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On November 12, Google released a 160-page PDF on its Search Quality Guidelines. The guide is for Search Quality Evaluators—i.e. the people who help test the algorithms that rule the search kingdom. While every search marketer’s dream would be to get their hands on the algorithm, this is the next best thing.
What you’ll find below is a no-nonsense, easy-to-digest, TLDR summary of the guidelines, translated into quick wins for your next SEO campaign.
Step 1 for a Google Search Quality Rater: Categorization of Web Pages
A rating task for raters consist of a URL and a series of questions. The goal is to determine how well a page achieves its purpose, so a major step is to categorize what the purpose of the page is. Google notes that they don’t categorize one purpose to be more “useful” than others. For example, “an encyclopedia page isn’t necessarily higher quality than humor pages.”
Some examples of common helpful page purposes Google gives include:
- To share information about a topic
- To share personal or social information
- To share pictures, videos, or other forms of media
- To express an opinion or point of view
- To entertain
- To sell products or services
- To allow users to post questions for other users to answer
- To allow users to share files or to download software
♦ BLUE CORONA QUICK WIN: Make sure your pages have clear purposes.
Your Money, Your Life pages
Google asks its raters to classify some pages differently. These are categorized as pages that could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or wealth of users. The following are YMYL pages:
- Shopping or financial transaction pages: webpages to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills, etc. online.
- Financial information pages: webpages which provide advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchase, paying for college, buying insurance, etc.
- Medical information pages: webpages which provide advice or information about health, drugs, specific diseases or conditions, mental health, nutrition, etc.
- Legal information pages: webpages which provide legal advice or information on topics such as divorce, child custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
These pages have very high PQ standards because they could affect a person’s life.
♦ BLUE CORONA QUICK WIN: Spend extra time making sure YMYL pages are secure, up-to-date, and have the highest quality content.
Content of a Web Page
Raters are asked to divide pages into different types of content, which are:
- Main Content: The part of a page that directly helps the page achieve its purpose. If its purpose is to relay news, then a news article is main content. If it’s to display a video, then the video is the main content.
- Supplementary Content: Contributes to good user experience. This includes navigation links, reviews, etc.
- Advertisements/Monetization: this is the part used solely to generate money. This could be labeled as an ad, a sponsored listing, sponsored result. The presence of ads is not by itself a reason for a low quality rating.
Google Search Guide to Rating Web Pages
The following are factors that are deemed extremely important during the quality rating:
Clear indication of who the website belongs to.
It should be clear about who created the content of the page or who the website belongs to. This could include the contact information and NAP citations. Google clearly states,
“Users need a way to ask questions or get help when a problem occurs.”
For shopping sites, this can be included under customer service. The guide does note, however, that some web pages needs anonymity (like a personal blog) and finding contact information may not be guaranteed.
How well-maintained a page is.
A page must be maintained and well-cared for. The guide states that Web masters need to make sure their websites function well for users as browsers change. Links should work, content should be added over time, images should load.
The frequency of how often content should be added depends on the purpose of the page; news websites should be updated more frequently than a page about the Battle of Gettysburg.
Google says industry awards, positive user reviews, and expert testimonials are all good indications of a good reputation.
Visits to website don’t carry weight, and raters should be skeptical of both positive and negative reviews. Google references Yelp, Better Business Bureau, and Product Search as all good ways to find information on the reputation of a company. Links aren’t directly mentioned, but it does say good sources of information on reputation can be found in “blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions,” etc.
♦ BLUE CORONA QUICK WINS:
- Have contact information and “about” information easily accessible.
- Make sure your page is error-free, loads quickly, and is updated frequently (depending on the information).
- Seek out and display your accreditations, awards, reviews, mentions, testimonials, etc.
Overall Page Quality Rating Scale
High Quality Pages:
- A satisfying amount of high-quality MC: “For all types of webpages, creating high quality MC takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill.”
- High-quality pages successfully complete the purpose of the page.
- The page and website are expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic of the page: There should be enough expertise behind the page to be considered authoritative, on whatever the topic is.
- The website has a good reputation for the topic of the page.
- A satisfying amount of website information, for example, About Us information, Contact or Customer Service information, etc.
- SC which contributes to a satisfying user experience on the page and website. This could include links to other articles on the same topic, photos, and reviews of a product.
- Functional page design which allows users to easily focus on MC and use SC as desired. Note, “pretty” and “functional” are completely different.
- The MC should be prominently displayed “front and center.”
- The MC should be immediately visible when a user opens the page.
- It should be clear what the MC actually is.
- Ads and SC should be arranged so as not to distract from the MC—Ads and SC are there should the user want them, but they should be easily “ignorable” if the user is not interested.
- It should be clear what parts of the page are Ads, either by explicit labeling or simply by page organization or design.
- A website which is well cared for and maintained.
♦ BLUE CORONA QUICK WIN: Spend time on your main content, and be careful where you put ads.
Highest Quality Pages
What makes a page Highest quality? Google requires at least one of the following:
- Exceptional E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
- Very high or highest quality MC, with demonstrated expertise, talent, and/or skill.
- Very high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (page and website) on the topic of the page.
- Very good reputation (website or author) on the topic of the page.
Low Quality Pages:
If a page has one of the following characteristics, the Low rating is usually appropriate:
- The quality of the MC is low.
- An error message. This doesn’t matter if the rest of the website is of a high rating.
- There is an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page.
- The author of the page or website does not have enough expertise for the topic of the page and/or the website is not trustworthy or authoritative for the topic.
- The website has a negative reputation.
- The SC is distracting or unhelpful for the purpose of the page.
- There is an unsatisfying amount of website information.
- The page is lacking helpful SC.
- The page design is lacking. For example, the page layout or use of space distracts from the MC, making it difficult to use the MC.
- The website is lacking maintenance and updates.
Lowest Quality Pages:
The following characteristics are examples of the lowest quality pages:
- Harmful, untrustworthy, or malicious pages. Pages designed to get personal information for malicious reasons or download harmful content.
- True lack of purpose pages.
- Deceptive or pages. These are pages that are designed to deceive users or trick search engines.
- Deceptive design. This includes designs that top-load ads, designs that make ads look like search boxes, designs that make ads look like a personally curated directory page, etc.
- Sneaky redirects. Pages setup with numerous redirects at no use to the user, or that redirect to a harmful or malicious page.
- Pages on YMYL websites with inadequate or no website information.
- Pages that were designed to make money with little to no attempt to help users.
- Pages on abandoned, hacked, or defaced websites.
- Keyword stuffing.
- Automatically-generated, copied/scraped or gibberish MC.
♦ BLUE CORONA QUICK WIN: Don’t do any of the blackhat crap above.
Google Search Quality Guidelines Summary Part 2: Mobile Search Quality Ratings
Let’s recap. Basically, the most important things you can do is have quality content, good reviews, and be a trustworthy source. Limit your website errors, and make sure your landing page (and website in general) has the user in mind.
We’re going to give you a break; this is a lot to digest. Check back soon for part two of the Google Quality Guidelines summary! Is all this still confusing? Don’t worry about it. Give us a call and we’d be happy to chat for hours about it.
About The Author: Betsy is Blue Corona's in-house Digital Marketing Specialist. When she’s not directing Blue Corona's corporate digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring with her wife, diving into the latest marketing trends, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
View more blogs by Betsy McLeod