For those that don’t know, Google Search Quality Guidelines is a 150-page document for Google’s search quality evaluators.
These Google search quality raters are the people contracted by Google who are tasked to evaluate the quality of Google’s search results.
Now that these guidelines have been updated, how do these changes affect the search engine results for your particular website?
You may be wondering if this means a complete overhaul of your digital marketing strategy.
Are you ready to find out?
Keep scrolling for our point of view on the most important takeaways:
Determining Page Quality
Page Quality Rating or PQ is the grade determined by Google’s ratings.
Raters will determine whether pages have low or high PQ based on the quality of the website, the purpose of the page, whether it fulfills that purpose, and whether that purpose correctly meets the needs of the searchers.
Google’s overall PQ rating scale is composed of five levels: Lowest, Low, Medium, High, and Highest.
These guidelines basically outline the core conditions, performance, and web page elements that best determine the quality of a page.
Let’s go into more detail about how this is done:
Identifying Page Type and Purpose
Before assigning a PQ rating, raters must first determine the purpose of the page they are evaluating.
Raters then decide and determine PQ by what a page was created to:
- Share information about a topic
- Allow users to exchange or download files
- Express opinions
- Share multimedia
- Share personal or social information
- Sell products or services
Once they’ve determined what purpose the page is trying to serve, they should then be able to evaluate how well the page fulfills this purpose relative to the query that was made. Quality websites, those with a high PQ, will meet user needs when it comes to the purpose of the page.
Rating Your Money Your Life Pages (YMYL)
Google classifies any pages that “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or financial stability of users” as “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) pages.
YMYL is a vital part of the latest Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, and its importance only increased from the July 2019 update. YMYL compared to E-A-T has become a priority for Google.
Because of the nature of the impact that the content on these pages could have on users’ lives, these types of pages have the highest quality requirements.
YMYL pages are identifiable by how often verifiable facts are written on a piece of content or website. These verifiable facts, also measured for authority and reputation, must be capable of impacting someone’s actions after they read a piece of content.
Some examples of YMYL pages include:
- Financial transaction pages: pages for paying bills, shopping online, transferring money, etc.
- Financial information pages: pages that prescribe advice for investments, taxes, retirement, mortgages, buying insurance, etc.
- Medical information pages: pages that provide any medical, nutrition, or health advice
- Legal information pages: pages that provide any legal advice on topics such as divorce, adoption, migration, etc.
- Public/official information pages: pages that provide any information about Government programs, laws, events, etc.
- News articles or current affairs
- Other pages that touch on YMYL content
The decision Google makes regarding YMYL is based upon the commonness of these important resources. YMYL isn’t always an objective identifier to be decided by Google’s raters. It is, however, a large part of Google’s measurement of verifiable, authoritative information.
Evaluating for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
As I briefly mentioned above, all aspects of a page are evaluated for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
From a general perspective, this isn’t anything new from Google. Google has always expressed that they want you to make sure that you create high-quality content but that your content highlights any expertise that the author or website might have. This helps Google determine trustworthiness and authority.
Under the July 2018 Google Search Quality Guideline changes, raters are to review the E-A-T of not only the Main Content (MC) and website overall but also the E-A-T of the creator of the MC.
As you may already know, PQ plays a huge role in where a page ranks in Google’s organic search results. That’s why understanding E-A-T is vital to SEO success.
This is not just for YMYL pages but for all web pages containing any type of content.
Reviewers will look for formal expertise, factual knowledge, and whether high-quality information is presented that matches the topic searched. Highly technical topics such as photography or learning musical instruments may require some evidence of formal expertise.
There are, of course, some topics that don’t require formal expertise, and Google recognizes these as well.
For example, restaurant reviews, home remodeling, parenting, and other personal life experiences can be attributed to anyone with practical experience, so long as their content is detailed, comprehensive, and entirely factual.
Assessing Main Content Quality and Optimization
Main Content or MC is any part of a web page that directly helps the page achieve its goal. For example, helping an audience or solving a problem.
Page 10 of Google’s Search Quality Guidelines states that webmasters directly control the MC of the page besides any user-generated content. MC can be images, text, videos, or even page features. It can be user-generated content such as videos, reviews, or articles that users have uploaded to a page. An example of that would be a forum.
Raters are instructed to break down and identify the content of each page and assign it a rating:
To be considered high quality, your content should be:
- Clear and easy to determine
- Detailed and comprehensive
- Created with “a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill.”
- Information pages should be “factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive.”
- Shopping pages should be quick and easy to navigate, therefore allowing users to “find the products they want and to purchase the products easily.”
Pages receiving the lowest quality MC rating will have Main Content that falls into the following categories:
- Exaggerated or shocking
- Distracting MC with excessive ads
- Negative reputation
- Unsatisfying level of facts or clarity
Finding Website Owner Information
For raters trying to assess the E-A-T of the content creator, they are tasked with finding out the website owners, as well as who is responsible for the MC on the page If this section of your website isn’t clear, it could hurt your chances of ranking. Being open and honest with who writes your content and who owns your website can indirectly affect your Google ranking in SERPs.
