Online marketers have been on high alert ever since Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines was leaked a few days ago. Known as Version 5.0, online marketing expert Jennifer Slegg has written a detailed breakdown of the major changes made to the guidelines. “Google has completely rewritten the [Search Quality Rating Guidelines], the resource that their team of quality raters [use] to rate websites for Google. This one is a brand new version, rewritten from the ground up, so it isn’t just a refresh of the old one,” Slegg notes.
The complete 160-page guideline can be downloaded from Scribd.
Google has published previous versions of the Search Quality Rating Guidelines—most recently in March 2013. Older versions of the guidelines were leaked in 2008, 2011, and in 2012. On the other hand, Version 5.0 differs considerably from previous versions, such as Version 1.0, and some online marketers theorize that Google may have been updating a different version for internal use that differs from the guidelines they’ve made public.
Google relies on professional raters (formally known as “Search Quality Evaluators”), who work in various languages and in various countries, to help measure the quality of its search results. Raters come from third party agencies (such as Lionbridge, Leapforce, and Butler Hill), and perform various “rating tasks” designed to give Google information about the quality of various results that stem from different search queries. Data generated by raters is aggregated and analyzed to give the Google search team insight into the quality of its search results and search experience over time. This data also enables Google’s search team to measure the effects of proposed changes to Google’s search algorithms.
Slegg notes that the updated guidelines place greater emphasis on Knowledge Graph style results; Google also appears to be placing greater emphasis on websites that possess a high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
It’s all about E-A-T
According to Version 5.0, high-quality pages have very high levels of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (best summarized by the acronym E-A-T). In other words, pages with high levels of E-A-T should get the highest Page Quality (PQ) ratings, whereas pages with low levels of E-A-T should get the lowest Page Quality ratings. Version 5.0 states that formal expertise is important for highly technical fields, such as medical, financial, and legal advice. However, expertise may be less formal for topics such as recipes or humor.
Version 5.0 advises raters to “value life experience and ‘everyday expertise.’ For some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc.” Raters are tasked to factor in E-A-T when considering the topic of a page and assigning Page Quality ratings. Hence, to continue to rank well on Google’s SERPs, webmasters should also ensure that their pages contain the appropriate level of E-A-T.
Characteristics that Make a High-Quality Page
According to Version 5.0, a high-quality page contains at least one of the following characteristics:
- A satisfactory amount of high-quality main content (MC).
- The page and website are expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic.
- The website has a good reputation.
Additionally, the page and website should have the following:
- A satisfactory amount of website information; such as an “About Us,” “Contact,” and “Customer Service” section, etc.
- Supplementary content (SC) which contributes to a satisfying user experience on the page and website.
- Functional page design which allows users to easily focus on the main content and supplementary content.
- A website that is well-maintained.
The Page’s Purpose Determines its PQ Rating
“The purpose of a page is the reason or reasons why the page was created,” notes Version 5.0. “In order to assign a rating, you must understand the purpose of the page and sometimes the website.”
As Google favors websites and pages that are designed to help users, websites that are created with the intention of harming users, deceiving users, or making money off users with no attempt to help them will receive very low PQ ratings. As long as pages are designed to help users, Google will not consider one particular type of purpose (such as helping shoppers find bargains) or one type of page (such as a shopping page) to be of higher quality than another.
How is Expertise Determined?
Expertise goes hand in hand with authoritativeness and trustworthiness. Version 5.0 points out that there are “expert” websites to be found in every topic imaginable—such as contemporary art and gossip websites; as well as humor websites, forums, and Q&A pages. In fact, some types of information with high E-A-T can be found almost exclusively on forums and discussions where experts provide valuable insight on specific topics.
Expertise weighs heavily when assigning PQ ratings. Websites and pages that provide medical and financial advice, for example, need to be updated, reviewed, and edited on a regular basis. Such advice should also come from expert sources, and should be bolstered by proper accreditation, if necessary.
Expertise also weighs in heavily for topics such as home remodeling (which can cost thousands of dollars) and parenting issues (which can affect the happiness and stability of households). Hence, advice should always come from expert sources that users can trust.
On the other hand, some topics require less formal expertise. Some netizens, for example, write detailed, accurate, and extremely helpful product or restaurant reviews. Additionally, many people share their life experiences and practical tips on their blogs and forums. Such content can fall under the “expert” category if it contains the appropriate amount and type of life experience.
“Think about the topic of the page. What kind of expertise is required for the page to achieve its purpose well? The standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page,” Version 5.0 notes.
A Positive Reputation Can Boost Organic Rankings and PQ Ratings
Slegg notes that website reputation has been given a considerable boost in Version 5.0, which indicates that Google has been placing greater emphasis on reputation than it did before. Google bases a website’s reputation on the experience of actual users, as well as the opinions of experts in the topic or topics that are covered by the website.
Google tasks its raters to assess reputation by examining the outside, independent reputation that websites have garnered. Hence, when a website posts glowing reviews about itself, but external sources state otherwise, raters are advised to trust external sources. “Keep in mind that websites often represent real companies, organizations, and other entities. Therefore, reputation research applies to both the website and the actual company, organization, or entity that the website is representing,” Version 5.0 notes.
Reputation research can be performed by assessing reviews, references, and recommendations created by experts. A website/company’s external reputation can also be sourced from news articles and other credible sources. When it comes to stores, user ratings and reputable reviews can be used by raters to gauge a website/company’s external reputation. It follows that websites/companies that have lots of positive reviews will have a positive reputation. Websites that have won major, industry-recognized awards will also have a positive reputation.
Will you modify your website or your clients’ websites to accommodate Google’s revamped Search Quality Rating Guidelines? What aspect of E-A-T will you focus on?
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