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Page Quality Rating: What Google Wants from Your Digital Content

The gods have spoken. Late last year, Google released a previously leaked guide to what their website quality assessors look for. And you know, it’s all fair. If you’re already doing your very best to make your online presence good, you have nothing to fear. The guidelines might help you tweak what you have and…

The gods have spoken. Late last year, Google released a previously leaked guide to what their website quality assessors look for. And you know, it’s all fair.

If you’re already doing your very best to make your online presence good, you have nothing to fear. The guidelines might help you tweak what you have and even set your mind at ease about things like duplicate content or reputation.

If you’re not doing your very best, you’re going to get left behind. Read through what Google’s content guidelines mean for you as a small business and see if you still think making an effort online isn’t worth it.

The purpose of Google’s Page Quality Rating

Google’s army of page quality raters is responsible for making sure searchers get the best content for what they’re looking for. They determine whether your web page is the most relevant, quality and user-friendly for that searcher’s needs.

What’s the purpose of a web page?

You should know the purpose of every single page of your company’s website.

If any of them have the purpose of ‘to make search engines happy’, that’s not a good look for you.

Every page should be planned, written and distributed with the focus squarely on the user.

Web page purposes:

  • To share information
  • To share personal information or experiences
  • To share media such as images, video and graphics
  • To express opinions
  • To entertain
  • To sell products or services

What makes a high-quality page?

Google’s quality scale is made up of five main levels: Lowest, Low, Medium, High, Highest. Each of those also have a ‘+’ half-way point so you could score Medium + if you’re somewhere between Medium and High.

The rating you get is based on sooooo many factors that I couldn’t possibly go into detail on all of them. It should be quite comforting to you that there are so many; Google is all about context and one rule does not suffice for every business.

Main quality rating factors:

1. Website maintenance

Some basic things: your links should all work, images should all show. Aside from that very base level of maintenance, a rater wants to see that you make an effort to keep all your content up-to-date.

This is very contextual. If your page purpose is to deliver news, regular content is going to be part of maintaining that purpose. If your raison d’etre is not to deliver regular news (although be careful: a blog does kind of suggest that), content should be kept updated as new information arises.

2. Reputation

You probably say loads of good things about yourself on your website, which is fine – but a Google quality rater is also going to look at what other people say about you: independent ratings, awards and customer reviews.

Independent ratings like Reevoo, Yelp and TripAdvisor are going to be taken into account. A website that should rank really well but has a terrible independent rating is going to take a hit.

That said, a great website that doesn’t have any kind of external reputation is not going to be affected if it’s a small business that probably relies on word of mouth. It’s all about that context again.

A small company that’s won a couple of local awards, has good reviews on average and is rated pretty well on external sites is on to a winner.

3. Expertise / Authoritativeness / Trustworthiness (EAT)

This is, in my opinion, one of the most important things to come out of Google sharing these rating factors.

Content marketing, as with all SEO techniques, became something of a many-headed beast. It could make you or break you, depending on whether your intentions were pure. A negative trend arose of businesses pumping out content scrabbled together by people who didn’t really know what they were talking about.

It’s now clear: Google expects you to use experts to create your content. Before you start crying because there’s no way your budget will cover getting Michael Jordan to write your sports shop content – context.

An expert could be a customer who’s tried your product. An expert could be someone talking about a personal experience. An expert could be someone who works for you.

  • A blog about learning guitar should be written by someone with experience in learning to play guitar or teaching guitar
  • A recipe post should be written by someone who has successfully used the recipe and can help others achieve success
  • A piece of content with advice about writing should be by a writer (yup, can confirm: am a writer)

“Please value life experience and ‘everyday expertise’. For some topics, the most expert sources are ordinary people sharing their life experience.”


Your Money or Your Life pages


Your Money or Your Life content is anything that could affect the reader’s health, finances or safety. Topics like investing, legal advice, insurance or medical conditions MUST be written by a qualified expert. Low-quality content in these areas could have serious repercussions for Google’s users, so understandably, they’re gonna be tough on it.

Context: someone who has had cancer is an expert on their experience with cancer. Someone who has been declared bankrupt is an expert on their particular experience with finance. Just be very careful and keep your intentions positive for your readers.

4. Functional page design

Sometimes, lower budget websites don’t look perfect. Google understands that; you’re not going to have your website design judged on the same standards as Calvin Klein’s. You’re not being rated on how ‘nice’ your page looks but how functionally suitable it is for a searcher’s needs, including the device and browser they’re using.

To meet that functional requirement, there are basic rules you must do your very best to adhere to, so your visitors are getting a good experience:

  • It’s easy to see what your main content is through use of space, fonts, titles, hierarchy etc.
  • That main content suits the purpose of the page (regular posts on a news site, for example)
  • Ads don’t get in the way of main content and are recognisable as ads
  • Content is optimised for mobile devices

5. Main content

Finally, the actual content itself. And it’s pretty simple.

What makes quality main content:
  • Time and effort
  • Expertise
  • Talent and skill

That last one gives me the warm and fuzzies. While people who have built a career on bidding real low on copywriting job sites may be a bit worried, my respected colleagues and I are quietly basking in the glow of recognition that Google is giving good writing.

Talent and skill would be difficult for a program to assess beyond its technical ability with things like spelling and breadth of vocabulary. That’s why these human raters exist. They can use all the emotional skills our computers don’t quite have yet, to decide whether you really, truly deserve to be ranked well.

You employ people with talent and skill – no one tries to employ people devoid of such qualities. If you put those people to good use, you should be pleased about these guidelines too.

What makes the lowest quality main content:

  • Little to no actual main content – 200 words on unblocking toilets probably isn’t going to cut it
  • Main content that’s clearly trying to attract traffic with keyword abuse
  • Main content that’s auto-generated or pretty much gibberish (yes, that happens)
  • Main content that’s mainly copied from elsewhere “with little time, effort, expertise, manual curation or added value for users

Special mention: duplicate content

We’ve probably all worried about duplicate content in the past. If I publish a post on my blog but then also put it on Medium or LinkedIn, am I duplicating? What about information that lives on a web page and in a PDF hosted on my site? Those things are OK. If what you’re doing is to reach different audiences, that’s cool.

The problem arises when you duplicate content from a non-affiliated source (one you don’t own or partner with) without adding value through discussion or expansion.

As an example, when Google crawls this page, the page ranker will know some of the content is duplicated from their very own quality guidelines. I’ve made that very clear by linking to the original content, featuring quotes from Google and name-checking them every other sentence.

The ranker will know this was necessary to help you understand the topic: the quality guidelines. As a small business owner who barely has time to put two socks on every morning, you might find it easier to come here for a dissection of the guidelines, rather than read the whole 160 pages. That’s the purpose of this page.

However, if I just pasted the content in without any discussion, I’d be judged poorly for it because there would be no reason for a visitor to come to this page rather than Google’s original document.

Exceptions: licensed or syndicated content (for example, news features you’ve paid to license for your own site) does not count as copied. It’s adding value for your users by giving them curated entertainment or news.

Phew. Hope that helps!

[bctt tweet=”Understand Google’s #PageQualityRanking – it’s not how ‘nice’ your page looks but how suitable it is]

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