This information should be clear and can usually be found in the following sections:
- Home Page
- About Us Page
- Contact Us Page
- Customer Service Page
However, raters are not limited to official page labels.
In such cases, the home page candidate that offers the most relevant information about the target URL takes precedence.
Reviewing Website Reputation
The connection between customer reviews and SEO is important to your brand’s online reputation. Reviews don’t just provide the social proof needed for potential customers to trust your products or service, it’s also a necessary factor for boosting your digital exposure.
A website’s reputation is considered one of the top criteria for assigning a Page Quality rating. It’s one of the best demonstrations of a page’s effectiveness.
As such, raters are instructed to find reputation information about the website, such as:
- Customer reviews
- News articles
- Wikipedia articles
- Blog posts
- Magazine articles
- Forum discussions
- Ratings from independent organizations
Google does not consider reviews or ratings written by the website or company being investigated.
Some of Google’s recommended review sites are:
- Better Business Bureau
- Google Shopping
Page Quality Rating Guidelines for Mobile
Page Quality rating guidelines for mobile are one of the newest additions to Google’s updated Search Quality Guidelines.
The first step for rating PQ on mobile is to understand the needs of mobile users: which is to complete a task quickly and conveniently from their mobile devices.
In that sense, raters are instructed to rate PQ for mobile according to how well a query is answered, given a mobile user’s limitations.
When evaluating PQ ratings for desktops, raters look at the most detailed and comprehensive results.
But when evaluating a page for mobile, the rater must choose the page with content that Google can fit into what it calls a Results Block.
What is a Results Block?
A Results Block is another version of a Google Snippet, so to speak. It shows results from graded or rated activities.
There are two types:
- Web Search Results Blocks are the most common and contain the title of the page, the URL, and a relevant text “snippet” of information about the page.
Special Content Result Blocks display relevant, non-text content directly on the search results page for demonstration purposes, such as an online calculator or translator.
These Results Blocks are then evaluated for how succinctly they can answer a user’s query or question.
Classifying and Understanding Queries
Google’s guidelines go at length about the multiple types of queries and the details and examples related to these queries.
To understand queries, raters should first:
- Determine locale
- Understand user intent
- Establish correct query interpretations
- Take note of query interpretations that can change over time
Google uses the term “Locale” to refer to the user’s language and location. Actually. Google states, “Googlebot crawls IP Googlebot crawls with IP addresses based outside the USA, in addition to the US-based IP addresses.”
Determining locale is crucial to making a more appropriate interpretation of a user’s query.
For example, a user based in the UK may expect a different result for the term “football” than a user based in the US.
Additionally, a user based in the Philippines may expect a different result for “peso to dollar” than a person based in Mexico.
Classifying and Understanding User Intent
Google subdivides queries into the following possible user intents:
A know query is a broad search to find information on a topic where the answer is typically longer, controversial, or more complex.
Example Know queries: [Serena Williams], [World Trade Center], [Kong Skull Island], etc.
Know Simple Queries
A know simple query is a search seeking a precise result where the answer is typically simpler or shorter. Such as, “what is this [insert word here].” In fact, Not only are Google searches being done by search engines, voice assistants, and manually, but Google launched an app in 2017 called Google Lens.
This app is powered by AI and machine learning. It helps people identify objects through their smartphone cameras. This app also conducts searches for users.
Example queries: [Serena Williams Age], [World Trade Center Height], [Kong Skull Island release date], etc.
A do query is made to accomplish a goal or activity, which may either be to buy, download, interact with an app, etc.
Example Do Queries from Google:
Device Action Queries
Device action queries are commands meant for the device, such as calling someone, locating a file, opening a website, or listening to music on that device.
Google assumes that Device Action queries are made by users in hands-free mode, so these sorts of queries also have a high standard.
Example Device Action queries from Google:
These queries are made by a user looking to find a specific website or webpage.
These can be direct queries with a complete URL, such as:
These can also be incomplete URL queries such as
- [Facebook login]
- [New York Times health section]
Visit-in-Person Queries are queries made by a user looking for a specific business or organization.
- [McDonald’s Branches in Ohio]
- [Gas Stations close by] (given that the user has allowed geolocation)
- [Hospitals near me] (given that the user has allowed geolocation)
Establishing Correct Query Interpretations
A query can have different interpretations, which Google categorizes as dominant, common, or minor interpretations.
Query interpretation is automatically enabled for all Google Cloud Search customers with no extra work for you. However, it would be best to structure your schema per Google’s instructions for optimal query interpretation.
Dominant interpretations are what most users would mean when typing a query. Common ones are what many users would expect to find from a query, while Minor ones are sought by a few users.
For example, a dominant interpretation of the query [apple] would be the company Apple. A common interpretation would be the fruit, apple, and a minor interpretation could be the name of a place in the US: Apple, Oklahoma.
There are also query interpretations that can change over time, such as a query for [iphone] which could have more than a few candidates, spanning the first model to the iPhone 4, 4s, up all the way to the most recent one.
Needs Met Rating Guideline
Raters assign a Needs Met rating depending on how well a page result has helped mobile users.
