Behind the Scenes at Google, the Human Reviewer Playbook

March 14th, 2008 by Chris

You can optimize your site for search engine algorithms perfectly, but if a human working for a search engine comes in and makes a snap judgement that your site looks spammy or isn’t useful, and you’ll suffer.

I think, many of the unexplained rankings we see are a result of these human reviews and it is a reason why I have for years advocated making websites that not only have good SEO, but also have a site that has a good “human factor.” You want a fast loading professional looking site, a good logo, a good design, and you’ll want to brag about your content, then brag about it some more.

A copy of Google’s quality rater’s handbook from April of 07 has been leaked. This has happened before, this is a newer leak though. (EDIT: It looks like they took it down. Now I’m kicking myself for not saving a copy, although I atleast read through it all and remember most of it, it really makes this blog post less than useful to not have a source for you all to read it. If anyone did save a copy please email me. Thanks.)

Read it, you’ll see just how important first impressions are. Your site should look active, useful, and legitimate. Think of the concept of a tip jar (or hat, or guitar case). A street performer will put out a hat for tips and seed that hat with a few bucks, why do they do this? Because people are often lemmings and are much more comfortable following than leading. If you’re not the first, or only, person to leave a tip you’re more likely to do so, that is just how our minds work.

So, you want to let the quality rater know that if they approve of your site, they will not be the first one. Let them know that other people like your site too. If you can legitimately claim something, “The #1 knitting site on the Internet” for instance, then claim it. Remember, perception is reality and if you act big, important, and authoritative, people will see you as such.

Also, notice how the guidelines actually say to look for things like forums or return policies as evidence of legitimacy. This makes forum posting services even more attractive in my opinion. You’ll want the appearance of a popular forum before you’re reviewed, and the Google handbook has information on identifying forums with scraped or fake content, but nothing on posts that were done by paid writers. I’m sure I’ve probably avoided dismissal as an MFA site in the past because of forum content.

This is also one reason why over the past 2 or so years I’ve focused heavily on going back, redoing, and redesigning many of my older sites to make sure they look as professional as possible (at least, to my standards).

Now, do I have any new advice in this blog post? No, not really, just scroll up and look at all the links. There is a lot of good content here on, some of the older content perhaps gets forgotten, so go back and read some of these old posts and articles. I’m pleased to say that I long ago covered everything you’ll need to do to make your site look good to these human reviews, and if you followed it when I first posted it congratulate yourself on being ahead of the curve.

2 Responses to “Behind the Scenes at Google, the Human Reviewer Playbook”

  1. Farmer77  Says:

    This is the first time I heard of this. So they actually have real people reviewing sites? Yikes. Hope they are more scruples than the ppl at DMOZ…*cough*

  2. Joe King  Says:

    Chris, is this the handbook you’re talking about:

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