Your site's visibility now in hands of mass Google reviewer army
October 18th, 2018 · by Domains Direct · 5 min read
Remember the days of Google PageRank, where your site's 'authoritativeness' score was determined by the authoritativeness of sites that link to you? The general idea that pushed Google to the most-used search engine was that if a site with a high authority score (think NZ Herald, Stuff, NBR etc) links to your site, they must consider your content worthy, because their credibility counts on it.
Well those days are long gone, and Google now has a long list of criteria they use to determine your site's "worth."
The problem with these criteria (which are theorised as applicable, and neither confirmed nor denied by Google itself) is that they can be easily gamed to build search profile. That's not to say that people use them deceptively, but it's easy enough to launch a brand new business with a website that adheres to all these criteria and get boosted up the search results very quickly. In fact, it's exactly how Domains Direct was able to build a business without spending a cent on advertising. But it's not a measure of a site or business's level of expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness.
This was definitely a frustration of mine. Previously I'd built a business that became the largest domain registrar in New Zealand, yet when I launched a brand new business, it took 3 months to get our first customer, because we started out on page 10 of search results for our key phrase. Google's algorithms had no idea that I have previous experience in this business and could be trusted with people's Domain names. All they saw was a brand new website that had some pretty good SEO strategies.
Fortunately, Google has been well aware of this problem and this year they've taken major steps to address it. Enter Google's 10,000-strong army of website reviewers.
That's right, Google has contracted 10,000 people whose job it is to look at your website and online reputation and decide how well you qualify for E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. They are looking for evidence of time, effort, expertise and talent/skill.
Here's some examples of the types of things they're looking for:
Google wants to know what people are (genuinely) saying about your business on independent review sites like Yelp and Facebook (and Google's own.) Are your customers happy with your products, services and after-sales service? Is your business one that Google wants to recommend to its users? If you have a bad reputation online, all the SEO in the world won't be able to help you.
Do your website's page titles and meta descriptions accurately describe the pages' content? These two page elements are what Google (mostly) uses when they display your site in their search results and are two of the most important things to get right in your SEO.
Do you update your website regularly with news, blogs, articles and videos, or does it look stale and abandoned? Is your site optimized to work across all devices (commonly referred to as 'responsive') and be easily readable?
It pays to regularly check for broken links using Google's Webmaster Tools because you don't want to annoy your visitors by linking to dead pages. It also pays to set up a custom 404 error page to guide users back to your site if a broken link slips through.
To build trust with your visitors you need to be totally transparent. Ideally you'll have an 'About Us' page with some company history and team member details. Linking to individuals' LinkedIn and other social media profiles will also help in establishing trust.
If you're a business it's really important to display your contact details like phone number and address. Reviewers are looking to see if you provide an easy way to be contacted, so simply listing an email address definitely won't cut it. Google wants to know that customers can easily reach you if something goes wrong.
If you sell a product it will always be helpful to provide documentation online for easy reference. Reviewers will be looking at the quality and thoroughness of the documentation, as well as correct spelling and grammar.
These days it's really important to host your site securely using an https address. With visitors submitting sensitive data you want to encrypt the transmission of data between their browser and your server. It used to generally be considered acceptable to only host payment pages on SSL but it's now considered best practice to host your entire site securely, and Google has confirmed they're giving priority to secure sites in their results.
If you have a shopping cart, reviewers will be checking to see if it works; if you can add products to a cart, edit the cart, and pay securely through the site. They'll also be looking for your contact number and a returns and exchanges policy, should something go wrong with an order.
If the site contains videos reviewers will watch them to determine their quality of production and usefulness.
If your site contains ads like Google's Adsense, reviewers will be looking at how many ads your pages carry and whether they distract the reader. Google wants to make sure your pages include quality content and don't just exist simply to carry ads.
Reviewers will be looking for any content they consider dangerous, harmful, misleading, or deceptive.
Why is Google doing this? Simply, they want their users (you and me) to have the best possible experience using their search, and this means they want to deliver you the best results possible. While the AI robot-army is still plausible, we're still in very early days, and the best measure of a site is a pair of human eyeballs, armed with some common sense.
It's important to note that the reviewers can't actually change Google's results, they are simply providing an overall picture of its quality.
If you're interested in further reading, Google's Search Quality Valuator Guidelines are available to read in full.