Okay writers and webmasters, you’re good, but you continually challenge yourself to better. This post is ready to be a resource to you. We’d like to explain the following:
- The crux about quality from the recently leaked, March 2014 Google rater’s guideline manual.
- What high quality means.
- The attributes of low quality content.
- What you can do to improve your website’s content.
The Rubric- Google’s 2014 Search Quality Manual
Behind the scenes, an army of quality raters double check the accuracy of Google’s algorithms before and after updates. These raters are issued guidelines, which steer their evaluations and reflect what the juices are in the current or upcoming algorithm changes. The latest handbook, version 5.0, was recently leaked. We wrote about the 2011 version, and gave an overview of the new version at Relevance. What’s important for you to know is that E-A-T, or Expertise, Authority, and Trust are now key factors when determining Google search engine rankings. Most insiders have known that the reputation of one’s brand is an important ranking factor, but this manual gives a detailed look at the factors that determine site popularity- well, popularity isn’t even the right word. It’s more about the culminating signals behind your site’s reputation.
If you’re the Director of Marketing, you’ll want to download your own copy of this handbook at scribd.com because it talks about design and functionality elements, too. Since My Web Writers focuses on content creation, we’re going to drill down into that aspect of the handbook.
Definitions of Highest and High Quality Pages
I really like how Google defines quality and provides so many specific examples. It says,
“Highest pages are very satisfying pages which achieve their purpose very well. The distinction between High and Highest is based on the quality of MC <each site’s main content> as well as the level of E-A-T and reputation of the website. What makes a page highest quality? We require at least one of the following: <1> Very high or highest quality MC, with demonstrated expertise, talent, and/or skill. <2> Very high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (page and website) on the topic of the page. <3> Very good reputation (website or author) on the topic of the page… We will consider the MC of the page to be very high or highest quality when it is created with a high degree of time and effort, and in particular, expertise, talent, and skill. Very high quality MC may be created by experts, hobbyists, or even people with everyday expertise. Our standards depend on the purpose of the page and the type of content. The Highest rating may be justified for pages with a satisfying or comprehensive amount of very high quality MC.”
This means that as a writer, if you are writing outside of your area expertise and don’t do your homework, your average content could sink a website. Conversely, if you’ve specialized in a certain area, interest, or hobby, you could see a surge in demand for your knowledge after people get familiar with this document. Writers, don’t be deterred from tackling new subjects, but when you do, do your homework. Talk to experts and include their testimonies in your articles and quotes. You also can’t slop through the writing process. Check your spelling. Get the subject and verb agreements right. Go deeper than what the culmination of five articles say about the topic. Nobody wants to read repurposed articles when they’re looking for new angles. Pick up the phone and dig up unique quotes or tidbits of information that no one knows. Google tells raters that,
“Highest quality pages and websites have a very high level of expertise or are highly authoritative or highly trustworthy. Formal expertise is important for topics such as medical, financial, or legal advice. Expertise may be less formal for topics such as recipes or humor. An expert page on cooking may be a page on a professional chef’s website, or it may be a page on the blog of a home cooking enthusiast. Please value life experience and “everyday expertise.” For some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc. Think about what expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness mean for the topic of the page. Who are the experts? What makes a source trustworthy for the topic? What makes a website highly authoritative for the topic?”
Google would also like to see secondary content on high ranking websites, if possible. From videos to games to reviews, find ways to help users delve a little deeper and engage a little longer. Not every high ranking site has to have secondary content, but if it has good secondary content, that’s a plus.
The Attributes of Low and Lowest Quality Content
Compare what content needs to achieve top scores to what deserves low scores. First, it’s important to note, Google recognizes intent.
“We have very different standards for pages on large, professionally-produced business websites than we have for small amateur, hobbyist, or personal websites. The type of page design and level of professionalism we expect for a large online store is very different than what we might expect for a small local business website. All PQ rating should be done in the context of the purpose of the page and the type of website. The following sections discuss page characteristics which may be evidence of Low quality. Occasionally, these same characteristics may be present on smaller amateur or personal websites and are not a concern. Please use your judgment when deciding whether these characteristics are evidence of low quality on the page you are evaluating, or merely a sign of non-professional but acceptable small, amateur, or personal website design, for example, “Uncle Alex’s Family Photos” website (a hypothetical High quality example).”
