Former Google Rater weighs in on Quality & SEO Analysis

girl telling another girl a secret

If you think SEO is just a matter of good keywords, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

By Syble Harrison, SJ Marketing Conceptor

Before I became a copywriter for SJ, I spent three years as a senior website rater on contract for Google. After a stint behind enemy lines (Google’s not really the enemy, but you get the point), I learned one thing for sure: A high-quality website with a so-so keyword strategy will rank higher than a so-so quality website with an awesome keyword strategy—every time.

Don’t get me wrong. Keywords are necessary (and powerful). But, quality, not keywords, should always be the foundation of your SEO strategy. Here’s why.

Google wants to be useful

The goal of Google Search is to help people find what they’re looking for. And what people are looking for is websites that are useful, not websites built to generate traffic by tricking the search engine with keywords. Your awesome keyword strategy may very well earn you page-one status. But, believe me, Google is always on the hunt to make sure that status is short-lived.

Only high-quality (i.e. useful) sites will take up permanent residence on page one.

High-quality websites have useful pages

The biggest mistake a company can make is to assume “high-quality” means “a pretty design and a solid set of keywords.” Site design does factor in the overall quality score, but its effect is minuscule compared to site usefulness. And a useful site is filled with useful pages.

Useful pages answer questions and solve problems

For example, imagine you’re doing research on fishing, and you enter the search term “fishing techniques.” Now, imagine your first result is a blog post on a fancy fishing gear website. The post is stuffed full of the keyword “fishing techniques,” but it doesn’t provide good info, the writing is bad, and it’s obvious that the point of the post was to get people on the site to buy fishing gear.

On the other hand, imagine your first result is a blog post on a less fabulous-looking fishing gear website. But this post is well-written and informative. And, even though it’s on a fishing gear website, you don’t feel like the point of the post is to trick you into buying something.

Despite the first site’s superior design and more intuitive interface, its landing page would rate as much lower quality than the second site’s landing page.

An otherwise great site with too many low-quality pages will ultimately rank as a low-quality site.

High-quality sites are cared for

Another lesser-known factor in a site’s quality score is whether the site shows evidence of care.

Updated copyright

One of the surest indicators of care is an updated copyright. It may seem unimportant, but a copyright that’s five years old screams abandonment and neglect. Set a reminder to update yours every January.

Working links and forms

This one is huge—and often missed. Broken links and wonky forms are extremely frustrating for users. So, a site with too many such problems is considered too frustrating to be useful. Schedule regular page checks to make sure your interface is in working order.

Fast loading speed

Frustration is the key with this one, too. We all (including Google) know how irritating it is to sit idly in front of a slow-loading page. A site that wastes time is anything but useful. If left unchecked, too many slow-loading pages will significantly ding a site’s quality score. Again, make loading-speed checks part of your regular SEO maintenance schedule.

It’s about balance

Achieving and maintaining the coveted page-one status requires a balanced approach. Definitely, don’t ditch your keyword strategy. Just be sure to apply that strategy to a site built with human beings—not just their pocketbooks—in mind.

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6 Digital Marketing Sins: Are You Guilty?

With a few billion impressions of data under my belt and thousands of reports covering millions of dollars of ad spends, I am somewhat qualified to reflect on trends and mistakes that cross both industries and advertiser size. I have seen the dos and dont’s. Are you guilty of these six digital marketing sins?

1. Lacking Brand/Non-Brand Balance on Paid Search

Hypothetical Client: How come Agency X is delivering a 20:1 ROI and you’re only delivering a 5:1 for us?

SJ: Well, our goal is to generate new business for you, not maximize ROI. If we were only bidding on ads for people searching for you, the ROI would be higher, but it wouldn’t help your business grow.

(Side note: There are times when it is appropriate to have a brand-based keyword campaign; for instance, your competitors or a third-party booking engine are trying to steal your business and you have to defend yourself from that loss.)

