Much of the search engine content you read on blogs and forums is pure speculation.
Some are downright wrong, while others are half-correct.
At MediaOne, we try to do things differently. Instead of rewriting what’s being speculated: we go out and try to get our hands on the facts.
Since we’re more than just a publishing house, we did just that: we went out and got the facts.
So, let’s get down to what we’ve discovered on this topic.
I wanted to put together a complete list of what Google classifies as low-quality, artificial and manipulative websites or links so everyone can use this information without having to guess or interpret anything themselves.
While this is far from complete, rest assured that I have verified everything on this list via multiple sources/testing to ensure accuracy.
That said, here are 50 signs that make a website come off as low-quality in the eyes of Google and other search engines:
Pages that Lack Purpose
Every web page must have a clearly defined purpose, typically one of two things: to inform or sell.
If a page doesn’t have either of those purposes or, worse yet, tries to do both simultaneously, it will be seen as low quality by Google.
While Google dismissed that it isn’t a ranking factor, it still looks at a site’s overall E-A-T to determine its quality.
If your website falls short in any of these areas, Google will consider it low quality. Google doesn’t just want you to populate your site with content for the sake of ranking. They want you to research, quoting relevant sources where necessary. They want you to prove that you are an expert on the subject you are writing about and, most importantly, that people can trust you.
Google defines “Your Money Your Life” (YMYL) sites in the guide. These are websites whose content touch on people’s health, finances, safety, and happiness.
Such sites cannot afford to publish anything unverified, lest they put their users’ well-being on the line.
Low-quality Main Content
Every page should have well-written, unique and relevant content that helps it achieve its purpose. That doesn’t mean that every page has to be epic, but it does need to provide value.
The content can be text, video, image, or a page feature (such as a calculator, game, converter, etc.), but it must be high quality.
It can also be user-generated such as reviews, ratings, or comments, as long as they are high quality. The main content includes your page title, meta description, H1 tags, and body content. Your title must be descriptive to help people understand what the page is about to make an informed decision. Low-quality main content means the page isn’t equipped enough to achieve its purpose, or its purpose is not clear enough to users.
If the user doesn’t find the page helpful, Google won’t find it useful either. And consequently, they won’t have enough reasons to rank it high.
Misleading Titles and Meta Descriptions
If your title and meta description doesn’t accurately reflect your page’s content, Google will see it as low quality. Google’s algorithms are smart enough to determine whether or not a user is being misled. You may be able to get away with using clickbait titles and descriptions on social media, but you won’t be able to rank high using the same tactics.
You don’t want to trick users into clicking on your page. You want them to click on it because they’re truly interested and willing to give it their time and trust.
Thin Content: Hard to Define Its Purpose
By definition, thin content is very little content on a webpage. As with most low-quality web pages, they are hard to define their purpose.
For example, you may have a web page about getting traffic from Reddit with no factual information or instruction on how to do so.
There is little to no relevant content on the page, so it only confuses the user. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You are allowed to have a thin page with high-quality content or with a clearly defined purpose.
However, if your page is just one sentence long — Google will count it as thin content and most likely won’t rank it high in the SERPs.
Hacked, Defaced, or Spam Webpages
Remember, Google will only rank a website after it understands its purpose. Any attempt to change, alter, distract, or redirect from that purpose will not only look suspicious to Google it will also lower the quality of your website.
Google’s algorithms check for hacked pages, defaced pages, and spam pages, among other things.
If you want a high ranking in the SERPs, avoid doing any of these things. The last thing you want is for Google to think your website is a scam. You should regularly check your website for any sign of hacking, spamming, or alteration.
Go through the comment section from time to time, deleting any spammy or irrelevant comments.
Cloaking: Showing Different Content to Google
Cloaking is a technique used to present different content to Google than what is shown to regular users. That’s done by hiding text or links or presenting different content to manipulate the search engine results. Google can easily detect when a website is cloaking, and web admins shouldn’t attempt to do it.
Many websites have been banned from the SERPs because of cloaking. So, it’s best not to even think of trying it.
Sites with Auto-generated or Span Content
Google detests laziness. Auto-generated content is generated by a machine, not by actual people. This type of content is often low quality and unoriginal. It also doesn’t offer any value to the user.
Sites with auto-generated content are often seen as spammy by Google, and they won’t rank high in the search engine results pages.
The same applies to templated websites, created ‘in a rush with little attention to detail and user experience. Google wants your expertise to shine through the content your produce, so don’t try to take shortcuts – it will only hurt your website in the long run.
