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Google’s Search Quality Guidelines: Speak Your Customers’ Language

Google’s Manual Search Quality Guidelines document tells their manual review team how to determine the quality of a website. You can think of this as what Google would like their algorithm to become. If you’re doing SEO, you need to pay attention to these guidelines.

This is especially true when Google updates these guidelines- like they recently did. A lot in this document remains the same: E.A.T., helpful main content, etc. Yet they did add two new sections. One discusses native languages for a website and the other is about hate speech. What does this have to do with your business website?

TL;DR: Good SEO speaks your customers language.

Low Quality Websites Provide English Language Results in Non-English Locales

One addition to Google’s guidelines involves the language of your website. This is a reminder: “www” means “world-wide web.” US-based businesses used to promote themselves to an international audience in English. While English is a trade language, good marketing speaks your customers’ language. Now, if you want to reach an international audience, you can’t cut corners any longer.

This is only important if you’re trying to reach an international audience. Then again- why aren’t you trying to reach an international audience? As more and more of the world gets online, this might be a great way to expand your business!

This is consistent with Google’s recent promotion of the hreflang tag. Google is encouraging websites to state the language of the website.

Low Quality Websites Promote Hate or Violence

Google’s second addition involves hate speech. Given the current political climate in the United States, this isn’t a surprise to see this. While it was implied by previous editions of the guidelines, now it’s explicit. The new guidelines say:

Use the Lowest rating for pages created with the sole purpose of promoting hate or violence against a group of people based on criteria including (but not limited to) race ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality or citizenship, disability, age, sexual orientation or veteran status.

Google’s reason: “Websites advocating hate or violence can cause real world harm.”

This doesn’t apply to most business websites. I know I’d never take a client like this. Does this mean that a manual reviewer could ban your website if you offend them?

First of all, let’s forget about SEO for a moment. When talking about controversial topics, people can lose their empathy. This results in content that might offend others. You have to ask yourself: how does offensive content benefit your business? Do you want to alienate a potential customer? Would you take money from someone who disagrees with you? Perhaps, instead of being controversial, you should speak your customer’ language. This seems obvious to me but I’ve had to remind a client of this, from time to time.

Second, content must have a “purpose” of promoting hate. We all have friends or family who tell off-color stories. Is their story’s “purpose” to “promote hate”? Probably not. They might be ignorant, narrow-minded, naive or wrong- but that doesn’t mean they want to “promote hate”. Of course, “purpose” is in the eye of the beholder. If someone is insulting a group to which I belong, I might be less forgiving when evaluating their intent. This should bring you back to my first point: do you need to say this, in the first place? Will this help your business? If not, you should speak your customers’ language.

Third, this applies to “pages” and not “websites.” So, if you must include that controversial piece of content, this shouldn’t affect your site as a whole. Yet, if you continue the guidelines suggest reviewers compare a website with this content against specific sources, to determine intent. Google suggests that the Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Pew Research Center can help determine if a website is promoting hate. Unless your business has been flagged by one of these organizations, you shouldn’t be worried.

This becomes difficult when considering more controversial businesses. What about a business that feels compelled to not serve a segment of the population? What if you sell controversial products? Is Google suppressing free speech by not including certain businesses?

I’m no lawyer (to my mother’s disappointment) but it seems that Google can promote whatever they want. Nobody has a right to be on Google. If Google doesn’t like a business they might have to promote themselves elsewhere.

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