Google Search Quality RATER Guidelines: SEO Takeaways for 2020
In 2019, the search giant made several noteworthy changes to the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines. Here are what they are, why they matter, and how you can use them to boost your SEO in 2020.
The web search giant, Google, is famous for stating it updates its search algorithm to improve the quality of results searchers get for specific queries.
But what the online search behemoth needs to do is to provide accurate, rich, and timely information that matches a searcher’s intent. Search is meant to serve humans.
To do that, Google recruits an army of real people. Their work is to evaluate the quality of search results from its search engine algorithm displays in response to a particular query.
In Google’s own words, Search Quality Raters “must represent the user”. So these are usually normal people with average browsing skills. The Alphabet company – the owner of Google – offers raters a Guideline. It is more like a booklet.
In it, the company instructs quality raters to look out for certain page properties and signals.
The purpose is usually to use those elements to evaluate the quality standards of those pages.
Table of Contents
Do Search Quality Rater Guidelines Hint at How Google’s Algorithm Works?
Some people think so. Others doubt it.
The consensus is webmasters that pick up on the page properties and signals the guidelines cover, wind up ranking on the top of SERPs.
When you seek to know what the algorithm is supposed to display, you’ll know the kind of signals and page properties to optimize to increase your ranking, site traffic, and, ultimately, sales.
Here are lessons from the 2019 Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines that you can start using immediately to boost your SEO strategy in 2020.
You Have Got to Use Testimonials on Your Website
Here are some interesting facts.
- A product with five reviews is 270X more likely to sell than a product with no review at all
- BrightLocal found 86% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses
- Reviews drive the biggest chunk of clicks for local SERPs
- Moz reported reviews make up to 15% of Google local pack ranking factors
In short, online reviews increase click-through rates, conversion, and sales.
When a customer provides a testimonial, they are availing first-hand information on what you offer, an overview of their experience working with you, and why they recommend you to other leads.
That’s powerful information for people considering working with a reliable brand.
Positive testimonials encourage trust and engagement—even when they are displayed on your own website.
Testimonials are especially useful to potential customers. Leads want to avoid the risk of working with someone they have no reason to trust.
The best testimonial pages make it easy for a potential customer to lower their resistance to convert and increase the chances that they’ll buy from you or take the desired action.
Know Where to Place Customer Testimonials on Your Website
Many websites place testimonials at the bottom of a landing page, sales page, or homepage.
Yet, many readers don’t make it that far.
They end up leaving unconvinced to trust that you can provide what they need and how they need it.
They never come back.
The best place to place testimonials is where website visitors will see them. Use a heatmap tool to see where visitors are scrolling and when they rarely do.
Then place a relevant testimonial along a busy scroll path.
Some brands prefer to display a collection of positive customer testimonials on one, dedicated page.
That may work.
But the best place to place a testimonial is where it is most likely to influence a positive action, reinforce trust, and reduce resistance to act.
Let’s say you offer a particular service.
You claim to offer desired results within a short time.
Then obtain a customer testimonial from a customer that feels you did, indeed, offer them the results they wanted within short and sweet turnaround time.
Placing that testimonial (including the customer’s facial photo and where they work) next to your claim turns it into a credible fact.
Ask for Testimonials
The simplest way to create great testimonials is to just collect customer feedback.
You can do that by asking happy customers if they can provide the feedback in an interview.
Obtaining the feedback in the client’s own words is most powerful because potential customers can relate.
That perspective is what a potential customer and Search Rater look for to see if they can trust your website, product, or service.
But Don’t Coerce or Buy Testimonials
Buying testimonials will get you in trouble.
And so will posting fake customer testimonials. Human Page Quality evaluators read through the testimonials page.
They are humans. They can tell exaggerated reviews from genuine, happy customer recommendations.
And you don’t want to risk your site reputation flushing down the drain. So only obtain customer feedback from people you’ve worked with before.
Those people should be willing and able to provide a testimonial.
Use Google’s New Link Policy for Paid Links
Google now wants you to mark sponsored content. So, if you buy a link or receive a payment for link placement on your site, mark it accordingly.
