Late last year, Google released the full version of its latest Search Quality Guidelines, a 160-page report full of SEO insights that are important for any online marketer to understand.
Previous versions of the quality guidelines have been leaked over the years, and marketers have known for a while that Google has a team of people charged with performing quality checks.
It’s important to note, however, that raters are not running quality checks in order to directly affect your page’s search ranking. Instead, they work with Google on experiments that measure how effective the search results are overall.
While complying with the full quality guidelines won’t necessarily affect how the search algorithms rank your website, websites that do comply to the guidelines are the ones that Google wants to rank well – so it helps to be one of those.
Here’s a closer look at the report, focusing on the key points that matter most to marketers:
Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)
While all websites are measured for quality according to the same metrics, Google does specify certain types of websites that are held to a higher standard than others.
Called “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) pages, they include all page types that could “potentially negatively impact users,” including:
- Shopping and financial transaction pages
- Financial information pages
- Medical information pages
- Legal pages
- Other (e.g. child adoption or car safety info)
For these types of pages, Google has established a lower threshold for what raters consider to be indications of low quality pages.
Quality Main Content
Main content (MC) is one of the biggest factors Google encourages its raters to consider. Raters evaluate MC based on the page’s individual purpose.
For example, high quality humor content must be entertaining, and high quality shopping content must help searchers find and easily purchase products.
Raters will also consider the amount of content in their quality ratings. There’s no set number for the right amount of content, but instead raters consider it based on the topic.
A page that covers a broad topic with little information might receive a lower rating than a page covering a narrow topic with the same amount of content.
Expert, Authoritative, Trustworthy (EAT)
When following Google’s guidelines, raters evaluate the combination of your page’s expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Any website – even a gossip column – can provide some sort of expertise.
For medical advice or legal advice, the information should come from people who are accredited or have credentials in those fields.
For topics that don’t require as much official expertise, raters will pay attention to what Google considers “everyday expertise,” such as helpful reviews, life experiences, and tips shared on blogs, forums etc, that demonstrate life experience with the topic.
It is possible to have a high rating with no reputation; however, a negative reputation warrants a low rating in Google’s eyes.
Raters are instructed to look out for indicators of a credible negative reputation (such as bad reviews), as well as extremely negative indicators, such as a malicious or financially fraudulent reputation.
Raters are looking for a satisfying amount of website information, including About Us, Contact Information, Customer Service information, and similar pages.
For non-YMYL pages, a contact email address may be sufficient.
Especially for large websites, raters are looking for helpful supplementary content (SC).
This content is targeted to enhance the MC of the page, such as a tool to convert ingredient quantities on a recipe page, or suggestions for similar posts on a blog.
Raters determine the quality of your page design based on how well it focuses on the MC. The page design and organization should put the main content front and center – visitors shouldn’t have to scroll to find it.
It should be clear to users immediately which content is the main content – SC and ads shouldn’t confuse or distract from it.
That said, there are a few important points to remember about SC and ads:
- Ads and SC should be “ignorable” if the visitor doesn’t want to pay attention to them
- Page organization, design or labeling should clearly indicate which parts of the page are ads and which are content
In order to achieve a high rating, your website must be “cared for, maintained, and updated appropriately.” How exactly this is measured will depend on the purpose of your site. A news site, for example, would need many daily updates.
If your website looks abandoned – or worse, has been hacked and defaced – this will warrant a much lower quality rating.
While much of the information in Google’s latest search quality guidelines isn’t new for marketers who paid attention to the leaks and hints from previous versions, there are a couple of points covered in the 2015 guide that we’ve never been seen before:
Know, and Know Simple Queries
As part of their efforts to understand user intent and deliver what they’re looking for, Google has defined two new types of queries: Know, and Know Simple.
A “Know Query” is a general search for information about a topic. Essentially, the user is searching because they want to know more about something.
A “Know Simple Query” is a sub-type of Know Query that has an accepted, straightforward answer that most people could agree on, and that could be summarized succinctly.
Google offered some examples to illustrate the difference in their guidelines:
In order to be considered a Know Simple Query, the search topic can’t be too complex or have many potential answers.
So why is this difference important for search rank? Well, if you want to get your webpage featured in one of Google’s snippets, then offering content that easily answers Know Simple Queries will be essential.
Another new metric raters are using is called ‘Needs Met.’ Ultimately, it’s how well the page answered what the searcher was looking for.
Here’s how the pages are rated, according to the guide:
An important thing to note about the ‘Needs Met’ rating descriptions is that mobile compatibility is explicitly indicated as a factor. Google has been pushing mobile compatibility as a rank factor for a while now, but now it’s also shown to be a factor for quality determination as well.
This means that even if your site offers the most valuable and authoritative content on a topic, if it isn’t mobile friendly, the quality rating will go down.
So besides mobile, how else can you ensure your page gets a good ‘Needs Met’ rating?
It seems that focusing on content that will answer the searcher’s query without requiring them to look at another page on your site will be essential for a ‘Highly Meets’ rating.
That means offering clear and valuable content combined with the right keywords. If your keywords are somehow drawing the wrong searchers, this can be a problem for Needs Met.
Your page will likely end up with a lower rating if the content is outdated, too broad, too specific, or lacks expertise.
Here are examples of three different ratings, for comparison:
Rating: Highly Meets
Rating: Moderately Meets
Rating: Fails to Meet
Ultimately, Google has offered a fairly straightforward set of guidelines on how it ranks the quality of search results – and what your site needs to do to get noticed.
As far as what marketers should focus on to ensure high quality pages, it will depend on the breadth and purpose of the website, as rankers are instructed to consider these factors throughout the guide.
That said, the overall takeaway for marketers is to not let your business goals get in the way of user experience.
Your goal, first and foremost, is connecting visitors with the information they’re looking for, without letting page design, ads, or supplementary content get in the way of it.
It’s also important to remember that searchers have a lot of options for consuming content. Don’t give them reason to choose your competitor’s website over yours.
Instead, focus on demonstrating authority, keeping your site clean and updated, and maintaining a positive external reputation. Not only are these important tactics for meeting Google’s quality guidelines, they’ll encourage trust with your audience as well.
Now, I want to hear from you. Has the release of Google’s quality guidelines changed your approach to digital marketing? Whether yes or no, leave a comment below with your position:
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.