Understanding Google’s algorithm feels like an impossible task. They very rarely release any of their secrets, so when we get a glimpse into their inner workings it’s worth paying attention to. One thing we do know is that Google uses human Search Quality Raters to assess content.
But what do they actually do? And what guidelines do they follow?
Today in SEO 101, we’re going to explore both those questions and what the answers mean for your store’s SEO strategy.
What do Search Quality Raters do?
At its most basic, a Search Quality Rater helps Google to better understand if its algorithm is doing its job correctly in surfacing and ranking high quality, useful content. Their algorithm might be advanced, but they want to better understand how that translates to real life users. Search Quality Raters represent those real users. Google works with around 16,000 Search Quality Raters around the world - spanning across different continents, over 80 different languages, and a variety of demographics. This gives them a diverse range to assess pages and ranking.
To make that assessment, they’re given a set of guidelines from Google as well as different tasks to perform. From this, they’re able to provide a rating. How a page is rated is split into two parts:
Page Quality - How well a page achieves its purpose. In most cases, it’s pretty easy to assess a page’s purpose, for example an ecommerce site’s purpose will be to sell products or give information about them.
- Needs Met - How useful a result is for a given search. This is about the intent behind a query, and how well results match that. For example if a user searches for “where to buy snowshoes near me”, how closely do search results match their intent.
No single rating or rater can impact page ranking. After all there’s much more that goes into determining a page’s value than just quality and intent - there’s spam, security, and technical details. And besides, with how much content there currently is online and how much is added every minute, it would be impossible for Google to rely solely on Search Quality Raters. Instead, the ratings act as a guide for Google to know how well its algorithm works.
What are Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines?
The guidelines that Search Quality Raters follow is a 176 page document that outlines what’s expected from raters. It’s publicly available too, so it gives anyone looking to improve their SEO extremely valuable insight into what Google is looking for from content online. The guidelines go over what constitutes poor and high quality content, and understanding user intent.
There are a couple of key concepts in the Search Quality Rater Guidelines that are especially useful when thinking about your SEO strategy and assessing your own content.
Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)
Think about how much content there is online. From online stores to banking to healthcare to advice and more, there are so many topics that users will be looking for. And some of those topics carry higher risk than others due to their nature. These are called “Your Money or Your Life” topics - in other words, those which could impact a user’s health, finances, safety, or wellbeing. In some cases, a YMYL topic could be hidden behind something else, for example a computer virus on a page with a seemingly mundane topic.
Google urges raters to see YMYL on a spectrum, rather than as a black or white matter. Some topics might be clearly YMYL such as an article about what to do in the event of a heart attack. Others are less so - for example, an online store in some ways might be considered on that spectrum as you’re asking a user to part with money in buying a product.
E-E-A-T - Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trust
This concept focuses on the value of content based on some key principles raters should look for. The most important of which is trust - this is central to the other three, and the most valuable for Google.
Experience - Raters are to consider the experience a content creator may have in the topic at hand. An example of this would be a review - would you trust a review from someone who had never used the product? Or from someone who had actually purchased and used the product?
Expertise - Does the creator have the knowledge or skills to speak to the topic in question. Raters are also to consider the level of expertise that’s actually required in order to speak to a topic - for example it’s more important that someone giving advice about an electrical problem has expertise in that area.
Authoritativeness - Raters also consider the extent to which the website is known as a source for that topic. Google recognizes that many topics don’t have one signal “official” source, but they want to know that the site in question is reliable for this topic. This can be as simple as, for example, you posting about a sale for your brand - you are the most authoritative source for that information as opposed to some third party.
Finally, there’s Trust - this being the most important because even if a page demonstrates E-E-A, it can still be untrustworthy. Raters are encouraged to explore the content creator further to determine the level of trustworthiness such as looking at the About Us page, looking at what other sites, reviews, and more say about that site, and more.
How can I use the Search Quality Rater Guidelines to improve my store’s SEO?
The Search Quality Rater Guidelines give us invaluable insight into what Google is looking for when it comes to content. They rarely give many clues about their algorithm, but we do know the importance of YMYL and E-E-A-T. These two concepts can be used as a basis for assessing your store’s content. We also know the two primary ways raters are asked to evaluate content - through Page Quality, and Needs Met.
Look at each page on your site, and create your own kind of rating against these concepts. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How can I demonstrate experience in this content?
- What expertise does my team have, and how can I show this on my site?
- What more content can I create that will show the authority we have over our brand, products, and niche?
- What is the purpose of this page? Is it clear, and if not why not?
- Does this page satisfy user needs?
This gives you a depth of scrutiny that will not only help your SEO, but generally help your approach to how you put content together for your store. In thinking like a rater, you’re thinking more clearly about user needs and therefore what your customers need from your store’s content.
SEO advice always parrots the same phrase “write for people, not for robots”, and that’s exactly what raters are there to do - to ensure content is created for real human users. By understanding what Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines are, we can create more useful, purposeful content for ecommerce.