Simply use the link attribute:
That way, Google’s algorithm will detect if you have complied.
But to ensure human quality raters pass your site as compliant, make sure to explicitly state the content is sponsored in the text of the site.
TIP: Mark user-generated content using the attribute: Rel=”ugc”. To use the Nofollow attribute with a paid link, use: Rel=”nofollow sponsored”
Emphasize Topics Over Pages
In the new changes, Google has asked raters to put more weight on the topicality of a page in their Page Quality rating.
That means human quality scorers will be looking at the topic of a page and how relevant it is in the grand scheme of your website theme.
That also suggests they will also look into how consistent the content is throughout the page—in a way that affects how a human interacts with the information on it.
Here’s a quote from the guidelines:
So, create your content pages around a particular topic as much as you can.
Ensure Your Shopping Page Has This Information
If you’ve considered using genuine customer reviews and adding shipping information to your shopping pages as a nice to have, think again.
In line with its goal to help users find the information they need to have exemplary experiences online, Google directs raters to check shopping sites have customer reviews, shipping, and safety information.
The content behind Safety, Reviews, and Shipping tabs will also now be considered a part of the page’s Main Content (MC).
But SC and Ads Matter, Too
Google Search Quality Raters are looking out for two more types of content, not just the main content; Supplementary Content and Ads.
Supplementary content includes comments, links to other resources, recommended products, and recommended readings.
SC can also be internal links to relevant information, which will boost your on-page SEO.
And yes, CTAs also count as supplementary content. They direct users where to go next, improving their user experience on the site, so include them in your content in 2020.
Ensure SC such as comments do not contain malicious links or links to thin or banned content as that will hurt your reputation. And also that they are relevant to the topic of the page
Monitor the Quality of Ads Displaying on Your Site
Will ads affect the quality ranking of your website in 2020?
Google explicitly explained that it will consider you, the webmaster, responsible for the “overall quality” of the ads displayed on your site.
Check this out:
Google requires raters to disable adblocking extensions for this purpose.
Try to ensure ads displaying on your site are not malicious and are relevant to the nature of the content on the page they display as much as you can.
Use original, relevant, and high-quality artistic content
Another MC related update touches on artistic content such as writing, photos, images, and videos.
Raters are now encouraged to look out for unique MC that goes beyond rehashing what text content anywhere else already offers.
If you are creating content in Your Money Your Life (YMYL) topics such as medical/health, finance, shopping, law, provide accurate information that indicates the primary data source.
In 2019, Google added “News” and “Government/Civic/Law” as YMYL content.
TIPS: You’ll want to shoot, edit, and brand your original videos. Also, use original illustrations or animations in your text content.
Increase Your Mobile Page Speed
Mobile traffic statistics show mobile traffic has and continues to dominate over desktop traffic.
That means you’ll also want to boost your mobile page loading time to decrease wait time, bounce rates, and boost overall user experiences—a signal that raters are on the lookout for, according to the Search Raters Guideline.
Improve Your Site’s Mobile-Friendliness
In 2019, 53% of traffic for online shopping sites came from mobile devices. Compare that to 37% for desktops.
However, the 2019 Wolfgang Digital KPI Report showed desktop still ruled in sales, accounting for 56% of online purchases compared to just 32% for mobile devices.
But the 32% was a 9-point jump over 2018’s figure, suggesting more people are now able to easily browse, locate the “Buy” button, and checkout on smaller screens as they like.
So, ensure your mobile site design and app development cater to these needs, too.
Want to find out you’re your site’s mobile-friendliness score by Google?
Use this Google Mobile Testing Tool.
Also, head over to Google Search Console to find a report of your mobile-friendliness rating on a page level.
Compress Media to Boost Load Speeds
Media can bog down a site’s loading speed and lead to poor user experience ratings. That can lead to increased bounce rates that tell algorithms your site isn’t well-optimized.
For example, Images make up about 21% of a typical site’s weight, according to a November 2018 HTTP Archive report.
Go beyond mobile-friendliness and mobile page speed to deliver quick loading platforms across your online presence; desktop website, blog, library, portal, and other pages.
To do that, use media compression software to decrease the size of media files on your site. Those files include videos, original photos, and other images.
