Earlier this week, for the first time ever, Google released the full 160-page version of this document aimed at helping Google Search Quality Raters rate search results for both standard and mobile viewing. It’s not light reading, but it is chock full of key Search Engine Optimization (SEO) concepts and knowledge. So to save you the reading time, here’s a summary of the 2015 Google Search Quality Guidelines:

WEBSITE RANKING GUIDELINES

1. Both Websites & Webpages Are Ranked: “A webpage is a document which is part of the World Wide Web… A website or site is a group of World Wide Web pages… The goal of PQ (Page Quality) rating is to determine how well a page achieves its purpose.” ~ pg 7  [translation: both individual webpages and overall websites are ranked]

2. “You Money or Your Life” Pages Gain Ranking: “Some types of pages could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or wealth of users. We call such pages ‘Your Money or Your Life’ pages, or YMYL. The following are YMYL pages: … Shopping or financial transaction pages… Financial information pages… Medical information pages… Legal information pages… etc. … We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact users’ happiness, health, or wealth. “ ~ pg 9

3. Ads May Dilute Page Ranking: “Many pages have advertisements/monetization (Ads). Without advertising and monetization, some webpages could not exist because it costs money to maintain a website and create high quality content. The presence or absence of Ads is not by itself a reason for a High or Low quality rating…However, we will consider a website responsible for the overall quality of the Ads displayed.” ~ pg 11

4. Link From Homepage to Key Landing Pages: Pages often make more sense when viewed as part of a website. Some of the considerations in Page Quality rating are based on the website the page belongs to.” pg 11. [Your website gains a Domain Authority rating, so using your own homepage to link to key landing pages is one DA vote for your own content]

5. Keep Your Site Fast & Clean: “Webmasters need to make sure their websites function well for users as web browsers change… Links should work, images should load, content should be added and updated over time, etc.“ ~ pg 15

6. Build Your Website Reputation: “Look for articles, reviews, forum posts, discussions, etc. written by people about the website… See if there is a Wikipedia article or news article from a well-known news site… . high ratings on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website because there is very little data on the business, not because the business has a positive reputation. However, very low ratings on BBB are usually the result of multiple unresolved complaints. Please consider very low ratings on the BBB site to be evidence for a negative reputation… Customer reviews can be helpful for assessing the reputation of a store or business. However, you should interpret these reviews with care, particularly if there are only a few. Be skeptical of both positive and negative user reviews. Anyone can write them, including the creator of the website or someone the store or business hires for this purpose.” ~ pg 16

7. Content is Still King: “The quality of the MC (Master Content) is one of the most important considerations in Page Quality rating. For all types of webpages, creating high quality MC takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill… High quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic… ~ pg 20

8. Make Sidebar Content Useful: “Supplementary Content can be a large part of what makes a High quality page very satisfying for its purpose. Features designed to help shoppers find other products they might also like can be as helpful as the MC on the page. Ways to find other cool stuff on entertainment websites can keep users browsing happily.” ~ pg 21

9. Information Design Counts: “High quality pages are designed to achieve their purpose: they are well organized, use space effectively, and have a functional overall layout. While every page is different, functional pages should have the following characteristics:.. MC (Master Content) should be prominently displayed… MC should be immediately visible when a user opens the page… It should be clear what the MC actually is… page design, organization, and use of space, as well as the choice of font, font size, background, etc., should make the MC very clear… Ads and SC should be arranged so as not to distract from the MC.. It should be clear what parts of the page are Ads, either by explicit labeling or simply by page organization or design.” ~ pg 22

10. Customer Service Information Counts: “Websites frequently include the following information:… About Us information…. Contact or Customer Service information… Information about who is responsible for the content and maintenance of the website.” ~ pg 22

11. Update Frequency Counts: “High quality large news websites are frequently updated, often adding news articles many times a day. High quality medical advice websites keep all of their informational pages current. Other websites, such as websites for small businesses, may be updated less frequently since addresses and store hours rarely change. How frequently a website should be updated depends on its purpose.” pg 23

12. Expertise, Authority & Trustworthiness (EAT) Counts: “Highest (webpage rankings) is based on the quality of MC as well as the level of E-A-T and reputation of the website. What makes a page Highest quality? We require at least one of the following: Very high or highest quality MC, with demonstrated expertise, talent, and/or skill… Very high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (page and website) on the topic of the page. Very good reputation (website or author) on the topic of the page.” ~ pg 27

13. Poor Content Quality Dings: One of the most important considerations in PQ rating is the quality of the MC. The quality of the MC is determined by how much time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill have gone into the creation of the page… Consider this example: Buying papers online or getting someone else to write for them… Making things up… Writing quickly with no drafts or editing… Filling the report with large pictures or other distracting content… Copying the entire report from an encyclopedia, or paraphrasing content by changing words or sentence structure here and there… Using commonly known facts… Using a lot of words to communicate only basic ideas or facts… Important: Low quality MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.” pg 34

