Google is anything but transparent. As such, the inner workings of its algorithms have never been easy to interpret. This is especially true of Google’s search guidelines. So how do we properly interpret “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization) if that’s the case?
SEO experts dedicate themselves to a sort of “algorithm watch.” They spend countless hours pouring over search metrics. They write novel-length blogs analyzing the changes they can only guess happened and how these changes may or may not affect search rankings.
In the SEO world, Google’s “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines” give us a glimpse into what Google’s algorithms choose to prioritize. This large-scale document offers clarity on what Google looks for in their ranking algorithms. It’s where the SEO acronyms EAT and YMYL (Your Money and Your Life) come from. However, in late 2022, Google added another E to its guidelines turning EAT into EEAT.
While the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines don’t lay out exactly what we need to know to jump to the top of the rankings, they do provide some valuable information:
- What kind of pages are viewed as high quality.
- Which factors influence high- and low-quality ratings (Important since these factors may be similar to how Google measures page quality for SERP rankings).
We’ve taken an inside look at the guidelines to understand how they relate to your SEO and on-page site content, including the most recent updates.
Read on to learn more about the crucial points from the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines for your online content marketing and writing needs.
What Are Google’s Search Guidelines All About?
Google’s search guidelines document is over 170 pages long and broken into an overview, an introduction, three parts, and an appendix.
The major parts are as follows:
- General Guidelines Overview
- Introduction to Search Quality Rating
- Part 1: Page Quality Rating Guideline
- Part 2: Understanding Search User Needs
- Part 3: Needs Met Rating Guideline
- Appendix 1: Using the Evaluation Platform
- Appendix 2: Guideline Change Log
In addition to focusing heavily on mobile search, Google’s search guidelines focus on the importance of building trust and a good reputation for websites and/or content creators.
This isn’t hugely surprising – it’s simply a variation on what Google has been saying for years – the best websites deliver relevant, trustworthy, quality information to users.
Google focuses heavily on experimentation and continual algorithm improvements to improve web quality. These guidelines provide specific instructions on what Google engineers want people to do to improve individual site quality.
These guidelines are dense. They cover everything from important definitions to duplicate landing pages and all the places in between.
Google’s E-E-A-T Update
In recent years, Google has put more emphasis on who is creating the content. This is emphasized with the addition of Experience as a factor in quality.
- Experience: This new word adds another layer of quality to its search results assessments. As far as experience is concerned, Google is looking for content that “demonstrate[s] that it was produced with some degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place, or communicating what a person experienced.”
There are many times when a searcher would benefit from content produced by someone with real-world experience. For example, if someone is looking for information about traveling to Paris, a blog written by someone with a lot of Parisian travel experience would be more beneficial than a blog written by someone who has never been there.
- Expertise: The expertise criteria considers how much relevant knowledge or skill the creator seems to have on the topic. For example, if someone was searching for advice for filing their taxes, an accountant with 20 years of experience would have more expertise than someone with a mild interest in tax laws.
- Authoritativeness: There are some creators or websites that have established themselves as a “go-to source” in their area. While there may not always be one official, authoritative source for every topic, if there is, Google will prioritize that site over all others for relevant searches. For example, if someone is looking for information on how to renew their passport, the official government site is going to have the most authority.
- Trustworthiness: Google views trustworthiness as the most important factor in E-E-A-T. All other attributes contribute to a page being “accurate, honest, safe, and reliable.” The amount of trust a page needs depends on what kind of site it is. For example, social media sites on entertainment topics don’t need as must trust as informational pages on YMYL topics.
When used together Experience, Expertise, and Authoritativeness all contribute to the overall Trustworthiness of a page.
Source: Google Search Guidelines
10 Key SEO Content Factors in the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
This document offers an expansive guide to Google’s preferences and the future of SEO. The guidelines lay out specifics about Google’s algorithms and how SEO experts can better predict changes to them in the future.
- Beneficial Purpose
In 2018, Google updated its guidelines with the concept of “beneficial purpose.” This term defines websites that are created, first and foremost, for the user’s benefit.
