Not all Content is Created Equal and Not all Webpages Serve the Same Purpose

Google Search Quality Guidelines


With much emphasis on high quality content and the need to satisfy user query and experience, you would think the message from Google was clear. That if you wish to rank high and have a successful marketing campaign, you need to satisfy these criterias.

To say SEO has changed dramatically, is an understatement. It is no longer just about search engine optimization, but largely about user experience optimization (UXO).

In fact, in Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines, when establishing E-A-T, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness of a webpage, evaluators are asked to look at independant sources, such a customer reviews, forums discussions and independent expert reviews of the page. Noticeably there is not a single mention of links to the page. 

This is not to say that link building isn’t important for SEO, but that Google’s priority on positive signals are changing. Positive user experience is what matters to Google. Real users comments and independent reviews are taking priority.  

The requirements to meet the standards of high quality content differs depending on your business activities and the reason for which you have created the webpage.

Other day I spent almost an hour on Amazon looking for hiking boots. Checking quality, price, available size, styles etc. Having found the boots I wanted, I left the site without making a purchase.

Then I visited Timberland’s website and it only took me 5 minutes to purchase of the boots I had found on Amazon. 

Later when I was researching for this article, I came across a well written post on Content Marketing Institute’s website. Although it had received some negative comments regarding its structure, nevertheless was useful for my purpose. I spent 10 minutes or so browsing over it.

Does this mean, as I spent 1 hour on Amazon site, the Timberland site, where I only spent 5 minutes, was less important or less useful? Clearly not! Because I found what I was looking for and made my purchase. Or Content Marketing Institute’s informative article was less engaging than information on Amazon or Timberland site, because I didn’t take any action? Absolutely not! It was a useful article for my purpose.

It also means that the expected quality of what is useful and informative content differs depending on your website/webpage and the purpose it was created for. Not all quality content need a text of thousands of words for it to be recognized as such. After all, how much can you write about boiling an egg. 

It all comes down to creating a useful, valuable, informative content for your audience.

Google has told us, since the integration of its Panda algorithm and its many updates since, in no uncertain terms, that Content and User Experience is their highest priority.

That, it is about knowing your audience and your market, and providing the user with information of value, offering an accurate insight to their queries. No matter what product you selling or what service you provide.

Content for your audience rather than just your brand. And not just any content.

Google’s Panda algorithm

Google’s Panda targeted low quality websites, penalizing what it considers as unethical SEO tactics, used by webmasters to falsely achieve high page ranking, without satisfying the user’s query or experience. Google told us about the negative signals.

In Google Webmaster Guidelines they also provide us with what not to do, rather than saying what are positive signals of a high quality page.

Google left us to work out what was expected by way of quality content and satisfying user experience. The positive signals were left out. 

Google’s RankBrain machine 

In October 2015 Google confirmed it’s RankBrain as third most important ranking algorithm.

A machine learning artificial intelligence, looking at positive and negative signals from users search and interaction with a webpage. It understands and gathers information as to the page content and if it provides the answers to the users query, even if the page doesn’t contain the exact search terms. 

So, gone the days of stuffing the content with exact keywords as an onpage optimization tactic.

RankBrain looks at the pages content, and what it offers the user. Does it answer their query. 

For the purpose of this article, I am not going to any further details on RankBrain, only that, it is important to note Google’s emphasis on content quality and user experience that is dominating the development of their algorithm, and the road map to the future of SEO and more importantly User Experience Optimization (UXO).  

There are plenty of great articles on RankBrain for further reading. Here are few:

Moz Search Engine Journal , Search engine Land 

Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines

Google leaked, then published and updated its Search Quality Raters Guidelines that provide us with what they considers for both high and low quality content, webpages and standards they looking for.

Google uses the results from human raters in developing their algorithm as closely to human experience as possible. Distinguishing between accurate and inaccurate content, copied and original, offensive and often incorrect information, trustworthiness, authoritative, expertise of the website that page belongs to and its authors.

It states that the Raters findings and grading of webpages do not have a direct impact on search result.

But surely once it’s army of human evaluators report their findings and ratings of particular webpage, one would assume Google will take the appropriate action, sooner or later!

In Search Quality Rating Guidelines, Google has spelled it out that content, its source, its value to the searcher and ultimately overall user experience is what matters.

Search Quality Rater Guidelines provides a clear understanding of Google’s mindset

If you want to succeed in marketing, achieve and maintain your organic ranking, whether you are a marketer, in any discipline or a client, you should read the guidelines.

