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Change log: Google updated its Search Quality Rater Guidelines



Google updated its Search Quality Rater Guidelines on September 5; the update was first brought to the attention of the SEO community via a tweet from SEM consultant Marie Haynes. This latest version places more emphasis on vetting news sources as well as YMYL content and its creators and expands the basis for which a rater might apply the lowest ratings to content that may potentially spread hate. The previous update occurred on May 16.

Below is an analysis of the changes. The May 16 version of the guidelines appears on the left-hand side of the screenshots, with the corresponding section of the latest version on the right-hand side.

2.3: Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) Pages

Addition of the word “topics,” broadening the content that this section may pertain to beyond web pages.

The previous “News articles or public/official Information pages Important for having an Informed citizenry” and the “Legal Information pages” sections have been reorganized and replaced with “News and current events” and “Civics, government, and law,” which now appear at the top of the list.

“News and current events” features examples of news that may not necessarily be considered YMYL. The term “voting” is explicitly mentioned in the new “Civics, government, and law” section.

“Shopping” and “Finance” are now two separate categories. “Shopping” YMYL content now includes “information about or services related to research or purchase of goods/services,” such as reviews.

“Groups of people” is also a new section; the description could be interpreted as pertaining to hate groups, solidarity groups or anything in between.

The “Other” section now also provides more examples of content that could be considered YMYL.

2.5.2 Finding Who is Responsible for the Website and Who Created the Content on the Page

This subsection of 2.5 (Understanding the Website) adds “Websites want users to be able to distinguish between content created by themselves versus content that was added by other users.” For users, being able discern between in-house and third-party content may affect the publisher’s reputation. For example, lyrics website Genius accused Google of stealing its content; only then did Google disclose that it licenses lyrics from third parties.

The final sentence of the subsection increases the responsibility borne by websites that syndicate content from just having to possess the appropriate licenses to now also potentially being held accountable for the quality of that licensed content.

2.6.1 Research on the Reputation of the Website or Creator of the Main Content

This subsection of 2.6 (Reputation of the Website or Creator of the Main Content) puts more emphasis on print media by replacing “newspaper website” with “newspaper (with an associated website).” It also allows search quality raters to take a track record of high-quality, original reporting into account — not just awards won by a publication.

4.6 Examples of High Quality Pages

The Page Quality (PQ) Rating and Explanation sections of three examples have been expanded. In line with the additions from 2.6.1 above, the news explanations now include having a positive reputation for objective reporting and investigative journalism.

Overall, the guidelines seem to be moving away from Pulitzers as the be all, end all of awards and are instructing raters to acknowledge other accolades as well.

5.0 Highest Quality Pages

Section 5.1 (Very High Quality Main Content) now expands YMYL topics outside the bounds of news articles and information pages. There are now criteria for news, artistic and informational content.

Section 5.2 (Very Positive Reputation) removes the reference to E-A-T and reminds raters to carefully check the reputation of YMYL content creators.

Section 5.3 (Very High Level of E-A-T) raises the overall bar for YMYL content, but acknowledges that standards for E-A-T will vary. It also adds video as a content source.

5.4 (Examples of Highest Quality Pages) now features two examples of high-quality news, with explanations that emphasize awards, high-quality main content, uniqueness, originality, depth and investigative journalism.

The “Highest: Entertainment” example is not present on the latest iteration of the guidelines.

The explanations for three high-quality video examples have been expanded to include uniqueness and originality.

6.7 Examples of Low Quality Pages

Four examples from this section now carry the YMYL label.

7.3 Pages That Potentially Spread Hate

“Criteria” has been removed and replaced with broader bases for applying the lowest page rating. There is also a stronger emphasis on groups.

11.0 Page Quality Rating FAQs

Google has made it more explicit to its raters that pages existing for the sake of artistic expression, humor, entertainment and the like are “all valid and valued page purposes,” and thus may not necessarily deserve a low quality rating because they do not serve more practical purposes.

12.9 Rating on Your Phone Issues

Google is no longer telling raters to assume, by default, that queries with device-specific results were issued on an Android device.

13.2.1 Examples of Fully Meets (FullyM) Result Blocks

The note once-attached to this explanation has been removed. This is in line with abandoning the assumption that device-specific results are coming from Android devices (mentioned above in 12.9).

13.5.1 Examples of Slightly Meets (SM) Result Blocks

The “ellen degeneres” example has been removed.

