Everything You Should Know About Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
SEOs need to stay on their toes to succeed. That means looking up resources that will help them better understand how search engines operate.
That’s why the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines are a godsend – Whilst they’re not going to give you the exact specifics of how Google’s algorithm rates a site, it’ll give you the exact document that Google tells it’s manual raters to look for when reviewing a site.
Today we’re giving you a complete overview of the guidelines and explaining how you can optimize your sites on the factors Google have their manual reviewers look for.
Table of Contents
1 What Is the Search Quality Rater Guideline?
2 The Key Points of the Google Quality Rater Guidelines
2.1 E-A-T Rating
2.1.4 The Reputation of Website and Content Creator
2.1.5 How to Make Your Content More E-A-T-able?
2.2 YMYL – Your Money, Your Life
2.2.1 YMYL Case Study
2.2.2 How Serious Is YMYL?
2.2.3 What You Can Do
2.3 Content Hierarchy
2.3.1 Updating the Main Content
2.3.2 Making the Supplementary Content Shine
2.4 User Intent
2.4.1 Align Page Content With Search Query
2.4.2 Improve UX/UI
2.4.3 Optimize for Local Search
2.5 Page Quality Rating
2.5.1 Understand Your Audience
2.5.2 Focus on Giving Value to Users
2.5.3 Plan Out Your Content
2.6.1 Optimize for Voice Search
2.6.2 Use Schema Markup
2.6.3 Be Wary of Interstitials in Mobile Devices
2.7 Needs Met Rating
What Is the Search Quality Rater Guideline?
Google enlists people to evaluate the quality of its pages. They go over search queries and assess the top results to rate its quality.
It’s part of Google’s way of fulfilling its end of the bargain to deliver better results to its users.
The ones who assess each site are referred to as search quality raters. And their evaluations are kept as objective as possible by guidelines set by the company.
At 166 pages long, the document is a hefty read. We’ve done our best to condense the entire thing for your convenience.
You’ll have a better understanding of the best practices to maximize your site’s SEO value.
But to clarify: These guidelines are not the same as the algorithms used by Google to rank pages. Rather, the guidelines are used to tweak the algorithms as needed.
Nonetheless, the guidelines (and the raters to an extent) have an impact on how pages appear on the SERPs.
So if you want to grow your organic search rankings, this document is a must-read. No ifs or buts about it.
The Key Points of the Google Quality Rater Guidelines
The bulk of the guidelines has everything to do with content. Google has established key points that sites have to meet to be considered good quality.
Below are the most important guidelines that you should follow.
EAT stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
Together, they make your content much better in the eyes of Google.
Let’s define each one before moving forward.
Google expects top pages to be expertly written. The author must display command over the subject matter at hand.
Put bluntly: You should know what you’re talking about.
The search engine prefers the top results to be filled with pages that their users can rely on.
Let’s be clear:
By no means is Google suggesting that you need any sort of formal education to write on a topic. Expertise comes in many forms.
For example, someone who’s been suffering from a lifelong illness can be considered an expert in that regard.
A person who’s dined at a restaurant is qualified to dish out a review.
These “everyday expertise”, as Google likes to call it, are enough to make someone an expert.
While expertise refers to the author, authoritativeness is more about the content and the site where it’s posted.
Your site should be seen as a credible resource on the topic you’re writing about.
A blog about medical conditions might have to take a backseat to quality content from actual medical institutions.
Your site’s trustworthiness can be established if your pages are being passed around through social media or other platforms.
If your site looks sketchy, people are less likely to recommend it to friends and family. Sites that ask for personal information should prompt messages explaining what the data would be used for.
These three factors combined tells raters which sites deserve to be on top of Google’s rankings.
You can build trust between you and your audience through authoritative content that shows you as an expert that offers value to users.
The Reputation of Website and Content Creator
There’s an update in section 2.6.1 called The Reputation of Website and Content Creator.
