Google Search Quality Raters - What They Mean to Your Business
To find out what these Search Quality Raters Guidelines mean to your business, read on. Because the changes to online content will be, *insert dodgy Trump impression here*: "Huuuuuuuuuuuuge!".
Google's Quality Raters and Their Impact On Search
They are also tasked with getting rid of false, offensive, or generally hateful information that has been showing up all too frequently in Google searches of late, by using humans to supplement super-smart machine-learning algorithms like Panda, in order to stem the tide of dross that is forever pouring into the internet.
Good luck with putting that particular genie back in the bottle I hear you cry!
But what exactly are Google's Search Quality Raters targeting? To find out the answer to this, I invite you to read Google's 157 page Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines document. A document that covers everything from understanding YMYL pages ('Your Money or Your Life'), to learning how to spot EAT pages ('High Level of Expertise / Authoritativeness / Trustworthiness'), and everything in-between.
But if reading 157 pages of techno-babble sounds a little too much like hard work, then allow me to give you the crib notes, so you can get a handle on the topic without devoting three days of your life to the task!
1: Fake News!
Do you remember the end of the Curtis Hanson, '8 Mile' film, when Eminem is in a rap-battle against that guy who hates him? And how Eminem - going first - uses all the negative stuff that he knows his opponent will say about him. But says it first? Thus getting ahead of the 'information' and self-deprecating to a point where he OWNS his faults, his flaws, and by so doing takes the power away from his opponent who can no longer use the self same 'facts' as weapons. Well that's exactly what Trump's done. By coining the phrase, 'Fake News!' and using it against real news outlets like CNN, BBC NEWS, et al, he has been able to blatantly lie about just about everything, while instantly shielding himself from the inevitable criticisms from those very organisations who actually care about pesky little things like facts, because he has a ready-made response that says that anyone who disagrees with him, or questions what he says, is simply spreading 'Fake News!'.
The tactic is breathtakingly Machiavellian. And if it weren't so insidious, so downright evil, then one might actually admire the audacity and scope of it. But given it's coming out of Trump's warped and twisted psyche, 'admiration' is not a word that'll spring to mind in anyone with an IQ in triple digits...
With its newly hired army of fact-checkers, Google is now going to be working to combat the spread of 'Fake News!' (because Trump is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lies being disseminated as facts on the internet). So when 'Fake News!' sites are spotted by the Quality Raters, they will now be pushed down in the search results, thus preventing them from organically being found. And (hopefully) preventing them from 'going viral'.
Google Search Raters Guidelines state that any websites that mimic other, more prominent sites, specially news sites, are going to be hit big by these new guidelines. For example, any sites that are designed to look and function like news sites but actually contain false or misleading information will be going down hard. These kinds of sites typically exist to misinform readers and spread false information / propaganda etc, for the gain or benefit of some other person or organisation.
We now live in a post Trump world. And like it or not, while he still has his finger on the launch codes and the Twitter Feeds (God help me, I don't know which is more dangerous), then we are all of us at the mercy of 'Fake News'. So hats-off to Google for trying to eradicate the disease at its source.
Of course Google are not the only boffins trying to eradicate the 'Fake News' epidemic. Two professors (technology professor Dongwon Lee and communications professor S. Shyam Sundar) from Penn State university recently received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop technology that will enable digital devices to weed out fake news. So expect other left-leaning, politically savy tech minded people to join in the battle over the coming months.
Bots v Trolls - What is the Difference?
2: Getting Rid of Hate Speak
Of course this has the potential to get into very murky waters, as the internet was founded on freedom of speech and the spreading of ideas. And when one organisation (no matter how noble their intent) starts being the judge, jury and executioner of what should, and should not be shared on the internet, then we're suddenly a lot closer to 1984 than 2017. Censorship being one of the most insidious of all the evils.
That said, if a website is promoting hate speech against the gay and lesbian community, or a particular religion or ethnic minority, or engaging in internet bullying, or attempting to re-write history by saying that the Holocaust never happened because 'Hitler was right', etc...then is the internet really losing anything when said content is buried on page 968 of a particular Google search? I suspect not.
But again, censorship is as censorship does. And it's a slippery slope when an all-powerful organisation starts to make judgement calls on content, just because said organisation deems it to be against guidelines it internally came up with, and which may or may not (depending on the individual reader's moral compass or beliefs) be 'offensive'. And just because you and I, and most of the people we know, disagree with what is being written, we should never disagree with the author's unalienable right to write it.
3: Getting Rid of Clickbait
Clickbait articles usually feature shocking or catchy headlines designed to make people click on the article so they will be redirected to an external website which exists purely to make revenue off paid advertisements. The problem with this method is that the actual pages the reader goes to when they click on the click bait stories, contain nothing of substance. In many cases they may not even answer the question posed by the catchy headline at all. They exist purely to drive the reader to an external website and make the reader click through dozens of pages in order to see so called 'facts', one 'fact' at a time. The model being that each page a 'fact' or 'story' appears on, is surrounded by paid adverts. And the website owner receives revenue every time a sucker clicks on an advert. And sometimes they even get paid per 'impression' rather than 'per click'. So the website owner makes money even if the readers ignore the ads because the advert has been 'served' and therefore seen by the reader. Ker-ching, Ker-ching.
Google wants the web to be full of brilliantly written, well researched, knowledgeable information that answers a reader's search query. However, because so many people click on those misleading titles, those posts are rapidly moving up the search results and gaining traction because of an increased Click Through Rate. So they get to rank well, even though they do not deserve to. Googles Quality Raters are aiming to help combat this.
