6 Takeaways from Google’s Search Guidelines

Google’s famed search algorithm has been approaching all-knowing robotic overlord status in recent years with its recently enhanced AI-like features, but it still relies (at least somewhat) on good, old-fashioned human evaluation to judge the quality of many sites. Google recently released a document detailing in-depth guidelines for these evaluators regarding how to evaluate site quality. This provides a rare opportunity to get a glimpse under the hood of Google’s search rankings, which can be invaluable for a web developer and SEO specialist. Here are some of the main takeaways:

Not All Sites Are Judged Equally:
Google makes it clear in their guide that they have higher standards for YMYL sites than they do for other sites. They describe YMYL sites as being “Your Money or Your Life” pages that can “potentially impact the future happiness, health, or wealth of users”, such as shopping and financial transaction pages, or legal, medical, or financial information pages. Google makes it clear that evaluators should be especially stringent when rating the quality of these types of sites.

He Said/She Said Matters:
Google states in the evaluator’s guide that a website or company’s reputation is an important factor that can impact the perceived quality of a site. To accurately develop a sense of the website or company’s reputation, Google recommends searching for off-site, independent customer reviews. Google lists Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, Amazon, and Google Product Search as a few examples of credible independent review sites.

Learn From Google’s Examples:
In their guide, Google provides numerous examples of many different types of sites that they consider to be of high quality. Looking at these sites provides a rare peek into what Google considers an appropriate quantity and depth of main content and supplementary content for high quality sites in different categories. It also shows what Google considers to be sites and companies that have a high level of expertise, are authoritative, and trustworthy, which are additional criteria for having a high quality site in the eyes of Google.

And Their Cautionary Tales:
Google also provides detailed criteria for what makes a low quality site, along with plenty of examples. Marketers will want to pay especially close attention to these to avoid making any mistakes that could result in costly ranking penalties, such as having duplicate content, stuffing keywords, errors in the content (yes, typos can have an impact), or not having site maintenance and contact information listed.

Keep Content Focused On The User Experience:
Google cares most about the user experience when evaluating the quality of a website, and the heart of the user experience lies in the content, not in the aesthetics of the site. Google only wants content that is relevant to the reason users would be visiting the site. The cardinal rule when adding content to your site is to ask yourself “is this content useful to the user and relevant to their needs when visiting this page?” If ever the answer is anything but a resounding “yes”, consider refocusing your content on the user’s needs, or finding another, more relevant home for it.

Don’t Forget About Mobile
One of the biggest changes to this guide is the expansion of the mobile section. With more searches coming from mobile than desktop this year, it is clear why this has become a priority for Google. The guide suggests that websites should take into consideration the specific needs of mobile users in order to be a good candidate to be shown in mobile search results.

Nobody outside of Google’s top executives are privy to the exact intricacies of Google’s secret algorithm that has helped Google grow into the behemoth that it has become today, but this guideline provides unique insight into what Google considers to be valuable and detrimental in the content of a site. In the journey to navigate your way to the top of Google’s search results page you need a reliable map. This guide may not show you exactly how to get there, but it’s a good start, and in the ever-changing world of digital marketing, that can be an invaluable resource.