In 2014 someone leaked the Google Search Quality Raters Guidelines, in 2015 Google released an updated version of the search quality guidelines to include mobile. The search rating guidelines is a mammoth 160 page pdf, which provides insights into how Google looks at a site and its pages. We take a look at the search guidelines and break them down for you.
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Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines
If you are new to this and are wondering why Google has manual reviewers, then here is the skinny. Google’s search results are determined by algorithms, what you type into Google, the results they show you are based on algorithms that determine what to show you.
Manual reviewers, review these results and the website that the algorithm decided to show you, to refine the search results and help Google’s algorithms to return even better results.
Page Quality Rating (PQ)
One of the most important elements when it comes to determining the relevance of a site is its page quality, or PQ. This ranking simply tells us how credible and trustworthy a search is. In order to determine the quality of a search result, there are several factors that a rater will look at:
The Purpose of the Page
In order to give a webpage an accurate rating, you will need to know the purpose of the site. It may be to sell a product, share information or to entertain. Understanding the page’s purpose will give you a better idea of its overall quality. If a website calls itself as an information site, yet seems to focus on selling products, this can affect the PQ rating.
Some websites exist simply to improve your life or financial standing. These pages, called YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) can contain content on a range of topics, from how to buy a home to ways to boost your credit or how to treat an illness. YMYL pages sell themselves as an authority on the topic at hand so it is important that they are as credible as possible.
Understanding Website Content
In the earliest stages of the Internet, most webpages were simply blocks of text with links to other sites. Identifying the main content was simple, because the site’s themselves were centered around this information. Now, sites can feature everything from interactive quizzes, comment sections, images and video. Identifying the main content on the page—that is, the information that is most vital to the page’s purpose—is not so simple anymore.
Distinguishing Types of Website Content
As a general rule of thumb, main content is any information on the site that is necessary in order to promote the site’s purpose. If the website that you are reviewing is a news site, current articles and news blurbs would be considered main content, while other elements would be considered secondary content.
Examples of Main Content
- News articles
- Tools and calculators
- Blog postings
- Shopping product listings
Supplementary content is anything that is not main content, but supports the main purpose of the page. Links to other sites are often considered supplementary content. While they give additional information, they are not vital to the reader’s on-page experience. Supplementary content is important but not vital to getting the best value from the website. When in doubt, consider supplementary content anything that is not main content or advertising.
Advertising and Monetization
Sponsored links, banner ads and sponsored listings are all considering advertising. This content can be added by the webmaster or through outside monetization programs like Google Adwords. While outside agencies may add advertising content to a site’s page, the webmaster is ultimately responsible for the quality of the ads on his site.
These elements make all of the difference in how you rate the quality of a site. If the site provides valuable main content that meets the searcher’s needs, you rank it a high quality site. If, however, the main and secondary content doesn’t match the purpose of the site, it is crucial to rate the site accordingly to give the user the best possible experience.
Determining a Website’s Credibility
One of the major factors to consider when it comes to determining page quality is to determine the credibility of the site. Highly authoritative sites offer the most usefulness to their users and obtain information from reputable sources. Sites like major newspapers, (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Miami Herald) offer trusted information and are automatically considered high quality sites.
For other sites, there are several ways that you can determine credibility, and by extension, page quality.
The Content Creator
One of the ways that you can determine the credibility of a website is by identifying who has created the content listed on the page. The site’s creator may be a individual, an organization, a foundation or a company. There is usually clear evidence about who created the content on the site.
The simplest way to find out about the content creator is to look for an information page on the site. The “About Us” page is often the location that will provide this. this page will let you know more about the company and persons responsible for creating the page’s content. Larger companies often have individuals who are responsible for updating and maintaining a page. Even though there may be an individual maintaining the site, for rating purposes, the company hosting the site is considered the site’s owner and content creator.
The “About Us” or “Contact” pages often contain information that can be helpful to users. These pages often contain information on contacting individuals in specific company departments, customer service phone numbers and job listings. While an extensive contact page often lends credibility to a site, it is not necessary for all websites when ranking page quality.
While a banking website may need an extensive list of contacts and customer service phone numbers, a contact page with simply an email address may suffice for a small children’s boutique. Lack of extensive contact information does not necessarily mean the page is low quality or lacks credibility. It is important to determine the site’s owner, even if this information is not prominent on the page. In order to ascertain this information, you may need to search the page or even check out the company’s social media pages.
