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Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines: How Google Evaluates Your Site

13 min read

When it comes to creating content that enriches your website’s online presence, it’s important to understand how your target audience can find it. And since search engines are the gateway between internet users and your website, you need to understand how the Google search engine evaluates your site prior to ranking it.

Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines Purpose

Google’s search index covers hundreds of billions of web pages, averaging at around 100,000,000 gigabytes in total content size. The sheer amount of content Google can access highlights the need for a reliable algorithm to understand what users are searching for and differentiate between superb, mediocre, and sub-par content.

Machine learning has proven invaluable in creating a system that efficiently and effectively ranks a vast amount of content. The challenge is in making sure the system continuously meets the goal of providing highly relevant search results. While Google makes thousands of changes to Search every year, they need to understand which changes make sure more useful and how they can improve.

Google Search Quality Raters help make this possible. They are trained using the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines, a document that guarantees consistent and unbiased evaluation of search results.

Google Search Quality Raters don’t influence rankings directly. They’re more like a feedback mechanism that Google uses to continuously improve the search experience.

Content marketers can benefit from studying Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines.

Look. We all have our own subjective opinions of what constitutes quality. But if your aim is to perform well in search, there’s no better place to get the information than the original source, Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines.

Think of it as your roadmap to achieving expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T). Althought E-A-T is important regardless of the niche, it’s critical for those dealing with “Your Money or Your Life Pages” (YMYL). Page Quality rating standards are exceptionally high for YMYL pages as the information can have an impact on a person’s financial stability, health, safety, and happiness.

Learn More

Keep up to date with the recent changes here in the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines Update.

Discover how Google E-A-T relates to SEO.

SEOs may be disappointed to realize that the guidelines won’t help them game the system. But for the rest of us, it’s a veritable gold mine into how Google evaluates websites and pages.

Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines Sections

Google can identify a high-quality page by whether it meets three main standards:

  1. Page content quality
  2. Mobile users consideration
  3. Relatability and usefulness to a search query

The type of content the page offers influences Page Content Quality. The Google quality rater also deducts trustworthiness and quality points from suspicious content and backlinks. This type of content is often the result of outdated SEO practices such as keyword stuffing and using bots to get blog comment backlinks. In fact, the quality checker now enforces penalties on websites that still use any of these black-hat practices.

A website feature that wasn’t the center of attention a decade ago is mobile compatibility. However, as the number of smartphone users has increased, so has the importance of providing them with content. In recent years, Google traffic sourced through phones and tablets has made up more than half of all Google traffic. A considerable segment of your website’s audience is using their smartphone or tablet to find you.

Notably, mobile-friendliness doesn’t end with providing a properly scaled website and notable content. It also includes accommodating all of the additional features that mobile searches entail. One example is location-specific content. One of the points that Google’s quality rater specifies is “queries with an explicit location” that you can type directly within the search bar or communicated through the phone’s enabled location feature. This is also one of the features that benefit both the users and your website to follow. After all, it’s a waste of time and resources to recommend content that’s far outside a user’s region.

Meeting the search queries’ requests is the last of the three main rating criteria. On Google’s end, the presence of related and adjacent keywords within the web page itself and throughout the website helps determine ranking in the search query. The higher the density and variety of keywords you have, the higher your score for this section will be.

The second part of this score is determined by previous user interactions with the web page. These interactions include the amount of time that visitors stay on the page before they click out. Does the page — or website in general — have a high bounce rate? Does it convert visitors well? Do they flag your page for spam or inappropriate content often enough to warrant penalties?

By following Google’s guidelines, content marketers can significantly improve page quality, increase traffic, and grow user satisfaction and conversion rates. Understandably, following highly specific guidelines from over 150 pages is tricky and nearly impossible to get right on the first try. However, Google publishes a large amount of ancillary content to help your team better navigate Google Search quality evaluator guidelines.

E-A-T, Reputation, and YMYL

The algorithm indexes content and web pages based on how well they adhere to the E-A-T rating, which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. To qualify, your website needs to have a high amount of up-to-date, quality content.

A high rating could come in the form of blog posts, articles, video content, and infographics hosted on your site. How many other highly-rated websites link back to your site through their own content influences your Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness on any topic.

Your website gets its final E-A-T rating based on a combination of the creator or parent company, the content that makes up the bulk of the site, and the website itself. This is where the previous quality rating criteria intercept. Pages and content published by brands registered and recognized in their industry often get a higher ranking. The content itself also needs to be useful and of high quality by eliminating typos, obvious grammatical errors, keyword stuffing, length, and reading level.

Reputation rating is another way Google ranks websites to deliver the best and safest content to its users. However, your website’s reputation isn’t something you can directly influence. What outside, independent sources say about your site is what counts. Reputation rating helps protect users from repeated cases of malware and phishing schemes. If what you advertise about your website contradicts what the independent sources report, Google will rank your website according to the third-party sites.

YMYL is another acronym Google uses to categorize websites and web pages depending on the content quality they offer. Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) websites and web pages have content where low quality can negatively impact Searchers. This includes websites that share medical, financial, or legal advice, as well as current events and news sites. In general, it’s safe to say that Google finds YMYL websites challenging because they can be hard to categorize as safe or unsafe for users.

You can’t make Google directly trust your YMYL web pages. However, you can balance the negative effects by boosting your reputation and domain authority and increasing your active use of E-A-T pages and content. This indicates to Google that you’re looking to educate your site’s visitors to make a fully informed decision regarding their finances or health.

