As we’ve discussed in the past, the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG) like E-A-T are not really a ranking signal. The QRG itself is simply a handbook for people who work for Google to determine if the search algorithm is doing its job. Humans and machines approach these types of things differently, so we have to keep that in mind. The algorithm is doing one thing while the humans measuring the quality of the results are using another method to determine if the search engine is doing a good job or not.
By looking at the QRG, we can learn some things, though. We can understand in human terms what the machines are trying to accomplish digitally. We may not know exactly how it is trying to do it, but we can know what it’s trying to do.
Earlier this month, Google made an update to the guidelines. Lily Ray and her crew over at Path Interactive compiled a great list of the key changes. It doesn’t go into every single change, but it does cover the big points. I highly encourage you to go read that post (if you haven’t already) before continuing on here. I’m not going to explain all the points in there – this article is about what we can learn from these changes and how we can build a long term strategy to succeed in the future.
Fake News and Controversial Claims
I informally named the June 2019 Core Update the Fake News update all the way back when it happened. If you are going to be saying something that goes against expert consensus or that is otherwise controversial, you need to back it up with sources. Most of the sites that took a big traffic hit this summer were sites that said things without citations.
In an article I wrote in late June we looked at how many of these sites like Mercola jumped to some incorrect conclusions about their traffic losses. With this update of the QRG, we see several things in play which suggest that you need to back up just about everything you say which isn’t already considered to be an absolute truth.
We are also seeing Google going even stronger against these types of claims. Just 4 days ago, Google announced that it would no longer accept paid advertising for unproven and experimental medical treatments.
All of this is a bit problematic for companies who are in the business of selling these kinds of things, but if you have a good team or consultant working for you, it’s not insurmountable. The solutions may vary from case to case, but it’s going to come down to limiting “claims” and offering up accepted evidence, testimonials (mentioned in the guidelines), and (especially in the case of medicine) expert opinion and fact to back up what you’re saying.
Shopping Sites Need to be Accurate
Many of the discoveries from this update are things we’ve been talking about all summer long here at Equestics. We’ve talked about the dangers of unsubstantiated claims and fake news when it comes to health, financial and news sites. In this recent QRG update, “finance” and “shopping” got split out into their own individual line items. That is important to make note of because it means that Google has (or is about to) expand beyond the traditional YMYL framework we think of to include a much more broad array of products.
I haven’t yet had time to determine just how much all of this is in play. Based upon what we already know, we can safely assume that Google is building a frame around any entity it can find. Physical products are entities that are relatively easy to understand. If we say something about a product that hasn’t been verified, we need to back up the claims with citations from credible and reliable sources.
You may not see any effect from this just yet, but the more controversial or timely your product line, the more likely it will be that you’ll be on the “sooner” than “later” side of the timeline.
What is Original High Quality Content?
Google has all sorts of patents dealing with determining quality factors. We haven’t seen much in terms of what “High Quality Content” means, though. As we saw in Lily Ray’s article (link at the start of this post), Google has started to give us an idea of how that’s accomplished (and how humans can verify if it’s happening properly). There are two big factors here:
- Accuracy: According to the guidelines, things should go along with “expert consensus where appropriate” and it should cite the primary sources used for research.
- Originality: Though here the guidelines are primarily talking about news sites, I’ve been saying for a while that it’s important to say something new across all areas. If you’re just spinning the same content with new words but essentially saying the same thing as another site, then what makes your page better than the source?
At first glance, this may seem a bit self contradictory (especially in a YMYL scenario). You can’t make claims that aren’t generally accepted, but you have to say something no one else has said before. How can those fit together?
My favorite analogy for this is your high school or college research paper. In that, you needed to look up a bunch of information and data from many different sources. When putting all that information together, you might have come up with something new to day, but most likely you simply came up with a new way of understanding something. With bits of info from here and there, we can come to new conclusions or we can aggregate things together in a way that is more comprehensive and complete than the other sources on their own. We still need to be careful of coming to conclusions that are generally thought of as false or wrong, but we can definitely nudge things toward our own business goals and influence various attributes of an existing entity.
In this article, for example, the primary “seed” of the idea for this was Lily Ray’s post about the QRG update. By then taking other news from CNBC and Bill Slawski’s blog about patents along with the QRG document itself, I’ve created something new. I’m not just saying what Lily said so eloquently, but I’m exploring a bit more deeply into what it all means. Then, by bringing in the links to other places where I’ve been talking about these concepts before, this article is unique and hopefully something you would consider to be quality. It’s not “better” than any of the other sources, but it’s different. We’re talking about the same thing, but she’s talking about what changed and I’m talking about what those changes mean to us.
What Does This Mean in the Long Run? #QUACK
- Quality: Make Quality Content (see above).
- Uniformity: Be consistent. We didn’t talk about this much here, but we will in future posts.
- Accuracy: State facts, and if it’s not a fact, back it up with..
- Citations: Cite (i.e. link to) your sources and making sure they are experts and authoritative.
- Knowledge: Have good knowledge of what you’re talking about and build your own E-A-T factors.
Until now, the things being “hit” have been roughly limited to YMYL and then more recently to news related sites. It appears to me that the next big thing will be sites that sell other things outside of the traditional health, finance, and conspiracy sites we normally think of. If your products are fairly straightforward and work as advertised (or more importantly, are perceived to work as advertised), then you will probably not have a lot of problems.
If, on the other hand, you’re selling products that aren’t as straightforward or that might have some sort of questions about them, you may need some help. It’s not just about accuracy and fact, but Google is really favoring things that it both understands and can validate. If your products are not clearly and accurately conveying what they are, what they do, and who they are for – then sites who are doing a better job at this are likely going to start outranking out sooner or later. My advice would be to talk to someone before the hit and not wait until afterwards.
Remember, what we’re seeing now, is just what we’re seeing now. This is going to expand even further as Google starts to understand other niches and can frame out its knowledge graphs on the subjects. Make sure you’re prepared because it will hit your niche eventually. Make sure that if you’re going to be seeking an individual or a firm to handle your SEO and digital marketing needs that they are a firm that understands the whole big picture and that doesn’t send off any of the red flag warnings that we’ve talked about here in the past.
SEO and Digital Marketing are more intertwined and (in my opinion) more exciting than they have ever been before. It is also a time of transition for the industry, so make sure your chosen team is on top of the wave and not chasing after it.
As always, if you have specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments here or drop me a line.
Related Reading Mentioned In This Post
- 5 Changes to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines In September 2019 by Lily Ray
- The Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines PDF by Google
- A Bunch of Google Patents Dealing with Quality by Bill Slawski
- What are Semantic Frames? by me
- My Original Analysis of the June Google Update Parts One, Two, and Three by me
- Keywords vs. Entities by me
Not Mentioned, but Worth A Look