How well a site is maintained will also have a huge bearing on the site’s credibility. In order for a site to be considered high quality, it must be regularly maintained. Check to make sure there are no broken links, that all images are loading and that content is up to date. If the last blog posting on a site was from two months ago, this will lower its quality to the reader. In turn, a site with outdated information is considered a low quality page.
A site’s reputation will also have a huge bearing on its page quality. When determining a website’s quality, it is important to use reputation information to make a conclusion. The reputation of a website will come from the site itself and from outside, independent sources. Sites may feature customer testimonials that sing their praises. They may also list their accomplishments, awards and offerings in an attempt to gain trust from site visitors.
While this information is helpful in determining page quality, the most credible reputation information comes from outside sources. This can mean reports from the Better Business Bureau, prestigious awards and worldwide recognition. Information on the site’s reputation can come from the site or the company itself. Household names like Pepsi and Target are considered credible and of positive reputation.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Fan pages for Pepsi are not automatically credible, even though the company has a solid reputation. It is important to keep the site’s creator in mind when trying to ascertain whether a site is reputable. When gathering information on reputation, it is best to depend on information compiled by humans instead of statistics. Entries in Wikipedia, reviews in national magazines and reports from independent oversight organizations are all considered authoritative sources and are useful in gathering reputation information.
Customer reviews can be helpful in determining a site’s reputation, but they should be used in conjunction with stronger reputation sources. Many customer reviews are written by the company itself, by disgruntled former employees or malicious competitors, so give customer reviews less weight when rating a page’s quality.
Read About: Handling Negative Online Reviews
The Page Quality Ratings Scale
The page quality ratings scale ranges from lowest to highest, with most websites falling somewhere in between. The criteria for these rankings will determine how you rank each page.
High Quality Pages
- Good amount of main content that satisfies the reader’s purpose
- The page is authoritative and created and maintained by experts
- The site has a positive reputation
- Site is well maintained and updated
- Adequate website information (About Us, Contact, Customer Service)
- Main content is functional (calculators work, videos play, links are working)
In order for a page to receive a high quality ranking, it should have all of these elements. A high quality ranking page contains information that is well-written and requires a high level of skill and time to maintain. Writing should be professional with no errors. The content should be original, and not duplicated from other sources.
The amount of necessary main content that a site needs depends largely on the purpose of the site. A high quality online shopping website will have less main content than a high quality news website.
The E-A-T Acronym
In order for a site to be considered high quality, it should have a high level of expertise, authority and trustworthiness (EAT). Remember, however, that a site’s content does not always have to be written by experts in the field to be considered high quality.
Life experience can often count as expertise in a topic. The blog, “No More Harvard Debt,” for example, is a site about a Harvard graduate who paid off his student loans quickly. While the writer is not a financial professional or a debt payment expert, he is an expert in this topic based on his life experience.
User forums on a specific topic, message boards and testimonials are all forms of high quality main content for the EAT purposes. Helpful supplementary content can also increase a site’s ranking on the quality scale.
Low Quality Pages
Low quality pages offer little usefulness to their readers and lack the authority to deliver credible information. Pages should be coded as low quality if they have one or more of the following features:
- Low amount or quality of main content. Main content is lacking in substance, is filled with errors or is not relevant to the topic.
- Page is lacking in EAT; page creators has little to no authority on the subject.
- The secondary content is distracting
- The page or company has a negative reputation
Page Design and Ratings
The layout and design of the page will have a huge bearing on its rating. Sites with extremely poor page design are not helpful to the user and as such should receive a low quality rating. Keep in mind, however, that some pages aren’t fancy, but still serve their purpose. Craigslist.org is a perfect example of this. While it has a simple and bland layout, it serves the purpose for which it was created and is highly useful for the user.
Poorly designed low quality sites, however offer little value for their user and are often difficult to use. Some design elements that will make a site qualify as poor quality include:
- Distracting ads that cover up the main content or are prominent on the site
- Ads that are not relevant to the reader’s needs
- Supplemental content that serves only to distract from the main content
- Pages that have more ads than main content
Poorly maintained sites also lack value and should be ranked low on the scale. It is, however, important to take into account the type of website when making a determination. A personal wedding website that has not been updated in six months is not necessarily a poor quality site. It still delivers the information it set out to deliver—photos of the couple, event details, etc. A news website that has not posted a new story in a week is considered low quality.