It now states that by having a page that meets EAT standards, you can get more external sources to agree with your message.
This improves your overall site strategy. And as a result, your chances of ranking organically will skyrocket.
How to Make Your Content More E-A-T-able?
So how do you make your pages more authoritative? Here are a few suggestions.
Delete Low-Quality Articles
Or at least consider editing them to be more helpful to users. If neither unpublishing nor refurbishing is an option, you can redirect them to more informative and trustworthy pages.
Articles, where you come off as a non-expert, will ruin your chances of ranking.
Search Engine Journal has been diligently reworking their old articles. Back in July 2017, the site had 910,000 pageviews.
As of January 2019, that number rose to 1.9 million pageviews!
And as they continue editing old articles, that number is bound to change for the better.
All this as a result of auditing and adjusting for EAT.
Look at User Comments
Any kind of user-generated content (UGC), really. They also come in the form of testimonials, reviews, and the like.
Not that comments are bad. In fact, some marketers leverage UGC for the benefit of their sites.
It’s just that some comments are filled with incoherent or misleading information.
Google would rather deliver pages where all the presented data are as accurate and as useful as possible.
So you’d want to avoid UGC that isn’t up to Google’s standards.
Make the Most Out of Bylines
You won’t be able to establish your authority if your posts are written anonymously.
Users need a name to attribute to the content they’ve just read.
This is especially true for articles where there are serious repercussions if the advice shared isn’t factual.
You wouldn’t take legal advice from some nameless blogger, right? At the very least, you’d like to verify if that person is qualified.
In the absence of a byline, a link to your about page is advised. Guest posts should include relevant information about the author.
If you need, you can find the link indexer here.
Secure Your Site
Especially if you’re an e-commerce site. You improve your trustworthiness by securing an SSL certificate.
HTTP pages are being branded as non-secure in Google. An SSL certification will convert your pages into HTTPS.
Most web hosting sites will now offer SSL as part of their bundle.
There are more upsides to shifting to a secure site outside of EAT. For one, you might experience an increase in keyword rankings.
The guys over at SEO-Hacker shifted to HTTPS knowing how it will affect their Twitter numbers. They eventually took the plunge.
Two weeks after, they noticed a spike in their rankings. As much as 26%.
Grow Your Brand
Get your name out there.
Your goal is to be more prominent. This will eventually result in more trust between you and your audience.
You also need to specialize in a certain niche. This will depend on what kind of site you’re running, of course.
But if your core audience is DIYers, then making your site DIY-centric makes the most sense. This will make your site a credible resource for do-it-yourself projects.
Also, keep in mind that your brand will cease growing if users find your content lackluster. Even worse, they’ll ditch you altogether if you’re spreading misinformation.
And if you think growing your brand from scratch is impossible, take a look at Andrew Dennis. He took his site from zero to 100,000 visits in just 12 months.
How do you create expertly written articles? Keyword research.
Simply put: You need to know what users are searching for.
That way, you can create content that’s designed to meet their expectations. The best way to do this for free would be through Google’s Keyword Research Tool.
Setting up an account is as easy as logging into Google and following the on-screen instructions.
Once you’re in, you can enter a keyword. A list of suggested keywords will then be provided for you.
If you need a more comprehensive list, paid tools like Ahrefs will get the job done.
Make Your Content Digestible
Users like consuming content that’s easy to understand. Paragraphs should have a logical flow. It should not strain the eyes.
Breaking up blocks of text with images certainly helps. Add infographics to make explanations more visually appealing.
Use headers to introduce sections. Bullet points and ordered lists help readers make sense of things.
YMYL – Your Money, Your Life
Google coined the term Your Money, Your Life to describe pages that are the best resources for a particular topic.
By contrast, those that don’t meet YMYL standards carry misleading content and are in no position to be handing out advice.
The most obvious example would be non-medical sites that provide incorrect information but it goes beyond that.
