Creating a local business website that Google and your users love is not always a straight-forward task, especially if you are building your own! Even gorgeously designed websites can overlook the basics.
Your website is just the start of the plethora of signals that Google looks at when deciding if your local website is worthy of a place in their search results. Your online footprint and reputation plays a major role too.
What Does Google Want From Your Local Business?
The answer thankfully is not blood (although many small business owners think it is!) Version 5 of the Google Quality Raters Guidelines was recently leaked and it gives a good overview of what Google expects to see from businesses on the web.
I think it is important to point out that Google does not give a rat’s backside about your business, your website or what you do online. Their focus is providing their users with quality search results and a good user experience.
Similarly, your focus must also be on providing a good user experience when people land on your website.
Fortunately, the two are not mutually exclusive!
What is a Quality Rater?
A Quality Rater is a person contracted to Google to review search results, websites and pages. Their role can be viewed as quality control and to help them with the task they’re issued with a lengthy 160 page document of “Guidelines”. Raters are not there to penalise websites but to give feedback. This video explains how Google use human raters in web search.
Why are the Google Quality Rater Guidelines important?
If human raters don’t directly impact search results, why bother reading the Rater Guidelines? Quite simply, the document gives an inside view of what Google expects to see online. As website owners in the UK, where Google provides almost 90% of all search results we would be foolish to ignore the information and learn from it.
I’m not going to go through the Guidelines paragraph by paragraph. Jennifer Slegg has written a great overview over on The SEM Post. I highly recommend you pop over and have a read.
Instead, I will highlight in this post areas where I often see local business websites falling short of the mark.
You are what you E-A-T
If you follow how search has changed over the years the focus on “Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness” (E-A-T) won’t be any great surprise to you. Google states:
High quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic.
The Guidelines do point out that formal qualifications are not always required to demonstrate expertise. Appropriate expertise and accreditation is expected for “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) websites offering advice, such as medical or financial websites.
If you provide information on your website that can affect the health, wealth or future happiness of users it imperative you display appropriate expertise and accreditation.
Examples of such YMYL sites:
- Shopping or financial transaction pages: webpages which allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills, etc. online (such as online stores and online banking pages).
- Financial information pages: webpages which provide advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchase, paying for college, buying insurance, etc.
- Medical information pages: webpages which provide advice or information about health, drugs, specific diseases or conditions, mental health, nutrition, etc
- Legal information pages: webpages which provide legal advice or information on topics such as divorce, child custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
- Other: there are many other topics which you may consider YMYL, such as child adoption, car safety information, etc. Please use your judgement.
How do you start showing E-A-T?
1. A functional, well maintained website
Before you panic at the thought of spending a few thousand pounds on a new website with bells and whistles, the Guidelines do point out:
Some pages are “prettier” or more professional looking than others, but you should not rate based on how “nice” the page looks. A page can be very functional and achieve its purpose without being “pretty.
What is expected:
- All pages should serve a purpose
- It should be clear what the main content is
- Any ads and supplementary content should be “ignorable”
- Details should be current and updated over time
- The website should be maintained e.g links should click and point to where expected, if comments are open then they shouldn’t be over-run with spam etc.
Google accept that small business websites may not be updated as frequently as other websites because business information does not change often.
Use your website as a potential customer, click on the navigation and links.
- Is all your business information up to date?
- Are links out still active?
- Do social sharing buttons work?
- Is any supplementary content such as menus, downloads, calculators etc. up to date?
- Are your basic details – name, address, contact, opening hours all current?
2. Website information pages
The Guidelines state:
Websites frequently include the following information:
- About Us information.
- Contact or Customer Service information.
- Information about who is responsible for the content and maintenance of the website.
This should be common sense, especially here in the UK because all businesses are required to have certain details on their websites. Actual information you provide will vary depending on the type of business and legislation applied.
Is it obvious who you are and what you do without too much clicking? Does your local business website include:
- A contact page with your trading address, phone number and email
- Details of who is responsible for the website
- Details of any trade/professional registration bodies if applicable
- Company and/or VAT number if applicable
- If selling goods online, terms & conditions, delivery and returns policies etc.
Do check your legal responsibilities, I am not a legal professional! Find out more info:
- Online and Distance Selling for Business
- Companies House guidance on business stationery (including websites)
Provide details where people expect to see them. Your About page could include your expertise, experience and any trade/professional registrations. Your contact page could also include links to social sites or forums where you are active, can be contacted and also demonstrate your expertise.
