Here we go again! A brand new version of the Google Quality Rater Guidelines has been released.
With this version we see some interesting changes. Most noticeably is the de-emphasis of supplementary content, surprising since previous versions have stressed the importance of the additional supplementary content there is on the page – or the negative impact that content has.
Local is getting hotter. We also see renewed emphasis on local, which Google has renamed to “Visit-in-Person” in these updated guidelines.
We also see a greater emphasis on the role of Your Money Your Life and E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness). Quality is important to Google, and to how webpages are rated, but it seems that Google is increasing this importance even more so since they originally introduced it.
Mobile is still pretty important, especially with more searches coming from mobile devices than desktop. And Google is placing emphasis once again on mobile in their examples and guidelines.
This is a highlight all the new changes made to the quality rater’s guidelines since the last release, and there is a lot of important detail in those older versions (such as details into Needs Met and Your Money Your Life). Here is the detailed analysis of the November 2015 version and from the 2014 version. I also wrote an overview of the entire guidelines at Moz.
Now, on to the changes!
- 1 Page Quality Rating Guidelines
- 2 Your Money or Your Life
- 3 Main Content
- 4 Website Maintenance
- 5 Website Reputation
- 6 Page Quality & E-A-T
- 7 High Quality Pages
- 8 Highest Quality
- 9 Low Quality Pages
- 9.1 Low Quality Pages
- 9.2 Low Quality Main Content
- 9.3 Characteristics Which May Be Evidence of Low Quality
- 9.4 Distracting/Disrupting/Misleading Ads and Supplementary Content
- 9.5 Ads or SC which disrupt the usage of MC
- 9.6 Prominent presence of distracting SC or Ads
- 9.7 Unhelpful or Distracting Supplementary Content
- 9.8 Misleading Ads or SC
- 9.9 Lacking Supplementary Content
- 9.10 Poor Page Design
- 9.11 Lacking Care and Maintenance
- 9.12 Lacking Expertise, Authoritativeness, or Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
- 10 Lowest Quality Pages
- 11 Medium Quality Pages
- 12 Page Quality Rating Tasks
- 13 Visit-in-Person AKA Local
- 14 Rich Results
- 15 Needs Met
- 16 English Language Results
- 17 Misspelled and Mistyped Queries and Results
- 18 Final Thoughts
Page Quality Rating Guidelines
It seems Google is wanting to be a little more web savvy when it comes to their quality raters. These raters are hired by outside vendors, not Google themselves, so I imagine quality varies, both by locale and language. But they are now specifically looking for people who are experts in Google search.
They have now added this:
It is important that you are familiar with and comfortable using a search engine. We encourage you to be an expert in Google search! For example, experiment with using operators (e.g., quotes or a dash) in your searches or try using Google’s advanced search option.
I suspect this has to do with several factors. First, being comfortable with both desktop and mobile is required. And webmasters are becoming more savvy in how they try and fake quality. So it makes sense that Google wants to use raters who are savvy enough with their search skills to be able to deep dive and look into things like a site’s reputation from a variety of sources, check for duplicate content and know the search operators for a more detailed look at a site.
Also somewhat connected to the experience and expertise of the raters, they removed “We will try to avoid using technical jargon.”
And they also removed “You don’t have to be an expert in URLs, webpages, or website design.” And they have also made the addition of the word “must” here:
Important: You must be very comfortable exploring websites, both by clicking links and modifying URLs in the address bar of your web browser.
It would be interesting to see what the current hiring criteria is now for quality raters with these changes.
RealPlayer & Adobe Flash
Particularly with so many security issues with Flash and some browsers now deprecating it, Google has added a single word, but that holds huge connotations. Google is now saying these plugins are “generally” safe to download.
We get the first mention of paywalls, something that seems to have skyrocketed recently after we have seen a somewhat decline of them. It is worth noting though that quality raters are not to use any kind of ad blocking, so they wouldn’t come across sites that are blocking content from users who use ad block, which many see as similar to a paywall.
But when it comes to paywalls, Google is simply asking raters to release a task if they reach a paywall which is preventing access to the content. So we aren’t seeing any kind of negative impact on paywalls in the quality rater guidelines… at least not yet.
Streamlining of Rating Process?
A minor change, but Google removed “and a series of questions” when describing Page Quality tasks and replaced it with “a grid to record your observations.”
Tasks for Raters
Google has added a couple of points about the examples, noting that there is a mix of desktop and mobile, as well that content can change over time.
• The information in the examples was accurate at the time it was added, but content and websites may change over time.
• Some examples show pages on desktop and some show pages on mobile devices.
We also see the first mention of searching within an app, when Google talks about the fact a webpage can be accessed from a web browser, a browser on a phone, or a search app. With the popularity of things like Google Now on iOS, for those who don’t have a baked-in Google search experience like those on Android, it isn’t surprising we see this added.
Type of Page Doesn’t Predetermine Rating
Should certain page types automatically be rated something specific? Should a Wikipedia page always be the highest quality? Should a personal blog always be considered on the lower end of quality? Google is making a point that raters shouldn’t predetermine a rating simply based on the page type.
The type of page does not determine the PQ rating—you have to understand the purpose of the page to determine the rating.
This is interesting since I do know people have preconceived ideas of page quality based on the type. So this might have been leaking into the scores, such as even the poor quality Wikipedia pages being considered high quality.
