You already know that Google algorithm updates are important; they can make or break your site’s search engine rankings.
But did you know that Google has actual people – 10,000 “search quality raters” worldwide – who take search results for a test drive by performing actual, real searches, and then rate the quality of the top results?
These raters follow a strict set of Google’s guidelines to come up with their ratings. These guidelines are a whopping 200 pages long, and they are frequently updated. For example, there’s been a couple of recent updates to the guidelines aimed at curtailing the spread of fake news, conspiracy theories, etc. Thanks the latest update (August, following two earlier updates in March and May), raters now have a clearer picture of what Google says constitutes a conspiracy theory, for example.
The overarching goal of the raters is to help discern between quality and low-quality sites, which are, in Google’s own words, “pages or websites which are created to make money with little to no attempt to help users.” For affiliate marketers, this just reinforces the idea that if you want to avoid being penalized when Google updates its search algorithm, be sure to provide helpful content to your readers. Ad-heavy websites or those sites that feature low quality content are often the target of Google’s algorithm shifts, as evidenced by the recent “Fred” update last spring that led to a reported drop in traffic of 50% - 90% on affiliate sites that prioritized SEO over user experience.
It’s important to note that quality raters don’t directly affect the search engine rankings of a site; it’s not their job to banish sites to the end of search results or to ban them completely. And they have absolutely no direct influence on how well a particular site ranks in Google, either. What their work does, however, is help Google improve its algorithms. While their work may have an effect over time on the sites identified as low quality, it will also affect those low-quality sites NOT reviewed by raters.
In the case of this most recent update to its Quality Rater Guidelines, the changes in the verbiage are notable in particular for those sites that are in international markets. This particular update of the guidelines seems primarily focused on international non-English results (i.e. where search is being conducted in non-English languages, or with a mix of English and non-English results).
Regardless, all publishers should know about Google Quality Raters and the guidelines that they follow when evaluating search results. It gives you a fascinating look at how Google’s algorithm updates work, and how the evolution of both technology and sociology alike affects SEO.