Recently, Google released a new edition of its Search Quality Raters Guidelines. In the past, we have covered how these Guidelines are a glimpse into the future for search engines, even if they do not change the current rankings.
Parsing through the newest rendition of the Guidelines, we see Google focusing on one thing that can impact how you craft your legal blog and other online content: Creator reputation.
Why These Guidelines are Important to Read
Most people are aware that search engines like Google or Bing use algorithms to automatically weigh the relevance and importance of webpages for a given search query. What many don’t know is that these search engines also employ thousands of people to do searches on their platform and then rate the search engine’s performance based on the results that they see. If a good result is buried on the second page or a bad result is at the top of the first, they’ll make a note of it.
The work product of these raters will not automatically shuffle the rankings. However, the search engine will take it into account for future algorithm tweaks and updates, which happen all the time.
Therefore, the Guidelines for these raters is, in a way, a playbook of the search engine’s intentions. If Google is worried about an aspect of its algorithms, or wants to do something better in the future, it will show up in these Guidelines.
New Edition Shows Heightened Concerns About Creator Reputation
Google rolled out its new Rater Guidelines on October 19. Comparing them to the last edition, which was published on October 14, 2020, reveals what we think is a very important addition to section 2.6:
“An important part of [page quality] rating is understanding the reputation of the website. If the creator of the [main content] is different from the creator of the website, it’s important to understand the reputation of the creator as well.”
Google doubles down elsewhere in section 2.6, changing, “A website’s reputation can also help you understand what a website is best known for, and as a result how well it accomplishes its purpose,” to “[k]nowing more about the reputation of a website and content creator can also help you understand what a website is best known for, and as a result how well it accomplishes its purpose.”
Other paragraphs in section 2.6 mirror these changes, instructing search quality raters to “find independent sources of reputation information about the website and creator of the [main content]” (emphasis ours).
What This Means for Legal Blogging and Content Creation
The concern about the reputation of the person behind the website or the content is not new. Google really started paying attention to it back in 2018. But the newest edition of the Guidelines shows that Google is aware of the fact that the people making the content on lots of sites is not the same person or entity that is responsible for the website.
Like, for example, law firms that hire ghostwriters to produce their online marketing content or write their legal blogs.
How Google thinks that its raters will be able to determine whether a lawyer or a legal writer wrote an article, though, is beyond us. Lots of lawyers who use ghostwriters comply with their state’s ethical rules against misleading statements by saying that an article was “posted” by a lawyer in their firm, rather than “written” by them. The odds that a search rater would pick up on that, and then see through the times where a lawyer is actually writing the article, and then somehow determine whether the ghostwriter is reputable as a legal writer – many of whom are certified attorneys – and then weigh that against the likelihood that an attorney is editing the content seems slim, to say the least.
So, how does this alter your legal blog or the other articles on your law firm’s site?
We don’t think that it does, at least not very much, and not right now. Google has consistently shown its concerns about a writer’s reputation in its Guidelines. Now, and perhaps finally, it’s showing an awareness that lots of site owners don’t write their own content. Lawyers should react by making sure that their online content has an attorney’s byline on it, even if that byline isn’t exactly an SEO signal.
Only if Google somehow manages to see who is actually writing online content – something that doesn’t seem possible, at this point – is it worth worrying or doing anything more.