But immediately after this statement, they removed this:
Our expectations are different for different kinds of websites. Imagine a website called “Uncle Alex’s Family Photos” (a
hypothetical High quality example) created with much time and effort for the purpose of sharing photos with relatives.
Compare that to the website of a multimillion dollar corporation which exists to sell products. Page quality rating is not
“one size fits all.” You have to think about the purpose of the page and website.
Perhaps they were simply making it more concise for raters by removing this part.
Your Money or Your Life
This change is a good one… they have tightened up their meaning behind the word “wealth.” When they first added the concept of Your Money or Your Life (YMYL), they said these are the pages that impact a searcher’s future happiness, health or wealth. But that wealth was a tricky term – did that refer to making money? Or wealth in a much broader sense of the word, such as money?
Google has now changed the wording from “wealth” to “financial stability.” This is a good chance, and makes a bigger impact of what this actually covers from the financial end of YMYL.
All instances of “wealth” in the use of YMYL are now “financial stability.”
Google now says that people should sometimes consider content in tabs, such as customer reviews, as part of the main content of the page. Previously, it just stated that tabs could lead to more information.
Note that tabs on some pages lead to even more information (e.g., customer reviews) and can sometimes be considered part of the MC of the page.
This is likely due to it becoming more commonplace for mobile pages to hide content behind tabs in order to make the page more easily viewable, especially for pages that are especially long.
User Generated Content (UGC)
They have made some new mentions about user generated content, which will definitely be of use to people who have forums, Q&A sites or accept article submissions.
Webmasters directly control the MC of the page (except for user-generated content).
Here they are making specific reference that webmasters aren’t necessarily in control of UGC.
But they also talk about the variety of UGC.
MC can be text, images, videos, page features (e.g., calculators, games), or it can be user-generated content such as videos, reviews, articles, etc. which users have added or uploaded to the page.
Previously, we mostly saw low quality content and forum posts as UGC, but clearly Google is seeing it on more content types.
When it comes to supplementary content, Google does see this as being under the control of the webmaster.
Later, they talk about Wikipedia once again, and how individuals create the content of each page but the company is responsible for the site.
The company Wikipedia is responsible for the Wikipedia website, but individuals create article content.
Identifying Advertisements / Monetization (Ads)
The most interesting addition to this was quite surprising and something many webmasters should take note of.
Ads may contribute to a good user experience.
Normally many associate ads of any variety as lowering the quality of a page, but Google is now making a point that ads can add to a good user experience. This likely refers to either high quality targeted ads – such as ads for slow cookers on a slow cooker recipe or review page or site. But it could refer to well placed non-obtrusive affiliate ads as well.
They also stress that ads – either the presence or absence of – shouldn’t reflect on the quality rating based on that fact alone. After all, there are some horrendous websites without ads as well as sites that are extremely high quality, including examples from the guidelines, that do have ads. While this part isn’t precisely new, they moved it into the top of the section, which shows its importance in Google’s opinion.
The presence or absence of Ads is not by itself a reason for a High or Low quality rating. Without advertising and monetization, some webpages could not exist because it costs money to maintain a website and create high quality content.
Specific reference to mobile advertising makes its first appearance in this guidelines.
Note that monetization on mobile pages may be more subtle than monetization on desktop pages.
Google adds another tip on how to identify ads on a page, something SEOs have done for years. But they added specific reference to checking the URL to see where the “ad” goes.
…as they often refer to a URL outside of that website.
It also adds that raters should use “reputable” independent sources when checking what outside sources might say about the quality of a website.
Maintenance Doesn’t Matter?
Surprisingly, Google removed this entire section. First, here is what it said in the last version of the guidelines.
Webmasters are responsible for updating and maintaining sites they create. Most websites add or change content over time. Web browsers, such as Chrome, update with new versions. Webmasters need to make sure their websites function well for users as web browsers change.
How can you tell that a website is being maintained and cared for? Poke around: Links should work, images should load, content should be added and updated over time, etc.
Exercise caution relying on dates: Some webpages automatically display the current date. Rather than just looking for a recent date, search for evidence that effort is being made to keep the website up to date and running smoothly.
Finally, the types of updates needed depend on the purpose of the website and type of content. We expect news websites to add articles very frequently and to date each article. Typically, published news article content doesn’t change (unless to correct for errors), but new articles are added. On other websites, individual pages created on a topic are updated as new information becomes available. Wikipedia is an example of this. For these kinds of sites, we would expect individual pages to be updated as information changes.
While there are definitely examples of sites that aren’t updated yet contain relevant, quality content, the fact they are removing this section is interesting.
I don’t think Google is saying maintenance doesn’t matter by any stretch of the imagination, but rather putting lesser emphasis on it for the types of pages where it isn’t as important.
There has definitely been a trend over the past couple of years where people are trying to fake how current their content and pages are by removing dates all together. We see this quite often in the SEO industry, which is alarming when you consider how tactics from a few years ago could get a site banned. And this happens across many, many industries.
Is this Google conceding defeat in the war against the use of dates on pages? Or was it simply a matter where raters were rating sites based on the date information rather than how good or bad the quality actually is.
