Search quality rating stamp - Useful

What Is Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines?

And How To Use It To Improve Content

 Search quality rating stamp - UsefulYesterday we announced Google’s public release of their Search Quality Rating Guidelines. I’m betting that many bloggers don’t understand what these guidelines are for and in this post I’ll explain exactly what they are and how it can help you as a blogger. I will also cover a few key points but a complete breakdown of the 43 page document will be in a future post.

Update: It was posted on Search Engine Land today that Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines was edited (gutted) before it was released last week. The post said it went from 161 pages to just the 43 pages. I started digging around in my hard drive but could only find one from March 30, 2011. Sure enough, that document was 125 pages long.I doubt anyone is surprised.

Why Did Google Release The Document Publicly?

Before we get into the meat of the guidelines, I think it’s important to take a look at why Google may have publically released it.  I don’t have the answer but it’s something to think about. I would like to think that it’s Google’s attempt at becoming more transparent, when possible. I can’t see how anything in there could be used for search manipulation without actually improving the content we write. A win – win? You be the judge;

Back in September 2012, Shoemoney published a post that questioned Google’s motives, as well as the document it’s self: What if the Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines are written with leaks in mind? While I’m not yet ready to get that skeptical, it’s not out of the question that the content was written in the beginning with the understanding that it would be leaked. I actually had access to it myself.

With that said, now that it has been released, we KNOW that it’s written with the understanding that everyone from SEO pros to the basic blogger would study it inside and out. I actually just spent several hours doing just that. 😉

Why Did Google Release Their Search Quality Rating Guidelines Publicly?

What Exactly Is The Search Quality Rating Guidelines

The document released this week ONLY covers URL rating. Search Quality Raters have other rating tasks but the guidelines released, and this blog post, only cover URL rating. The guide is nothing more than a condensed version of a URL rater’s handbook.

What Is The Search Quality Rating Program?

Google has a group of search quality raters that perform assigned search queries and ‘judge’ the links they find in Google’s search engine results pages. This is one method Google uses to grade the quality and effectiveness of their search results.

What Are Search Quality Raters?

Google’s Search Quality Raters are people, (yes, humans, not spiders) that rate the results found in a Google search. Quality Raters do not work directly for Google, they are contractors with third party companies. In this guide, those raters are assigning a ‘grade’ to the actual landing pages found in the SERPs. Raters do not DIRECTLY influence the website’s ranking.

While a rater may give a particular URL a score, that score does not directly increase or decrease a given website’s ranking. Instead these scores are used in aggregate to evaluate search quality and make decisions about changes.

What Can The Guide Teach Us About Writing Content And Search?

Quality Rating Guidelines For Higher Quality Content: I can’t cover everything in the guidelines that I feel are important without writing a book about it. I feel there are far too many important aspects to cover in a single blog post so I highly recommend you download it yourself and read it. Or, alternatively, you can wait for our breakdown of the guideline in the near future. It’s not a tough read at all and it can help IF you read it with the following in mind…

Google clearly tells their URL raters that they “Must Represent the User.” With that in mind, I suggest that YOU read it as if you were the rater. By that, I mean, if you understand how the rater does their job, and their job is to determine quality on the query (keywords), you can use that knowledge to improve the quality of both your content and your targeted keywords.

For example, if you found this post under the search term, “Download Search Quality Rating Guidelines“, that might seem like a success on my part, right? But, if you were thinking like a rater, that search query should pull up more useful content for the searcher. Even though we have linked to the download, that is not what this article is about and it would probably be assigned a lower rating of “Slightly Relevant.” A much better search query to target would be “What Is Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines“, which is in our descriptive title. It that scenario, I would hope for a rating of “Useful“. Can you say, “Lower bounce rate?”

Think about it; if we understand the URL rater, and they represent the searcher, we will understand the searcher that much better. Keyword research is fantastic but we MUST rank for the right keyword phrases, not necessarily the most common ones with the least amount of competition. Oh yeah, that’s right, I said it. 😉

Key Points Covered

There are basically five ratings that are assigned to a ‘human checked‘ page. The sixth one is a rating of Unratable because the page didn’t load or it’s in a foreign language.

