Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines Demystified for SEOs
While we often regard Google’s search algorithm as mysterious and unknowable, the answers to how to improve your site rankings are outlined in Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines. This document contains nearly two hundred pages of clear-cut rules and examples of what a webmaster should do to improve the quality of every web page that they own.
In this document, we want to simplify these guidelines and help readers understand: what are Google’s quality content guidelines and what you can do to start upgrading your site quality and score for improved rankings on search engine results pages.
What Are Google Quality Raters Guidelines?
Google’s Search Quality Rating Program requires raters selected by their team to review and score every website that appears in Google search results.
The Quality Raters Guidelines provide the fundamental rules and expectations of what on-page content should provide, how to provide a quality user experience and the types of harmful or misleading content that need to be avoided. The purpose for doing this is to ensure that a website represents the people in your language and rating locale and provides helpful original information.
The entire rulebook exists for both Google’s internal use as well as for public review in an effort to create a better internet for all users. It covers everything a website owner needs to know including webpage content guidelines, recommended URL and site layout rules, factors for grading reputation and authority, and how to properly implement ad content.
Who Selects Google’s Quality Raters?
Google generally hires its quality raters sometimes directly, but often through third-party agencies. Because AI technology is not sophisticated enough to safely and accurately review all websites, the company still requires human interaction to finalize its quality ratings.
Those hired receive training on the quality guidelines. They will receive a wide variety of queries, perform a Google search, and begin the process of grading ranked websites for quality and relevancy to the original searched term or phrase. However, they do not do this entirely on their own, as they receive support from Google’s online tools to help maintain accuracy and consistency throughout the scoring process.
Quality rating is a never-ending, ongoing process that sees raters from all over the world assessing websites relevant to their language and location.
What Should an SEO Know About Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines?
Now that we understand why the guidelines exist and who enforces them, we need to look at what information an SEO should extract from the document. Below, we’ll dive into some of the key takeaways that you should be mindful of when performing SEO work for your own website or for a client:-
1. Focus on the Principles of E-A-T
EAT is an acronym that stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. Google considers these principles to be some of the most important factors when assigning a website a quality ranking score. These impact every aspect of the content you produce both directly and indirectly.
You can implement EAT signals throughout your website in a variety of ways. For starters, your company’s About page should provide users with a clear understanding of what your company provides, who provides the products or services, and what makes those individuals qualified to be experts in that particular industry. By providing a history of experience, government-issued licenses or certifications, and/or degrees issued by an educational institution, quality raters can assume that the content on your site is much more likely to be accurate and factual.
There are also many industries that face additional scrutiny from Google in this area. These are known as YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) sites that deal with areas of life such as health, medicine, finances, business, and the news. While all misinformation is harmful, misleading unsuspecting users in these areas can prove particularly harmful, which is what Google wants to avoid. They have a built-in obligation to play their part in managing the distribution of false, clickbaity, or misleading data.
Every page of your website including blog articles will be judged with EAT in mind by a rater. Their goal is to determine the purpose of the page (if there is one), the expertise and authority level of the content creator, and how trustworthy the content and the creator are. The level of expertise required for grading relies heavily on the topic being discussed. For example, a page discussing rumors about the latest release from a musical artist bears less weight than a page offering explicit medical advice to sick individuals. For a clearer picture, Google provides these examples:
An important item to take away from these examples is “high-quality content,” otherwise referred to as “High-Quality MC.” The definition for this varies depending on the nature and purpose of the page/site.
For news, high-quality MC consists of original reports that are in-depth, investigative and require significant time and skill to produce. It includes a list of primary and secondary sources and meets all professional journalistic standards.
For art, the material is original and produced by one or more talented creators. The art produced requires a significant level of skill and time investment.
For general, informational sites, the content should be accurate, clear, and professionally presented. It should represent the expert consensus and not deviate to unsubstantiated or false claims. The criteria for what constitutes expert consensus varies depending on the subject matter. In all cases, the material must be accurate and easy-to-understand, while meeting all expected standards for that field.
Regardless of the content you write, but particularly if you are YMYL, focus on supplying a healthy amount of EAT indicators throughout the site. This can include mentioning not only the author’s name but providing a brief summary of their qualifications and experience with the subject matter. Provide citations and sources for researched information and link to any referential websites whenever applicable. Post licenses or certifications somewhere on the site such as the footer, which is always visible. Finally, avoid posting any claims that are not widely accepted as factual. If this is unavoidable, take care to make it abundantly clear that this information is still under scientific and professional scrutiny.
2. Know What Constitutes as Low-Quality Content
While we’ve reviewed what satisfies EAT and high quality, it can be useful to know what Google raters see as low-quality content. Here is a brief summary of what the document states.
