What’s the best way to rank highly right now, according to Google? Most SEO professionals would say some one of two things. Creating a quality site will get your site ranked highly, and quality content is the most powerful way to improve the quality and value of your site.

According to Ryan Moulton, a software engineer at Google who Barry Schwartz from SEO Roundtable implies works in the search area, high quality content doesn’t necessarily work like that.

The assumption is that the “high quality” content Google favors is the most accurate and informative text available. But, Moulton says we misunderstand or forget about actual usefulness.

He was defending Google in a Hacker News thread on why Google ranks some sites highly despite the content not being entirely accurate, and in some people’s eyes low quality. He explains that some sources may be the most accurate, but they are often way too high-minded for the average searcher.

He states, “there’s a balance between popularity and quality that we try to be very careful with. Ranking isn’t entirely one or the other. It doesn’t help to give people a better page if they aren’t going to click on it anyways.”

Ryan then continues with an example:

Suppose you search for something like [pinched nerve ibuprofen]. The top two results currently are mayoclinic.com and answers.yahoo.com.

Almost anyone would agree that the mayoclinic result is higher quality. It’s written by professional physicians at a world renowned institution. However, getting the answer to your question requires reading a lot of text. You have to be comfortable with words like “Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” which a lot of people aren’t. Half of people aren’t literate enough to read their prescription drug labels: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1831578/

The answer on yahoo answers is provided by “auntcookie84.” I have no idea who she is, whether she’s qualified to provide this information, or whether the information is correct. However, I have no trouble whatsoever reading what she wrote, regardless of how literate I am.

Google has to balance many factors in their search results, and the simple fact is most searchers aren’t looking for comprehensive scientific explanations for most of their problems. They want the most relevant information for their problem in terms they can understand.

It should be noted Google does allow access to these academic sources in other areas of their search, but when writing for the main search page, your content needs to be accessible to your audience. Your average SEO news source can get away with using technical language to an extent, because those reading your information likely already have built a vocabulary for the topic.

However, if you are offering a service or attempting to educate to the general public about your field, you need to use terms they can easily understand without a dictionary and address their needs head-on.

There is still certainly a place for more extensive content. For instance, the Mayo Clinic and WebMD still rank higher than Yahoo Answers for most medical searches, simply because they are more reliable.

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