One of the most misunderstood topics for busy lawyers, is the connection between lawyers with websites and the mythic human reviewers who are commissioned by Google to judge our websites. Yes it is true. Once your site hits first page for a major term, and stays there, you can count on Google having your landing pages reviewed by a group of private individuals, akin to a moot court.
Google will give them a checklist with examples in the form of a PDF, with a non-disclosure agreement, pay the reviewers, and have them cull the results as to whether or not your site passed muster, or was just an anomaly unworthy of ranking on page one. In the past, Pot Pie Girl had actually posted a bootlegged copy of the Quality Rater Guidelines, and she was quickly contacted by Matt Cutts. Needless to say, her copy disappeared immediately.
It is quite interesting to see that Google wants this book to be a closely guarded secret however. Many pundits believe that hiding this information from the public is not exactly helping them build quality sites. On the other side of the argument is Google, believing that the Handbook could tip off spammers. You can judge the case for yourself. In any event, there are boundless ways of finding the Raters Guide by doing a simple Google search. I am not even gonna consider linking to it, after what Pot Pie Girl had to deal with. I am not interested in displeasing the Google gods.
Quality Rater Guidelines
The Quality Rater Guidelines should not be confused with the Google Webmaster Guidelines, which is totally different. This is a guide for the internal team of individuals who are Google search quality raters, whose job it is to test the algorithm changes and determine the quality of search results.
The times that Google updates this document or when they sporadically make changes a copy of the document often gets leaked. SEO professionals and marketers wait for these times eager to get new information that they can put plans into action to help websites rank higher in the Google search results. Those who want to read the document that has been leaked need to get in on it quickly before it gets removed from public access.
In this updated document there is nothing that is earth shattering, but it is more than what can be found in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines with more detailed information.
Changes in the Most Recent Version
The information contained in the document may be useful for SEO professionals, marketers and website owners. Though it does not mean it is used for directly ranking websites, rather it is used for test search results for quality. It is helpful to know what Google defines as a high quality website and get a better understanding of what constitutes quality.
Your Money Your Life
Your money Your Life (YMYL) is included in the pages of the manual are listed like in the previous one, but now there is more importance aimed at these type of pages or websites that may affect the wealth and contentment of the users. This is due to the fact that there could be consequences affecting the users well being, so the sites are held to unusually high standards.
Some examples to be concerned with are:
- Legal Information: Websites or web pages providing legal information or advice on matters of personal injury, civil rights law, and other areas of the law need to beef up their pages and info. For you lawyers, it is more important than ever to maintain and update supplementary content (learn more what that is here), and read below.
- Medical Information: Web pages used for personal injury law definitely should consider a component dealing with things like drugs, disease, medical conditions, mental health, nutrition and other medial related issues of information or advice. For me personally, I am getting help from every expert I can find to beef up the authority of my overall user experience. How about you?
- Other Information: These are web pages that have information or advice involving any topics that could affect the individual user, such as motor vehicle safety, steps to take in filing a small claims case for smaller PI cases, whether or not you can record police when they are engaged in the course and scope of their duties as public servants, and so on and so forth. Website owners, SEO professionals and marketers need to be aware of what qualifies as a YMYL website or web page content. In the event the website or pages could affect the health, wealth or happiness of a visitor, it could make sense to have the content examined by an expert, such as those mentioned in the Google YMYL guidelines. If the content is your area of expertise, then clearly displaying that on the website or pages is not just a benefit for the visitor, but also an advantage for the Google human rate individuals.
High Quality Pages – What is That?
Quality is crucial to rate on Google and while this is known in section 4.1 of the manual high quality page elements are outlined. In this section there is a check list for website owners they can make certain what is offered on their site is the best possible quality. The elements of high quality must include at least one of the characteristics:
- The website and pages are authoritative, trustworthy and of expert quality for the topic.
- The website has a good reputation for the topic.
- There is a gratifying amount of main content that is high quality in conjunction with supplemental content.
The website and page should include:
- The website should be maintained properly.
- The design should be functional for uses to have an enjoyable time using the main website and secondary information.
- Secondary information should contribute to providing the visitor a rewarding experience.
- The about us page information, contact us page, customer service when applicable and others should contain enough information to satisfy users of the website.
The Big Three
The most recent guidelines have a large focus on authoritativeness, expertise and trustworthiness. Even though these have always been factors in the manual and in the evaluation of websites the newest guidelines are more detailed. The human raters will be examining websites and web pages for these three elements in the content.
1. Authoritative and Trustworthiness
As already mentioned, the consistent mantra is expertise. The high quality legal content on websites or pages that users are seeking, should definitely have an element of expertise in order to be authoritative and trustworthy for site visitors. This does not mean to rank well on Google all websites or pages need to have a formally educated expert. In fact, all types of sites can be authoritative, including sites involving medicine and law, even though the lawyer is not a doctor. This is why we cite out, just as we would cite to cases in a legal brief to a court. No big variation to be seen there. And linking out to resources should not look contrived. Don’t just link to .gov sites because someone said .gov, or .edu is most authoritative. That is pure horse-pucky. Heck, you can even link out to forums, question and answer pages like those found on Yahoo!, and even community discussion boards, since the information can be valuable to the reader on specific topics and many of these sites are based upon what the body politic has already researched, with citations of their own. As discussed, it does not require an expert, to cite the opinions of an expert and reach your own conclusion, just as we do in court everyday.
