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QRG Clues to How Google Evaluates Local Business Reputation

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QRG Clues to How Google Evaluates Local Business Reputation


The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Image credit: Maura Boswell

Well, I actually read through the 172-page Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, with all of its memorable examples featuring jungle gyms, Tom Cruise, and the Utopia Animal Hospital.

I waded through this dense midge-water marsh of information hoping to enhance my comprehension of how Google understands local business reputation. I did it so you might not have to, and today’s column summarizes the clues I found amid the reeds as well as checking in with Dr. Marie Haynes for her algorithm update expertise.

For local brands, reputation is everything. It’s an always-on sales force, quality control, and a business intelligence methodology when creatively managed. It’s renown or infamy, a source of pride or a signal that improvements are required. It’s a multi-faceted local search engine ranking factor and it’s also a key component in how Google views entities. Today, we’ll take a swift trek through top takeaways from one enormous .pdf which just might inspire you to seek out many new ways of proving to Google and the public that the local businesses you market are the best in town.

The purpose of quality raters: somewhat clearer than mud!

Image Credit: Stan Lupo

Google employs 10,000+ people, referred to as “raters” or “evaluators” to judge webpages on the basis of the Search Quality Evaluator guidelines (sometimes referred to as the QRG). What sometimes confuses folks, though, is that these evaluations do not directly impact the rankings of the entities being reviewed. Rather, Google’s simplified explanation of the the purpose of this large human network is to:

“Help make sure Search is returning relevant results from the most reliable sources available”

How this works is that the raters are supposed to act as checks on whether Google’s ongoing algorithmic updates are producing better or worse results. For example, a quality rater might be tasked with looking at a set of results for the query “lead-free garden hose” before a Google update, and then compare that to the results for the same search after Google has made an adjustment. Did the adjustment produce better results, according to the principles in the guidelines? That’s the kind of question the rater is there to answer. As Google explains:

“They help us measure how well our systems are working to deliver great content.”

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I like to think of the evaluators as a big flock of wading birds, probing the muddy sands of search for what they’ve been trained to think of as delicious. And why do we care what is on their menu? Because the guidelines tell us, in advance, something about how Google views search quality, and insights into their take on a good reputation are especially relevant to local business owners and their marketers.

Talking QRG + reputation with Dr. Marie Hanyes

When it comes to exploring the morass of Google’s algorithms, author and speaker Dr. Marie Haynes’ work is among the most respected in the industry and I’ve come to rely on her expertise. She has written extensively about the QRG and what it tells us about Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) and about Your-Money-or-Your-Life (YMYL) business models, and I particularly value the thoughts she shared with me about Google’s vision of reputation:

While Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines are not an exact representation of what Google’s algorithms do, we know that what’s in the QRG represents what Google is trying to accomplish in their algorithms. The QRG speaks several times about the importance of reputation. Google does not want to rank websites that are untrustworthy. What I found the most interesting in the QRG is how the raters are told to find different types of reputation information depending on the nature of the business they are researching. The guidelines say, “A website’s reputation is based on the experience of real users, as well as the opinion of people who are experts in the topic of the website.”

If you are writing on YMYL topics, then I believe that in order to rank you need to have information that is backed up by experts in your field. For many sites, improving E-A-T can start with responding to reviews, rectifying negative reviews and fixing the business issues that lead to users leaving those negative reviews. In section 2.6.1 of the QRG, it says, “For YMYL informational topics, the reputation of a website or content creator should be judged by what experts in the field have to say. Recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies, are strong evidence of a very positive reputation.”

But even if you are not writing on YMYL topics, reputation is important! The guidelines say, “For example, customer ratings and reviews may be helpful for reputation research of online stores, but much less so for medical information websites.” And also, “For some topics, such as humor or recipes, less formal expertise is OK. For these topics, popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation. For topics that need less formal expertise, websites can be considered to have a positive reputation if they are highly popular and well-loved for their topic or content type, and are focused on helping users.

Real users, formal and less-formal experts, and a variety of independent sources, then, all come into play when it comes to raters identifying reputations. Thank you, Dr. Haynes!

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What makes for a good or bad reputation, according to Google’s Guidelines?

To start with, it’s interesting to note that Google sets an extremely low bar for many local businesses when it comes to their reputation. Nota bene:

Many small, local businesses or community organizations have a small “web presence” and rely on word of mouth, not online reviews. For these smaller businesses and organizations, lack of reputation should not be considered an indication of low page quality.