Sites that often aren’t cared for definitely look it. Not being mobile friendly is definitely one of those ways to tell (and Google actually considers sites that aren’t mobile friendly as lower quality). But again, perhaps raters were putting too much emphasis on this, when a site or page is high quality otherwise.
Google again is placing a bit stronger emphasis on raters doing reputation research into the sites and “actual company, organization or entity that the website is representing.”
This again could be why Google is looking for more experienced raters, ones that can more easily research this kind of thing.
Say Hi SEOs
Google again makes reference to webmasters who read the guidelines and try and use the information to make it seem better in the eyes of the raters.
Some webmasters have read these rating guidelines and write “reviews” on various review websites.
But the change from what it said previously does give some insight.
Note: Some webmasters have read these rating guidelines and have included information on their sites to influence your Page Quality rating!
Perhaps as a tactic for rater’s, people are creating fake reviews that make a site seem more positive than it really is. But that said, these fake reviews would also benefit real searchers who are really looking into a site’s reputation.
However, it is important to stress that these rater’s have absolutely no direct influence on the rankings. The are used to test how good/bad algo changes are.
Reputation and Controversies
Google is pointing to Wikipedia as a great place for finding out about a company’s reputation. They state that news articles and Wikipedia can have specific information related to “controversies and issues.”
That said, most attempts of company’s to manipulate this and make their company seem better on Wikipedia than it really is fail spectacularly.
All Sites Have Negative Feedback
Something new is that Google is stressing that not all websites have a perfect reputation. Even perfectly reputable and quality businesses will have a few negative reviews. But it is important to look at these negative reviews in light of the bigger picture.
Note: Almost every website will have complains about customer service, so it is important to look at various sources and reviews in your reputation research.
Page Quality & E-A-T
As a reminder, E-A-T refers to a page’s “expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness”… or lack thereof.
Page Quality Rating: Most Important Factors
This section is brand new.
Here are the most important factors to consider when selecting an overall Page Quality rating:
- Main Content Quality and Amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
- Website Information/information about who is responsible for the website: Links to help with website information research will be provided.
- Website Reputation: Links to help with reputation research will be provided.
- Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Use your research on the areas above to inform your rating.
Note: some tasks may ask you to view the page on your phone, but to do research (e.g., finding website information and reputation) on your desktop. Other tasks may ask you to do everything on your desktop. Please follow the instructions in the task.
This is pretty self explanatory, and note that they say that some tasks are to be done on a phone, but that the research aspect of the rating can be done from a desktop, likely for ease of use.
More about Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
They added a slight more detail to what E-A-T is.
The amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) that a webpage/website has is very important. MC quality and amount, website information, and website reputation all inform the E-A-T of a website.
They also add that these types of pages should be “updated regularly.” So perhaps Google considered the maintenance aspect only important to the highest quality sites, so that is why it was removed.
High Quality Pages
Characteristics of High Quality Pages
This got a pretty big rewrite.
First, they added the word “may have” to “A High quality page may have the following characteristics.” Previously, it was said that it was required.
Here is what the section says now:
What makes a High quality page? A High quality page may have the following characteristics:
- High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
- A satisfying amount of high quality MC.
- Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website or satisfying customer service information, if the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions.
- Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page.
Previously, it read this:
What makes a High quality page? A High quality rating requires at least one of the following high quality
- A satisfying amount of high quality MC.
- The page and website are expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic of the page.
- The website has a good reputation for the topic of the page.
In addition, the page and website should have most of the following:
- A satisfying amount of website information, for example, About Us information, Contact or Customer Service information, etc.
- SC which contributes to a satisfying user experience on the page and website.
- Functional page design which allows users to easily focus
Supplementary content was removed (more on this below), as was page design (user experience).
About Us / Contact Us
But now, Google is only looking for about/contact etc pages on sites that are either shopping or related to financial transactions. This means for hobby sites or sites that don’t deal with buying/selling on the site that this isn’t important.
From above (emphasis mine): Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website or satisfying customer service information, if the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions.
After Google added this as being important in the quality rater guidelines, many webmasters rushed out to add this information to their sites. And while this does add to the user experience of your visitors (outside of the raters), it is now only important for shopping/financial sites.
Helpful Supplementary Content
This entire section was removed. Yes, really. This is pretty surprising considering how much emphasis Google has placed on supplemental content playing such a large role in the quality of a site. And this prompted many site owners to work on adding this supplemental content.
But if you think about it, it does make sense that Google is no longer emphasizing supplementary content. Yes, really. Think about reading a page on a mobile device. You seldom see that supplementary content (aside from ads), but that doesn’t make the website less quality because you don’t see it on mobile
So I am fairly certain Google removed this to make the mobile experience inline with the desktop one, so the same site isn’t getting vastly different ratings when supplemental content comes into play with desktop versus mobile ratings.
Google also removed nearly all the references to supplemental content from the many examples in the guidelines.
Here is the removed content for reference.
Supplementary Content can be a large part of what makes a High quality page very satisfying for its purpose. Features designed to help shoppers find other products they might also like can be as helpful as the MC on the page. Ways to find other cool stuff on entertainment websites can keep users browsing happily. Helpful SC on a recipe webpage can make the difference between whether the recipe is a success or a failure.
Helpful SC is content that is specifically targeted to the content and purpose of the page. For example, very helpful SC on a recipe page might be a feature to multiply or divide the recipe to make the right quantity of food for a given number of people. Very helpful SC content on a shopping page might be other popular makers or models of the same kind of product featured on the page.
