Google recently announced it has released a full version of their Search Quality Guidelines.

The guidelines are meant to assist Google’s Search Quality Raters — a large, global focus group that helps review Google search results and web page quality — in understanding just how to rate these results and pages.

Google first publicly released an incomplete version of these guidelines in 2013, but has now released a full version in the form of a 160-page PDF. Mimi Underwood, who serves as Google’s Senior Program Manager of Search Growth & Analysis, noted that the original guidelines were made public to offer clarity about how Google works, as well as informing webmasters about what Google “looks for” on web pages.

“Since that time, a lot has changed,” she writes. “[…] More people have smartphones than ever before and more searches are done on mobile devices today than on computers.”

While this is the first publicly available guide that Google has released, Underwood went on to say that it will not be the final version of Search Quality Guidelines — that these guidelines will evolve alongside the evolution of search engines and how people use them.

While Google’s guidelines have focused on — and continue to focus on — the “expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness” of web pages, one new feature in the guide revolves around the needs of mobile users.

How Google’s Guidelines Might Affect Lawyers

“We expect our phones and other devices to do a lot,” Underwood writes in her post, “and we want Google to continue giving users the answers they’re looking for — fast!”

Because Google wants to make an easy and enjoyable mobile experience for its users, some of the new mobile features covered in the guidelines for quality raters to consider are topics such as:

  • Difficult mobile data entry (Typing on mobile phones can be hard; additionally, voice recognition doesn’t always work.)
  • How a site works on small screen sizes (Example: even if a site is “mobile-friendly,” a small screen size can still make some phone features difficult to use.)
  • Other aspects of difficult-to-use webpages (i.e., side-scrolling, menus and navigation that don’t work on mobile phones, improperly sized images, inability to access Flash, etc.)
  • Internet connectivity problems (page speed is not a part of Google’s mobile algorithms; however, Google’s guide notes that opening apps, voice command recognition and load times can be slower on mobile devices.)

Google’s Search Quality Raters will now have these sorts of guidelines in mind — and that means lawyers may want to have them in mind, too.

Pew Research reported that in October of 2014, 64 percent of American adults owned a smartphone. As of July 2015, that number has risen to 68 percent, and slightly more than one-third of those users indicated that they use their smartphones to browse the web more often than other devices such as desktop computers or laptops.

Nearly a third of those polled indicated their cell phone is “something they can’t live without.”

This sort of data suggests that lawyers may not want to focus their efforts solely on their desktop web presence but also on interaction with potential clients who may be trying to visit their website from a mobile device. That means lawyers may want to consider concepts such as sites that use responsive design and potentially even taking a mobile-first approach.

It should be mentioned that Google’s Search Query Guidelines are meant to assist Google’s Search Quality Raters, but these individuals don’t directly affect website rankings. Underwood expressed a similar message in her blog post: she noted that evaluator ratings don’t determine site rankings, but help Google learn more about their own experiments. The guidelines Google writes are a reflection of what it believes users want, and those are the guidelines raters are using.

In sum, quality raters aren’t the last word in how your website is ranked, and these new guidelines aren’t the last word in what users want on the web, whether they’re searching from mobile devices or not. Still, between these new Google guidelines, updates to Google’s Penguin and the introduction of artificial intelligence like RankBrain, lawyers will want to be sure that their website — desktop or mobile — follows Google’s guidelines and provides visitors with an enjoyable experience.

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