Anyone who wants to optimise their website for organic search should know about the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines. These often don’t get as much attention as other Google SEO guidelines, but they are still important.

In this guide,  developed by our content team, within the content marketing agency POLARIS, we’ll take a closer look at what these guidelines are, how they impact your SEO and the key factors to be aware of. You can then use this information to optimise your website effectively and generate more targeted organic traffic from the search engines.

 

What Are the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines?

The role of Google and other search engines is to connect searchers with the information they are seeking.

But reliability is difficult to automate when it comes to finding trustworthy information. Search engines still don’t have the ability to understand content like humans can and determine whether something is accurate, exaggerated, helpful, etc.

As a result, Google also uses Search Quality Raters.

These are real people who analyse websites, and they use specific guidelines – the Search Quality Rater Guidelines – to help them.

These guidelines essentially contain an outline of the factors to consider when it comes to how a site should be rated.

The guidelines focus primarily on two areas:

  • The Page Quality, which covers whether a web page achieves its purpose and determines whether it is harmful.
  • Needs Met, which is about how useful a particular page is for the search in question.

 

Why Does Google Have These Guidelines?

There’s a lot of bad information on the internet from unreliable sources, and Google’s aim is to filter this out while displaying the results that the user will find most useful.

Google uses automated ranking systems to identify information that searchers will probably find useful, and it returns the best results in under a second.

These algorithms are based on signals, or SEO ranking factors, to help them understand the quality of a page. For example, if high-quality pages link to another page, this is a signal that the page provides authoritative information.

But it can’t use algorithms alone – at least not yet. It needs humans involved in the process, and it wants them to check specific factors.

The Quality Raters perform tasks, like comparing one set of results with another, and determining which is better and why. They also evaluate pages based on rating scales, and the results from their feedback are then used to make changes to the algorithm and improve it.

The guidelines are put in place to ensure all the Quality Raters are using the same information to determine the helpfulness of the web pages.

You can read more about Google’s explanation of how Quality Raters improve Search here.

 

What Is Google’s Purpose?

Google is the world’s largest search engine, and it plays a large role in most of our lives. Its purpose is essentially to connect users with the information they are looking for online and ensure users find the most relevant, helpful and accurate content.

It states its mission on its website:

“To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

 

How Are These Guidelines Used to Regulate the SERPs?

When the Quality Raters provide feedback on specific web pages, this does not directly impact the SEO ranking of the page being rated.

Instead, the feedback has a larger role because it is used to impact the algorithms and influence the rankings of all web pages.

 

Why Are These Guidelines Important for SEOs and Marketers?

When it comes to why marketers should pay attention to these guidelines from Google, SEO is the main reason. Marketers want to optimise their websites to appear higher in the search results, and while there are several search engines, in terms of SEO, Google is the main player in town.

But while there are many aspects that affect your Google SEO ranking, these guidelines should play an important role for any marketer.

Although they have been created for the Quality Raters, they give us a good insight into what Google essentially wants its algorithm to do because Google uses the findings to impact its signals.

The Guidelines contain information on factors like E-E-A-T, so you can use them to improve areas of your site that are likely to be important for search results. You may also get insight into why your site may not be performing as you want it to.

 

What Is the Timeline of Change in the Guidelines?

Google updates its Guidelines regularly, but it does not have a specific schedule. It usually updates them every year or so. The guidelines have increased in length as more information has been added over the years.

Some of the major updates include:

  • The guidelines were first released in March 2013.
  • E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) was included in 2014.
  • The definition of YMYL was changed in July 2022 to focus on fewer categories and content that could potentially cause harm.
  • Information relating to EAT was updated in December 2022 to E-E-A-T, with the extra E standing for Experience.
  • The guidelines were simplified in November 2023, especially the Needs Met definitions.

 

Critical Aspects of the Guidelines

If you’re considering working on SEO in 2024, there are a few areas of the Guidelines that you should pay special attention to. These have already been mentioned above briefly, and they include the E-E-A-T guidelines and YMYL guidelines.

Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

E-E-A-T Guidelines

E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust.

In the guidelines, Google states:

Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust (E-E-A-T) are all important considerations in PQ rating. The most important member at the center of the E-E-A-T family is Trust. (Source)

It is not a ranking factor, but Google wants to ensure that people find pages with E-E-A-T in search. The guidelines on this topic are quite extensive.

Essentially, Quality Raters are looking for these areas when rating content, including the experience of the author, whether they have topical expertise (qualifications, credentials, etc), and how authoritative the content is (industry reputation of the author).

Trustworthiness is the most important factor. This focuses on the content creator, the website as a whole, and factors like trustworthy sources being cited.

This means you need to ensure the content you create meets these standards as far as possible. Imagine a Quality Rater was checking your page – what would they think about it? How could you improve it to better match the requirements?

 

YMYL Guidelines

YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life. This refers to web pages on topics that could impact health, safety, financial stability or happiness. In the guidelines, it is described as follows:

Pages on the World Wide Web are about a vast variety of topics. Some topics have a high risk of harm because content about these topics could significantly impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people, or the welfare or well-being of society. We call these topics “Your Money or Your Life” or YMYL. (Source)

The guidelines are extensive, and they provide information about how to determine whether a page is YMYL and the questions to ask.

E-E-A-T often comes into YMYL pages because they are seen as more important when misinformation can be harmful.

The guidelines state that while some content can be based on first-hand experience, “some types of YMYL information and advice must come from experts.”

This means you need to take extra care when creating content in a niche that could be considered YMYL.

 

BERT

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It is not mentioned in the guidelines, but you can find out about it here.

This began to impact search in 2019, and it uses natural language processing to get a better understanding of natural language and the nuances of specific searches.

Essentially, it makes the algorithm smarter by helping to understand intent, which leads to more relevant results.

It can have an impact on search results, such as in the featured snippets that are displayed in search, where a single short word can mean a different context in the search.

 

Google Helpful Content System

Google’s Helpful Content System uses automated ranking systems to ensure results are helpful and original. The aim is to reward pages where the reader enjoys a satisfying experience and identify content with little value.

In new guidance in February 2023, updates were made relating to AI content, where Google said that it focuses on the quality of content rather than how the content is created.

Essentially, this made clear that content will not be penalised for being created by AI as long as it is of a high quality.

There is no specific section on Helpful Content in the guidelines, but references to helpful content are made throughout them because one of the overall goals of Quality Raters is to determine how helpful the content is.

 

Where Can the Latest Guidelines Be Found?

You can find an overview of the latest guidelines here. You can also read the latest version of the full guidelines here.

This URL remains the same when the guidelines are updated, so you can always find the latest one.

You can also head to Google Search Central to find all the latest updates, blog posts, and more from Google.

 

Conclusion

When you start working on your SEO to improve your search rankings and drive more organic traffic, there are many factors to consider. But don’t overlook the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines.

These provide useful insight into what Google wants to see from content, and the feedback from Quality Raters can affect all search results.

SEO and Google are hugely important for many website owners, so it’s well worth reading through the guidelines and keeping an eye out for updates, especially those updates related to E-E-A-T and YMYL. By doing so, you can improve your overall strategy and ensure you’re going about creating content the right way.

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