Large websites with many pages benefit from helpful, specialized SC. SC allows users to find related and interesting content on websites with many pages. Smaller websites such as websites for local businesses and community organizations, or personal websites and blogs, may need less SC for their purpose. A page can still receive a High or even Highest rating with no SC at all.
Functional Page Design
The usability experts will be sad at this part… Google has also removed the functional page design part from the guidelines too.
Here is what was removed:
High quality pages are designed to achieve their purpose: they are well organized, use space effectively, and have a functional overall layout. While every page is different, functional pages should have the following characteristics:
- The MC should be prominently displayed “front and center.”
- The MC should be immediately visible when a user opens the page.
- It should be clear what the MC actually is. The page design, organization, and use of space, as well as the
choice of font, font size, background, etc., should make the MC very clear.
- Ads and SC should be arranged so as not to distract from the MC—Ads and SC are there should the user
want them, but they should be easily “ignorable” if the user is not interested.
- It should be clear what parts of the page are Ads, either by explicit labeling or simply by page organization or
Like everything else, functional page design depends on the purpose of the page. What constitutes functional design for a shopping page may be very different from what constitutes functional design for an informational page.
Important: Some pages are “prettier” or more professional looking than others, but you should not rate based on how “nice” the page looks. A page can be very functional and achieve its purpose without being “pretty.” Here are some examples of functional (but perhaps not “pretty”) page design. You can click the examples to make them larger.
Has this fallen victim to the probable mobile trend as well? However, there are definitely websites that run afoul of this both on desktop and mobile.
Mobile friendly sites tend to be much more simplistic than desktop sites, so much of this doesn’t apply… most mobile sites are following these in order to be mobile friendly, and often ads and supplementary content aren’t as visible on the page at all.
A Satisfying Amount of Website Information
Another section removed. But this seems to be removed to follow the new guidelines that about us type of pages aren’t as important to sites that aren’t accepting payments.
Here is what was removed:
Websites frequently include the following information:
- About Us information.
- Contact or Customer Service information.
- Information about who is responsible for the content and maintenance of the website.
Think about the purpose of the website and the type of content that might be available when considering what website information would be expected or demanded. High quality websites provide clear and satisfying information for their purpose. YMYL websites demand a high degree of trust and need satisfying website information.
Other non-YMYL websites may need far less website information depending on their purpose. For example, an email address may be sufficient for some High or even Highest quality pages.
This does include information that it wasn’t as important for all types of pages, but perhaps raters were using it to downrank pages that shouldn’t have been, based on this alone.
Highest Quality Pages
Google has mostly rewritten the points in this section. Here is the new section:
What makes a page Highest quality? A Highest quality page may have the following characteristics:
- Very high level of Expertise, highly Authoritative, and highly Trustworthy for the purpose of the page (E-A-T).
- A satisfying amount of high quality MC.
- Highly satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website or for stores and pages involving financial transactions, highly satisfying customer service reputation is very important
Very positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page.
Most noticeably is the addition that there must be information about a website if it involves financial transactions. But this again seems connected to the removal of the website information section.
Very High Quality Main Content
Google has added reference to E-A-T, in that this content “may provide evidence for the E-A-T of the page,” specifically how the content is created with a lot of time, expertise, talent and skill.
Very Positive Reputation
Again, Google has added an E-A-T emphasis, and that reputation research can provide “evidence of the E-A-T of the page.
Very High Level of E-A-T
Google has added information that videos can provide a high level of E-A-T now. They added an example that the expert might be “someone who posts popular cooking videos on YouTube.”
Examples of Highest Quality Pages
Every example now highlights a “very high level of E-A-T for the purpose of the page.” And again, all references to supplementary content have been removed.
Low Quality Pages
This section we see a lot removed, but we also see some new sections added. They also have removed the mention of supplementary content from the examples, as well as page design.
Low Quality Pages
Again, expertise is playing a role.
These pages lack expertise or are not very trustworthy/authoritative for the purpose of the page.
But perhaps most interesting is that Google has italicized the following line:
The author of the page or website does not have enough expertise for the topic of the page and/or the website is not trustworthy or authoritative for the topic. In other words, the page/website is lacking E-A-T.
Again, E-A-T is playing a key role in determining how bad a page is quality-wise.
In addition to this, they have removed the comments about supplementary content, and replaced it with:
MC is present, but difficult to use due to Ads, other content/features, etc.
But they did add a part about lack of information about a website, which is curious since they removed the greater emphasis from the guidelines.
There is an unsatisfying amount of website information for the purpose of the website (no good reason for anonymity).
Low Quality Main Content
Again, they have added reference to how much time, expertise and talent/skill has gone into making the page, and the E-A-T of a page, but this is something low quality pages lack regardless.
For SEOs, they have made a change to make their keyword stuffed examples even more basic and keyword stuffed.
They do stress that websites should also be rated based on what they are – for example a corporate site versus someone’s hobby site.
Keep in mind that we have very different standards for pages on large, professionally-produced business websites than we have for small amateur, hobbyist, or personal websites. The quality of MC we expect for a large online store is very different than what we might expect for a small local business website.
All PQ rating should be done in the context of the purpose of the page and the type of website.
