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Quality Raters Guidelines and Google Ranking Signals

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There is a trend in SEO to seek answers to the Broad Core Update in Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines (Quality Raters Guidelines). But does the Quality Raters Guidelines have clues to Google’s algorithm or is it simply a manual for teaching third party contractors how to evaluate a website?

The Quality Raters Guidelines is where the idea of E-A-T (expertise, authority and trustworthiness) originated. The SEO industry believes that for certain websites, a lack of expertise, authority or trustworthiness is the reason why they may have lost traffic.

Google Ranks Sites with E-A-T

It’s not an unreasonable assumption that Google aspires to rank sites that are expert, authoritative and trustworthy. So it follows that sites that lack those qualities may suffer during a Google update.

Quality Raters and Author Biographies

The Quality Raters Guidelines also asks their quality raters to check the author biography to make sure the authors are expert, to verify if they hold credentials or display awards. The reason is that Google wants the raters to understand how to verify if the authors are credible.

The SEO industry responded by treating the author bio as a powerful ranking signal. The lack of an author bio is cited by many SEOs in Google’s Webmaster Help Forum as a reason why a site may have lost rankings.

The author bio and the author credibility is held by some in the SEO industry as such powerful ranking signals, that the lack of those signals are enough to cause a site to lose rankings.

Quality Raters Guidelines Does Not Describe Ranking Signals

The Quality Raters Guidelines exists as a document to instruct third party raters on how to review experiments to the algorithm.

The Quality Raters Guidelines does not discuss ranking signals. It teaches non-experts how to review a website. That’s it.

Raters Guidelines Teaches How to Rate

Those who use the Quality Raters Guidelines for insights into the algorithm are misled. The Quality Raters Guidelines provides insights into how Google describes a quality website.

It does not describe ranking signals or elements of Google’s algorithm. So when Google instructs raters to check Wikipedia, news websites and review aggregators like Yelp, that does not mean that Google uses those as ranking signals.

It simply means that Google wants the raters to verify site quality for purposes of evaluating whether a change to Google’s algorithm is working or not. It’s reasonable for Google to ask raters to check a third party as opposed to relying on their gut instinct, right?

That’s probably why Google asks their raters to check with a third party to verify whether a site or an author is credible, as that’s a stronger proof than a rater’s subjective judgment.

Raters Guidelines is Not an SEO Bible

The Quality Raters Guidelines do not provide a reference point to what the algorithm is doing.

To use that document for the purpose of understanding Google’s algorithm is a mistake and leads to erroneous conclusions.

The raters guidelines contain ideas for helping to build a high quality website. But it does not describe specific ranking signals. 

No Need to Optimize a Site for Quality Raters

Many people are reading the Google Quality Raters Guidelines and worrying about how a rater or Google is going to rate their site. So they are optimizing their site for the quality raters, by following what is written in the Quality Raters Guidelines.

But giving hints as to what the algorithm does is not what the guidelines are for.

John Mueller explains the role of quality raters:

“Essentially our quality raters, what they do is when teams at Google make improvements to the algorithm, we’ll try to test those improvements.

So what will happen is, we’ll send the quality raters a list of search results pages with a version with that change and without that change, and they’ll go through and see like which of these results are better and why are they better.

And to help them evaluate those two, we have the quality raters guidelines.”

The Quality Raters Guidelines exist to help the raters evaluate search results. They do not describe specific ranking signals.

Quality Raters Do Not Directly Affect Rankings

John Mueller then affirmed that the quality raters work does not directly affect rankings of the individual sites they are looking at. The reason is because what the raters are evaluating is Google’s algorithm, not sites. The purpose of reviewing websites is to rate how well the algorithm changes are working.

Here is how John Mueller explains it:

“So it’s not the case that anything that a search quality rater would do would immediately affect your website or any particular website.

You don’t need to send things to them…you don’t need to optimize things for them specifically.

