Google releases 160 pages of search quality guidelines

We’ve known for some time that Google uses humans to complement its search algorithm, to help it sense check the quality of its rankings.

In 2013 it publicly shared its advice to those who perform these checks, which helped to shine a light on what it considers ‘quality’. Two years is a long time in digital, and much has changed. 

Google’s Mimi Underwood explains:

“More people have smartphones than ever before and more searches are done on mobile devices today than on computers.”

As such, Google has updated its guidelines, with mobile a big focus for its human testers. 

Content quality

There’s a ton of great insight in this area. We now clearly know what Google considers to be poor, when it comes to content. 

“We will consider content to be low quality if it is created without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill.”

It also talks about the need for in-depth content on broad subjects, using World War II as an example: “Imagine an encyclopaedia article with just a few paragraphs on [such] a very broad topic”

What else sucks? Content written by people who “lack expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness”. 

It provides a warning about user-generated content, though adds a caveat: “For some unusual hobbies, the most expert advice may exist on blogs, forums, and other user-generated content websites.”

a-beginners-guide-to-larp-ing

The playing field is not actually level

Interestingly, the guidelines make a distinction between professional and amateur websites, from a web design perspective. 

“We have very different standards for pages on large, professionally-produced business websites than we have for small amateur, hobbyist, or personal websites. The type of page design and level of professionalism we expect for a large online store is very different than what we might expect for a small local business website.”

One wonders how the Berkshire Hathaway website would be rated, or even that of cherished usability sage Jakob Nielsen. 

Advertising and UX

Speaking of user experience, the guide pours scorn on some of the more low-rent advertising techniques, such as those horrendous in-text ads.

“Popover ads (the words that are double underlined in blue) can make the main content difficult to read, resulting in a poor user experience.”

It warns of large ads “pushing down the main content” and “highly distracting” content units labelled ‘Top Posts & Pages’, where there is a lack of clarity as to whether these are ads or supplementary content.

Mobile

User experience is a big factor when it comes to mobile websites, with smartphones labelled as “challenging to use, especially compared to a desktop computer or laptop”. 

wtf-mobile-screen

Google flagged up data entry as being potentially “cumbersome”, adding that voice recognition is “not always accurate”.

“Some web pages are difficult to use on a mobile phone. Website navigation can be difficult as menus and navigation links may be small. Web pages may require left-to-right scrolling to read text. Images may not fit on the screen. In addition, many mobile devices cannot access web pages with Flash or other similar features.”

It adds that tasks should be easy on a mobile, and that smartphone users may not have a lot of time to unearth what they need to find. 

As such, websites must cater to the mobile user by presenting content quickly and clearly. 

Different query types

Google references a number of distinct types of query in the guidelines. For example…

There are ‘know queries’ vs ‘know simple queries’. The former query is broader, where the user is looking for information on a topic, whereas the latter ‘know simple’ query requires the algorithm to return a very specific answer (e.g. a concrete fact). 

Then there are ‘do queries’. These are high intent, where the user signals the desire to buy, download or obtain something.

There are also ‘device action queries’. Call mum, send a message, play a video, that kind of thing. Very active, and very specific to the capabilities of the smartphone.

The future

Mimi Underwood says that: “The guidelines will continue to evolve as search, and how people use it, changes. We won’t be updating the public document with every change, but we will try to publish big changes to the guidelines periodically.”

Let’s see what the next major instalment looks like. 

If you’re remotely interested in how Google works, and where it is heading, then this 160-page guide should make for some interesting bedtime reading. Dig in here.

Related reading

x-men-apocalypse-quicksilver-evan-peters
hp
millets blog
hp