The unthinkable has finally happened. No one in the IM world ever thought that Google could publicly disclose the Quality Rater’s Guidelines and Handbook, but that is exactly what has happened. If you have been following the tech news, you must have heard that Google has finally publicly disclosed the handbook.
The guide is 160 pages long, and you need one or four cups of coffee to go through the manual in one sitting, but this is nothing short of the Holy Grail of the search engine optimization world.
In fact, some minds in the Internet marketing world quickly branded the release of this handbook as the end of search engine optimization consultants.
This handbook is an interesting peek into the search behemoth. Marketers are ecstatic that they’ve finally had been allowed to get a peek into the magical world of Google.
For more than 10 years, I have been working hard to understand and reverse engineer the algorithm used by Google for powering its massive search engine, and I have always been of the opinion that websites should be built for people and not for search engines. The guidelines pretty much say the same thing.
Google Quality Rater’s Guidelines and Handbook
One of the big reasons for Google’s success is that it consistently delivers the information wanted by users. A big part of this is enabled by the layers of technology and software that power the Google search.
Over the years, Google’s engineers have spent countless hours making sense of the Internet and rank trillions of web pages to answer hundreds of billions of queries by users each month.
Since Google operates at such a significant scale, content review of this magnitude is possible only by using formulas and templates for algorithmically assessing the quality of web pages.
The future of search lies in the hands of machine learning as has been hinted by Google earlier with the announcement about Rank Brain.
As of now, Google has to stick to its various formulas, software and algorithms to power its search and these do fail sometimes.
A fringe community in the industry is the Blackhat SEO, which is also known as Spamdexing.
This community has consistently tried to find loopholes in the Google’s algorithm and exploit those loopholes to gain high rankings for their web pages to get tons of traffic.
Some of the examples of Spamdexing include keywords in white text on the page and building thousands of links to webpages to naturally trick the algorithm into thinking that web page is popular.
Importance of This Guideline
Similarly, users are using various devices including tablets, mobile, laptops and their desktop to access The internet.
In other words, the target is always moving for Google and thousands of people all over the world continue to try to find flaws in the algorithm and exploit those flaws.
This is the reason that Google has to employ Search Quality Raters to understand the impact of algorithmic changes made by Google engineers.
It helps them in understanding the difference between relevant and irrelevant results in a broad range of search terms.
On the basis of the work done by these Quality Raters, filters are built into the algorithms to filter out irrelevant pages.
In simple terms, it can be defined as asking the users to tell them about the things that were good and things that were not good, and they will make changes in their algorithm to return better results.
It can also be said that if we study these guidelines and ensure that our websites are in line with these guidelines, there is a better chance that the website will appear higher in the search results and accordingly, get a lot of traffic.
As far as the actual ranking algorithm used by Google for ranking web pages is concerned, Google is incredibly secretive about it.
So, the best way to understand the algorithm is to follow the guidelines issued to search quality raters.
Google hasn’t been forthcoming about its quality rater guidelines, but these guidelines were eventually leaked (all the versions so far), and Google is now trying to own the message themselves by releasing it publicly.
So, What’s in It?
Even though the guideline is 160 pages long, most of what is written in the instructions is taken up with real-life examples that show core concept to the quality raters.
Even though you should try to read the whole handbook on your own, here are three key takeaways that anyone should be doing for ranking high in Google search results.
The main job of quality raters is to give a page quality score to each webpage.
The Quality Rater Score is based on if the web page meets the needs of the user and the trustworthiness/authoritativeness/expertise of the author or the page.
- It’s All about the Users
Overall, it can be said that everything Google tries to accomplish is based on the needs of the user.
Everyone has noticed the slow shift of Google from providing only the links on the result pages to becoming more of an answer engine.
So, when you type in Yahoo Stock Price, the search engine understands the intent of the user, and this data is directly shown to the user in the results page.
In other words, the search engine knows the intent of the user and fulfills that request.
Same thing happens when a question is typed in directly into Google.
For instance, if you ask Google the distance between Singapore and Skegby, the result page displays the number 10,877 km which is the distance, along with a map that has a direct line between these two locations.
