Most people in the SEO industry are taken aback by the difficulty of understanding the Google algorithm. However, what if we told you that there’s a way to decipher exactly how Google expects its algorithm to work?
Google breaks down how their algorithm works in the Quality Raters Guidelines document, but it’s a bit of a lengthy read. To make it easier for our readers to understand these guidelines, we’ve gone ahead and condensed the document down into the most crucial things you’ll need to know.
In this guide, we’ll cover what quality raters are in the first place, we’ll discuss Google’s quality guidelines, and we’ll break down what workers in the SEO industry need to understand.
Quality raters are people who work for Google to rank how well the results that Google provides users with match their needs. This team can be anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 people since Google doesn’t give firm numbers when it comes to their quality raters.
Using the feedback they’ve gained from this team, Google can determine how they need to change up their algorithm. While these guidelines may not have a direct impact on the rankings or algorithm, they heavily influence it and determine the way it will evolve over time.
These guidelines are designed to give raters an idea of how they should rate search results. You’ll find them in Google’s document that’s 172 pages long and goes over just about every situation.
There are three parts to the document:
Needs Met Rating Guidelines: These discuss whether or not a search matches the needs of a mobile user.
Understanding Mobile User Needs: This covers what raters need to know about how Google wants to interact with mobile users.
Page Quality Rating Guidelines: This is the largest section, and it covers everything that raters should know about a quality search. Sections covered include E‑A‑T signals, the page’s purpose, who owns a site, the quality of the content, and a site’s reputation.
Keep in mind that this deeply technical document won’t all be useful for SEO firms because it’s mainly made for Google’s employees. However, if you know where to look, you’ll be able to find some helpful information that will allow you to enhance your efforts in the SEO field.
Here’s what you need to know:
There’s no reason why you would say anything but good things about your website, so Google tends to go to other sites to determine your reputation. This means that you’ll need to keep a close eye on what these other sites are saying about you and your business.
When a rater is determining the value of a site’s reputation, Google tells them that they should check Wikipedia articles, new articles, magazine articles, blog posts, forum threads, and third-party rating companies. These are the sources you’ll need to look to.
If you search "domainname.com" on Google, you’ll be able to see other sites that have mentioned yours and learn more about what they’re saying.
Keep in mind that you can use this technique for more than just figuring out what others have to say about you. Using the info that you’ve learned from these searches, you’ll be able to plug weaknesses in your business that others can clearly perceive.
A common mistake that rite runners make is failing to address negative reviews by only focusing on the positive ones. There are countless sites where you can find reviews about your brand, including Amazon, Yelp, the BBB, and Google Shopping. These are all of the sites that Google recommends that their raters check for reviews.
Don’t ignore any negative reviews, in fact, take the time to study them.
By fixing the issues that your business is having and which are posted in these reviews, you’ll be able to address key problems in the areas of customer service, products, and the info that is featured on your site. This will ensure that your customer retention is better and that your SEO rankings are higher.
E‑A‑T is a huge part of Google’s algorithm, and you might already know this if you’re used to working in the SEO field.
E stands for Expertise,
A stands for Authority,
T stands for Trust.
This all comes together to create content that is of higher quality.
Google outlines the instructions for coming up with a site’s quality using E‑A‑T pretty well. They essentially state that you should consider the topic of the page and determine what kind of expertise would be required for the page to meet its purpose.
Since expertise is directly linked with a page’s trust and authority, this is really the only question you’re going to have to ask yourself. Expertise can vary based on the industry that you’re working in. For example, if you’re a doctor, then you have the expertise required to give medical advice.
On the other hand, if you’re giving SEO advice, then you’re going to need to have completed courses and worked in the field for quite a long time to gain the necessary expertise.
Google has come up with a few tips that you can refer to when you’re determining if you’re meeting the obligations of the E‑A‑T formula:
Make sure your info’s source is clear
Include an about page to ensure that your site or your author is recognizable and that readers can learn more about them
Discuss how much of an expert you are in your field
Be sure to edit your content for any potential errors in the info you’re providing
Remember that this may not apply equally to all industries because of the wide range of differences between them. Take a look at the sites that are ranking the highest in your industry to figure out how they’re making it obvious that they are experts in their field.
