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Authors in focus: Google’s new search guidelines, and what it means for publishers

It’s not very often that Google updates its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (for example, it has only done so once this year) and when it does, it provides us with a peek behind the scenes of what the company is emphasizing on—to its team of over 10,000 content quality raters—in terms of search guidelines.

This year, in the updated version the 164-page guidelines document, there are several notable areas Google wants raters to focus on. What stands out among the new updates is Google’s strong emphasis on content creators, the authors.

According to Jennifer Slegg, an expert in search engine marketing who has observed and written about the changes to the quality rater guidelines over the years—including a deep dive this year—Google is placing a brand new emphasis on the creator or author of the main content of the page, whereas before the emphasis was entirely on the website reputation.

“The most noticeable for content creators is that Google wants their raters to not only look at the reputation of the website itself, but also the content creators themselves,” she noted about the update. “This is one area that many sites fall down on. They might have an ‘About Us’ page, but the bios of their authors are sorely lacking.”

One of the big changes is that not only are raters looking at the reputation of just the website, raters are tasked with investigating the reputation of the content creator – such as the author of the article or landing page being rated.  This will put a greater emphasis on sites needing to have author information and author bios on their articles, especially for those sites that do not use bylines on their content when it isn’t clear on the site itself who authors the articles.

“Perhaps Google has noticed that the same reputable website may publish articles by Pulitzer-winning staff writers, wet-behind-the-ears interns, freelancers of unknown expertise and outside contributors with their own hidden agendas,” says D. Eadward Tree, a magazine-industry insider. “Google has concluded that a publisher’s good reputation doesn’t mean that everything it publishes is of high quality.”

In its guideline document, Google stresses that to qualify as a high-quality page, “the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important.”

It asks raters to consider the following:

  • The expertise of the creator of the content.
  • The authoritativeness of the creator of the content, the content itself, and the website.
  • The trustworthiness of the creator of the content, the content itself, and the website.

Even gossip websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages qualify for a high E-A-T score, as Google explains to its raters:

Keep in mind that there are high E-A-T pages and websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages, etc. In fact, some types of information are found almost exclusively on forums and discussions, where a community of experts can provide valuable perspectives on specific topics.

“If content is created by someone with a great reputation, it makes sense for Google to rank that content higher than from someone with a bad reputation since it is generally a better user experience for the searcher,” says Jennifer Slegg.

“But it means many will also need to brush up on their bios, too. It is also worth noting that this doesn’t apply just to written content, but other types of content as well, such as videos and social media.”

Google’s focus with this addition is on wanting to ensure content that is created by creators with great reputations is ranking well, especially in a world of fake news and conspiracy theories. Great for those creators with great reputations, but does mean some work for those without a great reputation or a limited one.

Google also appears to have in its crosshairs a comparatively new type of spam, overhyped content that fails to deliver. “Google is clearly fighting the war against clickbait, and they are asking raters to rate sites as low where the title is too sensational or doesn’t match the actual content. If it is in the guidelines, Google is looking for a way for their algos to counter clickbait, either currently or in future algos,” Jennifer explains.

While publishers definitely need to keep these new guidelines in mind, and focus on highlighting authors’ E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) in their online publications, it’s worth noting that quality raters cannot alter Google’s results directly.

So a publisher’s current pages that don’t have author reputation highlighted are in no immediate danger of losing ranking.

In the long run, though, these pages may eventually get affected, as the data generated by quality raters is used to improve Google’s search algorithms, its automated system of ranking pages.

When enough number of pages lose rank, so does the website. So, keeping in mind where Google is going, publishers would be well-served by initiating changes across their online publications sooner rather than later.

This would entail having the author information and author bios clearly indicated on their articles, and modifying past ones in the same manner, especially for those sites that do not use bylines on their content.

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