Google Page Quality Rating Guidelines
Following the release of a document outlining the steps for a Search Quality Evaluator in Google’s Search Quality Rating program, I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of the notable points made in the guidelines for a quality website. Obviously, we can take away from this that we need to make best efforts to ensure our websites follow the quality guidelines as closely as possible. This is an expectation; Google even made notes of caution throughout the document advising reviewers that webmasters are likely aware of these guidelines and will try to ‘convince’ them they are a quality website.
The document begins by painting the overall picture that sites must have a fulfilled purpose and verifiable reputation.
Purpose – One of the first steps for determining a quality website is to determine the purpose of the site and of the page being reviewed. Common purposes were identified as:
- Sharing information about a specific topic
- Sharing personal or social information
- Sharing pictures, videos, and other media
- Expressing an opinion
- Selling products or services
- Q&A Websites
- File sharing or software downloads
Most importantly from these seemed to be a categorization called “Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) Pages”. These pages are those Google considers “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or wealth of users”. Some examples were cited, such as ecommerce sites, medical/legal information, financial planning/banking, safety information, etc. It is stated there is a higher standard for these YMYL sites/pages because it could negatively impact users “happiness, health, or wealth”. It is important to identify if your site falls into this YMYL category, as you will need to pay special attention to the guidelines highlighted here. For example, it was noted that ecommerce sites need to have “customer service” with contact information in addition to policies on payments, exchanges, and returns.
One of the uses of identifying the purpose, beyond determining if your site actually fulfills that purpose, is to help the reviewer in identifying “Main Content”, “Supplementary Content”, and “Ads”.
- The main content is the most harshly critiqued section of the page, in ensuring it fulfills the purpose of the page.
- Supplemental content seems to be those things considered important for usability (navigation, reviews, etc.), and is not required on smaller hobby/personal sites, but seems to be a requirement for any large company or organization that does not wish to get a Low rating.
- It is noted that the “presence or absence of Ads is not by itself a reason for a High or Low quality rating”, however websites are apparently held responsible for the quality of the Ads displayed, even if they are published through an advertising network.
The document then goes on to show examples of highest, high, medium, low, and lowest quality of content.
It appears the differentiating factors for high and highest quality content are based on the reviews of the main content, E-A-T, and reputation. This is where the majority of focus should lie in optimizing the site for quality. It also appears that over-compensation in one area can offset other areas. Lowest quality rating is designated for sites that are created to harm users, deceive users, or only make money with no attempt to hep users.
Here are the highlights for each area reviewed:
Quality of the main content – Reviewers are encouraged to test out the site features, add things to the shopping cart, play the online games, etc. Apparently, high quality humor content must be entertaining… I found this a bit strange to include, as the personality of the reviewer could play a decisive role in whether your jokes are funny.
Volume of content was downplayed to indicate the volume is irrelevant to fulfilling the purpose of the page. In the section describing Highest quality content, it is noted that the highest quality pages appear to be created with a high degree of time and effort, and in particular, expertise, talent, and skill. There is an example given for a Haunted Hotel in Texas, in which the page receives highest quality because of the extensive information on the page and that “It’s clear that time, effort, and expertise went into writing the content on the page”.
When discussing low quality content, the document gives the example of a lazy high-schooler writing a paper and cite some of the following as examples for low-quality content:
- Getting someone else to write the content, buying the content from another source
- Making up facts/information
- Content appears to have been written quickly with no drafts or editing
- Lots of pictures or distracting content
- Paraphrasing other content, or copying from another source
- Using common facts in the content. E.g. “Argentina is a country. People live in Argentina. Argentina has borders.”
- Using a lot of words to convey a simple concept. E.g. “Pandas eat bamboo. Pandas eat a lot of bamboo. It’s the best food for a Panda bear.”
The low-quality threshold is if the reviewer feels the content was created with adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill, or if the amount of content created doesn’t support the depth of the topic. If the content appears to be auto-generated, copied, contains large amounts of keywords, or lacks significant human curation it should be flagged as lowest quality. Copied content will get a Lowest rating even if the source is cited and given credit. There are notes about UGC, which would support the idea that removing low-quality UGC is extremely important part of maintaining your website.
Expertise / Authoritativeness / Trustworthiness (E-A-T) - It should be clear who is responsible for the website and who created the content of each page. There is a special note that sites with licensed/syndicated content are to be considered responsible for the content even if they didn’t create it. Great effort was taken in noting the YMYL category content should come from expert sources, be written/produced in a professional style, edited, reviewed, updated regularly, etc. Specific YMYL content apparently needs to have a professionally experienced author, however general purpose YMYL content can have personal experience sharing, in which case it is acceptable to have non-professional authors.
“If it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or he an expert on the topic, we will value this everday expertise and not penalize the person/page/website for not have a formal education or training in the field”. This would indicate the importance of including bio snippets of authors on pages highlighting their degree/expertise in order to make a compelling case for E-A-T. The document repeatedly encourages valuing life experience, which would indicate it is important to highlight real-world experience if technical/formal expertise isn’t obvious/available. This has been a common recommendation following the Panda updates, but this document further underscores the importance of doing so.
