Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines are a treasure trove of information about how Google’s algorithm ranks content and decides which results to serve.
If you’re wondering how to rank better in Google, this document is the closest thing you’re going to get to a straight answer.
And here’s why -
Google hires Search Quality Raters - called ‘raters’ for short - to manually review the SERPs for certain searches to ensure the algorithm is returning the ‘right’ results.
They’re given a set of guidelines to assist this ranking. Over 150 pages of criteria that determine how a site should be ranked, straight from the horse’s mouth.
In this article we’ll give you 8 key insights from the guidelines that you can bake into future content, followed by a brief rundown of what the guidelines are for and where you can find them.
1. There are two key ratings: Page Quality (PQ) and Needs Met (NM)
Raters are tasked with establishing two things. Page Quality (PQ) describes how well a page fulfils its purpose. Needs Met (NM) quantifies whether a visitor’s needs were met by the page they arrive at.
Taken together, high PQ and NM scores indicate content that is fit for purpose, and which clearly and efficiently addresses user need.
Conversely, two low ratings indicate content that does not serve its intended purpose well enough to provide value.
2. The most important things are expertise, authority, and trust
These are so important that there’s a special acronym: E-A-T. Memorise it, and keep it at the heart of everything you do, because you’ll see this mentioned time and again in the guidelines.
It stands for -
- Expertise: You need to demonstrate it.
- Authority: You need to have it.
- Trust: You need to build it.
3. Search intent matters A LOT
To establish a NM score, raters need to ascertain the specific needs of people arriving at a webpage. This means that pages designed to address specific search intent are likely to perform better than very broad content.
Bear this in mind when creating content for your website. What purpose does it exist to achieve?
4. Page purpose matters A LOT
With a clearly-established search intent, the purpose of a webpage also becomes clearer. Google raters reward webpages with content targeted toward the needs of visitors.
The guidelines give these examples of potential page purposes -
(Source, page 9)
Note the word ‘beneficial’ - just as raters are prone to reward content with clear beneficial page purpose, they are trained to flag pages with harmful or unhelpful intent. This includes common culprits like phishing pages, but also pages with deceptive content, or that meander and never really provide any good information.
5. Page content is split into three core categories
Main Content (MC) contributes to the key purpose of the page. Things like -
- The text answering a question or explaining an issue in a blog post.
- The text and videos of a news story on a news website.
- Product information, imagery, and pricing on a commerce site.
Supplementary Content (SC) contributes to user experience but does not contribute to serving the key purpose of the page. SC can make positive or negative contributions (i.e. it can be helpful or distracting). Things like -
- Links to related posts on a blog.
- Links to related news stories or author information on a news site.
- Information about the store and other products on a commerce site.
Advertisements and monetisation (Ads) exist solely to attract revenue, and do not contribute to the user experience. Google acknowledges that some sites need to run ads to exist, thus the presence of ads does not automatically reduce a site’s ranking. However ads are assessed for quality, relevance, invasiveness, and various other metrics.
6. Special attention is paid to YMYL pages
YMYL stands for ‘your money or your life,’ and this category includes pages which “could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re involved in content, search engine optimisation, or other digital marketing for a business. In which case, your website would fall into the YMYL bucket.
With this in mind, it’s crucially important that your site content ticks all the boxes.
7. It matters who is responsible for content
This ties into the expertise and authority part of E-A-T. Webpages with content created by experts, prominent voices, or people with relevant experience and credibility are likely to perform better.
By attributing content to specific authors, or by detailing the people responsible for maintaining the website as a whole, you boost these metrics. Visitors to your site will be able to see who is responsible for the information they’re presented with, and will be able to evaluate its credibility accordingly.
8. Raters can’t influence results directly
Their job is to feedback to Google on search results: Google then decides whether to tweak the search algorithm based on this feedback or to leave it how it is.
So there’s no point trying to track down individual raters and incentivise them to rank your content better!
What are Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines?
The guidelines are 168 pages of insight into how Google ranks content, the various factors used, their relative importance, and how they interact.
Who are the guidelines for?
The guidelines serve as instructions and guidance for raters - the people hired by Google to manually review the results for certain searches.
Raters use the guidelines to evaluate whether Google’s algorithm is serving the correct results for the search in question.
Where can I find Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines?
The latest version of the guidelines at time of writing this is from December 2019, and you can find the full document here.
A final thought...
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