I find this quote fascinating for three reasons:

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  1. On the one hand, Moz readers will know that I am a very strong proponent of local businesses investing seriously in earning amazing word of mouth and a large body of positive reviews. Doing so should be table stakes for every local brand, no matter how small and no matter what Google thinks!

  2. On the other hand, the fact that Google’s SMB expectations are so modest may lend a welcome note of ease to players just jumping into the local search marketing game; you need to become the best in town, but you’re not up against Google’s index of the whole world!

  3. Finally, the foregoing excerpt from the guidelines is useful, because it illustrates how Google conceptualizes reputation in the context of overall page quality. In a nutshell, raters are looking around the web for proof of reputation to help them determine whether a web page deserves to be considered high or low quality.

Google’s document contains multiple examples of signs of a good or bad reputation, which I’ll pare down to just two:

Bad Reputation

Google points to a business selling jungle gyms that is the subject of multiple reviews claiming to have been ripped off and also of news articles citing fraud.

Good Reputation

Google mentions a medical facility which Wikipedia and news articles from respected sources name as one of the top four hospitals in the US.

The difference is easy to see, and your job in marketing a local business is to make it very obvious to the raters into which category your brand falls!

Where to build a reputational beacon any rater can see

Think of those thousands of raters in a boggy maze and learn to construct signals of reputation which handily guide them to a true and good quality assessment. Google lists all of the following as your options for this work:

Customer reviews

The local businesses you market will all make claims on their websites about offering top quality goods and services, but the QRG goes out of its way to instruct raters to disregard this sentiment in favor of the independent evaluations captured in actual customer reviews. Raters can examine your review corpus to see if the public feels the brand is meeting expectations. Famous brands may need to care most about reviews that judge whether a business is living up to hype, but every local company should implement a review acquisition and management strategy which seeks to prove to both the community and the raters that a high-quality reputation is being won via excellent customer service.

Professional reviews/ratings

If your industry includes a professional review site or network, make it a goal to earn this press. In the restaurant space, I’ve learned that most professional review sites don’t accept solicitations. Rather, an eatery must take the indirect approach of building up enough local word-of-mouth buzz to catch the attention of the professional reviewer. If your vertical lends itself to this type of notice, know that Google’s quality raters can closely examine this type of content for signals of brand quality.

Blog posts

If the community you serve is lucky enough to have one or more dedicated local blogs, their authors should be neighbors you get to know. Avoid a hard sell in your outreach. Rather, discover a meaningful way to start talking about your shared love of your city; local bloggers tend to be serious community advocates, and if you can prove that your business shares such aesthetics, you’re taking the first steps to becoming blog-worthy. If Google’s raters can find nearby writers speaking well of the brands you market, it can go far towards validating a good reputation.

Magazine articles

Many online magazines have a small business focus, and while you may need to work hard to achieve the level of fame that would win mentions of the brands you market in a publication like Entrepreneur or Fast Company, smaller concerns like Small Business Trends Magazine regularly spotlight SMBs. Columnists and editors are always looking for a good story, and while the inquiry and submission policies for each magazine will be different, thoughtful outreach on your part with an interesting business anecdote from which peers can derive takeaways is another great way to prove to the raters that a company is growing its good reputation.

News stories

From years of reading local business news stories, I’ve realized that the best way to earn inclusion is through simple helpfulness to the community. Whether that’s providing straight-up relief in a time of crisis, as in the above store of a disaster remediation company who did free work for a resident when her apartment was flooded, or from being a participant in or sponsor of events, teams, conferences, and movements, a local business can build a substantial reputation for good though its support of its neighbors. Sometimes, local stories are even of such considerable human interest that they become syndicated. Actively seek opportunities to become a business that’s known for helping others.

Forum discussions

Local business owners may sometimes wonder whether fora are too old school to be relevant. Google says no, and instructs its raters to check them for discussions of brand quality. If the community you serve has a forum, like the forum of the West Seattle Blog, where neighbors are asking one another about a restaurant, it’s a good thing to be mentioned there. Nextdoor would be another obvious option for local talk about your business. Most fora prohibit self-promotion, but if you become a member of a community hub like these, there may be opportunities for you to increase the visibility of your participation in your town or city and to respond when your company is mentioned and you’ll be offering a very positive impression for Google’s raters to consider.

Awards

I’ve served local business owners who are humble and shy of blowing their own horn, but in the quest for a glowing reputation, there is nothing to stop you from applying for prestigious awards or vying for local ones issued on a smaller scale, like the “best of the county” honors offered by this publication. Not only will it provide a strong signal of public trust on your website, Google Business Profile, and other online assets if you can say “voted best dentist in X in 2022” but the quality raters will encounter these awards and go further along their journey of believing your brand is truly earning a great reputation.