Wondering how to compress images for your website, for example?
You can use these image compression tools and reduce the weight and wait time of your site.
Resize Media Files
Avoid squeezing images into tiny spaces they don’t fit. They appear less-well-thought-out, especially when you have a human being looking at them.
And that can cost you points in terms of credibility and user experience.
Don’t just use high-quality images. Go all the way. Use image resizing tools such as Canva to make your images fit into your designated spaces.
They look and feel great when blending into your website design cues.
This applies especially well to photos, illustrations, drawings, clip arts, and even infographics.
Then Optimize Image ALT Descriptions
You may already know that Google has stepped up efforts to help people with physical challenges experience the web better like the never before.
YouTube already encourages content creators and channel owners to provide video captions so people with hearing challenges can follow along.
Image Alts can be read to a visually challenged person now. So use them. That’ll let Search and voice assistants read out your image descriptions to every person that’s interested in your content no matter their challenges.
Use Longer, More Useful Videos (and Shorter Ones, Too)
In recent times, Google has shown intent to rank longer videos higher up search results on YouTube.
That’s not surprising considering both human and algorithm evaluators now routinely rank long-form text content higher than shorter text content.
…don’t just extend the length of your videos.
Human readers can tell if the video is just a long-fluffy watch or a pack load of useful content that warrants the increased watch time.
However, the best practice is to provide a combination of the two video lengths in your video content strategy.
Let’s take an example, shall we?
Say you are explaining a step-by-step procedure. Or you are using explainer videos to describe how a product works.
Use a combination of short and long videos. Like a short video for a single step, followed by a text description. And a longer video to show the entire procedure fluidly from start to finish.
The average word count of a top-ranking post on Google is 2,150 words. Extend your videos with useful information in 2020 to benefit
There are New Signals that Will Affect E-A-T Page Quality Rating
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. In the 2019 guidelines, E-A-T rating is now under “Page Quality”.
Here’s what you need to improve to boost the quality rating hence build up to a great SEO ranking on Search:
Improve your site’s readability
Google wants raters checking if a human reader can easily find what they are looking for on the particular page they land on directly from the SERPs.
Ensure your content answers searcher intent.
For example, if your title said “How to…”, ensure your Main Content is describing how to actually do something or achieve the specific goal you mentioned in the title.
Use clear titles, headings, and descriptions
Use well-formatted titles, headings (H1, H2, H3…) and other subtitles to make your content easy to scan, follow-through, and digest in a fluid manner.
The page content writer needs to be an expert on the topic
That does not mean you have to get a formal education on a subject matter to write about it.
Google has mentioned before that what’s that supposed to mean is you need to ensure you create reliable content.
You can be an “everyday experts” capable of making E-A-T content.
See Google’s own words here:
Google Search Quality Rater Guideline on E-A-T
Here are two examples:
- A person who took a trip to a particular hiking route is an authority on writing about the experience of hiking that particular route
- If you’ve covered a particular subject matter for weeks, months, or years, depending on the depth of the subject, even without formal training Google passes you are an expert in that matter.
Now, note that Google encourages its raters to raise the E-A-T states higher when evaluating YMYL topics, especially health/fitness and money topics.
TIP: Use social media posts that embed links in your content to compile the reactions, comments, and feedback from experts on the topic in that piece of content. That’ll boost your credibility (E-A-T) rating. Embedding video content will help as well.
Show Out Your Content Creator Expertise
Raters are looking at who wrote your main content, their credentials, and whether those credentials are relevant to the subject matter of your MC.
That is something an algorithm can’t do well—yet.
So, go ahead and fill in your or your contributors’ credentials, showing people why they should trust what you or the contributor says.
If you are a medical site, you’ll want to use written by medical professionals or written by skilled content creators that sourced accurate data from credible medical sources.
Here are more tips:
- Allow your content creators or contributors to create brief bios to accompany the content. The bios should highlight why the person is qualified to create reliable content on the subject matter
- Have content creator profiles on-site. A profile provides a longer dive into the credentials of the content creator, their experience, and why your site visitors can trust them to produce E-A-T content.
The bio should link to the profile.
