Have you heard that Google employs humans as well as robots? They do, in the form of raters. Certain content is kicked over to human raters so they can go through pages based on well-defined criteria. They decide what gets rated high or low and pass information on to the engineers. The guidelines used to be kept strictly for those employed raters, leaving the rest of us to wonder our fate because we had no idea how they made their decisions.
Then someone leaked the document. It felt like Christmas getting my hands on that! Finally, we could all figure out what we needed to do. Google has figured out that transparency and openness are important for website owners, so the Search Quality Rating Guidelines handbook is now freely available. It’s the ‘cliff notes’ version, but it’s going to help you write quality content and run valuable sites, for sure.
This document covers URL rating. Raters are supposed to put themselves in the shoes of the searcher. They are to consider the keyword a user might type in, in addition to user intent. Google gives the example of someone typing in ‘eBay’. They are probably aiming to buy, sell, or browse on eBay. Hint: Knowing what the end user wants out of their query is half your battle when you’re writing content you want to rank well in the search engines.
The rater is also asked to consider location. Their example is an Australian user typing in ‘football’ having a different intent than a UK user typing in ‘football.” Then, there are queries that can mean more than one thing. Dominant interpretation is what most typing the keyword have in mind. If there is no dominant interpretation, it’s all about the common interpretation. There are also minor interpretations, which are rated the lowest. These are things most typing the query in wouldn’t really know about.
The rater also has to consider what the user would want to do as a result of their search. Do they want to take action, just navigate a page, gather information, or a combination of those things? Hint: If you want to rank highly with your content, you have to do the same thing. What does the user most likely want to do after they have entered a query and clicked on a page? You want to deliver what most of them want.
So, one of the examples in the rater guidelines document is ‘cute kitten pics.’ What would you have on your page if you were trying to rank for that term? Ideally, you would have cute pictures of kittens. Unfortunately, many webmasters and content writers would instead write something like this to try to rank:
“Finding cute pictures of kittens is easy. There are so many on the web that are adorable. If you’re looking for cute pictures of kittens, you’ll easily be able to find them…”
You can probably see that a page of text saying that and continuing in that vein is not what the search user wants to see. It’s not what the rater would rate highly. Google is smarter now— you just won’t rank if you don’t deliver. It pays to keep your reader in mind for every keyword you are trying to rank for. Raters use a rating scale to grade pages. These ratings are based on reader intent and quality. Possible ratings include:
Vital– The page shows what most users want. Most users want to navigate. The user was searching for an entity. This rating does not apply for most pages.
Useful— The page is helpful and high quality. They should be “highly satisfying, authoritative, entertaining, and/or recent.” Remember that freshness factor? That continues to play a role.
Relevant— The page is helpful for many or some. These pages might not be as fresh or include as much of whatever it is the user is looking for. Consider these pages to be average.
Slightly relevant— The page is not that helpful. They are often low quality, outdated, and just not up to snuff.
Off-topic or Useless— The page is helpful to no one searching for that query. They are sometimes deceptive, full of links, have misleading aspects, or are just designed to advertise. Raters can give these pages the ‘spam’ flag.
Google urges raters to consider user intent and page utility above all else when rating pages for a key term. Some people think that certain authority sites and encyclopaedia pages are unbeatable in the search engines— but that’s not the case if the “little guy’s” page is a better fit for user intent than those authority sites.
I highly recommend you go through the rater guidelines for yourself. They are eye opening and offer many great tips, as I’ve shared with you above. The bottom line— what does your content do for your user? Are you really the best page to be displayed for the keyword you’re going after? If you are, then your pages will rise to the top without all the nonsense. That’s why it can actually take less work to rank for desired keywords these days.