Why guess at what Google is looking for in a local business website when they have a document that practically spells it out? Here, Marie Haynes uses the Quality Raters’ Guidelines to make a strong case for good reputation, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness, and more.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about information that can be found in Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines. In this article, we’ll discuss five practical changes that you can make to help improve the quality of your clients’ websites, and potentially help improve rankings, all based on tips we have gleaned from these guidelines.
What are the Quality Raters’ Guidelines (QRG)?
The QRG is a document that is publicly available for everyone to see. The document is primarily written as a textbook that must be studied by anyone who wants to apply to be a Google Quality Rater.
It is important to know that a Quality Rater is not the same thing as a Google Webspam Team member. Quality Raters cannot administer a penalty to your website, but rather, their feedback is used by Google’s engineers to help them determine how good of a job Google is doing in producing helpful, trustworthy search results.
Are these guidelines actually useful for marketers? We think that the answer to this is yes!
Google’s VP of Search, Ben Gomes recently said the following:
You can view the rater guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go. The don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do.
In other words, the QRG are not an exact one-to-one representation of Google’s algorithms, but they do represent what Google’s engineers want to produce with their search rankings.
At Marie Haynes Consulting (MHC), we feel that the vast majority of the issues that are addressed in the QRG are things that we should all be trying to improve upon on our websites and our clients’ sites. As such, here are five important things that you can learn from this document.
1) Understanding the importance of E-A-T
Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust (E-A-T) sounds like a bit of a buzzword in SEO, but it is something that has, in our opinion, been assessed by Google for a long time. Most SEO’s are only just now recognizing that importance.
E-A-T is mentioned 186 times in the QRG. The guidelines include a list of characteristics that could be measured to determine whether a website is high quality or not. The first of these is that the site has a high level of E-A-T:
They also have a list of characteristics that could make a page low quality. Can you guess what the first low quality characteristic is? A lack of E-A-T!
E-A-T is, in our opinion, incredibly complicated. It’s not enough to say, “Hey! She’s been a doctor for ten years so she has E-A-T.” Years of experience is the “E” in E-A-T. But “A” and “T” also matter immensely.
A full discussion on E-A-T would take us several hours to unpack. For now, here are the most important points to know:
- Authority is primarily based on links and mentions from authoritative sites. Gary Illyes from Google has confirmed this on Twitter and also on Reddit.
- Google knows which parts of the web to count as authoritative mentions. Google has mentioned in the past that they are good at determining which links are paid links and not counting those.
- While we don’t know exactly how Google determines Trust, this was likely a huge factor in the August 1 and September 27, 2018 algorithm updates. (We’ll discuss this more throughout this article.)
- True E-A-T would be very hard to fake. If you decided to pretend that a world-renowned author is writing for your site, unless Google can find other signals that solidify the idea that they are closely connected with your site, their E-A-T is not likely to help you.
If you are interested in more information, we have put together a thorough post that goes into even more detail about E-A-T and its relation to SEO.
With E-A-T in mind, let’s move on to the next point.
2) The reputation of your business matters
The QRG talk extensively about how important the reputation of a business is. They tell us that in order for a website to be considered high quality by the quality raters, they must do research on the reputation of the business.
But what if your client has a new business, and is just starting to develop an online presence? If this is the case, you likely will not be able to rank this site well organically for competitive terms until they have built up more reputation information. They may still be able to rank locally, or for less competitive terms, though.
How does Google determine whether a business has a bad reputation? Google’s John Mueller has said that they do not directly use third-party review website information in their algorithms. Still, the Quality Raters are instructed to find and evaluate as many reviews as possible.
Given that Google has said that the QRG reflect what they want their algorithms to accomplish, we do think that it is extremely important to stay on top of your online review profile. While we don’t know how, or even if Google is measuring it, we think that there is a good chance that they are. In our site quality reviews, we have seen time and time again that many sites that were negatively affected by the August 1, 2018 or September 27, 2018 algorithm updates had horrible online review profiles.
While every business is likely to get the odd negative review, what we believe Google is trying to measure algorithmically is whether there is an overwhelmingly negative sentiment online about the reputation of a business.
If your client’s business has the odd negative review, this is not likely to hurt their rankings. But if reviews are reflecting obvious business problems such as lack of refunds, extremely poor service, etc. then you may find that Google does not want to rank these businesses highly. We have some theories on how Google could measure reputation algorithmically, but we don’t know exactly how they do it.
What can you do if you have a client that has a lot of bad reviews? We recommend the following:
- Monitor all review sites frequently.
- Wherever possible, respond to reviews in a way that shows that you are working to rectify any problems.
- If there is a consistent theme in reviews, such as bad customer service, trouble getting a refund, or other trust issues, then these absolutely must be addressed by the business!
