After that list of quality tips they published post-first Panda, I got the impression quality MEANT authority, and that authority boiled down to: "A Place We Reckon You Won't Sue Us for Showing You." It appeared they redefined quality from "Colorful Saloon" to "High-Security Courthouse." I think this is because their first search market was perceived as a posse of intrepid pioneers, and the expanded market as a mob of greenhorns.
I use Google still...the only one left in my household who does. Not their regular search. I use the "Verbatim" feature 99 searches out of 100. My home page is set to a one-letter search in verbatim so I can go there quickly, backspace over the default letter, and type. I use quotes in almost all my searches, to boot.
I recall dimly the era when the first couple of pages of regular (non-Verbatim) search results were great, and if I clicked too far into the SERPs, I'd get only spam. This made me confident Google had shown me all the index had for me. I looked forward to the index expanding.
What came, instead, were boring and predictable results on the first few pages. Sometimes I have to admit I want that - I've been "trained up" to thinking of Google as just another way to navigate to big brand sites. But often I don't - in fact, whenever I don't want the big brands, which is, oh, let's be honest, 80% of the time.
So the other day as I was searching using Verbatim, which, though better than regular search, is still like pulling teeth, it gave me a surreal moment when, by clicking in desperation past page 10 (I was out of the habit, assuming I'd still find just spam) I suddenly got a flood of interesting results - like an underground railroad of small mom-'n-pop sites. The kinds of sites I'd been looking for with my search. I don't know where they came from - they weren't there a year ago. So I was happy for a while, back in search-for-discovery mode, before it occurred to me that it was a very small step forward. I still had to use obscure terms in quotes in Verbatim...it's just that now I was able to reach in deeper and pull something up. And I'm not sure those sites will stay visible, even at page 10, 15, 20. So it's "save page" for me, just in case...
Which, back to topic, says to me that, although I concede it's possible Google deliberately gave me what I want, if, oddly, deeper in the SERPs, I do think it was pure luck. I have minimal confidence today in Google's AI ability to read my mind as to what websites I trust or find valuable. To me, they've become, instead, the Keeper of the Index, and they're being stingy with it right now...from both of my perspectives: a hungry searcher and a hungry content creator.