Google SEO Guide
In November 2015 Google published an SEO guide used by their manual reviewers to evaluate subjectively quality (and award ratings) when assessing websites. The many Google algorithms also aim mathematically to duplicate these assessments.
There are nine ratings in total, ranging from Lowest to Highest and the 160 page document at http://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/assets/searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf gives some real insight into just what is important to Google for a website to merit the highest ratings.
Good SEO is about Quality Content and Design
We have always made unique, interesting and well-written content a major emphasis in our website design work and for SEO and it is interesting to see how this fundamental ethos is reflected in Google’s Guidelines.
Google’s advice for its evaluators divides content into three sections, with detailed instructions about what should be considered for each:
- Main Content (MC);
- Supplementary Content (SC);
- Advertisements/monetization (Ads).
It also makes clear that the purpose or topic of the page is not part of the assessment:
“As long as the page is created to help users we will not consider one particular purpose or type of page to be higher quality than another.”
In other words, a website aimed at publishing quirky humour is not rated below a highly academic subject simply because of the topic. It is the quality of the content that is important, not the function of the site.
Main Content (MC)
The MC can be in one or more of several different forms, including text, images and videos or be user-generated, such as a forum. The most important aspect is that this content is directly aimed at being helpful for the user and achieving the purpose of a particular page, whether that is to give expert advice on paying taxes (for instance a government website), selling a range of clothes, or a comparison review site for hi-fi products.
The Google guidelines also refer to what it calls “Your Money or Your Life” pages, which have information about serious health issues or illnesses, or a greater risk in financial matters, such as online banking. Different standards are applied to the assessments of these websites, with far greater expectations of research, professional knowledge and protection of the individual.
The amount of research expected for a website depends on the topic, but should always be appropriate. A website for a hobby - perhaps enthusiastic home cooks sharing recipes – would probably demonstrate more informal research than a heating engineer explaining the pros and cons of different heating systems, where considerable expertise would be expected.
Google evaluators are advised to give the “Highest” quality rating to pages where it is obvious that considerable time, effort and careful, thorough research has been applied to the MC. Content should always be original, well-written and grammatically correct in whichever language it is published. One of Google’s many tools makes it easy to check whether content has been copied from elsewhere.
Conversely, pages with a lot of repetition or poorly researched information in the MC are unlikely to rate anything other than Low.
Supplementary Content (SC)
SC is defined as contributing “to a good user experience on the page but does not directly help the page achieve its purpose”.
This would include navigational tools to help the user move easily around the site, or suggestions for other products or pages that might be of interest to the user, based on what they have been viewing. Most government websites, for instance, have a range of drop-down menus or side buttons to help find the precise information or form that is being sought.
The majority of people searching the web will have experienced the frustration of not being able to find the information or product desired and website design is the critical factor here. Another feature of beneficial SC is that it should not be possible to confuse it with the MC on a page; its main purpose is to help direct the user elsewhere.
It is likely that large organisations need more helpful SC than smaller businesses or websites, to improve the overall user experience that is being assessed.
Advertisements / monetization (Ads)
Ads are described as any content aimed at making money from the page. Some websites will not have any Ads, whilst others may depend on them to fund their internet activity. The important thing here is that it should be easy to identify (and ignore if necessary) content that is not relevant to the main purpose of the page. Blatant use of Ads that just distracts from the main content is not acceptable, regardless of the size or purpose of the website.
Receiving a High Quality Rating from Google
The Google quality evaluators are advised that:
“To be rated as High quality, a page must have 1 of following:
- A satisfying amount of high quality MC.
- The page and website are expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic of the page.
- The website has a good reputation for the topic of the page.”
The consideration of the reputation of the page or website includes aspects such as “About Us” details, ease of contact with the organisation and customer service information. Additional checks are made for online shopping sites, including how to pay and their returns policy.
An assessment of reputation does not rely solely on what the website says about itself – and Google acknowledge that reviews can be faked.
In addition, the evaluator will expect to be able to identify who is responsible for both the website as a whole (whether it is a large company, a small business or an individual), and for the content of specific pages. There is a far greater expectation of trust from users of some websites in the “Your Money or Your Life” category and medical opinions, for example, should be provided from an appropriately qualified source.
Another website feature that is checked is how well it is maintained. The frequency of this obviously depends on the purpose and size of the website. A news organisation, such as an online newspaper, would be expected to have the website changed several times in a day, whereas a local plumber, or other tradesperson might simply review the website once a year. Even here, though, a far better impression is given if any special offers or other references are up to date; an item which is obviously a couple of years old can give the impression of a stale, badly maintained website.
In summary, Google's SEO guide states:
“The distinction between High and Highest is based on the quality of the MC as well as the level of E-A-T (expertise/authoritativeness/trustworthiness).”
As we have stated earlier in this article, high quality, well-written, well-researched, original content is crucial, as is a user-friendly design. Google has repeated this many times and have now provided extra clarity on exactly what 'quality' means.