Creating your own local business website is never an easy task, especially when the guidelines change regularly. As always online, the only thing you can guarantee is change!
In November, Google made an unprecedented move and published the Search Quality Rater Guidelines. Previously, we’d relied on an official 2013 condensed version or leaked copies of the Guidelines to gain insight into Google’s focus.
Your Business Website and Google’s Priorities
The Search Quality Rater Guidelines is a 160-page document issued to Human Quality Raters that outlines expectations with examples of what Google considers a priority and good practice. While the Quality Raters do not affect ranking, the Guidelines show us very clearly what Google’s focus is.
As a business owner with a website, it would be foolish to ignore such a large nudge! The great news is you don’t need an all singing, all dancing website with bells, whistles, and swirly bits to have a “quality” website.
If you are unsure of what a Quality Rater is, why Google uses them and an insight into 2014’s Guidelines, check out my Quality Rater Guide Leaked, What Businesses Need To Know post (it opens in a new tab so you won’t get lost and can come back here easily).
There are two significant changes in focus for Google in 2015:
1. Mobile everything (Raters are advised to rate from the perspective of a mobile user unless specifically requested not to).
2. A Needs Met focus (i.e. does it meet the search query and is it useful?)
Additionally, the 2015 Guidelines put a much larger emphasis on local search. Raters are advised to consider local intent when rating searches that could possibly be local queries.
What You Need To Know
I’m not going to go through every section of the Guidelines, If you want a blow-by-blow account I recommend reading The SEM Post’s review.
The concept of E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust) from the 2014 Guidelines is still very relevant and prominent in the 2015 Guidelines. Expertise has been redefined slightly and the standard of expertise will vary with the page purpose.
High quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic. Keep in mind that there are “expert” websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages, etc.
And go on to say:
High quality medical advice should come from people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation.High quality medical advice or information should be written or produced in a professional style and should be edited, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.
High quality financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, etc., should come from expert sources and be maintained and updated.
High quality advice pages on topics such as home remodeling (which can cost thousands of dollars) or advice on parenting issues (which can impact the future happiness of a family) should also come from “expert” sources which users can trust.
High quality pages on hobbies, such as photography or learning to play a guitar, also require expertise.”
Keep that in mind and I’ll include topics to address in the checklist below.
New Mobile Section
While the April 2015 Mobilegeddon was a bit of an anti-climax, it was the beginning of Google starting to distinguish between mobile-friendly and non-mobile-friendly web pages. The new Guidelines state Raters should rate from the perspective of a mobile user.
Mobile is now front and center of Google’s focus. As a local business, much of your web traffic will likely be from mobile users as people look for directions, opening times and contact details on the go.
As a bare minimum, your web pages should pass Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. Note: The test looks at individual pages, not the whole website.
New Needs Met Section
Needs Met is a brand new section and once again the main focus is on mobile users with lots of examples and mobile screenshots. In fact, the Guidelines go on to say that any web page that is not mobile-friendly should receive a “fails to meet” lowest rating.
The main outcome here is can users easily see authoritative, trustworthy content that is useful and matches their query without jumping through any hoops.
The Relationship Between E-A-T and Needs Met
A web page can have a high E-A-T (expertise, authority, trust) score and a low Needs Met score. This is because Needs Met is reliant on the search query. E-A-T looks at the quality of the page content regardless of the actual query.
An example that springs to mind is when I wrote a post that mentioned the term hairdressers in Widnes. The post itself wasn’t about hairdressers, in Widnes or anywhere else. I was using the term as a search example with screenshots.
For months, my post ranked for the term hairdressers in Widnes.
Now with the best will in the world, anyone searching for a hairdresser would not get the information they need from that post. It is totally irrelevant to the query and would not be useful.
Useless results should always be rated FailsM, even if the landing page has a high E-A-T rating. Useless is useless.
Conversely, a page with a low-medium E-A-T score but relevant to the search query, will not obtain a high Needs Met score. Google says:
On-topic, helpful, but low E-A-T results should get lower Needs Met ratings than on-topic, helpful, and high EA-T results. The Needs Met scale encompasses all aspects of “helpfulness,” and many users find low E-A-T results less helpful than high E-A-T results.
Your Local Business Website Google-Worthy Action Checklist
1. Showing E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust)
A basic local business website should clearly show, who you are, where you are, what you do, when you do it and who is responsible for the website.
- Provide information about your business. This can be on your About page.
- Have a Contact page with full contact details. You can also include social pages and other points of contact.
- Check your location or full address is available location-specific product/service pages.
- Do you sell from your website? Provide customer service details (delivery, returns, refund policies and contact info etc.) where people expect to see them.
- Add your opening hours to your location pages.
- Add details of any trade or professional memberships if relevant. This can be on your About page.
- Include registration numbers (Companies House, VAT, and professional regulators if relevant).
- Update or remove out of date information.
- Ask for reviews and testimonials – on your website and external review sites.
- If you blog, monitor comments and remove spam.
- Check for broken links and remove or replace.
- If you have additional monetisation on your website ensure that ads are not distracting and are relevant for your audience.
Your business website should be useful and well maintained. Google knows that small business websites may not be updated frequently, but does expect that information provided is current. Some websites are expected to be updated frequently:
Websites with medical information, legal information, tax information, etc. must be updated frequently. Users expect information about the most current medical thinking, current laws, this year’s tax information, etc.
- Do all pages serve a purpose and it is clear what the purpose is?
- Is it clear what the main page content is and not obscured by ads or other supplementary content?
- Is information provided current and up to date?
- Is your website is maintained – do pages display, images load or links work as expected?
Many local business websites have a relatively high proportion of mobile users as people search for local information on the go. Pages should pass the Google Mobile-Friendly Test as a bare minimum. Also look at:
- How easy is it to read information on a small screen? (Avoid arty unreadable fonts and small font sizes)
- Do images fit on a small screen?
- How easy is it to navigate around your site?
- Can forms be completed easily?
To Sum Up
Along with the push to mobile, there’s a shift in search expectations from relevance to usefulness. A website with bells and whistles is not required, but your site does need to be functional. Does your business website provide information people need?
While this action checklist is by no means complete, it will give your local business website a solid ground to build from.
The Search Rater Quality Guidelines also cover:
- Know and Know Simple Queries (affects what information is displayed in search blocks)
- Supplementary Content
- Product Pages
- Advertising and Monetisation
The Search Rater Quality Guidelines PDF
30 Important Takeaways From Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines
2015 Search Quality Rating Guidelines Checklist: Aligning with Google’s Focus on Usefulness
The SEO Implications of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines
Over to you…
Will this latest edition of the Guidelines affect how you run and maintain your business website? I’d love to know in the comments!