Aspectus PR's Global Group Director, Alastair Turner, looks at the growing prominence of semantic search and conversational searches, and why it's worth ensuring your content positively checks boxes on Google's E-A-T scale.
Another month and another leak. This time it was Google's search quality evaluation guidelines - the criteria its human website testers use to judge website quality. While this might not garner WikiLeaks' levels of attention, some of the information revealed is no less illuminating, and anyone with an interest in their digital presence should take note.
The standout point is that Google is placing a premium on excellent website content. One section of the guidelines states that website evaluations should utilise an 'E-A-T', or 'expertise, authority, trust' methodology. Presumably this means that for a website - or pages of a website - to be considered 'excellent', its authority and trustworthiness must also stand up to scrutiny.
Human testers are used by Google as part of its search quality team to help distinguish between good and bad search results. These evaluations are then used by Google engineers when search updates are rolled out. The new guidelines made particular mention of both high and highest quality results, which suggests that for websites to really stand out in search results they'll need to hit as many 'highest quality' criteria as possible.
The key here is that with Google's Hummingbird update last year, the prominence of semantic search and conversational searches has increased greatly. Google's attempts at incorporating these aspects into its search results has seen a fairly dramatic increase in answer boxes, as well as in-depth articles and knowledge graph search results - all of which hinge on expert quality content.
Answer boxes in context
Answer boxes are the boxes that appear at the top of the organic search results and attempt to answer the question in the query. To demonstrate their growing significance, it is worth looking at a couple of examples of search queries relating to a specific sector.
Taking financial services as an example, a relatively typical, if not common search query (260 times per month according to Google) such as, "What is a derivative in finance?" returns the following result on desktop:
As highlighted by the red border shown in the example, the content for this answer is taken from the fifth result on the page. This is notable because Wikipedia, Investopedia and about.com all rank above investinganswers.com. These sites are well known as sources for Google's answer box results and are large and authoritative websites.
Therefore, there is a good chance that the content that explains financial derivatives on the investinganswers.com website has positively checked enough boxes on the E-A-T scale to warrant Google using it over and above its usual sources.
The mobile search result shows how the answer box dominates the entire above-the-fold view:
The link to the page is included under the definition, and it is highly likely that significant amounts of organic traffic will be driven to the website - from both mobile and desktop - as a result.
Further examples include:
"What is a security in finance?"
These examples go some way to showing the range of "what" and "who" type queries and results that generate answer box results. Of course, most of these queries exist around answers with a fairly solid factual base, but Google's current focus on understanding the meaning behind searches and how prominently they are displayed means that ever greater importance is placed on high quality content.
Businesses and brands that are interested in promoting themselves through their websites have an obvious opportunity to take advantage of semantic results for niche search queries. The acronyms and terminology in financial services is a case in point, but can just as easily be applied across myriad other sectors.
As ever, to achieve this with Google, the starting point to search result dominance is to create expert content on a website that is authoritative and trustworthy.