Today content and making a page ‘User Friendly’ is more important than ever when it comes to the current ‘SEO rules’ that Google use. This of course only covers On Page SEO (linking is another kettle of fish) but it is an area that covers a lot of ground.
With this in mind (and acknowledging that I do not know it all) I contacted an SEO Guru to find out if I had all the bases covered. I’m glad to say that I had, but the reply I got back did highlight the fact that Google have just changed their ‘Quality Guidelines’.
But back to my question. I wanted to know more about how content and UX were graded, especially, as before a page is visited by a human (and could hence provide Google with data via the Chrome Browser about time on page etc – if it wanted to take that into account) Google MUST have a means of calculating the ‘value’ of the content and how user friendly it is.
To me this is / was the ‘egg’ part of the chicken and egg story, it being the ‘egg’; a page not seen by Google or anyone else before, that is analysed and given a ‘value’ ranking. This is then being used as a basis for any later search related ranking procedure, pages with ‘higher value’ rankings being more likely to get a position at the top of the SERPS.
I listed the signals that I thought Google use, these being:-
- Title of Page
- Description of Page (not truly used, but a lot of poor ones can degrade an entire sites quality, so I have been told)
- Header Tags on the pages (although these are not as powerful and many a site breaks the ‘rules’ about using them and still gets high ranks)
- Bold, Itatlics, lists
- Words used (more on this later)
- Links out to relevant / useful sites (although I have seen comments from SEO professionals who also say this is not a useful signal)
- Embedding videos
- Using Images with the ‘descriptive’ file names and ALT text, and GeoTagging them for LOCAL SEO
Plus on the UX side
- The Speed of the Page
- Using whitespace
- Not allowing too many adverts at the head of page
- Ensuring that the above the fold area is not just images (the use of Carousels is said, by some to be harmful, but is used extensively and many sites still get a high rank..)
The Words Used on the page:
Here I pointed out that as Google uses a computer programme to analyse any page, that this in turn meant that it must use a lot of TRUE / FALSE checks, this leading on to the use of Words in the content. To me this is an important fact, as it would take a committee of ‘experts’ to view a page to tell whether it was truly good and useful (and they would surely disagree in many cases) and as this is just not the case with Google (even with the power of RankBrain), it surely MUST be making its decisions at a far lower, more ‘mechanical’ level.
Of course, if you want to ‘get a message’ across to Google about what a page was all about, with some specific keyword phrases in mind, you just CANNOT stuff a page with those target words, this being a dangerous method now.
Google’s Quality Guideline Update
It must be said that these guidelines ARE NOT A PART of the SEO algorithm, but they are important as they form a part of the ‘feed back’ process that Google use when evaluating their own SERPS listings…
The way it Works…
We know a fair bit about the way Google rates pages for any given term, and we also know that Google is constantly changing these rules. In the past, they had to keep changing the rules as SEO professionals were constantly ‘taking advantage’ of an anomaly in the algorithm, but today, with Google’s more holistic approach (also known as Semantic SEO), I believe that the changes they make are all about presenting the best possible results.
Google however has a problem here, as they need some way of checking that they are getting it right…
This is where their army of human evaluators come in. They have been around for many years of course, and were responsible for the rule set that Google used to highlight sites whose general quality is low. Here the sort of thing that they found was that sites which use a lot of duplicate Meta data, or Titles, or have a lot of pages with ‘thin content’ (low word count) tend to provide poor user experience and are basically not worth Google’s time to include in the results.
In order to help these evaluators, Google provided them with an Aide Memoir, this listing all the things that should be checked on a sites pages. We will cover this in more detail later in this post.
So, how does Google use the results of the human evaluators?
Of course, they don’t give you the full picture, but looking at it logically, if the human evaluators rate a page as being of the Highest Quality AND this page is NOT listed in the results for a relevant term, then, the Algorithm may well need some work. The same would be the case if those pages that were considered to be of Low quality WERE in the rankings.
So, even though you cannot affect that part of the ‘Quality Assessment’ that is not being worked out by the set of computer rules that is the Google rule set, you can help Google get it right.
