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Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines have been updated [@SmartInsights Alert]

Author's avatar By Alexander Clark 06 Apr, 2016
Essential Essential topic

Google have released a revised version of their Search Quality Raters Guidelines, 5 months after their first (official) incarnation.

Importance [rating=5] (Webmasters & SEO Consultants)
Recommended Source: Google Quality Rater Guidelines

Google released the very first "official" Search Quality Raters Guidelines back in November 2015 and they have just updated it again. To find out a little more about the first official release, check out the post we wrote.Google Quality Rater Guidelines

It was suggested that Google would continue to update this document periodically, as Mimi Underwood, Senior Programme Manager for Search Growth & Analysis (which is quite the mouthful) stated...

“The guidelines will continue to evolve as search, and how people use it, changes. We won’t be updating the public document with every change, but we will try to publish big changes to the guidelines periodically.”

However, I don't think it was expected to be updated quite as quickly as this. Previous incarnations had been released/leaked every year or so, indicating that would be the case this time around, but the timing of this update indicates "periodically" may be every 5/6 months, rather than every year. Meaning Google may be keen on developing this "transparent" relationship with the SEO community, which had eluded them for so many years before.

What are the Search Quality Guidelines?

In short, it is a document that will help webmasters and people alike, understand what Google looks for in web pages and what it takes to top the search rankings.

They work this out by using Google’s Search Quality Evaluators (third-party people hired by Google via a third-party agency to rate the search results) to measure a site’s Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness, allowing Google to better understand what users want.

Why is it important?

Referring to the previous section, it helps you to understand better what it takes to top the search rankings.

And whilst it doesn’t necessarily define the ranking algorithm, it provides you with an insight into what Google are looking for, which, as an SEO Professional, Webmaster, even Website Designer is invaluable information.

What is new?

This list is by no means exhaustive and I won't be going into incredible depth, however, it'll aim to give you the biggest and most noteworthy changes from the previous version.

What makes a High-Quality Page?

First and foremost I thought I'd start with what makes a high-quality page. Google have made a couple of changes, this time around and stated that...

A High quality page may have the following characteristics:

- High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)

- A satisfying amount of high quality Main Content

- Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website or satisfying customer service information, if the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions

- Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the Main Content on the page.

The most notable change from the earlier incarnations is the removal of Supplementary Content. Previous versions have heavily emphasised the importance of SC, and seeing this removed is somewhat shocking. This lends itself to the thinking that Google are trying to bring the desktop experience more in-line with mobile, as evidenced in the recent removal of Sidebar Ads from the SERPs, as Supplementary Content is rarely seen or used on mobile. Although in terms of SEO SC is no longer viewed as being "valuable", it's still relevant to users, and can increase their experiences, so don't go getting rid of it.

The emphasis is still on Mobile

With more searches coming from Mobile than Desktop, there has been a renewed emphasis on streamlining for Mobile devices.

Again, something being emphasised is how, not being mobile friendly is definitely and indicator of lower quality site. Something, which doesn't really come as a shock, due to the big Mobileaggedon update last year, however the slow roll-out appears to becoming more and more prominent.

Local Search is no longer a thing - Introducing "Visit-in-Person"

Google obviously thought there was too much ambiguity surrounding the term "Local Search" so have removed all instances of it and replaced it with the more descriptive term - "Visit-in-Person".

Google have defined the new term as a...

"query, some of which are looking for a specific business or organization, some of which are looking for a category of businesses"

This re-name, may suggest Google have been looking at this more closely and could see a bit a change in emphasis in coming versions.

Quality is key!

Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (E-A-T), is certainly the order of the day. It's something that was introduced in the last version, and again plays a big part in this one.

Google stated...

"The amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) that a webpage/website has is very important. MC quality and amount, website information, and website reputation all inform the E-A-T of a website."

The main point to highlight, is how Google now view that Videos can provide a very high level E-A-T, which is something they neglected to mention before.

"Ads may contribute to a good user experience".

A new addition to the guide is the above sentence.

In the past, it was very much viewed that a lot of associate ads lowered the quality of a page, but Google have come to the conclusion that may not actually be the case. Jennifer Slegg suggests this may be referring to either the high quality targetted ads - such as ads for slow cookers on a slow cooker recipe or review page or site - or perhaps the non-obtrusive affiliate ads.

Whatever the reasoning, Google have stressed that the presence or absence of these ads bears no impact on the quality rating of a page.

"The presence or absence of Ads is not by itself a reason for a High or Low quality rating. Without advertising and monetization, some webpages could not exist because it costs money to maintain a website and create high quality content."

Does Website Maintenance matter?

Google have actually removed the entire Website Maintenance section, which is quite surprising.

Not for one moment do I think Google are saying maintenance of your site doesn't matter. However, they may be taking emphasis away from it, as there are plenty of examples of sites with content which isn't updated, yet still hosts high quality, relevant content.

If you want even more detail, it would be rude not to point you in the direction of a phenomenal article by Jennifer Slegg, which goes into the minutiae detail of the update.


Author's avatar

By Alexander Clark

A former member of the Smart Insights team, I’m always on the look out to collaborate with the finest minds in Digital Marketing. Currently working at Silverbean, I have a distinctive interest in all things outreach, content, strategy, and measurement. If you’d like to get in touch, you can do so through my LinkedIn or Twitter accounts. When I’m not planning new campaigns and content, I love playing the Bass Guitar and Drums (not necessarily at the same time) also racking up as many hours as possible on Football Manager and the Rugby pitch.

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