Google has just announced a brand new version of its Quality Rater Guidelines, and we shall be looking at all the changes Google has made to the guidelines and why these changes are important.  The new version is dated May 16, 2019, and replaces the one released back in 2018.

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One major take away is that Google is moving a lot of the documentation in these guidelines away from using the term E-A-T (Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) and instead changing many of the instances where it was used to the term “page quality”.  While they still use the term E-A-T, they are definitely changing the usage of it in the context of quality on a page or website.

This change follows through to the actual rater activities too.  The former E-A-T slider in the rater backend has been replaced with a similar Page Quality slider instead.

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There are changes to how raters rate interstitials, which makes one suspect there might be a new or updated algorithm designed to specifically target them.  We have often seen this happen after changes were made to the Quality Rater Guidelines so that raters could then evaluate based on the new criteria.

And there are some changes to E-A-T requirements for some types of sites.

So let’s get on with all the changes and updates to the guidelines.

  • 1   Distracting Ads/SC
  • 2   Page Quality Rating FAQs
  • 3   Using the Upsetting-­Offensive Flag
  • 4   The Relationship between Page Quality and Needs Met
  • 5   Specificity of Queries and Landing Pages
  • 6   Needs Met Rating and Freshness
  • 7   Acquiring Tasks
  • 8   Simplified Needs Met Tasks
  • 9 Conclusions
    • E-A-T to Page Quality
    • Author Expertise
    • Interstitials
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1. Distracting Ads/SC

Google has added a bit more information on interstitials.  This is likely because many rater activities are mobile only, and mobile interstitials are becoming more and more commonplace, some of them to such an intrusive degree that the user has no choice but to click the interstitial or leave the page.

Google is also specifically targeting the app download interstitials, the ones where sites either hide the content, making people think they must download an app to view the content, or make it completely inaccessible unless one uses the app.  This has been becoming more of an issue, and with some very well known sites utilizing this model, it is possible we are going to see some heavier algorithmic demotions for sites that are trying to force users to download the app.

Here is what the paragraph used to say:

A single pop-over Ad with a clear and easy-to-use close button is not terribly distracting, though may not be a great user experience. However, difficult-to-close Ads that follow page scrolls can be truly distracting and make the MC difficult to use.

And the updated version:

A single pop­-over Ad or interstitial page with a clear and easy­ to ­use close button is not terribly distracting, though may not be a great user experience. However, difficult to ­close Ads that follow page scrolls, or interstitial pages that require an app download, can be truly distracting and make the MC difficult to use. You can see examples of interstitial pages here.

Look for some new or updated changes targeting this specifically.

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2. Page Quality Rating FAQs

There has been a lot of talk about author expertise when it comes to the quality rater guidelines, particularly with how site owners and authors can showcase their expertise.  This section has been changed substantially to address this a bit more from Google’s perspective.   Previously, it was implied that all content creators should have expertise.  But they have lessened this slightly, for topics that don’t fall into YMYL pages.

Here is the question asked in the FAQ

You talked about expertise when rating MC. Does  expertise matter for all topics? Aren’t there some topics for which there are no experts?

Here is the entire section response, the part in italics is the newly added section.

Remember that we are not just talking about formal expertise. High quality pages involve time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill. Sharing personal experience is a form of everyday expertise.

Specifically for content creators, everyday expertise can be assessed based on the talent/skill level depicted in the MC (e.g., great hair­styling advice, painting/crafting abilities, skillful home/DIY work, etc.). In cases where the content creator is not demonstrating formal or everyday expertise but is not doing any harm, Medium is an appropriate rating.

Pretty much any topic has some form of expert, but E­A­T is especially important for YMYL pages.

For most page purposes and topics, you can find experts even when the field itself is niche or non­-mainstream. For example, there are expert alternative medicine websites with leading practitioners of acupuncture, herbal therapies, etc. There are also pages about alternative medicine written by people with no expertise or experience. E­A­T should distinguish between these two scenarios.

One final note: if the purpose of the page is harmful, then expertise doesn’t matter. It should be rated Lowest!

So authors do not have to show specific expertise for non-YMYL pages (Your Money Or Your Life) and sites, provided the authors skill level is clear from the article, and that the author “is not doing any harm.”  This definitely brings in line with the idea that some types of sites outside the realm of YMYL do not need to go through hoops to show off expertise, if it is obvious to the reader that the author has expertise from the content presented.

Again, do note this is specifically for non YMYL sites.  The rest of the section remains the same where it goes into more detail about YMYL and sites which need to have high E-A-T.

Many people have been concerned about how to show expertise for something that is a hobby, for example, where there is no clear avenue of training to show expertise outside of skill and experience.  So for these authors, they won’t lose ratings just because there is no way for them to show that expertise they have.

Another one of the FAQ was edited slightly.

Here was the question:

Some of these criteria seem unfair. For example, some art pages do not have a purpose. Are these pages Low quality?

