Google's secret criteria for judging (and slapping) websites

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One of my colleagues was asked to help with a site that was severely slapped – had Quality Scores of 1 – and because of his close relationship with Google, he was able to get a “real” Google rep to give him a “real” answer to why the site was slapped.

The answer:

“I would not send my grandma to this site.”

Yeah, I know, some people will retort, “What does YOUR GRANDMA have to do with anything?”

I looked at the site and I would not send my grandma there either.

The person at Google didn’t elaborate. So please permit me to elaborate.

This particular site was selling a specific business opportunity. The hype factor was through the roof, it was a pure “squeeze page” with nowhere else you could go to learn about the vendor, all the bullets were tease and the claims were extraordinary.

It had a smarmy feel.

Google didn’t like it. So somewhere in the account, a Google reviewer punched in a low quality score, and all the keyword and SEO tweaks in the world won’t change that.

I realize this is all totally subjective on Google’s part. But it tells you a few interesting things:

"What should I do next to grow my business this year?" Take my 2-minute quiz and I'll show you where you'll get the most bang for your buck.

-Google is NOT just run by robots. They’ve got more than enough money to put real people on the assignment and they do.

-In my opinion Grandma is a GREAT criteria. Grandma doesn’t know nuthin’ about the Internet so she trusts you to tell her who’s OK to listen to. Should she sink her retirement money into that bizop? Well in Google’s opinion, if there’s more than a 10% chance of her getting screwed, then… absolutely not. Remember: If grandma doesn’t have a tech-savvy grandson, then she has to rely on Google.

-The site failed to prove what it was saying. Let’s say this bizop was totally legit. If so then they should be able to prove it. Names, cities, states, numbers. Qualifications, cautions, requirements.

-The site should have contact information, preferably including street address and phone number, and not appear to be some guy hiding behind his computer.

Might I suggest…. add “Would a Google rep send her grandmother to this site” to your bag of tricks and let’s all do our best to make the Internet a more trustworthy place.

Perry Marshall

Perfect your Google AdWords game in 48 hours flat

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About the Author

Perry Marshall has launched two revolutions in sales and marketing. In Pay-Per-Click advertising, he pioneered best practices and wrote the world's best selling book on Google advertising. And he's driven the 80/20 Principle deeper than any other author, creating a new movement in business.

He is referenced across the Internet and by Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, INC and Forbes Magazine.

34 Comments on “Google's secret criteria for judging (and slapping) websites”

  1. Yes its really true. But the thing about contact information I was just wondering what if a person is doing just online business with no address. Means pretty much a Freelance Guy?

  2. Hello Perry, great article on Google. At the end of the day it was really important for google to do this because they are bound to protect their “brand”.. And thats a bricks and Mortar philosophy.

  3. Hi Perry,

    As always, a great nugget of information.

    With regard to your link on the ReachLocal stats, I’ve talked with their reps in the past. They will gladly take 15% of your monthly advertising budget with no concern regarding conversion. My experience with some of the the other big media outlets has shown the same. Not many folks willing to take your money will stand behind conversions… only impressions or clicks.

  4. Perry:
    As usual you are right on the point.
    Common sense is usually always the best sense. Forget all the ways to game the system and give the user what Google wants to give them- a great user experience. Remember also Grandma has seen more b.s. in her life than the youngins and dont try to fool her. :)

  5. Great article. We recently ran some seminars on best practice web design and got the audience to use a similar approach when comparing sites.

    But I like this analogy better.

    PS. I have just put Grandma on the payroll!

  6. Good article.

    It’s a good image to keep in mind as you are writing content for you site. Keeping an image in mind as to who you are speaking to in your content is a helpful way of writing to a target audience.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  7. Perry give us some thought and insight on this product: http://www.reachlocal.com …. system for utilizing all the PPC systems at the same time and measures conversions by phone and email as well. I lost a client to this software so now it is sparking my interest.

  8. So Perry,

    You’re an internet marketing gangster and have clout in this industry. Why don’t you tell these guys who are making things dicey to knock it off?