Google likes to know where the info on a certain page is coming from, and that’s usually why you’ll find a small snippet that goes over the author of a particular piece at the bottom of most content.
For example, if you’ve published a blog post on your site, there should be a small box at the bottom of the page with an image of the author and a short biography discussing their qualifications.
Keep in mind that your author doesn’t necessarily need a bevy of diplomas to show that they’re qualified and capable of creating good content. However, you should outline their experience or reasons why they’re qualified to write about the topic in the first place.
If your site doesn’t necessarily need additional information about the author or person responsible for the page, you can always expand on your site itself. You’ll want to make sure that your about page features all of the info that people would want to know about you and that the info is current.
If your posts don’t have the typical blurbs showcasing authors and content creators, you can even include them in the about page. This will ensure that people understand that the info on your site is trustworthy.
Also known as YMYL sites, Your Money, Your Life sites are sites that can potentially have an effect on your money, your safety, your health, or your happiness. Here’s a short list of these kinds of sites:
Health and fitness sites
Government and law sites
Sites for specific groups
Due to the importance of the info that is potentially on these sites, Google asks their raters to make sure that the quality of the info on these sites is up to par.
To give you an example, sites that operate in the health and fitness space ensure that their facts are double-checked and peer-reviewed. Along with these fact checks, sites in this industry contain additional info about the people who write their articles and those authors have longer, more detailed biographies.
Many sites in the YMYL space also get a secondary opinion that backs theirs up. This opinion can come from another site or from an expert that isn’t necessarily associated with your site. Getting a quote or an opinion from an expert can go a long way towards proving your expertise.
Your site’s reliability is a key feature that you’ll need to account for because there may be many features that look good at first glance but eventually stop working altogether. Quality raters will go through a site and examine things a few times to determine if those features actually work consistently well.
If you want to make sure that your site is working properly, the best way to do so is to test it across multiple machines, both desktop and mobile.
Start by checking out interactive tools on your site because these are the most common points of failure.
Take a look at the embedded videos on your site because there are many ways that they can go wrong. Some videos may play at the wrong resolution while others will simply not work at all.
Make sure that your checkout and payment processing work fine by adding things to your cart and going through the process yourself.
There are a few guidelines that go over things that should negatively impact a site, and they can be summed up like this:
Avoid creating a site that has no benefits to its users or don’t attempt to help their users solve a question or an issue. Sites that try to cause harm, lie to their users, and spread hate should be rated the lowest of all.
While these are the worst things that you can do, there are also a few less severe low-quality practices that you’ll want to avoid:
Try not to create posts that have clickbait titles to an overwhelming level, especially if your page won’t answer the question featured in the title. You should also make sure that your content isn’t scraped or copied from another source, as that will penalize you even more harshly than clickbait titles.
Google understands that they wouldn’t be able to make money if it wasn’t for their ads. The company understands that ads need to be placed on sites, and that some sites would quickly wither on the vine if it weren’t for the ads featured on their pages.
On the other hand, Google also wants to make sure that sites use ads in the best possible ways without changing the experience of visitors for the worse.
Go through your site and take a look at the ads that are featured on it. After that, you’ll be able to see how visitors experience your site and whether your ads are too intrusive for them to be able to experience the site properly.
Determine if your ads may be crude or graphic. Take a look at whether they cover any of the info on the page. Ads like these will lower your search rankings due to their low quality.
It’s also important to let your visitors know when they’re looking at an ad so that they won’t confuse them for being as authoritative as the content on your site. This is especially important for medical and financial sites.
You may want to include a simple disclaimer at the top of your content that lets your visitors know that some of the content on your site will have been paid for by partners.
In most cases, Google doesn’t mention anything technical about your 404 pages and why they shouldn’t appear, but it does go over how these pages should interact with the visitor. 404 pages should look good and they should give the visitor an idea of why they’re on the page in the first place.