Forums, blogs, INTERVIEWS and reviews can provide informative information and the writer of the content may be considered experts on the topic because of life experience or knowledge. The individuals rating the page in the guidelines are to view websites and pages with a standard of expertise that fits the types of topics and whether there is a specific level of expertise necessary. Websites and pages should be viewed by the owner to ensure the content would be considered both authoritative and trustworthy, as well as whether it was written by an expert in the subject matter.
The raters will be looking at websites for expertise, which means if it is a legal website or medical page offering advice or information it should be written at a level of the expertise and vetted by a person or organization with expertise in that area. When the information involves law in particular, this should be vetted by someone with a degree of expertise or experience in the topic matter. Again, the individuals doing the ratings are aware that it is not always necessary for the content to have formal expertise.
This is done so when rating sites that contain data that does not typically require a professional license, such as hobbies or opinion information, there is no actual degree or expertise, but rather might use everyday knowledge that qualifies for the vetting of the content. This rang a bell for me as a lawyer, since “everyday knowledge” is a basis for one form of silent judicial notice in a court case. Interesting.
3. Supplementary Content
Jennifer Slegg was instrumental in me coming up with this blurb, so read it and read it again. She is the bomb. Content that is not the main content or that is considered mere advertisement, is supplementary content or secondary content. This may be the content included in the footer, site navigation, or links related to the content. For example, sites that have shopping it may be the site feature assisting shoppers find similar products and other items of these types.
The Guideline manual details that these items or features are usually found on larger websites though does state that smaller websites such as local business, community organizations, personal websites or blogs may contain less supplementary content for their needs. In these cases where there is less content for their function the page or website can qualify for high or even the highest rating, even if there is no supplementary content.
This means the website owner or webmaster should question the types of supplementary content they should have on the site to improve the user’s experience. How articles, resources or tools can be added to the page that would enhance the readers experience.
Positive Reputation and Quality
One of the additions in the 5.0 guideline manual is the subject of positive reputation. This is outlined, as the reputation is something that must be considered with a high rating, at the same time, a page with no reputation can still have a high rating. An extremely positive reputation can garner a high rating for what may be considered a medium page. A high rating may not be used for a website that had a credible negative reputation. (Penguin ring a bell here Eric Enge?)
When rating by using the reputation of the site, it will not be possible for a website even with quality content to receive a high rating, if the reviews on blogs or forums are convincing and consistently negative. (Very subjective and I can already see a whole new generation of negative paid spammers in China and India being used by jealous competitors in my minds eye) The way this is determined is by the Google raters running searches of review websites, BBB ratings, news articles, forum posts and other areas that will provide information about the reputation and trustworthiness of the website being rated.
Small website owners or webmasters should understand this will not apply to their sites, since they will not be held to the same standards. The guidelines outline how small websites will be handled. Small businesses, local businesses and community organizations that have a “small web presence” do not depend on online reviews, but worth of mouth. If they do not have a reputation this should not be considered an warning of a low quality page or website.
Basically what the guidelines have to state about reputation, it isn’t a bad thing not to have a positive reputation, but it is websites with negative reviews that will have problems obtaining a high rating. This not only affects the website owner for potential customers looking for information on the service, product or brand and it will also affect the organic search rankings of the website. With the recent iteration of Pigeon, we have seen that multiple location businesses may be now flagged as larger businesses, and that single location businesses may now be small ones.
So if you have a lot of locations, you had better get ready to bulk each location up. It appears that “large” and “small”sites, MAY actually mean the actual physical size of the business, based upon NAP data? Anyone have any opinion on this? If so, please comment or email me, so I can include that information in this post.
Other Guide Information
There are some tips throughout the guide that are important for website owners or webmasters and the essential ones to know about include:
Page Design: The design of the page can make a large difference. Advertisements should not be placed in a manner that would distract users of the site from the main content on the page. The ads should be placed in a manner that are easily ignored. While the actual attractiveness does not make a difference the user should be able to find the main content easily of the page. Lower ratings may be given to pages that have advertising at the top of the page.
Website Maintenance: Maintenance of a website is important and for the site to be rated high quality, it must have information that is updated. News sites and other websites which contain current information such as a medical website or legal website it is crucial. Smaller websites and local sites are not required to be updated as often as larger websites.
Display Information: Contact and customer service information are essential to have and especially for specific sites like shopping pages. This information lends credibility to the website and is important to keep both the about us and contact information prominently displayed.
Reading and understanding the Quality Rater Guidelines is useful and important for site owners, webmasters, marketers and SEO professionals. Though this information is almost a review of what is already known about ranking high with Google search engine, which is to create high quality content that is user friendly.
Who are the Google Quality Raters? Pot Pie Girl: http://www.potpiegirl.com/2011/11/google-raters-who-are-they/
“In Quality Raters’ Handbook, Google Adds Higher Standards For ‘Your Money Or Your Life'” WebsitesSearch Engine Land: http://searchengineland.com/quality-raters-handbook-your-money-or-your-life-177663
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