This 160 page document makes it clear that in Google’s eyes, not all Websites are Created Equal and not all Pages Serve the Same Purpose.

The standards applied by evaluators when rating a webpage differs according to the purpose and intention for which it was created. Google asks its Rater to research and understand what the webpage is for, categorize and rate them according to its guidelines.

Google Quality Rater Guidelines, main points

Human evaluators must consider the following:

What is the purpose of the Webpage?

Is your site created to provide information, education or is it to sell services and products, is it to advice on health,finance or legal issues, is it a news or satire site, is it to share social or personal information, experience or opinion?

“The purpose of a page is the reason or reasons why the page was created. Every page on the Internet is created for a purpose, or for multiple purposes. Most pages are created to be helpful for users. Some pages are created merely to make money, with little or no effort to help users. Some pages are even created to cause harm to users. The first step in understanding a page is figuring out its purpose.”

Make it clear what your website/page is about and what it intends to provide the user.

“Common helpful page purposes include (but are not limited to):”

  • To share information about a topic.
  • To share personal or social information.
  • To share pictures, videos, or other forms of media.
  • To express an opinion or point of view.
  • To entertain.
  • To sell products or services.
  • To allow users to post questions for other users to answer.
  • To allow users to share files or to download software.

Then consider if your page provides what it claims and is it going to satisfy the users query once they land on it?

The type of page doesn’t determine the rating. Google will not consider any particular page purpose or type to be higher in quality than another as long as it is created to help users. “For example, encyclopedia pages are not necessarily higher quality than humor pages.” They look at the purpose for which the page was created.

Google’s quality evaluators look to see if the needs of users are met, that you are providing them with what they looking for, helpful information, high quality content and ease of use. They also have to determine Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the page and the website responsible for its content.

Google provides the evaluators with a sliding scale, rating from Lowest to Highest and all levels in between.

Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines
The most important rating factors are based on the information raters ascertain about the page, are:

  • Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness (E-A-T).
  • The quality and the amount of main content (MC)
  • The information provided on the website about who is responsible for the site, author
  • And the Reputation of the website
  • Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)

Pages that provide, legal, financial or medical information and online stores, official or public news sites, are held to the highest quality rating standards, as they could potentially have an impact on the current or future well-being of the person viewing them.

Google calls them Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages, that “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or financial stability of users.”

Unfortunately there are many low quality webpages with little expertise, giving advice on medical condition or offer advice on financial matters and even child care that will negatively have an impact on the users life, money and happiness. Google aims to prevent such pages to rank well, ensuring pages that will affect the searcher’s well-being are as high quality as possible.

Online stores will also fall under this category and if the rater feels the store is of low quality, untrustworthy and he or she wouldn’t be comfortable ordering from the store they will assign a low rating.

Understanding the page content

Google categorizes the page content into 3 segments.

Main Content (MC) is the bulk of content on any page achieving the purpose for which the page was created in the first place. It is one of the most important rating factors.

Google considers webmasters to have a direct control over MC of a page, therefore it expects them, webmasters, to deliver the required quality and standards, except when it is user generated content, such as videos, reviews, articles and so on.

Raters can consider videos, images, text even content behind the tabs on a page that lead to more content such as customer reviews, to form part of the main content (MC) of the page.

Supplementary Content (SC), is content that should contribute to overall good user experience but it doesn’t directly achieve the purpose of the page.

SC, is also considered to be under direct control of the webmaster, hence it is important to deliver the expected user experience quality, without distracting the user’s attention from the main purpose of the page that is provided by the MC.

Navigation links directing the user to other relevant information on the pages on the website are considered as SC.

Advertisement and Monetization (Ads) according to the guidelines Ads can contribute to a positive user experience and are crucial for some websites in order to meet the high cost of creating quality content.

As with SC, Ads shouldn’t be disruptive and distracting the user from the MC.

Amount of MC

The satisfactory amount of content depends on the purpose of the page, the reason for which it was created, and does the MC satisfy the user’s expectation. For example, if it is a high quality informative page on a broad subject with plenty of available information, then Google expects to see more content than a high quality page on a narrower subject, where there is limited available information on that topic.

Quality of MC

In the latest update of the Guidelines, March 2017, Google has expanded their definition of quality content in order to tackle the issues related to Fake News and False Claims and the evaluators are told to give such pages the lowest quality rating. News websites fall within the YMYL category and are expected to be factually accurate and their claims to be substantiated.

“For all types of webpages, creating high quality MC takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill.”

Understanding the Website

The purpose of a pages is better understood in context of its website. Therefore the website responsible for the MC of a page is a rating factor for that page.

