Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines
Towards the end of 2015, Google surprised and delighted SEO practitioners the world over by releasing their Search Quality Raters Guidelines, which revealed much more detailed information about what Google is looking for when they index apps and websites than what was previously available. These guidelines are given to the Googlers who manually evaluate Google’s search results.
These individuals play a very important role in the Google ecosystem because they give Google feedback on the search results that their algorithm is producing. From there, Google’s engineers make adjustments to improve the quality of their search results because the quality of the user experience is of prime importance to Google’s mission. It should be noted, however, that the Search Quality Raters do not vote on or rank individual web pages but rather the search engine results themselves.
So how will having access to these guidelines help SEO professionals? The guidelines delineate exactly how Google determines a website’s quality score. For example, the guidelines state that “Good search engines give results that are helpful for users in their specific language and locale.”
The primary purpose of Google’s search results is, after all, to provide relevant results to their users. Therefore, the “test users” must mirror the user’s language, location, and intent as closely as possible when they are testing the search results. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most important factors that Google considers when rating a website’s quality.
Page Quality Rating is ranked as a sliding scale ranging from Lowest —> Low —> Medium —> High —> Highest. Furthermore, Google divides websites into two distinct categories: regular pages and YMYL (“Your Money Your Life”) pages, which relate to topics like mental and physical health, financial wellbeing, etc. Because of the outsize impact that these topics can have on a person’s life, pages that address these topics must hold up to even more rigorous standards than regular pages.
How can a website achieve that “High Quality” rating? It must fit at least one of the following benchmarks:
- It has to have a good amount of Main Content about its chosen subject
- The writer of the website has a reputation for being “expert, authority, and trustworthy” in their field
- The website and/or the writer must have an established reputation in the topic
- The website’s supplemental content provides an exemplary user experience
- The site’s design functions properly on all devices
- The content and design of the website are up-to-date and easily navigable
Now, let’s examine these criteria in more detail.
Quality of Main Content
- Does the website actually provide helpful information to the user? This may take several different forms, including but not limited to: sharing opinions, information, or media; providing entertainment; and/or selling goods or services.
- The caliber of the site’s Main Content is one of the most crucial qualities that influence the pages’s overall quality rating. Basically, the more human attention that a page/site has received, the better.
Ways to tank your page’s quality rating:
- Keyword stuffing
- Copying content from somewhere else without bringing any new expertise or information
- Having a site so vague that Google cannot determine what your Main Content is
- Providing Main Content that is of little use to anyone
- Auto-generating your content
- Not putting enough effort, time, or subject proficiency into your Main Content
The bottom line when it comes to Main Content is: if you’re trying to trick or abuse your users, you will be discovered and you will be punished.
A Reputation for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness
- Though of course the standards for who qualifies as an “expert” vary according to the category (for example, cardiology vs. board games), Google generally likes to see that the author of a site is known for being knowledgable and trustworthy in their field.
- The reputation of a website is determined by both the opinions of subject matter experts and user experiences, along with other sources like Better Business Bureau reviews, blog posts, news articles, recommendations, awards, and other reviews.
- This factor can make or break a website’s quality rating – without a good digital reputation, attaining a “High Quality” rating will be nearly impossible.
- Supplemental content is not used to ascertain the Main Content (or subject) of the page.
- It can include elements like sidebar content, links to relevant content (whether on- or off-site), etc.
- Supplemental content can help your site’s quality rating if it has relevancy for the user.
- You can harm your quality rating if your site has annoying ads or supplementary content that detracts from the main purpose of the site
Functional Web Design
- “Functional” web design, according to Google, is design that makes good use of space, is well-organized, and helps the overall purpose of the site.
- Does the website have a “Contact Us” page? Is the creator or administrator of the site readily identifiable?
- Whether a page is “pretty” or not does not matter.
- You can tell where the ads are, and they are not intrusive.
- Most importantly, you can find and digest the Main Content easily.
What gives a website a “Low” rating when it comes to web design?Terrible content or not enough content
- Irritating ads/too many ads/ads that interfere with the page navigation
- A negative reputation
- Content written by someone who isn’t credible in their chosen field
- Not maintaining your website – you can’t just “set it and forget it” (more on that below)
- For YMYL sites, you can be penalized for not providing enough information about who you are, how customer service can be contacted, or how you can be contacted.
- Websites need to be updated on a basis that is appropriate to the content of the site.
- Broken links, outdated content, etc. are very detrimental to a site’s quality rating.
The guidelines also address the mobile search sphere, where sites are graded on a Needs Met Ratings scale consisting of Fully Meets > Highly Meets > Moderately Meets > Slightly Meets > Fails to Meet.
The different ratings on the Needs Met Ratings scale can be defined as follows:
- Fully Meets – will satisfy nearly all mobile users.
- Highly Meets – should satisfy most users.
- Moderately Meets – many users will be satisfied.
- Slightly Meets – might satisfy a few people. Vaguely relevant to the user’s search query.
- Fails to Meet – totally unrelated to the search query, and therefore a true failure.
When working on a website’s SEO, it is always helpful to keep the original user intent in mind. There are four essential reasons why people perform online searches:
1- To find out more about a particular subject, either broadly (“Know” searches – for example, “the Supreme Court”) or specifically (“Know Simple” searches – for example, “What was Marbury v. Madison?”)
2- To accomplish a goal, like buying a product, downloading something, being entertained, etc.
3- To find a particular website
4- To find out specific information about a business that they plan to visit in person
What can SEO practitioners learn and implement from these guidelines?
- Quality content is critical to success.
- Make sure that your website represents being expert, authoritative, and trustworthy on its subject.
- Do everything you can to ensure that your on- and offline reputation is solidly positive.
- Your website needs to be functional and simple to use.
- If you’re working on a YMYL page, keep in mind that your site will be judged more critically than “regular” sites.
- Good supplemental content is important.
- It’s fine to have ads on your website – just don’t be obnoxious about it.
- Your website needs to be responsive on all devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
- Keep spam comments off your page.
- If you can get your customers to write you positive reviews, that’s ideal.
- Broken links are a quality rating killer.
- Your contact info needs to be readily available on your website.
- You need to keep your site’s content fresh and up-to-date.
- If there are certain questions that users frequently ask, answer them early on so you can help the users. Plus, using structured data markup will help your quality rating as well.
The release of these guidelines is an incredible boon for the SEO professional community. Use these guidelines when creating the content and functions of your website, and you will set yourself up for victory in the competitive SEO field and in the area of user experience.