One thing I found strange… in an example of highest content for a recipe website, it was noted that the user having recipes on the site were an example of everyday expertise. The is only confusing in the sense that I wouldn’t expect the content being judged would necessarily be the indicator of experience on the topic, or else it wouldn’t need to be mentioned at all.
In looking over the guidelines, it seems that it may be important to “hide” low-quality answers on Q&A sites, or other UGC sites where the content quality may indicate a lack of expertise or experience on the subject matter. An example was cited where there were too many incorrect or deliberately misleading answers on a Q&A website, and there was no mention of sarcasm being considered. There are also notes about references and citations supporting content, which would contribute to the E-A-T of the site/page.
Positive Reputation - Reputation has a defining role in determining the quality of a website. It is even stated that having a very positive reputation can justify rating a “medium” quality page as a “high” quality page, and a site cannot be rated as a high quality page if there is any information for a convincing negative reputation.
The guidelines state that independent sources are given precedence for any disagreements, and the reviewers need to look for indicators of reputation on the site. Reviewers are warned to be skeptical about any claims websites make about themselves, or if there are only a few “reviews” posted online. I would take that to mean you should link to an independent source for any claims regarding awards, verification pages for trust seals, etc.
It was also noted that reputation extends beyond the website itself to include the company, persons, etc. represented by the website. There are clear notes that lack of reputation information or only positive information is not a sign of good quality. Reviewers are also advised not to consider any automated statistics, information regarding traffic, etc. to be considered indicators for reputation (assuming Alexa rankings, etc.)
It appears there is a heavier weighting toward the discovery of any negative information pertaining to fraud or financial wrongdoing, as well as any low ratings from the BBB or TrustLink. Sources for reputation review are listed as news articles, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions, and independent organization ratings. The reviewers are given example search queries to check, mostly involving “%brand% -%brand.com%” or “%brand% reviews -%brand.com%” variants.
Popularity, user engagement, and user reviews are suggested as evidence of reputation. It is also mentioned that for topics requiring less formal expertise, having a focus on helping users seems to be a reputation indicator. Apparently exclusivity statements (“only federally mandated and authorized source..etc.”) on Wikipedia have a strong influence, as it is referenced several times in determining why a credit report site is considered to be of highest quality.
Supplementary Content - Supplemental content (SC) must contribute to a good user experience, and is what help makes the page “satisfying for its purpose”. Examples are given of shopping wizards, product filters, suggested products/content, calculators to divide recipes, etc. It is important to note that pages can get a high or highest rating without having any supplementary content. SC can probably be more generally described as bells and whistles for your site.
Please note, there is an exception noted in the Low quality review portion of the document… “We do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating”.
Functional Page Design - The page design must be functional and allow users to focus on main content and use supplemental content. Several points were made advising that the main content must be clearly defined for the user, prominently displayed front and center, and immediately visible when the page loads. Ads and supplemental content should not distract from the main content. It should be clear which parts of the page are ads, though you don’t have to label the ads if he page design makes it obvious.
A note was made to reviewers that the prettiness of a page should not be considered in determining if the page is functional. Having the homepage linked from every page and/or logo was mentioned several times, but did not seem to have a bearing on site quality. Might be worth ensuring this is the case just to make the reviewers lives a little easier, as well as for sake of general usability.
Examples of poor page design included the following:
- Large number of ads, or distracting ads when the page loads
- Repeated ad insertions between sections of MC
- Invasive ads
- Large ratio of ads to MC
- text ads beside or within the navigational elements
- text in content double underlined in blue (popover ads)
- keyword stuffing
A Satisfying Amount of Website Information - This goes beyond the standards for having about us information, contact information, customer service information, etc. Those pages seem to be a required part of any YMYL sites, but it is noted that an email address could be sufficient for some Highest quality pages. It seems an about/contact page is probably the safe bet for any non YMYL site.
It doesn’t seem that an email address and physical address are enough for a YMYL website, and that a phone number is likely a required element to ensure timely assistance for any issues.
Well Cared for and Maintained - The site must contain no broken links or broken images. It must appear that new content is being added/updated over time. I would recommend making sure the copyright date in the footer of your websites is dynamically generated as it appears to be something that could be taken into consideration.
Websites with medical, legal, tax, sports, gossip, news, and similar information MUST be updated frequently. It is mentioned that users want to see latest updates, current laws, etc. Not updating the content frequently enough can warrant a Low rating.
- If you are redirecting to a page on another domain, it is important to have similar whois information. Raters are advised that if the whois information doesn’t seem similar, it is probably a “sneaky redirect” and the site/page should be rated lowest quality.
- 404 pages are frequently referenced in the examples. The highest rated pages have helpful tools for users to find their way to what they were looking for and the lowest rated pages simply say page not found. Since we can assume the aggregate page quality would have effect on overall site quality, it may be important to review your 404 page to ensure usability.
While the Page Quality Rating Guidelines document reportedly leaked from Google provides some insight into how Google assigns quality ratings, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on how you handle your website. Most of the items covered are common sense for providing a great user experience, though I was thrown off a bit with the seemingly heavy weighting on reputation in search quality… After Penguin has caused such a ruckus with increased negative link building, I would have hoped Google would transition toward less weighting on things that can be manipulated (like online sentiment) to harm small business.