Not every site visitor has the technical knowledge required to understand exactly what a 404 page is, so you’ll want to let them understand that they aren’t where they were trying to get to. A basic 404 page will simply say that the page couldn’t be found, so a visitor may waste time looking for it in another way.
If you want to make your 404 page useful, you should include a search bar or possibly some links that lead to related areas of your site. This will ensure that a visitor stays on your site instead of getting frustrated and leaving when they can’t find what they were looking for.
When you make changes to a site, you’ll want to ensure that your 404 page is up to par because it’s very likely that something will end up breaking. To ensure that the flow of traffic to your 404 pages is redirected to other spots on your site, you’ll want to follow the advice that we mentioned above.
Keep in mind that 404 pages are a mistake regardless, so you don’t want people to be reaching them but you can minimize the blow that they have by making them more useful and attractive. The best possible solution is to cut down on the number of visitors who see your 404 page by using redirects.
You can use the Ranktracker’s Web Audit tool set to discover which links on your site are broken using a filter to find 404 pages. If a page has backlinks, it’s even more important to ensure that it’s redirected to the right place.
Search intent has become more and more important over time when it comes to dealing with Google’s algorithm, and ignoring it is a mistake. Consider where searches are coming from and who is making them in the first place.
One great example is how the term football differs from place to place. Someone from Europe making that search would be looking for soccer. Someone from the US making that search would be looking for American football. Keep in mind that this example is mentioned word for word in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines.
When working in the industry, you’ll want to ensure that your keywords will remain relevant across geographical boundaries. You’ll also want to make sure that the meaning of your keywords is mutable enough for you to develop a robust SEO strategy regardless of where your customers are located.
Location isn’t the only thing that you’ll need to pay attention to when it comes to search intent. You’ll also have to account for the time and season when the search is being made. People will look for different types of clothes in winter and summer, so be sure to swap out the products that you’re trying to market accordingly.
Date matters for more than just search intent, however, as you’ll also want to make sure that your content is updated as frequently as possible. If someone is searching for an event, then they likely won’t want to hear about last year’s version of that event. Update your posts and make sure that they showcase the latest events of that type.
This is included in the Mobile User Needs part of the guidelines but it applies to every site, both on mobile and on desktop. The only reason why Google includes this specifically in that part of the guidelines is because they’re trying to ensure that all sites focus on their mobile side first due to the growing popularity of searches originating from mobile devices.
While Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines may not tell us anything revolutionary about the search engine’s algorithm, it confirms some of the theories that we had about the algorithm. In many cases, there is a significant degree of overlap between the quality guidelines that Google has listed out when it comes to webmasters.
However, there are a few things that we noticed when we were going through these guidelines, including the fact that Google wants to penalize malicious or deceptive content. On the flipside, Google wants to encourage site runners to create high-quality content that addresses questions and concerns.
Keep in mind that high-quality content is more than just content that looks good from the outside. You also want to make sure that content helps people out by addressing their concerns directly without taking too much time to get to the point or going about things indirectly.
One of the more eye-opening realizations that we came across was that site reputation is determined by more than just the site itself. Google puts a lot of stock into what other sites have to say about your site. When you think about this, it makes sense because no site runner in their right mind would ever say anything negative about themselves.
These guidelines also show us that Google understands that their algorithm can’t accomplish anything, and they need checks and balances that are enforced by actual human beings. That’s what these quality checkers are responsible for: making sure that Google’s algorithm is working as intended.
While machine learning has come a long way, algorithms still aren’t able to make up for the adaptability and intelligence of a human mind. As the algorithm becomes responsible for more and more searchers, the importance of maintaining these checks and balances becomes far more crucial.
What we’ve gathered from all of this is that Google is using its algorithm to make sure that the content that shows up at the top is genuine. They want their algorithm to be as difficult to fool as possible because that would lead to cheap, unhelpful content floating to the top and ruining Google’s reputation.