miércoles, 10 de octubre de 2007

Measuring the quality of a Web page

At the risk of losing PPC marketers who have to think in terms of search engine guidelines, let’s talk about page quality. There are many different page characteristics we can use to determine the quality of a page. There are also different types of quality or different qualities that can and should be measured.

When I look at a page the first thing I assess is its information value. I want to know things like:

  1. How unique is the page?
  2. How much information does the page convey
  3. How well organized is the page
  4. Is the page’s purpose to be informative or to be a magnet?

There is nothing a page can tell me that determines its level of authority. I have to be able to research the page’s author, sources, and other criteria in order to determine how authoritative a page is.

Search engines and SEOs alike have perverted the whole concept of “authority” into a mediocre quality measurement but you can look at the information behind a page to evaluate its relative level of authority.

When deciding whether a page should be authoritative, I want to know:
  1. How often the page author is referred to as an authority on the page’s topic (this has nothing to do with links)
  2. How much information the author has shared on the Internet (including online discussions)
  3. How many related resources (either offline or online) the page author refers visitors to
  4. How similar in scope and depth the page is to the rest of the author’s authoritative Internet works
  5. Whether the page provides information or opinion (and many people misniterpret information they disagree with as “opinion disguised as fact” — but if the author backs up the information with references, it’s information, not “opinion disguised as fact”).

A Web page does not have to be an informative page, however. It could be a magnet page. In traditional SEO most people would probably identify doorway pages and MFA made-for-advertising) pages as magnet pages but there are other types of magnet pages. For example, let’s say you write an eBook that tells people how to make money. You want to
sell that eBook so you create a huge, endlessly scrolling sales pitch page that includes 10-15 faux testimonials (that is, they offer at best only minimal attribution like “L. Smith, Ohio” for comments) and tons of smarmy paragraphs extolling the virtues of your research, blah, blah, blah until you drag your visitor down to the “CLICK HERE TO BUY”
button that leads to your smarmy eBook on how to make money that is way overpriced at $19.95 (NOTE: I’ve noticed a trend to increase the value of these smarmy eBooks by increasing the price).

So, smarmy sales pitch pages are magnet pages.

So are profile pages. Profile pages are opportunities for us to tell people who are curious about us a little more about ourselves. Most people no longer bother to fill out all the interest boxes (I admit they are somewhat overwhelming these days). Most self-promoters
shamelessly drop links to their Web sites and leave their profile pages bare, dull, and achingly boring. But people look at profile pages nonetheless, hoping to learn more about complete and total strangers.

Any page that is designed to attract attention and lead a visitor elsewhere is a magnet page. The better magnet pages tend to provide interesting, compelling content. They are not smarmy. They don’t necessarily look for
conversions. So you should think of search engine results pages as magnet pages. And directory listing pages can be magnet pages, too.

A good magnet page draws in traffic and passes it elsewhere. So maybe we should call magnet pages something more descriptive like intake pages or funnel pages. Sucker page is another way of describing them, especially when you’re talking about doorways and smarmy sales pitch pages.

Smarm sometimes works. It depends on the expectations of your market. If everyone else you’re competing with relies on smarmy sales pitch pages you may actually do no worse than your competitors to rely on smarmy sales pitch pages. The more slick you appear to be, the more faux testimonials you use, the more garish yellow or green inserts you break up your Web content with, the more likely you’ll be able to part suckers from their money. After all, anyone who actually reads all the crap on smarmy sales pitch pages is looking to buy crap and WANTS to give you their money. You’re probably giving them a fix for their crap
habit or something.

Sales pitch pages don’t have to be very long. In fact, the more informative but concise a sales pitch page is, the more likely I am to buy from it. Other people may need to see faux testimonials before they click on the “DOWNLOAD NOW” or “ORDER NOW” or “ADD TO SHOPPING CART” button. Your mileage may vary. Me, I just want to know what it does, what the guarantees and warranties may be, how much it costs, what you tack on for shipping, and how quickly I can get it. Tell me that and you may (or may not) make a sale.

