In the past, the only way to discover the factors Google uses to define quality content was through trial, error and analysis. Even then, it was still just guessing.
But in 2016 Google did something surprising: They released — for the first time — their search quality raters guidelines. Most marketers have ignored them, despite the fact that these guidelines provided a definitive answer to what “quality content” really is (according to Google).
What are the Search Quality Raters Guidelines?
Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines are a 160-page document detailing exactly what Google deems to be quality content. They serve as a guidebook for Google’s search quality raters, a team of contractors Google employs to evaluate the quality of search results.
Now, the raters don’t have any power to actually change search results based on their findings. Google is clear that the quality guidelines don’t necessarily reflect rank factors. But the whole point of evaluating search results is to gain insights that can help improve their algorithms in the future.
In other words, Google wants its top search results to score well with search quality raters. For marketers and SEOs, that means creating content that closely follows these guidelines will keep you on the right path.
The guidelines have been updated since first releasing the guidelines to the public. The latest update came in December 2017 to include parameters for Google Assistant and voice search results.
But for whatever reason, very few marketing experts today refer to the guidelines when defining what makes “quality content.” It’s time to change that.
Defining Quality Content in 2018 (According to Google)
If you know a thing or two about SEO, you probably already realize that content quality is measured by more than just how well written it was. Google relies heavily on other factors that demonstrate the authority and authenticity of the website, expertise of the authors, and more.
Google’s search quality raters guidelines give four main factors that affect how raters perceive your site/content:
- Website information
- Positive website reputation
- High quality main content
- Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT)
Here’s a deeper explanation of how to optimize your website and content for each.
|Note: YMYL Topics|
Google defines another category of content pages that it analyzes with more scrutiny. They’re called Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages. This is content that can potentially impact the health, happiness or wealth of readers, such as medical and legal information, news articles, shopping or financial information, etc. If the content you create falls under the YMYL category, Google will scrutinize the quality even more.
High quality pages need to have clear information about the website to help users feel comfortable trusting the site. This should be information about who is responsible for the website. If your site deals with ecommerce or other financial transactions, there should also be customer service information readily available.
How much information is enough to meet Google’s standards? That depends on the kind of site you run.
YMYL websites demand a high degree of trust, so the information you provide about who’s responsible for the website and it’s content should be very detailed.
For non-YMYL websites, such as a blog full of short stories and poems, an email address could suffice as satisfying website information.
Here’s an example of what Google would consider low-quality website information based on the topic of the content:
WikiHow is a popular, high authority domain and ranks very well in search results. But this content offers advice on how to pick quality stock for investment, without giving any information that it was authored by a certified financial advisor. As a YMYL page, that earns it a low quality rating, no matter how correct/helpful the content may be.
Positive website reputation
Evidence of website reputation isn’t a requirement to get a high quality rating, but it does help. Prestigious awards, recommendations from experts or professional societies are examples of positive reputation factors Google’s quality raters are trained to look for, not just on your website, but around the web.
For marketers, that’s where link building strategies come in. Links from other high-authority domains as well as .edu and .org sites indicate to Google’s algorithm a positive website reputation.
For non-YMYL topics, such as recipes or humor sites, simple popularity, user engagement, and reviews can indicate positive website reputation. The well-known fact-checking site Snopes is a good example of this. They don’t provide any tangible expertise other than a strong reputation of correctly debunking myths and rumors.
High quality main content
High quality main content (MC) is the most important factor in Page Quality rating. Simply put, your MC must take time, effort, expertise, and/or talent and skill to create. The highest quality content will require more than one.
News and information pages should:
- Be comprehensive and clearly written,
- Provide accurate information, and
- Cite sources where relevant.
That said, Google will evaluate your content based on the purpose it serves. If your blog is full of humor or satire, factual accuracy isn’t important, but understandability by your users is.
Then comes the age-old question in SEO: How long should your content be?
That all depends on the breadth of the topic you’re covering. For example, a Siberian Husky information page is a very narrow topic, making a shorter Wikipedia page suitable:
A Wikipedia page on the Civil War would require much more content to be considered quality.
The takeaway for marketers? Take a step back to ensure you’re doing your topic justice. Don’t try to cover a cornerstone niche topic in a 600-word blog post.
Lastly, Google’s search quality raters are looking for high levels of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EAT), for both the publisher of the site and the author of content.
The factors discussed above (content quality, website information and reputation) all work together to affect the EAT of your website and its content. But there’s also a certain amount of objectivity based on your site niche.
