Over the past week or so the talk of the town among webmasters and SEO professionals has been the leaked copy of Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines (otherwise known as the search quality evaluation guide) and the revealing of vital clues as to how Google determines site quality.

The handbook, Version 5.0 is dated March 2014 and inside contains updated information used by Google to offer guidance to its internal team of human search quality raters who actively measure the quality of search results and test algorithm changes.

This document is periodically updated by Google and often a leaked copy will emerge offering SEO professionals and marketers the chance to gain an insight into what actions they can take to help their websites get higher ranking in web results. For the time being, you can take a  look at the document for yourself.

While the manual doesn’t present us with any major surprises, it does give us a more detailed look into the information and examples previously provided by Google’s cryptic public-facing  Webmaster Guidelines.

In this article we are going to examine some of the changes to the latest version of this document, taking a look into what these changes may mean for business owners and marketers and how they can be used to gain a better understanding of how Google categorises a “high quality” website.

E-A-T: Expertise/Authoritativeness/Trustworthiness

In Version 5.0 of the guidelines major emphasis is stressed on the concept of E-A-T. Although these factors have always been a rudimentary part in the makeup of a site’s evaluation, the concept has been defined more explicitly in the latest version of the manual. During the process of site and page evaluation, Google’s raters will be scoping indications that the content meets these three factors.

It is indicated in the guidelines that raters should be looking for official indications of expertise in a field when evaluating a site or a page. For example, take a dental website. If a site such as this is offering specialised medical advice or services it should be written or edited by by a person or organisation with the correct level of expertise or qualifications. Similarly a website on an area of law should contain content written by someone with a high degree of experience or expertise in the legal field.

However, raters are also told that formal expertise isn’t always a necessity. For example in some cases an individual may possess enough “everyday working knowledge” and “expertise” on a topic to qualify them enough as an expert in the field.

The guidelines state: 

“High quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic. Keep in mind that there are “expert” websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages, etc. In fact, some types of information are found almost exclusively on forums and discussions, where community of experts can provide valuable perspectives on specific topics. Some topics require less formal expertise. Many people write extremely detailed, helpful reviews of products or restaurants. Many people share tips and life experiences on forums, blogs, etc. These ordinary people may be considered experts in topics where they have life experience.”

Raters are reminded that expertise standard is something that differentiates depending on the topic of the page, and are told to ask themselves; “What kind of expertise is required for the page to achieve its purpose well?”

What you can do

Assess and determine whether the content on your site would serve as authoritative and trustworthy- i.e; is it written by an expert in your industry?

“Your Money Your Life” Now More Than Ever

You will already be familiar with the concept of “Your Money Your Life” (YML) pages from the previous manual, though the newly leaked version of the document stresses a greater importance on the aggregation of content on these types of pages.

YMYL are pages or sites that could have impact on the “future happiness, health or wealth of users.” Due to the fact that these page are considered to possess potential life-changing ramifications, Google hold them to particularly high standards.

Listed in the manual are some examples of these types of pages:

  • Financial transaction or shopping pages: these are webpages which allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills, etc. online.
  • Financial information pages: webpages which solicit advice or information about investments, taxes, home purchase, paying for university education, buying insurance, taking out loans etc.
  • Medical information pages: webpages which provide advice or information about health, drugs, specific diseases or conditions, mental health, nutrition, etc.
  • Legal information pages: webpages which solicit legal advice or information on legal topics.
  • Advice pages on highly expensive topics such as home remodelling or advice on parenting issues (which can affect the future happiness of a family) should also come from expert sources.

For Your Information

As a webmaster or marketer you should be always keeping tabs on what sites and pages qualify as YMYL. If the content on your site could potentially have an impact on the wealth, health or happiness of your viewers then you should consider having your content proofread and amended by an industry expert. If you do possess expertise or authority in the area then be sure to clearly display this information on your sites for the benefit of both the human raters as well as your readers.

Build a Positive Reputation and High-Quality Ratings

Reputation is a familiar tune now and has been mentioned in previous versions of the manual. Though this area should not be overlooked, especially as Version 5.0 contains a new subsection on “positive reputation”.

Version 4.2 of the guidebook said:

A positive reputation from a consensus of experts is often what distinguishes an overall Highest quality page from a High quality page. A negative reputation should not be ignored and is a reason to give an overall PQ [page quality] rating of Low or Lowest.

Version 5.0 contains a slightly different explanation; going so far as to say a medium quality page could get a high rating if positive reputation is a prevalent factor.

Reputation is an important consideration when using the High rating. While a page can merit the High rating with no reputation, the High rating cannot be used for any website that has a convincing negative reputation. A very positive reputation can be a reason for using the High rating for an otherwise Medium page.

A very positive reputation, the guidebook says, is "often based on prestigious awards or recommendations from known experts or professional societies on the topic of the website."

When considering expertise and reputation together, the handbook provides guidelines that clarify where less formal expertise is required for the topic, and says, "popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation."

For topics which need less formal expertise, websites can be considered to have a positive reputation if they are highly popular and well-loved for their topic or content type, and are focused on helping users.

In assessing reputation of businesses the guidebook instructs search quality raters to use initiative.

Most businesses have some negative reviews, especially for customer service. Try to find as many reviews and ratings as possible and read the details of negative reviews and low ratings before inferring that the business has a negative reputation.

What you can do

Even if your site has a lack of online reviews, this isn’t necessarily a problem as it is the negative reviews that should be the concern of site owners. This implies that search reputation management is more important than previously thought as it not only affects your potential customers but also your organic search rankings.

More Tips for Webmasters

Scattered throughout the guide are a few more important tips for webmasters. The more significant ones include;

  • Ensuring that you display your contact info and customer service info is more important than ever. If you are in charge of an e-commerce site, be certain to keep your ‘About’ and contact info prominent in order to demonstrate the credibility of your site.
  • Page design is important: On page ads should not distract users from finding the main content of your page, but should be easily “ignorable”. Although the attractiveness of a page is irrelevant, users should be able to easily determine where the main content of a page is.
  • Maintain your website properly: In order for a site to be seen as high quality, information must be updated regularly; this is particularly important for news sites and other sites where current information is crucial.

What Makes a High Quality Page?

While we may know this already, section 4.1 of the manual succinctly summarises the main elements that make a page “high quality”;

“A High quality rating requires at least one of the following high quality characteristics:

  • A satisfying amount of high quality MC [main content, as opposed to supplementary content].
  • The page and website are expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic of the page.
  • The website has a good reputation for the topic of the page.

In addition, the page and website should have most of the following:

  • A satisfying amount of website information, for example, About Us information, Contact or Customer Service information, etc.
  • SC which contributes to a satisfying user experience on the page and website.
  • Functional page design which allows users to easily focus on MC and use SC as desired.
  • A website which is well cared for and maintained “

This serves as an echo of what we already knew; the key to having a site that ranks highly in Google search is to fill it with high-quality, useful and user-friendly content. While this may not be new to us, the information provided in the guidelines are helpful in providing a more explicit and detailed explanation and examples of content that will appeal to both your readers and Google.

Let us know what you think!

What is your two cents on the new guidelines? Has anything caught you unawares? Do you have your own tips and advice on creating great Google-friendly content? Let’s us know!