Google originally published its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines as a clear roadmap for its “quality raters” to gauge the relevancy of search results. But, did you know that you could also use those guidelines to tweak your content strategy and rise in the SERPs? Read this comprehensive guide to find out how!
So, What’s the Deal with Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines?
If there’s one thing that Google truly wants – it is to enhance the search experience for its users.
It is the reason why Google constantly updates its complex system of algorithms – according to Moz, Google made over 3,200 improvements in 2018, alone.
The engineers behind these algorithms want to ensure that Google provides only the most relevant information when a user types something into the search bar.
Since Google is made for humans, it values feedback received from humans. This is why it partners up with thousands of individuals across the planet.
These individuals, called search quality raters, provide feedback to Google about different search results.
To assist them with this process, Google published its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
Screenshot of the first page of Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (2018)
The Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines is a 164-page long roadmap for quality raters.
It helps them figure out how to analyze the quality of search results based on the following main factors:
- Overall quality of pages (gauged as Page Quality Rating in the guidelines)
- How well the pages satisfy the needs of mobile users (measured as Needs Met Rating in the guidelines)
These factors encompass a broad range of sub-factors that quality raters must evaluate to draw conclusions. Surprisingly, they are, in one way or the other, linked to content (more on that later).
The ultimate goal of these guidelines is to consistently improve upon the Google experience.
They ensure that whatever feedback the quality raters provide is relevant/covers the aspects of the search results that Google actually wants to check.
Engineers at Google utilize this feedback to draw out the big picture of how well their existing algorithms perform, and make improvements wherever necessary.
Who else can benefit from these guidelines?
As already mentioned, Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines were originally meant for quality raters.
Have you noticed how much Google has improved its search results over the last couple of years?
We’ve certainly come a long way, and we have the services of those quality raters and the invaluable guidelines of Google to thank for that.
But, when Google published this handbook, the global SEO and content marketing community cheered from the sidelines.
Google has always kept its algorithms top-secret. Through trial and error, experts are always trying to wrap their heads around how Google determines search rankings, speculating about its complex workings.
The web is full of hundreds of “expert guidelines,” all stating almost entirely different things.
So, back in 2015 (the year the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines were first published), when people saw that Google itself had come out with a set of guidelines – they got a little excited.
Although, these guidelines are not meant to provide a DIRECT roadmap for search engine and content optimization, marketers can use it to take home many important lessons about content development.
The Relationship Between these Guidelines & Your Content Strategy
At first, it can be difficult to see how these search quality evaluator guidelines and the field of content development are related.
After all, they only tell quality raters how to determine the relevancy and quality of search results, right? Then how do content marketers fit in the puzzle?
Well, the guidelines clearly define the kind of content that Google considers:
- High quality (overall)
On one hand, these guidelines can help quality raters differentiate between the “good” and “bad” types of pages. And just to be clear, their ratings don’t affect rankings. They only provide necessary feedback for Google’s algorithms!
On the other hand, they can help marketers enhance their content strategies and create content that actually helps them rank.
Here’s an example:
Page #19 of Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (2018)
The screenshot above is from the bottom section of page 19 of the guidelines. It clearly states the characteristics that all high quality pages should share. Notice that the first three points are directly tied to content creation.
Understanding Page Quality (PQ) & Needs Met (NM) ratings
Earlier in this guide, we mentioned the Page Quality and Needs Met ratings as ways to measure the overall relevancy and standing of pages in search results.
Many factors fall under the vast umbrellas of these two measures, which you should know to further understand the connection between search quality guidelines and content creation.
Page quality rating
Google describes Page Quality as the extent to which a page fulfills its purpose. It uses the following scale:
The Page Quality sliding scale (along with instructions for in-between ratings) for quality raters
Since pages differ by purpose, Google has provided different criteria to gauge their qualities.
As a content marketer, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is getting carried away and forgetting the actual purpose of your page while writing its copy.
It makes no sense to churn out content for a meaningless page that serves no beneficial purpose.
If you’re confused, you can easily figure out the purpose by tying it back to one or more “micro-moments” experienced by users. This infographic brilliantly explains the concept:
If the content of your page successfully delivers what the users seek in these moments, your chances of being considered “high quality” by Google will go up.
So, the next time you finish editing a draft, try to read it from a user’s perspective to see if it is fulfilling a purpose or not.
Factors other than beneficial purpose that determine the overall quality of a page (with some not directly linked to content development) include:
- Expertise, authoritativeness, & trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the content creator/website
- The main content (how in-depth, useful, and well-written it is)
- Information about the website (knowledge about who owns and runs the website, and who to contact for customer service)
- The reputation of the content creator (whether the website/creator of the main content is reliable – linked to E-A-T)
Later in this guide, we’ll discuss relevant factors, and provide tips on how you can work on them to revamp your content strategy.
Needs met rating
According to statcounter, Google’s global mobile search market share for April 2019 stood at 95.75%.
The fact that Google has always emphasized on improving mobile search experience is the reason behind its success.