The Needs Met rating is composed of five levels: Fully Meets, Highly Meets, Moderately Meets, Slightly Meets, and Fails to Meet.
The Relationship between E-A-T and Needs Met
There is an important distinction between E-A-T and Needs Met ratings.
First, a Needs Met rating is based on how well the resulting landing page meets the query. On the other hand, the E-A-T rating is based only on the content of the landing page, regardless of whether or not it matches the query.
For example, the query [top Cancer cures] could lead to a high E-A-T page about Cancer from a reputable scientific journal, but the result that would get the highest Needs Met rating could be any article from a medical organization or professional that focuses on providing the answer to the user’s query: listing the top Cancer cures.
Overall Page Quality Rating Guide
Overall, Google identifies the top 4 most important factors for overall PQ rating:
- Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
- Main Content Quality and Amount
- Website Information (who is responsible for the website and authors its content)
- Website Reputation
The highest PQ rating will be given to pages that meet the top 4 criteria. On the other hand, the lowest PQ rating will be assigned to websites that don’t—such as those that harm, deceive, or make money with no attempt to provide any help to users.
Below is a breakdown.
Characteristics of Highest Quality Pages
- Very high-quality Main Content (MC)
- Very positive reputation
- Very high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
Characteristics of High-Quality Pages
- A satisfying amount of high-quality MC
- Clear and satisfying amount of website information (who is responsible for website, content, and customer service)
- Positive reputation
- A high level of E-A-T
Characteristics of Medium Quality Pages
- Pages that have nothing wrong with them but do not exhibit any exceptional content. In other words, it’s “Just OK.”
Characteristics of Low-Quality Pages
- Low quality or unsatisfying amount of Main Content
- Distracting and misleading content (such as disruptive ads or Supplementary Content, misleading titles, etc.)
- Negative reputation
- Not enough website information and E-A-T
Characteristics of Lowest Rating Quality Pages
- Harmful, or malicious pages
- Lack of “purpose pages” or no Main Content
- Deceptive page purpose or design
- Keyword-stuffed, copied, or automatically generated Main Content
- Misleading, inaccurate, or unauthoritative YMYL information
- No website information
- Highly untrustworthy, unreliable content
- Hacked or defaced websites with spam content
- Extremely negative or malicious reputation
- Content that promotes hate or violence
Source: Google Search Quality Guidelines 2021
Your Key Takeaways and Action Items
With all that background information and terminology, how does this affect you and your website’s results on search engine results pages (SERPs)? Below, we translated this information into actionable tips you can add to your own content marketing and SEO strategy.
- Make sure your overall website passes Google’s quality standards.
Some characteristics of a good quality Google website are that it:
- has adequate website background information (webmaster, contact info, etc.)
- is optimized for mobile
- is https secure
- has good page loading speed
- has no spammy ads
- is updated
- has consistently high-quality content
- Optimize your metadata and user-facing navigation to clearly demonstrate which page is your About page, which is your Contact page, geolocation, and so on. That way, both crawlers, and human raters understand how to navigate your page and website.
- As with your website, make your page content easy to navigate.
Write a title and meta description that clearly presents the page’s purpose, and make sure your Main Content fulfills this purpose.
Do not make Supplementary Content that could distract users from the main purpose.
Optimize your content for Google snippets. Write at least a snippet of text that you can use for a Results Block.
Your goal is to provide an adequate answer in the most concise manner possible—convenient enough for the mobile user to get the answer they need without having to scroll further or click more links.
For example, you can display a short phrase like “Google Search Quality Guidelines is the set of instructions that guide how Google’s Search Quality Evaluators should rate the quality of page results” and code it as a snippet for your comprehensive, 3k-word article about the topic.
Code all these page data properly in your schema markup so both crawlers and humans can easily tell which is which.
- When you think about content topics, think about queries first. Plan your content outline and words around these queries you want to rank for.
- Make doubly sure all your YMYL pages are written by E-A-T authors.
In the author byline, include relevant background information that will let users, crawlers, and raters know that the author of a YMYL content has the right expertise and experience to talk about their topic.
- Optimize your pages and apps for voice commands.
- Do not use any disruptive ads.
Having ads on your site is not by itself a reason to get a low PQ rating. However, the content on your page should adequately provide the answers to the query you are aiming to solve.
For example, in the query [how to delouse my dog], if all your page does is focus on promoting your canine delousing products without sharing any general steps to actually solve the user’s problem (delousing a dog), then you’ll get a low PQ.
On the other hand, if you give a detailed and comprehensive walkthrough of the steps, complete with backup info such as pictures or video clips, then you’ll most probably get a higher PQ rating. You can still insert an ad or a plug for your product, but the solution, not the product, should be the focus of your content.
And that’s it! There is a ton of information here, so we hope that’s not a lot to digest. If you’re a little unsure, book a call with one of our experts today for advice!
The above revisions don’t largely change most of the guidelines that tell you how quality raters evaluate websites.
However, they are important enough for Google to update the document to let business owners, content creators, marketers, and advertisers that there are changes that they should be made aware of.