Google bot

Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, RankBrain and if you’ve been involved in SEO for a long time, maybe even Florida. These are the names of well-known Google algorithm updates.

How does Google update or make algorithm changes?

When Google engineers have an idea to improve the search results for users, they start by getting feedback from their paid evaluators. Google evaluators rate the usefulness of the search results for a given set of queries based on Google’s search quality guidelines.

Next, evaluators are shown two different sets of search results for the same query – one from the old algorithm and one from the new one – and asked which one they like more. This is known as the side-by-side experiment.

If all the feedback from the evaluators is good, they move on to the live experiment where a small portion of live traffic on Google views the search results from the new algorithm. Engineers watch to see if the live experiment really does improve the search results or not.

Finally, Google engineers evaluate all the data and decide whether the change should be implemented or not; if so, they launch it.

And that’s how Google updates come to life, the vast majority of them no one but Google engineers know about – and I suspect that’s how they’d like it to be. Since Matt Cutts took “leave” from Google, Google does not publicize algorithm updates as much.

Although Google’s evaluators feedback does not directly impact search rankings (that’s what Google tells us), it’s clear that they play a vital role in the development of a new algorithm. The guidelines that Google evaluators use to measure search quality is a type of blueprint for what Google’s algo is striving to achieve.

Now that we know how Google’s algo changes, how can I benefit from it (and get better search rank)?

Google’s search quality evaluators are outsourced people who know what Google means when they talk about search quality, down to the minute details of a web page. And what I’m about to share with you comes from explicit guidelines that Google evaluators follow when they examine web pages for specific search terms.

Let’s say an evaluator comes across your web page for a given search query, one of the things they will try to establish for the page and your site is its reputation.

Does this web page have an expert opinion on this topic?

If reputable sources and experts on the topic of your web page would not agree with your claims, that could earn your site a low reputation. But, if expert sources recommend your business, that’s strong evidence of a positive reputation. Some may interpret an expert’s recommendation as a link to your site, which is clearly good, but even the mention of your brand name by expert sources is valuable and can establish a positive reputation.

If you don’t have expert sources vouching for your business, you may want to begin by examining what the experts say about the topics of your site and then align with them accordingly. One common issue for business sites is coming across a bit too salesy. Another issue is not appearing to be up-to-date with the latest developments in your industry even though you really are.

Expert sources can make a huge improvement to your online reputation, so consider a plan going forward to acquire mentions and endorsements from them. And, just so you know, buying an ad won’t do it.

Consider The Source
Consider the source

Do customers like this business?

If evaluators come across customer reviews, they will interpret them carefully, especially when there are only a few because anyone can write them and most businesses get a few negative reviews; the content of the reviews also matters. But, if you have a large number of positive reviews that’s evidence of a positive reputation.

One solution to improve your online credibility and reputation is to encourage happy customers to review your product or service online.

Reputation management and marketing is designed to push negative reviews down by replacing them with positive reviews and to make it very easy for prospects to find those positive ratings and reviews in all the right places. Do you have a plan in place to increase positive customer reviews for your business? If not, consider adding one.

customer reviews

Does the quality of this page and website ring true and clear?

There’s no need to discuss deceptive, misleading or harmful intent sites, except that some sites fall into this lowest of the low quality category because they fail to provide adequate website information like a legit way to make contact, or not disclosing who is behind the site, or providing unreliable information.

In addition, if there’s evidence the site has been abandoned or hacked or violates Google’s publicly stated Webmaster Quality Guidelines (which they update from time to time), your site will be thrown into the lowest quality category of sites on the Web.

Evaluators look closely at the main content of a web page along with other elements like navigation and advertisements to determine if it directly helps the page achieve its purpose. The main content should be the reason the page exists and its quality is important.

  • Is there a satisfying amount of quality main content on the page or not enough?
  • Does the supplementary content (navigation, testimonials, ads, links, etc.) add to a satisfying user experience or does it distract from the purpose of the page?
  • Does the design of the page function so that users can focus on the main content and use supplementary content as desired or is some other agenda being pushed?
  • Is the website well cared for and maintained or does it make one wonder if everything is current and ok there?

