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Why Did Google Update Search Quality Raters Guidelines?

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Google’s “Search Quality Raters” guidelines (henceforth shortened to SQR guidelines) are something of a holy document in the SEO community. We live in a world where Google is pretty much the dominant force in search, dictating the trends and tropes we optimize our sites for (and influencing any other competitors who peek their heads out for search space), and it’s hard because they don’t tell us specifics about how their search algorithm works. Instead, we get hints and suggestions that indirectly tell us how to rank higher but mostly just prevent us from relying on black hat tactics to rank.

The Original SQR Guidelines

There have been a handful of “leaked” versions of the SQR document, and one official abridged version released by Google, but it wasn’t until last year that Google released the full SQR guidelines, in all their 160-page glory. Search marketers, once they got over being intimidated at the length, delved into the document to see what new insights they could uncover about how Google interprets the authoritative strength and relevance of websites.

Google Search Quality Rating Program

(Image Source: Google)

The original document didn’t exactly revolutionize the search world, but it did bring up some important considerations and strategic takeaways we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.  Much of the document did, admittedly, tread old ground by covering things like the importance of high-quality content and how Google views relevance to search queries from a semantic angle. However, there were some noticeable new insights:

  • Google views pages that deal with your money or your life “YMYL” pages more significantly than other pages.
  • Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) are the three factors that Google uses to determine a site’s domain strength.
  • Content positioning and design come into play. Google evaluates content differently based on how it’s placed.
  • Know queries and know simple queries. These are designations for different types of queries based on how they can be answered; namely, succinctly or with more elaboration necessary.

Now, it appears Google has made some major modifications to the SQR document.

The Changes

Only four months after the document was originally published, Google has made significant changes. You might think Google added even more content to the 160-page behemoth, but actually, the document shrank, specifically to 146 pages.

Among the most important changes include:

  • A decreased emphasis on supplementary content. Supplementary content refers to any on-page content other than the “main” source of information. For example, if your Contact page has a few paragraphs of text explaining who you are and what you do, you might have supplementary content in the form of notes in the footer, or testimonials. Supplementary content can help or harm you, and it was a major point of emphasis in the previous version. Now that Google has downplayed it, it might be a sign that it’s not as important to your rank as it used to be.
  • An increased attention to Local search, now called “Visit-in-Person.” Google spends more time talking about the importance of local ranks and how to achieve those ranks. It has also adopted new terminology, “visit-in-person,” which may explain how they perceive these types of user queries. Rather than simply relegating these types of entries, which function on an algorithm separate from the national results, to a geographic sub-category, Google is now boasting these entries as means for foot traffic. It makes sense, as most local searches happen on mobile and are related to some semi-immediate need.
  • Increased descriptions of YMYL and EAT concepts. I described both the YMYL and EAT concepts in the section above. The concepts themselves haven’t changed, but Google has increased its emphasis on them. This means the concepts may be becoming more important to your overall rank, or it may mean that there was some initial confusion surrounding them, and Google has worked to clarify those points.
  • More examples of mobile marketing in effect. It’s no surprise that Google is doing more to play up mobile, especially with another Mobilegeddon-style update in the works. Mobile is a topic that still confuses a lot of webmasters, but it’s still becoming increasingly important as a way to reach modern audiences. Mobile isn’t going away anytime soon, so this is a vital area (and Google recognizes that).

If you’re interested in a much, much more thorough analysis of the changes, there’s a great post about it here.

Google’s Main Priorities

By examining Google’s motivations, we can better understand where the search platform hopes to be in the next few years, and get a jumpstart on preparing our SEO strategies for the future. For starters, Google is extremely fixated on the mobile user experience. With an expanded section on mobile compliance and a new frame of reference for local searches, it’s clear that Google wants mobile searchers to have an integrated, interactive, and seamless experience finding websites. The YMYL and EAT systems of rating content quality and significance are standbys, but the fact that Google is actively expanding these concepts is evidence that they’ll be around for the long haul.

It’s uncertain exactly how often Google will update their SQR guidelines document, or what other changes might be in store for our future as search marketers. Certainly, there may be major new additions for new technologies like apps and interactive content, but in the meantime, keep your focus on producing expert, authoritative, trustworthy content, and optimize your site for mobile user experiences.

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Timothy Carter

Timothy is AudienceBloom's Director of Business Development. He combines expertise in online marketing with a passion for helping others build a strategy for success. When not planning his next trip to Hawaii, he's writing at his personal site, OutrankLabs.com.

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