This is important as if a human evaluator ranks a page on your site (or a page like it) highly, this feedback process will eventually ensure that your page gets the best possible rank…
The Google Quality Rules
There is a very detailed blog post on this, and you can also download the full details from Google if you want. But to help, the information below (taken from a part of the post mentioned) will enable you to ensure that all of your pages are of the highest quality.
Page Quality Ratings
Overall Page Quality Rating
Google has completely rewritten this part of their guide lines, expanding this section from the very brief version it has had before.
The overall Page Quality rating scale offers five rating options: Lowest , Low , Medium , High, and Highest .
At a high level, here are the steps of Page Quality rating:
- Understand the true purpose of the page. Websites or pages without any beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating. No further assessment is necessary.
2. Otherwise, the PQ rating is based on how well the page achieves its purpose using the criteria outlined in the following sections on Lowest , Low , Medium , High, and Highest quality pages.
Here you can see that Google is putting the focus on the beneficial purpose of the page.
Page Quality Rating: Most Important Factors
Google’s change to this section yet again put the focus on the purpose of the page, but also bring in the ‘reputation of the creator’ of the content.
Here are the changes, with the changes in italics to this section:
Here are the most important factors to consider when selecting an overall Page Quality rating:
- The Purpose of the Page
● Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Use your research on the additional factors below to inform your rating.
● Main Content Quality and Amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
● Website Information/information about who is responsible for the Main Content: Find information about the website as well as the creator of the MC.
●Website Reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the Main Content: Links to help with reputation research will be provided.
Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
Again there are some significant changes here. First, the instances where Google referred to “high quality” have now been changed to “high EAT”.
Here we believe Google is directing its human evaluators to look beyond simple quality and consider other aspects that contribute to the value of that content.
So, Google has added this new part:
Remember that the first step of PQ rating is to understand the true purpose of the page. Websites or pages without some sort of beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating.
For all other pages that have a beneficial purpose, the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important. Please consider:
- The expertise of the creator of the MC.
● The authoritativeness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.
● The trustworthiness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.
Later in the section, they make some changes specific to the content creators in several key areas, including medical, news, science and financial sites.
Here are those changes, with the changes in italics:
- High E-A-T medical advice should be written or produced by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation. High E-A-T medical advice or information should be written or produced in a professional style and should be edited, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.
● High E-A-T news articles should be produced with journalistic professionalism—they should contain factually accurate content presented in a way that helps users achieve a better understanding of events. High E-A-T news sources typically have published established editorial policies and robust review processes ( example 1 , example 2 ).
● High E-A-T information pages on scientific topics should be produced by people or organizations with appropriate scientific expertise and represent well-established scientific consensus on issues where such consensus exists.
● High E-A-T financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, etc., should come from trustworthy sources and be maintained and updated regularly.
● High E-A-T advice pages on topics such as home remodeling (which can cost thousands of dollars and impact your living situation) or advice on parenting issues (which can impact the future happiness of a family) should also come from “expert” or experienced sources that users can trust.
● High E-A-T pages on hobbies, such as photography or learning to play a guitar, also require expertise.
Here you can see that Google is putting a lot of stress on the content creators as well, this being all the more important for YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) sites.
High Quality Pages
Characteristics of High Quality Pages
Google has also expanded this section, the first reference to the new title changes being mentioned , as well as more on the beneficial purpose of a page. Changes/additions are in italics.
High quality pages exist for almost any beneficial purpose, from giving information to making people laugh to expressing oneself artistically to purchasing products or services online.
What makes a High quality page? A High quality page should have a beneficial purpose and achieve that purpose well. In addition, High quality pages have the following characteristics:
- High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
● A satisfying amount of high quality MC, including a descriptive or helpful title.
● Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website. If the page is primarily
for shopping or includes financial transactions, then it should have satisfying customer service information.
● Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page. Positive reputation of the
creator of the MC, if different from that of the website.
This is all very useful stuff, but hidden in the text is the interesting phrase ‘A satisfying amount of high quality MC, including a descriptive or helpful title’. This is important as it highlights the fact there is no set number of words and that Titles need to be descriptive and relevant (Click Bait Titles could well result in penalisation).
