Google’s Quality Guidelines and Search Engine Results

It is a fact that not all websites are built with the idea of getting traffic from the Search Engines, many simply being there to back up or reinforce the businesses ‘message’. They are in essence ‘brochure sites’, being a sort of replacement to the traditional paper brochures of the past.

As long as these brochure sites show the business in the right light, and are professional enough, then that is all that is required of them. People are ‘pointed’ to them via flyers, business cards or even advertising (from all sources, including TV, Radio, magazines or even online banner ads), they don’t expect to be listed on Google for anything and if they are it is an added bonus.

But what about the sites that WANT to be listed by Google (for relevant search terms)?

This is a different matter entirely, as not only do they have to put the right message across to the human visitor, they also have to ‘impress’ Google enough so that they are included in the search results.

Search Engine Optimisation – The Process of Impressing Google

But just what does a site have to do to make that all important good impression on Google? There are in fact many things that a site should do, and many that it should not do, but in this article we want to concentrate on the areas that Google have highlighted as being very important.

This area concerns the way the site is built, how much it ‘helps’ any visitor, or answers their questions / needs, and whether it seems to have been built with the necessary care and attention. Sites that do little to meet the above, risk being rated as ‘poor’ by the army of Google examiners who are set to be unleashed once again on the web.

The overall aim of these testers is to see if the pages of sites are good at achieving their purpose, the Main Content being of high quality.

Sites are Rated in Different Ways

Not all sites are rated in the same way, some types, known as YMYL ‘Your Money or Your Life’ sites are looked at in much greater detail as they potentially deal with areas of people’s lives that could have a huge impact. Such sites include those that allow you to transfer money, pay bills online, cover medical issues, legal information sites as well as sites dealing with topics as diverse as child adoption and car safety.

What Things are Examined?

Functional Page Design

High quality pages are the ones that are seen to be designed to achieve their purpose. The characteristics of such pages are that they are well organized, use the available screen space effectively, and have a functional layout. Such pages normally have the following characteristics:

The Main Content is prominently displayed “front and center.”

The Main Content is immediately visible when a user visits the page and not hidden below the fold or in tabbed content fields (although this is sometimes allowable).

High Quality Content and Expertise – Authority – Trust

As far as Google is concerned you are to some degree what you EAT (the Expertise, Authority and Trust that your pages demonstrate / have).

This means that the pages should look like they are written by someone who can demonstrate expertise, talent and skills about the topic. Alternatively, they would need to show a high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Pages and sites that seem to have a very good reputation (website or author) about the topic in question may also be considered to be of high quality.

Trust Through Links

It is a fact that one thing that is used to measure the trustworthiness of a site is the ‘Trust Flow’ (A Majestic SEO term for how much a site is, well, ‘trusted’), this being calculated by the number of high power ‘trusted’ sites that link to the domain / page. Note: Links out to trusted sources, especially if they are to pages that contain the data referenced in the page are also worthwhile here.

Demonstration of Care and Attention

The general thing that Google appear to be looking for are sites whose pages demonstrate that they have been created with a high level of care, with all the necessary time being allocated. Pages which are in a nutshell, ‘designed to achieve their purpose and in so doing help / add value to all who read them‘.

What This All Means

The upshot of all of this is that websites (who want to get traffic from the Search Engines) need to be well designed, whilst the content needs to be accurate / researched and displayed in a manner that is easily assimilated by the viewer.

Anything that can be done to establish the fact that the information can be trusted / is written by an expert should also be carried out.

The article below covers many of these points and is well worth a read.

For the full article on the latest Google update, please click the link.

Phantom Update III: What Google’s updated Quality Guidelines could mean for page rankings

Everyday countless webpages are evaluated by Google quality raters (with the goal of improving the overall quality of search results). On 12 November 2015 Google updated its comprehensive guidelines (Quality Rater Guidelines), according to which webpage and content quality is evaluated. Not long after this we began to notice significant movement in our ranking and visibility data. Could we perhaps be witnessing the emergence of Phantom Update III? It certainly appears that search results have been adjusted in line with the guidelines. So let’s have a closer look at the data.
Updated guidelines: User intent is centrally important to quality
The Quality Rater Guidelines are important because they give us an insight into how Google defines low and high quality pages. As we know, in early summer we witnessed the effects of Phantom Update II, where some sites suffered significant losses in visibility. However, certain factors which perhaps would have led to losses post Phantom II seem to have been redefined. This means that some sites that lost out heavily have now seen a recovery in traffic. At the core of assessing the quality of a page is user intent and how well user expectation is fulfilled by the results. Let’s take a look at some examples affected by this update.

Assessing the quality of a webpage and its content
1. Low quality content

Content that does not provide the user with an adequate amount of information, or that does not correspond strongly enough to the search query/user intent could be classed as low quality. It seems that category pages in particular are affected by this. A category page is a hub page that gathers information from numerous subpages; products with links at the top and content below. The Quality Guidelines clearly state that supporting content has to correspond to the central user intention.

In the above example, the games category page offers effectively no information about the games the user is expected to click on. This clearly does not match the user intention and this is confirmed by the significant drop in visibility. Under the Quality Guidelines, this category page would be classified as low quality.


Probably the best example for a recipe website loved by Google is After an already impressive rise in SEO Visibility over the last few months, the Phantom 3 Update has given thekitchn another ranking boost.

This success is for the most part owed to their long-form content approach. They regularly update and expand their recipes, which leads to very holistic content pieces that perform well for thousands(!) of keywords.

It is important to notice that this content is not simply long. It is comprehensive and fulfills the user’s information needs.

2. Duplicate content

While the Phantom Update II punished pages that exhibited duplicate or very similar content, the new guidelines say that for specific topics duplicate content is no longer a problem. Google offers the example of song lyrics: the text always remains the same, but this content is not duplicated. Users can compare the accuracy and quality of presentation of the results they find.

The same logic seems to apply for dictionaries. After the Phantom Update Merriam Webster witnessed a 13% loss in visibility, among the biggest losers. Following this update, however, Merriam Webster is the single biggest winner in Google US search results, gaining 398,016 points in SEO Visibilty. This increase almost recovers the loss in visibility due to the Phantom Update.

If you want to see if you were affected by this update check your site’s SEO visibility for free here

So even if content is very similar, the quality can still greatly differ, depending on how well this content matches and fulfills user intent. This refined definition of duplicate content could mean that other branches experience similar gains. We will keep a close eye on this over the coming weeks.

3. Brand keywords

Another area negatively affected by this update seems to be “foreign” brand keywords. Based on the quality guidelines, the cause for this could be user intent: If a user is searching for a particular brand, their intent is very clear. Landing on affiliate pages featuring brand keywords of the search query could mean that the user intent/ expectation is not satisfactorily met.

In the example above, users are first directed to affiliate pages when they click on product pages. This may not offer an optimal user experience.


According to our data, the updated Quality Guidelines from Google do seem to be affecting rankings. Sites that adhere to these guidelines seem to be safer from ranking losses. Perhaps the data from the quality raters has been fed into RankBrain, Google’s recently announced machine learning module, as training data. But as this update appears to be global an update to the algorithm is also a possibility.

Google has not officially confirmed that an update has been carried out, but our data suggest that the algorithm has been adjusted to bring its results in line with its new quality guidelines. Over the next few weeks we will keep a watchful eye on rankings and visibility data and see how this continues to develop.

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