Low-quality content is any material that fails to demonstrate the appropriate level of expertise, authority, or trustworthiness. In addition to this, the content features exaggerated, unsubstantiated, or outright false claims that can easily be disproved with industry research. Finally, a low-quality page features a very low amount of content on page regardless of how factual or well-written it may be.
What can add to your low-quality score is having a reputation for providing unreliable or false information. This means that a competent article can be brought down by having a history of low-quality content associated with the website. Another attribute of low-quality content is any content that is clouded or distracted by direct advertisements. In other words, your blog content is not necessarily the place to push your latest sales promotion when trying to provide helpful, informational material.
Low-quality content is also any material that is plagiarized. Plagiarized content is not original, provides no unique value to users that can’t be found elsewhere, and steals clicks away from the true creator. This does not apply to licensed copy on your site. For example, if multiple eCommerce stores distribute and sell the same brand-name product, a mandated product description does not necessarily register as duplicated content. All other content must contain thoughts that are original to the writer.
Finally, do not write or promote content on the site that is harmful to one’s self or to others. This could include depictions of graphic violence or gore, pornography, drug use, hateful or pointed content, or anything that trivializes traumatic events. Website owners have a responsibility to provide fair, worthwhile experiences for every user regardless of their age, race, experience, capabilities, religion, or mental status.
3. Ensure That Content Matches the User Intent Behind the Keyword
Google’s search algorithm gets better every day at understanding the context and intent behind a search query. This is important as we often utilize unclear search terms. The search intent can also have more than one meaning depending on the person and the area of the world they are located in. You can find this in Part 2 of the Guidelines or section 12.0.
For an SEO, it’s easy to go after keywords with easy competition and high search volume. However, it’s essential that the content you create for those keywords matches the search intent. Google stresses the importance of user search intent and motivations can change over time. An example the document provides is how the term “apple” can apply to a company, a location, a food, and a person. The intent behind the search and what other supplementary terms they may use in their search can help dictate what type of content will suit their needs.
In most cases when creating content, the intent will be self-evident based upon where you are. However, since your content needs to communicate with a search algorithm, it’s important to ensure that you’re always focused on the search intent behind the keyword. This helps your webpage to appear only in the most relevant search results, which can earn you a higher quality score overall.
4. Manage Your Online Reputation with Customers
If Google quality raters were left to create a score for your brand based upon the content on your own website, the chances are that most websites would receive a great score. After all, why wouldn’t you want to boast yourself as authoritative or trustworthy online when you’re trying to build a following and close sales? Thankfully, your website is not the only source of information about your brand.
Reputation management is a vital part of your marketing and SEO strategy in the digital world. The more you interact with users around the world, the more opportunities others will have to write reviews, provide testimonials, or even create content about their experience with your brand.
Quality raters look to your history with others to gain a more clear assessment of your EAT indicators. They are not only looking to see how many stars you earn out of five on average, but also at what users comment on in their testimonials. A two-out of a five-star rating doesn’t look great, but mentions of poor customer service, scams, or otherwise dishonest behavior are what corroborate the information for the final assessment. This can also work in the favor of the brand if they are ever subject to dishonest reviews or “review bombing,” when other information points to the contrary in regard to your reputation.
You can boost your score by being an active participant when it comes to your business reputation online. Take efforts to list your company on directory websites such as Google My Business, Yelp!, or Yellow Pages. You submit your company’s information such as an address, phone number, and email, and the directory acts as an additional source to connect with your brand. Your willingness to provide platforms for customers to leave their honest feedback will help you both at the customer level and among those rating your site.
Brands can also boost their reputation score by sharing a social proof on their website, product pages, and social media pages. Particularly with the latter, raters can see how your team interacts with followers in real-time. All of this will not only help your SEO directly but will provide a more coherent picture of how well your brand adheres to EAT. If you have a high rating, show willingness to resolve customer issues, and have a strong history of personal interactions, you can count on your site score being graded higher.
5. Review What Peers Think of Your Site or Brand
In addition to what your customers think, peers in your industry can also have a positive or negative impact on your brand reputation. This is primarily communicated through backlinking, a popular SEO strategy that networks reputable brands through high-quality content and sharing.
Whenever a website meets Google’s guidelines, they receive a high-quality website score. Therefore, they are seen as trusted and reputable in regard to the material they post and share with audiences. When a trusted site chooses to share content from another site or link back to the source, they are referencing their earned trust and authority to the new website. Because users trust the original website, it can be safe to assume that the new website is worthy of trust, also.