However the removal seems light it might have been an editing error.  The italicized part was removed.

Art pages do have a purpose: artistic expression. Pages created for artistic expression do not deserve the Low quality rating simply because they have no other
purpose. Artistic expression, humor, entertainment, sharing photos and videos, etc. are all valid and valued page purposes.

The sentence simply ends which gives the impression that this might just be an editing error instead of a deliberate removal.

3. Using the Upsetting-­Offensive Flag

Google has inexplicably removed a notation specifically for “Graphic violence, including animal cruelty or child abuse.”  One could argue it falls under the previous notation which is “Depiction of graphic violence without context or beneficial purpose.”  But this still seems an odd removal from the Quality Rater Guidelines.

Here is the section, with the part in italics removed in the updated guidelines.

Upsetting-Offensive content typically includes the following:
● Content that promotes hate or violence against a group of people based on criteria including (but not limited to)
race or ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality or citizenship, disability, age, sexual orientation, or veteran status.
● Content with racial slurs or extremely offensive terminology without context or beneficial purpose.
● Depiction of graphic violence without context or beneficial purpose.
Graphic violence, including animal cruelty or child abuse.
● Explicit how-to information about harmful activities (e.g., how-tos on human trafficking or violent assault).
● Other types of content that users in your locale would find extremely upsetting or offensive.

So while it is assumed raters will still be including animal cruelty and child abuse within the realm of using the upsetting-offensive flag, it is unusual it was singled out for removal.

4. The Relationship between Page Quality and Needs Met

Here is the start of the changes Google has made that affects the backend work the raters do.  The slider the raters use for part of their evaluations has been renamed from the E-A-T Slider to the Page Quality Slider.

Many changes were made here that were simply changing the wording from E-A-T to Page Quality.

They have made some changes in this section about guidance for assigning Needs Met and E-A-T ratings.

This has been removed:

Do not use the HM rating if a page has low E-A-T or has any other undesirable characteristic, such as outdated or inaccurate information, or if it is a poor fit for the query. We have very high standards for the HM rating.

This has been replaced with:

The HM rating may not be appropriate if a page has low Page Quality or has any other undesirable characteristic, such as outdated or inaccurate information, or if it is a poor fit for the query. We have very high standards for the HM rating.

This seems to be a slight loosening of the criteria for HM (Highly Met) for pages that have a lower page quality for any number of reasoning.  While it isn’t clear why this change was made, it was perhaps in context for something like a news site that could have an older article on something that made it somewhat inaccurate because of newer information since released, but the page could still technically meet the usual standards for HM.

They have also removed this section, likely because it was somewhat redundant.

Harmful, inaccurate, misleading, deceptive, or malicious result blocks should be rated Lowest E-A-T. Highly authoritative, expert, and the most trustworthy result blocks should be rated Highest E-A-T. Result blocks with “average” or “nothing special” expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness should be rated Medium E-A-T.

Then they added this one, to give more context to remind raters about where in the guidelines covers the summary for the types of quality pages.

Remember that if a page lacks a beneficial purpose, it should always be rated Lowest Page Quality ­ regardless of the page’s Needs Met rating or how well­designed the page may be. Please review Section 7.0 for a summary of other types of Lowest Page Quality pages.

In the examples for this section, Google has added additional context showing which each of the examples should be rated as.  They have also changed the terminology in many instances from E-A-T to Page Quality, in line with changes in the rest of the document.   They also include in each example whether the page lacks E-A-T or not.

But because Google is including whether the E-A-T is high or not for these examples, it does raise the question of how Google views E-A-T as interchangeable or not.  In many instances, they simply change references to E-A-T to Page Quality, yet in these examples, they seem to be referring to two different things.

In the first example under “symptoms of dehydration”, Google has removed a much lengthier description of what makes the page exceptionally poor.  Here is the original:

E-A-T : This is a YMYL topic. The page has many characteristics of a low quality site: no contact information, no indication of who wrote the content, no  evidence of medical expertise/authority, and heavy monetization from Ads that distract from the MC. Therefore, this page is not trustworthy.

But in the updated version, Google changed it to be much shorter and concise for the reasoning:

Page Quality : This is a YMYL topic. This page has no evidence of medical expertise/authority and is not trustworthy

Note that Google has removed the references that we see common in E-A-T… lacking contact information and lacking author information.  And just as noteworthy is the fact they have removed the reference to heavy monetization from ads.  Is this because Google no longer views heavy monitization as a signal of low quality?  Is it because it is too commonplace now, or simply that perception of heavily monetized sites are shifting where people are starting to view them as low quality as well?

5. Specificity of Queries and Landing Pages

In the examples in this section, we again see the changes from E-A-T to Page Quality.  Google continues to give rating examples here as well, detailing how high or low each example should be rated.  There are some more unusual changes.  In the Nerd Wallet example, Google has removed the reference that it has been “recommended by CNNMoney and The New York Times” and changed it to simply “several major newspapers.”

