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January 4, 2019

5 Actionable Takeaways from Google’s Search Quality Evaluators Guidelines

Google recently updated their ‘search quality evaluators  guidelines’ and the document all but gives away the secret sauce to ranking your site, or at least the elements that humans are rating from Google’s perspective. 

In this article I’ll be sharing 5 actionable takeaways from the evaluator’s guidelines, and going through what each of them mean for you and your website – so you can check some boxes for Google, and get back to creating powerful content. 

Why pay attention to Google’s Search Quality Evaluators Guidelines?

Google is constantly making improvements to its products – some of those improvements are made with manual efforts by an army of evaluators, and some are made in the form of tweaks and shifts to its general algorithm.

Many SEO Experts are skeptical of whether Google’s technology is as advanced as they like to make it seem in press releases, and in some of the posing and preening they do when they make it seem like they are more powerful than they are… but they do make improvements on a regular basis, and in general they are in the direction of a better product, and a more comprehensive, and ‘good for users’ direction. 

That’s why it’s so important to look at what they are looking for ideally in the form of what they share with their manual raters. Here’s what they are telling them to look for and care about:

1. E-A-T is life

Expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness are at the very center of what Google is looking for content that it ranks high. 

The takeaway here is that Google is telling its human raters to look for signs of these things, to look for certifications and awards – to rate trustworthy sites much higher. 

Perhaps at scale Google can’t currently do this algorithmically, but it is slowly going to build this into its algorithm if it can. One example is that it does have data on the satisfaction of people’s customers through reviews – and I’ve heard numerous examples of correlation between high ratings on Google places, and higher ranking. (Correlation doesn’t equal causation of course.)

2. Main content vs. supplementary content

One of the big guidelines for rating – is making sure that there is a large amount of ‘Main Content’, not just a bunch of ‘supplementary content’. 

I realized how many of our landing pages look like they are composed of ‘supplementary content’ – meaning there’s not one clear and obvious main section of content, but rather a bunch of broken-out sections. 

In future designs – the actionable piece for me is that it would seem like for SEO purposes, it would be beneficial to have a clear ‘article–like’ section on a landing page, and not just a bunch of sections with a couple of paragraphs each. 

3. The scale is sliding for entertaining content vs. informative content

The clear guidelines for evaluators are that entertaining content is valuable. 

Not just informative content – so if you have cat videos, they need to be highly engaging cat videos. 

If you have informative content – it needs to be highly informative. 

The bar seems to be much lower for word count for entertaining content, but whether it’s videos or photos, it needs to fulfill ‘searcher intent.’  Crazy enough, the evaluators guidelines even give clear criteria for judging the quality of adult content. 

4. YMYL, or ‘Your Money Your Life’, sites get the hardest scrutiny

Sites about money, health sites, and sites that affect people lives in important and life-changing ways – get a whole ‘nother level of dissection in the guidelines. 

If you have one of these sites – it’s important to represent the credentials of the experts that are writing on your site, and build your content strategy around thought leadership. 

Google is trying to build its algorithm (and in the meantime it’s people, and the way they rate sites) around the kind of information and authorship – searchers can trust. They mention awards over and over in the guidelines, and so they are actively trying to move the results in the direction of sites and authors with awards and credentials. 

5. Google is looking at a company/person’s overall reputation

One of the most surprising things I found in Google’s Search Quality Evaluators was that Google is suggesting over and over to look at a company’s, or a person’s, reputation all over the web. “Go look at their BBB page, look for write-ups in other publications, look for any kind of indication of good standing in their community – and in their trade.” 

If Google is looking at overall reputation – and is actively telling its manual raters to factor that into the quality of a site, then you know that they are looking for ways to factor in reputation in a more manual way. 

Linkless mentions, public relations and other elements of your company – may or may not be part of your SEO strategy for the next year, but no matter what – you’d do well to keep an eye on what Google is saying it’s looking for, even if it’s not part of the core algorithm just yet.


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Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, and strategic marketer focused primarily on driving traffic and leads for small businesses and construction companies. You can check out his ‘Search Quality Evaluator’s Guidelines Cliff Notes’ or read other SEO strategies on Hook’s Blog.

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