Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

Does Google use a quality score similar to the one in Google Ads as part of its organic search ranking algorithm?

This has been hotly debated over the years, to the extent there are even articles out there telling you how to optimize for it.

But is there actually an organic quality score? And does it impact your rankings?

Let’s explore some of the resources and discussion on this whole Google organic quality score concept and see if we can get to the truth.

The Claim: Website Quality Score Is A Ranking Factor

This topic can cause a bit of confusion as there are a couple of things in play here.

What we know:

Google Ads uses Quality Score.

This is a number between 1-10 Google assigns to PPC ads, based on three factors:

  1. Expected clickthrough rate (CTR): The likelihood that your ad will be clicked when shown.
  2. Ad relevance: How closely your ad matches the intent behind a user’s search.
  3. Landing page experience: How relevant and useful your landing page is to people who click your ad.

So when you hear the idea that Google uses a quality score to assess websites, you might think it’s the Quality Score that Google Ads uses.

No.

Google does not use its Google Ads Quality Score in organic ranking.

So the question is:

Does Google use a quality score that rates an entire website with a number (it could be between 1-10, 0 to 100, or something else)?

We know Google considers E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) an important guiding concept for every website that publishes content.

So if Google thinks it’s important to look at the E-A-T of individual content creators, isn’t the website where that content is published equally important?

And, if so, could you quantify that with a PageRank-style score?

Think of it like this: I’m going to publish a post.

Is it more likely to rank on a website like Search Engine Journal vs. [Insert Random Blog Name Here Nobody Has Ever Heard Of]?

Yes, this is basically the hotly debated idea of domain authority (not to be confused with Domain Authority, the Moz metric, which we debunk in another chapter of this guide) – that some domains have an inherent SEO advantage over others.

An organic quality score like this would mean that even if the page lacked other quality signals, it could still enjoy the ranking benefit of the site quality score.

Does Search Engine Journal, The New York Times, or Wikipedia (or whatever other dominant site you can think of) have an automatic ranking advantage compared to all/most of their competitors?

Could it be due to some sitewide organic quality score Google has assigned them?

The Evidence For Website Quality Score As A Ranking Factor

In 2011, Google’s Michael Wyszomierski gave feedback about Google’s latest algorithm change. That update was Google Panda, which largely impacted sites with low-quality content. He said, in part:

“…it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole. For this reason, if you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain.

Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”

Does this suggest that Google could be using a quality score made up of some collection of signals to detect low-quality websites?

Many in SEO, including Jeff Ferguson, have argued that Google ranks webpages, not websites.

While that is true in theory, Wyszomierski’s statement raises big questions around how low-quality content on part of a website could possibly impact the ability for an entire site’s content to rank.

Did we get that answer in 2012, when Google filed a patent for a Site Quality Score?

The patent includes the following:

“This specification describes how a system can determine a score for a site, e.g., a web site or other collection of data resources, as seen by a search engine, that represents a measure of quality for the site.

The score is determined from quantities indicating user actions of seeking out and preferring particular sites and the resources found in particular sites.

A site quality score for a particular site can be determined by computing a ratio of a numerator that represents user interest in the site as reflected in user queries directed to the site and a denominator that represents user interest in the resources found in the site as responses to queries of all kinds.

The site quality score for a site can be used as a signal to rank resources, or to rank search results that identify resources, that are found in one site relative to resources found in another site.”

As always, just because Google has a patent on something does not provide clear evidence it is being used in search algorithms.

Beyond that, we have speculation from 2017, when Moz released a Whiteboard Friday on an organic quality score.

They prefaced the presentation by saying,

“While there’s no hard proof it exists, the organic quality score is a concept that’s been pondered by many SEOs over the years.”

In 2020, Seer Interactive published a guide on how to optimize your website for organic search using the components of the Google Quality Score.

The guide does not presume that the Quality Score is a ranking factor.

Rather, they want to give PPC practitioners a new perspective on optimizing content for organic search.

Google Quality Score As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

To date, Google has neither confirmed nor denied that an organic site quality score is a ranking factor.

The Site Quality Score patent filed in 2012 is, at best, circumstantial evidence that Google could use a quality score as a ranking factor (or at least considered doing so, around that time).

And it makes sense.

A site should have a base level of authority (or even a topical relevancy score) it can pass to new pages based on its link profile (both internal and inbound).

So the question remains: Could there be a domain/website quality score that acts as a baseline for new pages?

Wyszomierski’s comment is an intriguing hint that something of this nature could be in play in Google’s algorithms.

If sites can be hurt by low-quality content, is it also reasonable to assume that sites can be helped organically by consistently publishing high-quality content?

And while we have ruled out the idea that the Google Ads Quality Score is used by Google for the purposes of ranking, the principles behind it – especially around intent, relevance, and usefulness – can easily be applied to organic search.

Just like understanding E-A-T and the Search Quality Rating Guidelines can help you directionally with your SEO.

Without direct confirmation as of this writing, we can’t call organic quality score a definite Google ranking factor.

But it’s possible.


Featured Image: Robin Biong/Search Engine Journal