My decision to buy is not based on how long it takes me to get to the “Place your order without any more bullshit” stage. It’s based on whether I feel I can trust you to provide the product I want and to deal with me in a competent, professional manner if I don’t like the product in the end.

I said that directory pages and search results pages can be magnets. So, too, can resource pages. You know, those oft-defamed pages on Web sites where many outbound links tend to be gathered like cattle awaiting slaughter. There are certain qualities that a resource page has which sets it apart from a typical reciprocal links page. For one thing, you usually don’t find any mesmerizing sales pitches for swapping links or buying someone’s reciprocal link management (software or program). You just find links, maybe with some explanation of what lies beyond the link.

A good resource page helps people learn more about a topic. You’ll rarely actually find a good resource page or section at a community-edited Web site. The best resource pages tend to come from experts who devote a lot of and considered thought to their selections. That is, they don’t play political games and they don’t care who they
don’t link out to. Resource pages are one of the few areas on the Web where links actually acan be endorsements and recommendations.

I have written many resource pages through the years. I spend many hours researching the Web sites I link to. And though I just said that resource pages can endorse other sites, they don’t necessarily go that far. An example of what I feel is a good resource page is my where to buy huckleberry products page. While I cannot personally endorse the huckleberry providers, I at
least give my visitors a chance to get directly to the sources without having to go through resellers (who are not bad people — I’ve been advised, on the basis of the $99 eCPM Adsense tells me that page gets, to join one or more affiliate programs).

The value of a resource page is determined the quality of the destinations it leads to. The quality of the destinations is determined by the purpose of the resource page. If you’re looking for huckleberry pickers, then my sellers page is a very poor resource even though you might reason that a cottage industry relies mostly on hand-picked wild huckleberries. Why is it a poor resource? Because those companies either buy products to stock in their stores or else they may buy huckleberries from people who pick them. Yes, at least one major huckleberry seller buys berries by the bucket from anyone who brings them in.

I could create a resource page about search engine optimization specialists and call it “Recommended SEOs” or something. The quality of such a resource is determined not only by the quality of the destination pages but also by the quality of the people behind those
pages, as well as the quality of my own experience and judgement.

I submit to you that a resource page put together by a mediocre SEO who knows barely more than to go out and get lots of links is no better or worse than any resource page that you or I might put together — provided that the resource page reflects the mediocre SEO’s honest opinion about the quality of the SEOs s/he recommends. Referrals are based on personal knowledge, not on professional credentials or standards. I could recommend Alan Greenspan to you for economic planning but I’ve never actually worked with the guy. For all I know his genius lies in his ability to pick interns who really know how to crunch numbers. So don’t trust my recommendation on Alan Greenspan.

There is nothing wrong with expressing opinion through links and recommendations. You can express in any number of ways. There is nothing wrong with not expressing opinion when you provide links. Links don’t have to be recommendations and in most cases are not
recommendations. But if the purpose of your page is to refer rather than recommend, you need to make it clear to the visitor that you are referring and not recommending. A good referral page expresses some reservation in some way. My
huckleberry sellers page, for example, at least distiinguishes between companies whose products I have bought and companies whose products I have only heard of. It tells you where I have shopped and where I have not shopped.

Search engines don’t yet have the ability to assess the true quality of pages. They can assess “quality” according to very limited criteria but their quality is very unsophisticated. So, for example, if a search engine where to divide pages into “High Quality”, “Poor Quality”, and “No Quality Assessed” categories, you would not have anything useful to work with. Instead, you should be forming your own criteria for quality
and revising those criteria as you become more practiced at evaluating pages.

You should be able to tell in 5 seconds or less whether a page is high quality or not. But you only reach that level of expertise by looking at thousands of pages in the right critical frame of mind. You have to spend some time doing some research, setting a base line for yourself. No one else can do it for you.

You have to become the only available expert in the page quality that you understand and appreciate. Once you know why you place higher value on one type of page over another, you’ll be better able to consistently produce more of those high quality pages in your own

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