But rather they help us to improve our algorithms so that we can automatically review or algorithmically review the whole web when it comes to understanding the relevance of these pages overall.”

Quality Raters Job is Independent to Ranking

John Mueller then makes reference to specific pages quality raters are required to review and says that it’s not something publishers should worry about.

Here is what Mueller said:

“So it’s not something where you would have to worry about whether the search quality raters look at specific pages on your website or what they do.

Because what these quality raters do is totally independent of how your website ranks.”

Look for a Patent or a Research Paper

The best way to understand if something is in Google’s algorithm is to search for a patent or research paper that is filed. Search engines and universities file patents in order to protect their findings. Google publicly shares many research papers, as do universities such as Stanford. Even Microsoft shares research papers.

This is something a great many people fail to understand, that the technologies in use by search engines are described in patents and research papers. They’re not always easy to understand, and it’s never known whether what’s described is actually being used.

But the fact that a research paper has been published can serve as a proof of concept that something hypothesized as a ranking signal could actually be one. The existence of research validates and upgrades the hypothesis to a theory, something that has a possibility of being true.

Search Engine Patent Resource

If you don’t know how to research patents or research papers, visit Bill Slawski’s site, SEOBytheSea. If it’s been patented, it’s likely he’s written about it.

SEO Faith and SEO Fact

Many of the theories tied to the Quality Raters Guidelines do not have a basis or foundation in patents or research. For example, the idea that a biography is a strong ranking signal, strong enough to cause a site to lose its rankings, has no basis in research or patents.

To believe in a ranking signal that has no solid basis puts the believer in the same realm of those who believe the earth is flat. It’s a matter of faith, not fact.

Just because something is described in the Quality Raters Guidelines does not mean it’s a ranking factor.

Watch John Mueller describe the purpose of the Quality Raters Guidelines here:



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New site Hotspot Law like ZocDoc for lawyers

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Local search is probably more visible than it has ever been since the advent of Google Maps. Yet, paradoxically, there’s almost no consumer-facing innovation taking place. There’s Google, Yelp, Facebook (somewhat) and a range of specialized vertical apps and sites, some of which have simply survived but aren’t thriving.

Little or no ‘horizontal’ innovation. Part of the lack of “horizontal” innovation in local is likely the result of venture capital not wanting to fund anything that goes up directly against Google. The company may appear to many investors now like an insurmountable juggernaut in local/mobile search.

Any new local-consumer startups, therefore, are likely to appear in specific industries or otherwise offer specialized use cases. Such is the case with Hotspot Law, a new legal search site that hopes to bring ZocDoc-style appointment scheduling to the legal profession. It also seeks to provide a more reliable and cost-effective flow of leads to consumer attorneys.

The legal vertical has a quite a few competitors, including Avvo (Internet Brands), LegalZoom, FindLaw and several others. Despite this, Hotspot Law founder Felix Shipkevich believes he’s solving two unsolved problems in the legal vertical.

“The legal market is in dire need of an upgrade,” argues Shipkevich.

Making direct connections with lawyers. “Once you’ve finished searching online, you have to start calling,” he said. “You don’t get to speak directly to attorneys, you typically talk to a gatekeeper.” He points out that this process of getting to a lawyer is time consuming for people who need legal help. “None of these [completing] platforms directly connect the consumer with an attorney.”

Shipkevich, who is an attorney and faculty member at Hofstra Law School, said he was inspired by ZocDoc and the way it enables direct connections between doctors and patients. Similarly, he wanted to remove the friction in lawyer-consumer matchmaking. Shipkevich explained that also sees Hotspot Law as a way to make “justice” more accessible to consumers.

Why you should care. Legal lead-gen is costly. Shipkevich believes that existing legal sites and ad solutions don’t serve lawyers particularly well either. “PPC advertising can be extremely expensive; in New York it can be $60 to $80 per click.” He adds that “Yelp is expensive. Sometimes it takes $2,000 to $4,000 to bring in a case.”