13.6 Fails to Meet (FailsM)

The “zoo atlanta” example has been removed.

14.6.1 Using the Upsetting-Offensive Flag

As with section 7.3, the word “criteria” has been removed, allowing for a wider bases with which to justify applying the Upsetting-Offensive flag. There is also additional emphasis on groups of people.

About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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Rand Fishkin on optimizing for and against Google



NEW YORK – Google’s relationship with brands has shifted from referrer to competitor, SparkToro CEO and co-founder Rand Fishkin said at SMX East on Wednesday during his keynote about how the search engine’s business model has been evolving.

Now that the majority of Google searches are no-click, companies will have to find on-SERP opportunities to reach their audiences and strengthen their branding so that users will actively seek them out, said Fishkin.

The zero-click search trend

More than half (56.1%) of Google searches conducted from a mobile browser and 34.9% of Google desktop searches ended without a click to other content, according to Jumpshot data. “However, the trend is the same: organic, going down; while paid and zero-click searches are on the rise,” said Fishkin.

Source: SparkToro.

“In September, 7.5% of all searches resulted in a click to an Alphabet property,” said Fishkin. “Google is the biggest beneficiary of Google Search today. Nobody else comes close to that 7.5% number.”

From middleman to “competitor”

In addition to organic click volume eroding, Google’s direct answers and its foray into verticals resolves searches in numerous industries, such as weather, travel, local, and reviews, without the user ever having to click through to the sites that originally published that information.

“This is widespread, friends,” said Fishkin, citing results from Google Hotels, Flights, Jobs, the local pack and other types of rich results surfacing on the main results page. “We are talking about results that are taking business away from Skyscanner and Kayak in travel, from Eater and Yelp in local results, from U.S. News and FiveThirtyEight in the college rankings, from Wunderground and, from MetaCritic and PC Gamer, and basically everybody but Alphabet when it comes to a lot of popular culture and media stuff.”

What brands can do about it

“We have to find ways to make our brand what searchers seek out,” said Fishkin. “I don’t want searches for ‘weather’; I want searches for my brand: I want searches for ‘Weather Underground’ and ‘’ and ‘Weather Channel.’ I want to find ways to benefit from zero-click searches.”

Despite the bleak outlook for organic traffic in certain industries, there are still a number of ways that brands can influence what Fishkin refers to as “post-search behavior.”

Source: SparkToro.

Designing content with rich results in mind is one way companies can increase their visibility on the search results page — what Fishkin refers to as and “on-SERP SEO” — and the attribution from those results may help familiarize users with your brand. Buying ads will also help you do this, Fishkin said.

Offline brand campaigns, such as billboards, radio and TV ads can also influence search behavior. If users are actively seeking out your brand, claiming or suggesting changes to your knowledge panel can help you positively influence brand perception. To bolster your brand even further, Fishkin recommended reputation management SEO to help control branded search results.

The prisoner’s dilemma for brands

“The prisoner’s dilemma is ‘Do I optimize for zero-click searches, for providing these answers, for marking my results the way Google wants them — and potentially losing traffic as a result?’” said Fishkin, highlighting the predicament that many brands are now finding themselves in.

If your brand doesn’t benefit from ranking for a given query without traffic or doesn’t receive credit for it, you should instead optimize for keywords that do send traffic, Fishkin said. Source: SparkToro.

Fishkin’s mechanism for navigating this dilemma divides the issue into two categories: one for all types of content that can surface as a rich result (above), and another specifically for search results derived from structured data (below).

Brands should consider whether they will gain or lose value from adding structured data, and whether it’s more practical to cede the answer box to a competitor and pursue other keyword opportunities. Source: SparkToro.

“All of us have to try and build walls to protect against the competition that will absolutely come to sector after sector from Google as they search for growth … that is just the reality,” said Fishkin. “But, I think we have an opportunity to build our own brands and still succeed.”

Relying on search engines to reach your customers inherently makes brands susceptible to the way those search engines deliver results. However, by complementing your SEO efforts with a strategy that creates demand for your brand, you may be able to insulate yourself and stay ahead of the competition.

About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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Understanding referrer clicks and how they can skew search engine market share



As every search marketer knows, clicks are a key metric in measuring search traffic, yet counting clicks can be a complicated thing. All clicks are not the same. There are paid clicks. There are organic clicks. There are mobile clicks. And many times there are clicks that get quickly redirected in the blink of an eye without a user even realizing it. These redirected clicks can cause discrepancies and confusion in click reports.

