It’s the war and peace of the SEO world – the Google Page quality guidelines
Since it’s official release from Google back in November 2015, there has been a lot of discussion and analysis where the key points of this document lay and what we should focus our highly evolved SEO minds on.
With this in mind i’ve distilled what I believe to be the key takeaways from the document. You’ll probably end up with more questions that you had to begin with, but these questions will be more focused and answerable after reading this.
So, let’s start with the primary focus of the guidelines;
“The goal of the Page Quality rating is to evaluate how well the page achieves it’s purpose” (7).
- Does the page you are trying to rank for provide the user with everything they need to make an informed decision?
- Is all content helpful and useful for the user?
- Does your page answer key questions a user may have about the service?
There are hundreds of questions you can begin to ask yourself from just this one question, but in short ‘Does my page do what it’s suppose to’.
Before we get any further I’d like to break down some of the key terminology within the document and some of the abbreviations I’ll be using;
- Y.M.Y.L = Your Money, Your Life pages – these are pages that affect the health, wealth or future happiness of the user. (9)
- M.C = Main Content (Purpose of the page)
- S.C = Supplementary Content (Anything Else, Including Nav’ CTA’ etc)
- E.A.T = Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness of the page, this rating is given to pages in terms of the content they provide for their field or industry.
- Needs Me = The ‘needs met’ rating simply scores the effectiveness of a page to meet a certain query.
- (1) = This will signify the page this information can be found on in the quality guidelines – if you’re up for some extra curricular reading.
High Quality page characteristics
I wanted to start with some key characteristics of pages that are deemed high quality by the Google page quality ‘Raters’ (20).
Overall Google suggests these top page quality considerations (58, 27)
- Quality and Quantity of content
- Level of E.A.T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) within the content
- Reputation of the site.
However, there are a few more granular factors that I feel should be taken from the guidelines and put into any campaign.
- Satisfying amount of high quality main content
- Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E.A.T something we go through later) in the field or industry
- Good Reputation.
- Satisfying amount of website information, About Us, Contact Us & Customer Service Information.
- S.C that contributes towards the user experience.
- Functional page design which allows users to focus on the main content and use the supplementary content
- The main content should be prominently displayed “front and centre”
- The main content should be immediately visible when a user opens the page
- It should be clear what the main content actually is. Page design, organisation, and use of space, as well as the choice of font, font size, background, etc, should make the main content very clear.
- Ads and supplementary content should be arranged so as not to distract from the main content. Ads and supplementary content are there should the user want them, but they should be easily “ignorable” if the user is not interested.
- It should be clear what parts of the page are ads, either by explicit labelling or simply by page organisation. (22)
E-A-T for me is one of the biggest factors to come out of these guidelines;
- How much Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness does your content provide
- Are you an expert in the field?
- Are you a trusted company in the industry?
All these questions are asked of your business and content when it’s reviewed.
Reputation is another big factor, Google isn’t going to want to recommend its users to a company known for providing a bad service. If they start doing this, they give a bad user experience and in turn lose market share – Google are a business after all.
Managing and cultivating your reputation online, particularly through external review sites is going to be a must for every site going forward if you’re looking to challenge your competition for page 1.
We should be providing the user with enough information about the business and the processes of the business e.g returns policies, opening hours, to give them a good understanding of who they’re buying from or working with.
S.C is all content that is supplementary to the main content or purpose of the page, such as the navigation. As long as your S.C is adding to the general user experience, isn’t intrusive of the M.C and isn’t crammed full of advertising (22), you’ll be on the right lines.
Another point that touches on User experience is that your page should allow the user to focus on the M.C with easy access and use of the S.C to coincide with the M.C of the page.
Finally, your site should be well maintained at all times, spammy comments should be removed (47) and, if you’re site has been hacked, you’ll automatically receive the lowest rating.
These standards should be adhered to for all sites, Google however does specify that, during its checks for E-commerce sites, it undertakes
“Special checks” (15) which look for information on store policies, returns and exchange information. So, one very clear actionable point from this is make your customer service information visible.
Low Quality Page Characteristics
From the high we can determine the low! However, we don’t need to because Google have kindly outlined the characteristics of these sort of pages (33).
- Have low quality or unsatisfying main content
- There is an unsatisfying amount of main content for the topic and the purpose of the page.