So this means your small hobby site won’t be downgraded because of expectations when compared to a billion dollar corporation’s site (although in my experience, some of those corporation’s sites are far worse than many hobbyist sites).
Characteristics Which May Be Evidence of Low Quality
This section was removed, although it does share some points with the above new section. Here is what the removed section said:
We have very different standards for pages on large, professionally-produced business websites than we have for small amateur, hobbyist, or personal websites. The type of page design and level of professionalism we expect for a large online store is very different than what we might expect for a small local business website.
All PQ rating should be done in the context of the purpose of the page and the type of website.
The following sections discuss page characteristics which may be evidence of Low quality. Occasionally, these same characteristics may be present on smaller amateur or personal websites and are not a concern. Please use your judgment when deciding whether these characteristics are evidence of low quality on the page you are evaluating, or merely a sign of non-professional but acceptable small, amateur, or personal website design, for example, “Uncle Alex’s Family Photos” website (a hypothetical High quality example).
Distracting/Disrupting/Misleading Ads and Supplementary Content
Here is where supplementary content is now featured… although not that much.
Some Low quality pages have adequate MC present, but it is difficult to use the MC due to disruptive, highly distracting, or misleading Ads/SC.
However, most often that disrupting supplementary content is ads – but they seem to be separating the two aspects of quality.
Ads or SC which disrupt the usage of MC
Another new section added, again with some supplementary content. This is also the first time interstitials have been mentioned…. sadly it doesn’t address interstitials as a whole, but rather sneaky ones that redirect.
While we expect Ads and SC to be visible, some Ads, SC or interstitial pages (i.e., pages displayed before or after the content you are expecting) make it extremely difficult to use the MC. Pages which disrupt the use of the MC should be given a Low rating. A single pop-over Ad with a clear close button is not terribly disruptive, though may not be a great user experience. Here are two examples of situations we consider to be disruptive:
- Ads that actively float over the MC as you scroll down the page and are difficult to close. It can be very hard to use MC when it is actively covered by moving, difficult-to-close Ads.
- An interstitial page which redirects the user away from the MC without offering a path back to the MC.
Prominent presence of distracting SC or Ads
Yet another new section, but again the emphasis is on ads.
Most noticeable is that Google refers to “top posts and pages” type of widgets as being distracting. While it could be referring to the placement – they refer to a right side placement – it is hard to know if usual implementations of this is distracting, or perhaps it is not from the site itself, but an example like Taboola, where those top posts and pages aren’t as high quality.
Users come to webpages to use the MC. Helpful SC and Ads can be part of a positive user experience, but distracting SC and Ads make it difficult for users to focus on and use the MC. Here are some examples of prominent and distracting SC or Ads:
- Some webpages are designed to encourage users to click on SC that is not helpful for the purpose of the page. This type of SC is often distracting or prominently placed in order to lure users to highly monetized pages. Here is an example of a page with highly distracting SC in the right-hand column under the label “Top Posts & Pages.” Here is another example with some very prominent and distracting SC images and Ads.
- Either porn SC or Ads containing porn on non-Porn pages can be very distracting or even upsetting to users. Please refresh the page a few times to see the range of Ads that appear, and use your knowledge of the locale and cultural sensitivities to make your rating. For example, an ad for a model in a revealing bikini is probably acceptable on a site that sells bathing suits. However, an extremely graphic porn ad may warrant a Low (or even Lowest) rating.
The mention of porn ads causing a non-porn page to be rated low is not new, but worth noting if you use one of the lower end ad networks that run somewhat questionable ads.
Unhelpful or Distracting Supplementary Content
This section was removed but it definitely has points from the above section, including the top posts and porn issues.
Here is what Google removed:
Some webpages are designed to encourage users to click on SC that is not helpful for the purpose of the page. This type of SC is often distracting or prominently placed in order to lure users to highly monetized pages.
Sometimes, distracting and unhelpful SC is actually Ads. We can consider this both unhelpful/distracting SC as well as deceptive/misleading page design. Here is an example of a page with highly distracting SC in the right-hand column under the label “Top Posts & Pages.”
As another example, porn ads on non-porn pages can be very distracting and potentially provide a poor user experience. Please refresh the page a few times to see the range of Ads on that page, and also use your knowledge of the locale and cultural sensitivities to make your rating. For example, an ad for a model in a revealing bikini is probably acceptable on a site that sells bathing suits, however, an extremely distracting and graphic porn ad may warrant a Low rating.
They are no longer asking raters to refresh pages to see a variety of ads.
Misleading Ads or SC
Another new section but again, this is really on misleading ads. Google recently added a new manual action in Google Search Console for this kind of issue, called “Social Engineering Content Detected“. But really, it refers to ads that are designed to be clicked without people realizing they are ads. For example, on a download page, it is often littered with fake “download” buttons that are really either ads or link to download malware and not the download the person was trying to get.
It should be clear what parts of the page are MC, SC and Ads. It should also be clear what will happen when users interact with content and links on the webpage. If users are misled into clicking on Ads or SC, or if clicks on Ads or SC leave users feeling surprised, tricked or confused, a Low rating is justified.
Here are some examples of misleading Ads or SC:
- At first glance, the Ads or SC appear to be MC. Some users may interact with Ads or SC, believing that the Ads or SC is the MC. Here is an example.