Later, in the Target examples, it has changed the description of what type of store Target is.  And in the electronics example and in the later jeggings example, Google has changed it to be more positive, from “E-A-T : Target has a good reputation, but is not an expert or authority on much of what it sells” to “Page Quality : Target is a popular shopping website in the U.S. with high E­A­T and is trusted by users for online purchases. High to High+ is an appropriate rating.”

6. Needs Met Rating and Freshness

Changes here are changing from E-A-T to Page Quality.

7. Acquiring Tasks

It would appear that quality raters are now going to be evaluating voice search results, or other sound related content, because now quality raters are required to have headphones or speakers to rate.  And the new screenshot here shows tasks labelled with headphones or speakers required to do them.

Headphones or speakers required: This label indicates that the task requires headphones or speakers (for example, to listen to an audio file).

They also removed the experimental features line:

Experimental: This text indicates that there is an Experimental task available.

They also changed the followup line detailing tasks.  Here is the original:

Please note there are other types of rating tasks (e.g., Result Review, Side-by-Side). Sometimes there will be only one task type available, but other times you may see more than one type displayed. When there is more than one type displayed, you may choose the type you want to acquire.

And the updated version in the new guidelines:

Please note you may see other types of labels next to the button on the task acquisition page. Sometimes there will be only one button, while other times you may see more than one button displayed to distinguish tasks with different requirements. When there is more than one displayed, you may choose the one you want to acquire.

8. Simplified Needs Met Tasks

All of the screenshots here have been updated with new examples.

Conclusions

E-A-T to Page Quality

The biggest change is the moving away from the term E-A-T in many cases, and now referring to it as Page Quality instead.  This isn’t to mean that Google is doing away with E-A-T at all.  It is still an important part of the Quality Rater Guidelines and how raters are rating and evaluating pages.  But Google is making more of a distinction between page quality and E-A-T specifically.  Some site owners can get confused with E-A-T, especially with how they could or should implement it for their own sites, particularly with some conflicting information in the SEO space regarding E-A-T specifically.

Does this mean site owners should not consider E-A-T as it pertains to their own sites?  No.  But Google does seem to want to use the more generic page quality terminology, particularly for the many types of sites that don’t fall into the realm of YMYL.

And E-A-T is a rather wordy and in the grand scheme of things, it does fall into the realm of Page Quality.  But page quality also includes many things not included specifically in E-A-T, so this is also a change where Google starting to hold raters and the pages they rate to a higher standard.  It is possible to fake E-A-T but not as easy to do it for overall page quality.

And onto this, these changes could also be targeting all the “how to fake or make your E-A-T” tactics that are being promoted in the industry.  A few years ago, not many sites thought about E-A-T specifically, at least not in the realm of doing it just for Google rather than doing it to enhance user experience on their site.  But signals of page quality are harder to fake, especially against other high quality sites.

Change for non-YMYL is pretty significant.  There has been so much confusion about how site owners should be showing E-A-T on sites where the content does not “potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.”  Many types of sites fall into this realm, particularly sites such as hobby sites.  This clarification makes it less stringent for non-YMYL sites to adhere to what they thing Google wants to see with E-A-T.

Now, just because Google changed this does not mean that all sites should stop trying to show E-A-T to their site visitors.  While it is lessened when it comes to raters rating pages (which do not directly impact rankings, but are instead used to test potential changes or updates) it is important to not forget that even average visitors to websites look at these types of signals as well on pages and sites they visit.  So do make sure you are continuing to show E-A-T on all pages and sites, even if it is not a YMYL site.

Consider this with the related change from E-A-T to Page Quality throughout the document, and we do see how Google is changing how E-A-T is utilized overall, but also that their mantra of page quality – which many Googlers have repeatedly talked about over the years – is becoming more front and center.  Even if you show E-A-T, you need to ensure your page quality is just as high.

Interstitials

This change to interstitials is particularly important as we are going to see a stronger demotion in the search results for obtrusive uses of interstitials, especially as Google is moving over to a fully mobile only search results index.

Google did release an interstital penalty over two two years ago specifically to target sites that were using interstitials.  This was particularly aimed at app interstitials, which would make people think they had to download the app in order to see the content on the page that is hidden either behind an interstitial that could not be closed, or by requiring a massively long scroll down process to see the content.  But many site owners and searchers didn’t see a lot of impact from this, with some sites notorious for using the techniques still doing it.

But we have seen some sites drop this tactic – at least on the first click from the search results – so perhaps they did see an impact from it as time went on, especially if Google has strengthened it since the initial launch.  But expect to see Google targeting those sites using obtrusive interstitials to begin getting hit again in search rankings.

You can download the latest version of the Google Quality Rater Guidelines here.



Thursday, May 30, 2019







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