Lack of Contact Information
A high quality site will have contact information that allows you to identify the site’s creator. Even amateur sites should have some degree of information that will allow you to ascertain the site’s reputation and credibility. A website of an online store, a small business page or a personal finance blog of high quality will all have adequate contact information.
The type of contact information is also important in determining whether the site provides enough data to be considered high quality. Sites that require a high level of trust—as in those that require you to make a purchase or use a credit card—should have multiple ways to contact the company. An email address or a physical address will not suffice when a user is making a financial transaction or providing sensitive personal information.
Your Money, Your Life websites also require a high level of trust, and as such should provide extensive contact information. Imagine a bank’s website that has only an email address as a contact. If a page is lacking in adequate contact information for its purpose, it should be considered low quality.
Lowest Quality Pages
Assign a rate of lowest quality to pages with the following characteristics:
- Malicious sites whose only purpose is to trick users into entering sensitive data
- Abandoned or hacked pages
- Pages created to deceive users
- Websites whose reputations are extremely negative
- The site redirects you to other sites to mask its true purpose
Elements that Warrant a Lowest Quality Ranking
Keyword Stuffed Articles
Often sites will contain content that is created simply to attract the search engines and generate page views. In order to do this, webmasters will create content that is overloaded with keywords that provide little to no use for readers. An example of a keyword stuffed sentence:
If you want house cleaning in Texas, a housecleaning Texas company can come to your home and provide housecleaning Texas services. Call about housecleaning services in housecleaning Texas today.
As you can see, this sentence is less about providing value to the reader and more about attracting the search engines. Keyword stuffed content should be rated “lowest” quality.
Some sites will contain text that makes no sense and simply exists to attract search engine traffic. These sites contain passages lifted from other sites and splice them together with no attempt at readability. Gibberish text may also consist of text that is translated from another language with little to no attempts to clarify the content.
In order for content to be considered high quality, it has to be original. If all or part of the text has been copied, it is considered low quality. While there are some instances where copied content is acceptable—syndicated sites or reposting of news articles, for example, most cases of copied content warrant a “lowest” rating. Check by selecting portions of the text and conducting an online search to make sure the content is original.
Top Considerations When Rating Pages
While there are several criteria when it comes to rating pages, there are three main considerations that will help you to make the best choice when it comes to your ratings. These are:
Main Content Quality and Quantity
The main content should be useful to the reader, easily identifiable, and adequate in quantity. If the site you are reviewing is a celebrity gossip site, there should be informational articles, images, videos, polls and recently updated information. This makes the site more credible and will make it more likely that the site will be of use to the reader.
Read About: Satisfying Consumer Intent
Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (EAT)
The site you are rating should clearly state the expertise of the content creator. The site’s creator should have professional or life experience expertise in the subject matter. The site should be trustworthy, with adequate information to confirm the credibility of the creator.
The reputation of the site has a huge bearing on its rating. When users are placing a high level of trust in the site and company (entering credit card information, social security numbers, dates of birth) the reputation of the site is of extreme importance. Sites with poor reputation cannot be rated “highest” quality. Likewise, sites with stellar reputations collaborated by outside sources are considered high quality.
Page vs. Website Quality Rankings
In some cases, you will be rating the entire website, while in others, you will be rating on a page by page basis. This normally occurs when the content on the site comes from multiple contributors. One of the best examples of this is rating Wikipedia pages. Each page is curated and updated by one or a group of authors. In this case, you will assign the page quality rating to the page itself, not Wikipedia as a whole.
One of the major considerations for determining the page rating is whether the site has strict authority standards. Sites like medical journals have strict criteria for publication. Sites like YouTube, however, may have a basic set of guidelines but leave the content up to the individual creators.
In the case of broken pages on high quality sites, you can assign a low rate to the broken page while still rating other portions of the site “high” quality. In some cases, these are just temporary errors that will be resolved quickly. If no main content is displayed and no error message is displayed, mark this page “lowest” quality.
Timeliness and Page Rank
When it comes to page quality, information has to be timely to be relevant. If a user is searching for information on an impending hurricane, it is unlikely that they are looking for last year’s information. Pages that are outdated often provide little use to the reader. Unless the reader is specifically looking for historical data, it is important that your ratings reflect data most useful for the search terms.
There are many factors that go into rating a page. Understanding a user’s intent is key. If a user is searching for “Apple,” it is important to determine if the searcher wants to pick apples or get their iPod fixed.
When it comes to delivering the best quality ratings, following these pretty straight forward search guidelines will help you in building a great site and your SEO.