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Type in a search query into Google.

The results appear instantaneously with the most relevant at the top.

But have you ever wondered how those pages rank?

Displaying the most relevant results out of millions of pages is a monumental task. So Google utilizes a complex algorithm that uses a set of ranking signals to return the most useful and relevant results. All of which is done virtually in an instant.

The search giant has always kept a tight lid on how it evaluates sites. This is done for obvious reasons but now for the first time, Google has officially released its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in full. The information in the report is absolutely invaluable to better understand how Google rewards sites.

Here we take an in-depth look at the search quality guidelines and what areas are worth paying attention to.

What Are Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines?

You won’t find any secrets here no matter how hard you look.

Google’s announcement on the release states:

“Ratings from evaluators do not determine individual site rankings, but are used help us understand our experiments. The evaluators base their ratings on guidelines we give them; the guidelines reflect what Google thinks search users want.”

A team of human quality raters are tasked with conducting hundreds of searches and analyzing sites to determine their quality. Their assessments are then used to further refine the ranking algorithms to deliver better results.

Here is an example of how a rater conducts a search and evaluates a page:

Google Quality Rating

The human raters take note if low quality results are clogging the listings.

The search quality guidelines tell the raters how to evaluate sites as part of ongoing experiments that Google conducts. The information is important as it codifies the process that raters use to internally test certain components of the algorithm. It brings to light many of the diverse factors that determine rankings.

This information is important for a number of reasons.

The reality is that search engines will continue to evolve to provide better results. So businesses must adapt their SEO marketing strategy to stay competitive online. Two of the biggest changes that the guideline focuses on are:

  • Mobile: Is the site mobile friendly? To illustrate the importance of mobile, there is now an entire section dedicated on mobile. This makes sense given the trends in mobile search.
  • Quality: Is the site trustworthy? Authority has always been an important ranking factor. But now there is more information on evaluating the trustworthiness of a site.

The following looks at two major areas that the quality rating guidelines cover: mobile and content.

Mobile Quality Guidelines

More searches now take place on mobile devices than on desktops in 10 countries including the US.

ComScore Graph

The trend represents a major shift in how consumers find information online. So it’s not at all surprising that one of the major emphases in the recently released quality rating guidelines is on mobile. The issues that Google wants raters to consider when viewing a site from a mobile device include:

  • Entering data: More people use their mobile devices to enter in data on a form whether to contact a company or sign up for a newsletter. A poor user experience makes it hard for visitors to enter data.
  • Small screens: Even as smartphones get bigger, websites still need to be mobile friendly for all screen resolutions. Raters look for sites that are legible without having to zoom in.
  • Usability: Common pitfalls of poor mobile design include side scrolling, elements that don’t load (e.g. Flash) properly, and navigation menus that are too small.
  • Speed: Mobile users are typically on the move. A site that takes too long to load leads to a poor user experience. Pages should load quickly and ideally within a few seconds.

The bottom line: Even if your site earns a passing grade on Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool, pay particular attention to these issues described above and fix them immediately.

Content Quality Guidelines (E-A-T)

E-A-T refers to Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

Each is used by raters when evaluating the overall value of a site. In other words, does the site display expertise from knowledgeable contributors (e.g. WebMD)? Is the site an authoritative source for a certain topic (e.g. ESPN)? Is the site a trusted source of information (e.g. Wikipedia)?

Raters are tasked with evaluating each page based on these factors. This is nothing new as Google has always strived to return the most relevant results for every search query. It’s the reason why the ranking algorithms are constantly refined to remove those site deemed as low quality.

Here are the different aspects that are covered:

  • Expertise: Quality sites need to have expertise in that area to be deemed as authoritative and trustworthy. For example, sites that contain medical or financial advice should be written by those with appropriate expertise in the area. But sites based on personal experience with these subjects won’t necessarily be penalized.
  • Purpose: Purpose is another important factor. A page serves little purpose if the content is stuffed with keywords or completely filled with ads. The purpose of a page whether to share information about a topic or sell products should be clear without any confusion.
  • Supplementary: Supplementary content can further enhance the quality of a page. Examples include links to related content, a comments section on a blog post, and even ways to interact with the page.
  • Design: Quality sites are well organized and have a functional overall layout that results in a good user experience. The presence of ads won’t necessarily warrant a low quality rating but the overall quality and quantity of ads could affect ratings. Even with ads, the main content should be displayed prominently.

The bottom line: The quality rating guidelines puts a heavy emphasis on the authority and trustworthiness of a site.

Google recently released its quality rating guidelines it gives to its team of human raters.

Perhaps the most important area is the emphasis on mobile, particularly on usability. The overall value of a site including content quality is another area that is looked at in more detail in the guidelines. It’s become clear that Google is focusing more on these areas so it’s important to align your online marketing strategy accordingly

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