July 31st, 2018

Google’s quality rater guidelines PDF was made available to the public in 2015. It outlines the ways in which Google’s team of quality raters judge onsite content. These raters don’t have any direct impact on your rankings, mind you, but they are the people who advise Google as to what future algorithm updates should be targeting in regards to poor content.

The last major revisions to the document were made a year ago, but on the 20th of July 2018, the quality rater guidelines were updated once more. Taking aim primarily at what makes a ‘lowest quality page’, the updated PDF sets out to crush irrelevant content that, in Google’s own words, serves no ‘beneficial purpose’ on a site.

So, what does this mean for content writing for SEO? Are these changes far-reaching enough to cause major problems to your content strategies in the future? Fortunately, that doesn’t seem too likely. Despite that, the new guidelines do outline a few aspects of content creation that you should definitely be aware of, allowing you to create and execute a strategy that is sustainable in the long term.

How does Google rate content?

Every SEO worth their salt knows that writing high-quality content is incredibly important. In the modern SEO world, content is king – as emphasised by the Panda Update in 2011. Since that update, Google has considered good quality content to be the kind of content that is relevant, valuable and spam-free.

As we’ve said, the quality raters that Google created these guidelines for don’t manually improve or worsen your sites ranking. Instead, when future algorithm updates targeting onsite content come around the recommendations of the quality raters will almost certainly be applied.

Google ranks the quality of content on a five-tier scale: Lowest, Low, Medium, High and Highest. According to the latest version of the document, the highest quality pages are those from authoritative sources that serve a beneficial purpose for the user on the site – content of high “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness’ (E-A-T).

What are the changes?

The most obvious change to the quality rater guidelines has been a new focus on ‘beneficial purpose’. This concept of beneficial purpose is designed to ensure that the content is valuable and relevant to a user – not simply there to rank in SERPs or to make money money for a website. The PDF states:

“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

As we can see, pages that provide little to no benefit to a users search query will be ranked lower. It is no surprise that Google are recommending a ‘beneficial purpose’. The Rankbrain update of 2016 is a core aspect of Google’s algorithm, specifically looking at the intent behind a search term. As a consequence, Google are more likely to return a result that provides solutions to this intent rather than something that may at first appear relevant due to similar on page content. Clever Google.

Beyond that, Google seems to be taking aim at ‘fake news’ sites that spread information or even hate speech, giving them a low ranking too.

The issue of fake news has been a major talking point since the US election in 2016 that has only continued to grow throughout 2017 and 2018, with sites such as Facebook leading the charge against misinformation since 2016 and Google-owned YouTube jumping on the bandwagon earlier this year. As such, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Google is starting to give sites that spread misinformation the lowest ratings. With this focus on the ‘beneficial purpose’ of content in the quality rater guidelines, there’s a likelihood that an update to Google’s algorithms focussing on fake news and the like will be released soon.

More subtly, Google is also encouraging raters to rank content higher when it is written by an authoritative author. Where previously, it was content hosted on authoritative websites that would rank highest in SERPs, these new guidelines would allow content from renowned creators to succeed in search without the backing of a particularly authoritative website.

A great many more smaller changes have been made to the document over the years, fortunately Jennifer Slegg at The SEM Post has been keeping track of them and outlining the changes and best practice for SEOs to take in regards to staying in line with the quality rater guidelines.

How will SEO be affected?

As with  any news coming out of Google, no matter how big or small, the SEO world has already started to become concerned about any changes that might be occurring. Fortunately, despite these revisions to the quality rater guidelines, there’s almost certainly nothing to worry about if you are and have been focussed on quality.

As we’ve mentioned, these guidelines will influence future updates and won’t have a direct effect on rankings until a new Google update rolls around. While there shouldn’t be much for SEOs to worry about as long as you continue to push out high-quality content that follows white hat practices, it’s worth taking note of the concept of ‘beneficial purpose’ pushed in the document. Clickbaity titles and inaccurate content is likely to suffer under the new guidelines.

What we may see thanks to these revisions to the guidelines is an impact on the modern internet of fake news and shocking BuzzFeed headlines. It seems that Google is going after this sort of content to ensure that users are exposed only to valuable content that is relevant to their search queries – as SEOs, it is our job to ensure that we are providing that content.

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