Google Search Guidelines Give an Insight into Ranking Criteria


SEO blogs have been buzzing over the past couple of days with news that a new version of Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines was leaked online.

The Google Quality Rating Guidelines is a handbook used by Google Search Quality Raters from around the world to rate the quality of results from specific searches. URL Raters are given a URL and a search query and instructed to visit the landing page and assign a rating based on guidelines from the handbook.

According to Google, queries are broken up in to three categories,

After understanding the intent of the query, users then rate web pages on the following scale,

Google’s Criteria for a “Useful” Webpage is rather broad and states that a single query can have many useful webpages. As with any manual rating system the answers will be subjective, however raters are asked to decide if the webpage is a “good fit” for the query. Some examples state that the page may be “highly satisfying, authoritative, entertaining, and/or recent (such as breaking news on a topic).”

Pages earning the “relevant” rating will still need to fit the query but will have less helpful information compared to useful pages. This may include information that is older or only addresses one part of the query.

The “slightly relevant” or “off topic” ratings are saved for web pages which Google wants to avoid. In these sections Google asks raters to look past tricks tricks like including search terms in the URL, page title and copied or repeated keywords when assigning a rating to the page.

Finally, the document also discusses what makes a page bad enough to be marked as “spam”. Here are some tactics you may want to avoid,

  • Hidden text or links – may be exposed by selecting all page text and scrolling to the bottom (all text is highlighted), disabling CSS/Javascript, or viewing source code
  • Sneaky redirects – redirecting through several URLs, rotating destination domains cloaking with JavaScript redirects and 100% frame
  • Keyword stuffing – no percentage or keyword density given; this is up to the rater
  • PPC ads that only serve to make money, not help users
  • Copied/scraped content and PPC ads
  • Feeds with PPC ads
  • Doorway pages – multiple landing pages that all direct user to the same destination
  • Templates and other computer-generated pages mass-produced, marked by copied content and/or slight keyword variations
  • Copied message boards with no other page content
  • Fake search pages with PPC ads
  • Fake blogs with PPC ads, identified by copied/scraped or nonsensical spun content
  • Thin affiliate sites that only exist to make money, identified by checkout on a different domain, image properties showing origination at another URL, lack of original content, different WhoIs registrants of the two domains in question
  • Pure PPC pages with little to no content
  • Parked domains

Unfortunately the full 125 page document has been taken down by Google, so if you managed to grab a copy while it was online consider yourself lucky.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or other information to share.


Categorized as SEO

By Matthew Elshaw

Matt is a marketing professional at, an international search marketing firm. Matt's passion for online marketing began at university and has proved invaluable in steering product development and marketing initiatives at the company. Matt is a regular contributor to the ineedhits search marketing blog.