Google Page Quality Rating Guidelines

While it’s hard to predict exactly what the Google Search algorithm looks for in a page, content marketers can follow Google’s pointers on what constitutes a high page quality rating. Getting your website into the highest-rated and highest-ranked search results takes a lot of fine-tuning. However, five main factors come into play when determining a web page’s quality rating.

The purpose of the page

There are countless web page types that you can conjure to suit the needs of your website. But the Google Search quality rater has a preference for certain types of pages over others. For instance, pages of richly written content with a healthy balance of internal and external links are almost always highly rated.

One type of page you should be wary of over-using is a landing page. They’re an essential part of any online business — whether it’s service-based, informational, or e-commerce. However, Google doesn’t like frequent landing pages that don’t match the general layout of your site and only focus on making a sale or converting the visitor. Your landing page should provide solid information with page copy.

Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness

The E-A-T criteria also make it high on the list of factors that determine a web page’s quality rating. You shouldn’t forego valuable and informative content in favor of other types of digital content and marketing efforts, especially if your business model includes YMYL topics.

Main content quality and amount

If you rely on multiple types of content to drive traffic and value to your site, it’s best to have a main type of content to focus on and update regularly. If you have a blog for your site, it’s important to follow a regular schedule, whether it’s once a week or sharing your everyday expertise in short-form blog posts. You should be updating often, but don’t expect immediate results. It’ll take at least half a dozen regularly updated blog posts before Google recognizes your blog as a legitimate source of information.

Official website information and registration

One way you can showcase the trustworthiness of your site is by introducing yourself and your brand. This can either be using a dedicated “About” page that lists your brand’s goals and motivations or by registering your website with the WHOIS official directory.

Website reputation

You can drive up your website’s reputation by showcasing your authority in your field or industry, or by relying on testimonials from credible third-party sites and user reviews. Reputation is essential for the Google Search quality rater and for individuals using browser extensions to avoid suspicious websites.

Quality levels

There are three main levels of web page quality and five sub-levels ranging from lowest to highest. The ranking is a spectrum, and pages rarely fit into one level or the other. However, it’s accumulative. A few pages on your website that have low-quality content and SEO optimization can drag the rating of your entire website down, and vice versa with high-quality content pages.

Understanding User Intent

Users have the freedom to write their search queries from scratch, and it can be hard for Google to determine the searcher’s intent. Depending on the query’s wording, Google divides it into three possible interpretations.

  1. Dominant Interpretation: this is the interpretation that the vast majority of users meant when they typed their query. Not all queries have a dominant interpretation, and it’s reliant on topic, geographical location, and time.
  2. Common Interpretation: as the name suggests, a common interpretation of a query is the answer a considerable number of users wanted to see. Almost all queries have a common interpretation, though the answer may vary depending on geographical location.
  3. Minor Interpretations: the reason “minor interpretations” is plural is because, as the numbers shrink, it can be hard to determine which answer the user was seeking. These are rarely the correct answer, but they’re still worth including in the search results.

Finding a balance

For queries with multiple meanings, Google seeks to balance query results — with the dominant answer at the top of the results page, followed by the common interpretation, and ending with multiple minor interpretations.

Be aware that the interpretation of a query can change over time. This is especially prevalent with technology-focused queries where Searchers are often interested in the latest model, even if they don’t specify it (e.g., iPhone).

How Google categorizes user intent

According to the Google Search algorithm, there are six types of user intent.

  1. Know: the user is searching for a piece of information or answer to a question.
  2. Know Simple: the user is looking for a simple and quick answer to their question.
  3. Do: the user has an end goal to buy, download, or obtain something online through a website or app.
  4. Do Action: this is a direct request to Google or a third-party website to perform a task by using “ok Google,” and asking for the weather or similar.
  5. Visit In-person: the user is looking for information to directly influence their real-life location and behavior by asking, for instance, for the nearest gas station or clinic.
  6. Website: the user is using the search engine to find the location of an online website. In fact, this is the original navigation intent of search engines like Google.

The importance of understanding and meeting user intent

Online users are visitors, customers, and clients. They present an opportunity to make a sale or promote a brand. Since the main goal of search engines is to connect people with what they’re looking for online, website owners need to collaborate with search engines to ensure the smoothest query search experience.

One way content marketers can predict and anticipate user intent is by performing regular and in-depth keyword research. This gives an idea of the most common user questions, as well as the dominant, and common intents behind them. It allows you the time to prepare suitable “answers” in the form of blog posts, articles, webinars, infographics, and/or landing pages.

Google Needs Met Rating Guidelines

Another way that Google Search rates and evaluates your website and web pages is by measuring whether your main content meets users’ needs and to what extent. Similar to quality ranking, there are five different levels to the Google Needs Met guidelines.

  1. Fully Meets: this is a rare rating where almost all users would be pleased with the results of their query from your website.
  2. Highly Meets: some users may wish to see additional or different results, but the vast majority are satisfied.
  3. Moderately Meets: helpful for many users, but a considerable number of users may wish to see more or different results.
  4. Slightly Meets: helpful for a small number of users, and the majority of users may wish to see vastly different results to their query.
  5. Fails to Meet: it completely failed to meet the users’ needs, and almost all of them wish to see different results.

In a way, both Google’s Needs Met and page quality rating depend on one another. For a web page’s content to meet the users’ report, it needs to have high-quality content that satisfies Google’s standards of E-A-T. However, if your page gets rated as “fails to meet” regarding all of its possible queries, then its quality rating is all but useless.

The Takeaway

For years, Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines was an internal document to which few outsiders had access. The document contains a wealth of information content marketers can use to enhance their website, ensuring it meets the quality standards defined by Google. It’s extremely rare to have access to information of this calibre, so take advantage of it!

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.