Google’s Quality Rater’s Manual 5.0 from March 31, 2014 was recently leaked. These handbooks (earlier versions still exist on the web) were sent to Google contractors, who review websites and their pages for quality control. Rater feedback is taken into consideration before and after algorithms are launched.
The bulk of the current 160-page document focuses on pillars behind the acronym E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust). The handbook includes many examples of websites with positive reputations, appropriate expertise for their purposes and trustworthy site functionalities.
Some of the reputation guidelines outlined in the leaked manual are as follows:
Contact Us & Policy Pages Build Trust
A good reputation starts with being accessible. Users need to know where to contact businesses to discuss questions or concerns; however, not all websites need to give users direct access.
Google tells its raters:
The types and amount of contact information needed depends on the type of website. Contact information and customer service information are extremely important for websites that handle money, such as stores, banks, and credit card companies. Users need a way to ask questions or get help when a problem occurs. For shopping websites, we’ll ask you to do some special checks. Look for contact information—including the store’s policies on payment, exchanges and returns. Sometimes this information is listed under ‘customer service.’
Website Maintenance and E-A-T
If you haven’t updated the broken links on your web pages or blogs in a few years, now is the time to tackle the project to enhance user experiences. Make sure Download and Social Share buttons work. Videos should load and games should run. Google expects webmasters to fix broken links and to improve slow image loading.
Google explains to raters:
Content should be added and updated over time… The types of updates needed depend on the purpose of the website and type of content. We expect news websites to add articles very frequently and to date each article. Typically, published news article content doesn’t change (unless to correct for errors), but new articles are added. On other websites, individual pages created on a topic are updated as new information becomes available. Wikipedia is an example of this. For these kinds of sites, we would expect individual pages to be updated as information changes.
You Feel Great, But Your Reputation Says Otherwise
Google asks raters to review each website’s reputation beyond what each site says about itself. Google writes several paragraphs offering suggestions about how to find accurate reviews to determine site reputation and warns raters:
Many websites are eager to tell users how great they are. But for Page Quality rating, you must also look for outside, independent reputation information about the website. When the website says one thing about itself, but reputable external sources disagree with what the website says, trust the external sources. Your job is to truly evaluate the Page Quality of the site, not just blindly accept information on one or two pages of the website. Be skeptical of claims that websites make about themselves.
What does that mean for your business? People matter. Your online reviews, Better Business Bureau rating, and recommendations from customers and peers build your website’s authority and reputation. Your company does need to spend time developing relationships with affiliates or fans and turning negative comments into positive ones. It might make you wonder how the whole Right to Be Forgotten issue could play into future raters’ manuals.
Lacking reputation does not necessarily harm your business unless you’re a large business. Individuals and some smaller companies might lack online commentary from customers because these entities rely on verbal word-of-mouth.
Google does tell raters:
Look for reviews, references, recommendations by experts, news articles, and other credible information created/written by individuals about the website. Stores frequently have user ratings, which can help you understand a store’s reputation based on the reports of people who actually shop there. We consider a large number of positive user reviews as evidence of positive reputation. Many other kinds of websites have reputations as well. For example, you might find that a newspaper website has won journalistic awards. Prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize award, are strong evidence of very positive reputation. When a high level of authoritativeness or expertise is needed, the reputation of a website should be judged on what expert opinions have to say. Recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies, are strong evidence of very positive reputation.
Choose Subject-Matter Experts to Endorse your Content
If you want to be the leader of the pack, you have to have the reputation, authority, and trust amongst the masses. Choose subject-matter experts within or outside of your organization to be a part of your content efforts. Experts understand the innuendos of their topics and they add perspective.
If you’re a “Money or Your Life” organization like a hospital, bank or legal firm, your content needs to be accurate and current. Google tells raters:
High quality medical advice should come from people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation. High quality medical advice or information should be written or produced in a professional style and should be edited, reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
The public relies on prestigious firms to provide the most accurate information.
Think about the topic of the page. What kind of expertise is required for the page to achieve its purpose well? The standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page… High quality large news websites are frequently updated, often adding news articles many times a day. High quality medical advice websites keep all of their informational pages current.
Authority Doesn’t Need to be Formal
Some websites build authority through interaction with users who share meaningful life experiences. Informal expert content adds to the general good of existing knowledge on a certain subject. Google tells raters:
These ordinary people may be considered experts in topics where they have life experience. If it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or her an “expert” on the topic, we will value this ‘everyday expertise’ and not penalize the person/page/website for not having ‘formal’ education or training in the field.
Additional Resources for The Google Search Rater’s Handbook 5.0
For most SEOs, the revelations in the Google search quality manual aren’t shocking, but you can download and read the manual yourself at Scribed.com or read Jennifer Slegg’s July 9, 2014 review of the manual and Jessica Lee’s July 14, 2014 article. The crux of the document revolves around your brand’s reputation – which can be improved by paying attention to your site’s expertise, authority, and trust. E-A-T right and your brand will thrive.