Have you ever wondered how Google thinks? Why it may or may not choose to list your website high in its rankings. If you don’t want to or can’t afford to pay professionals to get you to the top then the key to attracting customers to your site (great SEO) is understanding Google’s philosophy.

By understanding the fundamental rules which dictate the specific future algorithms Google might develop, rather than hearing about them after the event and reacting to changes after they happen, you will be miles ahead.

So how do you understand and think like Google?

In what must be one of the biggest online scoops of the year, Pot Pie Girl  by chance (hmmm?) found a copy of the most recent Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines Handbook (March 30, 2011 version 3.18). This 125-page book is used by Google Search Quality Raters around the world to guide them as Google develops the parameters it puts in place to rate websites. You can find it linked off their post here.

Algorithms and Google Quality Raters?

The algorithms Google develops and uses to rate websites are basically an attempt to code website quality attributes into rules. Google tested over 13,000 algorithm changes last year alone.

Google Quality Raters serve as quality control agents for Google and make sure the algorithms used by Google are doing what they’re supposed to do. Simply put, they are “fact checkers” and data from quality raters helps Google validate potential algorithm changes.

This video will give you a little more insight!


So if we distill the report down, what does it tell us about Google and how can we use that info to make better choices as we labour away on our daily marketing?

Here is a snap shot summary.

(1) Relevance is BIG!
Probably the biggest find has been the importance Google places on relevance. Raters are required to rate relevance along a continuum with 5 options: “Vital”, “Useful”, “Relevant”, “Slightly Relevant”, and “Off-topic”.

(2) Spam is bigger
Spam is about tactics and intent. Google can view a site as “useful” because of its relevant copy but anything that appears spammy is an alert – a red flag. No need to worry here if your intention are good.

(3) The most likely intent rules
Some searches are ambiguous – “amazon”, for example, can mean a lot of things and Google instructs raters to, in most cases, use the dominant interpretation. However sometimes they appear to view big brands as the dominant interpretation.

What does that mean? Well, if you’re selling apples you actually have one gigantic problem! So for words that have other interpretations you will automatically get lower relevance ratings if there’s a dominant interpretation.

Why don’t you test it?  Google the word “apple”!

(4) What is “Vital”
The “Vital” relevance rating is an exception to Google’s general rules. Any official entity – a company, an actor/actress, a politician, etc., can have a vital result. In most cases, this is their official home-page.

Why them and not our businesses you ask. Maybe it’s a reflection on our society’s preferences!

(5) Generic queries are never vital
Obviously, Walmart.com is a vital result for the query “walmart”, but Couches.com is not a vital result for the query “couches”. An exact-match domain doesn’t automatically make something vital, and some queries are inherently generic.

(6) Queries come in three flavours
A keyword can be classified by Google as:

  • Action (“Do”),
  • Information (“Know”) or
  • Navigation (“Go”).

This Do/Know/Go model is a VERY useful structure for understanding search in general. Relevance is determined by intent – if a query is clearly action-oriented (e.g. “buy computer”), then only an Action (”Do”) result can be highly relevant.

(7) Useful goes beyond relevance
Google says that “Useful” pages (the top rating below “Vital”) should be more than just relevant – they should be highly satisfying, authoritative, entertaining, quality or recent. No site has to meet all of these criteria and relevance alone isn’t always enough to get the top ratings.

Are you starting to understand the complexities of SEO yet? Or simply confused?

(8) Local intent can be automatic
Even if a query is generic, it can imply local intent. Google gives the example of “ice rink” – a query for “ice rink” should return local results, and clearly non-local results should be rated as off-topic or useless.

This points to the growing importance of local search techniques.

(9) Landing page specificity matters
A good landing page should fit specificity a keyword. If the query is “chicken recipes”, then a page with only one recipe isn’t as relevant as a list of recipes.

(10) Misspellings are rated by intent
In earlier days targeting misspelt words was a common SEO practice, but increasingly Google will push searchers toward the proper spelling.

(11) Ads without value are spam
This stood out – “If a page exists only to make money, then the page is considered spam.” You shouldn’t have a money-making page devoid of content or value.

(12) Google raters use Firefox
Take it for what it is, but Google raters are instructed to use Firefox, along with the web developer add-on.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of how advanced SEO comes down to understanding how Google thinks and translates values and objectives into code. So next time you get an SEO quote you will have more insight into the expertise you are buying.

About the author

Peter Engelhardt - Director Creative Brew

Peter Engelhardt

Peter has a ridiculous amount of marketing and communications experience. He is an inbound marketing advocate and a new media enthusiast with a passion for spreading his knowledge and blogging. Above all he is the driving force behind Creative Brew and a proud dad.