How Google improves your search results with Search Quality Guidelines

Google guidelines

Remember Ask Jeeves?

Or Altavista?

What about Compuserve?

There was a time when Yahoo was the world’s largest search engine. So what happened to all these early web pioneers? Why are they not still fighting for the top spot?

Google arrived – and simply did a better job of ranking websites, making searches easier and the results more useful.

The ‘key’ was something called PageRank, which not only rated webpages on their content (as all search engines did) but also on how many other sites linked to them. The theory being the more value a website has, the more other sites would refer to it.

The concept was pretty simple, and, in hindsight, fairly obvious, but for the time it was groundbreaking, and it resulted in Google becoming the global giant it is today, responsible for over 90% of all search queries worldwide.

But just as Google usurped the likes of Yahoo and Microsoft, it knows there’s always another young upstart waiting in the wings to take the crown, which is why the company never rests on its laurels.

Constantly improving

Google receives billions of search queries every single day, and within a second those questions are answered with the most relevant and helpful results available.

This all comes down to the algorithms, little snippets of code that point people to the most suitable answer, but because the web is constantly changing and evolving, those same algorithms also need to change.

To update and change the algorithms takes a lot of work, involving an evaluation process that spans a team of thousands of people around the world.

This team uses guidelines to assess search results, improving them individually, adding up to larger, overall changes in the algorithms.

Google Quality Rater Guidlines

What are Google Search Quality Guidelines?

The team working on improving the algorithms can’t just give their opinion on what they think a good result is. They need a set of rules to measure the results against, and this is the Quality Rater Guidelines, a set of general guidelines over 170 pages long.

Google has over ten thousand people around the world called “search quality raters” who work using these guidelines to provide ratings on search results.

The guidelines are there to help these workers, but ultimately, notions of relevance and trustworthiness are human judgments, so the more insights Google gathers from people, the more accurate the search results will be.

How do the ratings work?

Google exists to answer people’s questions, so information quality is at the heart of their search results.

The rater guidelines are designed to sort out the wheat from the chaff, searching only for content that demonstrates expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness on a topic, or E-A-T for short.

When a rater is assigned a search query, they will see two results; the current Google answer and a possible improvement with a new algorithm. It is then their job to evaluate which result is better using the guidelines.

For example, if someone searches for “chocolate brownie recipe”, there will be tens of millions of results, so finding ones that fit the E-A-T guidelines are Google’s priority.

For expertise, the rater might look at how easy the recipe is to follow.

Does it have an instructional video or images? 

Authoritativeness might mean a recipe that comes from a verified baker or chef, while trustworthiness might refer to the popularity of the website – how long have they been going, is the company older than the internet, do they have other media platforms like TV or publications?

With thousands of these raters working on hundreds of queries, it all correlates to a change in the algorithm, constantly improving Google’s search results for the end user.

It is important to note that these changes do not directly impact how a page or site ranks in Search. Nobody is deciding that any given source is “authoritative” or “trustworthy”, it is simply a collective decision on which search results are more accurate.

Google guideline updates

How often are the guidelines updated?

If the algorithms are updated using people’s decisions, and those decisions are based on guidelines, then it makes sense that those guidelines are also updated.

While Google’s Search Quality Guidelines are not constantly revised, they are reviewed every couple of years, particularly when an issue arises that could change the way people search.

The latest review happened recently, with some important changes to how Google ranks websites and content.

The biggest change was the complete removal of Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) categories, replaced with four areas where dangerous or harmful content should be removed from search results. These four areas are health/safety, financial security, society and “other”.

Google defines YMYL topics as anything that is inherently dangerous such as violent extremism, or dangerous through misinformation, such as anti-vaccine movements or other bad health advice.

Only content that will cause harm is blacklisted, rather than content that is wrong but harmless.

Keeping up to date with constant changes

As the internet constantly evolves, even Google has a hard time keeping up, so what chance does an everyday business owner have?

These updates, changes and redefinitions in the World Wide Web are one of the many reasons you need to bring experts in to look after your website.

It’s our job to keep on top of these shifts, adjust our clients’ sites and strategies to compensate, and get the best results we can for their business growth.

From website audits that reveal where your site can be improved to handling all your Google ads and social media, we cover all bases with a tailor-made solution to suit you.

Contact us today and let us take care of all the frustrating Google algorithm updates for you.