Site Quality & SEO: Insights from the Quality Rater Guidelines

Blog | 31 Oct, 2018

Achieving high rankings in Google’s organic search results is a goldmine for many website owners. But, getting free traffic from Google isn’t easy. Google does 500-600 updates to its organic search algorithm every year, these updates have huge effects on site traffic and revenue. So, understanding how Google’s algorithm works and how it affects your website’s rankings is a vital part of your digital marketing efforts.
 
The problem is that Google is very secretive about how it ranks its search results. As SEOs it’s our mission to figure this out, mostly through trial and error.
 
While we don’t know how Google’s algorithm works, we do know where Google wants the search algorithm to go, and what they want it to do. We know this via a 160-page public document called the Search Quality Rater Guidelines. A clear understanding of this document, which is all about the quality of your website, is essential knowledge which all SEOs and webmasters should store in the frontal portions of their noggins.

Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines

Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines has been around for a few years now and is dished out  to contractors, hired by Google, to train them on how to assess the overall quality of a website. Google saw that webmasters could also benefit from this information and so they made the document public – thanks, Google!
 
Quality raters don’t have a direct impact on the sites they analyse. Instead, the ratings and information from these raters is given to Google’s engineers to help them create a better algorithm to assess quality on the web and train their machine learning systems.

Recent Algorithm Updates & Site Quality

The information gathered from these quality raters seems to have been rolled out within the algorithm updates over the past two years (since February 2017). Recent updates in 2018 have had strong correlations with site quality (for more information on recent algo updates, check out Marie Haynes’ Algo Changes resource). The Search Quality Rater Guidelines has a lot to say about site quality and defines two things that stand out as factors to consider for SEO: YMYL and E-A-T (let’s tune in to the abbreviation station!)

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) Sites

“Some types of pages could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or financial stability of users” – Search Quality Rater Guidelines.

Google calls these “Your Money or Your Life” sites (YMYL). If Google considers your site a YMYL site, then it needs to meet a higher quality standard than non-YMYL sites.
 
The following are automatically considered YMYL sites:

  • Sites giving medical advice.
  • Sites giving legal advice.
  • Sites giving financial advice.
  • Sites that allow purchase of products or services.

There are other topics that may be considered YMYL such as child adoption, car safety information etc.

Expertise, Authority & Trust (E-A-T)

E-A-T is the most important consideration when accessing site quality, especially for YMYL type sites. A website lacking E-A-T can be severely affected negatively in the search results. The below graph shows a YMYL type site in the medical vertical that suffered a 47% drop in organic visibility after a recent algorithm update that we consider to be related to E-A-T.

Diagnosing the E-A-T issues for this site:

  • Lack of expertise: The site is publishing medical advice without obvious information about the expertise of the author of that content. Adding an author bio or information on the ‘about us’ page displaying author credentials (also, awards and mentions of other authority sites for which the author has written) may help improve the site’s E-A-T.
  • Lack of trust: The site has low on-site and off-site reputation, which may have affected its E-A-T. Having on-site reputation signals like testimonials and blog comment engagement is a good signal of on-site trust. Google also looks at off-site factors to determine user trust, such as reviews and complaints etc. To understand your site’s off-site reputation, a simple Google search operator can give some insight. The results of my search for Skillshare.com below shows low reviews. Make sure Google sees good reviews and sentiment for your site by being awesome, like the Jellyfish.net example.

Skillshare.com off-site reputation example

Example of low off-site reputation search results.

Jellyfish.net off-site reputation example

Example of high off-site reputation search results.

Other Signs of Low Site Quality

The Search Quality Rater Guidelines are specific about signs of low-quality. Basically, anything that negatively affects a user’s experience can be considered a sign of low quality:

  • Contact information should be easily accessible.
  • Ads and sponsored content should be labelled as such.
  • Ecommerce sites should have easily accessible and obvious payment terms and refund policies etc.
  • Site functionality should work: a broken shopping cart or contact form should be fixed chop-chop.
  • Page load speed should not be excessively slow, especially on mobile.
  • Content should reflect it was produced with time, effort, expertise, talent/skill.  Nothing is more annoying than reading/watching poorly written/produced content.
  • Non-factual information should not be presented as factual (unless the site is satirical).
  • Titles, ads and supplementary content on the page should not distract/disrupt/mislead. Some low-quality pages have adequate main content, but it's difficult to use the main content due to disruptive, highly distracting or misleading ads/supplementary content.

Distracting ads example

Example of a page with distracting/disruptive ads.

Conclusion

Google’s core principles of search are:

  • Focus on the user.
  • Provide the most relevant, highest quality information.
  • Provide effective search results through an algorithmic approach.
  • Rigorously test every change.

It’s clear where Google is heading with organic search and what they want from website owners: to provide quality information for their users.
 
Google’s algorithm will continue to evolve, and changes to it are becoming more frequent as they’re testing this evolution. Make sure your site survives by ensuring that the quality of your website aligns to the Search Quality Rater Guidelines and that your site has adequate E-A-T for your market. 
 
At Jellyfish we do Site Quality Reviews to help our clients align their websites to Google’s core principles of search. Contact us for more information.

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