Consider this: a recent post from StatCounter shows a search engine market share of Google 88.37% and Bing 6.07%. At the same time, other sites such as Statista, show Google at 62.5% with Microsoft sites (Bing) at 25%. And even another site, comScore, places U.S. Bing share at 36% on PC and 20% across all devices. Why such large discrepancies? What is driving the confusion? The answer requires an understanding of the mechanics of ad serving and web referrals.

Referrers are links that drive traffic to other websites, moving people around the internet. A referrer site is simply the site that a person was on right before they came to your page. But sometimes referrer sites get misrepresented. A click can get diverted to an ad server, then quickly redirected to your page. Take for example the retailer, Kohls. A person is surfing the Kohls website and clicks on a picture of a TAG Heuer watch:

From a user experience, this shopper goes directly from the Kohls website to TAG’s website. And yet on paper, the referrer click gets credited to Google. Why is this? Through Google’s AdSense program, the click from Kohl’s gets quickly redirected to Google’s ad server before going to The click referral is attributed to Google not Kohl’s. The clicks from ad servers can add up and skew market share, even though these are not direct search queries from a search engine.

It’s good to understand how sites such as StatCounter or JumpShot calculate their data by combining search engine referrals with ads from syndicated websites in their referrer metrics. Referrer can be rich with insightful information, but should be carefully analyzed and understood before making any optimization or business decisions. Search marketers should also stay vigilant for redirects on referrer click reports as often times there is more to a click than meets the eye.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

​Christi Olson is a Search Evangelist at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. For over a decade Christi has been a student and practitioner of SEM. Prior to joining the Bing Ads team within Microsoft, Christi worked in marketing both in-house and at agencies at Point It, Expedia, Harry & David, and Microsoft (MSN, Bing, Windows). When she’s not geeking out about search and digital marketing she can be found with her husband at ACUO crossfit and running races across the PacificNW, brewing and trying to find the perfect beer, and going for lots of walks with their two schnauzers and pug.

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Want to speak at SMX West? Here’s how



Want to showcase your knowledge of search marketing to our SMX West attendees? We’d love to hear from you, and if you wow us with your proposal we’ll invite you to speak at the conference. To increase the odds of being selected, be sure to read the agenda. Understand what the sessions are about. Ensure that your pitch is on target to the show’s audience and the session. Please also be very specific about what you intend to cover. Also, if you do not see a particular session listed, this is because there are no openings for that session. Use this form to submit your request.

PLEASE NOTE: We have changed the pitch process. We’ve put together session titles that we plan to run at the show, and we’re looking for you to tell us what key learning objectives and takeaways you’ll offer to attendees. Detailed instructions are on the pitch form.

As you might guess, interest is high in speaking at SMX conferences. We literally sift through hundreds of submissions to select speakers for the show. Here are some tips that will increase your chances of being selected.

Pitch early: Submitting your pitch early gives you a better chance of being selected. Coordinators accept speakers as soon as they identify a pitch that they think best fits the session, just like colleges that use a rolling admissions policy. So pitching early increases the likelihood you’ll be chosen.

Use the form: The speaker pitch form ( is the way to ask to speak. There’s helpful information there about how your pitch should be written and what it should contain.

Write it yourself and be specific: Lots of pitches come in that are not specific to the session. This is the most effective ways to ensure that your pitch is ignored. And this year, we’re no longer accepting pitches written by anyone other than a proposed speaker. If you’re a thought leader, write the pitch yourself… and make certain that it is 100% focused on the session topic.

“Throw your best pitch:” We’re limiting the number of pitches to three per person, so please pitch for the session(s) where you really feel you’ll offer SMX attendees your best.

NEW: SMX Insights Sessions. What are they? 8-10 minute solo sessions that pack a punch and wow attendees with content they can’t and won’t see anywhere else. Tactical. Specific. Actionable. Speakers are challenged to deliver the goods in a limited amount of time: one must-try tactic, one nugget of sage advice, or one takeaway that makes you more productive. Have a gem to share with your colleagues? Pitch your idea and you may make it to the SMX stage!

You’ll be notified: Everyone who pitches to speak will be notified by email whether you are accepted or not.

And don’t delay—the pitch forms for each session will close as sessions are filled, with everything closing Friday, November 29.

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