A third-party quality rating contractor recently leaked a version of Google's internal quality rating guidelines, giving SEOs a look at what factors matter most.

Brands that follow Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines are what they EAT

to read

Whether it’s through Matt Cutts or in explicit announcements, Google isn’t shy about sharing its preferences for web content. Yet content marketing can still feel like an intricate puzzle. The latest Quality Rating Guidelines were recently leaked by one of Google’s third-party quality raters, and there are some important changes that marketers should pay attention to. Above all, this version asks raters to keep EAT in mind – expertise, authority and trustworthiness.

The Quality Ratings Guidelines are a helpful look at the factors Google is looking for in top-performing content. Google doesn’t assume that its algorithms are solid as soon as they go live – it contracts with third-party organizations for unbiased opinions and audits. The Quality Rating Guidelines tell the contractors exactly what to look for in a website. Specifically, analysts are asked to evaluate how well a given URL provides information for particular searches.

What Google’s Quality raters look for in content 

This new version puts greater emphasis on those three EAT principles. To an unknown reader, web content needs to seem as if it’s written by an expert who knows what she’s talking about and seems honest.

More importantly, analysts look for all three of these elements in tandem with one another. If two are apparent but one is lacking, the EAT rule hasn’t been fulfilled. For example, a blog post written by a person who clearly knows what she’s talking about, and written from a place of experience, might be promising. But if it’s overly salesy or isn’t supported by external links or any evidence at all, it hasn’t fulfilled the EAT rule.

Want to learn more about using links in content marketing? Read our Hyperlink blog post

This is yet another move away from keywords, links and objectively measurable factors and toward the subjective experience of users. Custom, in-depth content should therefore be the priority of all marketers, rather than the micromanagement of metrics and keyword inclusion. Those elements play a role in SEO, but as far as Google is concerned, they shouldn’t be the focus of attention.

The SEO trends search engines are watching

Some other search developments the leaked documents touch on include:

 Knowledge Graphs: Auditors are also being asked to view specific semantic search results and evaluate whether or not the information and media they present are relevant to particular queries. Content marketers should perform a similar sort of audit to see what kinds of Knowledge Graphs appear in search results for terms and questions their content is targeting.

studying analysts auditors

 Misleading ads: Despite Google’s clear self-interest in propagating advertisements, the Quality Rating Guidelines ask users to give low marks to sites featuring too many ads – particularly those that cluster them at the top and ask visitors to scroll before they reach content. As always, UX is an important consideration for any kind of website.

 Authorship: A big part of EAT – expertise – depends on the person who is actually writing web content. While the Guidelines don’t specifically mention Authorship, they do place a heavy emphasis on figuring out who is writing web copy and how they might know about a particular subject. If Google is hoping people pick up (consciously or unconsciously) on the authority of content writers, it’s still an important part of building an SEO strategy – no matter if Authorship rich snippets still have pictures or not.

Creating a strong brand narrative with content is the best way to overcome common SEO challenges. Google wants users to access the most relevant answers to their questions, and the highest-quality content will presumably provide them. It may be tempting to look at numbers and keywords, but this misses the forest for the trees. Ultimately, provided Google’s internal documentation is to be believed, if you build it, they will come. 

Alex Butzbach
Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.


  • Mike White

    *it’s — this time it’s a conjunction (first paragraph, second word).

    • Mike White

      Haven’t read it yet. Printed it off to read this evening. Just caught the typo when I was hitting “Print”.

  • James Phillips

    This is great information. I think it’s been pretty clear that SEO has been trending in this direction through out the past couple of years. The thing I don’t get is when 3rd party ad agencies offer SEO services in the content realm. There is no way they are going to be able to be the expert in most niche markets so how could they write content that would be recognized as an expert authority in the field. Especially when they service multiple clients. I think this type of content has to come from the in house team who is passionate about the product, service, or topic they are writing about. I dont think you can rely on an SEO professional to write your content. Optimizing your sites code base and conducting off site SEO practices is a different story though.

    • Lauren Kaye

      Hi James,

      I hear you and I think that’s a common concern.

      I totally agree that having a great writer on your team can’t be overlooked. Great writers, whether in house or at an agency, should be passionate about what they create and willing to immerse themselves in a field so they can cover it authoritatively.

      Here’s how one of our top tech writers acquired the subject matter expertise he needed to cover niche fields. (http://www.brafton.com/blog/can-niche-fields-outsource-content-qa-with-a-tech-writer)

      Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful response!