He wants to solve that problem with simplified reasonable pricing for lawyers who may be struggling to find clients. But he also sees Hotspot Law evolving into a platform to help attorneys manage existing clients. Currently the site only operates in New York, with plans to expand geographic coverage in the coming months.

For the time being Shipkevich will need to rely on SEO for discovery but over time he hopes to build a branded consumer destination. It will be very challenging given the current structure of local SERPs. One has to admire the ambition and chutzpah.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He researches and writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking

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About one year ago, everything changed for me and for our community.

A tragedy that struck home so hard it shook us to our core.

A suicide.

A dear friend, brilliant mind, adored father, respected colleague … the list goes on, left us in a way that hits straight to the heart and wakes you up like very few other events can.

I certainly woke up that day. That alarm screamed as loud as it could and I still hear it to this day.

I know I wasn’t alone. So many of my peers experienced similar emotions, sensations, and reactions.

We Could No Longer Ignore the Problem

Sadly, this wasn’t the first tragedy we’d encountered that year – we lost other friends and colleagues as well.

But we knew we couldn’t stand to lose any more amazing people.

We couldn’t look away. We couldn’t just carry on anymore.

So we started talking.

I have been blown away by our internet marketing community. Many of us have never even met face to face and yet the comradery, the friendship, the support among us run rampant!

Never before have I seen a group of people come together so quickly and so openly as when we were forced to face this tragedy.

Groups were formed. Calls were made. Texts were sent. Face-to-face get-togethers were had. Columns like this one were created.

And the best part of it all? It didn’t stop!

We saw the need to stay connected. We recognized that we are a family that needs to support each other. And, perhaps most of all, we saw that we were not alone in our struggles.

It has been amazing to see the openness and honesty that has become so commonplace over the past year. I have seen people that once felt they couldn’t risk being seen without their mask on break down and lay themselves out in the most vulnerable ways.

I include myself in that list. I have become more able to reveal myself to the world around me. That has only been made possible by others sharing in that journey with me.

In leading up to this piece, I knew that I wanted to really find a way to focus on the positive changes that our community has seen because of Jordan Kasteler.

I wanted to honor him in a way that really brought some form of good to this incredible loss that we all experienced due to his passing.

Where Are We Now? Thoughts from Our Community

I reached out and asked a few people in our community if they would share some words of how they have been changed for the better as well as how they have seen our community as whole making changes to support each other over the past year.

Here is what they had to say:

Alexandra Tachalova:

“Working days, nights, and weekends was normal for me a few years ago. However, at that time I couldn’t say that I was really happy. I didn’t understand at the time that my work-life balance was completely off, and I now know that that could have developed into something truly horrifying.

I eventually reached such an emotionally unstable point that I hit a time where one week I was super productive, but the following week I felt hugely demotivated and absolutely miserable. (I know this is a familiar story with many others as well, I hear people telling similar stories and sharing similar experiences regularly.)

Over the past while, I have been working diligently to save myself from this emotional trap. This new focus has led me to investing more time into things that are not related to work and putting more time into the things that help to create a happier life for myself.

I can see that more people in our community are becoming more aware of the need to make this sort of a switch to their schedules and priorities as well, which is brilliant to see!”

Melissa Fach:

“In the past year, I have noticed a massive shift in our community not being ashamed to reach out and ask for help, advice, or just a kind word. I feel like masks have been dropped, and people are not embarrassed to discuss what make them “real”; I love it!

I think many people used to feel they had to have public persona that was acceptable, and now they know we all have issues and it is OK to talk about.

I have a picture of Jordan out that I see every day. I moved past the guilt and the pain when I looked at it, and he is now a daily reminder to stay present with my friends as much as I can.

And, it is a reminder to me to stay focused on my well-being as well. I tend to overwork and do too much for everyone and end up exhausted. I take steps now to take care of me more than ever before.”

