Don’t Read Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines – Read This Instead

Google's Quality Rate Guidelines - Hero Image

Quality Rater Guidelines is an over 170 pages long document used by Quality Raters at Google to assess the quality of websites, pages, and search results.

While these general guidelines are meant to help Quality Raters understand how Google thinks of quality, SEOs and webmasters can use them to improve their websites to match what the search engine is looking for and boost their search visibility. 

This article will save you the time you would spend reading the entire document. I included every actionable piece of information that you may find in the Quality Rater Guidelines.

So instead of reading the full document for 3 hours, you can spend 10 minutes reading this.

I’ll ignore any directions meant specifically for Quality Raters, and concentrate on what can help you as an SEO, copywriter, or webmaster. Let’s dive in.

Who are Google Quality Raters?

Google works with external Search Quality Raters – a group of people trained using the Quality Rater Guidelines.

The job of Quality Raters is to evaluate how well a website responds to the search intent of Google’s users, based on the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of the website’s content.

These ratings do not directly impact ranking, but they do help us benchmark the quality of our results and make sure these meet a high bar all around the world.
source: Google

So the ratings collected from the Search Quality Raters are used to see if Google does a good job of serving its users. This information is particularly useful to Google after the ranking algorithm is tweaked – Google wants to know that the changes are beneficial to users.

Their ratings don’t impact the ratings of individual websites, but they let Google know if some websites are ranking high when perhaps they shouldn’t.

One other purpose of the Quality Raters is to provide additional data that is actually used to improve algorithms:

Raters also help us categorize information to improve our systems. For example, we might ask what language a page is written in or what’s important on a page.
source: Google

What can you learn from Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines?

Quality Rater Guidelines can be a helpful resource for anyone who owns or maintains a website. By seeing what Quality Raters are looking for when judging our pages, we can tailor our content to what Google understands as quality.

Folks at Google always want to improve Search Quality. They strive to understand the user intent of each query and provide the best matching results that are of the highest quality.

Back in 2015, Google made the Google Search Quality Guidelines public, which is great for anyone with a website – you can look at the Quality Raters’ priorities and adjust your website to their expectations.

Quality Raters have three main tasks:

  1. Judging the quality of web pages,
  2. Making sure mobile results are helpful, and
  3. Checking whether queries in general show quality results.

And Google’s guidelines are structured accordingly:

  1. The first section is the most noteworthy for anyone who wants to make their site visible in search by improving their website’s quality.
  2. The second section is a run-down on mobile user needs.
  3. And the third section, Needs Met, is all about how well the algorithms currently at work, well, work to give the highest quality search results (with a focus on mobile searches). 

So, starting with Quality, let’s explore the first 65 pages.

Quality according to the Quality Rater Guidelines

Quality Raters inspect the following six elements to judge the quality of a web page:

1. Purpose of the page

The simplest definition of the purpose is why the page was created. 

Ideally, the purpose should be beneficial, i.e. made to help users. Some may have different goals, such as to make money, scam people, or spread misinformation.

Here are some examples of beneficial page purposes:

  • sharing information, media, or software,
  • expressing or allowing others to express opinions and points of view,
  • entertainment, and
  • e-commerce.

In order to judge the quality of a page, Quality Raters assess how well it does in achieving its purpose. 

If there is no beneficial purpose for the users, the page automatically receives the Lowest rating without further assessment.

2. Page content

Different parts of content serve different purposes, and in order to judge a page’s content, you have to know what you’re looking at. 

For example, it would be silly to penalize a page for opinions unrelated to the topic in the comments section, as this is user-generated content. 

But if the comments section is completely unmoderated and contains offensive content, spammy links, or anything that is widely separate from the purpose, it could hurt your rating.

Let’s have a look at the three categories of content the QRG manual differentiates between.

A scale showing the rating Google's Quality Raters give to search results when judging if they meet the users' needs - From Fails to Meet to Fully Met

Main content

Main content is all content that is there to help the page achieve its purpose. This can be generated by webmasters, writers, or users.

Supplementary content

Supplementary content is there to help improve the user experience. This includes comment sections, media handles, internal links to related articles, etc. For example, on the YouTube interface, anything that is not the video itself or an ad is supplementary content.

Ads

The last component of a web page’s content is ads. This means anything that is sponsored. The presence of ads does not contribute to the page’s quality, as Google understands content marketing.

Sponsorships are a great way to make money and keep a quality website running. Nonetheless, ads must be clearly marked and separate from all other content. They may even help the page achieve its purpose if closely related to the subject matter. 

One way or another, ads should not be distracting or difficult to close.

All in all, the QRG states that:

  • what helps the page achieve its purpose is Main Content, 
  • whatever is sponsored is Ads, and 
  • whatever is left behind is Supplementary Content.

3. Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages 

If the content on a page can affect someone’s happiness, health, finances, or safety, the page is considered YMYL. 

