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Quality Raters Guidelines and Google Ranking Signals

Ranking Signals and Google's Quality Raters Guidelines

There is a trend in SEO to seek answers to the Broad Core Update in Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines (Quality Raters Guidelines). Does the Quality Raters Guidelines offer clues to Google’s algorithm or is it simply a manual for teaching third party contractors how to evaluate a website?

The Quality Raters Guidelines is where the idea of E-A-T (expertise, authority and trustworthiness) originated. The SEO industry believes that for certain websites, a lack of expertise, authority or trustworthiness is the reason why they may have lost traffic.

Google Ranks Sites with E-A-T?

It’s not an unreasonable assumption that Google aspires to rank sites that are expert, authoritative and trustworthy. So it follows that sites that lack those qualities may suffer during a Google update.

Quality Raters and Author Biographies

The Quality Raters Guidelines also asks their quality raters to check the author biography to make sure the authors are expert, to verify if they hold credentials or display awards.

The reason is that Google wants the raters to understand how to verify if the authors are credible.

The SEO industry responded by treating the author bio as a powerful ranking signal. The lack of an author bio is cited by many SEOs in Google’s Webmaster Help Forum as a reason why a site may have lost rankings.

The author bio and the author credibility is held by some in the SEO industry as such powerful ranking signals, that the lack of those signals are enough to cause a site to lose rankings.

Google Head of Search Describes Quality Raters Guidelines

Screenshot of a tweet by Bill SlawskiBill Slawski asserted that Google VP of Search, Ben Gomes stated the QRG does not describe the algorithm.

Bill Slawski tweeted a reference to an interview with Google VP of Search Ben Gomes had with CNBC. In it, Ben Gomes asserted that the Quality Raters Guidelines do not describe Google’s algorithm.

This is what Google VP of Search said:

“You can view the rater guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go,” Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president of search, assistant and news, told CNBC. “They don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do. “

Read the Ben Gomes interview here.

Quality Raters Guidelines Do Not Describe Ranking Signals

The Quality Raters Guidelines exists as a document to instruct third party raters on how to review experiments to the algorithm.

The Quality Raters Guidelines does not discuss ranking signals. It teaches non-experts how to review a website. That’s it.

Raters Guidelines Teaches How to Rate

Those who use the Quality Raters Guidelines for insights into the algorithm are misled. The Quality Raters Guidelines provides insights into how Google describes a quality website.

It does not describe ranking signals or elements of Google’s algorithm. So when Google instructs raters to check Wikipedia, news websites and review aggregators like Yelp, that does not mean that Google uses those as ranking signals.

It simply means that Google wants the raters to verify site quality for purposes of evaluating whether a change to Google’s algorithm is working or not. It’s reasonable for Google to ask raters to check a third party as opposed to relying on their gut instinct, right?

That’s probably why Google asks their raters to check with a third party to verify whether a site or an author is credible, as that’s a stronger proof than a rater’s subjective judgment.

Raters Guidelines is Not an SEO Bible

The Quality Raters Guidelines do not provide a reference point to what the algorithm is doing.

To use that document for the purpose of understanding Google’s algorithm is a mistake and leads to erroneous conclusions.

The raters guidelines contain ideas for helping to build a high quality website. But it does not describe specific ranking signals. 

No Need to Optimize a Site for Quality Raters

Many people are reading the Google Quality Raters Guidelines and worrying about how a rater or Google is going to rate their site. So they are optimizing their site for the quality raters, by following what is written in the Quality Raters Guidelines.

But giving hints as to what the algorithm does is not what the guidelines are for.

John Mueller explains the role of quality raters:

“Essentially our quality raters, what they do is when teams at Google make improvements to the algorithm, we’ll try to test those improvements.

So what will happen is, we’ll send the quality raters a list of search results pages with a version with that change and without that change, and they’ll go through and see like which of these results are better and why are they better.

And to help them evaluate those two, we have the quality raters guidelines.”

The Quality Raters Guidelines exist to help the raters evaluate search results. They do not describe specific ranking signals.

Quality Raters Do Not Directly Affect Rankings

John Mueller then affirmed that the quality raters work does not directly affect rankings of the individual sites they are looking at. The reason is because what the raters are evaluating is Google’s algorithm, not sites. The purpose of reviewing websites is to rate how well the algorithm changes are working.

Here is how John Mueller explains it:

“So it’s not the case that anything that a search quality rater would do would immediately affect your website or any particular website.

You don’t need to send things to them…you don’t need to optimize things for them specifically.

But rather they help us to improve our algorithms so that we can automatically review or algorithmically review the whole web when it comes to understanding the relevance of these pages overall.”

Quality Raters Job is Independent to Ranking

John Mueller then makes reference to specific pages quality raters are required to review and says that it’s not something publishers should worry about.

Here is what Mueller said:

“So it’s not something where you would have to worry about whether the search quality raters look at specific pages on your website or what they do.

Because what these quality raters do is totally independent of how your website ranks.”

Look for a Patent or a Research Paper

The best way to understand if something is in Google’s algorithm is to search for a patent or research paper that is filed. Search engines and universities file patents in order to protect their findings. Google publicly shares many research papers, as do universities such as Stanford. Even Microsoft shares research papers.

This is something a great many people fail to understand, that the technologies in use by search engines are described in patents and research papers. They’re not always easy to understand, and it’s never known whether what’s described is actually being used.

But the fact that a research paper has been published can serve as a proof of concept that something hypothesized as a ranking signal could actually be one. The existence of research validates and upgrades the hypothesis to a theory, something that has a possibility of being true.

Search Engine Patent Resource

If you don’t know how to research patents or research papers, visit Bill Slawski’s site, SEOBytheSea. If it’s been patented, it’s likely he’s written about it.

SEO Faith and SEO Fact

Many of the theories tied to the Quality Raters Guidelines do not have a basis or foundation in patents or research. For example, the idea that a biography is a strong ranking signal, strong enough to cause a site to lose its rankings, has no basis in research or patents.

To believe in a ranking signal that has no solid basis puts the believer in the same realm of those who believe the earth is flat. It’s a matter of faith, not fact.

Just because something is described in the Quality Raters Guidelines does not mean it’s a ranking factor.

Watch John Mueller describe the purpose of the Quality Raters Guidelines here:

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Quality Raters Guidelines and Google Ranking Signals

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