As we said, Google hates it when web admins take shortcuts. One of the shortcuts to avoid is copying content from other websites. Not only is it plagiarism, but it also flies against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Copying content can get your website penalized and removed from the search engine results pages.
You may be able to get away with it for a short while, but eventually, Google will catch on, and you’ll be worse off than before.
Copied content refers to any content you scrap from websites not affiliated with you without adding anything original to it.
Spun content refers to hastily rewritten content to make it seem unique, but it still doesn’t offer any real value to the user.
The same goes for the content you generate through content mills – it’s often low quality and won’t help your website rank higher in the SERPs.
Google considers a piece of content copied if:
- It’s copied word for word from an identifiable source: Whether you only copied a paragraph, a passage, or sentence – if you didn’t write it yourself, then there’s a good chance you’re breaking one of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
The same goes for sites that copy content from multiple sources and piece them together to create a “new” article.
It’s been copied and modified to throw off plagiarism checkers: If you copy content and then make a few slight changes to it, Google will still be able to detect it.
It’s been copied from a Changing or Dynamic Source: Some people may have figured that copying content from a frequently changing source (like a news website) would be safe, but that’s not the case.
Google is smart enough to detect copied content, and it will penalize your website for it.
Ads aren’t inherently bad for your website.
However, if you allow ads to distract the user or interfere with user experience, you might as well forget about a high ranking in the SERPs. The same goes for affiliate links – they’re meant to help your users find what they’re looking for fast and easy, not annoy them into submission.
If your website looks like it’s all about the money and nothing else, Google will punish you by pushing your website further down in the SERPs.
Ads that Push Down Your Website’s Content
Ever encountered an ad that takes up the entire screen, pushing your website’s content below the fold? If so, then you know how annoying and distracting they can be. Not only do these ads violate Google’s AdSense policies, but they also make it difficult for users to find what they’re looking for on your website. This type of advertising is known as “banner blindness,” and it’s one of the biggest reasons users hate ads.
Google is well aware of this issue, and it will not rank your website for using these types of ads.
As mentioned earlier, ads should never interfere with user experience.
It includes ads that are inappropriate for your website’s audience. Not only can this be incredibly embarrassing for you, but it also may lead to your website getting penalized by Google.
If users complain about your ads, Google will know, and it might lower the quality score of your website as a whole. That means less traffic and fewer conversions – not good.
Disruptive Popups and Interstitials
Popups and interstitials disrupt the user experience and can be pretty annoying. Not only are they a violation of Google’s AdSense policies, but they can also lead to your website getting penalized. Google doesn’t like it when websites use invasive popups because they’re known to cause a high level of user irritation. A single popup that users can quickly close isn’t terrible. Still, some users will find it annoying, which may lead to a lower quality score for your website.
If you’re using multiple popups or interstitials, then you’re asking for trouble.
Supplementary Content That’s Poor Quality
Supplementary content is an integral part of your website because it helps users find what they’re looking for. However, if this content is poorly written or irrelevant, it will only hurt your website’s ranking in the SERPs. Google doesn’t like it when websites provide low-quality supplementary content because it makes it difficult for users to find what they came to your site for.
That can lead to a lower quality score for your website and, consequently, less traffic from the search engines.
404 Pages That Are Empty or Useless
A 404 page is what users see when they try to access a page that doesn’t exist on your website.
If you don’t have a helpful 404 page, it can lead to several issues. Firstly, users will get frustrated when they click on the link and see that nothing exists. Secondly, you’ll get poor SEO rankings because Google won’t know what to do with the 404 page. And lastly, if your website is full of junk links or errors, users will probably leave your website altogether. Make sure your 404 pages are helpful and full of relevant information so that users don’t get frustrated.
If they do, they may never return.
Negative Reputation, however Mildly It is
Negative publicity is never good for business.
If your website has a negative reputation, even if it’s mild, it will harm your ranking in the SERPs.
Google encourages its quality raters to research the reputation of websites, dig through reviews, and try to find out what people are saying about them.
If you have a terrible reputation, rest assured that Google knows about it, and it’s [definitely] going to affect your ranking.
We’re not talking negative reviews here – we’re talking about a bad rap that may get you delisted by the search engines.
There’s nothing wrong with getting a handful of negative reviews on your website, as long as they don’t affect your overall business reputation.
Low BBB Ratings
The Better Business Bureau is an online business review website. If you’ve done something to upset your customers, they’re likely to tell the world about it on the BBB and other similar websites. Negative reviews can affect your reputation and lead to a lower ranking in the SERPs.
