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Google Penalty For Low-Quality Writing?

June 21st, 2010 (by Chris Silver Smith)

For a while now, I’ve been covering how Google’s increasing focus upon quality measurements are steadily translating into actual ranking factors. Four years ago, I first conjectured that Usability could supplant SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Back then, we could see that Google’s human evaluators added quality ratings into the mix, affecting page rankings. Since then, Google added helpful tools for usability testing and page speed diagnostics. This year they’ve continued this progression by incorporating page speed as a ranking factor and the recent “Mayday Update” apparently shifted some ranking factor weighting from keyword relevancy to quality criteria.

Considering Google’s desire to quantify and assess elements of quality in webpages, what are some other possible things which they might attempt to algorithmically measure and base rankings upon?

One possible area which occurs to me is in testing the text body of pages, particularly that of the main body of articles and blog posts.

Spammers frequently use programs to automatically assemble snippets of text for the purpose of targeting many combinations of keyword phrases without requiring that their pages be all hand-written. Some spammers merely steal others’ content, screen-scraping pages and redisplaying it on their own sites. The more savvy ones know that the search engines seek to detect duplicate content, and try to credit the originating sites as authoritative for matching keyword phrases. Recognizing that purely identical text can get filtered due to duplication detection, these spammers may automatically insert random words throughout the text, resulting in weird sentences and nonsensical writing.

Less dramatically, marketers who desire to rapidly develop out thousands of pages of content sometimes resort to copy writing companies that outsource article assignments to third-world countries. Poorly-educated writers result in terrible grammar and bad spelling. And, foreign companies sometimes hire bad translators to convert their pages for English readers.

Spammy sites and pages with poorly-written articles would definitely be deemed to be low-quality by most consumers. Most of us don’t want to end up on such sites, and Google doesn’t want to lead us there. So, if I were them, I’d try to find ways to detect such poor content.

But, would it be possible for Google to detect bad writing?

I think the answer to that is a resounding “yes”!

Have you noticed how many different software packages offer spellcheck functionality? And, software such as Microsoft Word can assess grammar in documents as well as word/phrase variety and reading level.

So, it would be possible for Google to detect bad writing. I’m not sure how process-intensive this sort of functionality would be for them, but it could easily be incorporated as a subsidiary process that operates after many of the more-rapid ranking systems have already assessed a webpage. A grammar/spelling grading process could trickle-in ratings over time.

Is Google using such a process?

For now, this is unclear. It would be hard to isolate the effects of such a process, since their human quality evaluators might also negatively rate a page for some of the same reasons. A few different search engine patents relating to display of search snippets, assessing reviews, and ranking of news stories mention the possibility of utilyzing grammar and spelling in ranking processes. This sort of text analysis appears so simple that I think it would be a no-brainer to believe that Google would use such a system.

For spammers, I’d say that the bar is moving higher. Ignoring quality for the sake of a fast buck is getting more difficult. The days of merely sprinkling a keyword phrase randomly among paragraphs of words are probably coming to a close.

For marketers, the implications of text quality assessment should be clear. Cheaply-written content ought to be avoided for sustainable, long-term benefit. And, if you wish to improve your rankings, have a professional writer with good English skills look over all of your content, and correct any errors they may find.

You don’t really even need proof that this could be used as a quality ranking factor for it to make sense to clean up the grammar and spelling on your site. Poor grammar and spelling can make a bad impression on consumers, resulting in loss of trust and lower conversion rates. Improving your site’s user experience provides short and longterm benefits.