Google’s John Mueller answered a question about what to do with low traffic pages that have poor search visibility and traffic. He acknowledged that there could be quality issues but also noted that low traffic in itself is not mean the pages themselves are low quality.
John Mueller offered solutions to the problem of low traffic web pages.
What to Do About Low Traffic Pages?
The person asking the question was concerned about hundreds of thousands of web pages that are indexed but have minimal search visibility.
He communicated that perhaps these pages lacked authority and asked if he should de-index the pages or canonicalize them because he was concerned about the website’s quality score.
How does Google Treat Low Traffic Pages in Terms of Quality?
This is the question asked:
“We have a site that has a hub and spoke architecture.
A hub page might be Eric Clapton and the spokes are what guitars he uses, and each of those pages are relatively small.
The value from them is from embedded videos or pictures with relatively little unique font content.
Over time those pages have become the majority of our indexed pages, with well over a hundred thousand.
But only a third of those are getting traffic through search.
In the past I’ve heard you say that to affect your website’s quality score, we were considering de-indexing those pages …the pages that are not getting traffic…
However, we were also considering canonicalizing these.
So I was curious how Google would treat that from a quality score perspective.”
Google Does Not Have a Quality Score for Organic Search
Many in the search industry and Google discuss site quality. Web pages, groups of web pages and entire websites can be judged to be of low quality.
But Google does not have a “quality score” for the organic search results. John Mueller affirmed this important point.
Google’s John Mueller first addressed the issue of the quality score by noting that Google does not give sites a quality score.
“We don’t really have a quality score, in that sense.
I think that’s something that comes from the ad side.
So that’s one thing to keep in mind there.”
How to Deal with Low Quality Web Pages
Mueller next discussed the different approaches to dealing with pages that have low search visibility.
John Mueller continued:
“I think there are multiple things to think about here.
On the one hand, I would consider taking some action if you feel that these pages are low quality.
Taking action could be something like removing those pages, improving those pages, combining those kinds of pages together.
Anything along those lines could be something that you could do if these are low quality pages.”
Low Traffic is Not a Signal of Low Quality
John Mueller next offered the insight that low search visibility is not a symptom of low quality.
The question of low quality is a good one so it’s always useful to hear what John Mueller or any other Googler has to say about this issue of page and site quality.
Mueller offered the following insights:
“If these are pages that tend not to get a lot of traffic but they’re actually useful on their own then I wouldn’t necessarily see them as low quality. That’s one thing to keep in mind.
On some websites, pages that get low traffic are often almost like correlated with low quality as well but that doesn’t have to be the case.
On other websites it might must just be that a lot of traffic goes to the head pages and the tail pages are just as useful but they’re useful for a much smaller audience.
So they get barely any traffic.
From our point of view, those websites are still useful and it’s still high quality.
I wouldn’t remove it just because it doesn’t get traffic.”
How to Fix Low Quality Pages at Scale
Mueller next discusses the difficult issue of dealing with low quality pages at scale in terms of hundreds of thousands of pages.
Mueller offered these suggestions:
“With regards to the different kinds of approaches there, when I ask the search quality teams about this, usually they say well you should just improve the quality of your pages. which kind of makes sense…
But at the same time if you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of pages that’s really hard to do at scale.
So sometimes people do opt for removing the pages or combining the pages.
The thing to keep in mind with using a canonical to combine pages is that we only take into account the canonical page then.
So if you have one page for example about Eric Clapton’s guitars and another page about Eric Clapton’s shoes, and you say that the guitar page is the canonical for the shoes page then we wouldn’t have that shoe page or any of its content in our index anymore. We would essentially just focus on the guitars.
So if someone were searching for Eric Clapton shoes, they wouldn’t be able to find those pages at all.
So that’s (kind of) with the different approaches, something to keep in mind, so that in a case like that, what I would do is take the content from the page that you want to kind of remove or clean up and include that into kind of a bigger page and make that bigger page stronger.
And by that you’re also making sure that you still have that content indexable somewhere.”
Identifying Quality Issues and Traffic Issues
In a way, this question was really about two topics.
One topic was about content quality. The other concern was search traffic.
If one decouples the issue of “quality” from the concern about pages lacking search traffic, then the answer to the question of what do with the pages becomes a little clearer.
The question becomes, “What can I do to make these pages perform better in search?”
Google’s John Mueller suggested combining the pages to make stronger pages out of hundreds of weaker pages, if the content itself is useful.
But of course, if the content is inherent useless, it’s possible to rewrite it to make it more useful, get rid of it or redirect it to a page that has a similar topic but is better.
Pages with Low Traffic Aren’t Always Low Quality
Watch John Mueller answer the question at the 40 second mark:
How to Write For Google
Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?
I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.”
I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.
As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story.
I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.
Items to review before you start your SEO writing project
– Do you have enough information about your target reader?
Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions.
Here’s more information on customer personas.
– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?
It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.
Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today.
– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources
When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.
– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?
Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.
– Did you conduct keyphrase research?
Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.
Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.
If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.
– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?
Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.
– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?
Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!
Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.
— Do your keyphrases match the search intent?
Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position.
— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?
Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”
– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?
Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.
As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.
– Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?
Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power.
Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential.
– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?
Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!
– Is your content written in a conversational style?
With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.
Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.
Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.
–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?
A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.
Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.
Items to review after you’ve written the page
– Did you use too many keyphrases?
Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.
– Did you edit your content?
Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.
– Is the content interesting to read?
Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.
– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?
Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.
Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.
– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?
“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals.
Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.
– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?
Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.
Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.
– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?
If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.
Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.
– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?
What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.
Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.
– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)
Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.
– Does the page include too many choices?
It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.
– Did you include benefit statements?
People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.
– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?
It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.
Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful.
And finally — the most important question:
– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?
SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics?
If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job.
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