Even if Google doesn’t penalize you, the bad reputation of your business may prevent customers from buying your products.
Negative Reputation on Wikipedia
As we mentioned earlier, Google encourages its quality raters to research the reputation of websites. One of the sites they’ll sure lookup is Wikipedia.
If you get a bad rap on Wikipedia, Google’s quality raters will dig it out and include it in their reports.
Negative Reviews on Renowned News Sites
If you get negative reviews on well-known news sites like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post, it’s definitely going to affect your ranking.
These websites are known for their high standards, and Google will take any negative reviews very seriously. Be sure to monitor your online reputation and address any negative reviews as quickly as possible.
Anonymous or Missing Information About Content Creators
Unless you have a good reason to remain anonymous, you should always include a little information about your content creators. Google wants to know who is responsible for the content on your website. They want to see their names, social media handles, and contact information.
Be sure to include your authors’ names, together with all the necessary information for Google to verify their identity.
Missing Information About the Website Itself
Google wants to see information about your website, including the address, contact information, and social media profiles. Not only that, but they also want to know about the organization or individual that’s responsible for the website. They’re interested in learning more about you, so be sure to include all of this information in the “about us” section of your site.
Missing a detailed “about us” is enough to warrant a low-quality rating from Google. That’s especially true for sites in the YMYL category.
Missing Contact Information
Part of Google’s web spam algorithm is to scan for contact information.
If your site lacks a straightforward way for users to contact you, it will harm your search engine rankings.
That’s why you have to make sure that all-important pages display your contact information and social media profiles.
Missing an Easily Accessible Customer Service System
If your website lacks an easy-to-access customer service system, your business will get a low-quality rating. Google wants to see up-to-date contact information and that your customers can easily find it. You should also provide detailed information about the services you offer and how users can reach out to you for support.
Whether by phone call, live chat, or email, you have to give your users every available way to get in touch with you.
Grammar and Spelling Errors
While Google isn’t big on grammar rules, they want to see that you have professional writers on your team. If your website is full of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, or awkward sentences, they may take it to mean that you don’t take your business seriously. And no one wants to do business with a company that doesn’t care about its image. Remember that Google Quality Raters aren’t bots but real people.
If you want your website to get a good rating, you want to make sure the language you use is appropriate and well-written.
Outdated or Inaccurate Content
Google has a lot of resources dedicated to ensuring that their search results are up to date and contain accurate information. Having outdated content on your site can get your website a low-quality rating.
And if you have inaccurate information on your site, it can lead to SERP penalties and loss of trust with Google.
Doorway Pages (Landing Pages That Are Made for Ads)
Doorway pages (also known as doorway sites and landing pages) are web pages that exist solely to funnel users to a different page.
Usually, this other page is an advertisement or a product page. Google doesn’t like these pages because they’re often created for the sole purpose of earning money through ads.
They also harm user experience because users are taken away from the page they originally had intended to visit.
Hidden Affiliate Links and Web Beacons
Hidden affiliate links and web beacons are elements of affiliate marketing that Google doesn’t like. Affiliate marketing is when you put a link to an online merchant in the hopes of earning a commission for every sale you generate through your link. And sometimes, you end up directing users to a completely unrelated page.
If Google sees that you’re trying to trick users into clicking affiliate links for other websites, they will take it as a sign that you’re trying to game the system.
Not Covering Any Specific Information
Every new post you make on your blog should share specific information with your users.
If most of your content is about entertaining or amusing your readers, you can get a low-quality score. Remember that Google wants to see that you’re adding value to their search results, not just populating their search with generic information.
Google even gives an example of a page specializing in children adoption in Iraq. Instead of providing helpful information that can help someone adopt a child in Iraq, the page glosses over the subject by pointing to a different website with no accurate information on the topic.
Using Keyword Stuffing
But Google has since perfected their algorithm to the point that keyword stuffing no longer does anything.
That’s why, if you have small blocks of text that are just repeating your keywords over and over again, Google will consider it low quality.
Failure to Cite Authoritative Sources
Google wants to see that your website is well-researched and that your content is based on credible sources. If you’re writing a piece about starting a small business but don’t cite the Small Business Administration as a reference, Google will flag it as low quality.
Using Expired Domains for Backlinks
Using an expired domain can result in a low rating from Google. That’s because if the person you got the backlink from changed their domain name on a whim, it could mean that they don’t value their online presence very much.
And since they’re not putting care into their website, they have no reason to link to your site either.