- Use established writers
- Work with decent to experienced proofreaders and editors to ensure the information provided in a piece of content is factually accurate, grammatically correct, and properly formatted.
Moderate Your User Generated Content
User-generated content is a good thing.
The more of it you have on your site, the higher the chances you are engaging your target audience well.
But user-generated content out of control is a wilderness you don’t want to trend.
The killer punch comes in the form of malicious links and spammy comments.
While Google’s algorithm can detect spammy links, only human evaluators can tell helpful and spammy comments apart.
Only real humans can tell a discussion went off-topic and turned into a gossip thread or personal attack mill.
You don’t want a few out-of-control slurs to shoot down the reputation of your site.
You want both the main content and user-generated content to blend together in harmony. You want to be a platform for useful discussions that encourage further meaningful discussion.
So do the best you can to moderate user-generated content.
Respond to Messages on Social
Do invest in social media customer care.
Most of your existing and potential customers are used to snappy responses from their interactions on say, Messenger and WhatsApp.
You want to encourage more people to reach out to you with their concerns, aspirations, and questions, and suggestions.
That kind of feedback can help you to better understand your target customers. You can use the insights to create a plan to provide solutions to your target market.
TIP: Use autoresponders to let people know you’ve received their message and will respond soonest possible.
Claim and Optimize Your Google My Business Profile
You can claim a URL and Short Name for your listing.
BrightLocal analyzed the profiles of 45,000 anonymous local businesses. The study gives actionable insights into what makes a great GMD listing.
Those are the same signals a human evaluator would look out for when assessing the quality of your GMB profile.
And then they’d tie your GMB profile trustworthiness to the rest of your online presence, reputation, and local SEO.
- Use the business name you normally use to increase recognition
- The average business posts 11 photos on its GMB listing. Use at least 12 photos shot from different angles within and outside your local business premises.
- Provide essential information; website URL, call number, and directions.
- Use booking schema to provide a call to action on your GMB listing
- Have consistent contact information, branding, and offerings on GMB as on your other platforms online or off.
- Provide information relevant to user intent.
For example, BrightLocal found people searching for local hotels, use Search and Maps most.
So, if that’s your niche be sure to pinpoint your location and directions on a map in GMB.
GMB offers tips and tricks as you fill your business details. That will help if you are new to the listing.
Secure Your Site
Start with ensuring you have SSL installed so your site is in HTTPS instead of just HTTP.
Second, secure all online form pages.
Avoid adding form fields on unsecured pages. So do deploy best practices in web form security to assure your visitors their sensitive information is safe from malicious third-party extension and phishing schemes.
So what’s one of the best secure form tips to use now?
Brand the form so people instantly recognize it is from your organization to boost trust.
Make the look and feel of your web forms are consistent with that of your overall website, blog, logo, design, and even your brand voice/tone.
Revisit Your About Page
Before there was Google My Business, there was the website About Page.
When people want to know who you are, what you do, and your “Why”, they’ll head straight to your About page.
They’re looking for trust-building signals. Such include your credentials, personality cues, experience in the site’s subject matter.
People also look at the about page to feel whether they can relate to your brand story. Or not.
And that’s the first place Search Quality Raters are encouraged to visit.
So focus on sharing your story with personality, offering a glimpse into your reason for creating the brand, and what you have to offer.
Shorten Long URLs
The longer the URL you use the more people are likely to ignore clicking it.
If you send a long and short URL together, people are likely to click the shorter URL. Perhaps shorter URLs encourage more trust than their longer versions.
Certainly, longer URLs are not appealing to share, are they?
Users also associate long URLs with spam.
Still, you want readers, Search Quality Raters, and Google’s algorithms able to read your page’s entire URL.
Notice how top-ranking posts have the keyword visible within the link?
Aim for that.
That’ll mean using a top URL shortener and minimize using subfolders and subdomains to get a clean-looking URL.
Should You Use URL Parameters?
The “rule of thumb” is to avoid using URL parameters.
But if you are going to do it, check if you meet the requirements for using URL parameters:
Google URL parameters use requirements
Then let raters, and in turn, Google, know you are doing so.