- Ads appear to be SC (links) where the user would expect that clicking the link will take them to another page within the same website, but actually take them to a different website. Some users may feel surprised or confused when clicking SC or links that go to a page on a completely different website.
- Ads or SC which entice users to click with shocking or exaggerated images and/or text. These can leave users feeling disappointed or annoyed when they click and see the actual and far less interesting content.
Summary: The Low rating should be used for disruptive or highly distracting Ads and SC. Misleading Ads or SC may also justify a Low rating. Use your judgment when evaluating pages. User expectations will differ based on the purpose of the page and cultural norms.
Lacking Supplementary Content
Yet another section related to supplementary content is removed. But again, I feel this is related to the fact that supplementary content isn’t as visible to mobile users.
Here is the removed section:
Some pages have a small amount of SC and other pages have no SC at all. You must use your judgment when deciding whether such pages should receive the Low rating.
Some “webpages” are actually PDF files or image files (such as PNG or JPEG files) which many browsers now display. We would not expect a PDF page or an image file to have any SC at all.
Other types of pages may have a small amount of SC. Local libraries, small local businesses, small community organizations, etc. often exist to benefit the local community, and may not have a professional web designer for their website. A lack of SC on these types of small, local websites may not be an issue since the purpose of the page is often to provide information to a small community of users.
For example, Uncle Alex created “Uncle Alex’s Family Photos” website (a hypothetical High quality example) to share photos with family and friends. There is not a large amount of MC and not a lot of content to navigate, therefore, a small amount or even no SC is acceptable.
However, we do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating.
To summarize, a lack of helpful SC may be a reason for a Low quality rating, depending on the purpose of the page and the type of website. We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of “webpages,” such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC at all. Please use your judgment.
Poor Page Design
Yes, another reason for usability experts to be sad. Google has removed this entire section.
What was removed:
Sometimes, amateur websites have less professional looking page design. A page that looks like it was created in the 1990s is OK if the page is functional for its purpose. “Uncle Alex’s Family Photos” website (a hypothetical High quality example) may have an unusual choice of font color or background, but it still functions well for its intended audience. However, some pages are deliberately designed to shift the user’s attention from the MC to the Ads, monetized links, or SC. In these cases, the MC becomes difficult to read or use, resulting in a poor user experience. These pages should be rated Low.
Here are some examples of pages with poor page design, organization, layout, or use of space, which should be rated
- Many Ads or highly distracting Ads on the visible part of the page when it first loads in the browser (before you
do any scrolling), making it difficult to read the MC.
- Repeated insertion of Ads between sections of the MC, so that the page jolts the user back and forth between MC and Ads in a way that makes the MC difficult to read.
- Invasive Ads, such as popups that cannot be closed.
- A large quantity of Ads with a relatively small amount of helpful MC.
- Text ads, placed beside or within the site’s navigation links, which may confuse users.
If a page seems poorly designed, take a good look. Ask yourself if the page was deliberately designed to draw
attention away from the MC.
These seems to be because of the design emphasis on supplementary content and why it was removed. And usability on mobile is far different from mobile usability on desktop now.
Lacking Care and Maintenance
Not surprising this was removed in relation to low quality pages, as Google is not longer stating this is important for all but the highest quality pages.
Here is what it said:
Sometimes a website may seem a little neglected: links may be broken, images may not load, and content may feel
stale or outdated.
Irregular or infrequent updates may be OK for some websites; it depends on their purpose. For example, sometimes ordinary people set up family photo websites or personal blogs, but rarely update them. We would usually not consider such websites to be inadequately updated or maintained.
Websites with medical information, legal information, tax information, etc. must be updated frequently. Users expect information about the most current medical thinking, current laws, this year’s tax information, etc.
Other types of websites need frequent updates as well, for example, websites with sports information, celebrity gossip, news, etc. Note that we are describing websites, not individual articles. Typically, news organizations publish “new” news articles as a way to keep their site up-to-date. Other types of websites update content on individual pages as away to keep their site up-to-date, for example, encyclopedia websites.
Important: The date on an individual news article is not a reason for a Low page quality rating. However, if a website is not being maintained and updated enough for its purpose, that is a reason for a Low page quality rating. If a website feels neglected, look carefully. Think about the purpose of the website. A year without updates for “Uncle Alex’s Family Photos” website (a hypothetical High quality example) is fine. A few days without new articles on a major national news website is not acceptable. Use your judgment. If the website feels inadequately updated and inadequately maintained for its purpose, the Low rating is probably warranted.
That said, obviously you don’t want to ignore this aspect when it comes to your own site, as it does play an important role, especially for more competitive market areas.
Lacking Expertise, Authoritativeness, or Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
Google has rewritten part of this section to focus on the issue of UGC.
User-generated websites span the Page Quality rating spectrum. Note that in some cases, contributors choose their own topics with no oversight and may have very poor writing skills or no expertise in the topic of the page. Contributors may be paid per article or word, and may even be eligible for bonuses based on the traffic to their pages. Depending on the topic, pages on these websites may not be trustworthy.
If you have a site with UGC, it would definitely be worth it to highlight whether your contributors are experts or not. Include a detailed bio (being careful with those followed links) and other indicators of why those contributors should be trustworthy.
