Google have just released an updated version of their Search Quality Rater Guidelines. The changes will impact all publishers but are particularly relevant for bloggers, because it emphasises the importance of a strong personal brand.
The principal takeaway is that Google are now paying even more attention to reputation.
Previously this related to a website’s overall credibility, but now Google will also consider the reputation of the blog’s primary author as well as their guest contributors. In essence, Google wants to see high quality, useful content from credible authors.
What are these guidelines and why are they so important?
First, let’s clarify what exactly the Google Search Quality Guidelines are. They’re a lengthy set of guidelines (over 160 pages), that instruct Google’s search quality evaluators how to assess the quality of Google’s search results.
Raters can’t immediately cause negative SEO effects to any page they review, but their work does impact Google’s algorithm updates, so they have a lot of influence.
It’s crucial then, that bloggers have full awareness and understanding of the guidelines so they can optimise their site effectively and remain in Google’s good graces.
We’ve gone through the whole document in detail - yes, all 164 pages of it - so you don’t have to. Below are our seven key takeaways, including actionable tips that you can start to implement straight away on your blog, to ensure it stands up to Google’s rigorous evaluation.
Key takeaways for bloggers
1. Your name is your brand
The most prominent change is that raters will now be looking into the reputation of the content creator themselves, rather than just the reputation of the website.
Google has changed the section called “Reputation Research” to “Research on the Reputation of the Website or Creator of the Main Content.” They will be looking for each content creator’s name and/or alias and biographical data. To optimise for this:
- Make sure that all contributors have a good reputation - If you accept guest posts or submissions, it is now your responsibility to pay close attention to the credibility of all contributors and the content they provide.
- Feature author information and author bios for all the writers on your site - Even if you do not currently use bylines for content, you will now need to. If there is no information about the content creator, your website will be rated Lowest. Be transparent, Google will thank you for it!
- Guest post as often as you can - Writing for other people’s blogs will help to build your reputation, authority, trust and connections and expand your online influence. Just make sure that the blogs you contribute to are relevant to your own niche.
- Refresh your social media profiles - Ensure that all your social media profiles are up-to-date and contain relevant and professional information. Check that potential content contributors have a good social media presence and make sure that you link to their social media profiles in the author bios on your site.
2. Each page must have a beneficial purpose
Google has now specified that all pages should have a “beneficial purpose.” For the first time, both the quality of the content and whether it has a beneficial purpose will be rated. If there is no beneficial purpose then pages will receive the lowest rating. However, as long as a page was created to help others, they will not consider any particular purpose or type to be higher quality than another. To make sure your blog demonstrates this:
- Identify and focus on what the beneficial purpose of your page is - Consider what the value is to people and why they should visit your page. Essentially, what benefit do they get out of it? Be helpful and have purpose in mind.
- Find the right balance of time and effort - Running a blog isn’t easy and we know that bloggers can feel the strain of too much work and not enough time. Convertkit’s State of the Blogging Industry 2017 Report found that most bloggers struggle to keep up with their publishing calendar and don’t publish as often as they intend to. However, Google will mark content down as low quality if it’s not created with adequate time, effort, expertise or skill. So it’s important to find the balance between quality of content and the time spent on it, as well as the frequency of publishing. Make sure you put enough effort into editorials in particular- these posts are the ones that Google’s Quality Raters will judge you on.
3. Editorial guidelines must be easily accessible
Google want sites to have “active editorial standards." So bloggers should:
- Publish editorial guidelines - This can help establish consistency and higher quality control. They will help you streamline your blog's writing, topics and tone of voice and consequently boost your reputation and readership.
- Feature them prominently on your site so that potential contributors know exactly what to expect. Don’t forget to include the main objective or mission of the blog so that it provides context to those less familiar with the site. Why does your blog exist It’s also essential to ensure your readers can easily distinguish between editorials and advertorials - more on this below.
4. Sensationalised titles will be penalised
Google has stated that “exaggerated or shocking titles can entice users to click on pages in search results. If pages do not live up to the exaggerated or shocking title or images, the experience leaves users feeling surprised and confused.” Therefore, bloggers should:
- Refrain from using sensationalised headlines that oversell and underdeliver - Sensationalised clickbait headlines that oversell the content and don’t deliver are considered deceptive. Make sure your title is backed up by the content and avoid exaggeration. Don’t let your blog become known for tabloid style headlines that are designed to gather attention and lure visitors into clicking a link. Of course you will want to use strong headlines that get people’s attention, but authenticity is also important.