Quality raters are asked to think of what level of expertise is needed to achieve the purpose of a page. Then make their evaluations based on that standard. Think about information pages on scientific topics, for example. An information page about anti inflammatory health foods written by a generalist freelance writer doesn’t imply a lot of expertise. If the freelance writer cites scientific data, the content quality improves. If a professor of nutrition authors it, the content quality can be at its highest.
Formal expertise matters most for YMYL pages. Content can have a lot of EAT from everyday expertise, such as a recipe site published by a mom who loves to cook.
To evaluate your content’s EAT, ask yourself:
- Who are my experts?
- How have I demonstrated my site is a trustworthy source for the topic?
- What makes my website authoritative on this topic?
Here’s an example of a non-YMYL page with very little EAT:
This Yahoo informational Q&A page offers 93 answers to a question about Native American beliefs and customs. Many of them are incorrect or deliberately misleading, including the voter’s choice best answer.
Characteristics to Avoid: What Makes a Low Quality Page?
Besides content quality, website information, website reputation, and EAT, there are some other factors that can significantly takeaway from your content quality. Here are the main characteristics to avoid when optimizing your site/content for SEO:
Low quality main content
Quality raters are trained to evaluate site content like they would a student’s paper in high school. Lazy or rushed students often cut corners when they write. Such as including inaccurate information, failing to cite sources, copying from other sites, not editing their work, or simply stating commonly known facts, like “Argentina is a country. People live there.”
If your content uses any of the same tricks high schoolers do to fluff up or quickly write a paper, you’re definitely not optimizing for search.
Your content should also do justice to the topic at hand. A simple 500-word blog post about the Vietnam war would be an unsatisfying amount of content, leading to a low quality rating.
Distracting ads or supplementary content
Avoid positioning your supplementary content prominently to encourage visitors to navigate away from the main content. Sites often do this when they’re try to attract users to other monetized pages.
The same goes with your ads. They shouldn’t overshadow the content that visitors came to see. Potentially disturbing ads, such as graphic porn, can be grounds for an automatic low rating.
Here’s an example of a page where ads and links to other content distract from the main content:
Ads or supplementary content that make it difficult to access the main content
Avoid displaying ads or supplementary content that make it difficult to access and read the main content. Pop up ads or call-to-actions (CTAs) over your content are okay, but make sure they are easy to close. You should avoid floating ads that cover your main content as users scroll, interstitial pages that redirect users away from the main content, etc.
Misleading titles, ads, or supplementary content
Make sure it’s easy for visitors to tell the difference between your main content, supplementary content, and ads on your page. You will have a problem if users are set up to click on ads or supplementary content accidentally. An ad that looks like supplementary content, or secondary links that mislead or exaggerate the real content are examples of this.
Here’s a website where users may interact with ads or supplementary content, thinking it is the main content:
When evaluating the quality of your site content, just remember the important role user experience plays in determining it. Don’t let ads or supplementary content distract from your main quality content.
Examples of Quality Content According to Google
Now that you have a good understanding of the factors that affect the quality of your content (at least in the eyes of Google), here’s a deeper look at how they rate your website content using these metrics.
News Article in the Seattle Times
The Seattle Times has won ten Pulitzer Prize awards, giving the publisher high EAT. The article itself is written by a staff reporter, and offers a satisfying amount of high quality MC to cover a narrow topic: The Seattle FBI chief’s abrupt retirement.
While the website does display ads, they do not take away from the main content, which remains central on the page.
Video on YouTube
In this humorous video, two engineers explain why cats are so great and proper techniques to care for them:
The fact that engineers created the guide makes it humorous, but it still has high EAT because they have everyday expertise as cat owners. It’s a high quality, well-produced video that’s highly popular, with more than 6.5 million views.
Blog post on the New York Times
This parenting article about strollers appears on the New York Time’s blog, a newspaper that’s won more than 100 Pulitzer Prize awards:
But the publication’s reputation isn’t the only thing that makes this content high quality. Lisa Belkin, a well-known expert on parenting issues offers a satisfying amount of quality content for the topic. She contributes regularly to the New York Times and other publications.
Key Takeaways from Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines
If Google’s search quality raters guidelines can teach us anything, it’s that “quality content” is contextual and subjective. Statements like “Google prefers long-form content, 2000+ words,” or “Google prefers regularly updated pages,” simply aren’t true for every case.
There’s no standard formula you can follow to ensure your content is up to Google’s quality expectations. The topic you’re covering, who creates the content, and where you publish it will all impact how in-depth it needs to be, how frequently it should be updated, etc.
Evaluate your own content and website using the metrics and standards of Google’s search quality raters, and you’ll understand the variation for yourself. Use these insights to improve your content, website, and overall SEO strategy.