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Google’s new Search Quality Guidelines

A must-read for anyone responsible for SEO or Content Marketing

Importance: For all Webmasters, SEO Consultants, Content Producers and Web Designers

Recommended link: Google's new Search Quality Rating Guideline

Yesterday (November 19th 2015), we saw the release of an updated ‘full’ 160(!) page version of the Search Quality Rating Guidelines. Here's a sample:

Google Search Quality Guidelides - November 2015With the adoption of Mobile Devices influencing the search landscape more and more, Google have decided to update its guidelines for Search Quality Raters.

This is big news since Google used to previously to keep these 'behind closed doors', but occasionally one would escape into the wild and be dissected. Back in 2013 Google published an abridged version as they looked to “provide transparency on how Google works” after previous leaks of the document in 2008, 2011 and 2012, then in 2014. However, as the use of mobile has rocketed, the need for a “Major” revision of the guidelines was deemed a necessity.

Although this is the full version, this is not the definitive version. Mimi Underwood, Senior Program Manager for Search Growth & Analysis 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.”

So, if you work in search we suggest you download a copy now before people change their mind.

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 back to the ‘What is it?’ 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.

How is it structured?

If you’ve read previous incarnations (excluding those who have had a peek at the leaked 2014 version) you’ll see a completely new structure, which has been rewritten from the ground up.

Looking at the monstrous contents page, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, however it’s relatively simple to follow. The first section is the General Guidelines Overview (Pages 4-6), highlighting topics such as the purpose of Search Quality rating, Browser requirements, Ad Blocking extensions, Internet Safety etc.

This is followed by the Page Quality Rating Guidelines (Pages 7-65), which discusses at great detail what Page Quality entails, providing examples of High Expertise, Authority and Trustworthy pages along with the middle tier and lowest tiers. Something interesting about this section is the Your Money or Your Life (YMYL), which discusses pages that could “potentially impact the future happiness, health, or wealth of users”.

The next section looks at Understanding Mobile User Needs (pages 67-86), there is a large emphasis on this part of the report as it is one of the key reasons behind the update. This Brand new section highlights the multiple issues that cause trouble on websites when viewed on a mobile device.

Another new section is the Needs Met Rating Guideline (87-149), which is one of the new ratings for webmasters to determine the quality of the site. It refers to mobile searcher’s needs and questions “how helpful and satisfying the result is for the mobile user?”.

The final section discusses Using the Evaluation platform for the Google Search Quality Evaluators (pages 152-158). It shows the process the Evaluators had to undergo, whilst reporting to google.

Recommended sections

Here's our analysis of the sections of the parts I felt were critical to read - there's a lot, and you may think differently!

The sections recommended in the Page Quality Rating (pages 7-65) are:

  • 2.2 What is the purpose of a Webpage? (page 8)
  • 2.3 Your Money Your Life (page 9)
  • 2.6 Website Maintenance (page 15)
  • 2.7 Website Reputation (page 16)
  • 3.0 Overall Page Quality Rating Scale (page 19)
  • 5.0 High-Quality Pages (page 19-23)
  • 7.0 Page Quality Rating: Important Considerations (page 58-59)
  • 11.0 Page Quality Rating FAQs (page 65)

The entire Mobile User Needs (pages 67-86) is worth a scan at the very least.

Needs Met Rating (pages 87-149).

  • 13.0 Rating Using the Needs Met Scale (page 87)
  • 13.1 Rating Result Blocks: Block Content and Landing Pages (page 87)
  • 13.2 Fully Meets (FullyM) (page 90)
  • 13.4 Moderately Meets (MM) (page 107)
  • 13.6 Fails to Meet (FailsM) (page 112)
  • 14.6 Hard to Use Flag (page 127)
  • 15.0 The Relationship between E-A-T and Needs Met (page 130)
  • 18.0 Needs Met Rating and Freshness (page 141)
  • 19.0 Misspelled and Mistyped Queries and Results (page 143)
  • 20.0 Non-fully Meets Results for URL Queries (page 146)
  • 21.0 Product Queries: Action (Do) vs Information (Know) Intent (page 148)
  • 22.0 Rating Visit-in-Person Intent Queries (page 149)

For a more of an in-depth overview, check out Jennifer Slegg’s post at thesempost.

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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