Google is, understandably, secretive about its search formulas. The deepest insight into its algorithm we typically get is the occasional tweet from the company’s senior webmaster trends analyst, John Mueller. That’s why it strikes me as almost unbelievable that Google has published a guide that details how they assess the quality of various websites.
It’s called the Google Quality Search Raters Guidelines, and you can use it to immediately improve your organic rankings. The guide does not inform as to how the company’s search algorithm ranks websites; instead, it provides insight regarding how well its search formula performs and details various aspects a website must have to be deemed of the highest quality. It even includes real-life examples of such sites, as compared to those deemed low-quality. As Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president of search, helpfully explained to CNBC, “You can view the rater guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go.”
The most crucial element to extract from the 175-page guide is the concept of “E-A-T”, which stands for Expertise, Authority and Trust. These are particularly vital if your business is in a “YMYL” (“Your Money Your Life”) category, as Google holds firms in this category to a much higher standard. Per Google Quality Search Raters Guideline section 2.3, a YMYL business pertains to an enterprise in the following categories:
- News and current events
- Civics, government or law
- Health and safety
- Groups of people
- Fitness and nutrition
- Housing information
- Choosing a college
- Finding a job
The rationale for the YMYL standard is simple. Suppose your business can affect someone’s happiness, health, financial stability or safety. In that case, you can considerably disrupt their quality of life. For that reason, Google must impose more significant quality requirements to ensure its users are protected from harm.
That said, even if your business doesn’t fall into that category, these best practices should still be adopted.
Clearly define the identity of content authors, their expertise and authority
Google wants experts advising its users, not amateurs. That is especially true if you’re a YMYL business. So, throw humility out the window; it’s time to brag about your qualifications and experience. Your website should have a detailed author page for all your contributors. Be sure the URLs on the site follow this format: www.yourwebsite.com/author/firstname-lastname
On these pages, detail any certifications, degrees, licenses, awards and other relevant industry experience. Furthermore, if an author has been cited or featured in any online publication, list those, too (be sure to include direct links to the various websites where the author was mentioned).
The goal is twofold: First, you want readers to immediately understand that each author is an authority in the topic being discussed. Second, you want to make it easy for Google to algorithmically detect each author’s expertise by condensing their qualifications on one page. Be detailed and exhaustive, and don’t be shy. The more expertise you can outline, the more Google will view your authors as experts. Avoid, however, personal information such as family history, pet names and hobbies.
The next step is to clearly indicate which author is responsible for the content on each page. You can do this at the top or bottom of an article. Most successful websites opt to list the author’s information at the top of the article because users can immediately see who created the content and why they are qualified to do so. For example, a byline should read: “Written by John Smith”, along with its published date. In addition, the name of the author should be a hyperlink that takes users to the detailed author page. You can even have a short byline next to the author’s name that gives users and Google a quick snapshot of their expertise. For example, a doctor writing about depression could have one that reads: “Ph.D. of psychology, and a tenured professor at John Hopkins University.”
Get reviews on various platforms
Section 2.6.3 of Google Quality Search Raters Guidelines mentions how online reviews can be helpful in assessing the reputation of a business. You can rest assured since if it’s a part of the guide, Google deems online reviews as essential benchmarks for high-quality websites. If a business is reputable, honest and trustworthy, it makes sense that customers would have left some positive reviews, so virtually every interaction you have with one should include asking for one. Be sure to collect them on various platforms, too; some of the big ones to focus on are Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, Trustpilot, Better Business Bureau, and Glassdoor. The idea is to have multiple positive signals across the web that indicate to Google that you’re a trustworthy company.
Have detailed “About us”, “Contact”, and “Customer Service” information
A trustworthy company clarifies who they are, its background and how to get in touch with it. Seems obvious, right? Sadly, far too many miss the mark here. First, your “About” page should clearly detail company history as well as team members and their qualifications. As with the detailed author pages mentioned above, you should brag in any way you can. Outline awards, milestones, or anything else that makes your business seem more qualified and reputable. Additionally, if it has received direct press or been mentioned online, provide direct links to all those articles.
For your “Contact” page, be likewise as detailed as possible. You must have a contact form that allows users to send a direct message via the website. You also need to include a phone number, email address, fax number, mailing address and hours of operation. Then consider going deeper by providing those contact options for various departments within the company, such as general customer service, media relations, investor relations, careers, legal, new customers and existing customers, and returns.
The need is to make it clear to users and Google that your business is accessible and eager to communicate with customers. That conveys trust — one of the many elements Google is looking for in a high-quality website.
Quality content is critical
Per the Google Quality Rater Guidelines section 4.2: “The quality of the MC (main content) is one of the most important criteria in Page Quality rating.” Helpful information, surely, but creating high-quality content is hard work that takes time, so be prepared to apply more effort into this segment of your website than just about any other.
But before you create, stop and think about the search intent of keywords. In other words, what do your customers want to know? Your job is to create content that gives them answers to questions, and if you don’t answer them, they will leave your site and find another that will.
To create content that Google deems high-quality, adhere to the following rules:
- Provide citations from authoritative sources to back up claims.
- Be in line with the general consensus. For example, don’t claim that green tea alone cures cancer. That would directly counter established facts from the medical community.
- Content should be produced by authors who have documented expertise and authority in the subject matter.
- Be certain that grammar and punctuation are painstakingly accurate.
- Avoid fluff; simply answer the questions users are asking.
- Be as detailed as possible, but don’t go overboard by providing information that you know is useless or will confuse users.
- Make navigation of pages logical and efficient. Including a table of contents at the top is advisable, particularly for very long posts.
- Don’t cut corners, because Google will favor those competitors who go the extra mile.