  1. Vital: The best rating is Vital. The “Vital” rating is rare and I think most of us would have to work much harder to expect that honor.
  2. Useful: Next is “Useful” and that rating should have us smiling ear to ear. A useful rating means the rater thinks the content is helpful for most users as it relates to the searched terms.
  3. Relevant: The third grade is “Relevant” and that means it is helpful to many users but not as helpful a Useful content.
  4. Slightly Relevant: As we do downhill, we get to “Slightly Relevant” content and that is, of course, a sign that we’re showing up for less relevant search terms. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s not our primary targeted keywords.
  5. Off-Topic or Useless: Are you ready for the big fat “F“? I would hope that all of my readers do better at writing original and targeted content than this but raters can give the “Off-Topic or Useless” score to content they feel is helpful for no one or very few searchers. Ouch!

A More Detailed Post Is Coming

Rather than risk losing our reader’s attention (that’s you) by writing a five thousand word blog post, I’ll save the actual rating guideline breakdown for a future post/s.

Did You Find This Post Helpful?

You are my raters! Let me know how well I did in the comments below and by sharing the post on your blog or favorite social networks. I’m here for you and your opinion is appreciated and always welcome.

About Brian D. Hawkins

Blogging superhero by day and internet super villain by night. Blogger, future online millionaire and an all around great guy.


  1. Hey Brian,

    I always thought that Google spiders determine the relevancy and quality of any website. I wasn’t aware that Google use human force as well to determine the webpage relevancy.

    • Hi Aasma, There are all kinds of human checks from Google. Even when a site is reported for a violation, an actual person is supposed to followup to be sure it’s not a mistake.

  2. Brian, thanks for explaining this one! Mitch and Cheryl too as I’m listening to the video.
    I had downloaded the pdf and read through it but some of it was so technical!
    Off-topic is interesting. Does that mean if you write a post that is off-topic of your primary niche it brings your blog rank down?
    So who is rating? Mitch and Cheryl have me confused, is it grandma or a google person? Interesting take 🙂

    • Thanks Lisa, It’s funny, you mentioned something that caught my eye as well. There are several statements like that, that made me do a double take. I’ll be writing a more detailed post on it later, I just don’t want the week’s worth of content to be about the document – it’s just not that important.

  3. I have downloaded and will read in the free time. Thanks for writing. Google SEO update always keeps the bloggers on their toes.

  4. HI Michael,

    Strange if Google is using third party raters, but who is going to rate them then. Humans cannot be as objective as software is.

    Thanks for the share.


  5. Rashmi Sinha says

    MAN!!! they truly are the god of the internet. They check it than double check it to make sure every thing is working fine and according to their “best laid out plan”!!!
    I am eagerly waiting for your next post on this.
    thanks for this share though 🙂

  6. I am rather confused, so will be watching for your further discussions on these rating guidelines. As a website designer, if I write a blog about the music that I’m listening to while I work, am I getting “rated down” by Google because I have gone off topic?

  7. It’s about time Google opens the door to what they are doing. I don’t know, but whenever I read about those things I’m like “There must be more…”.
    I have no problem Google wants to “improve the quality” of the Internet. But by who’s standards and what if I don’t agree? I’ll move to Internet #2?
    Try to be on-topic writing a blog that’s not really tied to a “niche”. That’s “out of the ordinary” posts 24/7.
    I guess the most “on topic” sites would be “the adult” sites…

  8. Hey very useful information. Google is always changing it’s algorithm and search rating guidelines, so these type of articles are really very useful as sometimes i don’t when Google has changed it’s algorithm. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. I am not that sure that Google opened up its door. Maybe just a bit, but not wide open:) It’s just “funny” (read painful) how Google changed in time…specially after going public. But, thank you for sharing the Google “human” factor!

Speak Your Mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.