Understanding Google’s Guidelines For Search Quality Raters
Looking at the Quality Raters Guidelines (PDF Document) from Google is much like a glimpse into the search engine’s ranking algorithm.
It's important to note, however, that the quality raters don't have a bearing on how well the websites they rate ranks.
This means that even if a quality rater assigned a low score to a site, that low rating wouldn't be reflected in Google's actual live search results.
Google simply uses these quality raters to assess the search results quality.
The guidelines they set have to do with what the search engine thinks searchers want to find when conducting Google searches. The types of websites that are rated the highest are the ones they want to rank high.
So while this isn't related to the search algorithm directly, it does show what Google wants the algorithms to rank well.
In this article, we're going to look at some of the things that are found in the Google guidelines so you can tell what's good and what's bad when it comes to ranking your website high on the search engines.
1. Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness
This refers to what a lot of marketers think of as a site’s overall value. For instance, does the site lack expertise? Does it not have the right level of authoritativeness? Or is it not trustworthy?
These are just some of the things that most readers consider with regards to the overall website or webpage quality.
This is also something that's good for SEO in general, so make sure that your site shows a respectable amount of expertise. This can come from you or your contributors.
It's also important to show your readers why your site has that expertise – whether it's your experience, relevant educational qualifications, or whatever other qualities which give the writers on your site a stamp of expertise.
2. Supplementary Content
This is an area of marketing where the majority of webmasters still struggle.
Adding supplementary content isn't always easy (such as sidebar tips, for instance, when someone is tech challenged and has a standard WordPress blog…) but fortunately, supplementary content does not always require technical know-how.
You can use things like ‘similar articles’, and there are plenty of free plug-ins that you can use to give suggested content that provides useful supplementary content.
Just keep in mind that the main thing here is for your contents to be helpful.
So think about what additional supporting content you can add to each page on your website. This could include sidebar content, related articles, images, and basically anything else which might prove helpful to visitors.
3. Life-Impacting Webpages
If any of your pages have the potential of greatly impacting a person's health, their money, happiness or any other important aspect of their life, Google will hold that page to a higher standard than most other pages on the web.
So while anyone can create a page about medical conditions or offer advice on divorce, child support, investing money, and so on, Google does their best to ensure that these pages are of the highest quality possible.
In other words, if a low-quality page in such areas has the potential of negatively impacting the user’s health, happiness, and wealth, Google will not rank that page well.
This means that if you have webpages dealing in those market areas mentioned above, you need to know that your site is held to higher standards than one say that deals with something less likely to seriously affect people’s lives.
4. Page Design
Of course, if you've been following my blog then you know how important I think page design is to the overall success of your website.
You would think by now that this would be a no-brainer, but surprisingly there are still tons of atrocious website designs on the Internet providing horrible user experiences.
However, Google's take on page design goes a lot further than just how easy a website is to navigate. They actually want the raters to consider the page’s focus.
In particular, the main content should be an obvious highlight. It should be front and center on the page.
This means that your user shouldn't have to scroll down to see the actual article. The area above the fold shouldn't be so packed full of ads that it pushes important content down.
However there is a caveat that Google includes, and that is: Ugly doesn't always equal bad! You might find a few ugly websites online which are still user-friendly and manage to meet all their visitors’ needs.
5. Advertising and Authority
In addition to not having ads above the fold where users might expect the beginning of the article, another aspect that you should examine which can impact your visitors’ experience is trying to blend too much of the advertising with your page content.
In Google's own words, ads should be something that users can easily ignore if they are not interested in them.
There’s no problem having ads present for those of your visitors who actually welcome interaction with them, but there needs to be a very clear separation between your content and advertising.
Of course, that's not to say that you need to paste massive ‘AD’ labels on them, just make sure that there's enough of a distinction for anyone to be able to differentiate your main content from the ads.
Although the majority of websites do this, a lot of the unscrupulous ones do try to blur the lines between content and ads so that they can incite unintentional clicks from people that don't realize it's an ad.
6. Website Information
A lot of sites out there don't even have basic information about the website itself. Take a look at your own site. Do you have a well-crafted and informative ‘About’ page?
If not, that's something you need to get on right away.
Do you have a ‘Contact’ page to allow visitors to get in touch with you? If you sell services or products on your site, do you have a functional ‘Customer Service’ page?
If your site is one of the ones mentioned above which publish important information that could have an impact on people's lives, then this type of information is imperative to have.
