It’s not often that Google offers insight into its ranking algorithms. But for the first time since 2013, Google released a complete update to their Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines. The guidelines explain in great detail how the company manually evaluates search algorithm performance. Although the guidelines focus on algorithm performance and experimentation, it does reflect what Google prioritizes for searchers.
It’s important for marketers to understand the guidelines so that their search and content strategies align with what Google values. Throughout the 160-page document, there are two reoccurring themes: user experience and content.
The role of content
The phrase “content is king” is popular among search engine optimizers, content marketers and webmasters. Typically you produce high-quality web content to increase traffic, further encourage site engagement and improve conversion. But what does Google think of content?
One of the major assessments of content in the guidelines is known as EAT, which is short for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. EAT illustrates Google’s preference for topic authority websites featuring relevant content. In addition to EAT, the other major assessment of content quality is Page Quality. Page Quality evaluates how every piece of web content delivers information and solutions while encouraging further engagement. Content that adheres to both EAT and Page Quality should lead to quality site engagement and, as a result, can benefit in Google’s SERPs.
A new evaluation within the guidelines is the Needs Met rating, which illustrates why EAT and Page Quality are so essential. This evaluation considers the needs of the users, their search intent, and how well a specific result has answered that search. From Google’s perspective, whenever users don’t find what they want on your page (resulting in a bounce or poor engagement), there’s most likely a better search result for that query or intent. From a brand’s perspective, your website’s search presence provides opportunities with every click to “kill the search.”
Gary Illyes, webmaster trends analyst at Google, described the “kill the search” point of view perfectly: The train of thought shouldn’t center on “how many visitors did I get?” but on “how many visitors have I helped today?” It’s important to note that the focus of EAT and Page Quality is content quality. Meanwhile, the Needs Met rating focuses on how well your site content answered that search intent.
The increasing importance of mobile has resulted in other major rewrites of the guidelines. Aside from providing a fast and fully responsive site for mobile devices, other mobile best-practices are mentioned. Some notable points are avoiding data entry, implementing optimum image resizing, avoiding side scrolling and navigation difficulties. Overlays are another best-practice topic in page design but is not mobile-exclusive. According to the guidelines, overlays (popups) are distracting and can make it difficult to read content, resulting in poor page design. If your site doesn’t make tasks easy for users across all screen sizes, it most likely doesn’t align with Google’s guidelines.
Changing SERPs, changing opportunities
Google’s identification of emerging query types within mobile is a sign of the constantly changing SERPs. Applications continue to rise in organic visibility as their functionality provides increasing utility to searchers. As utility becomes more of a major ranking factor, brands should make sure their web pages answer specific search intent.
Local continues its emergence as well with the local three-pack. As Google treats non-branded and some branded searches as a local search, this roll-out should be monitored as branded searches are determined to be local or not. Depending on the brand and location of search, local presence in SERPs will continue to be a major focus in testing. Knowledge cards are becoming more prevalent to immediately provide information to searchers. Once again, the guidelines focus on improving searcher experience, especially on mobile.
Relevancy is Google’s focus, and increased relevancy is what searchers will get. Marketers must follow suit and focus on the searches that are significant to their business models, throughout all stages of the funnel. Developing high-quality results to searchers is the best way for your web properties to deliver sustained organic success. Content with EAT and high Page Quality holds greater potential to deliver in Needs Met. These ratings should be front and center when you’re evaluating your web content.
Although the phrase “content is king”’ is golden in the SEO world, there’s a new king of the SERPs. Following the recent guidelines update, it’s evident that user experience is king. By investing in great content for specific intent or utility, a brand is investing in the future traffic of those queries. By scaling that practice across all funnels of its business, a brand is investing not only in future traffic, but also in its future organic health and visibility.