On the other hand, there are many pages created solely for the purpose of ranking on Google or created with no intention of helping users. Sometimes these pages are designed to defraud users. From Google’s perspective, these pages have zero beneficial purpose.
According to the guidelines, Part 1 Section 3.0, pages that provide no benefit may earn the lowest Page Quality (PQ) rating.
Source: Google Search Guidelines
In stark contrast, pages that fulfill their intended purpose will receive a higher PQ rating. So if your content does not help your readers in some way, your content will have little to no value to Google.
2. Page Quality (E-E-A-T)
Page quality has always been somewhat of a mystery. Google uses hundreds of ranking factors, and it’s often unclear how they all related to one another.
We’ve always known unique, relevant, well-written content is crucial to producing a high-quality page. However, the guidelines have some additional insights on this topic.
According to the guidelines, it’s not just high-quality main content (MC) that matters. In fact, Google created an acronym for what every high-quality page needs: E-E-A-T.
First introduced in 2018, the original E-A-T acronym stood for “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness.” In 2022, Google added another E, “Experience.” According to official Google liaisons like Danny Sullivan, E-E-A-T is NOT a ranking factor itself. Instead, it is a tool search evaluators use to determine the quality of a web page.
While the algorithm doesn’t look for E-E-A-T, it does look for signals that point to E-E-A-T. The Google algorithm and system for ranking pages is a machine, so it looks for signals a machine understands. Search evaluators are humans, so they look for E-E-A-T. It’s two different languages for the same concept.
Pages that exhibit experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness are generally viewed as higher quality than those that aren’t.
Google’s guidelines state that the search algorithm ranks websites on a sliding scale including lowest, low, medium, high, and highest.
According to Part 1, Section 8.4, high-quality pages possess the following characteristics:
- A “satisfying amount” of high-quality MC, including a title that’s appropriately descriptive and helpful
- “Satisfying website information” or information about the website’s owner/creator (shopping of transactional pages need satisfying customer service information, conversely)
- The page and its associated website have a high amount of E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)
- The website (or the MC creator) has a good reputation
Google doesn’t specify how much content a page needs to be considered “satisfying,” only that the “right” amount of content depends on “the purpose of the page.”
Google offers numerous examples of high-quality content, including this page:
This page earned the highest rating because it has a very high E-E-A-T and fulfills the purpose of the page.
According to the Google search guidelines, Part 1, Section 4.0, low-quality pages have the following features:
- Poor, low-quality MC
- An inadequate amount of E-E-A-T
- Unsatisfying amounts of MC for the purpose of the page (a dense topic with little information, for example)
- A page title that is essentially clickbait (“misleading, shocking, or exaggerated”)
- An author that doesn’t have the level of expertise needed to write about the topic
- A website or content creator with a “mildly negative” or mixed reputation
- Unsatisfying information about who created the content/who’s behind the website
- Page has a harmful or deceptive purpose
- Page content that distracts from the MC, like intrusive ads/interstitials
Google includes numerous examples of low-quality pages, including this page, which appears to be designed for hospitalized veterans.
This site got the lowest score because there are numerous articles on trustworthy sites describing this organization as fraudulent and misleading.
How Can You Increase E-E-A-T on Your Pages?
One of the main ways E-E-A-T standards have been modified in recent years is a bigger emphasis on the author/creator of the content.
You can fulfill the E-E-A-T standards with your content in a few ways:
- Disclose who’s writing your posts: Include the author’s credentials or byline. You can also share the names of any experts who review your content for accuracy. The most trustworthy sites also include “About me” pages with author bios.
- Back up your claims: If you make claims or share statistics, provide sources and link to those sources.
- Audit your external links: Linking to high-quality, authoritative outside sites can give your content an SEO boost. Make sure your thoroughly vet these sites before linking to them.
- Get rid of low-quality, spammy comments on your page: Unfortunately, many comment sections are a target for spam. Do routine checks of your comment sections to get rid of these comments. If your content is primarily focused on YMYL topics, consider disabling the comments.
