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12 Characteristics of Poor-Quality Sites

Poor-Quality Sites

How do you differentiate between a good quality site and a poor quality site? Well, the problem is, poor quality sites don’t advertise themselves as poor quality sites rather they try to promote themselves as an authority on the subject. Here are some telltale signs that you need to look for if you are to weed out poor quality sites.

How to Determine ‘Quality’?

Google looks for ways to identify the relative quality of sites, and to quantify those quality elements. This approach derived from its algorithmic history, combined with its long-term dedication to positive user-experience. Each element of user-experience involving conducting searches, using search results, and visiting websites are things that Google attempts to automatically detect and measure. Any quantifiable criteria can be used in composing a quality score for a website.

For instance, website visitors get irked when arriving on a website only to have to wait for pages to compose and display in their browsers. Knowing this, Google added Site Speed as a ranking factor — see Google’s blog post on that topic — in 2010. This enabled Google to use the average page delivery speed on a site to influence rankings — two otherwise equivalent web pages matching a search query might be ranked according to which site is quicker.

Panda and Penguin

In the last few years, Google has made strikingly aggressive moves against low-quality sites. These algorithm changes are called the “Panda Updates” and “Penguin Updates.” Panda and Penguin were based upon content analysis and link analysis, although we don’t know all the details of what went into it. Even so, we could see some hints in a very telling post on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, entitled “More guidance on building high-quality sites.” The post provides indications of the sorts of stuff that Google is paying attention to, even though it doesn’t cover the full scope of factors that go into its recent algorithm changes.

I’ve personally reviewed thousands of the types of sites that Google deems “low-quality,” and there are a number of measurable factors that come up again and again — the sorts of factors that Google would almost certainly be using in composing quality scores.

The unfortunate thing is that companies every day are building valid business sites that mimic many of the bad characteristics of low-quality sites for which Google is policing. This is a very bad situation — particularly for newer sites — since having some negative dings against your quality score can impede your ability to rank as high or higher than your competition. It can even result in outright penalization where your site simply doesn’t appear for the searches you need visibility in most.

In this article, I’m supplying you with a list of some of the elements that are frequently signs of good-quality sites when present, or indications of bad-quality sites when missing. Businesses often have reasons for leaving out content on their sites, and since the quality score is a scale of values, having some elements missing might not harm your rankings discernibly, or it could have a minor effect. If all your competitor sites are similarly badly designed, you might all be equally impeded in the search results — in which case, improving your quality score could enable you to suddenly rise further above the crowd.

12 Characteristics of Poor-Quality Sites

Missing a human face

Internet users often look to see who’s behind an unfamiliar site, since there are valid fears of the cheapie sites that are set up as mere facades to cheat consumers. Actually being able to see that a site has a real human behind the business makes it immediately more trustworthy, and very likely makes it a site with a better conversion rate. So, at least list the names of the owners or main executives that oversee the business on the information pages. Even better, provide a profile page for each major owner, executive, and employee — connected up with LinkedIn profiles, blogs if they have them, and Twitter pages.

Missing “About Us” pages

Quite similar to the first element of missing a human face, poor-quality sites often don’t put up an “About” page to tell how the company came to be, what the company does, and who is behind the company. Bona fide company websites sometimes leave this out, assuming they only need to focus on the main meat of what they’re doing and selling. But this is a critical mistake. Your company site should have an About page, and it should clearly convince readers that your company is real, has a history, and has good trustworthy people behind it.

Missing or malfunctioning “Contact Us” pages

Business sites with no Contact page are often shams, assembled to manipulate Google or to cheat consumers in some way. However, you wouldn’t believe the numbers of real businesses that (a) forget to put up a Contact page, (b) don’t realize a site change moved the Contact page so it now just displays an error page, or (c) they don’t realize that their Contact submission forms are broken. Any of these situations could make your site look like one of the bad guys. Make sure you have a Contact page, label it “Contact — not some other weird or funny name — and make sure it works by testing it periodically.