Even if your website doesn't fall into that category, you still need to have more than just a simple email address if you want Google to take you more seriously.
For your website to get the highest rating possible, Google also looks at your reputation. One of the things that raters have to do is to consider the site’s reputation as well as the content author's.
For the more formal topics, the raters conduct reputation research by looking at Wikipedia and other similar informational sources.
This means that if you give medical advice, financial advice, or psychological advice on your website (for instance), you need to make sure that your online reputation is listed in the kinds of places that would be easy for the raters to find.
For anyone who doesn't have a Wikipedia page, it's a good idea to consider professional membership sites that showcase your background as well as your professional reputation.
Google also takes into consideration the fact that some topics don't have this sort of professional reputation available.
In such a case, they state that the raters can look at things like user engagement, user reviews, and popularity as factors to help them determine the person's reputation within that market area.
This can be represented by many things such as a site that is extremely popular or one that has a lot of online references and plenty of comments.
What Constitutes a Low-Quality Page in Google's Eyes?
The other side of the coin deals with the things that Google considers to be low-quality. To most marketers who are not new to SEO, the things that make a page ‘low-quality’ seem obvious. But webmasters are not necessarily thinking of things from the user’s perspective when they gauge the quality of their websites.
Either that or they are looking to take advantage of various shortcuts wherever they can…
Listed below are some of the tools that raters are instructed to look for. Although Google doesn't give insights into what exactly is considered low-quality, you can be sure that any one of the factors listed below will result in lower ratings for your website.
1. Main Content is of Low Quality
If you know anything at all about SEO, then this shouldn't come as a surprise.
Whether it's just poorly written content or spun content, if your content is of low-quality you will get a low rating. It simply means your content is useless and doesn't offer any value to users.
Another factor to consider is if the amount of the main content doesn't satisfy the purpose of the page.
This is not to say that short content won't be considered to be great quality, but if Google realizes that your article could do with a few more paragraphs in order to fully explain what its title promises or implies, then it'll consider it as content that needs expanding (aka Low-Quality Content).
2. Lack of Expertise
If the page author or the website itself doesn’t have the necessary expertise for the page’s topic, this counts against you in the rating.
If your website is considered not authoritative enough on the topic or if it's deemed to be untrustworthy, it will be considered low-quality.
3. Negative Reputation
Remember the reputation research we talked about? Well, this is where it comes back into play. You need to make sure that you have a good online reputation either for your personal name or your website.
If you're writing most of your content yourself, and your posts are under your name, make sure that any research into your background shows you in a positive light with regards to industry and expertise.
4. Distracting Supplementary Content
If the supplementary content on your page is unhelpful for the purpose of the main content, or if it's too distracting then Google will dock points for that.
They want their raters to be able to easily ignore ads on the page if they want to, so don't blast your visitors with things such as autoplay video ads, or those super-flashy animated ads all over your page.
5. Sneaky Redirects
According to the Quality Raters Guidelines, any affiliate links on your website are considered by Google to be sneaky redirects.
While there isn't anything bad about including one or two affiliate links on the page, if you bombard visitors with affiliate links at every turn, it can negatively impact the perceived quality of that page.
Raters also look for many other types of redirects such as the ones used in doorway pages. You know, the ones where you are redirected through about a million URLs before you finally get to the landing page?
And when you do arrive at the page, it usually has nothing whatsoever to do with the link that you clicked originally!
6. Spammy Main Content
The things that are normally associated with spam constitute some of the factors that flag content as low-quality as far as Google is concerned.
So it should be unsurprising that the list includes things like auto-generated content and gibberish that's packed full of keywords to the extent that it's unreadable.
7. Keyword stuffing
As I just mentioned, if your content is so heavily stuffed with c that it's unreadable Google will consider it low-quality. But keyword stuffing also includes the overuse of keywords even if the content is still readable.
So if any of your content has so many keywords that it seems a bit annoying to read or if you think you’re being clever by inserting extra keywords wherever you can just because the sentence is still readable, you might want to rethink that from an outsiders point of view.
8. Copied Content
This one is obvious.
Content copied from other sites is a big no-no. Many people think that they can get away with borrowing other people's content and feel that it's all right as long as they are not doing a direct comparison.
But Google will penalize you whether you're scraping or copying the content. It’s OK to get some inspiration and ideas from other sites, but always make sure that you put it in your own words.
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Updated: Originally published May 3rd 2019