For the first time ever Google has released its Search Quality Evaluator guidelines and the result is 160 pages of SEO Gold. This release is now the most extensive, and arguably most insightful, look into how the Google algorithm works.
Here is what you need to know.
What Exactly are Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines?
The Search Quality Evaluator guidelines are basically the quality assurance rules that Google employees use to perform human-based evaluations and quality control testing of the Google algorithm. Google still isn’t sharing its algorithm, but with this full release they are now sharing how they internally test the algorithm to improve it and ensure it is working as they intend.
Google’s algorithm is and has always been top secret to anyone outside of Google’s confines, but with this release Google has swung open the backdoor and given us a full view of how they internally test the components of the algorithm.
Sure, we have been guided by Google’s patents and blogs, leaked versions of previous Search Quality Rating guidelines, and various speeches and publications by Google engineers, but this is the largest official release of information pertaining to Google’s algorithm in a single collection.
What is Inside the “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines”
The 160-page guide is broken into an overview of the process document, followed by four compressive parts, with one of those parts being dedicated entirely to mobile. Given the trends in mobile search, it is certainly no surprise that a significant portion of these guidelines would have a mobile focus, but the fact that roughly one-quarter of the study is dedicated specifically to mobile shows us just how aggressively Google is refining the mobile search algorithm, mobile crawling functionality, and mobile search result snippets.
Outside of mobile, much of the focus is on trust and reputation, which is a continuation from previous versions of the guidelines that have been leaked over the years. There is a great deal of information on how to determine if a website is trustworthy and has a positive reputation and by working backward from Google’s official testing procedures, marketers will be able to glean larger concepts about what they are expecting the algorithm to do.
How This Affects Our SEO
While for the most part this guide will simply affirm what most of us already know (at least those of us that follow Search Engine Journal and the other leading publications!), there are some insights that finally shine a light on areas that have up until now been hotly debated.
In regards to mobile, what is interesting are notes relating to screen sizes, horizontal scrolling, navigation, and unsupported media types (i.e. Flash). What this means is Google recognizes that all devices and all mobile operating systems are different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for determining if a page is mobile-friendly.
Ever since Google released the Mobile-Friendly Test tool, many people have taken a positive test result to mean that their website is mobile-friendly and no further mobile optimization is necessary. On the contrary, as the Search Quality Ratings guidelines suggest, websites must be exhaustively tested across devices and operating systems.
An “Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly” result from Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test can often be a false positive and does not ensure a positive mobile experience on all devices. If Google employees are doing multiple mobile tests then you can bet that you better be doing the same.
Based on the importance of a webpage having a high level of trust, which is a theme throughout the guidelines, there are some new insights on best practices to ensure the trust value is explicitly displayed.
- Include author/contributor names and link to bios
- Cite information with credible sources and link externally to trusted resources
- Ensure navigation is intuitive and include universal links to privacy policies, about pages, and contact pages
Given the emphasis of the guidelines on mobile and user experience, clearly there is value in webmasters and SEO practitioners placing a strong focus on mobile usability. Tracking user behavior on mobile devices via web analytics and using that data to improve the experience should be part of any SEO campaign. Bounce rates, navigation paths, session duration, conversion rates, and all other user behavior metrics should be examined on mobile traffic as a whole and on specific devices.
What the Guidelines Tell Us About the Future of SEO
The value of this guide is not only in helping us to gain unprecedented insight into the functionality of Google’s search algorithm; it also gives us ammunition to more accurately predict future refinements and updates to both how content is ranked and how search result snippets may change.
Because experimentation is Google’s primary focus of using human evaluators with the goal of effectively adjusting the algorithm for improvement, these guidelines inform us specifically what Google engineers are looking to accomplish in these experiments. I urge all of you to review the guidelines and conduct your own search experiments. Be sure to share your findings in the comment section below.
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