The Highest Quality Pages
Highest Quality Pages
Again, beneficial purpose is added as a requirement for a highest quality page.
They have also added the “and quantity if MC” as a marker for a distinction between high and highest quality. This does raise a question about whether all content length is really considered equal in the eyes of Google. Both Gary Illyes and John Mueller have stated you don’t need to write an essay for a piece of content that doesn’t need it, and to write as much as you need to in order to answer the question the title presents. But here, quantity of the main content is something rates should specifically look for when deciding if a page is highest quality or only high quality.
And we see yet another reference to the need of having a “very positive reputation of the creator of the main content, if different from that of the website.”
But they have removed references to this on pages for stores or other financial transactions.
Here is the old version:
Highest pages are very satisfying pages that achieve their purpose very well. The distinction between High and Highest is based on the quality of MC as well as the level of EAT and reputation of the website.
What makes a page Highest quality? A Highest quality page may have the following characteristics:
- Very high level of Expertise, highly Authoritative, and highly Trustworthy for the purpose of the page (EAT), including the EAT
of the publisher and/or individual author for news articles and information pages on YMYL topics.
● A satisfying amount of high quality MC.
● Highly satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website or for stores and pages involving financial transactions, highly satisfying customer service reputation is very important.
● Very positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page.
And the updated version:
Highest quality pages are created to serve a beneficial purpose and achieve their purpose very well. The distinction between High and Highest is based on the quality and quantity of MC, as well as the level of reputation and E-A-T.
What makes a page Highest quality? In addition to the attributes of a High quality page, a Highest quality page must have at least one of the following characteristics:
- Very high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
● A very satisfying amount of high or highest quality MC.
● Very positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page. Very positive reputation of the creator of the MC, if different from that of the website.
And for Low Quality Pages…
This entire section on low quality pages has been updated. Some was removed as it was replaced with something more concise, while other areas were expanded, particularly around reputation and beneficial content.
Low Quality Pages
The first paragraph has been updated completely.
This was removed:
Low quality pages are unsatisfying or lacking in some element that prevents them from achieving their purpose well. These pages lack expertise or are not very trustworthy/authoritative for the purpose of the page.
And it was changed to this:
Low quality pages may have been intended to serve a beneficial purpose. However, Low quality pages do not achieve their purpose well because they are lacking in an important dimension, such as having an unsatisfying amount of MC, or because the creator of the MC lacks expertise for the purpose of the page.
Here is the reference to beneficial purpose once again. But this time it also concedes that sometimes these pages were intended to serve a beneficial purpose but something on the page – or missing from it – means it is still low quality.
Google has removed the possibility that some pages that meet their “low quality pages” criteria might not be considered low. Now, raters must always rate a page as Low – or Lowest – if any one or more applies.
Here is what the section used to be:
If a page has one of the following characteristics, the Low rating is usually appropriate:
- The author of the page or website does not have enough expertise for the topic of the page and/or the website is not trustworthy or authoritative for the topic. In other words, the page/website is lacking EAT.
● The quality of the MC is low.
● There is an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page.
● MC is present, but difficult to use due to distracting/disruptive/misleading Ads, other content/features, etc.
● There is an unsatisfying amount of website information for the purpose of the website (no good reason for anonymity).
● The website has a negative reputation.
And here is the new revised version:
If a page has one or more of the following characteristics, the Low rating applies:
● An inadequate level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
● The quality of the MC is low.
● There is an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page.
● The title of the MC is exaggerated or shocking.
● The Ads or SC distracts from the MC.
● There is an unsatisfying amount of website information or information about the creator of the MC for the purpose of the page (no good reason for anonymity).
● A mildly negative reputation for a website or creator of the MC, based on extensive reputation research. If a page has multiple Low quality attributes, a rating lower than Low may be appropriate.
Note that it no longer includes the reference that anonymity for some content might be appropriate.
Lacking Expertise, Authoritativeness, or Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
This section has been completely rewritten, and was formerly section 6.5.