This is the primary reasoning behind backlinking strategies for SEO. By acquiring a list of healthy backlinks, you can augment your own site score and search rankings. However, this also works the other way whenever sites with poor scores and reputation backlink to your site. This is unfortunately a common occurrence as it was once a black-hat SEO strategy to spam links on pages with low-quality content in order to accrue backlinks. In these instances, it’s your responsibility to identify these domains, request that these links be removed, or submit a disavow request to Google.
On the same note, if high-scoring websites are adding your domain to their disavow list, this is an indication that the content on your site is not up to standard. High-ranking websites do not want to see their score harmed by low-quality sites, so a disavow pointed at your domain is a sign that you and your brand do not satisfy EAT indicators.
6. Ensure Your Website is Functional and Responsive
This begins to deviate slightly from the on-page text, but still plays a significant role in how your website is scored. The ability to readily access and consume the content on your website is just as important as the content itself. If your webpage contains broken links to sources, broken video players, or an image that’s no longer available, this will harm your quality score.
This applies to mobile browsing experiences as well as desktop ones. Google has outright stated that mobile-friendliness will boost the ranking of a website over those who are not mobile-friendly. Thankfully, they also provide a free tool that can check any domain for mobile responsiveness, existing errors, and how to correct them. For feedback on how to improve general site errors or site speed, you can also use free tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and Google Search Console.
Taking the time to address the errors listed by these will improve your site’s performance in all areas. Not only is Google’s goal to fill the information with high-quality information, but it is to ensure that all users can access that data at any time regardless of the device used or connectivity.
7. Avoid Using Invasive or Obstructive Ads
Pages that utilize obstructive or invasive ads are also detrimental to the user experience. The Guidelines state that a page is untrustworthy if the webmaster makes it difficult or otherwise obscures the main content with advertisements, no matter how relevant they may be. The occasional pop-up is not exactly an offense, but it is recommended to keep ad content separate from informational content.
Low-rated pages are also described as featuring ads that are difficult or impossible to close or push users away from the main content. Your score will also be impacted if you use interstitial pages to promote advertisements in-between load times. These sites are deemed untrustworthy as the focus becomes on ads as opposed to the described content. This is deceptive, coercive, and harmful to the user experience.
The guidelines simply recommend using your best judgment when choosing to implement ads or monetization features on a webpage. Ensure that you are doing everything in your power to promote a better experience on your website and avoid taking advantage of or misleading readers.
8. Create Content That Meets Your Audience’s Needs
Finally, part three of the guidelines list scoring criteria for how well your page meets the needs of the user. Your goal is to receive a score of “Fully Meets,” meaning that your search result provides unambiguous content that satisfies all aspects of the search intent. Not only should your content be accurate, but should directed to any relevant resources that can help the user take action in regard to their search query.
How your content is graded depends on the nature of the result block. While most results appear as a link and a meta description, Google also can provide results as snippets, maps, or other special content formats. For example, if you search for movies playing near you, a special content block appears showing movie posters, titles, and genres. This would be scored differently than a general result block for most websites.
By general search result, we refer to using a term with the objective of reaching that website. The example query the guidelines provide is “amazon,” which simply yields www.amazon.com as the top result. The result block shows the website name, a meta description, and indicates to the user that it offers a mobile-friendly version. This gets a “Fully Meets” score as the user needs no other results to reach their objective.
However, if someone searches for “mexican food,” your search result will need more to reach the highest score. Results that are listed with Google My Business benefit the most as the block contains a Google Maps location, pictures of the business, an address, a phone number, email, the website home page, menu items, customer reviews, and everything else you need to make a decision. A business that provides all of this will score higher than a business that is missing some of these crucial pieces of information.
Please refer to 13.2.1 of the guidelines for a lengthy list of examples. Your goal is highly-dependent not only on the nature of your business but on the types of keywords being used in the search. Earning as many “Fully Meets” or “Highly Meets” scores for your pages as possible will boost your overall site score and ranking.
Conclusion – Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines for SEOs!
Though the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines are designed primarily for raters and employees of Google, you should consistently reference the material as an SEO to improve your site score. However, here is a list of the key takeaways to bear in mind when creating and improving your website pages:
- Ensure content is lengthy and of high quality (Follow the E-A-T principles)
- Content is clear, easy to access, and avoids obstructive pop-ups or ads
- The content carefully matches the intent behind the keyword
- Demonstrate your expertise throughout your site along with social proof
- Build and monitor your reputation offsite through directories and backlinking
- Be mindful of your mobile readers
- Try to meet all of the user’s needs within your search results block
As long as you make an honest effort to adhere to these principles for quality content, you should always receive favorable scores from Google’s quality raters. Additionally, remember that content creation and SEO is an ongoing endeavor and you should take care to revisit previous pages and make regular updates to ensure that you’re always following the provided guidelines.