Just log in to your Google Search Console account. Open the URL Parameters Tools. Then follow the instructions on the URL parameters page right under the URL requirements.
If you have to deal with multiple parameters, scroll down the page to learn how to manage URLs with multiple parameters.
You already know, using internal links will boost your site’s on-page SEO.
Getting backlinks from sites that have high Domain Authority (DA) will help your site rank higher up the SERPs, too.
But have you tried reaching out to a high DA site owner or editor to let them know you linked to their content?
Have you tagged a content creator when sharing their high-quality stuff on social media?
Relationships thrive on reciprocation. Before you do, though, ensure your site also offers quality content the other party would want to associate with as well.
Otherwise, they risk hurting their reputation by association.
Use Topic Clusters to Boost User Navigation Hence Experience
Google crawlers can follow internal links and backlinks more easily to index your site.
But your readers need you to make it easy for them to move around.
Consider creating dedicated pages where readers can find related content in one or a few clicks.
You can have a broad keyword as the page title.
Then use long-tail keywords to create pieces of quality content that approaches the broad keyword from different angles, offering deeper dives into user intents and reader segments.
From there, they can have a big picture or bird’s-eye view of the subject, what they are currently learning, and what else on the cluster they may want to know to add to their knowledge base.
It’s about being helpful, a human touch that a Search evaluator will appreciate and award points.
Match Your Content to User Intent
Help your website visitors find exactly what they cane to find.
You can do that by aligning searcher intent to your content.
For example, provide an informative post if someone entered a “How to…” query in Google’s Search Box.
On the other hand, align a product page with a search query about a product.
Search Quality Raters are encouraged to look out for a page’s primary purpose.
That’s the core value a visitor is supposed to take away after browsing the page. Important to note, ensure you only have one primary purpose.
For example, create a dedicated product page for one product.
Unless it is a comparison-purpose page, you don’t want to confuse readers with multiple products that serve different purposes.
Make it Easy to Contact You
Maybe you already have a clear call-to-contact in the top-right corner of your website.
Time to go beyond that.
Provide several contact options. Some people prefer to talk on the phone. Others want to use email. Yet, others want a quick, live chat to get going.
If you can provide all three options, that’ll encourage visitors to connect with you.
That’ll help you start building the kind of rapport that turns into a long-term, profitable relationship you want to have.
Put More Effort in Your Online Reputation Management
Your online reputation directly affects how people perceive your brand, trustworthiness, professionalism, service delivery, and brand personality.
You could have a great product or service, but a poor online footprint can see to it you barely scratch your goals.
People don’t want to buy or work with a tainted-reputation brand or associate with one.
Raters know this. They are even encouraged to look around the web. The goal is to see if your brand or notable staff members have mentions on high authority sites, discussions on social media, and third-party online reviews sites.
So you’ll want to keep your online presence as positive as possible.
Now, marketers said they spend about 17% of their time managing their online reputation. That’s a lot of time.
To reduce the time you spend finding that information across multiple channels, consider investing in reputation management software.
Examples include SocialMention.com, SEMrush, and Mention to know what people are saying about your brand on social media.
Or set a Google alert to notify you when you are mention elsewhere.
Localize Those Web Pages
If you have a local store and want to direct foot traffic to it, focus on localizing web pages.
There are several ways to do that. The most effective include:
- Use the local language across your site
- Use a local domain
- Stock local inventory in the (online or offline) store
- Set elements such as currencies, time, and offers to what applies locally
If you are a purely digital brand, you’ll also need to localize your website if the local population is your target audience or market.
The main takeaway to bag here is to remember Google’s Search Quality Raters are real humans. What an algorithm can’t do, a human rater will.
The guidelines Google asks raters to follow are a lesson in improving a website’s user experience. Not for machines (algorithms). But for human use.
Using the 31 SEO takeaways from Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines discussed here will help you know what to optimize starting right away to boost your SEO performance in 2020.
Would you like to share a secret SEO hack you learned from the Search Quality Rater Guideline?
The world is listening in the comments section below. Go on.
Author: Dennis Dubner, CEO, and Founder of SONDORA MARKETING. SEOes and Ranks websites straight to the top, over and over again.