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Google's Secret Quality Guidelines Revealed and Explained

By Pierre Zarokian

As the dominant search engine in the world, Google decides whether your site will gain top rankings in the organic results of its search engine. And while the company offers general guidelines on how to create a Google-friendly website, it doesn't offer any secrets that will guarantee high rankings, which is why the industry nearly went insane when some of the company's top secrets leaked out.

In October of last year, an industry blogger named PotPieGirl found an online copy of Google's Quality Rating Guidelines handbook, a 125-page document used by Google Search Quality Raters, or people trained to analyze search quality. As the document quickly spread online, industry bloggers and other sites began spilling the beans. Since then, Google has asked PotPieGirl to take down the URL of the document. However, the search giant wasn't fast enough to stop the content from spreading.

Most of us are familiar with Google's primary method of evaluating websites, through algorithms designed to reward the best sites to the top of the search engine results page, and knock down the poor-quality sites beyond reach. But Google also hires people to evaluate websites manually. The following is a highlight of the most important, top secret, information from the document on how Google manually reviews sites for quality.

Search Intent Matters

Google Raters are trained to analyze the intent of the search query when rating results. According to Google, there are four types of search queries:
  1. Know queries: the user is searching for information. (When rating results, informational pages are not rated higher than Relevant when the user is searching to complete an action.)
  2. Go queries: the user is searching for a specific page on the web.
  3. Do queries: the user is searching for a site on the web where they can do something, such as buy an item, play a game, or download digital content.
  4. Combination searches: the user is searching for a place on the Internet where they can accomplish a combination of two or three of the goals above in one query. (For example, the majority of product searches is both know and do queries, because most searchers research products on the web before making a decision to purchase the product.)
Pages that satisfy the most common interpretation are rated higher than pages that satisfy the less common interpretation.
The Grading Scale

According to the Google document, utility is the most crucial component of search engine quality. Google Raters are required to rate a URL's utility based on the following best-to-worst scale:

  • Vital: This rating is appropriate for special circumstances, including when the dominant purpose of a query is navigation, and the landing page is the purpose of the query.
  • Useful: A URL with a Useful rating must be helpful for most searches. According to Google, a Useful rating means that the URL is a good match for the query. It also has to feature some or all of the following descriptions: highly satisfying, authoritative, entertaining, and/or recent. Google describes Useful pages as typically "well organized" and trustworthy, with content from trustworthy sources, and pages that are not "spammy."
  • Relevant: Google considers Relevant pages URLS that are average to good, but not very good. Relevant pages are helpful for many or some users. While they might not reach the first page for best keywords, a Relevant page might rank well in less competitive markets or less competitive terms. Basic optimization might help transform a relevant-rated page into a Useful page.
  • Slightly Relevant: A page is rated Slightly Relevant when it has outdated information, or content that is too specific, or too broad. A Slightly Relevant page also refers to pages featuring low-quality content, copied content, or original copy that is too broad or not authoritative. Google also considers a page Slightly Relevant when it features query terms in the URLS or in the title on the landing page, but does not have quality content to support it.
  • Off-Topic or Useless: This rating is given to pages that are unrelated to the search query. An Off-Topic or Useless page also refers to spam, such as pages with links and ads, but without content.
  • Unratable: The lowest rating given by Google Raters, an Unratable page is a page that cannot be evaluated because it is in a foreign language or doesn't load. Unratable pages also refer to URLS that are blank, pages with error messages without content, non-working redirects, malware warnings, and certificate of acceptance requests. An Unratable Page might be dropped from the index, flagged for review, or pushed back in the rankings.
  • Spam Flags: In addition to the ratings above, a page can be flagged with the following spam flags:
  1. Not spam: This tag is given to a page that is not believed to be created using deceptive web design strategies.
  2. Maybe spam: This tag is given to pages that might seem "spammy," but the Google Rater is not 100 percent sure that the webmaster designed it using deceptive techniques.
  3. Spam: A page is tagged with a Spam flag when it has been designed using the deceptive techniques outlined in Google's "Webspam Guidelines," including hidden text, cloaking, Javascript redirects, Keyword-stuffed URLs, Framed pages, and computer generated nonsense.
Just as it is crucial for SEOs to understand how Google's algorithms work, it is also important to learn the way Google Raters evaluate websites. When combined with other optimization techniques, these improvements can noticeably impact your performance in organic search results.


Feb 06, 2012