It announced mobile-first indexing a couple of years ago to promote and reward pages optimized for mobile devices.
Google even created a separate metric to determine which pages satisfy mobile users. This is called the Needs Met Rating.
Here’s the overview (along with the slider scale for quality raters) provided in the guidelines:
The introductory section of Part 3: Needs Met Rating Guideline
The levels of ratings that you can see above (FullyM, HM, MM, SM, and FailsM) each represent a different extent to which a query made on a mobile device is satisfied by the search results.
Just focus on creating mobile-friendly content, and the rest will eventually fall in place.
Key Takeaways for Content Marketers from the Search Quality Gospel
The guidelines are comprehensive.
You probably don’t have the time to go through each section to seek out insights that could prove useful for your content strategy.
So, we have taken the liberty to make things easier for you by providing you with a list of key takeaways.
Let’s take a look:
Emphasis on “Beneficial Purpose”
As a content marketer, every piece of content that you produce for a website (be it a comprehensive blog post or a corporate web design sales page), should have a clearly defined purpose.
This purpose should ideally be based on the micro-moments, as discussed earlier.
If there is one thing that Google hates more than anything, it’s a page that provides no value to the user.
But, how do I know if my page is actually providing any benefit to the users?
It isn’t rocket science. IN FACT: Google engineers have clearly talked about this in the search quality guidelines.
According to them, the following types of pages should receive the lowest quality ratings from QRs:
- The ones made with the sole intention to make money while providing zero value to users
- Those created with the purpose of ranking in the SERPs, even if it involves tricking the search engine algorithms
- Pages that deceive users into clicking or converting
- Pages that intentionally cause harm to the users
If your page falls into any of the above-mentioned categories, then you’re going to have a bad time!
Instead, your page should fall into one of the two golden categories of web pages.
These web page types are divided according to different purposes they fulfill, based on the micro-moments from earlier:
These include blog posts, articles, press releases, forums, etc. Informative pages should fulfill the I-want-to-know and I-want-to-go micro-moments.
Ensure that the users only get the information that they clicked for.
|Commercial/Hybrid pages||A commercial or a hybrid place is where a user converts. These pages should fulfill the I-want-to-buy and I-want-to-do needs, and must deliver an ample amount of information to the users about the product or service being sold/offered. Again, the ultimate goal should be to deliver value to your users.|
If you’re in need of some motivation, then check what other people are doing. Take inspiration from your competitors – analyze their landing pages, identify the missing gap, and try to find ways to outperform them.
Understanding “Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)” pages
Google pays a lot of attention to one specific category of web pages.
Called the Your Money or Your Life (or simply YMYL) pages, these provide something (usually in exchange for money) to users that could potentially change their lives.
A YMYL page could have one or more of the following characteristics:
- It is where users spend money in exchange for a product or service.
- It is a source to get critical information (like medical, legal, and financial advice), with the potential to leave a huge impact on users.
- It is a source of news.
- It could bring immediate change to your life.
In the search quality guidelines, experts at Google have clearly mentioned the types of pages they consider YMYL. Here is a screenshot of that particular section:
Screenshot of section 2.3 (Page-9)
As you can see in the highlighted section at the end, Google has clearly mentioned that it has set the bar very high for YMYL-type pages.
Of course, this is addressed to quality raters, whose ratings won’t directly affect your ranking (in case you forgot!). However, as a marketer, you can use this information to improve your content, and ultimately befriend those robots.
In case your web page falls under any of the above-mentioned YMYL sub-categories, you need to do all you can to get on Google’s good side.
The best way to do that is to provide value to those who visit your website. To achieve that, Google emphasizes on the following two things:
- Providing a clear route to the homepage (in case a user wants to further explore your website and see if you’re a reliable source)
- Clearly mentioning the contact details and other relevant information (in case a user has some queries and wants to investigate)
So, within your copy, encourage people to contact you with any questions that they might have.
This gives the impression that you are willing to engage and entertain queries, with nothing to hide, and that you are confident in the information/product/service you’re providing.
Tips for giving a beneficial purpose to your content
- Start with a clearly defined goal.
- While writing copy, keep everything balanced. For example, if you’re writing sales copy, make sure to focus on providing as much information as possible to assist visitors, while balancing it out with the right sales tactics as to not give off the wrong impression.
- Edit at least three times – twice to look for grammatical errors, and once to check if everything has been written according to your target audience – before finalizing a draft.
Hungry for rankings? Focus on E-A-T-ing!
Google is always looking for new ways to maintain the quality of search results and provide maximum value to users.
There are too many people on the internet pretending to be “experts” and giving baseless advice.
To tackle this problem, Google wants to ensure that whatever information users consume comes from a credible source (an expert or a group of experts).
Out of this hunger for reliability, the acronym E-A-T was born, which stands for “expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.”
Here’s the criteria to rank in SERPs using the power of E-A-T:
- The content must be written by a person/group of people who have expertise in the subject
- The website/content creator should have a significant authority on the subject area or industry
- The website should be perceived as a trustworthy source for the relevant information
At first, it seems like E-A-T applies only to news websites, online magazines, and blogs (with all content written in a professional way).
