google search quality rater guidelines

SEO in an Age of High Quality Content: Google’s Updated Search Quality Guidelines & E-A-T-ing Your Way to Great Content

In both March and April 2018, Google made broad updates to their core algorithm. Then, on August 1, 2018, yet another core algorithm update – the so-called “Medic” update – was rolled out. What did they all have in common? SEO pros like Glenn Gabe speculate these algo updates all revolved around content quality and relevance.

Often, that’s the extent of what we know.

Google does not always lend much insight into their core algorithm updates. And as a business owner, webmaster, or marketing exec, that can be a bit frustrating. You may be asking, why did I see a dip in website traffic after March 7th? Why did my rankings fall off after August 1st? What did we do wrong that may have caused this?

More than likely, you didn’t do wrong at all. Google has said that with these recent changes, there is no real “fix.” Broad algorithm updates are not designed to penalize websites, but rather, to reward those that meet their standards for a high-quality website – one that’s user-friendly, in good technical health, and chock-full of unique and valuable content. Instead looking for a fix, Googlers continuously recommend that webmasters stay focused on creating high quality content over the long-term.

As Gary Illyes at Google put it, “If you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the Internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding… Then you are doing great.” Illyes has also iterated the importance of publishing “content created with care for the users.”

So, the questions you should be asking are: What is high quality content? How does Google define quality in an age where millions of websites are trying to make it to the top (of the search results)?

While Google doesn’t give us much visibility into their ranking algorithm, they have released their Search Quality Rater Guidelines to the public. And just recently, on July 20th, these quality guidelines were updated – shedding light into some new areas for webmasters to focus.

To give you some context, the Search Quality Rater Guidelines are 180+ pages of rules that Google contractors will use to evaluate the quality of websites ranking in the search results. These guidelines do not tell us how Google’s algorithm works. And the ratings that stem from these guidelines do not have a direct impact on how a website will rank. Rather, the search quality guidelines are used to ensure Google’s algorithm is working properly, and that the best results are being delivered, with the highest quality websites ranking at the top.

Still, they give us some great information.

In the recent release of their Search Quality Rater Guidelines, Google shares a valuable list detailing the “most important” factors contributing to a webpage’s quality rating. These include:

  • The Purpose of the Page
  • Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
  • Main Content (MC) Quality and Amount
  • Website Information/information about who is responsible for the MC
  • Website Reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the MC

Let’s break these down.

High Quality Content Has a Beneficial Purpose for Users

“Beneficial purpose” is a new concept in Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines, as well as a key contributor to content quality. In evaluating a page’s content, Google’s raters must consider whether the page has a beneficial purpose or use to being on the website. Is the content valuable to users, and what value does it offer? Was it created for the purpose of helping users, or was it created with other intent – to make money, to rank well in search engines? Is it overly commercial in nature? This is something that we, as content creators and webmasters, must think about in the months moving forward. Great quality content has purpose.

As I wrote in a prior article, “Every piece of content created for your organization should have a purpose. It should have intent. It should be relevant – not only to your product or services, but also to what your customers are looking to read: What are they actively searching for? How often are they searching for it? How are they engaging with your website today? What is working with your current online strategy, and what is not?” This means doing some research before building your content plan, and understanding what your audience wants to read. More on that here.

When developing your content plan, also ensure that any upcoming content is specialized and pertinent to the holistic themes of your website, so that Google consistently sees you as relevant or expert in your niche. And to truly be an expert on a topic, make sure to drop the marketing lingo. High quality content is not commercial or promotional in nature, but rather, discusses topics in a neutral way. This is an important distinction, as it’s suspected that commercial content was devalued in the most recent Google algorithm update.

Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness = Quality

E-A-T is one of the most frequent and perhaps the notable acronym found in Google’s Search Quality Guidelines – and therefore should be a key ingredient in your SEO and content strategy. When evaluating the content of a website, Google raters will think about the topic of a given page and the level of expertise required to deliver that content effectively. They will then consider:

  • The expertise of the creator of the main content on the page
  • The authoritativeness of the content, as well as the creator of that content and the website as a whole
  • The trustworthiness of the content creator, the content itself, as well as the entire domain

Google lends examples of what would make high E-A-T pages: A news article is produced with journalistic professionalism, references factually accurate content, and is published on a website with established editorial standards and robust review processes. Online legal or financial advice is yielded by trustworthy industry sources, and is maintained and updated regularly. Medical information is published and written by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation, such as doctors. The list goes on. There is E-A-T to be found within every industry.

Information & Reputation are Key Players in High E-A-T

In assessing the Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness of a page or website, Google wants to understand who is responsible for it. Is the creator an expert in the space, or do they have sufficient experience with the topic? It’s important to note that formal expertise isn’t always required for a high-quality rating, especially in areas like fashion or gossip, where credentials may not necessarily exist. Google’s raters may look to see if content has biographical or contact information for its authors, or whether a website has sufficient information supporting the business and user needs. For example, e-commerce websites should have helpful customer service information to help users resolve issues.

The website, company, and content creators are also gauged on reputation. A high-quality rating cannot be given to a website or author that has a convincing negative reputation, Google states. Jennifer Slegg, an expert in the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines herself, explains that reputation of content creators is actually one of the biggest updates made in the July document:

“Google wants their raters to not only look at the reputation of the website itself, but also the content creators themselves… This is one area that many sites fall down on. They might have an ‘About Us’ page, but the bios of their authors are sorely lacking.

“If content is created by someone with a great reputation, it makes sense for Google to rank that content higher than from someone with a bad reputation since it is generally a better user experience for the searcher. But it means many will also need to brush up on their bios, too. It is also worth noting that this doesn’t apply just to written content, but other types of content as well, such as videos and social media.

“Google’s focus with this addition is on wanting to ensure content that is created by creators with great reputations is ranking well, especially in a world of fake news and conspiracy theories. Great for those creators with great reputations, but does mean some work for those without a great reputation or a limited one.”

For us, this means ensuring that webpages have clear information that shows credibility and creates a strong trust factor. This may mean enhancing your authors’ biographies, creating more user-minded content about your business, or highlighting important awards or recognition that you’ve received throughout your website.

Pages Need a “Satisfying Amount” of High Quality Content

High quality content, by the Quality Rater Guidelines definition, takes a significant amount of time, effort, expertise, and/or talent/skill. Content should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive in covering its topic. The amount of content, Google explains, depends on the topic and purpose of the page: “A High quality page on a broad topic with a lot of available information will have more content than a High quality page on a narrower topic.”

When you’re creating content for your website, we recommend evaluating which websites are already ranking on page 1 in Google’s SERP. This will give you good insight into the amount of content you need to rank, as well as types of content you should be creating, on the subject.

A Note from Google on High Quality Content

Creating high quality content is a must for the organic success of your website. What makes a high-quality page? To recap, Google states that “a High quality page should have a beneficial purpose and achieve that purpose well.” In addition, content should have:

  • High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) – This involves citing authors and their credentials in content, as well as referencing scholarly articles and credible sources (e.g. government websites) to back up any claims
  • A satisfying amount of high-quality main content – In addition to ensuring sufficient content on a topic/theme, make sure the content is consistently pertinent to the holistic themes of your website. This also includes creating a descriptive or helpful title and great content that supports it (no more click-bait!).
  • Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website – This includes having a dedicated “About” page with organizational information (contact information, address, history, etc.).
  • A positive website reputation for a website or a positive reputation of the creator of the content – This may involve earning links from credible, third-party websites to build your domain authority.

Gone are the days of keyword-stuffing and creating content for content’s sake. Today, your web content must offer unique value to users, rather than be solely optimized for search engines. Today, it is high-quality, relevant, and valuable content that’s going to make your website great.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your content and search engine optimization, complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.