Stuart Jones, Senior Organic Search Strategist at Click Consult, reviews Google’s recent updates to its Quality Rater Guidelines and summarises the implications for your website in a list of do’s and don’ts
Google has released a new version of its Quality Rater Guidelines, which are detailed instructions given to the thousands of human raters that it employs to manually evaluate the quality of the search results returned by Google, and penalise those that violate Google’s Quality Guidelines.
The major highlights are:
- Greater emphasis on the quality of ‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) sites, ie, those that demand a high degree of trust as they could impact a user’s life, and therefore are held to highest standard by Google. If these pages could negatively affect a user’s health, happiness or financial stability, they will rank less well. All shopping sites fall under this category. If a rater wouldn’t buy from, or submit personal info to, your site, it’s unlikely to rank well.
- Areas falling into the YMYL category include:
- Medical info
- Legal info
- Child adoption, car safety, etc.
- Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness (EAT) – a user’s perception of a site’s overall value. How can you increase the EAT of your site? Users should be able to instantly tell the content is from a reputable source, making it more likely to be trusted and shared.
- Google has downplayed the importance of supplementary content (possibly because it can be less visible on mobile). Sidebar tips, similar articles, helpful content, images. Even navigation can be considered supplementary content.
- Low quality pages are identified by 5 distinguishing features:
- Quality for main content is low.
- Unsatisfying amount of main content.
- Author does not have enough experience/expertise for topic of the page (page is lacking EAT).
- Site has a negative reputation.
- Supplementary content that distracts or is unhelpful.
- Consider the focus of the page when it comes to design, always putting main content front and centre. Avoid lots of ads. Avoid disguising content. Ugly is not always bad. Focus on user friendliness and meeting visitors’ needs.
- Provide basic company info, such as an About Us page, Contact Us, and customer service info page: this info is imperative for YMYL sites.
- Ensure your site is optimised for mobile – non-mobile friendly sites are seen by Google as low quality. Any page that is not mobile friendly is rated as being of the lowest quality. These latest ratings are done on a mobile device.
- Be mindful of meeting searchers’ queries. Ratings for this range from ‘Fully meet’ to ‘Fail to meet’. Any non-mobile friendly site will receive a ‘Fails to meet’, meaning mobile friendliness is now an immediate priority. If a site is featured in the 3-pack local result, that page will receive a ‘Fully meets’ rating. Product pages matching a search query can receive a ‘Highly meets’ rating.
- Be aware that Google also tells raters to check:
- Copied content – if it adds value, it may be fine, but the source should be mentioned.
- Scam sites – solicitation of personal info, suspicious download links or phishing are signs of the lowest quality page.
- Know simple queries – the type of queries that can be answered in one or two sentences and can be featured in a snippet, ie, a single answer accepted that most users would agree on.
- Know queries – queries too complex or with too many possible answers.
- Sites that have a) been hacked, b) forums that are not moderated and/or c) blog/forum comments that are full of spam – even if your content is great, it will be perceived as untrustworthy.
- Featured snippets – how well does the snippet answer the query? If the allocated snippet doesn’t answer the query well, Google will revoke it and use a different site’s answer.
- Make ads intrusive – they should be something users can easily ignore, with a clear separation between ads and content. Do not try to force accidental clicks.
- Change the date of old content. This will be taken into account by raters and possibly punished.
- Use content that is outdated, that is too broad or specific, or content that lacks expertise, as the page will be considered low quality/untrustworthy.
- Use sneaky redirects – links to affiliate programs on your site will be considered as ‘sneaky redirects’. One is fine, but lots will impact perceived quality of the page.
- Use spammy main content or keyword stuffing – Google has asked raters to look for anything they might consider low quality.