On October 19th 2021, Google released the updated version of their Search Quality Raters Guidelines after previously updating them in October 2020. The update included expanding the ‘Groups of People’ subcategory under YMYL topics; changes in guidelines on how raters should flag upsetting-offensive content; updates to the ‘Lowest Page Quality’ section and some general updates to the examples used in the guidelines as well as wording and formatting changes.
The most interesting part of these updates that stood out to us was the changes to the ‘Lowest Page Quality’ section. Whilst the Search Quality Rater Guidelines do not directly inform Google’s algorithm and SERP rankings, they can be used to infer exactly what Google’s algorithm may deem relevant and take into account when ranking a page. In this case, the updates around Low Page Quality factors may give us an idea of what the algorithm looks out for when deciding to rank pages negatively.
We examined the changes Google made by comparing the old Search Quality Rater Guidelines (October 14th 2020) with the updated Guidelines (October 19th 2021). We were particularly interested in what Google changed and any points they specifically updated to attempt to infer what they deem important when it comes to page rankings.
Here are the main parts of the updated Search Quality Rater Guidelines that stood out to us and the key takeaways for SEOs:
Lowest Page Quality changes
Page Quality rating is used by Google to evaluate ‘how well the page achieves its purpose.’ This will vary depending on the website, but overall, Google believes that the main purpose of a website is to be helpful and beneficial to people. If websites do not help or benefit people then ‘a rating of Lowest may be warranted.’
Websites can help and benefit people in a variety of different ways. They can be made to share and discuss information, to provide humour and entertainment, to sell products or services and many other things. Note that pages falling under the YMYL category, e.g. news and current events, pages that allow online purchases and pages providing health and medical advice, will have higher rating standards than those that don’t.
The updated guidelines provide a lot more information and examples of what Google would class as a Low Quality page. Google will rate pages as Low Quality if:
- The purpose of the page is harmful to others or the self
- Examples of sites that have a harmful or malicious purpose are any that encourage physical, financial or mental self harm or condone violence or incite hatred toward a specific group of people.
- The page is designed to deceive people.
- It provides health related advice that ‘contradicts well-established expert consensus and could result in serious harm.’
- The page contains harmful misleading information.
- There is inadequate information about the creator of the website or the creator of the content.
New Spammy Content Criteria will give you a Low Quality Page Rating
A new factor that Google has introduced in the updated guidelines is the section on ‘Spammy Content.’ This has been added to what was section 7.2 in the 2020 guidelines and the new update has expanded on this in section 7.5.
Google will give pages a Low Quality rating if they are spammy. These are sites that use keywords repetitively to try to cheat their way to the top to the SERPs. Sites are also classed as spammy if:
- The purpose of the page can’t be easily determined.
- Main Content (MC) is Low Quality, or there isn’t much of it.
- Content is auto-generated or duplicated.
Additionally, this includes pages with ‘spammed content’ such as forums or page comment sections that contain multiple comments unrelated to anything on the page and usually trying to sell a product or service. Google is clamping down on spam and any pages using spammy techniques will be given the Lowest rating.
Reputation section changes
Another update that stood out may only be a small change to a single word but it could have a big impact on how the algorithm ranks pages in the future. The title of section 2.6 changed from:
‘Reputation of the Website Or Creator of the Main Content’
‘Reputation of the Website And Creator of the Main Content.’
This change of ‘or’ to ‘and’ indicates that Google will be taking both the website’s reputation and the content creator’s reputation into account in future. Google will take the content creator’s reputation into account if they are different from the website creators.
This points to Google trying to make sure that the information they are showing is doubly reliable as they want trustworthy reputations from both content creator and website creator.
In section 2.6.5, a new and updated section in the guidelines, Google did mention that if no reputation information could be found it did not necessarily mean that a page would be given a Low Quality rating. After multiple controversies around fake news and the spread of false information about Covid-19 online, it does appear that Google is trying to show people the most reputable and trustworthy sources it can.
Update on YMYL groups
The update expanded the list of people in the ‘Groups of People’ category YMYL pages could be about. The subcategory for ‘Groups of People’ now reads:
‘Information about or claims related to groups of people, including but not limited to those grouped on the basis of age, caste, disability, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, immigration status, nationality, race, religion, sex/gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, victims of a major violent event and their kin, or ant other charactetistic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization.’
Any pages that incites, condones or instructs violence against any of these groups will be given the Lowest quality page rating by Google.
These are the main changes in the new Search Quality Raters Guidelines update. We recommend taking a look at the updated guidelines to gain a better understanding of what the search algorithm may be prioritising and if there are any changes you can use to improve your website’s overall quality.
The changes allow us to infer the direction Google will take with their algorithm in the future. At the moment it appears that Google is focusing on making their service safer by providing trustworthy and reliable information, protecting vulnerable groups and heavily prioritising beneficial websites that will help users achieve their search goal.