For example, a site handing out false financial tips can cause people to lose money through terrible investments.
Fake news websites can cause widespread misinformation if left to prosper.
What Google is trying to do is promote websites that are authoritative and factual.
EAT and YMYL are linked in a way. You’ll need to implement EAT to be a YMYL. And it goes the other way around.
In fact, some SEOs use both terms synonymously.
But YMYL is more focused on legitimacy.
YMYL Case Study
In this case study, two law firms ranked low in the SERPs (page 2 or 3). One law firm specialized in targeting victims of birth injury malpractice. The other targeted victims of commercial trucking accidents.
None of their landing pages were getting any traffic.
But by editing the content of the pages, the sites gained a couple of spots higher than their previously held positions (by as much as 20 in one case).
By accomplishing three things:
Increasing the length of posts to be at least 500 words
Performing keyword research that included related words and phrases
Utilizing citations in the footnote to emphasize the factual nature of claims made in the posts
How Serious Is YMYL?
In a blog post last August 2018, Marie Haynes pointed out the impact the YMYL rollout had on her sites.
This particular rollout was dubbed The Medic Update.
The recent Google updates caused some of her pages, both organic and local searches, to be affected in a significant way.
And the author did point out that most changes affected her YMYL sites. To be more specific, her diet, nutrition, and medical device sites were impacted.
The same can be said for another site, Doctor Anytime. The site was a resource for information about physicians and included reviews from verified patients.
In just about a month after the algorithm change, the site lost about 50% of its organic traffic.
The site’s team determined that the main reason they were getting hit was that their YMYL site was linked to a subdomain, their official blog.
So they immediately “nofollowed” every link connecting the two.
They even revamped the footer so any ties between both sites were completely severed.
What You Can Do
Aside from abiding by EAT best practices, you can also try the following tips:
Reduce Your CTAs – Get rid of some of your promotional links and stick to only a couple.
Verify Your Sources – An editorial page where you disclose how you got your information can help.
Add Experts – Create content from industry experts. If you have a medical site, ask real doctors to contribute.
Update Your Pages – Make sure all your information is up-to-date.
Improve Your Site Design – People are less inclined to trust you if your site looks like it was designed by an amateur.
Specialize In a Niche – Don’t publish content that covers so much ground. Be an expert at one thing, if possible.
Link to Other Credible Sources – Doing so tells people that you really do care about their welfare.
Display Your Contact Information – If your business has a physical location, having them on your site will give users more confidence to engage with your content.
There are three types of content that Google is watching out for: main content (MC), supplementary content (SC), and ads.
These three components make up a site.
The MC is the section that supplements the information needed to achieve the purpose of the post. In simpler terms, it’s the body of the post.
The SC refers to sections that add value but run independently of the MC. These would be recommended readings, links to other resources, comments, reviews, and the like. It even includes the footer of the post.
Ads are exactly that – advertisements that run throughout the page.
You need to optimize for all three to establish authority.
Updating the Main Content
Main content covers text, images, videos, and user-generated material.
To make your content relevant in Google’s eyes, you need to edit your posts.
For starters, you should make your posts as easy to understand as possible. The points you make have to be clear right from the start. All posts should be backed by extensive research.
If you’re not an expert yourself, you should be quoting well-renowned in the field you’re exploring.
And more importantly, the MC should be actionable. Users should be able to walk away from your article with information that’s applicable in the real world.
Making the Supplementary Content Shine
Keep in mind:
While it plays a smaller role, the SC is there to support the MC.
So any supplementary content that does little to nothing to raise the value of the main content shouldn’t be there at all.
If you’ll be inserting internal links, make sure these will bring users to relevant articles.
E-commerce sites need to find ways to add recommended products that are actually associated with the product that visitors originally looked for.
What other forms of SC can you add, you ask?
You can try inserting embedded images related to your MC. Image cards are a great example. Anything that will propel your content forward.
