Google Quality Raters and Penguin 2.0

Google makes no secret about their agenda to eliminate SERP spam and deliver users the best, most relevant results to their search queries, whether they be “best Cuban sandwich in Tampa” or “what is a pressure transducer?” That said, I’d like to devote a little space to discuss two topics that have been “hot” around our office the last couple of weeks, Google Quality Raters and Penguin 2.0, what they’re intended to do and how they impact content creators on the web.

Google Quality Raters

Let’s start with Google’s mysterious Quality Raters: a group (search industry estimates range from 4,500 to 10,000) of contractors working on behalf of Google to scan the SERPs and evaluate the content quality – yes, you read that correctly – of websites in terms of how relevant that content is to certain search queries.

“Into the valley of Death rode the ten thousand…”

Some dismiss the GQRs as myth, but I counter that by saying SOMEBODY sat down with SEW in March for this interview. There have also been a few leaks of the Search Quality Rating Guidelines over the years (including a fairly lean version released by Google late last year), as well as this now-infamous job listing from 2004. Does that change “the game” at all for you?

If you’ve been publishing and promoting your online content on the up-and-up, probably not. You’ll just continue playing by the rules, helping users and reaping the benefits. But, if your company – or your agency – has been tempted by the sexiness of the Dark Side, and the instant traffic gimmicks (yes, I meant gimmicks) of link spam, keyword-stuffing or whatever “shortcut” they’re pitching these day, does the fact that somebody is looking at and <gulp!> possibly grading the content on your site with a critical eye give you pause? Seriously?

“Oh, sure,” you might say, “but the Search Quality Rating Guidelines (linked above) clearly note”:

These raters perform a variety of different kinds of ‘rating tasks’ designed to give us information about the quality of different kinds of results in response to different kinds of queries… Raters’ judgments do not directly impact Google’s search result rankings… Instead these scores are used in aggregate to evaluate search quality and make decisions about changes.

That’s not a free pass, folks. Make sure you read and understand that last sentence. Sure, the grades the GQRs apply may not impact the ranking of your site directly, but Google uses those grades to validate, evaluate and make adjustments to the search algorithms, and you can bet your sweet bippy that THOSE actions can and will impact your SERP placement.

Enter Penguin 2.0

As my colleague, Sara, wrote earlier this week, Penguin 2.0 launched on Wednesday, and it looks to be a real game-changer, as Google anticipates 2.3 percent of all queries (read as: several million queries) in the U.S. will be directly impacted by the changes, as will an undisclosed amount of non-English queries.

While Google uses the GQRs to evaluate the quality of search results, updates like Penguin 2.0 are specifically wired to help ensure users “find sites that provide great user experience and fulfill their information needs” (quoted from the Webmaster blog, 4.24.2013). The same post goes on to mention several tactics by name – keyword-stuffing and linkspam among them – as blatant indicators that a site’s content is intended to woo a robot crawler, not inform a human being.Pygoscelis_papua

Penguin 2.0, the Webmaster Blog tells us:

Represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.

In other words, if the Quality Raters weren’t enough to make you toe the line and get those spammy links and fluffed-out content off your site, the Penguin update should be because it’s been built to privilege and elevate the “good guys” over the next few months. As Cutts states in a recent help video posted on the Webmaster Blog: “As long as you’re working hard for users, we’re working hard to try to show users your high-quality content.”

Just don’t get too comfortable… Google’s got plenty of algorithmic fun in store for us this summer, including a possible Panda update.

Joey Hall – VP, Content Marketing

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