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Michael Rolfe

How Google Uses Human Factors to Rank Sites

15th Dec 2011 SEO, SEO Resources 3 minutes to read

Google LogoDoes the mighty Google algorithm really rely on a human search quality rating team? If it did, would you like to see the handbook that they give this special team? Learn what the quality rating team are looking for, how the process tallies with the algorithm, and why you need to read this if you ever aspire to stay on the first page of search results for a valuable phrase…

As SEOs we’re always reading, writing, learning and testing best practice to further discover how best to achieve our clients’ goals , and there is a great community of us sharing our discoveries and revelations. One item I would like to share with you is that of the Search Quality Rating Team.

Search Quality Rating team

Picture the scenario – your on-page factors are optimum, your backlink profile is abundant with quality and you are climbing the rankings; rewarded with lots of targeted traffic and conversions. Life is good! Then you get hit with a penalty – you don’t know what you did differently today than yesterday but your site has crashed off the first page – what happened?

There is a large body of evidence that suggests that Google subcontract other companies to hire everyday citizens to manually evaluate websites that reach proiminent positions in valuable search engine results pages (SERPs). They are normal Google users who quickly check 30-60 websites per hour , and rank them broadly between ‘vital’ and ‘useless’.

Part of my job is to stay connected with the excellent SEO’s in our community who are continually expanding the body of knowledge, and I would like to give credit to the excellent potpiegirl who shared her findings: http://www.potpiegirl.com/2011/11/google-raters-who-are-they/.

The algorithm is designed to get the most relevant website to the top of the SERPs, and the Search Rating team quickly double checks the first page results to make sure that the results are quality. If enough raters flag a site as spammy or otherwise of low quality, you may find it hit with a penalty and the site’s Google-referrer traffic drying up.

What specifically are these quality raters looking for? Well, there is a leaked .pdf file of the guidelines that these quality checkers use online. It’s been removed from Google’s index when it has appeared, and links have been removed from prominent blogs… which indicates to me its authenticity. It can still be found in a matter of minutes however, just by Googling terms such as ‘Google Quality Raters Handbook pdf’ etc. Google already tell us the broad strokes of the report in a 25 point summary at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html.

Understanding the Algorithm

It is a gigantic and growing task to organise all of the world’s data, and Google arguably does a better job than anyone else right now. This is how they do it:

An engineer has an idea to improve the search results, and this is implemented in a stage (test) environment. The differences are rated by the Search Ratings Team and if the results are positive, a small percentage of searches get sent to the sandbox version rather than the original results. An independent, scientific decision is then made as to whether the change should go live. That’s my understanding of it at least! For more information, read more from the horse’s mouth at http://www.google.com/competition/howgooglesearchworks.html.

In conclusion then, Google currently looks at search results that could be improved, tests changes to the SERP display and algorithm empirically, double checks the results with a pool of everyday users and continues to refine. This significantly humanises the understanding of the Google search rankings process and gives clear advice to any website owners – If you want to get top positions for lucrative keywords, be sure your site gives a very positive first impression so that when you eventually reach the top, a reviewer will decide that your website is useful and relevant.

We are all human so make it easy for them to make the right decision – appealing aesthetics, unique value and nothing spammy like overly aggressive advertising.

See you at the top!

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