Perhaps you've just launched a site that's loaded with fabulous content, but you don't have a lot of links to your site or individual articles yet. Or perhaps your site has a decent amount of links, but a brand new piece of content you believe is of great quality hasn't gotten any links yet.
But how does Google determine that content is quality, when there aren't many links pointing to it? Or how is it determined that the content is spammy or thin, when there are a lot of links pointing to it? That's the topic of the latest webmaster help video from Google's Matt Cutts.
"In general that sort of reverts back to the way search engines were before links," Cutts said. "You're pretty much judging based on the text on the page at that point. So Google has a lot of stuff to sort of say the first time we see the word on the page count a little more, the next time a little more, but not a ton more, and then after a while we say we've seen this word, maybe this page is about this topic."
Cutts does caution about something many SEO novices do: overusing their chosen or best keyword so many times that it crosses the line into being keyword stuffing. Because keyword stuffing is one of the oldest SEO tricks in the book, and something that hasn't worked well for at least 10 years, Google is pretty good about figuring out where that line is between normal keyword usage and keyword stuffing.
"It doesn't really help you to keep repeating that keyword over and over and over again," Cutts said. "And at some point we might view that as keyword stuffing and then the page would actually do less well, not as well as just a moderate number of mentions of a particular piece of text."
Cutts said Google has different ways to try to determine the quality, context, and ranking of the page, even without the links. For example, Google might look at whether the content sits on a "somewhat reputable" domain.
"But typically if you go back to a user is typing possibly some really rare phrase, if there's no other pages on the web that have that particular phrase, even if there's not that many links, then that page can be returned because we think it might be relevant or might be topical to what the user is looking for," Cutts said.
So Google can rank content based on other clues such as the quality of previous content on the domain, as well as the particular search phrase someone is looking for, especially if it's something unique or not found on many pages.
Of course, getting links to any content is always a good thing, and will help assert its authority to Google when they are ranking, particularly for search phrases that are more common and more competitive.