One last tip for reputation growth

Image credit: Steven Christenson

Google’s QRG is quite clear about wanting raters to rely mainly on independent sources to evaluate reputation. This is why it’s so important to get bloggers, columnists, reporters, communities, and organizations talking about the local businesses you market. You want your brands on their domains.

But don’t let a mention earned exist in one place only. When you earn press, reviews, awards, and other fame, repurpose that content on your website, local business listings, and social media profiles. Write some Google posts, shoot a video, craft a blog post, or an Instagram story. This will not only provide multiple paths for a Google search quality evaluator to discover your fame, but it will be remarketing positive messaging to the audience that matters more than any other: your customers!

The ancient Greek playwright Euripides said, “Along with success comes a reputation for wisdom.” Local business owners have already built up an impressive store of sagacity simply by running their operations; taking the next step of learning to see reputation as Google does is a habit of success they can easily adopt. Always continue to think customer-first, but thinking search engine-second when it comes to building online renown is surely a tactic for the wise.

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MARKETING

How to Use Product Synonyms to Build Use Case Awareness & Scale SEO

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How to Use Product Synonyms to Build Use Case Awareness & Scale SEO

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Let’s move back in time to your third grade English class — lesson of the day: synonyms.

Synonyms (not to be confused with cinnamon) are words that have a similar or the same meaning as another word.

But, you already know this. What you might not know is how synonyms help you build use case awareness.

It all comes down to talking about your product in multiple ways, all of which are useful to your target audience. By expanding the ways you talk about your product, you attract more users, which in return scales your SEO strategy by giving you more relevant keywords to rank for (ideally even with high purchase intent – yes please!)

In fact, by finding and targeting product synonyms, you can even tap into a new unique selling point for your target market.

Let’s find out product-led SEO with synonyms can slingshot your growth forward.

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What is the value of synonyms for SEO?

First off, using synonyms is a common SEO best practice recommended by Google.

SEO guru and webmaster trend analyst, John Mueller, explains how synonyms work, particularly in connection with search intent and context:

…especially when you’re looking at something like ‘edit video’ versus ‘video editor,’ the expectations from the user side are a little bit different. On the one hand you want to edit a video. On the other hand you might want to download a video editor. And it seems very similar but… the things that the users want there are slightly different.”

So, when it comes to using product synonyms to scale your SEO strategy, the key is to align user search intent with a product use case that helps them.

I’d like to highlight how well this works not just for e-commerce, but also B2B, because those are the businesses that often struggle the most with low product-related search volume, making it seem like SEO just isn’t worth it. To add to that, there’s often a gap between what your audience calls your product and what you call it internally, so this strategy ensures both angles are covered.

Do this over and over again and not only will it expand your brand awareness, but it’ll also take a niche product with low search volume and turn it into a lead and sale generator — all from compounding hundreds of thousands of organic monthly searches (or more, depending on the topic).

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Let’s go over some examples.

Examples of product synonyms for SEO

A use case (or a roadmap for how your audience will interact with a product) is a fantastic way to apply product synonyms. If people learn how they can use your product, the more likely they’ll feel it’s relevant to them. The more detailed the use case, the more personal it feels to the reader.

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Examples of product synonyms in e-commerce

Product synonyms for e-commerce are pretty straightforward. For example, “occasionwear,” “wedding guest wear,” and “party wear” are all product synonyms that can be found as focus keywords at a made-to-order men’s suits store.

An online sport store may use synonyms such as “tennis shoes,” “sneakers,” and “trainers” to capture all target markets, for different levels of athletic wear.

Now let’s put it into practice.

What product synonyms would you use for “webcam” and “Bluetooth headphones”?

Maybe, “streaming camera,” “e-meeting camera,” or “Zoom camera”?

For Bluetooth headphones, what about “impermeable headphones” or “running headphones”?

It’s all about the use case that matches the same search intent.

Examples of product synonyms in B2B

In B2B, use cases become even more relevant, because one of the most common questions in the buying cycle is: “Is this truly relevant for my particular business?”

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Take a look at these phrases:

  • Conversational AI chatbot

  • Customer support automation

  • Product recommendation software

  • Omnichannel engagement platform

Even though these have vastly different use cases and are semantically different, the technology used produces the same outcome as what each phrase describes. In fact, it’s actually the exact same product (in this case a chatbot), only described with a different phrase. 

