Every now and then Google revises its search quality raters guidelines. This is a document which sets out a comprehensive list that website reviewers can use to determine the quality of a website. In March 2016, Google reduced the document from 160 pages down to 146, representing a cut of around 9%, which is a significant amount to remove.
There was a time that this document was only published internally within Google, but after it got leaked in 2012, Google decided to make an official public document. Every year or so, Google updates the document. This is now an invaluable guidelines for webmasters, as well as Google quality checkers. So, what has gone, what has remained and what is new?
HUGE NUMBER OF MANUAL CHECKS
Many people assume that Google Search is just an amazingly complex algorithm, but it is much more. As well as using its advanced algorithm and spam filters to determine which sites are best, Google also undertakes thousands of manual reviews. Every single manual penalty issued by Google is the outcome of a manual review.
WHY DOES GOOGLE MANUALLY REVIEW WEBSITES?
Google knows that its search engine is not perfect and sometimes low quality websites that are built on a shoestring and designed to make money through automated advertising creep under the radar.
Google carries out manual reviews to reduce all types of web spam, from cloaking and hacking to paid link building and over-optimized content. “Black hat” SEOs utilize many tricks to game Google, and while they can fool Googlebot (the name of the program that crawls and analysis the Internet) they cannot fool a manual review.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
For a really comprehensive guide to all changes, read Jennifer Slegg’s article in The SEM Post. Here is a brief summary of the most important changes that have been made in the latest release, along with a few notes on what are still the most important ranking factors:
SUPPLEMENTARY CONTENT IS NOT REQUIRED
Previous quality guidelines stated that pages should have useful supplementary content to rank well. For example, if there was a product page, or a video, a better page would be one that provided some additional information. The reasoning was that by adding extra content, the site owner was demonstrating that they are providing a unique experience. The additional content also helped Google to determine what a page was about. This change suggests that supplementary content is no longer required.
LOCAL FACTORS ARE MORE IMPORTANT
The growth of the Internet has caused a saturation of information. Whereas a decade ago only a few plumbers would have had a website, now almost every plumber has their own website. For a tradesperson to win in Google they now need work on their local SEO factors and target the local market. Google is now looking for the businesses that are best associated with a particular town, rather than trying to rank the best plumbers in the country.
Google has specified that “Visit-in-Person” sites, i.e. ones that have a public address, are considered more trustworthy than those which operate from a private residence. Businesses that hide behind postal forwarding addresses may suffer as a result. This may also mean that self-employed workers who do not wish to use their home address will slip down in the SERPs.
YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE AND E-A-T
The guidelines for “Your Money Or Your Life” (YMYL) websites, i.e. those which offer financial or health advice, have increased the emphasis on authoritative sources, or as Google calls it, “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness”.
The Panda updates helped to stamp out the worse low quality content in these niches, but manual reviews are often required to ensure that the best sites rise to the top of search. Traditionally, YMYL websites earn the most advertising revenue and have therefore been targeted by black hat SEOs the most. SEOs have become more skilled at creating false quality to rank highly, and the updated quality guidelines give more advice on how to separate real from faked quality.
Mobile friendly websites are now more important than ever before. A company that has a good responsive website, or separate versions for desktop and mobile, will be rated higher than one that only has an out-dated site that does not work properly on mobile.
The section on Website Maintenance has been removed by Google. We can only assume that this is because Google can easily automatically detect the software version that a site is using. If a site is running old software that may pose a security risk to the user, it may now simply downgrade these in search. Upgrade your CMS!
OLD INFORMATION IS OK!
In past documents, Google asked website raters the consider the age of content. This resulted in many SEOs constantly updating the dates on pages to make content look fresher, or in many cases, just removing the dates. Many corporate websites do not place dates on any of their main content. The removal of dates suggests that this is no longer an important factor for Google – although, Google does keep a record of all site changes, so in theory, the system knows when a page was first published.
CHARACTERISTICS OF HIGH QUALITY PAGES
This section had a major overhaul. It seems that Google is now more relaxed in the characteristics that determine a quality page – it may be that some quality reviewers rated down really good sites based on a single factor being missing. The old guide said “A High quality rating requires at least one of the following high quality
characteristics:”, but it now says, “A High quality page may have the following characteristics:”
- High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
- A satisfying amount of high quality MC.
- Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website or satisfying customer service information, if the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions.
- Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page.
ABOUT US / CONTACT US
A big change – contact us pages are no longer required on hobby sites. Many people running blogs have felt compelled to add contact pages and about pages to improve quality and trust, but these are not required unless the site is ecommerce or a “proper” business. Bloggers who offer great content do not need to create contact pages.
There is an increase in emphasis on checking for copied content. Many businesses and blogs steal content from other sites, and although this may not be an indication of a bad business, it is an indication of a poorly planned website.
HACKED, DEFACED OR SPAMMED PAGES ON A WEBSITE
Google offers quality raters advice on spotting sites that have been hacked or spammed for the purposes of SEO. This links back to out-dated sites. There are two main problems: sites that are abandoned and taken over by professional SEOs, and sites that are hacked by SEOs.
THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT PAGE QUALITY CONSIDERATIONS
Google offers at the end its top three factors. Getting these three right can make a big difference in Google’s eyes, so start here:
- Quality and quantity of Main Content. Examine the MC carefully. Given the purpose of the page, evaluate the quality and quantity of MC.
- Level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the page and the website. The level of E-A-T is extremely important for YMYL pages.
- Reputation of the website. The reputation of a website is very important when the website demands a high level of trust.
Google is constantly updating its search engine to strive to provide the best results to searchers. The Internet continues to develop rapidly and this means that websites which were considered quality a few years ago no longer make the grade.
The search results pages are in constant flux and understanding what Google expects and how it ranks pages is a complex ever evolving task. However, by keeping a close eye on what Google is telling its quality raters, we can have a pretty good insight into what Google really expects from a website.
If you want your website to rank well in Google, call FSE Digital today and we’ll be happy to provide some guidance and hands-on help.