- But appreciate the value of truly ‘sensational’ content - Google will penalise sites that have duplicate content, so make sure the content that you produce and publish is original, high quality and provides real value to your readers. If you do have news or content that is truly sensational (but not sensationalised), you’ll be in a great position, as you can write a blog post that lives up to the promise of an exciting headline. For example, exclusive news, and original research. If you can write about something first, or that no-one else has covered yet, you have content that supports interesting and exciting blog titles and is more likely to be talked about by others.
5. Pay attention to accuracy and credibility of sources
Google has asked their raters to pay careful attention to websites that allow users to publish content “with little oversight.” Here again, the onus is on the site owner to ensure that all the content they publish is accurate and does not misinform. Hopefully you're already doing this, but as a reminder:
- Check what you publish, especially if you let people guest post - It is your responsibility to publish accurate content that is beneficial to your readers. You should aim to ensure guest contributors provide the most valuable, useful and high quality content possible, which will not only keep you in line with Google’s guidelines, but it will help to establish you as a trusted gatekeeper for your audience.
- Research what you write - You may well have seen friends falling for and sharing hoaxes on social media. If you do this on your blog then your reputation may be harmed. Stay clear from publishing content that you do not believe in in order to make money or gain attention. Conspiracy theories of all kinds are best avoided!
6. Don't interrupt the main content unnecessarily
Anything that disrupts the main content (MC), such as an ad, is considered “distracting” and will get a Low rating. Previously, to get a Low rating it had to be “highly distracting”. This applies to both ads and other popups:
- Don’t negatively impact user experience with distracting ads - Ads that make it difficult to view the MC or distract from or interrupt will be given a Low rating. They consider a single pop-over ad with a clear and easy-to-use close button as “not terribly distracting, though it may not be a great user experience”. Difficult-to-close ads that follow page scrolls should never be used. In essence, Google wants people to be able to ignore ads on the page if they don’t want to view them.
- Think carefully about popups - “Follow me' or 'like my Facebook page' pop-ups that interrupt a reader’s experience of your blog should be avoided. We know some popups that encourage readers to take certain actions are popular in some blog niches. If you feel you have to use them then make sure they do not appear immediately when someone arrives at your site. instead use delayed or exit intent popups and make sure they are not too large. This means that they do not disrupt the visitor’s experience as much.
7. Don't disguise ads as main content.
There should be a clear distinction between any ads and your the main content. This also applies to links in posts or whole posts sponsored by others. To ensure transparency:
- Disclose your commercial interest - If you have been given money to promote a product or service, you must let readers know that they’re being advertised to and that it is an advertorial. And it’s not only Google that will penalise you, you will also find yourself in trouble with the ASA and Trading Standards!
- Know when to nofollow links - Additionally, if you have received a free product or service in exchange for a review, you must make sure that you nofollow any links back to the person/company, disclose why you are writing the review and write original and useful content on the product. You can link back to the company site that sells the products, but you must nofollow the links.
- Be clear on the difference between advertorials or sponsored content and editorials - If you receive news that might interest your readers which you write up in your own words and with your own opinions then that is an editorial article. If you receive news that you publish in exchange for money or a freebie then this is no longer an editorial. Google will mark you up for good editorials and down for poor advertorial content.
Conclusion: Being 'Google Friendly' will boost your blog and your personal brand
As a blogger you already know that your personal brand and your reputation are your biggest assets. These guidelines prove you right.
You must now imagine one of Google’s evaluators arriving at your site for the first time and having to decide whether your blog is representing a company or a person. If they decide you are a person they will start to research you. What will they find and will it support your reputation? Will they see that you’ve written credibly about similar topics elsewhere, and that other authors in the area mention you or that your editorial content carries gravatas?
New visitors to your blog may also use a similar process to decide if they’ve found a reliable source of information. So ticking all the boxes when it comes to high quality content and author credibility can only be of benefit to both your blog and personal brand, as well as ensuring Google keeps sending visitors your way.