Google Rewrites Quality Rating Guide – Search Engine Marketing Tips

Tips to SEOs About New Search Engine Marketing – Online Jobs

Google has completely rewritten the Quality Ratings Guideline, the resource that their team of quality raters uses to rate websites for Google. This one is a brand new version, rewritten from the ground up, so it isn’t just a refresh of the old one (and most doesn’t even resemble any of the old Guidelines that SEOs scrutinized in detail whenever one got leaked).    It has some great new insights into how Google is approaching the search results and what it takes to be a top ranked website.

The new version 5 is just three months old, and shows how Google is placing much more emphasis on their knowledge graph style results that seem to be taking over the Google search results, as well as reputation, authority, and of course, the case of advertisements on a page.

Google is now putting a high emphasis on sites that are considered to have a high level of expertise, authoritativeness or trustworthiness. This is something that Google has been working on in their algorithms for some time, and shouldn’t be much of a surprise for webmasters to see this.

Lacking in E-A-T

Google’s brand new emphasis in the new Quality Rater’s Handbook is the idea of E-A-T, which is a website’s “expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness”.

Likewise, Google is stressing that sites that lack expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness should be awarded the Low rating when a page or site is being assigned a rating by one of their quality raters. And more importantly, Google says that lacking a certain amount of E-A-T is enough of a reason for a rater to give any page a low quality rating.

This means that webmasters will need to do what they can to ensure their sites pass the newly minted E-A-T test.

Google also warns the quality raters about sites with user contributed content, such as forums or other sites that allow users to submit articles or information. They urge caution because pages on the sites may not be trustworthy and many lack appropriate amount of E-A-T.

That said, there are some types of user generated content that have an extremely high level of expertise, such as forums that are frequented by experts on specific topics, and Google asks the raters to try engage the experience and expertise of those authors to try and determine if a page should be considered trustworthy or not.

What makes an expert?

For SEOs, this is going to be crucial that you establish your writers as authorities or experts in your field.  You want people to trust your site – not to mention Google is clearly emphasizing the role of authority and expertise in websites already, so going the next step further definitely isn’t surprising in the least.

Knowledge Graphs

A significantly higher portion of the guidelines covers Knowledge Graphs, and shows that they are having their raters spend quite a bit of time rating just the knowledge graphs alone, showing Google plans to continue their march on the search results real estate percent.

Previous versions talked about Title Link Result Blocks (TLRB) and No Title Link Result Blocks (NTRB) as the way Google differentiates between two distinct styles of knowledge graphs the company uses. The first, TLRB, displays a clickable headline at the top of the area, while NTRB blocks do not.

Vital versus non-Vital Knowledge Graphs

Google also asks raters to specify a Vital rating for TLRB which give all the needed information for the query on the TLRB’s landing page. This hints even more that Google is putting a lot of resources into knowledge graphing up the web and it’s here to stay (much to the delight of searchers but not so much webmasters).

Many Ads = Low Quality

Google specifically mentions layouts that are all advertising at the top, and requires scrolling to see the content – to the point where people could initially believe that there is no content on the page at all. The same for advertising designed to look like navigation links or secondary content.

However, this also is completely opposite from what AdSense likes their publishers to do – not perhaps to the extreme where you need to scroll to see content, but they are constantly reminding publishers that they can add additional ad units or replace smaller ad units with larger ones.

They also state that pages should get the Lowest rating if the rater feels the design tries to manipulate the user to click the ads, inline ads or download links.

Supplementary Content

The quality of that content is of higher importance now. Previously, Google only specifically mentioned supplementary content in two ways – additional suggested videos on a page about a Saturday Night Live episode, as well as what many would consider important features of a recipe site – printable features, reviews and nutritional information. Now, Google wants to see a wide variety of supplementary content on a page, and are putting a greater emphasis on it as being an important and integral part of a page that is worthy of a High or Very High rating.

Poor Page Design

If you are using ads within content – it is probably a good idea to consider restricting it to one, as Google sees it as jarring when a user has to go back and forth between content and ads too many times. And those fancy links in navigation that are really ads? Webmasters should probably start rethinking those too.