- Do all that you can to foster good reviews online from satisfied customers.
If you’re not sure where your focus should be in terms of getting online reviews, look at the current rankings for your client’s main keywords. Perform searches like “[keyword] reviews” or “[competitor brand name] reviews”. What we often see in our site quality reviews is that the client that has come to us because they’ve seen drops will have a small handful of reviews, many of them negative. In comparison, the sites that are ranking well have hundreds or even thousands of reviews online, mostly with a positive slant.
If your competitors are getting reviews on Trustpilot, then you should consider it. If they have a large Better Business Bureau (BBB) presence, you should claim your BBB too. Get reviews where people expect to see them for this type of business.
Does this mean that you need to pay for premium access to review platforms like this? Well, we do not believe that Google would give special ranking benefits to people who have paid for a BBB listing, but we do have concerns that some of these platforms may make it so that you can only respond to negative reviews if you are a paid member. This can often be a tough call.
3) Wikipedia might be important for your business
Wait… didn’t we just say that Google doesn’t take information from a single website in order to make ranking decisions? Again, we don’t know exactly how Google uses information from Wikipedia, but we know that it is a site that Google trusts. Also, the Quality Raters are instructed to do research information on Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is mentioned 56 times in the QRG.
The way to tell whether Wikipedia is something you should be paying attention to is to look at the sites that are ranking well for your main queries. Do they each have their own Wikipedia page? If so, they’re likely considered more of an authority than your business is (assuming you do not have a Wikipedia page). It is likely going to be hard to outrank these sites for competitive terms unless you can reach a higher level of recognizable authority online.
Getting a Wikipedia page is hard. It can only be done for authoritative sites with a lot of authoritative mentions. If your brand truly is an authority, then we think that you should be working to get a Wikipedia page. What we don’t know is whether actually having your own Wikipedia page helps or whether the signals that are required to demonstrate enough authority to have your own page are the same types of signals that Google is picking up on.
At the very least, you should be working on getting Wikipedia mentions. In some niches, you can edit current Wikipedia articles to add a reference linking to your site. However, the community at Wikipedia is often not in favor of marketers, so be careful. You’ll have better luck adding your link if you can establish yourself as a useful contributor to Wikipedia across many pages.
4) Is it clear who is responsible for the content on your website and how to contact the business?
The QRG say that in most cases, unless there is an obvious reason for anonymity, it should be clear who is responsible for the content of a website.
They also tell us that in many cases, lack of information on who created content or on how to contact the website can be a sign of low quality.
When trying to decide how much contact information a site should have, keep the user in mind. Do users expect to be able to contact a business like yours by phone? Is it clear to searchers who is responsible for your content?
In some cases, we believe that it is okay for a brand itself to be responsible for content rather than having individual writers for each piece. But if an article is one that requires a specific expertise such as medical, legal, financial, you really want to do all that you can to make sure that Google and readers can associate this article with an author with the appropriate E-A-T.
And here’s an extra point: if applicable, you absolutely must have clear information on your refunds and returns policy that is easy for a searcher to find.
Next, we’ll talk a little bit more about the importance of author E-A-T.
5) Author E-A-T matters
The QRG are full of examples of pages that should be considered low quality because the author of the article is lacking in E-A-T.
This is a big problem for ‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) sites that outsource the majority of their writing to SEO copywriters.
If you were negatively affected by a Google algorithm update in 2017-2018, we would recommend that you take a critical look at the E-A-T of your authors.
Below is a traffic graph from a site that was hit hard by the February 2017 algorithm update. This is the update in which we at MHC believe Google first started using E-A-T as a strong signal. Every site that we saw that was hit at this time appeared to be lacking in author E-A-T as compared to the top ranking sites.
This site was providing medical information, but they did not have authors who were recognized online as medical experts.
The site worked hard to develop relationships with physicians and surgeons who were known as authorities in their particular medical niche. Those doctors fact-checked medical articles on the site and we added an author box for them, saying that the article had been medically reviewed by this person. We also created full-page profiles extolling the authors’ E-A-T.
Because these were true connections (as opposed to faking author E-A-T), there was a lot of evidence online to show that these physicians really were connected with this website. For example, in one case, the doctor’s Wikipedia page linked to our client, and there were many other references in the news about this doctor that also mentioned the client.
This site saw a beautiful recovery. While we can’t say for certain whether the author E-A-T was what helped, as we worked on several quality issues, we really do think that it helped Google to recognize that this site had content that was likely to be medically accurate.
Are you paying attention to the QRG?
What do you think? Are the QRG important to SEO? We think that every SEO should be well-versed in the topics discussed in the guidelines. Even if some of these factors are not currently being measured by Google algorithmically, they likely will be in the future. Following the advice in the QRG can help us produce much higher-quality websites with which customers are more likely to engage.