Last month, Google's latest quality rater handbook leaked. The handbook contains useful information about how Google rates the quality of a website.
Is your website good enough for Google's requirements?
What is the quality rater handbook?
Google employs so-called quality raters. These are the people who manually check Google's search results to make sure that the ranking algorithm is working as expected.
A quality rater visits the sites that Google returns for a query and then evaluates the results based on relevance. If a website does not fit in the search results, Google's quality raters can mark a website as spam.
The quality rater handbook contains the guidelines that quality raters use to evaluate web pages. Although Google quickly removed the link to the handbook after it leaked, we could take a look at it.
Here are the most important takeaways from the quality rater handbook:
1. Google uses several levels of "relevance"
Google instructs search quality raters to rate the relevance of a website as "vital", "useful", "relevant", "slightly relevant" and "off topic".
In addition to the relevancy, Google prefers pages that are "highly satisfying, authoritative, entertaining, and/or recent".
2. If there is more than one meaning, Google chooses the most popular
For example, Google thinks that most people who search for "apple" are interested in the company with that name. Search results that are about other meanings (for example the fruit) will get a lower relevance rating.
3. Relevant web pages can still be spam
Google makes a difference between relevance and spam. Depending on the intent of a web page, the page can be spammy although it contains relevant content.
If your website uses the following tactics, it might be marked as spam:
- hidden text or links
- sneaky redirects through several URLs
- rotating destination domains
- keyword stuffing
- unrelated pay per click (PPC) ads
- copied or scraped content and PPC ads
- feeds with PPC ads
- doorway pages
- copied message boards with no other page content
- fake search pages with PPC ads
- fake blogs with PPC ads
- thin affiliate sites that only exist to make money
- lack of original content
- pure PPC pages with little to no content
- parked domains
4. Some search results are "vital" for Google
As mentioned above, Google has five relevance categories. The "vital" category is for websites that simply must appear in the search results. For example, apple.com is expected to be the top result for the search term "apple".
The social media profiles of a company (Facebook, etc.) cannot be considered "vital" according to Google's quality rater guidelines.
Generic queries do not have vital results. Some queries like "travel destinations" are always generic. There are no "vital" results for these queries and an exact match domain does not make a website "vital" for that query.
5. Google distinguishes between three search query types
According to Google, search queries can be classified into action queries ("do"), information queries ("know") and navigation queries ("go").
A search query can have only one query type and the query type determines which search results are highly relevant. For example, action-oriented queries ("buy mp3 player") should have action-oriented results.
6. Relevant pages must be error free, in the right language and targeted
If Google thinks that a query was misspelled, the relevance of the results is based on what Google considers to be the user's most likely intent.
Search results that don't match the language of the query get a low relevance rating. If a query includes a specific country, relevant results must match that country.
Result pages should fit the query. Specific long tail queries should deliver specific result pages. Broad queries should deliver broader results.
7. Some search queries are automatically local
The information in Google's leaked quality rater handbook does not come as a surprise. If you want to get lasting high rankings on Google, avoid spam tactics and use ethical search engine optimization methods. If you give Google what they want, your website will get lasting high rankings.
Some search queries are automatically local, even if they do not contain a local qualifier. An example for such a query is "ice rink".
Google thinks that the search results for "ice rink" should return local results and that non-local results are either less relevant or useless.