The raters need to look at the website, find the home page and information it contains about who is responsible for the site, its reputation which is an indication of the page’s E-A-T and its author.

Here Google addresses both the website and webpage as a single entity for raters when considering positive reputation. It states:

“While a page can merit the High rating with no reputation, the High rating cannot be used for any website that has a convincing negative reputation.”

Raters should find out the necessary information when assessing the reputation of a webpage/website by visiting the home page of the site, look at articles, reviews, forum posts and discussion, blog posts, recommendations, rating from independent sources, credible information from users and experts about the page/site.

A website should contain the following information:

Who or what Business or Organization is responsible for the Website and the MC of the page.

Provide, About Us, Contact Information, and Customer Service Information.

This is to show how the person, organization actually communicate with their users and how the user can contact them for reason or issues they may have.

The reputation of a website is based on the experience of real users, their opinions and that of experts, and the indication of its E-A-T.

Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)

Google bases the E-A-T of a website/webpage on the expertise of its author, creator of the MC, the amount of quality MC, website information and its reputation.

Note on Small, local businesses or community organizations

Whilst the raters can gather information on the reputation of websites of big organizations, the lack of reputation signals and information will not be detrimental to smaller and local organizations when rating their website/webpage. Google states in the guidelines:

“Frequently, you will find little or no information about the reputation of a website for a small organization. This is not indicative of positive or negative reputation. Many small, local businesses or community organizations have a small “web presence” and rely on word of mouth, not online reviews. For these smaller businesses and organizations, lack of reputation should not be considered an indication of low page quality”

High and Highest quality page

The characteristics for both high and highest quality page are almost identical in the guidelines, and only distinguished by using the word “Very” when describing the E-A-T and Website reputation.

  • “Very” High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T), including the E-A-T of the publisher and/or individual author for news articles and information pages on YMYL topics.
  • 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.
  • “Very” Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page.

“The distinction between High and Highest is based on the quality of MC as well as the level of E-A-T and reputation of the website.”

Important Note: When talking about establishing Reputation and E-A-T, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness of a website/page, whether they are positive or negative signals, there is not a single mention of “Links”, whether authoritative or not, in any part of the guidelines.

Summary of Google’s rating factors for low quality pages

  • “Low quality MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating. w quality rating.”
  • “The Low rating should be used for disruptive or highly distracting Ads and SC. Misleading Titles, 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.”
  • “Negative reputation is sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating. Evidence of truly malicious or fraudulent behavior warrants the Lowest rating.”
  • “Important: Lacking appropriate E-A-T is sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.”
  • “For YMYL pages and other pages which require a high level of user trust, an unsatisfying amount of any of the following is a reason to give a page a Low quality rating: customer service information, contact information, or information about who is responsible for the website. For other types of websites, use your judgment.”
  • “Websites and pages that are created to harm users, mislead or misinform users, or only make money with no attempt to help users should be rated Lowest. Webpages created with the sole purpose of promoting hate or violence against a group of people based on criteria including (but not limited to) race or ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality or citizenship, disability, age, sexual orientation, or veteran status should also be rated Lowest.”
  • “Finally, Lowest+ may be used both for pages with many/all low quality characteristics. Lowest+ may also be used for pages whose lack of a single Page Quality characteristic makes you question the true purpose of the page.”

Needs Meet Rating Guideline

The need to provide a good mobile user experience has never been higher, and this is evident as almost half of the guidelines is dedicated to mobile.

This shouldn’t be surprising as over 60% of Google’s traffic is from mobile devices.

Here again a sliding scale is provided for the raters, from Not available (N/A) to Fully meets the needs and users query.

 google search quality rater guidelines
To conclude, it is enough to say that Google is constantly raising the standards to provide users with high quality information and satisfying overall experience.

Content is the most important factor when it comes Google ranking and its quality rating of webpages/websites.

It is easy to see that SEO fundamentals are changing rapidly and an approach for achieving any successful marketing campaign needs to give priority to content strategy, design and website information for complete user experience.

The optimization is moving more towards User Experience and away from Search Engine.

The conventional SEO methods need an overhaul to meet the ever raising standards demanded by Google. It is obvious that Google’s approach to page ranking has changed and the importance it attaches to content and real user feedback and comments, as its algorithm evolves. Noted above, there is not a single mention of Authoritative links or otherwise in Google Quality Rating Guidelines, when assessing the authoritativeness of a website or a page.

It is clear that quality content is the most important ranking factor for Google, therefore should be an important factor for your marketing strategy.   

Where does quality content fit in your marketing strategy? 

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