Lowest Quality Pages
Lowest Quality Pages
One thing worth noting is that abandoned pages are no longer automatically considered lowest quality pages, but this goes along with what we have seen throughout the guidelines this time.
They also mention about YMYL pages “that are so lacking in website information that it feels untrustworthy.
Lack of Purpose Pages
These now specifically include reference to pages “deliberately created with gibberish or meaningless (nonsense) text.” This is slightly rewritten from the “Gibberish and Meaningless Main Content” section from the previous version.
First, this section was renamed – it is a rewritten version of the former “Deceptive Page Design” section, which again goes along with the removal of page design issues from most of the new guidelines.
This section now includes comments about the role of spammy pages to “buy the product” instead of just talking about monetized links.
It also refers to content that manipulates users to “take an action which will benefit the owner of the website rather than help the user.” This reminds me of the many comments about Panda and how often sites that benefit the owner more than the user are often hit by Panda.
They also consider many more types of pages to be deceptive, and include examples for the raters.
Some pages are deliberately designed to manipulate users to take an action which will benefit the owner of the website rather than help the user.
We consider the following kinds of pages to be deceptive webpages because users did not get what they expected. Use the Lowest rating if the page is deliberately designed to manipulate users with little or no effort to provide helpful MC. Here are some common types of deceptive pages:
- Pages which disguise Ads as MC. Actual MC may be minimal or created to encourage users to click on the Ads. For example, fake search pages (example) that have a list of links that look like a page of search results. If you click on a few of the links, you will see that the page is just a collection of Ads disguised as search engine results. A “search box” is present, but submitting a new query just gives you a different page of Ads disguised as search results.
- Pages which disguise Ads as website navigation links. For example, fake directory pages (example) that look like a personally curated set of helpful links, possibly with unique descriptions. In reality, the links are Ads or links to other similar pages on the site. Sometimes the descriptions of the links are unrelated to the landing page.
- Pages where the MC is not usable or visible. For example, a page that has such a large amount of Ads at the top of the page (before the MC), so that most users will not see the MC, or a page where the MC is invisible text.
Take a good look at the page and use your judgment. If you believe the page was deliberately created to manipulate users to click on Ads, monetized links, questionable download links, etc., rather than help users, the page should be rated Lowest.
This is another section that was removed, but for reasons unknown. The only possible idea is that perhaps it was removed because it is much harder to track these redirects on a mobile device than it is for those on a desktop. And since more testing seems to happen on mobile, perhaps this is why.
Here is what was removed:
Redirecting is the act of sending a user to a different URL than the one initially requested. There are many good reasons to redirect from one URL to another, for example, when a website moves to a new address.
However, some redirects are designed to deceive search engines and users. These are a very poor user experience, and users may feel tricked or confused. We will call these “sneaky redirects.” Sneaky redirects are deceptive and should be rated Lowest.
How to recognize sneaky redirects:
- While being redirected, you notice that the page redirects through several URLs before ending up on the landing page.
- You notice that clicking the same URL several times takes you to different landing pages on a rotating set of domains.
- You notice that you are redirected to well-known merchant websites, such as Amazon, eBay, Zappos, etc. to complete a transaction.
- The URL of the landing page is different than the URL in the rating task. You should compare the two URLs to see if it makes sense that one would redirect to the other. A redirect from a company’s old homepage to its new homepage on a different domain is not sneaky. Redirects from one page on one website to another page on the same website are also not sneaky. However, unexpected redirects from one website to a completely unrelated website should be considered deceptive.
However, the positive aspect of this is that it removes the problem affiliates have with these guidelines, since often people were viewing affiliate links that redirect through tracking as a “sneaky redirect.”
Nothing major, but Google does talk more about how to determine if content is copied, and mentions using the Wayback Machine.
Hacked, Defaced or Spammed Pages on a Website
This section was renamed from “Abandoned Websites or Spammed Pages on a Website.” So again Google is removing reference to abandoned websites.
The section now adds references to defaced and spammed pages, generally through a site being hacked.
They also add more detail about how they determine if it is spammed.
We’ll consider a comment or forum discussion to be “spammed” if someone posts unrelated comments which are not intended to help other users, but rather to advertise a product or create a link to a website. Frequently these comments are posted by a “bot” rather than a real person. Spammed comments are easy to recognize and may include Ads, download, or other links. Webmasters should find and remove this content because it is a bad user experience.
While a specific page on a website may have a large amount of spammed forum discussions or spammed user comments, it does not mean that the entire website contains only spam.
Medium Quality Pages
Medium Quality Pages
Google has added a bit to the description to include “have neither high nor low expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.”
From one of the examples, they removed reference to outdated content.
Page Quality Rating Tasks
Rating on Your Phone
Interstitials – this time mobile interstials – are mentioned again. But raters are told to ignore it unless it makes it hard to get to the content.
We also see mention of Android added back. On the previous release copy it was removed, but it was on the leaked copy I had.
When rating Device Action queries and Device Action Result Blocks, including queries for installing or opening apps, please assume that queries were issued on an Android device unless explicitly stated otherwise in the instructions.
The Top 3 Page Quality Considerations
Another inexplicable removal. However, these concepts are brought up repeatedly throughout the guidelines, so perhaps they considered it redundant.