- Audit your reputation online and figure out if you need to do some work: Check out the search results for your brand name that do not include your site. Are there any reviews or mentions that show you in a negative light? Do you see any fraudulent sites impersonating your brand or stealing your content?
- Use content produced by and for humans: While Artificial Intelligence technology has made significant advances in recent years, it cannot replace the quality and expertise of human-made If your content production process relies too heavily on AI tools, your E-E-A-T ratings might suffer.
All these actions help establish your experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Ensuring your E-E-A-T level is high is one of the best ways to earn high search rankings.
3. YMYL Content
The concept of YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) has been around since the early 2000s. According to the full guidelines, these pages are the ones Google pays the most attention to because they’re the ones that can most profoundly impact a person’s life.
Source: Google Search Guidelines
Google says YMYL pages are the ones that can “impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people, or the welfare or well-being of society.” These pages include:
- Shopping or financial transactions
- Medical information
- Legal information
- Financial information
- News articles and/or public/official pages important for informing citizens
- Any other topics that can deeply affect users’ lives, i.e., child adoption or car safety information
Because of their importance, these pages have incredibly high page quality standards. They must be authoritative, factual, and written by experts.
4. Expert Reputation, Credentials, and/or Experience
The guidelines make it clear that any content needs to be created in an authoritative and expert manner. While there are “expert” websites in all niches, including food, industry, fashion, law, and medicine, Google has a clear standard: When “expert” content is needed, true experts need to write it.
This means the following:
- Medical advice needs to be written by individuals and communities with appropriate levels of medical accreditation. Once published, it must be edited, reviewed, maintained, and updated regularly to keep up with changing medical consensus.
- Complex financial advice, tax advice, or legal advice needs to come from highly qualified, expert sources and must be updated and maintained on a regular basis to accommodate changing information, laws, and statutes.
- Pages addressing topics that can cost consumers thousands of dollars must be written by expert/experienced sources that readers can trust. For example, investment platforms or real estate information.
- Topics that may affect the health of a family or individual must be written by expert, trustworthy sources. This could include parenting or mental health sites.
- Pages with scientific information must be written by people/organizations with relevant scientific expertise. For topics where scientific consensus exists, producers should represent that consensus accurately.
- News articles need to be written with journalistic professionalism and contain factually accurate information.
- Pages on specific hobbies, like horseback riding or hockey, must also be written by people who are knowledgeable about the topic and can provide sound advice.
Recent updates to the guidelines also stipulate the content creator must have a positive reputation and adequate experience in relation to the topic about which they’re writing. In short, page authors/creators must also have a high level of E-E-A-T. Two pages with basically the same information might be ranked differently based on the reputation and authority level of their authors.
What Does It Take to Be an Expert Content Creator?
You might be wondering, how Google defines an “expert.” An expert doesn’t always have to be a credentialed, highly trained person (the exceptions: when they’re writing about medicine, law, finances, taxes, or other YMYL topics).
Google makes it clear that first-person experience can be a form of expertise in some cases, especially in settings where you don’t necessarily need formal training to have an extensive knowledge base, such as on hobby pages.
In fact, Google states that “for some unusual hobbies, the most expert advice may exist on blogs, forums, and other user-generated content websites.”
In these instances, what Google is looking for is a display of expertise. Here are a few examples:
- Say you’ve lived with diabetes for 22 years. You may be qualified to offer tips about coping with the disease (YMYL content) because you have extensive first-hand experience. However, at the same time, you would not be qualified to write a high-quality medical blog about the symptoms and onset of diabetes.
- On the hobby site The Spruce Crafts, expert crafters teach all kinds of techniques in informative blog posts. These are highly ranked because each writer has plenty of personal experience that qualifies them as experts. Take this post on “How to Knit the Garter Stitch”:
The author is an expert because of her years of personal experience. Her bio reflects this perfectly:
The Reputation of the Website/Creator
Finally, reputation plays a role in expertise, too. There’s a whole section dedicated to this facet of expertise in the guidelines, Part 1, Section 3.3:
Source: Google Search Guidelines
This information is not about how creators or websites describe their own credentials and expertise. It’s how the wider internet (external sources) views the site and its creators.