YMYL pages have stricter guidelines when it comes to quality, and, in particular, the E-A-T rating. We’ll get more into that below.

The categories outlined in the QRG include the following:

  • news and current events,
  • civics, government, and law,
  • finance,
  • shopping,
  • health and safety,
  • groups of people, and
  • other.

These pages were most impacted in recent algorithm updates, beginning with the Medic update in August 2018.

I wrote an article that goes into detail about what YMYL categories include and how to improve such content.

4. The E-A-T rating

E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. It’s an idea Quality Evaluator Guidelines mention over 120 times in the latest version from October 14, 2020.

This concept is especially important for, but not limited to, Your Money, Your Life pages.  

To put E-A-T in practical terms, an authoritative, trustworthy website should:

  • Have content written by experts with a deep understanding of the given topic 
  • Demonstrate the expertise of all contributing authors
  • Be a reliable source of information trusted by other reputable sources in the same field.

If the site is medical in nature, those with medical degrees should be contributing. A website providing tax advice could make use of accountants’ opinions. Review pages should be written by people who have actually used the products or services.

However, not all content needs to be written by experts with academic degrees.

The Google Quality Rater Guidelines refer to this as “everyday experience”. You can even have it in YMYL topics. This could be a real-life experience with a disease, for instance. Patients’ accounts could be very helpful to users.

And lastly, to meet the requirement of authoritativeness, websites and creators should be regarded in real life. This could be shown in the form of backlinks or quotes on third-party websites. The rule of thumb is that better pages receive more links and mentions.

It’s also a good idea to boast about accolades, rewards, and conference appearances of members of your team. QRG state that Quality Raters should “ find out what outside, independent sources say about the website.”

A high E-A-T rating is given to pages that 

  • cite their sources, 
  • include author bios and credentials, 
  • hire authors that are experts in the given field, and 
  • have a good reputation and reviews.

5. Content authorship and monetization

Next, Google Quality Raters look for where the information comes from. Try to provide answers to the following questions on your website:

  • Who created the content on the page?
  • Who provides quotes? 
  • Where does the financing come from? 
  • Who is responsible for the website?

The important thing is that users know who owns and maintains the website.

Websites should do their best to provide this information and make it easily available. For example:

  • Create About or Contact pages. If for some reason you don’t want these pages on your site, you can place the authorship information in an FAQ section or dedicated articles.
  • Provide information on monetization. Partnership policies that are public raise the trustworthiness of a site.

6. Reputation research

A website’s reputation is based on the experience of real users and the opinion of experts in the field. When researching reputation, Quality Raters look not only at the website but also at how the company or business is viewed outside of their website.

A review section is great, but if it’s not in line with what is said on, for example, Yelp or the Better Business Bureau, Quality Raters are instructed to give priority to information found in third-party sources. That’s why it’s important to take care of your reputation everywhere.

Note: Do not remove negative comments or reviews about your business on your website. Although it may seem like a good idea, this is a bad practice for which Quality Raters might penalize you.

Prestigious rewards go a long way. News pages that have received critically acclaimed prizes for independence or were featured on other reputable websites can benefit greatly from boasting about this on their pages. It must be possible, of course, to verify this information.

A lack of information about a website’s reputation is not necessarily a bad thing. Many small local businesses will have no more than 2-3 reviews or user accounts. That’s okay. Incentivizing positive ones through discount offers or, what’s worse, writing (or hiring someone to write) completely fake ones, can result in a huge penalty to your Quality Score.

The Google Rater Guidelines link out to an NYT article on fake reviews. Here is a direct quote:

“How far a business can go to get a good review is a blurry line. A high-end English Hotel, The Cove in Cornwall, was recently accused in the British media of soliciting guests to post an “honest but positive review” on TripAdvisor in exchange for a future discount of 10 percent. Nearly all the recent reviews of the Cove are glowing except for the one headlined, “Sadly let down by overhyped reviews.” (emphasis added)

Page Quality Rating

A page can receive Lowest, Lowest+, Low, Low+, Medium, Medium+, High, High+, or Highest quality rating.

The most important factors that influence your quality rating include:

  • the purpose and how well the page achieves it,
  • the E-A-T rating,
  • the quality and amount of main content,
  • who is the author of the main content (and whether this information exists), and
  • the website’s reputation.

Lowest Quality pages vs. Highest quality pages

To sum it up, here are a few things the Quality Rater Guidelines want you to shoot for and others which you should try to avoid.