3. Location and Intent
The Rater Guidelines have a whole section on location and explains the difference between local intent and location explicit search queries.
Google will always try to provide local results for searches with local intent even if a location is not specified based on where the user is searching from. The Guidelines give examples:
- [yoga class]
- [coffee shops]
- [movie showtimes]
- [train station]
- [car repair]
- [swimming pool]
- [farmers market]
- [bank of america atm locations]
A location explicit search query would also include a town, city, postcode or area within the search term.
The Rater Guidelines also talk about “near-by” searches and how close near is.
How close is “near”? Most people are not willing to travel very far for a gas station, coffee shop, supermarket, etc. Those are types of businesses that most users expect to find very nearby. Users might be willing to travel a little farther for certain kinds of local results: doctors’ offices, libraries, specific types of restaurants, public facilities like swimming pools, hiking trails in open spaces, etc. Sometimes users may accept results that are even farther away, such as a very specialized medical clinic.
It’s a long section of the Quality Rater Guidelines that concentrates on helping Raters understand the intent behind local searches rather than giving any major insight into what Google is looking for. It is however, very clear that if your local business website does not clearly state your location then neither users nor Google will get the message that you are relevant for local searches!
Ensure that what you do, where you do it (and when) is clearly stated on the relevant pages.
One area you cannot directly control online is your reputation. The fact that anyone can talk about your business and be published somewhere online scares the daylights out of many small business owners – to the point they bury their heads in the sand and do not monitor key platforms for mentions.
I cannot stress enough how big a mistake ignoring your online reputation is. Potential customers do not just look at your website and decide to buy, visit or call you. It doesn’t matter how great you say you are, often they’ll research your business too.
The new Quality Rater Guidelines put a big emphasis on reputation right from the start of the handbook.
You must also look for reputation information about the website. We need to find out what outside, independent sources say about the website. When there is disagreement between what the website says about itself and what independent sources say about the website, we’ll trust the independent sources.
Going on to say:
Use reputation research to find out what real users, as well as experts, think about a website. Look for reviews, references, recommendations by experts, news articles, and other credible information created/written by individuals about the website.
Reputation research is necessary for all websites you encounter. Do not just assume websites you personally use have a good reputation. Please do research! You might be surprised at what you find.
You can see where Google is heading with this emphasis. No business operates in a vacuum! The reputation emphasis should be a big enough hint to ensure that your business details are consistent across the web.
The guidelines do have a caveat:
Frequently, you will find little or no information about the reputation of a website for a small organization. This is not indicative of positive or negative reputation. Many small, local businesses or community organizations have a small “web presence” and rely on word of mouth, not online reviews. For these smaller businesses and organizations, lack of reputation should not be considered an indication of low page quality.
Please do not dash out and create false reviews. That will come back to bite you.
- Regularly monitor your online reputation – it is no longer an option
- Make it easy for people to find further information about your business. Link out to professional/trade societies your business is a member of and/or include links to review sites where people are talking about your business
- Reply to reviews – even the negative ones in a polite, professional manner
- Display any awards won, articles written about your business or ratings from independent sources
The Internet Marketing Ninjas talk more about the Google Quality Rating Guidelines, expertise and reputation in this interview with Jennifer Slegg. Click through to their blog post for the interview transcription.
To sum up
The Google Quality Rater Guidelines are not some “set in stone rules” you must follow. Their purpose is the aid Quality Raters in reviewing search results, websites and pages. Google uses feedback from the Raters to tweak and test their algorithms.
Each leaked copy of the Guidelines give us a great insight into what is important to Google in their search results.
Your aim is to view your online presence through the eyes of your potential customer. What does your online presence convey?
The Quality Rater Guidelines include far more topics than I cover in this post including:
- knowledge graphs
- supplementary content
- page design.
My aim is to look at points relevant to the issues I see UK small businesses struggling with online. I do recommend you browse the further reading!
Google Rewrites Quality Rating Guide – What SEO’s Need to Know
Examples from the Quality Rater Guidelines
About Supplementary Content in the Google Quality Raters Guidelines
The Role of Reputation in the Google Quality Rater Guidelines
Leaked Google Quality Rater Guidelines (all 160 pages)
Moz Beginners Guide To SEO – How Usability, User Experience and Content Affect Search Engine Rankings
Ana Hoffman’s overview of the Guidelines
Over to you…
If you have a website, will the Quality Rater Guidelines change the way you are operating online? Let me know in the comments!