External sources that provide independent reputation information about a website or MC creator may include:
- News articles
- Wikipedia articles
- Magazine articles
- Blog posts
- Ratings for independent organizations
- Forum discussions
- Customer reviews (for these, content matters as much as the number of reviews available – one negative review or one positive review are not good sources unless you have multiple other reviews to compare it to)
Why Is Google So Stringent About Expertise?
Google wants to ensure deep, broad, important topics get the necessary treatment so searchers can find accurate, useful information about them.
If the search results served up low-quality, untrustworthy content constantly, we would quickly begin to distrust and stop using Google to fulfill our information needs.
Consider this example: Most kids in the U.S. learn about World War II in school. However, it would be absurd to believe this type of broad knowledge qualifies anyone to write an informative page about what it was like to live through it.
In the end, it’s important to think about what constitutes an expert for different topics:
- How much expertise do you need to write about a subject in a way that’s useful and valuable to others?
- How much expertise do you need about a topic, so you don’t lead readers astray or negatively impact their lives?
5. Supplementary Content
The importance of supplementary content (such as sidebar tips) is one of the most interesting features of the Google search guidelines. This content is supportive because it provides additional information to users alongside the MC.
Supplementary content can also include links to similar articles or anything else that can help the reader understand your page’s information. Pages with high-quality, useful supplementary content may be generally ranked higher than those without.
Allrecipes has good examples of pages with supplementary content (SC). For example, on the recipe page for Applesauce Pumpkin Spice Bread, you get the ingredients and instructions (the MC) as well as photos, recommended recipes, user comments, reviews, and serving information (the SC).
6. Lowest-Quality Pages
Some pages receive the “lowest” rating from search quality evaluators on principle. These types of pages are created with the intent to misinform or deceive users or may potentially harm them or spread hate.
Here’s the full list of types of pages that automatically get rated as the lowest quality possible:
- Harmful to Self or Other Individuals: This includes pages that “encourage, depict, incite or directly cause physical, mental, emotional, or financial harm.”
- Harmful to Specified Groups: These low-quality pages promote or incite hatred or violence against a specific group of people.
- Harmfully Misleading Information: These pages include misinformation that can cause harm. These types of pages often include unsubstantiated claims not backed by evidence.
- Untrustworthy Webpages: These pages are purposefully deceptive or manipulative.
- Spammy Webpages: These are websites with no MC or hacked content.
As an example of a lowest-quality page, Google shares a site that seems like it sells playground equipment for children.
On the surface, the site may seem real. However, there are reviews on numerous sites describing how users paid money for the equipment and never received anything.
Google also specifies what they mean by “copied content” in this subsection, Part 1, Section 4.6.4. Naturally, any content that is not original will get the lowest quality rating from a search evaluator.
What many people don’t know, however, is that Google doesn’t consider rewritten content original if it relies too heavily on its source. Google puts it like this in the guidelines:
Content creators who like to “spin” content should tread carefully with this criteria.
7. User Experience: “Need Met” Ratings
In the user experience portion of the Google search guidelines (Part 3: Needs Met Rating Guideline), Google examines how well a site meets the users’ apparent “need. “In this section, Google asks raters to evaluate the results of various search queries.
For example, the guidelines ask raters to consider user needs and how helpful the result is for those users. This chart in the guidelines illustrates the rating scale, from “Fully Meets” all the way down to “Fails to Meet”:
These ratings help Google understand how search queries are related to user intent, and how their search results are measuring up. For example, if a lot of low-quality pages that “fail to meet” user needs are showing up for a certain query, Google obviously needs to work on delivering better, more relevant and useful results for that query.
8. E-E-A-T Versus Needs Met
The guidelines clearly distinguish between “needs met” ratings and page quality ratings. The difference is important to understand.
- “Needs met” ratings are based on both the search query and the result.
- Page quality (E-E-A-T) ratings are only based on the result and whether it achieves its purpose. This means useless results for a particular query are always rated “fails to meet” – even if they have outstanding page quality ratings.