- The Author of the page, website doesn’t have enough expertise for the topic of the page and/or the website isn’t trustworthy or authoritative for the topic (in other words the page is lacking E-A-T)
- The website has a negative reputation
- The SC is distracting or unhelpful for the purpose of the page. (these are treated very similarly to ads’ (35) )
Any Marketer worth their salt would pull out a few of these points if asked what are characteristics of a low quality page, this shows that reputation management is something for 2016! Marketers are going need to work harder to cultivate and maintain a positive reputation for their clients.
For mobile, the team at Google highlighted a few key issues on mobile that your everyday user will encounter.
Main issues on mobile (67)
- Entering data may be cumbersome
- Small screen sizes
- Some web pages are difficult to use on a mobile phone
- Internet connectivity can be slow and inconsistent.
With these in mind, Google’s ‘raters’ use a flagging system whilst they review.
Didn’t loadflags (127), these are used for pages that… you guessed it, didn’t load, however they are also used for sites that are hacked, contain malware or that request a HTTPS status without having the required SSL or security measures.
Another flag used and the one I wanted to highlight was the Hard to use flag (129). This is used if the site is deemed to hard to use, which sits in line with the first point in Google’s main issues on mobile ‘Entering data may be cumbersome’ this further outlines the need for a well developed and user friendly responsive design.
E-A-T Stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness.
This rating is used for the page itself, the site as a whole or both (59, 130) so you can have great E-A-T on a particular subject on one page, or you could generally have a high E-A-T rating across your site. M.C in terms of E-A-T are judged (43) on how much Time, Effort, Expertise, Talent and Skill are put into producing the content, so if you’re using external copywriters it’s worth reviewing the budget you put into this to get the best writers for the job, also definitely worth getting the client involved where you can.
Expertise can come in many forms, accreditations, industry knowledge displayed within the content, a particular author who is well known and even life experience (21). For example someone who has used a product in the past can offer insight that others can’t within Blogs, Forums (35) and other forms of user generated content.
A great example of this for me would be someone who plays the Guitar, you could sell guitars without knowing much about them, however the best content would come from someone who has played the guitar for a number of years.
Information needs to be clear and satisfying (22), for example the query boiler installation should provide the user with enough information on either how to perform a boiler installation or what is provided for this service; how much it costs, how long it takes etc. It’s also important to remember that all content for a service should provide the user with enough detail to make an informed decision regarding their purchase.
Another factor taken into consideration is the frequency of updates (23), this is all dependent on the purpose of the site. If it’s a small plumbers site as long as the content is useful in the first instance you should only need very sporadic updates and quite often a sites E-A-T rating is less concerned with freshness of content (121). However, this is dependant on the the purpose of the site for example, if this site covers law or financial information, this would need a high frequency of updates because these are considered Y.M.Y.L (Your Money or Your Life).
Y.M.Y.L sites require more regular updates and higher quality content from trusted sources,(34) they also require a good reputation and extensive customer service information and support, particularly for products (148).
For example, a law firm can affect the wellbeing of a user if it has out of date laws or information regarding its services. The same should be followed for product pages, especially when the investment is a big one e.g car, house etc. These sort of pages can also benefit from everyday real life experiences if the topic of the page is an everyday topic (34).
A few things regarding E-A-T that are worth mentioning first are that larger companies are expected to provide suitable S.C that will provide a good UX. Less is expected from smaller businesses, however a clear navigation is paramount (36). Duplicate content we know is an issue generally but even if you reference the original source then the ‘raters’ are told to give you the lowest quality rating (44).
In conclusion, think about what E-A-T means for the topic of the page.
- Who are the experts?
- What makes a source trustworthy for the topic?
- What makes a website highly authoritative for the topic? (27)
Also consider how you can localise your expertise, e.g. if you know of a particular problem that people suffer from in your local area (a high water table causing flooding and how to avoid it?) then cover that within your content.
Needs Met Rating.
‘Needs met’ “Encompasses all aspects of Helpfulness” (130) and is a rating, similar to the E-A-T rating. It’s essentially what it says on the tin; did the users needs get met by the results provided? If yes, how well were they met?
Unlike E-A-T, ‘Needs met’ is based on both the query and the result (130), this means that things such as locality e.g when the distance from the user is known, it is considered (149). Voice search can also be a consideration when reviewing Needs Met. This also sits nicely with the Dominant interpretation (132) of a query, when a user searches ‘Apple’ what are they most likely to mean? Apple the tech company or a Granny Smith Apple?