Google lowers scores if main or secondary content is distracting or unhelpful. For example, too many ads are distracting and appear to have the purpose of monetizing the site rather than helping users. If the site lacks supplementary content, this too can lower the site’s score. Poor page design or a lack of website maintenance (meaning broken links or slow load images) can hurt your site’s score. As much contact information as possible should be added. Google tells raters that,
“We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of ‘webpages,’ such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC <secondary content> at all. Please use your judgment… Here is a checklist of types of pages or websites which should always receive the lowest rating:
• Harmful or malicious pages or websites.
• True lack of purpose pages or websites.
• Deceptive pages or websites.
• Pages or websites which are created to make money with little to no attempt to help users.
• Pages with extremely low or lowest quality MC <main content>.
• Pages on YMYL <Your Money or Your Life> websites with completely inadequate or no website information.
• Pages on abandoned, hacked, or defaced websites.
• Pages or websites created with no expertise or pages which are highly untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading.
• Websites which have extremely negative or malicious reputations.”
This list seems fairly straight-forward and yet, one could see where rater subjectivity could get the better of a site. Pages or websites that are “untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading” could tank a business or individual with rogue opinions or controversial views. The overall checklist appears reasonable, however, if Christopher Columbus had a website back in his time, I wonder how he’d score? Taken in whole, the document is fairly clear that raters should look at how well you, as the content’s creator, did your homework and presented information or opinions; but, the “unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading” phrase on its own should be considered a warning shot fired about appearing half-baked in the public arena.
Definitions of Lowest Quality Content
The writer who has the depth of a baby pool probably shouldn’t be assigned very heady topics. As a manager, find each writer’s strengths and let each write about those topics. Google says that,
“The quality of the MC <main content> is one of the most important considerations in PQ <page quality> rating. In this guideline, we’ll judge the quality of the MC by thinking about the how much time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill was involved in content creation. If very little or no time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill has gone into creating the MC, use the lowest quality rating. All of the following should be considered either lowest quality MC or no MC:
• No helpful MC at all or so little MC that the page effectively has no MC.
• MC which consists almost entirely of “keyword stuffing.”
• Gibberish or meaningless MC.
• “Auto-generated” MC, created with little time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users.
• MC which consists almost entirely of content copied from another source with little time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users.
Finally, the distinction between low and lowest quality MC is often human effort and manual curation. If you are struggling between ‘low quality MC’ and ‘lowest quality MC,’ please consider how much human effort and attention the page has received.”
When writing this article, I struggled with how much content out of Google’s manual I should quote. My reasoning to go ahead and use as much as I have is because to date, not much has been written about the manual and not everyone, who is in a position to change their website, will read the 160 page document (though they should) or if they do, they might want further insight about it. Thus, I think the amount of quoted handbook content is justified, given the extra value added with insight around the quoted content.
However, this is different than copying and pasting half an article without attribution or even with attribution and not adding further value to what already exists on the web. Nothing is worse than paying a writer to create original content and discovering that it is backwash.
“Important: We do not consider legitimately licensed or syndicated content to be ‘copied’ (see here for more on web syndication). Examples of syndicated content in the U.S. include news articles by AP or Reuters. The word ‘copied’ refers to the practice of ‘scraping’ content, or copying content from other non-affiliated websites without adding any original content or value to users (see here for more information on copied or scraped content). If all or most of the MC on the page is copied, think about the purpose of the page. Why does the page exist? What value does the page have for users? Why should users look at the page with copied content instead of the original source?”
What You Can Do to Improve Content
Deliver what you promise for each keyword query you target. If you want to rank for the term “Arabian Horses for Sale” your page ought to have pictures and descriptions of several Arabian horses. You’ll want other websites to have great reviews from customers about your previous transactions. You should be registered and a thriving member of Arabian horse registries. Don’t let your content get off topic, but do make it be so rich that users will want to return and will recommend it to others. Make sure you spell check your work and don’t stuff the content with too many keywords.
We recommend reading the raters’ guidelines to learn more about how to improve the content of your website. You’ll find additional insight about what it means to have high quality content. ~Jean