A few weeks ago, Google has published their official Search Result Quality Rating Guidelines instructing their human raters on how to evaluate Google SERPs.
The guidelines provide lots of insight into how Google defines quality and what they mean their algorithm to understand.
I asked fellow marketers and bloggers to provide their main take-away from the guidelines and here are the answers:
Quality is Equivalent to the Average User's Judgment of Quality
My main takeaway is that Google is looking for pages that help searchers, exactly as it has always said. Quality is basically equivalent to the average user's judgment of quality.
Yes, that is still vague, but we all know a low quality site when we see one. Similarly we all know a high quality one. We might differ in the details, but if we are talking about general perception I think most people will agree.
Keep Your Content Fresh
Google's Quality Rating Guidelines are a reminder for small business, especially e-commerce, to keep their content fresh. The Guidelines give special attention to freshness as a measure of its "High Needs Met" (HNM) ratings.
Page 141 of the report tells us,
"For these queries, pages about past events, old product models and prices, outdated information, etc. are not helpful. They should be considered “stale” and given low Needs Met ratings. In some cases, stale results are useless and should be rated FailsM."
If you are providing product information, make sure it it is well maintained with current data. This should include a review of the on-page SEO factors such as buzz keywords and relevant trends. You can also add value and improve your score in this area by adding fresh content surrounding product updates and new releases by a well maintained blog on your site.
For E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness) websites, (which might include technology blogs or tutorial sites, for example), the freshness scale is less important since a fair amount of content in this field does not change (Think software tutorials or a first aid procedure). But business should still take advantage of the freshness factor and aim for a High Needs Met Rating by updating, improving and adding value to existing, static content from time to time.
YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) Sites Are Held to Higher Standards
According to the guidelines, Evaluators hold YMYL sites to higher standards.
YMYL is short for Your Money or Your Life sites and include medical, financial, health, safety, sites that require personal identification, provide advice on major life issues, even ecommerce sites that sell expensive products or products that have major life implications:
- Online banking pages
- Pages that provide info on investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchase, buying insurance, etc.
- Pages that provide info on health, drugs, diseases, mental health, nutrition, etc.
- Pages that provide legal advice on divorce, child custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
- There are many other web pages that fall under YMYL at the discretion of the Evaluator.
When an Evaluator identifies a YMYL site, they will research its reputation:
- Does the site have a satisfying amount of high quality main content?
- Does the site have a high level of authoritativeness, expertise or trustworthiness?
- Does the site have a positive reputation?
- Does the site have helpful supplementary content?
- Does the site have a functional page design?
- Is the site a well-cared for and maintained website?
YMYL sites must convince Google Evaluators that they possess a healthy level of credibility and online reputation.
Google Strives to Identify "Main Content" on a Web Page
I thought one of the big takeaways for me was Google's emphasis on "main content." Google was clear in instructing raters that they should be on the lookout for, and actively encouraged to, downgrade pages that have a hard time distinguishing main content from ads or other distractions on the page.
To me this is all about user experience and Google's continual desire to make sure their index provides preference to site pages that have a clear separation between advertising and content. Quality raters are encouraged to provide a less than helpful rating on pages where the lines between this separation is blurred. And that, to me, provides a great benefit to users.
Google Does Rely on Humans for Algorithm Evaluation
David Waterman (SEO Rock Star)
Having worked in the SEO industry for over 10 years, the release of the latest Google Quality Rating Guidelines is yet another reminder that Google doesn't rely 100% on bots and algorithms to determine quality online content.
It layers on a human component to ensure the results Google provides are quality and match the true intent of the search query.
Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly
The biggest takeaway for me was to make your site mobile friendly if it isn’t already. A large proportion of the guidelines was focused around mobile and it is clear Google now views this as a sign of a quality website.
If this is the case, it means that anyone producing amazing content on a site which is not mobile friendly is going to be viewed as low quality. This should be avoided at all costs.
Google Wants to "Think" Like Human Beings Do
"Quality" and "relevancy".
It just couldn't be simpler than that.
That's what users are searching for when they use a search engine like Google. That's what Google wants to offer its users.
Google aims at thinking more and more like a human being so that it may "understand", "feel" and "see" what a user understands, feels and sees when he / she visits a website suggested by a Google search.
And what are people looking for? Quality relevant sites or web pages.
Put Your Users First
Put your users first and foremost.
- Write high-quality, in-depth, well-researched articles.
- Write for users. Optimize for search engines.
- Provide helpful navigation-think breadcrumbs.
- Invest in clutter-free, User-friendly, mobile-friendly design.
- Display your address and contact information clearly.
- Create and maintain a positive reputation. Content won't save you if you send hitmen after your customers (true story!).
Expert Content will be Rewarded Irrelevant of the Domain Authority
From what I can gather, one of the main takeaways is that we're coming increasingly closer to a point where quality, expert content will be rewarded irrelevant of the domain authority of a website.
It seems the algo is coming increasingly intelligent and capable of determining the best content, so those that put the effort in sharing details and info will be rewarded. Personally, we're probably still a while away from this as an absolute, but from the look of the guidelines things are going that way.
The Fundamental Principles Are The Same: Provide Quality, Put the User First…
There's really nothing new here, it's very similar to the guidelines leaked (supposedly unofficially!) in 2008, and a few times since. The overall message is the same as it always was – you need to build sites with original, quality content that provides real value to the searcher.
They have defined a quantitative process for assessing this, including Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness, and how well it meets the searcher's needs. The process is interesting, but not revolutionary, it's simply a formal definition of what we all understood anyway
Many people will flock to this document, in the hope it will give some insights into how to 'game' the system, which of course it won't! Although the general principles of the guidelines will be familiar to anybody involved in SEO, it's still well worth a read, just to make sure there aren't any key areas you have missed in your own site. It will show you how to view your site through the eyes of a Google rater, and more importantly, through the eyes of a user.
The Emphasis is on the Quality
It's clear that Google prefers information posted by a human rather than machine generated information to evaluate quality. They also place more emphasis on relevant indicators such as time spent on the website etc. and customer reviews. Again, the emphasis here is on content of the reviews and not the number of reviews.
And what’s your main take-away?
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