How Google Quality Raters Affect (and Don’t Affect) Your Rankings

November 21, 2011 by

While a tremendous amount of content is generated everyday on the technical or algorithmic aspects of SEO, the “human element” is one that seems to get far less attention.

I’ve known for a while that Google employs teams of actual living, breathing people to help rate the quality of pages in search (in fact, I wrote about it very briefly when the Panda Update first hit). But admittedly, I didn’t really know much about who these people were and what they were actually looking for.  So I was fascinated to come across a post last week from Jennifer Ledbetter over at that did a great job of breaking down the true human element of search engine rankings.

Since I don’t think this is a widely understood aspect of SEO, here are a few of the key takeaways I gathered from her post that might help online marketers who are interested in that sort of thing.

What do Google Quality Raters actually do?

As described in the post, the Google Quality Raters are basically tasked with reviewing the quality of search results around a given keyword phrase. In other words, Google uses them to help make sure that the results returned around a search phrase are the most relevant to what a user might be looking for.

Naturally, this process is a bit more technical, but that’s the long and the short of it.

What DON’T Google Quality Raters do?

Now at first glance, you might think that these Quality Raters are affecting search results by telling Google which web pages are better than others so that their rankings can be shifted accordingly. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like they actually have this power.

What they are really doing is testing Google’s algorithmic changes to see which tweaks return the highest-quality results. As I’ve written before, Google is always making changes (some major like Panda, others much more minor) to improve the overall quality of results in search. So when testing whether a particular algorithmic tweak will have a positive or negative effect, an actual human being is required to look with their own eyes and make that call. As the process plays out, it appears that Google will have the Quality Rater review search results around a certain phrase both before and after the algorithmic tweaks, and based on the quality of the URLs returned, will relay to Google which version of those results is “better.” The company will then use that feedback to move forward with the current set of changes, or fall back to make necessary adjustments.

So again, according to Google, a Quality Rater is not given the power to simply say,” This page result is no good,” and negatively affect its rating in that way. They are simply used as another phase in testing changes to different parts of its search algorithm. (I will note that there is still some suspicion that if a page receives negative feedback from a whole bunch of raters, Google might take action by penalizing that page in its results. Of course, it would probably have to be in extreme cases, and this is really all just skepticism. In fact, forget I even brought it up…)

Who are these Quality Raters anyway?

They aren’t marketers, that’s for sure. As Ledbetter’s post explains, they are essentially freelancers looking to earn some extra dough. They are trained, however, and required to pass certain tests before taking on any work. But the typical Google Quality Rater appears to be a stay-at-home type that earns somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-15 per hour.

Again, these typically aren’t marketers, search specialists, or anyone of that ilk; they are just your regular, everyday web users – which is essentially who search engines like Google are for, anyway.

What should online marketers be doing?

Hopefully, the same stuff you already are. Ledbetter offers some advice that’s really worth heeding whether you care about Google Quality Raters or not. Check it out here. But it really comes down to making the best first impression possible. As the post points out, the raters generally won’t have any interest in whether a particular web page ranks well or not. And like most readers, you usually don’t have more than three seconds to convince them that your page is worthy before they jump ship to something else.

The best advice is to look at your pages with human eyes (Would you be pleased with this page if you were a visitor?), don’t game the system (make sure your content actually aligns with what searchers would expect to find around your target phrase), and ensure that you’re snippets add the best value to what each page is about (another great reason to always include meta descriptions).

If you’re an online marketer, content marketer, inbound marketer, etc. (wait – haven’t we gone over this? ), it’s certainly worth learning as much about Google’s process as possible. It’s the best way to arm yourself to deliver content that people will not only find, but actually like.

So while most of the magic behind search results lies with the algorithm, make sure you don’t discount the human element either. In other words, don’t write for robots – write for people!

You can find more information on content marketing and editorial practices at the OpenView Labs website. You can also follow Brendan on Twitter @BrenCournoyer and find more from the OpenView team @OpenViewVenture.