Google Gold: What You Need to Know About the Release of Google’s Full Search Quality Rating Guidelines

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Google Gold: What You Need to Know About the Release of Google’s Full Search Quality Rating Guidelines

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”

Google Gold: What You Need to Know About the Release of Google’s Full Search Quality Rating 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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Marc Purtell

Marc Purtell

VP of Search Marketing at Direct Focus Online
Marc Purtell is VP of Search Marketing at Direct Focus Online, a full service digital marketing agency that employs hundreds of marketing experts worldwide. He can be contacted at
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  • Vishal Saini

    Hello Marc
    What is the name of this release is it panda, penguin or hummingbird update or its come with new name?

    • R.Rogerson

      It’s not an algo.
      It’s a document that G supply to people doing SERP tests for G.
      They look at results and then grade them.
      This information is fed back into G to score the changes the techs have made.

      Though there is little direct relation between ranking factors and guide analysis,
      it is possible to find relations and potential relations.
      (Just waiting to see how many jump on several things and incorrectly declare them :D)

      • Ronit Tamrakar

        Thanks R.Rogerson. I was about ask the same question that Vishal asked. When is Google releasing its New Algo Update?

      • Marc Purtell

        Ronit, Google confirmed that are working on a Penguin algorithm update (Penguin focuses on a website’s link profile) and plan to launch by the end of the year. Therefore, if on schedule, we should see something this month or early into 2016.

    • Marc Purtell

      Thank you for your question Vishal. R.Rogerson is correct. While this is not an algorithm update, it is valuable in helping us understand Google’s focus for future updates.

      • Vishal Saini

        Thanks Marc Purtell & R. Rogerson.

  • David Markus

    Idea in 2013’s leakage was more remarkable. This one was foreseeable, assuming you were paying attention. Neither seem making Google vulnerable by any means (that I could consider).

    • Marc Purtell

      David, I agree that there was more new insight in 2013’s guidelines leak. With Google releasing this version officially, it seems that this is what they want webmasters focusing on in order to improve their own search results.

  • Steve Twomey

    Nice share. The trust piece I am seeing very heavily in place with publisher NAP, as well as quality scores of the sites and posts being measured by more than simply Domain Authority and Page Authority. Trust Flow and Citation flow metrics are great, we are also paying attention closely to Moz Rank and Trust when comparing sites.

    • Marc Purtell

      Thanks Steve! MozRank and MozTrust are indeed great metrics for evaluating trust. Majestic’s Trust Flow metric can also be used to double-check the Moz scores or for sites that aren’t yet in Moz’s database (Majestic has a larger database).

  • Jonathan Alvin

    I think that every website should be mobile-friendly. As, Google algorithms are focussing more and more on queries made by mobile users, so the mobile-friendly websites are more likely to get ranked.

    • Marc Purtell

      Very true Jonathan. Furthermore, mobile search volume officially exceeded desktop back in May.

  • Dennis

    So in other words, we just keep on, keep’in on…

    • Marc Purtell

      If you’ve been doing the right things 😉

  • Hussain

    Hello Marc,
    I think they have mentioned the mobile search in Google Webmaster Central Blog as it is the obvious trend since the publishing of the last guidelines, but they are actually focusing on everything related to QUALITY. Reliability, transparency, and the quality website measurement were clearly defined this time.