Steve Wiideman:

“Though I’ve been in the industry for years, I’m still a somewhat newer member of the SEO community. Call it fear of rejection, social anxiety, whatever, I’ve always been nervous to put myself in a position to be judged by my peers.

It really wasn’t until I was invited to an amazing Facebook group made up of a small close-knit group of industry peers focusing on supporting each other through the day-to-day struggles that I realized that nearly everyone shared the same fears, anxieties and experiences that I have.

What a relief it is to know there is a place where we share what we are feeling and have so much empathy! Finally I have a place I can turn to where people understand me.

Even if I don’t share as much as others, I have peace of mind knowing there are people there ready and willing to listen and help, where there’s no judgement, just open arms.”

Danny Goodwin:

“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress over the past year as a community. However, if I’m being completely honest, we still have a long way to go. I’m still hearing about issues of bullying. I’m seeing people piling on people they disagree with on Twitter.

While, thankfully, these are in the minority, the polarization and black-and-white thinking needs to stop. The judging and assuming needs to stop. The trolling and “mob mentality” needs to stop.

We need to stop fighting each other and start lifting each other up – treating everyone like human beings. Nobody is perfect, but I hope we will continue to see more people be able to let go of their hate and negativity to accept love and positivity into their lives. I know that will continue to be our aim with Friday Focus – to remind everyone that they are not alone in their struggles.

Ultimately, though, I am so happy to be a part of something so positive in our community – and it’s great to see so many others jumping onboard, too.”

Kim Krause Berg:

“It’s easy to assume that your peers are generally doing better than you, making more money than you, and are super successful in every way. It is only in the past few years that I realized this is baloney.

I respect people who remove their masks and show who they really are. We are people with lives and struggles, heartache, depression, and pain.

In the past year I have opened up more and made new friendships as a result. We have more in common with each other than we might think.”

Dave Davies:

“Over the past year I’ve seen an incredible shift in our community.

Social media itself breeds an environment where we see only the best of our peers and post the best of ourselves and being in marketing, needing to be on social media, needing to market ourselves on social media and seeing only the best version of those trained in presenting the best version of themselves – one can feel very alone in difficult times. Compounding that we face an often isolated profession where even sitting beside someone, we are focused on a screen and all they contain.

Sadly, we all know too well what that leads to, and over the past year we collectively recognized that we are human. That those around us are human. That others need support and perhaps most importantly, that we do too.

We finally heard the words spoken all too often after those tragic events, “If only they had asked for help.” And we took it upon ourselves to do so.

We finally knew to listen, to watch and to find out how those around us were doing, lest we face the loss of another friend who we would have dropped everything for, ‘If only they had asked for help.’

The community has grown it’s heart and soul over the past year.

There is still a lot to do. There are still many who don’t know where to turn. Many who don’t know who to talk to. But each time we reach out and each time we talk about challenges openly, share our own and listen to theirs … each time we do that, the community grows it’s heart a little more.

It has been a incredible year of change. While we will forever mourn the spark, the now burning fire keeps us all warmer.”

Jeremy Knauff:

“One thing that has changed dramatically in our industry over the last year, is that as individuals, we’ve become a lot more vocal about asking for help when we need it.

I think most people are more than willing to help each other. They just have to know that someone needs help. Now that people are starting to open up more about their personal struggles, the community is able to better support them.”

Thank You!

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you – whether I know you in person, whether I know you online, even if I don’t know you at all –- thank you for being here.

Thank you for caring and sharing and being a part of the positive change that we are all working so hard at creating.

Keep being a force for good in our community.

Together we will make a difference.

Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking  

 

This piece is written in memory, honor, recognition, and gratitude of Jordan Kasteler. For all that he gave us, shared with us, taught us and left us with. We are eternally grateful.

 


***PLEASE DO NOT STRUGGLE ALONE! Reach out, ask for help and know that you are valued.
CLICK HERE for a list of phone numbers for Suicide Hotlines around the world.***



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20190718 SEL Brief

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