If you aren’t getting consistent feedback from the people who use your site, consider a user experience analysis and then make changes accordingly. Try UserTesting, crazyegg, or Loop11. That may open your eyes to see things from your web visitor’s point of view that you never knew or imagined.

Functionally you’ll want to look over your website for these common user experience problems:

  • Internal broken links to other pages of your site and broken links from external sites to yours – these tend to escalate after a redesign
  • Page load time issues for both desktops and mobile
  • Assess content to ensure that it reveals the true value of the business so people who visit come away with clear, unique messages that won’t soon be forgotten
  • See to it that your content funnel guides prospects in the way that they like to buy rather than the way you like to sell

Quality Approved

Is this a high quality web page and site or average for this topic?

If your page and website are expert, authoritative or trustworthy for the topic of the page, evaluators will mark it as high quality.

Seal of high quality
High quality advice should come from people or organizations with appropriate expertise or accreditation – for example, medical advice should come from individuals with credentials. The same goes for other types of advice: legal, taxes, financial, home improvement, parenting and so on.

Some topics do not require formal expertise and people who have sufficient life experience in those topics can be considered experts on things like movies, restaurants, hobbies, product reviews, illnesses, diets, etc.

Unfortunately, many businesses outsource their web content to a copywriter who does not and cannot know the hidden value of the business because they are outside. The real value of a business is often an internal expert, process, mission or team – the core reason the business is making money.

Find a way to bring your most valuable internal people into the online marketing creative process so that the web professionals and subsequently prospects completely get what makes the business unique and great.

I could share a number of ways and examples on how to get this done, but when you do, your website will come across as it should with more authority, expertise and trustworthiness to those that matter most to your business.

Is this a YMYL site?

YMYL is short for Your Money or Your Life sites and include medical, financial, health, safety, sites that require personal identification, provide advice on major life issues, even ecommerce sites that sell expensive products or products that have major life implications:

  • Online banking, pages that provide info on investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchase, buying insurance, etc.
  • Pages that provide info on health, drugs, diseases, mental health, nutrition, etc.
  • Pages that provide legal advice on divorce, child custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
  • Expensive products or a major investment/important life event (e.g., cars, washing machines, computers, wedding gifts, baby products)
  • There are many other web pages that fall under YMYL at the discretion of the evaluator.

When an evaluator identifies a YMYL site, they will research its reputation as mentioned above, probably more thoroughly.

YMYL sites must convince Google’s evaluators that they possess a healthy level of credibility and online reputation. Learn more about YMYL sites here.

YMYL sites can fall off the first page of Google for any of the above areas: expert opinion alignment, customer reviews, page and site quality, marks of expertise, authoritativeness or trustworthiness.


As you can see rankings can be influenced by all sorts of web page elements other than the keywords found on the page.

Can you see where search is heading? Google actually has a way to go to get there – they are a big company that moves slow but calculated; and with the info in this post, you now know how to get there first and wait on Google to catch up – and along the way you’ll likely discover some nuggets that make a real difference in attracting and acquiring your ideal prospect online.

And at the end of the day, it’s far better to design your site and content in a way that excites your ideal prospect because you know them well, rather than trying to follow the rules at Google. Never let Google overrule what you know is best for your audience.

Tom Shivers
Tom Shivers

I'm a ecommerce SEO consultant and President of Capture Commerce. I've managed digital marketing campaigns for scores of clients since 2000 and found that every business is unique with its own challenges and opportunities. When I see that I have contributed to the success of a business by helping them grow, it makes me feel awesome! That’s the coolest thing and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to do this.

    2 replies to "What Businesses Need To Know About Google Search Quality"

    • David

      This is great info. Does the web design, layout etc. affect page ranking?

    • Tom Shivers

      Thanks David. To answer your question I’d say anything about your web design and layout that either adds to a satisfying user experience or distracts from the purpose of the page can impact rankings.

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