If you were surprised to hear that Google released its 160-page Search Quality Rater’s guide last month, you weren’t alone. Over the years, the SEO community has become accustomed to getting their information second-hand. Some comes from predictions based on independent research, while others come from hints dropped by Google. But for the first time, we now have a detailed report stuffed with the ins and outs of what Google considers to be a quality website worthy of a top ranking spot.

The report is comprehensive and intriguing, but it’s also a lot to read through, especially for the average search marketer. If you do take the time to scan through the pages, you’re not going to find step-by-step directions on how to rank highly. Though Google outlines the quality factors that it takes into consideration, it doesn’t share the inner workings of its algorithm. It’s still anybody’s best guess as to how these quality factors are weighted.

Still, the report is packed with fascinating information that any search marketer can benefit from. Knowing these guidelines won’t give you a one-way ticket to a top ranking spot, but they will help you understand what you need to do to set yourself up for success.

Get ready to be enlightened. Let’s take a look at the key takeaways from the document.

Money-or-Life (YMYL) Pages

One of the first sections of the report discusses money and life. With all the content on the web, Google is most concerned with protecting your money and life. Any pages that can protect them are given more importance over others. Examples of these types of pages include health and medical information, legal information and ecommerce platforms for consumer purchases.

Some products or services have an immediate connection to health and well-being, but others aren’t as obvious. But just about any service or product has a financial or well-being component, and finding this connection can help you prioritize these pages in your optimization strategy. Even if you sell something like computer software, think about how it can benefit your customers’ health or well-being such as by saving them time, headache or money.

Representing the User

If there’s one thing that you take away from the report, it’s this: you must represent the user. Sure, you’ve heard this a million times, but it’s important to keep it fresh in your mind as you read through the guidelines. That’s because every decision Google makes is with the user in mind, which means every decision you make should be, too. Ultimately, Google wants users to find what they’re looking for, deal with trustworthy sources and walk away happy.

Meeting User Needs

Another key ranking factor is “needs met”, which determines how well your pages meet the specific needs of your user. Let’s say that a user searches for something specific like, “how to choose perennial flowers for my NJ garden”. If you have content that matches this search almost exactly, your content will be considered a high needs match. However, if your site isn’t mobile friendly, you’ll quickly change to a low needs match.

Expertise, Authoritative and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)

It’s important to understand each component of E-A-T and where you fall for each of them. Expertise comes from your on-site contributors. For example, do you have writers listed on your website along with their experience and credentials? Are the writers consistent and provide valuable, relevant content? Do they show that they have specialized knowledge in the subject?

Authoritativeness is similar but takes things a step further by dating back to the entire domain. How long have you been around? What have you done during this time period? Trust is the final piece to the equation and involves signals that come from the content on your website. Does your website look trustworthy? Does it have good grammar, factual information and valuable content? Or does it contain flashing pop-ups and poor grammar?

Optimized Page Design

Google does place importance on the way your content is positioned and how your page is designed. What it wants to see is that the most important information is front and center and available to the user without them having to scroll to find it. Mobile optimization is imperative here, as you want to ensure that mobile users can effortlessly use your site on their device.

Supplementary content is also important. This type of content is not your main source of information, but it still provides useful material for users. Examples of supplementary content include tips on a sidebar or a how-video lower on the page. While you don’t need to stuff your pages with tons of content, you should make smart use of the space that is available.

User Intent for Search Queries

Thanks to enhanced algorithms, Google is getting better and better at understanding what the user is looking for. Google points out a few different categories of user intent in their report. “Do” queries are those where users are looking to take a particular action. “Website” queries are where users are looking for a specific website, and “visit” queries are where users want to visit a physical location.

“Know” queries are where users want to know something. Some “know” queries are simple. How tall is Taylor Swift? What’s the tallest building in the world? These are called “simple know” queries and they can usually be answered in one or two sentences. Traditional “know” queries require more elaboration.

How does this help the quality of your site? Try to answer user queries precisely and then back up the response with further elaboration.

Ditching Black Hat Practices

By now you know that black hat practices are a big no-no, but not all of these practices are obvious. Google wants to remind webmasters to avoid spammy practices at all costs, no matter how tempting they may be. You will be caught, and you will be penalized. Content that is intended only to sell, duplicate content, keyword stuffing, dubious redirects and more are all sneaky practices that you want to stay away from. As time goes on, they will only become more precarious.

Final Thoughts

If you do have time to sit down and read through Google’s report, I would recommend doing so. Though it gets a bit heavy at times, this is exactly what we’ve been looking for: more transparent and direct advice straight from the source. If you’ve been practicing SEO for quite some time, you probably won’t find much of this to be new information, but it can refresh your SEO strategy and help you better realize some of the reasons why you’re not ranking for a particular query.