2. Focusing Too Much on ROI

While ROI is important, it is not the only indicator of digital marketing success. More broadly, now that we can track return on ad spend results with some accuracy, we’ve created a monster I call returnoninvestiosaurus.

Symptoms that this monster lives in your office:

  • You don’t have budget to promote events or non-revenue-generating lines of business
  • You look at line 28’s revenue rather than the bottom line
  • You run an “awareness” campaign and then ask how much revenue it brought in

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3. Having No Defined Goals (i.e., I Want Everything)

If you have more than one goal, you should ideally have more than one campaign to meet each goal.

If you want a campaign that has both a massive reach and a high click rate, but only have $1,000 to spend, you’ll likely end up with a cost-per-click display campaign, because you are only paying when someone clicks on your ad. On the other hand, the higher the click rate goes, the more often you have to pay and the fewer people you ultimately reach. Your two goals are in a relationship where one will win and the other loses. Instead, we’d advise you to make two separate plays for your click and reach goals.

4. Obsessing over YOY in a DTD World

You ran paid search in 2007 and had a 10% click rate? NICE. You were ahead of the game, though. Everyone else has since caught up. Your Facebook post had a 30% organic reach two years ago? Great, but that’s an unrealistic expectation for a new campaign. Results that were good last year may be irrelevant now, so take your YOY stats with a grain of salt.

5. Missing Out on Trends Because They Aren’t “Proven”

There’s logic behind sticking with ads and ideas that are demonstrably successful. You should use successful campaigns to inform your next budget, but if you focus too much on what you know works well, you miss out on the arbitrage that will put you ahead of your competitors. Instagram is a no-brainer now, but were you on there 4 years ago? Are you afraid of Snapchat because you don’t know how to track its value? How about Facebook Live? The case for value may be ephemeral, but the value is there to be taken on new media—even if it doesn’t have a direct ROI.

6. Unsure What Your “Conversion” is Tracking

Your website has likely changed since you first set up your analytics tracking. Has it been kept up to date? Are you evaluating purchases/leads/conversions/etc. appropriately? Don’t take your reporting at face value if you don’t know what it’s saying.

If you fear you might be guilty of any of these digital marketing sins, contact us. Our digital exorcists…I mean, experts, are here to help.


— Jesse Plate, Digital Director, SJ Marketing

As an experienced digital media planner and digital marketing specialist, Jesse believes that every online touchpoint should contribute to a brand’s overall strategy. He directs digital executions with the goal of strengthening performance toward both online and offline marketing objectives, as well as taking full advantage of available online opportunities.

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How is Blogging Beneficial to Your Business?

It’s my turn to write a blog and as I am brainstorming about what to write, I thought about how beneficial blogs are to business and how they should be an integral part of an online marketing strategy. Whether you are a small or large business, blogging is important and here are four reasons why!

First reason, blogging will drive traffic to your website. According to, companies that blog drive 55% more traffic to their website. A blog is the perfect opportunity to serve relevant content to your customers. You can use your blog as the hub for all your social media platforms as well. It gives your social followers a reason to click to your website. Once you get followers to your website, you have an opportunity to convert them into leads. Don’t forget to always include a lead-generating, call-to-action in every blog.

The second reason to blog is that it will increase SEO. New and fresh content will always beat out the competition in a Google search. Make sure you use keywords that your customers will be using when searching for you online.

Reason three for blogging is to position your brand as an industry leader. When you post relevant information for your target market, you are marketing your business, service or product, and establishing authority in your industry. The best blogs for businesses answer common questions your customers have and create content that is helpful to them.

Lastly, the fourth reason you should blog is to develop better relations with your customers. Relationships are the key to long term business success. Blogging will deepen the connection you have with your customers by building credibility and trustworthiness.

So as you embark on your blogging journey just know that you don’t have to be a writer to be a business blogger. Start by setting your goals, write a compelling title, list your ideas and key message, keep it simple and write in your own voice. Happy blogging!

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If your business needs help with blogging or social media management, contact us at SJ Marketing!

Darolyn Skelton

Business Development/Account Executive/Novice Blogger

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