However, according to Google’s search quality guidelines, less formally written content such as travel advice, Q&A, product reviews, etc., written by ordinary people with ample experience is also acceptable.
Here’s the screenshot:
Taken from page-19 of the guidelines
Tips for E-A-T
Working on E-A-T is a marathon – not a sprint.
It’s not something that you can achieve right away. Building authority and a level of trust with your users takes time.
By being consistent and following these tips, you could achieve the highest form of content creation:
- Throw in an expert or two in your team
Google says that only qualified experts should write on subject areas like physical science, medicine, etc.
This also includes day-to-day topics like interior décor, parenting, etc.
On the other hand, news articles should follow the highest standards of journalistic professionalism.
In case your content falls under any of these or related categories, then having real expertise can give you an added advantage.
However, if you think you do not qualify, consider building a team of experts as part of your content strategy.
Here’s how that will help you out:
- You’ll be able to verify the information you include in your content.
- Users (and eventually Google, too) will start viewing you as a trustworthy source of information.
- Introduce your expertise/experts on your website (add “about the author” sections)
Every blog post or article should have an “About the Author” section either at the bottom, top, or on the side of the page.
If you create the main content of your website yourself, then introduce yourself in the best way possible.
Highlight your credentials, skills, and experience – the reasons why people should consider you an “expert” on the subject area.
If you have a team, do the same as above for each expert on your team.
A very good example is of Healthline.com, which includes a little “Written by” section on the right side of its articles.
- The rather short introduction sparks interest and prompts users to click on the hyperlink to find more out about the author.
- The word “PhD” instantly establishes the notion that the piece was written by an academically qualified professional.
Clicking on the hyperlink leads to the “About” page, where they have provided complete details about their team:
If you visit that page, you can see that they have a large team of actual experts and managers working together to provide quality content.
The point is to provide ample information to build a level of trust with the users, and Healthline has done that remarkably well.
Another major aspect that the Google search quality guidelines emphasize on is reputation. In today’s SEO marketplace, there are powerful tools which offer review syndication and management. SEO agencies are very much aware of the importance of a good reputation.
In addition, many agencies offer reputation management services as part of an overall business SEO strategy. This is being done instead of simply trying to delete Yelp or not deal with negative reviews.
The overall effect of reputation is that if people don’t have a generally positive opinion about you and/or your business, it might affect your rankings.
Here’s what the guidelines state:
The guidelines have provided in-depth information for quality raters on conducting research about the reputation of main content creators.
This shows that Google actually cares about what other people have to say about your content and brand on platforms like review sites, magazines, forums, etc.
Tips for building a positive reputation
The only thing that you can do is to work on your brand’s reputation management.
This infographic (taken from Pinterest) explains the importance of reputation management using solid statistics:
Here are some tips on how you can go about doing that using the power of your content:
- Do not respond immediately
If you just received bad press, don’t respond right away.
Instead, try to sit back, relax, and gather as much data as you can before putting together an effective PR comeback.
You can do this through your blog, a press release, or through social media.
- Blog, blog, and blog some more
Perhaps the worst thing that could happen to a website would be to rank for negative keywords/phrases.
To tackle this issue (or avoid it altogether), a website needs to maintain its blog with fresh and unique content.
A blog is the most effective weapon in the PR arsenal of any brand. Make sure to use it wisely!
Remember, building a reputation takes years. Don’t expect things to turn around overnight. Be patient, and keep producing content consistently.
- Hire carefully
If you have a team of content creators or intend on building one, be very careful about who you hire.
Run a background check on each member to check for any bad word-of-mouth.
If a person with a bad reputation creates your content, and you display their profile on your website, it will affect your reputation, as well.
The Result? High Quality MC!
By paying attention to the key takeaways discussed above, you will ensure that your MC (main content) is of the highest standards.
Google considers these factors before deciding how to rate your content.
Here’s what the search quality guidelines have to say about it:
Taken from page-25
Bonus Do’s and Don’ts
Here are some bonus tips to take your already-improved content development process up a notch:
- Do write for your target audience. Don’t just write to impress Google’s algorithms. Everything else will fall in place.
- Do measure the success of your content. Don’t just guess. Doing so could go a long way into identifying the shortcomings of your content strategy.
- Do take time to create your content. Don’t rush the process. Quality content writing can’t be rushed, so make sure you take your sweet time researching, writing, editing, and perfecting your drafts.
- Do verify all the information from multiple sources before you publish your content. Don’t trust a single source. Whenever possible, try to cite/link to the sources (who doesn’t like outbound links that appear natural?)
Google’s search engine evaluator guidelines are one of the few, truly reliable pieces out there for content marketers to follow.
Don’t take them for granted – see how you can use them to enhance your efforts even more.
At first glance, it might be difficult to see how these guidelines can help you out with your content strategy. However, by carefully studying your top-ranking competitors and seeing how they’ve incorporated them onto their web pages, you’ll be able to do the same in no time.