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11 April 2016

Google Updates Its Search Quality Rater Guidelines

After Google saw several leaked versions of its Search Quality Rater Guidelines, it decided it was time to publish the full and “official” 160-page document, which it did in November 2015.


Back then, Mimi Underwood, Senior Programme Manager for Search Growth and Analysis, stated that the document would be updated periodically. Five short months later, et voila - Google released an updated version of the manuscript, indicating that the changes might not be quite so periodical.

Periodical or not, some of these updates are interesting to say the least. But first, a quick definition of the Search Quality Rater Guidelines: A series of “rules” for webmasters and SEOs to help them better understand what Google views as quality websites and feels should rank well.

It’s easy to understand why such an incredibly valuable document used to be behind closed doors, but now it seems that Google is eager to strengthen its relationship with SEOs and webmasters.

Reminder: quality raters themselves have no bearing on the rankings of the sites they rate. So quality raters could assign a low score to a website, but that low rating would not be reflected at all in the actual live Google search results.


Now, the most notable changes: 


E-A-T more and put greater emphasis on Your Money or Your Life

Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness and Your Money or Your Life both refer to the overall quality and worth of a website. We all know that quality is important to Google, but with this update, it’s even more significant.

Websites with high E-A-T will have lots of great quality content, quality information about the website (About Us/Contact Us) and a good website reputation (negative reputation will hurt the ranking.)

Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness is a ranking factor and tells Google if a website can be trusted. This is something that you need to strive to achieve anyway and this needs to be reflected in your content, the value of the website and overall user experience. It’s important to note that one significant change is that Google now views video as a provider of high E-A-T.

Google holds Your Money or Your Life pages to the highest of standards because these are the pages that can affect a person’s life the most.  These types of pages are ones that contain medical, financial, legal information, or child support material and Google will not rank such pages highly if they have the potential to negatively affect a person’s wealth, health or life. Emphasis on such pages is even greater now, but one alteration that has come into action is that the term “wealth” has now changed to “financial stability.” This will give webmasters a deeper understanding of which components will fall under good YMYL pages.


Removal of supplementary content 


This one is fairly surprising as the original document stressed the importance of supplementary content ('similar articles' that are not the main article or sidebar content for example).

As Google has been trying to align its search results with the mobile interface for a while now, and additional content is hardly used on mobile, many people will probably have seen this coming. Google have also decided to remove the Sidebar Ads from the SERPs.


Local is getting popular but is renamed to 'Visit in Person'


A subtle but important change is that “Raters are advised to consider the possibility of visit-in-person when determining a search query, this is due in large part to the prevalence of mobile phones.”

This new term is certainly more descriptive, but its effect on SEO is yet to be determined.

Previously, Google Local was used as a search with the intention of finding eg. “the nearest car park” or “Starbucks near me”, but it did not drive any traffic to the corresponding websites. 'Visit in Person' will similarly lead to locations and not a specific website. For example, if people are searching for a location selling “delicious pancakes”, 'Visit in Person' might destroy most of the traffic for a food blog that has recipes for “delicious pancakes”, which was relying on the keyword for that traffic.

Regardless, ‘Visit in Person’ will not be the same as Local, even though many are still struggling to understand Local. A ‘Visit in Person’ query will be more specific and understand that the search intention is geared towards a physical location, most probably done on a mobile phone.


Mobile is still very important 


As more searches continue to come from mobile rather than desktop, the emphasis on mobile is stronger than ever. In short, if your website is not mobile responsive, you will get a low search quality rating, and that’s a big no-no for SEOs and webmasters. In fact, Google tells its raters to give non-mobile responsive pages the lowest quality rating. So if you haven’t already, make this a priority.

Watch this space as we continue to update you on Google's changes and what these mean for you. 

And if you'd like some advice on quality responsive websites and how they benefit your users, get in touch!