4: EAT - 'Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness'
According to their guidelines (Section 4, Part 1), this is what constitutes 'High-Quality' pages:
- Enough Main Content (MC): content should be ample enough to satisfy the needs of a user for a page’s unique topic and purpose (broad topics require more information than narrow topics, for example).
- The page and its associated content is expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic they discuss.
- The website has a positive reputation for its page topics.
- The website features enough auxiliary information, for example, “About us,” “Contact,” or “Customer Service” information.
- The website features supplementary content (SC) that enhances the user’s enjoyment and experience of a web page.
- The page is designed in a functional fashion that allows users to easily locate the information they want.
- The website is maintained and edited regularly and frequently.
Attempting to get your head around what EAT actually means is tricky, as ultimately what Google is talking about brings to mind the old 'chicken and egg' question (ie: which comes first?). To be trusted by Google on a particular topic, you need to be an expert on the topic (what you say), and brilliantly express that knowledge (how you say it) both vertically and horizontally on your website. This then leads to a 'Positive Reputation' for the new content as the pages then get trusted by Google, because Panda loves it and because human beings respond to the pages by staying on them a long time, by interacting with them, and by going to other similar / related (Supplementary Content) pages on the website.
But you can't get that 'Positive Reputation' if nobody finds the articles you've authored because they're buried on page 129 of Google, now can you? And therein lies the conundrum for Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs everywhere. Because you can't have an egg without a chicken. But you can't have a chicken without an egg...
You also can't fake the 'Expert' part. Because you either know what you're talking about or you don't. Plus the level of craft involved in how that knowledge is expressed on the page (the quality of the actual writing) is now of paramount importance. And with Panda being the most important algorithm out there, the days of you outsourcing your content writing to India to somebody named 'Frank' (real name 'Gupta') are gone. Because when it comes to content (like everything else in life): YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
The takeaway in all this is that when it comes to EAT:
- You need to be an expert in what you're writing about.
- You need to be (or hire) a professional writer to express that knowledge on the page (because Panda can tell how well written the content is, and knows the difference between 'University Level Writing', 'High School Level Writing', 'Primary School Level Writing' and 'Donald Trump Level Writing').
- You need to garner a 'Positive Reputation' on the web, via quality on-page analytic data and via links from reputable, industry related websites that Google already trusts.
5: Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)
However if you read a site that tells you that taking X cures Y (when it doesn't). Or you read a 'Fake News' site that tells you that X happened and Y was responsible (when it didn't, and they weren't), then those things can impact Your Money and Your Life.
Google offers the following categories as examples of YMYL pages:
- Any page with the potential to be dangerous or detrimental if it possessed low levels of EAT.
- Shopping or financial transaction pages.
- Pages that offer medical information about specific diseases or conditions or mental health.
- Pages that offer financial information, for example, investment or tax information.
- Pages that offer legal information about topics like child support, divorce, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
- News articles or public/official information pages.
- Disaster response services.
- Web pages which are important for maintaining an informed citizenry, including information about local/state/national government processes, people, and laws.
- News about important topics such as international events, business, politics, science, and technology.
- Government programs and social services.
The YMYL bottom line being that if your website is making bold claims, make them quantifiable and accurate claims. And if you website is stating facts, let those facts be, you know...factual.
Low Quality Content (and How to Spot it)
Good question! For a more in-depth answer to this, read the definitive Panda article. But so far as Google's human Quality Raters are concerned, think of it like this:
- Your website content needs to be ORIGINAL. Not unique - nothing's unique on the world wide web - but ORIGINAL all the same. Have something to say that isn't just, 'We're great, buy our stuff!', because that's exactly what your competitors are saying on their site about themselves.
- Your website content needs to be FACTUALLY CORRECT. Because if what you're saying is incorrect, or -worse - deliberately misleading...then your website will get nuked by Google big time.
- Your website needs to be well designed. Because, while the Quality Raters aren't too fussed about how your website looks (functional wins over pretty in their eyes) functional and pretty wins over everything. So if your website is poorly presented, has a messy or cluttered design, or is hard to navigate, etc, your Google rankings will take a hit.
- Your website content needs to be PROFESSIONALLY WRITTEN, because the Panda algorithm can tell great copy from good copy, and good copy from bad. And just because you can string a few words together in an email yourself, or just because you wrote a few papers whilst at uni, DOES NOT MAKE YOU A PROFESSIONAL COPYWRITER. Any more than having a driver's licence makes you a formula one driver. So if you care about ranking your website: CARE ABOUT THE COPY YOU PUT ON IT.
At the end of the day, if people do not have a good experience using Google, they will stop using Google's services altogether. So search quality is everything to Google, which is why they have to continue to release new algorithmic updates to combat the surge of low-quality content. And why now, for the first time ever, they've hired an army of HUMAN BEINGS to supplement the algorithms.
Essentially, when you click through to a website, Google wants whatever you find on that website to match your search expectations. This isn't rocket science, people!
Google's Search Quality Rater's Guidelines and You
Let's recap how you can prepare for these guidelines and keep your search rankings intact:
- If you are creating content and headlines that could be considered clickbait, reconsider NOW.
- You want visitors to find exactly what they're looking for, so prioritise the User eXperience by delivering high-quality content and a well thought-out and well designed website.
- Never, under any circumstances, publish low-quality content on your website. It's not about the word or page count (though more is better if the writing is great), it's about the QUALITY of the writing.
- Do not release any factually inaccurate information.
- Spread fake news at your peril!
- Indulge in hate-speak at your peril!
- Share your quality content so you can get links from trusted sites, so your website has a 'positive reputation' in Google.