Some topics demand expertise for the content to be considered trustworthy. YMYL topics such as medical advice, legal advice, financial advice, etc. should come from authoritative sources in those fields, must be factually accurate, and must represent scientific/medical consensus within those fields where such consensus exists. Even everyday topics, such as recipes and house cleaning, should come from those with experience and everyday expertise in order for the page to be trustworthy.
You should consider who is responsible for the content of the website or content of the page you are evaluating. Does the person or organization have sufficient expertise for the topic? If expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness is lacking, use the Low rating.
Low quality pages often lack an appropriate level of E-A-T for the purpose of the page. Here are some examples:
- The creator of the MC does not have adequate expertise in the topic of the MC, e.g. a tax form instruction video made by someone with no clear expertise in tax preparation.
● The website is not an authoritative source for the topic of the page, e.g. tax information on a cooking website.
● The MC is not trustworthy, e.g. a shopping checkout page that has an insecure connection.
User Generated Content Guidelines
It also made some slight changes to the user generated content section of this, and now specifically includes references to social networking pages, video sharing sites, and wiki-type sites.
User-generated websites span the Page Quality rating spectrum. Note that in some cases, contributors choose their own topics with no oversight and may have very poor writing skills or no expertise in the topic of the page. Contributors may be paid per article or word, and may even be eligible for bonuses based on the traffic to their pages. Depending on the topic, pages on these websites may not be trustworthy.
Note: Websites with user-generated content span the Page Quality rating spectrum. Please pay careful attention to websites that allow users to publish content with little oversight, such as social networking pages, video sharing websites, volunteer-created encyclopedias, article sharing websites, forums, etc. Depending on the topic, pages on these websites may lack E-A-T.
The user generated content section is noteworthy, because they aren’t automatically discounting user generated content as low or lowest, but rather as something that warrants further investigation before rating it. There are plenty of examples of high quality user generated content, but it seems the majority is definitely lacking in quality and EAT.
It has also changed the notation at the end from “Important : Lacking appropriate EAT is sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.” to “Important : The Low rating should be used if the page lacks appropriate E-A-T for its purpose.” So Google has a new distinction on EAT for the purpose of the specific page.
Low Quality Main Content
This section has been significantly reduced, although some of it was incorporated into new individual sections Google has added to the guidelines, so just because it is noted as removed here, doesn’t mean it was removed entirely. But we also get our new guidance on the clickbait style titles vs actual content that Google now wants its human evaluators to call Low.
They entirely removed this part which was an example used to illustrate types of low quality content, as well as the differentiation between professional websites and those from hobbyists:
One of the most important criteria in PQ rating is the quality of the MC, which is determined by how much time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill have gone into the creation of the page, and also informs the EAT of the page.
Consider this example: Most students have to write papers for high school or college. Many students take shortcuts to save time and effort by doing one or more of the following:
- Buying papers online or getting someone else to write for them.
● Including inaccurate information, such as making things up, stretching the truth, or creating a false sense of doubt about well-established facts.
● Writing quickly with no drafts or editing.
● Failing to cite sources, or making up sources where none exist.
● Filling the report with large pictures or other distracting content.
● Copying the entire report from an encyclopedia, or paraphrasing content by changing words or sentence structure here and there.
● Using commonly known facts, for example, “Argentina is a country. People live there. Argentina has borders.”
● Using a lot of words to communicate only basic ideas or facts, for example, “Pandas eat bamboo. Pandas eat a lot of bamboo. Bamboo is the best food for a Panda bear.”
Here Google point out that the content of some webpages is similarly created. So, where you find content like this, it should be rated as Low quality if it is created without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill. Inaccurate or misleading information presented as fact is also a reason for Low or even Lowest quality ratings. Pages with low quality MC do not achieve their purpose well.
Keep in mind that we have very different standards for pages on large, professionally-produced business websites than we have for small amateur, hobbyist, or personal websites. The quality of MC we expect for a large online store is very different than what we might expect for a small local business website.
All Page Quality ratings should be made in the context of the purpose of the page and the type of website.
Important : Low quality MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.
The very much abbreviated version of this section has specifics to clickbait:
The quality of the MC is an important consideration for PQ rating. We will consider content to be Low quality if it is created without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill. Pages with low quality MC do not achieve their purpose well.
