What are Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines and why do they matter for SEO?
Google updated its Quality Rater Guidelines or “QRG” on September 5th, as it typically does a few times each year (the most recent update before this one happened in May 2019). These updates are important because they give digital marketers a glimpse into the way Google’s quality raters evaluate the success of a given webpage. In fact, Google uses their QRG to teach more than 10,000 human reviewers how to appraise webpages.
QRG updates could be related to algorithm updates.
Although Quality Raters (and the guidelines they follow) can’t penalize your website, remove it from Google’s search index, or “hurt” your ranking, Google compiles the ratings they provide to refine its search algorithm.
That’s why Google advises webmasters to “get to know the quality rater guidelines” in addition to understanding Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)—a set of defining characteristics used to measure high-value webpages and defined within the QRG.
The Quality Rater Guidelines give us a clear list of characteristics Google values on webpages (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) as well as a clear list of characteristics Google does not value on webpages (inadequate E-A-T, poor-quality content, distracting advertisements, etc.).
Unlike Google’s confirmed (and unconfirmed) algorithm updates, the QRG actually gives SEOs a baseline for improving E-A-T to not only make users happy but search algorithms as well.
(You can view the latest guidelines in their entirety here.)
Changes to Section 2.3 (Your Money, Your Life)
The biggest change to the QRG was the near-complete restructuring of section 2.3, Your Money, Your Life (YMYL).
Previously, the QRG defined YMYL webpages as those that could “...potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.”
The newest version of QRG describes YMYL webpages as those “...pages or topics [that] could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
Here, we see a greater emphasis on the “person” rather than the “user,” as well as the addition of “topics” instead of simply “pages.”
Additionally, the list of specific YMYL examples has been updated, too.
As of May, the QRG included the following types of pages:
- “Shopping or financial transaction”
- “Financial information”
- “Medical information”
- “Legal information”
- “News articles or public/official information important for having an informed citizenry”
Now, the guidelines include additional information as well as a new structure:
- “Shopping or financial transaction” have been consolidated into “Shopping.”
- “Financial information” have been consolidated into “Finance.”
- “Medical information” has been replaced with “Health and safety.”
- “Other” remains the same in name, but it now includes fitness, housing, job search, and nutrition as YMYL topics.
Interpreting section 2.3 in the updated QRG
These updates point toward Google’s desire to serve the person behind the search query. By replacing “users” with “person,” Google reminds us that its goal is to provide the best possible search results to people —that search results exist to serve Google users. For businesses and advertisers, that means keeping the best interests of the Google user ( customers) at the center of their SEO strategy is a smart move.
The addition of the word “topics,” (opposed to just “pages”) could mean quality raters will now have the freedom to evaluate the individual components of a webpage as opposed to judging the page as a whole. Though a hypothesis, this aligns with Google’s decision to serve content to users in a new way through the answer carousel in May 2017.
In the image below, you can see a search and answer carousel. The first result, when clicked, doesn’t take users to the top of the page, but jumps to the most-relevant content located in the middle via a “jump link.” What’s more, Google has managed to do this without the help of a link. How? By simply known that section of the page was the most relevant to the search.
The most recent QRG edit seems to reflect this update from 2017—that Google is smart enough as a search engine to not only rank a given page for a search query but the specific content within that page as well.
Changes to Google's Explanation of “Very Positive Reputation”
Section 5.2, Very Positive Reputation, underwent serious changes as well in the most recent QRG update.
In older versions of the QRG, section 5.2 noted that pages with the highest reputation were typically supported by “prestigious awards or recommendations from known experts or professional societies on the topic of the page.” Today’s section 5.2 offers more detailed guidance regarding what pages need to have a very positive reputation.
Specifically, there is a new paragraph in section 5.2 that describes how quality raters can determine whether a YMYL webpage has a “very positive reputation” and how to check for it..
Expertise for many types of webpages is no longer based exclusively on professional qualifications. For example, online shoppers can be considered experts if they used a webpage to complete a purchase.
In this example, it stands to reason that a quality rater could use a shopper’s review to validate the page’s positive reputation. Furthermore, a large quantity of reviews could provide additional support for the page’s “very positive reputation.”
Practical application for SEO
The updates to sections 2.3 and 5.2 can help SEOs and webmasters improve their organic strategies:
- Write for people, not search engines. Google’s priority is the person behind the search—your website and its content should prioritize that person and their needs above all else.
- Focus on topics, not just URLs. Google is smart enough to understand the individual components of a page in addition to understanding the page as a whole. Therefore, don’t overlook the value of each section when building and organizing content.
- Identify your experts. QRG reputation is based on expert evidence, but “expert” means different things for different websites. Identify the experts for your industry and entice them to produce that evidence.
- Focus on more than text. Yes, the text on your website is important, but it isn’t the only measure quality raters gauge—reviews on a shopping page, for example, will improve its quality the same way authoritative content would for other industries.
Practical application of the QRG for business owners
The QRG isn’t just for digital marketers—business owners can take advantage of it too. Two of the best ways to do so are through communication and collaboration.
Digital marketing should bridge the gap between your business and Google’s search algorithm. If Google’s job is to provide the best possible results to people using its search engine, the business owner’s mission is to be that best result.
For business owners, that means not only building web pages that answer the most common questions asked by customers during the intake process but presenting those answers in such a way that it positions the business as the “expert” in the eyes of Google’s quality raters and algorithm.