Where Are You Placed On The Quality Curve?

Techcrunch is publishing a rumour that Yahoo might be looking to sell off Yahoo Answers.

"Yahoo Answers, which was launched in late 2005, is a staggeringly huge site. Recent Comscore stats say the service attracts nearly 150 million monthly visitors worldwide and generates 1.3 billion monthly page views. That's 67% unique visitor growth in the last year. Yahoo as a whole, though, has nearly 100 billion monthly page views, so it isn't a material percentage of total Yahoo traffic"

Nice traffic, however Yahoo Answers is full of junk content. There are now numerous competitors in the Q&A space.

If you're first mover, as Yahoo was, you can get away with low quality content, but as competition increases, the quality must also increase in order to keep people hooked. Whilst hugely successful in terms of traffic numbers, Yahoo Answers now must to respond to increasing competition. With rumours of a sale, it looks like Yahoo may instead be refocusing their efforts on their core business.

This is an example of the "curve to quality" pattern. First movers can get away with junk content for a while, but eventually competitors will up the quality and gain audience share as a result. This reinforces the need to adapt business models in light of competition, and the need to avoid commodity status.

We can see the same curve to quality pattern in the blog world.

Jackob Neilsen was advising a world leader in his field on what to do about his website. The guy wanted to know if he should start a blog.

Neilsens answer was no, and here's why:

"Blog postings will always be commodity content: there's a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else's work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they're definitely easy to write. But they don't build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you're searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant."

Also check out the graph "variability of posting quality" in Nielsen's post.

I suspect Nielsen is on the right track. Blog traffic is reportedly at an all time high, but they still only accounts for 0.73% of US traffic. Perhaps as the quality of the average blog increases, so to will the audience share.

Due to the pressure of competition, low quality content eventually becomes commodity.

Do you read mee-too search blogs? Not many people do. Most people gravitate towards the blogs that offer the highest perceived level of quality, as opposed to those that repeat the same news found elsewhere. Mee-too content is no longer an effective strategy in the blog world, or the newspaper world, as syndicated news services are finding out. There is simply too much competition.

There are other reasons why you might want to focus on quality as a strategy.

Google will always try to filter out low quality, commodity content in order to heighten user experience. Google approaches this problem in a number of ways.

In the remote quality rater document, Google lists a range of categories raters can attribute to web content. One category is "Not Relevant". This category applies to "news items that appear outdated" and "lower quality pages about the topic". Obviously, "lower quality" is a relative term and the comparison would be made between competing SERP results. Pages categorised as "Not Relevant" will receive lower SERP placement.

Also consider the notion of poison words. Posion words are words the search engines equate with content of low quality. If, just for example, forum content is found to frequently be of low quality, then it is reasonable to assume Google will look for markers that the site is a forum and mark this content down as a result. Markers might include a link back to a popular forum software script, for example.

This metric would not be taken in isolation as there are various other quality markers Google use. However, if the content is low quality and appears in a low quality format, you stand less chance of ranking for competitive queries.

The same might apply to commercial content, especially such content that appears in non-commercial query results.

Google's business model involves advertisers paying for clicks in the form of Adwords. The main SERPs are essentially a loss leader that facilitate people clicking on text advertisements. The main SERPs are the reason people use Google.

Such a business model would be supported by an algorithm that rewarded quality, informative content in the main SERPs. It could operate by downgrading any content deemed as purely commercial, and this would involve looking for commercially-oriented poison words. Posion words in this context might include "Buy Now", "Business Address", and other variants unique to commercial content. This would "encourage" those with commercial messages to list with Adwords because they would have trouble appearing in the main SERPs. It is unlikely such an algorithmn would apply to commercial queries, however.

Google filters in this way because there is much competition for keyword queries. Google looks to find the best answer. The answer of highest quality, both in terms of relevance and searcher satisfaction. As competition increases, the answers will get better, which is why you must aim to stay high on the quality curve.

Published: September 28, 2008 by A Reader in marketing


September 29, 2008 - 7:22pm

just as a sidenote, i have found Yahoo Answers to be quite helpful and not full of junk, and when I have asked questions almost always get answers I needed (although, i don't really go browsing through the questions. Just asking them... )

Paul Edmondson
September 29, 2008 - 11:18pm

I think that competing on quality content is ultimately a very good thing. For sites like Yahoo Answers, they will have a diverse mix of good content to spam. Domain level trust doesn't work well for these types of sites if the bad content pulls down the good. If this is the case, they will have to ratchet up the quality or they'll lose the whole ship.

September 30, 2008 - 9:00am

"If, just for example, forum content is found to frequently be of low quality, then it is reasonable to assume Google will look for markers that the site is a forum and mark this content down as a result."

Not sure, forum content is EVERYWHERE in serps, for informational stuff at least.

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