Google had some pretty specific list of features that rater’s should use to determine if a site is a true merchant site or not – something that had some companies concerned if they did not offer it. For example, many merchants that are legitimate might not offer a wish list feature, a gift registry or a user forum, but some SEOs were pressuring that it was “needed” simply because the quality rater’s guide included it on a list of features for true merchant websites.

In the new handbook, this has been removed. Instead, Google asks raters to look for pages such as contact information, return and exchange policies. This does bring it more inline with what many smaller merchants offer, who either don’t have the budget, technical know-how, or even the need for some of the features Google listed previously.

Rating forums and Q&A

Google wants raters to determine not only the expertise of the site itself, but also who are participating in the particular thread that is being rated. Also considered are whether new threads being added, if many people participating and whether the conversations are in-depth?

Q&A Without the Answer

We have all ended up on a Q&A page only to discover there is no answer posted yet, even for questions asked years ago, or the answer is hidden behind a paywall. Google considers pages of this type without the answer given are Low quality.

They did mention this previously in the older version of the guidelines, but they removed the part stating that unhelpful answers should be given a Low quality rating – hopefully they removed it because it is common sense that an unhelpful answer is bad.

Inline Advertising

Are you one of the few people who are still using inline advertising? Well, its days could be numbered, as Google considers this distracting and can make the main content on the page difficult to read, which equals a poor user experience.

Inline advertising, those double underlined links that pop up an ad when you mouse-over the link, has definitely lost popularity over the years, and it isn’t that common to see it anymore, except on spammy pages.


Curiously, reference to “thin” affiliate sites has been removed from the new guide. Previously Google warned about thin affiliate sites not being a high quality site, and how raters could determine if a site was an affiliate site or not.

Is Google confident in how they are currently ranking affiliate sites and not letting “thin” affiliate sites rank well? That doesn’t seem to be the case, particularly in some competitive spaces. Panda did make a considerable dent in the affiliate rankings, at least for those run by less savvy SEOs. But the fact they removed the warning altogether raises the question that Google feels spam affiliate sites are a thing of the past and don’t rank today anyways, that poor quality sites would get a low rating regardless, or that they are happy for affiliate sites to rank, as long as they have some of the other criteria needed for an above average rated website.

Reputation Research

Website reputation has been given a boost in the new version of the guide, and it is clear that Google is putting a greater emphasis on reputation than they did before.

Of course, webmasters have to consider that reputation is going to be given a boost in the search algorithm too, since Google is clearly wanting their rater’s to take this into a fairly significant account for rating any website. Although Google has previously said that rater’s themselves do not affect search results, we often see changed within the guide that has a greater impact.

Google does include a caveat that small, local businesses or community organizations might not have any online reputation because their web presence is relatively small compared to word of mouth. But Google now expects to find reputation information for any large business or organization.

Most importantly, Google stresses that a webpage cannot be given a High rating if the site has a negative reputation.

They are also asking raters to give the lowest rating to any page where there is sufficient evidence of fraudulent or malicious behavior on behalf of the website.

Where’s the Spam?

Another curious omission is the fact all reference to spam has been removed from the new guide. Previously there were sections describing spam and how to check for it, but in the new guide, the only reference to spam is in regards to sites with a large amount of spam comments or forums that have been spammed.

Lack of Purpose

Google now refers to all gibberish and auto generated pages as pages that have lack of purpose and should always be rated Lowest.

Hidden text

Google previously asked raters to investigate any white spaces at the right or bottom of the webpage if it seemed to be there for no reason as well as using Ctrl-A, turning off CSS and turning off javascript to identify hidden text.   But they are no longer asking raters to check for this anymore… again possibly because Google feels they can usually catch this algorithmically now.

About Us and Contact info

Previously, Google stressed that pages in YMYL areas need to have a page about the site (“About Us”), contact or customer service information, and who is responsible for the upkeep and content of the website. Now, Google wants raters to look for at least some of this information on all websites.

If you have a website that is strictly information and didn’t really have a need for these types of pages, now would be a good time to go back and add those pages. They do say that some non-YMYL pages can still garner a High or Highest rating with a simple email address, it is a good sign that Google is looking to put a greater emphasis on this as a sign of a high quality website in the algo.

You Might Also Like