The trick in this particular example is to talk about how the main product, the chatbot, relates to all the above phrases. Rinse and repeat and now you’ve gone from a niche product with limited search volume to HubSpot level organic traffic — all of which is highly relevant for your target audience.

How to find & rank for product synonyms

Finding synonym opportunities for products requires a deep understanding of the market and the search behavior of buyer personas. In other words, learn what your audience wants and explain how your product gives them that in multiple ways.

Understand your product use cases

Let’s start with your product use cases. Where should you begin?

First, compile all related brand themes and then build topic clusters based on that.

Let’s say you sell eco-friendly swimsuits for all types of bodies and your topic clusters focus on eco-friendliness and swimsuits per body type. All topic cluster pages are connected to the central brand themes and your products, but talked about from different angles.

In B2B, it’s common to cluster product use cases by industry or method. For example, the “conversational AI chatbot” mentioned earlier might target e-commerce managers, while “customer support automation” is a use case aimed at customer success. In the same way, “product recommendation software” grabs attention from a product team and an “omnichannel engagement platform” captures the marketing team.

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With only these few keywords, we’ve described how nearly an entire business benefits from using a chatbot — sales here we come!

Benchmark competitors

Aside from generally making note of words that are being used on their website, it’s helpful to perform a competitor keyword gap analysis. This helps you determine words they’re ranking for that you aren’t (yet), which helps inspire new use cases.

Moz Pro dashboard for ranking keywords

Understand the language of your audience

Do some research to see how your target audience refers to your products in their own words. Often in B2B there is a big gap between their descriptions and yours. Take note of the words, phrases, and any other insights pertaining to the language being used.

Some places to poke around include Slack communities, social media (especially LinkedIn), and Reddit. Don’t shy away from in-person events, too! When you talk like your audience talks, you’ll resonate with them because your products are simple to understand. Walk their walk, and talk their talk!

Pro tip: Talk to your customers on a regular basis! Ask to set up a 15 minute feedback session and record it. It’ll bring you massive insights about how they talk about and use your product.

If your business is big on social media, then social monitoring and listening tools will be crucial for compiling lots of information quickly. Social monitoring obtains information that has already happened in the past, while social listening keeps an ear out for current conversations about your brand. Hootsuite offers an extensive social monitoring tool to “dive deep beneath the surface”, while Talkwalker offers social listening so you can keep up in real time.

Review People Also Ask and related searches

Google SERP features are a treasure trove of synonym opportunities. If you’re looking for “shoes”, you’ll probably see people are also searching for “sneakers”, “tennis shoes”, etc. You can use this feature to understand user search intent (which will help you find more aligned synonyms) and ensure you create the right type of content based on what’s already ranking.

The People Also Ask feature is similar to the “related searches” at the bottom of the SERP, and you can also use this to curate synonyms. 

Last but not least, utilize the auto-complete feature that suggests what you might type in the search bar:

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Google search for

Pro tip: Use AlsoAsked to dig a bit deeper into the People Also Ask questions from your potential consumers, and export the data graphically and in bulk. Answer all those questions and that’s a clear path toward SEO scalability!

Do keyword research

Without keyword research, creating your content and optimizing for SEO is like throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping that it sticks. Use a keyword research tool like Moz to find keywords based on use cases. This ensures the keywords are relevant, have search volume, and have relatively low competition. For a more in-depth guide on keyword research, be sure to check out this guide!

Once you’ve finished keyword research, turn the semantically-related keyword groups into clusters to create individual content pieces for each cluster. 

Differentiate keyword placement based on your site structure

All websites have core product pages, so the exact match of high-purchase-intent keywords should go on those to maximize the potential for sales.

Product synonyms that are semantically unrelated, but still have a relevant use case, can go in an area like the blog, where you can explain them more thoroughly and then link back to your core product pages to incentivize conversions.

To go back to the chatbot example, “conversational AI chatbot” works best on an evergreen product page, while “product recommendation software” might make more sense in the blog, because you’ve got to give some explanation about how the two are connected.

Let us wrap this up with a quick recap

First off: why use product synonyms? Synonyms for SEO increase the relevancy of your product pages for a specific search query. At the same time, they can also help you scale out content strategies in the future, thus strengthening your SEO game and brand awareness.

But never forget, first you must understand your product use cases. How do your customers use your product? How do they describe it? Go deep into this process to get those granular details. Look around to see what language your customers are using, scope out your competitors for inspiration, and do some extensive keyword research. Review the People Also Ask feature and related searches to gather more information and ensure you differentiate your keyword placement based on your specific site structure.

Now you’ve got the basics of using product synonyms to build use case awareness. Class dismissed!

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