Other results are not relevant as the question is obscure.
What Does These Guidelines Mean for Webmasters?
The right place to start in the document is article 2.2 on page number 8. It states, What Is the Purpose of a Web Page?
In other words, you, as the owner of the website, should have a clear understanding of the purpose of each web page.
The purpose can be anything such as providing buying options for a product or service or provide information or providing news on that particular subject or showing off some cute image.
There are quite a few examples included in the document:
To drive down this point further, it is explicitly stated in the article 7.2 on page 41 that if the purpose of the page is not clear to the user despite best efforts, the lowest possible rating score should be given to such webpage.
A same rating score is given to the pages that are considered malicious or intentionally deceptive as specified in the article 7.3 on page 42.
The key takeaway is that the website owner needs to understand the key purpose of each webpage and ensure that the web page clearly fulfills that purpose and meets the needs of the users visiting it.
- Unique and Engaging Content Is the Key
You may have heard this line many times, but now you are going to hear it right from the source – Content is King.
In the guidelines, the quality raters are told by Google to differentiate between supporting content and main content.
The core content forms the bulk text on the website, and the supporting content refers to the additional content, including footer text, navigation links, and other such things.
The article 5.1 on page 27 highlights the features that should be used by quality raters to give a high quality rating to a web page.
These guidelines say that the content on the web page should satisfy the intent of the user visiting it.
In other words, the webpage should have a substantial amount of content that is not just well-written but also adequately researched.
The document clearly states that the content created with a lot of time and effort and the content that exhibits the talent, skill and expertise should receive the highest quality rating.
The article 7.4 on page 43 also clearly outlines the features of the lowest quality content.
The guidelines state that content that is meaningless, gibberish, copied from other web pages, auto generated, stuffed with keywords and not helpful to the users should receive the lowest possible quality score.
In other words, quality content is the key, and there are no shortcuts.
You cannot get away from writing small amounts of text. Also, automatically generated content or spun content is not going to cut it.
Similarly, copying content from other webpages is a sure way to get the lowest quality score.
The article 6.5.4 on page 37 once again reinforces the importance of producing relevant, updated as well as well-maintained content on the website.
It is stated that content that is outdated and not useful for the visitors often results in a bad user experience.
The key takeaway here is to produce well researched, useful and unique content on a regular basis.
Also, the content should be regularly updated and well maintained, and there shouldn’t be any shortcuts such as copying involved.
- It Is Important to Establish Yourself as a Trustworthy and Authoritative Expert on the Subject
Another important part of the guidelines is to establish whether the content is trustworthy or it’s written by an expert author.
The guidelines state that the quality raters should evaluate the authoritativeness, trustworthiness, and expertise of the website and the author.
The guidelines contain a number of other things on topics that are considered by Google as Your Money or Your Life topics.
Such topics include childcare, medicine, and finance among others.
These topics are considered extra important as these can have a significant impact on the well-being, finances, and health of the user.
This is covered in particular detail in article 2.7 on page 16. The guidelines include how the search for reputable external references should be used by the quality raters.
Reviews are also mentioned in the guidelines.
There is no need to lose sleep on a small number of negative reviews, especially when there are a large number of positive reviews.
However, negative citations or reviews from various trusted sources, including BBB are a good indication of low trust, authority, and expertise of the author.
In other words, it has a strong bearing on the quality rating of a page, especially for topics included in Your Money or Your Life Category.
In other words, in addition to authoritative links citations, it is also important to monitor external reviews and try to correct any negative reviews that may affect the trustworthiness of the content.
The key takeaway here is that one should focus on becoming an authority in the vertical by getting strong external citations or reviews and by outlining individual expertise and credentials.
A Short Summary
The article 9.2 on page 58 carries a brief summary of the overall page quality guidelines.
Quality and quantity of the webpage content.
Trustworthiness, authoritativeness and expertise of the webpage and of the website.
In other words, the guidelines say that the primary focus of Webmasters should be on delivering an excellent user experience by building websites for users and not for search engines.
If Webmasters focus on providing an exceptional user experience, high rankings in Google should automatically follow.