Travel Blog has a map in its main content. When a country is clicked, it will direct you to a supplemental blog post that shows more information about the location.
You can just as easily embed posts from social media platforms.
Most social media posts have embed links, making it possible to include them in your content. Doing so is useful for compiling reactions from experts. They can aid in making your content look even more credible.
The same can be said about embedded video content.
Did you know even CTAs are counted as supplemental content?
Well, they are.
Google appreciates these as they tell site visitors where or what to do next which is actually important for user experience.
It’s one of the best ways to help build the value of the content – by getting readers to chip in with their thoughts and ideas.
In my post about web 2.0 backlinks, I capped out the post with a question:
This is great SC because it’s absolutely related to the post they just read.
Ads should not be intrusive.
Contrary to popular belief, ads have a place on websites. Even Google says that they can contribute to good user experience.
But there are guidelines on proper ad implementation. For example, ads on mobile pages should be more subtle than in their desktop counterparts.
Webmasters are also encouraged to label their ads as sponsored links or sponsored content. Any indication that the ad is there for monetization purposes.
Every query has a purpose.
And your content should be addressing the searcher’s concerns.
It was mentioned earlier that keyword research is the key to understanding what users are looking for.
Now let’s talk about the types of queries that a person could make in Google.
User intent can be broken down into four categories:
Informational – Users need to learn about something.
Navigational – Users need to find a landing page.
Commercial – Users are on the verge of buying but need more data.
Transactional – Users are looking to make a purchase.
These can also be phrased as know, do, find website, visit in-person.
Your page should be meeting your audience needs. Not every page is the same. Some of your pages could simply be there to provide information. While another could be there for the sole purpose of closing a sale.
That’s why target keywords will need to be adjusted.
If your page is all about sharing shoe size information, why would you set your target KW to “buy shoes online” when something like “what’s my shoe size?” would be more appropriate?
The latter keyword would also be more apt for Google Voice.
Here are more ideas on how to optimize for user intent.
Align Page Content With Search Query
Informational queries would likely start with the word “why” or “how”. So your target KWs should reflect that.
On the other hand, transactional queries will start with “buy”, “rent”, or similar variants.
Using Google’s Keyword Planner is a great first step for finding keywords to use. For transactional terms, you can enter your focus keyword and a list of suggestions will pop up in the results.
The same idea applies to informational keywords.
This way, you can decide which keywords to focus on based on your topic.
These are the keywords that people use to search for information. Using them in your posts will make you appear like a total expert in the subject.
Organizing your site will get users to the answers much quicker. Should they become frustrated, they will be tempted to leave your site.
So a good UX/UI (user experience/user interface) is needed to fare better in Google.
As an example, you can make link placement more strategic. Users looking for information typically require additional reading. So keep them engaged so they won’t leave your site.
Even big companies have to undergo site redesigns when their business needs are not being met.
Bank of America, for example, wanted to improve its enrollment application process for their online banking.
After testing designs, they launched a new registration form. That led to their yield metric doubling. The result far exceeded its target ROI benchmark.
Note: The site design might have been updated again since the case study was published.
The improved application process made it easier for customers to apply. A messy interface would do just the opposite.
Optimize for Local Search
Brick-and-mortar businesses are missing out if they’re not optimizing for local search.
If your site is designed for local search, then your keywords should be too.
Your metadata should include the store’s location right next to the business name.
Don’t forget to add your NAP (name, address, phone number) in your about section. And make sure to use the same NAP on online directories.
Claiming your Google My Business page will also help tremendously.
Page Quality Rating
Google raters will label your page quality (PQ) rating as either low or high.
And by making improvements to your site based on everything that was discussed so far, you will achieve a high rating.
Those given a high PQ only means you’re able to provide users the information they’re looking for while making the experience as pleasant as it can be.
The query “how to surf” brought up an article from WikiHow. It details what one should do when starting out as well as what to expect.
