Google is now the first port of call for most people looking for a product, service, or information. So, it naturally follows that ranking highly in search for the queries relevant to your business can bring BIG rewards.
In many ways, visibility in the organic (free) search results is the holy grail of digital marketing. There is no cost-per-click (CPC) and organic results are often trusted in a way that adverts never could be.
The process of working out what qualifies as a high-quality site is performed dynamically, often in a fraction of a second, by the Google Algorithm (1). However, to help ensure that the search algorithm is returning the best possible results, Google hires a human review team to analyse search results and provide feedback. This feedback is then used to improve future versions of the algorithm.
This Is Where It Gets Interesting…
The human review team is provided with a 164-page training manual called: The Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (2). This manual gives us the most information we’ve ever had with regards to what Google, and the algorithm, is looking for when ranking websites.
The downside here is that it’s not exactly a riveting read. However, there are nuggets of wisdom within. Fear not, we have done the donkey-work here and waded through the manual to provide 7 key takeaways that you can put in place to improve your visibility in Google search.
Read on, and, should you have any questions about how you can put this information to work on your website, drop a comment below the article or get in touch – at Bowler Hat, we are always happy to help.
Websites Should Be ‘Beneficial’
Websites should provide a benefit to their users, rather than being overtly sales-orientated and just trying to capitalise off them. However, the algorithm is not anti-commercial – if you’re looking for a plumber then you’re looking for a plumber.
The key here is to think about how you can help your users. Providing helpful information that’s relevant to your business is a great way to do this. For example, a plumbing company could provide an emergency plumbing service page with a guide to shutting off your water supply.
Google is setting a higher standard for content and any site that fails to deliver could find themselves out-competed in the search results.
Takeaway: Strive to provide a benefit to your site users.
The Differences Between Main Content, Supplementary Content, and Ads
There are three types of content in the guidelines – main content (MC), supplementary content (SC), and advertisements or monetisation (Ads).
‘MC’ is the most important and most scrutinised out of the three. As it’s directly controlled or monitored by the site’s webmaster, Google expects it to be of high quality. It’s worth noting that MC also includes titles.
‘SC’ covers anything that isn’t main content or advertisements – such as footers, headers, and sidebars. You should make sure that your SC doesn’t distract from your MC and that it’s crystal clear what is the main content of the page.
In the guidelines, ‘Ads’ covers anything on a page that exists to make money – this means any form of monetised links, including normal adverts. While Google doesn’t use the simple existence of Ads to determine the quality of a page (or its rankings), they do hold websites responsible for making sure the Ads that are shown on them are high-quality and not distracting.
Takeaway: Ensure your main content (MC) is consistently high-quality and provides everything your site visitor needs to make a decision about your product or service.
Google Cares About High-Quality Content More Than Ever
In SEO, we are always looking for a strategic advantage on our competitors. Well, this is a clear opportunity for those willing to go the extra mile. Google is looking for ‘satisfying, high-quality content’ which meets the needs of the site visitor.
You’re an expert in whatever your business covers so make sure that’s clear. You know your customers, so what do they need? What are their frequently asked questions? What information do they need to do business with you? Ensure you have all this content and more on the pages of your site.
Informational content is expected to be factual, well-written, and to cover topics as fully as possible. If you have an e-commerce site then it should function properly – allowing users to easily find and purchase products.
Takeaway: The guidelines state that content should clearly show the amount of time, effort, and skill put into creating it. Be the expert!
YMYL – Pages That Could Harm Users Are Under Scrutiny
A ‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) page is one that could potentially harm its users if it contains misinformation. This includes medical, financial, and legal advice pages as well as government information and important news articles.
YMYL also covers shopping, banking, and other financial transaction pages.
Sites with YMYL pages are judged more harshly than those without. This is likely an effort by Google to make fake news and dodgy alternative medicine sites harder to find – essentially protecting their users.
Takeaway: If you are in a YMYL industry then your site needs to be able to score highly against the rating criteria. This means great content, strong references, and a very high level of E-A-T…
E-A-T – Make Sure That Users Can Trust What Your Website Is Telling Them
E-A-T is an acronym for ‘expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness’ – the criteria that Google is using to assess which web content is high-quality and has been created and published by reliable sources.
By looking at the qualifications of content creators and the reputation of websites hosting their content, Google can figure out if the information itself is trustworthy.
Takeaway: For more on how to improve the E-A-T of your website, company, or contributors, please read our helpful E-A-T Checklist (3).
Google Is Checking Your Reputation Both Online and Off
The reputation of both the MC’s creator and of the website hosting the MC is a key factor in E-A-T. To figure out your business’s reputation, Google looks at reviews, references to your site or company, expert recommendations, news articles, and awards.
The content of reviews is just as important as their star rating – if a customer received their product later then expected it’s not a big deal, but if there are accusations of serious wrongdoing against your business then Google is probably paying attention.
A good first step is to check your business’s score on popular review sites to see the sentiment out there. You should also make sure to address all negative reviews and try to resolve them in a satisfactory manner (you may even learn a thing or two about what is upsetting your customers).
This applies to your brand and the individuals that work for you. So, if you have a team page then ensure you link out to LinkedIn profiles and Twitter profiles to help Google join the dots.
Two things to note – the first is that Google is apparently paying attention to the real-life reputation of businesses. The second is that if your company relies primarily on word-of-mouth (and therefore has little in the way of online reviews) then it won’t count against you. However, as it won’t benefit you either, it’s still a good idea to try and collect some positive online reviews.
Takeaway: Be sure to build a positive online reputation for your brand and employees.
Make Sure You’re Transparent with Your Site’s Users – Particularly if You’re Selling Something to Them
The final important factor we’re going to talk about is thankfully the simplest to understand and implement (if you haven’t already) – provide information about your website to your users.
Make sure that the identity of the person or organization who owns your website is made clear, along with the creator of the content you’re hosting. Anonymity is only okay in some cases – users may not want their real names attached to comments on your site, for example.
You’ll also want to ensure that your contact details are clear and easy to find. If your site is commercial or covers YMYL topics then it’s essential that you do this.
Finally, if you have an e-commerce site, make sure you display your payment, exchange, and return policies somewhere easily locatable.
Takeaway: Ensure all information regarding policies and contact details are clearly accessible on your site.
Google wants what it has always wanted – useful, high-quality content that helps users. However, it’s going further to make sure that the information it’s ranking well is accurate and comes from a reliable source.
As the search algorithm develops, fact-checking and trust are key components to ensure your positive offline reputation is also represented online.
- The Google Algorithm: https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/algorithms/
- Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines: https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/guidelines.raterhub.com/en//searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf
- Google E-A-T Checklist: https://www.bowlerhat.co.uk/eat-checklist