What are Google’s Search Quality Guidelines?
Understanding what Google wants, whether you’re a content creator or SEO specialist, is important when it comes to ranking in search results. Google has published a hefty search quality guideline document that details how their human raters should evaluate content. By reviewing this document, we can better understand what Google considers important to its users and how we, as content creators, should incorporate the guidelines in order to create better content that also ranks well.
Luckily for you, we’re not going to make you read all 166 pages. Instead, we’ll be giving you a rundown of what they want with this overview of Google’s content guidelines for SEO.
Please note that this is meant to be a digestible overview of the SQGs. For details and examples, we recommend referring directly to the document that is linked above.
Search Quality Raters
We’ve all seen and been affected by Google’s algorithm changes throughout the years. In some cases, those changes may have been impacted by human raters Google employs to further complement its machine-based algorithms and improve search result quality.
Search Quality Raters are people who assess the quality of the search results by giving pages a rating that will ultimately reflect on what Google thinks the users wants to see. Raters give pages ratings based on whether the content is helpful or not when considering the user’s search intent – from making sure it’s not duplicate content from another website to making sure the page serves its purpose to the user overall.
How Search Quality Raters Evaluate Webpages
Search quality raters evaluate the quality of your webpage using several different aspects, but initially they focus on determining whether the page in question is “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL). Then they evaluate its Expertise, Authority, and Trust (E-A-T).
What is Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)
“Your Money or Your Life” is a determination of whether your content impacts someone’s health or wealth if the directions, suggestions, or implications of said content are performed by the user.
For example, if the content on your website is telling someone to perform an action that may change their financial status or impact their health, as perceived by Google’s algorithm or their raters, that content is considered YMYL and gets much more scrutiny.
What is E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust)
E-A-T is how Google perceives the authenticity, credibility, and value of your website and the author of the content. Establishing expertise, authority, and trust in your industry is now essential to creating what Google considers quality content worth ranking.
E-A-T considerations include:
- Purpose of the page
- Main content quantity and quality
- Reputation of the website and who is responsible for the main content (Author)
- Evaluation of author biographies and general website contact/company information
What if My Content Isn’t YMYL?
If your content is not considered YMYL, E-A-T still comes into play and you are still ranked and rated against your competition based on the quality of your content.
Life experiences, reviews of products and places, etc do not get evaluated for E-A-T or require obvious formal experience/knowledge to talk about. Personal experiences can count as a form of expertise as well. For these types of content, you don’t have to worry about getting ranked lower if you aren’t a formal expert.
If your website has a forum or a Q&A page, the pages should include both the question as well as the answer and any resulting discussion.
These evaluative guidelines help protect users by ensuring content they consume is written by trusted sources and contains accurate information that will not be harmful to the user.
If your content is considered YMYL, it is important to be careful when broaching topics about and including statements that may be contradictory to widely accepted scientific fact, common practices, etc. This type of content can lead to lower rankings for those pages. However, as long as your page doesn’t lead to malicious and harmful content, spread hate or violence, or trick users/search engines regardless of the intent, your page shouldn’t receive direct penalties from Google.
Recommended reading: Recovering From a Google Algorithm Penalty
Search Ranking Evaluation and Mobile
In today’s world, almost everyone has gone mobile. With smartphones, you can find information with just a touch of your finger. Because of this, Google has switched to a “mobile-first” ranking strategy that evaluates your site based on a user’s mobile experience first and foremost for rankings. Although searching on a phone can be challenging compared to on a desktop, your website should be easy to use on all devices, including those with smaller screens.
A user should always be able to find what they need easily, even when using voice search. As such, the content on your page should be optimized for the user’s intent in such a way that the user understands the purpose of the page and has a clear path to find what they need. People don’t want to spend a lot of time searching for things – they want results right away.
Your website should be able to satisfy the user’s inquiry, whether they are on desktop or mobile, without forcing them to continue searching elsewhere.
The search quality guidelines put a large emphasis on mobile usability, speed, and user experience.
What Makes a High or Low-Quality Page for SEO?
You’re probably wondering, what really makes a page high or low quality? In short, a high-quality page includes:
- High E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust)
- Descriptive/helpful title
- Functionality of the page
- Satisfying information/information about who is responsible for the website
- If it’s primarily a shopping page, it should include satisfying customer service information
- Positive reputation of the website and creator of the content (whether or not the author is from a different organization or writes on a different website)
A low-quality page may include:
- Numerous and distracting ads
- Not enough content (thin content)
- No or low E-A-T
- Exaggerated “click bait” titles
- Unverifiable Author
- Broken links/pages
- Slow page load times (or did not load at all)
We recommend using SEMRush to run a site audit and fix all warnings and errors as standard procedure for your website.
Important: Just because a page “looks” good, does not mean it will receive a high rating. It’s imperative that you spend real time and put effort into your content.
Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines dictate the criteria by which their human raters evaluate and rank webpages. These guidelines help structure how webmasters should manage their sites and how SEO specialists and content creators can optimize their content. Even with many ongoing changes in Google’s algorithm, following these guidelines and using best practices is still the best approach to securing the top positions in the SERPs.