Declining to display a street address

Even sites that opt to display a Contact page often will only post a submission form and won’t offer alternate means of contacting the company. Consumers fear sending money to a fly-by-night outfit that might disappear tomorrow, leaving them with no recourse. If you’re a real company, consider placing a real address on your site in at least one place — mainly on the “Contact Us” page. It’s fine to state it’s for mail inquiries only. If you leave it off, it makes consumers wonder what it is you have to hide.

No “Terms & Conditions” page

This is really for larger companies and larger websites, but all sites should include one. Spammer sites don’t have this, because they’re often breaking laws and subconsciously expect people visiting their sites to be breaking laws as well. They just don’t care. But, Google’s algorithms do care, if you’re a large site with hundreds of pages, so include one to fit in with the respectable sites.

Nonexistent “Privacy Policy” page

This is the same deal as with the lack of Terms & Conditions pages. But, it’s perhaps even more important since consumers want to know what you’re doing with their data when they land on your site or attempt to contact you. Don’t make them guess.

Hidden domain registration information associated with the URL

If you want to go for a trifecta of worst practices for appearing open, transparent and trustworthy, decline to (a) provide a phone and address, (b) Contact page, and (c) make your domain registration information private. There are many valid reasons why you might not show one of those elements. But if you do all three at once, you just smack of being an untrustworthy site, and you nearly deserve to be smacked by Google for it.

Offering or encouraging link exchanges

It used to be more common for sites to include a “Link To Us” page, but, depending on the text you have on such a page, having one could get you penalized. Never offer to link if someone else gives you a link, never offer to sell links on your page, and never mention manipulating Google, ranking in search results, or SEO if you have a “Link To Us” page. Thousands and perhaps millions of the spam websites have variations on this, and it’s easy to detect if you have text on your pages that propose using links for manipulating search results.

Posting radically unrelated content on the site

Did someone talk you into trying to be a lot more than your site or company was meant to be? Some sites drag in news headlines and syndicated articles willy-nilly, regardless of how inappropriate the topic might be. If your site is displaying a lot of off-topic content, you’ve gone too far and need to chop it down to focus on reasonable content.

Failure to post a phone number

Just as with the failure to provide a Contact page or address, leaving the phone number off is a major mistake. Why be afraid of letting people speak to you? Again, leaving this off will raise a red flag in consumers’ minds, leaving them to ask, “What might this site or company be hiding?”

Bad spelling and grammar

Many do-it-yourselfers are saving money by building their own websites. Unfortunately, this can result in mistakes that impact the impression the site may have on visitors. Google’s guidance on building high-quality sites underscored this very thing, proving that Google is interested in these criteria. It makes sense if you’ve seen many of the low-quality sites — a great many of them have been built by non-English speakers that often has text and grammar deficiencies. Even beyond the poor impression it can make, I’ve audited client sites with misspelled product or service names, causing them to lose out on significant amounts of internet traffic as their pages were not exact-match relevant to the majority of searches. So, if you’re writing your own text, ask someone to proof it for you to catch stuff that you might otherwise miss.

Copyright statements

Scraper sites are often stealing content from upstanding sites, so they don’t have any respect for copyright laws. As such, they typically leave such niceties off of their page footers. However, almost no authoritative sites leave this off. Even if you are casual about whether people take and use content from your site, you might consider adding on a copyright statement on all of your site’s pages, just to make it clear that you consider your site to be high quality, worthwhile content.

These elements are all things that Google’s spiders can see, and they’re easily items that indicate that a site might be suspect, or a bad player.


Make sure your site doesn’t accidentally send the wrong signals to Google — follow best practices in providing information that consumers look for when determining the trustworthiness of a website and the company behind it. This not only will reassure potential customers, improving your conversion rate once people discover your website, but it might also help you in your search engine rankings.

Last modified: March 9, 2021