In addition, please examine the title on the page. The title of the page should describe the content.
Exaggerated or shocking titles can entice users to click on pages in search results. If pages do not live up to the exaggerated or shocking title or images, the experience leaves users feeling surprised and confused. Here is an example of a page with an exaggerated and shocking title: “Is the World about to End? Mysterious Sightings of 25ft Sea Serpents Prompt Panic!” as the title for an article about the unidentified remains of one small dead fish on a beach. Pages with exaggerated or shocking titles that do not describe the MC well should be rated Low.
Important : The Low rating should be used if the page has Low quality MC.
Unsatisfying Amount of Main Content
Here there is a small change, but it does make a evaluator aware that there is a difference between the amount of content for the purpose of the page.
Important : An unsatisfying amount of MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.
Important : The Low rating should be used if the page has an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page.
Lack of Purpose Pages
This is a very important area, Google stating that “Some pages fail to achieve their purpose so profoundly that the purpose of the page cannot be determined. Such pages serve no real purpose for users.”
Pages that Fail to Achieve Their Purpose
This is another section that was reorganized and rewritten. Here is the updated version:
One of the most important criteria of PQ rating is E-A-T. Expertise of the creator of the MC, and authoritativeness or trustworthiness of the page or website, is extremely important for a page to achieve its purpose well.
If the E-A-T of a page is low enough, users cannot or should not use the MC of the page. This is especially true of YMYL topics. If the page is highly inexpert, unauthoritative or untrustworthy, it fails to achieve its purpose.
Important : The Lowest rating should be used if the page is highly inexpert, unauthoritative, or untrustworthy.
No/Little Main Content
Pages exist to share their MC with users. The following pages should be rated Lowest because they fail to achieve their purpose:
● Pages with no MC.
● Pages with a bare minimum of MC that is unhelpful for the purpose of the page.
Lowest Quality Main Content
The Lowest rating applies to any page with Lowest Quality MC. Lowest quality MC is content created with such insufficient time, effort, expertise, talent, and/or skill that it fails to achieve its purpose. The Lowest rating should also apply to pages where users cannot benefit from the MC, for example:
- Informational pages with demonstrably inaccurate MC.
● The MC is so difficult to read, watch, or use, that it takes great effort to understand and use the page.
● Broken functionality of the page due to lack of skill in construction, poor design, or lack of maintenance.
Have high standards and think about how typical users in your locale would experience the MC on the page. A page may
have value to the creator or participants in the discussion, but few to no general users who view it would benefit from the
Copied Main Content
Interesting part they removed from the beginning of this section is the comment that “Every page needs Main Content.”
They also combined the two sections “Copied Main Content” and “More About Copied Content”, although it is nearly identical.
They did remove the following:
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?
That is a curious part to remove, since it is a valid way to determine if there is any way the content has value despite being copied or syndicated.
Auto-Generated Main Content
This section was renamed from “Automatically-Generated Main Content”, perhaps to change it to match industry lingo.
This section is primarily the same, but added “Another way to create MC with little to no time, effort, or expertise is to create pages (or even entire websites)” to the first paragraph.
There is a lot here as you can see, but for me the main point is that a page should be USEFUL and be WORTH READING.
Curiously though, the guidelines do not state that Copied Content is necessarily a bad thing. I read this as if a page uses content from another site, IF that page then goes on to Add Value then that page should not be down rated.
It also points out that there are no firm guidelines on the amount of content that should be considered as too low. BUT it does state that the length of content can be used to identify those pages as of being of the highest value…
I do hope that this information helps and thanks again for the work done by Jennifer Slegg
About the author
Graham Baylis was born in 1957 and has therefore seen the birth of the Internet and experienced at first hand, just how it has changed the World we live in. He has been involved with computers since 1983 and helped set up the first electronic mail system used by the Civil Service in 1986. He has gained several qualifications in Computing and Marketing and has written hundreds of blogs which you can find around the web, many being on customer’s websites. He has over 19 years of experience with Pay Per Click and SEO and has an answer for most Search Marketing questions, and, for those that he hasn’t is quick to find one. Continually coming up with solutions, Graham is one person it is worth having a chat with.