This article was originally published on May 21st, 2020. The article has been updated since. Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines most recent update was on October 19th, 2021.
It’s no secret that Google owns the lion’s share of search traffic on the internet. In fact, there are 5.6 billion Google searches every single day. That comes down to approximately 63,000 searches per second. That’s a lot of searches. And Google has many different stipulations, guidelines, and algorithms that go into how websites rank online.
Organic SERPs fluctuate constantly. It’s not a matter of achieving the first page and then letting things go. SEO requires constant work to reach the top rankings and stay there. But as pages work on their own optimizations, it means websites regularly go up and down in rankings for certain competitive keywords. In fact, it’s rare for one particular keyword to have the same SERP for more than a couple days.
So what exactly goes into rankings besides a well optimized website? This post will give a basic overview of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines and why it matters for your website. We will also go over the most recent updates Google has made to their Quality Rater Guidelines.
What are Quality Rater Guidelines?
Google has an algorithm that does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to ranking websites. There’s billions of bots that crawl the web 24/7/365. And good SEO for your website is how you rise in the rankings when those bots take note of the good content, keywords, and intent of your website. The Quality Raters at Google help the machine algorithm do its job better by providing a human eye to many, many websites on the internet.
It’s in Google’s best interest not only to provide the best results to every single query, but those results can change depending on the location or subject matter. So it’s important for Google to understand all the pages on the internet to serve the top results for every search performed.
The guidelines are a massive 172 page document that tells these human raters how to review and rate websites accordingly. Basically, Google has thousands of people who tell their algorithm if a website is good or bad based on a variety of parameters. These ratings don’t affect the actual rankings, but they tell Google how to better evaluate websites and train their AI. So essentially, raters impact all websites by helping Google improve its algorithm.
Google updates it’s rater guidelines mostly every year to make Search work better for its users. For example, in 2017, Google updated their guidelines to provide more detailed information of low-quality web pages that included misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes or other content. In May 2019, they put a bigger emphasis on user intent or “needs met”, page quality, and E-A-T. In 2020, they provided guidance on how to tell if a result from a dictionary or encyclopedia would be useful for a certain query. In Google’s most recent update from October 2021, they included clarifications of what constitutes lowest quality content, expanding on YMYL, and simplified the definition of upsetting-offensive. We’ll get into the details of them and why those are important further down.
What Do Raters Do?
Google Page Quality Raters ultimately decide how well a page achieves its purpose. They are given a URL and set out to record observations and if the page does what it’s supposed to do. Google tells all raters to give the lowest possible rating to those pages that are designed to harm users or those that exist just to make money with ads. To Google, all pages listed in the SERPs should exist to help the users.
Raters evaluate websites on a scale of lowest to highest. This scale includes: Lowest, Low, Medium, High, and Highest quality ratings. Raters go through each page to see if it meets its intended purpose. They then rate it depending on what they find. Google says pages can have several purposes and that no pages are better than another. So an insurance website that is optimized well and serves its purpose could get the same rating as a dictionary page. Overall, raters review, test, and evaluate all of the newest updates to ensure they’re helpful and have their intended effect.
The ultimate goal with Page Quality Guidelines is to see if a page accomplishes its purpose. Of course every single page on the internet has a different purpose. But no matter what a page is designed to do, it needs to do it well.
For raters, Google says a webpage’s purpose should fall into a specific category. They include but are not limited to:
- Sharing information about a topic.
- To share personal or social information.
- Sharing pictures, videos, or other forms of media.
- Expressing an opinion or point of view.
- To entertain.
- Selling products or services.
- To allow users to post questions for other users to answer.
- Allowing users to share files or to download software.
This all goes back to quality SEO. A page needs to have good keywords. It needs to have clear messaging. The images need to match the tone and branding. And it needs to be concise for a user to understand what is happening. You know a high quality page when you see it. It is very easy for a user to navigate through and get the information they need. Low quality pages will have high bounce rates and unclear language with little-to-no purpose.
In recent years, Google has put more and more emphasis on user intent. They want to make sure the delivered results actually meet the needs of what the user searched for. The needs met part of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines means that raters need to see if a website would meet the needs of a user who came across it. Is it helpful? And is it user friendly to learn more? It really doesn’t get much more basic than that.
Needs met also applies to mobile results. From the guide, “Needs Met rating tasks ask you to focus on mobile user needs and think about how helpful and satisfying the results is for the mobile users.”
The Needs Met guidelines go from: Fails to Meet, Slightly Meets, Moderately Meets, Highly Meets, or Fully Meets a user’s needs. The Needs Met category also dramatically changes depending on the type of query and the location. There could be dozens of different meanings behind a search query, and the results will vary depending on the search and where it originates from. As long as a website meets it’s requirements of serving its purpose and intent, the needs should be met by Google raters.
A common thread throughout all of these categories is E-A-T. We’ve written before about why it’s important to E-A-T when it comes to Google search results. It stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. The entire document on Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines is filled with E-A-T references. E-A-T is clearly very important for SEO, and something you should keep in mind with every single page on your website.
The Search Quality Rater Guidelines have dozens if not hundreds of E-A-T references. Clearly, this topic matters a lot to Google.
You need to show expertise through your website for your chosen area. Whatever your website is about, or your business focus, needs to reflect throughout your website. And you need to show why you are the best at what you do. This means great content. It means you write about what your audience wants to know. It means you understand the intent behind your content and the pages on your site. And ultimately it shows that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to your business.
This takes expertise one step further. You don’t just know what you’re talking about. But other sites and experts refer to your site and your content to bolster their own. You build this up through SEO services that largely occur off site. It means building up a bigger link profile. This tells Google that other sites point back to your site, and that your site has authority within your niche. They’re essentially digital votes of confidence in a global popularity contest. Google also sees increased authority when your content gets shared across the internet and social media channels.
The acronym YMYL stands for “your money your life”. It describes pieces of content or pages that could potentially result in impacting an individual based on certain factors. These factors could be an individual’s happiness, health, financial stability, or safety. In the most recent October 2021 Search Quality Rater Guidelines update, Google expanded on this subcategory to include more examples of YMYL. In the groups of people section is now defined as:
“Information about or claims related to groups of people, including but not limited to those grouped on the basis of age, caste, disability, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, immigration status, nationality, race, religion, sex/gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, victims of a major violent event and their kin, or any other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization.”
Overall, this was one of the largest section updates along with the changes on lowest quality content.
We’ve just given a basic overview and current updates into the details that go into what Google considers important in its quality guidelines. There’s so much more that goes into high rankings on the internet. If your small business needs help with SEO, let Boostability help you out! If you’d like additional information or help to build your site’s online authority, contact us today.