14. A “Satisfying Amount” of Content Counts: “Important: An unsatisfying amount of MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.” ~ pg 34 [It’s generally recognized that 350 good quality words per webpage is sufficient]

15. Poor User-Contributed Content Dings: “Many websites allow almost anyone to publish pretty much anything… Contributors may have very poor writing skills or may have absolutely no expertise in the topic of the page. However, some types of user-generated content have a high level of expertise. There are forums of experts on topics… User-posted content can be highly trustworthy for many everyday topics.” ~ pg 35

16. Unhelpful Supplementary Content Dings: “Some webpages are designed to encourage users to click on SC that is not helpful for the purpose of the page. This type of SC is often distracting or prominently placed in order to lure users to highly monetized pages… We can consider this both unhelpful/distracting SC as well as deceptive/misleading page design.” ~ pg 35

17. Lack of Supplementary Content Dings: “…we do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating.” ~ pg 36

18. Poor Conversion Design Dings: “Here are some examples of pages with poor page design, organization, layout, or use of space, which should be rated Low: Many Ads or highly distracting Ads… Repeated insertion of Ads between sections of the MC… Invasive Ads, such as popups… A large quantity of Ads… Text ads, placed beside or within the site’s navigation links, which may confuse users. If a page seems poorly designed, take a good look. Ask yourself if the page was deliberately designed to draw attention away from the MC.” ~ Pg 36

19. Lacking Care & Maintenance Dings: “Sometimes a website may seem a little neglected: links may be broken, images may not load, and content may feel stale or outdated… if a website is not being maintained and updated enough for its purpose, that is a reason for a Low page quality rating.” ~ pg 37

20. Deceptive Pages Get Dinged: “Deceptive webpages appear to have a helpful purpose (the stated purpose), but are actually created for some other reason. Use the Lowest rating if a webpage page is deliberately created to deceive and potentially harm users in order to benefit the website… A website pretends to be or mimics the look of a well-known store, bank, online service, or social network, but instead exists to “phish” or steal passwords or personal information… A webpage claims to be a survey, perhaps offering money or a prize, but instead exists to steal passwords or personal information… A webpage claims to offer an independent review or share other information about a product, but is in fact created to make money for the owner of the website.. A website claims to be the personal website of a celebrity…” ~pg 41

21. Keyword “Stuffing” Dings: “Pages may be created to lure search engines and users by repeating keywords over and over again, sometimes in unnatural and unhelpful ways. Such pages are created using words likely to be contained in queries issued by users. Keyword stuffing can range from mildly annoying to users, to complete gibberish. Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful MC to help users, should be rated Lowest.” ~ pg 43

22. Un-Curated Copied Content Dings: “If all or most of the MC on the page is copied, think about the purpose of the page. Why does the page exist? What value does the page have for users? Why should users look at the page with copied content instead of the original source?… The Lowest rating is appropriate if all or almost all of the MC on the page is copied with little or no time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users. Such pages should be rated Lowest, even if the page assigns credit for the content to another source.” ~ pg 44

23. “About Us” Information Counts: “Think about the purpose of the website and the type of website information users would expect or demand… pages where the available information is completely inadequate for the purpose of the website (for example, an online bank with only an email address), should be rated Lowest.” ~ pg 46 (use About Us content and personal bios to establish authority & reputation).

MOBILE BROWSING CONSIDERATIONS

24. Negative Reputation Dings: “Extremely negative reputation information: This business has a BBB rating of F. There is a news article about financial fraud. There are many reviews on websites describing how users sent money and did not receive anything in return.” ~ pg 47

25. Mobile Usability Counts: “phones can be challenging to use, especially compared to a desktop computer or laptop: Entering data may be cumbersome… Small screen sizes… Some webpages are difficult to use on a mobile phone… Internet connectivity can be slow and inconsistent… Important: Mobile smartphones should make tasks easy, even for mobile users with a small screen device (i.e., size of smartphone, not a tablet). Users want results right away, at that moment, and may not be able to spend a lot of time to find what they are looking for.” ~ pg 67

26. Special Content Result Blocks Are Key: “Special Content Result Blocks (SCRBs) appear in the search results page, along with Web Search Result Blocks. They are frequently, but not always, the first result on the search results page. (On mobile devices) these results help users immediately get information or content, and may not require additional “clicks” or page loads. SCRBs can help mobile phone users accomplish their tasks very quickly, especially for certain Know Simple (a factoid), Visit-in-Person (a location), and Do (an online function) queries.” ~ pg 79

27. Next Steps Should Be Obvious: “A mobile phone should respond to a Device Action query and do what the user is asking.” ~ pg 81

28. Mobile “Responsive” Readability Counts: “Please assign this flag for landing pages that are so difficult to use on the small screen of a mobile device that the usefulness of the result is diminished.” ~ pg 129

29. Content Freshness Counts: “Some queries demand very recent or “fresh” information. Users may be looking for “breaking news,” such as an important event or natural disaster happening right now.” ~ pg 141

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