Lack of Expertise
If you’re selling products or services online, you need to show that you are an expert in your field. For example, if you sell yoga mats online, you should demonstrate mastery of all things related to yoga.
Every page on your website should display your expertise for everyone to see. And they should make it clear what problems your expertise can solve.
Broken HTML is a problem that affects about 1% of all websites on the internet. Basically, it’s when you’ve got links or other elements on your website that don’t work correctly. That could be as simple as a non-functional link to an external website, a broken image, or a page that doesn’t load correctly.
If Google sees that your website is plagued with broken HTML, they’ll flag it as low quality.
Lack of Expertise
Some topics are sensitive.
Take medicine, for example. It is a science with tons of grey areas. One must be careful when talking about medicine lest they dispense wrong information. Therefore, it’s only natural that Google gives extra points to sites that have been created and reviewed by credentialed experts.
Alternatively, you’ll have to make a lot of references to medical authority sites to earn the much-needed credibility in whatever you post. Still, Google will prioritize sites with first-hand information backed by experts.
Recipe Blogs with no Reviews or Comments
If you’re running a recipe blog, getting user feedback is of utmost importance.
That’s because Google considers how people are interacting with your website when they rank it. If you’re not getting any user feedback (either in the form of comments or reviews), that means people aren’t finding your content valuable. Recipe blogs with no reviews or comments make it difficult for users to tell whether the recipe is good or not.
And since Google wants to provide users with the best possible content, they’ll automatically flag this type of blog as low quality.
Q&A Pages without Helpful Answers
If you have a Q&A page on your site, the answers provided must be authoritative and helpful to the people who land there. Google takes this seriously because they want users to find high-quality content wherever they go.
If Google sees that all of the answers on your Q&A page are not helpful or informative, they’ll flag it as low quality.
Pages that Promote Violence or Encourage Harm
Google takes a strict approach to the content they index in their search engine.If you’re reading an article about natural remedies but mentions something along the lines of torturing people, Google will not hesitate to block the site.
The same goes for websites that promote violence, illegal activity, or any other thing that might be considered harmful to the general populace.
Spammy Accounts Sharing Fake News
Fake no longer sells. It’s a harsh reality that brands trying to get attention by flogging trending topics have realized. The days when people wrote about celebrities and watched as their sales skyrocketed are long behind us. Nowadays, people are more sceptical of what they read online, especially if it sounds too good to be true. The point? You can no longer get away with sharing fake news about unrelated trending topics.
If you try to do this, Google will flag your website as low quality and divert all of your organic traffic to other pages (or remove it altogether).
Malicious Pages that Trick Users
One way to get blacklisted by Google is to create malicious pages that trick users into doing something they shouldn’t. For example, you might create a page that looks like the login page for a popular website (phishing as it’s commonly referred to). When users enter their login information, they inadvertently give it to you instead. Cybercriminals employ such tricks to scam people.
As such, Google has a zero-tolerance approach to this and will not hesitate to blacklist your website as soon as they detect any trace of malicious content.
Sites who Content Contradict Well-established Consensus
Science has a way of self-correcting over time. That happens as new evidence is uncovered and different people come up with their own interpretations. Eventually, a consensus is formed where the majority of the scientific community agrees on a certain interpretation. If your website disagrees with this consensus (or tries to rewrite history), Google will automatically flag it as misleading.
Does this mean that you have to agree with the scientific community?
Of course not. But it’s important to have a solid argument to back up your claims, and your website should be transparent about who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish.
This is especially true for YMYL sites.
Google isn’t a big fan of conspiracy theories.
To them, these theories aren’t backed up by evidence or grounded in fact. Instead, they tend to be unverifiable and often fly in the face of scientific consensus (i.e., what we know for a fact).
If you’re trying to promote one conspiracy theory over another, Google will most likely flag your site.
Pages with Unsourced Claims
It’s one thing to make a claim. It’s another to back it up with evidence. If you can’t provide any sources to support your claims, Google will see your website as low quality. That is often the case with websites that promote pseudoscience or conspiracy theories. To Google, you can’t just make a claim and expect people to take it at face value.
You have to back up your claims with credible sources that readers can use to verify the information they’re reading.
Google isn’t a fan of websites that produce gibberish content. What do we mean by gibberish content? This content doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t seem to be written in any particular language.
It might look like a child wrote it or like someone who’s not very good at writing. To Google, gibberish content doesn’t serve any purpose. It doesn’t help readers, nor does it provide any value to the web in general.