Lowest Quality pages Highest Quality pages
  • No purpose or failure to achieve it
  • Lowest E-A-T rating
  • Little or no main content
  • Low-quality content overall
  • Hidden or hard to access the main content
  • Little or no information about the website or creator of the main content
  • Abandoned, hacked, defaced, or spammy websites
  • Potentially harmful 
  • Lack of mobile-friendliness
  • Very high-quality main content
  • Clear and satisfying website information: about, contact, and customer service
  • Very positive reputation
  • Very high level of E-A-T
  • Suitable for viewing and using on mobile devices

Now, the above marks about 65 pages of the QRG. The next 19 are about “Understanding Mobile User Needs.” 

Mobile-friendliness

According to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, a mobile-friendly site has:

  • no software that is not compatible with mobile devices,
  • text size that is optimal for reading without using zoom,
  • content that adapts to fit the screen, and
  • links with a properly sized clickable area.

It’s worth investing some time and even money to make sure your site checks off the criteria above.

This is because, as of 2019, 61% of searches are made on mobile phones. What’s more, even on desktop, 70% of first-page results are mobile-friendly. In order to rank high, you simply have to make sure smartphone users can reach for information from your site quickly.

By the same token, the transition into mobile-first indexing means websites that aren’t optimized for these devices are going to lose out. How? Basically, all content that is not available on the mobile version is not going to bring in any traffic.

Imagine omitting your About or Contact pages from the mobile version. Googlebot will read that as a lack of information on the topic! Algorithms that aim to raise the rank of high E-A-T pages will penalize your site.

Needs met

The last 80 pages of what comprises valuable information for non-Quality Raters are all about the Needs Met Scale. The idea is to measure the quality and relevance of search results.

A SERP result can receive Not Applicable, Fully Meets (FullyM), Highly Meets (HM), Moderately Meets (MM), Slightly Meets (SM), and Fails to Meet (FailsM).

This may concern both the block (snippet) that shows up in SERPs as well as content within the page. If a page shows up as a Rich Result (Special Content Result Block) Search Quality Raters are instructed to judge whether a user would click on the link. If not, the content block is all that is assessed.

The most important factors that influence your Needs Met rating include:

  • the query is accurately and fully answered,
  • information is relevant,
  • the page is mobile-friendly, and
  • the page quality rating is high.

Fails to Meet results vs. Fully Meets results

Here are examples of results a Search Quality Evaluator Quality rater would and would not appreciate.

Fails to Meet Fully Meets results
  • The answer is unrelated to the query.
  • The query is location-related and a different location result shows up.
  • The result is a page with a low-quality rating.
  • The page provides any factually incorrect information.
  • Adult content is present (unless the user intent is to find adult content).
  • The result is useless on mobile devices.
  • Users will want to look for other sources of information to satisfy their queries.
  • Content is upsetting or offensive.
  • Both the query and user intent are “specific, clear, and unambiguous”
  • The result is mobile-friendly and information is easily accessible.
  • No other results are needed to fully satisfy the user’s query.

“Fails to meet” does not mean the site will be less visible overall, just less visible in unrelated searches. Google just wants to make sure they push the content that fits the query. You are bound to get a high “needs met” rating for the searches you are trying to answer. 

A note on adult content, foreign, broken, and offensive sites

When rating the Needs Met criteria, Quality Raters “assign Porn, Foreign Language, Did Not Load, and Upsetting-Offensive flags to result blocks when appropriate.” This does not necessarily mean penalization.

An adult content page can still be a high-quality page, but the Quality Raters do have to mark it as “not for everyone”. 

Pornographic content is considered porn whether it appears in links or text or on images, pop-ups, or prominent ads. Some content may be considered porn in one location and not in another.

“This flag should be used if the content inside the result block, or the content on the LP, is pornographic, including porn images, links, text, pop-ups, and/or prominent porn ads. An image may be considered porn in one culture or country, but not another.”

Google tries to do their best to avoid showing users explicit content if they aren’t specifically looking for it. Stumbling upon a pornographic site is often deemed a bad experience when you are looking for something completely different.

If your site has the purpose of providing explicit content, you do not need to worry about it receiving a “fails to meet” rating in unrelated searches. You likely want your users to be actively seeking the content anyway.

Summing up

This is a lengthy article summing up an even lengthier document. Here are the takeaways from the Quality Rater Guidelines:

  • Create very high-quality main content, better than your competitors.
  • Have information on your site that describes who is responsible for creating the content and where the money comes from.
  • Do not write fake reviews or incentivize customers to do so with bad practices. Instead, make sure to provide the best possible service to customers. This will reap positive reviews. 
  • Choose your content writers carefully. They should all be masters of their craft, whether through educational accolades or everyday experience.
  • Make sure your site is mobile-friendly. You are missing out on a lot of visibility from mobile devices if your pages are not formatted properly.
  • Make good use of structured data. Displaying rich results is good press.
  • Do not spread content over multiple “pages” users have to click through. It is considered a bad practice to generate empty clicks that are not beneficial or helpful to users.
  • And most importantly, keep your users in mind. Google wants to show content that is helpful. Reflect that, and you should be good to go!