Below are the ratings that can be given within Needs Met;
- Fully Meets (FullyM) – A special rating category which only applies to certain queries and results. All or almost all mobile users would be immediately and fully satisfied by the result and would not need to view other results to satisfy their needs
- Highly Meets (HM) – Very helpful for many or most mobile users. Some users may wish to see additional results.
- Moderately Meets (MM) – Helpful for many users or very helpful for some Mobile users. Some or many users may wish to see additional results.
- Slightly Meetings (SM) – Helpful for fewer mobile users, there is a connection between the query and the result, but not a strong or satisfying connection. Many or most users would wish to see additional results.
- Fails to Meet (FailsM) – Completely fails to meet the needs of the mobile users. All users would wish to see additional results.
Fully meets (FullyM) is reserved for results that give complete and perfect answers, require very little effort from the user and provides the exact answer they want quickly and easy (90), very often you can attribute Answer box results to (FullyM). FullyM is very easy to achieve with a clear query (90) but this also means broad and ambiguous queries can’t be (FullyM) because it’s very difficult to give a Dominant interpretation of a broad query(99) (Searching Apple example from earlier).
Highly Meets (HM) first and foremost have “very high standards” (130) often have high quality page characteristics we mentioned earlier on but also it’s important to provide good E-A-T, entertaining or recent and breaking news on a topic (99). E-A-T plays a part in the Needs Met rating system, for example the HM rating should be given to helpful, high E-A-T pages which are a good fit for the query and shouldn’t be given to anything with low E-A-T (130). HM ratings should be given to a result that provides the user with all the information they require to make an informed decision on a purchase, something we touched on within E-A-T (148).
Moderately meets usually comes from less comprehensive, up to date or authoritative sources (107), The lower ratings (SM) &
(FailsM) are self explanatory and should be something anyone attempting to perform within Google should be looking to avoid, one thing to take away from the guidelines to help avoid these ratings is that being impossible to use on mobile warrants a (FailsM) result (112), So a poorly constructed responsive design, coupled with huge difficult forms and no real clear navigation will need to be fixed to provide a better UX before you try and improve your needs met.
Something that all ‘Raters’ are required to perform before judging and providing a result for either E-A-T or Needs Met is a form of reputation management. This is something all businesses big or small have more that likely been doing offline since the first cave man sold a spear! But as with anything in Search as soon as it’s mentioned within official documentation it becomes important, even an unofficial ranking factor.
Reputations are massively important for Google, as they’re a business they’ll want to provide users with the best results every time primarily to keep market share. With this in mind during the PQ ratings process, Google’s ‘Raters’ perform research internally on the site in question and externally on trusted sources. For raters this includes:
- Better Business Bureau (US only)
- Google My Business
- Google Products
They often also use Wikipedia to gain more insight into the business’s reputation (17). They use these sites to look for reviews, references, recommendations, news articles and other credible forms of information (16).
During this process if Google sees reviews and references that contradict what is on the site, they will always trust the independent or external source (11). So, unfortunately, you could have all your best reviews on site, meeting all the requirements for E-A-T and Needs Met, but if you have more external reviews on trusted sources you’ll struggle to achieve the higher ratings.
Reputation much like E-A-T and Needs Met is also more important in industries where Authoritativeness and Expertise is required (YMYL) So anything what could affect the Health, Wealth and Happiness of a user will also require a good reputation (16).
The content of reviews is also massively important. As Google states within the guidelines, one review about a rude staff member isn’t a huge issue, it’s probably something to take up internally with the staff, but when you have poor reviews stating wrongdoing, fraud and even criminal activity, this is where you’ll be hit hardest by these reputation research (17). Google isn’t going to want to provide its users with a business known for low quality services.
Sites generally cannot achieve a high rating within both rating systems if they are deemed to have a negative reputation, however the flipside of this you can receive a high rating on an otherwise medium site if you have a good reputation, also a lack of reviews or reputation isn’t an indication of low PQ, so you should actively try and cultivate these positive reviews if they’re a bit thin on the ground (21, 19).
If you’d like to try finding out a bit more about your client or business, you can use the below parameters, these are some that are used by the Raters (17) “ibm” is the example used, just replace this with your business name or site.
- [ibm -site:ibm.com]
- [“ibm.com” -site:ibm.com]
- [ibm reviews -site:ibm.com]
- [“ibm.com” reviews -site:ibm.com]
- [ibm site:bbb.org]
Another awesome round up by Moz:https://moz.com/blog/google-search-quality-raters-guidelines
Page quality guidelines: Google Quality Guidelines