Think of it this way: A high-quality page with fantastic information about sea lions is useless to you if you want information about otters. If you searched for “otters” but got search results featuring pages about sea lions, your search needs would be unfulfilled.
Conversely, when considering page ratings, the search query is unimportant. This means high E-E-A-T pages can still have low “meet” scores if they are deemed unhelpful for a query or do not fulfill a user’s search needs.
The guidelines also state that when a user is searching for very recent information (like breaking news, for instance) a site can earn a “fails to meet” rating if the content is stale or useless for the user’s particular query. This means pages appearing in search results for time-sensitive queries featuring content about past events, old products, or outdated information will be marked useless and given a “fails to meet” rating.
While fresh content is important, older content can have a high E-E-A-T rating without sacrificing usefulness. This is true for evergreen content and “timeless” information.
For example, users who search for information about Ronald Regan will find biographical information useful, even if it was written many years ago. This is not true, however, for unmaintained or abandoned websites that feature infrequently updated or inaccurate content.
9. “Fails to Meet” Pages
According to the guidelines, “fails to meet” content is helpful and satisfying to virtually nobody. The content results are unrelated to the query, filled with incorrect facts, or in dire need of additional supporting information. Because of these things, this content doesn’t meet a user’s search intent or need.
The guidelines go on to state that content may also be marked “fails to meet” when it’s low-quality, stale, outdated, or impossible to use on a mobile device. The guidelines also specify that it’s possible for sites to earn in-between ratings.
Here are a few examples of “fails to meet” content results for different queries:
In these examples, the search results did not meet the users’ intent and, therefore, got the lowest possible “fails to meet” rating.
10. Medium-Quality Pages
In the guidelines, we have seen that raters may rank page quality anywhere from highest to lowest.
Google defines each rating and which characteristics exemplify that rating. One of the most interesting is the definition of “medium” quality page, Part One, Section 6.0.
Google states there are two types of medium-quality pages:
- Nothing is wrong with the page, but there’s nothing special about it, either.
- The page has a mix of high- and low-quality characteristics.
The first type of medium-quality page goes straight to the heart of what it takes to stand out in content. You can do everything right SEO-wise, but if there is nothing unique or special about your page/content, you can’t expect it to rank well.
From Google, here is an example of a medium-quality page. The website is from a trusted source, but the content is merely “okay”:
Major Takeaways from the Updated Google Search Guidelines
With the most recent updates to the Google Search Guidelines, the importance of high-quality, authoritative content has never been greater.
1. The Need for Expert Content is HUGE
As Google made clear with their discussions on E-E-A-T and YMYL, the need for expert content is huge.
Google values pages with high levels of experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Websites and content creators who champion these things by hiring and staffing expert writers will be rewarded for their efforts. This is especially true for YMYL pages.
Because YMYL pages are so important and have a big potential to positively or negatively affect a reader’s life, Google puts them under heavy scrutiny. That means websites specializing in these pages need to hire expert writers and content creators. The price of not doing this is too high for both websites and readers alike.
Fortunately, when websites hire expert writers to improve their page’s E-E-A-T and write important YMYL pages, they are more likely to enjoy both higher rankings in Google’s index and a position as an industry leader.
2. Reputation Matters
The recent updates to Google’s Search Evaluator Guidelines underline the importance of website/MC creator reputation and experience when determining page quality.
Google exhaustively covers various ways that reputation can affect a page’s quality and stipulates the best ways to research this vital factor. For example, the guidelines recommend using third-party websites and sources to research websites and content creators/authors, Part One, Section 3.3.3.
Google recommends using high-quality news articles and informational sites to search for reputation information about a website.
3. You Must Create Content That Benefits Users
With the addition of the “beneficial purpose” concept in recent years, it’s clear that Google is looking at it as the main determiner of a page’s quality.
If a page has no apparent beneficial purpose for users, it automatically gets a low rating from search evaluators. That tells us a lot about Google’s user-first mentality, and how we should treat each piece of content we create.
This concept is reflected across Google’s other guidelines, including the brief but pointed Key Best Practices in Google Search Essentials:
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This blog was originally published in 2021. It was updated in January 2023.