity, you reconnect equity that was once lost – and this ‘backlink reclamation’ evidently has value.
The issue here is that Google introduces a lot of noise into that Crawl Errors report to make it unwieldy and not very user-friendly.
A lot of broken links Google tells you about can often be totally irrelevant and legacy issues. Google could make it instantly more valuable by telling us which 404s are linked to from only external websites.
Fortunately, you can find your own broken links on site using the myriad of SEO tools available.
I also prefer to use Analytics to look for broken backlinks on a site with some history of migrations, for instance.
I also use Google Analytics to look for broken backlinks on a site with some history of migrations, for instance.
John has clarified some of this before, although he is talking specifically (I think) about errors found by Google in Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools):
- In some cases, crawl errors may come from a legitimate structural issue within your website or CMS. How do you tell? Double-check the origin of the crawl error. If there’s a broken link on your site, in your page’s static HTML, then that’s always worth fixing
If you are making websites and want them to rank, the 2015 and 2014 Quality Raters Guidelines document is a great guide for Webmasters to avoid low-quality ratings and potentially avoid punishment algorithms.
If you are pushing for high-quality pages, avoid everything you see in this page.
- Investigating A Website Traffic Drop
- Dealing With Low Quality Pages On A Website
- Example of a High Quality Webpage
- User Experience As A Ranking Factor
- Making High Quality Websites