There are supplementary images to make the post easier to digest. A table of contents is displayed, allowing readers to jump into a specific section.
You see in the author section that a professional surfer ca-authored the article.
Even user-generated content is added in the sidebar.
And all these are found right above the fold!
By comparison, results on the lower end of the SERPs are less reliable and fails to meet the user’s query.
This post from MarocMama could be an interesting read for some. And it is related to surfing.
However, it details how her family learned to surf. Our search term implies that the user wants to know the basics of surfing which the top result provides.
It’s also established that the author, a freelance writer, is not an expert in surfing.
Given the circumstances, the WikiHow article will get a higher PQ ranking than the MarocMama blog post.
Here are actionable steps you could take to get a high page quality ranking from Google raters.
Understand Your Audience
Know who exactly you’re appealing to.
KevinMD is a medical blog that caters to people who are looking for medical advice. At this time, he has a domain ranking of 76 which isn’t all that bad.
Because he knows his audience, he caters to their needs by advising what they should do to get better.
And because he has authority over the subject at hand, he’s been ranking for important keywords.
Kevin is on page one for queries regarding Benzodiazepine recovery (benzo buddies).
He’s also on page one for other medical-related queries.
The more Kevin focuses on his core audience, the more likely he’ll land pages on top of the SERPs.
Focus on Giving Value to Users
Some websites are there to make money, either directly or otherwise. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The problem is when sites are no longer providing value for their readers.
So get out there and give your audience a taste of high-quality posts.
This Old House is a well-known home improvement site which sells magazines and a variety of home products.
But the site is loved by its following because their content is perfect for DIYers and people looking for inspiration.
They put value first before profit.
Plan Out Your Content
Not only does your content have to be related to each other, but they also need to come out consistently.
Schedule your posts for maximum impact.
Also, link to internal posts that are similar in scope.
Google is going mobile. That’s a fact.
It’s a good idea to check your site if your current template is responsive. It should automatically adjust to any screen size on any device.
A quick Google Mobile-Friendly Test should do the trick.
Here are a couple of tricks to further prepare your site for mobile users.
Optimize for Voice Search
Mobile users are more inclined to use voice search than actually typing in their queries. So you should use Ahrefs to find keywords that answer who, what, where, when, why, and how (5 Ws, 1 H).
Use Schema Markup
Schema markup tells Google crawlers (search spiders) the information they need to identify and categorize a web page.
It will then use that data and include them in the search results if needed.
A review, for example, will show a star rating along with other relevant information right from the SERPs.
Because pages with schema available provide more information, Google will rank those pages higher.
Be Wary of Interstitials in Mobile Devices
No distractions, basically. Especially for mobile pages.
Get rid of pop-ups because they get in the way of user experience.
But if it can’t be avoided, the Search Engine Journal published a post on how they can be implemented better.
Needs Met Rating
Google’s Needs Met rating focuses on mobile users.
The idea is that mobile users have specific queries and search results will need to show them the most relevant results.
The rating is as follows:
Fully Meets – Only applies to certain results. Almost all users would be satisfied with the search result.
Highly Meets – Helpful for most mobile users. Users will look for more results.
Moderately Meets – Halfway point between Fully Meets and Fails to Meet.
Slightly Meets – Less than helpful. There’s a slight disconnect between the query and the results provided.
Fails to Meet – Results do not meet the needs of the mobile user. Will likely result in another search.
The important things when it comes to getting a Fully Meets status is specificity.
Queries need to be as exact as possible.
A search term like “[topic] Wikipedia” will return a result for the topic’s Wikipedia page.
So if you’re an ice cream vendor in downtown Los Angeles, then you should have a page for “downtown Los Angeles ice cream”.
That way, your page would be an exact match for the mobile user’s query.
Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines is long and deep.
But Google SEO is not really as complicated as it seems.
Hopefully, we were able to break everything down for you. The main points are to make your content more credible, put the user above everything else, and optimize for mobile use.