The top three most important PQ considerations are:
- Quality and quantity of Main Content. Examine the MC carefully. Given the purpose of the page, evaluate the quality and quantity of MC.
- Level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the page and the website. The level of E-A-T is extremely important for YMYL pages.
- Reputation of the website. The reputation of a website is very important when the website demands a high level of trust.
These “top three” considerations will help you rate many or most pages. High or Highest quality ratings must be supported by evidence from at least one of these top three considerations.
E-A-T: Page or Website
Some more interesting commentary was added to this, as well as parts being rewritten. It talks about the differences when looking at the site overall versus just the page.
The quality of the MC is evaluated by looking at the landing page of the link in the PQ rating task. The reputation of the website is based on the website which the landing page belongs to. Depending on the page, E-A-T may be based on the page alone, may be based on the website, or may be based on both the page and website.
Landing page E-A-T is important when a website has different authors on different pages. This is the case for article websites or websites like YouTube, which have user-generated content. E-A-T for pages on these websites may differ drastically based on the E-A-T of the creator of the content on the page.
Ratings for Encyclopedia Pages
Mostly just talks about the value of these types of pages and determining the value for individual pages.
Ratings for Pages with Error Messages or No MC
Google slimmed down this section. They are wanting raters to consider how helpful – or not – error pages are, or what happens when they land on an invalid page or broken link.
Ratings for Forums & Q&A Pages
This section if worth reading closely for those who have these types of pages or sites. They have removed many points for raters to follow while adding a new back, as well as removing significant commentary about how these pages should be rated.
They also add the most important factor for these pages – “The most important aspect is the E-A-T of the participants in the discussion, which can be difficult to judge.”
Visit-in-Person AKA Local
Visit-in-Person is the New Local
Surprisingly, Google has removed all references to local searches and results and replaced them with “Visit-in-Person” instead. This makes it easier for raters to understand, especially in other countries.
It also makes it much more clear for a local generic search versus a search with the intent to actually visit the location.
Google describes this new term as:
Visit-in-person query, some of which are looking for a specific business or organization, some of which are looking for a category of businesses
All instances of local are now called “Visit-in-Person”… I wonder if this term will catch on in the SEO community.
Examples Where User Location Does (and Does Not) Matter
A new section added, along with related examples:
As previously mentioned, the user location may not always change our understanding of the query and user intent. Below is one example where user location plays an important role, and two examples where user location does not matter.
Special Content Result Blocks
Nothing major, but we now have an acronym for it – SCRB… much less wordy. For those who are unclear, it refers to content blocks that Google displays such as calculators, weather results, etc – rich results.
Surprisingly, nothing much has changed aside from the addition and removal of examples.
Fails to Meet
In the previous version, but worth mentioning again, especially as mobile friendly is a hot topic…
Fails to Meet may also be used for results which are extremely low quality, have very stale or outdated information, be nearly impossible to use on a mobile device, etc.
English Language Results
While this isn’t important to most people, Google added a couple statements, along with more examples.
When the query is in the language of your locale, assume that users want results in that language.
However, rating can be more difficult when the query includes English names, words, etc. Please use your locale knowledge and judgment to determine the best rating.
Misspelled and Mistyped Queries and Results
Spelling Suggestion Result Blocks
This section was also removed, even though it seems as Google is still using them frequently.
When a user misspells or mistypes a query, search engines may display spelling suggestions.
Users rely on “Did you mean” suggestions to tell them when they might be spelling something incorrectly and as a way to get better search result pages. “Did you mean” type result blocks are Special Content Result Blocks, but they do have a prominent link to a page of search results for the suggested spelling.
Your Needs Met rating should reflect both the helpfulness of the suggestion itself and the helpfulness of the LP of the suggestion. For every spelling suggestion, please be sure to look at the suggestion and click through to the landing page of the suggestion before rating. Sometimes, you will find it helpful to compare the landing page of the suggestion
to the landing page of the original query.
Even though I referred to the last rewrite as the mobile one, it seems that many of the decisions on what was removed and added was based on the mobile user experience. Things like supplementary content are not as apparent (and probably not used as much) on a mobile device, thus supplementary content is far less important – when was the last time you utilized non-advertising supplementary content on mobile?
That said, the last thing you would want to do is remove your supplementary content. After all, you really should be creating your site’s content for the users, not for Google and/or their raters. But webmasters shouldn’t feel the pressure of “have to add tons of supplementary content” for the sake of the raters.
There are also plenty of instances where supplementary content can make a break a site. Recipe sites are a perfect example… nowadays visitors expect to see nutrition information, various print sizes and formats, recipe boxes for saving on the site. Same with things as simple as share buttons. So use supplementary content where it makes sense for your site’s visitors.
The removal of user experience and maintenance is a bit unexpected, but again, these things are not as apparent to a mobile user, and sites that aren’t easily usable on a mobile device are rated low anyway.
The new Visit-in-Person concept is a great descriptive word to describe local. I know this is still a term that new SEOs and even business owners get confused about – what does local mean? So perhaps raters were having this same issue so they came up with the more descriptive term for local.
Want even more? I am speaking on the What Advanced SEOs Should Know From The Google Raters Guidelines at SMX Advanced in June.
I am also answering questions/comments about it on Twitter and Facebook.
— Jennifer Slegg (@jenstar) April 4, 2016
You can download the latest version here
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