    While you’re at it, can you please tell someone to stop using this bogus “scarcity” crap? Some guy was selling a “how to make money product” and just before the offer was over he said “our DVD production company had a fire, so we’re extending the deadline so you can order… but buy now cuz we only have a few copies left”
    Yeah, producing a 50 cent DVD is soooo hard.
    When I read that crap I got off that guys list faster than you can say “bullsh*t” I don’t give out names, but you know of others who pull this kind of crap.

    There are very few internet marketers I actually trust. I’m on a bunch of “biz opp” autoresponders because I like keeping abreast of what’s going on in internet marketing, but wouldn’t give my money to 85% of them. I’d rather spend my time at WarriorForum and get the same info for free.

    1. Raza,

      I think my ability to influence others who do all that scarcity crap is pretty limited. All I can do is let them make public fools of themselves. And be an example ;^>

      Perry

  9. Here’s what bugs me… In numerous test, land pages that have no nav links far, far out pull those that do. Same content. Put links in – convert like 10 – 14%. Take nav links out and I’ve got a keywords converting 30% to 50%.

    Even putting a header in kills response in this case.

    That’s a very steep penalty for putting nav links in. To date, my site hasn’t been slapped and I’m paying less per click than the high bid and still come up #1.

    So both prospects and Google like something – but if I do a preemptive nav bar – I’m killing myself.

  10. I like the Grandma Criteria. I’ve been preaching it for some time for forum posting, etc. but this is the first I’ve heard of it re: PPC.

    I’ve seen posts I’ve made ten years ago to old-time email discussion lists resurface on the net in recent months.

    So I tell people to consider, before they post, whether or not they’d mind if their grandmother (or grandkids) saw what they were about to do. That question has led me to the ‘delete’ button many times.

    Applying the same thing to squeeze pages just makes sense.

  11. Google is NOT just run by robots — solid point there, Perry.

    To that I’d add, robots NEVER change a bad landing page quality score assignment.

    Once you’ve got that, Google requires you talk to a person to redeem that domain, and that person and their judgement (grandma criteria included) acts as a gatekeeper.

    Also, the grandma criteria reminds me of a favorite David Oglivy quote from On Advertising…

    “You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.”

  12. Interesting post and I must say, I’m not surprised.

    In developing a tool to detect online commercial intent, we bumped up against some basic versions of (what we think) Google uses to judge quality score using Human Classifiers.

    You see, when most people discuss Google’s human review system, they think it’s simply a case of Google employees looking at landing pages and saying “yep” or “nope” and that’s where it ends.

    But this only appears to be half the story.

    I strongly suspect Google uses a form of AI similar to (but I’m guessing way, way more advanced than) the Support Vector Machine systems we used in our little keyword project.**

    This means that when a human at Google marks a page as “low quality” or “high quality”, Google’s AI system gradually learns to extract common factors that make a low or high quality landing page.

    Then I guess Google factor these into the quality score algorithm, along with other things such as bounce rate etc. This means over time, Google’s quality score algorithm will in fact “think” and judge a page like an employee would — including the Grandma factor.

    So… what I’m getting at is although the “I would not send my grandma to this site” principle is a good one to work by, it only appears to be a small part of how the Google AI Human Classfication system works.

    Anyway, thanks for the quality posts.

    Cheers,

    George

    **Support Vector Machines (or SVM’s) are used in all kinds of appliations from face recognition to defence. I’m no expert, but apparently, Google and other tech companies consider SVM’s as old-school and have moved on to more advanced stuff.

  13. Unfortunately Perry is dead right and I think so is Google. Some of us forget that the idea of the internet was, and hopefully still is, a free and open exchange of ideas.I said unfortunately only because I think many have forgotten that a site should be what it says it is and push the limits past reasonable levels of honesty and integrity. No spam and of course a reasonable amount of hype is expected in a site that is trying to sell anything..but reasonable and truthful hype. It is unfortunate that yes we need cops in wonderland now, but I think it really helps us all. If you think about it the Granny rule is, if somewhat ambiguous, reasonable. And gives all of us who work in this area a little more respectibility.

  14. Hi Perry,

    Totally agree, the Grandmother test is a great criteria for monitoring one’s sites and one’s offers.

    Based on the article above, how did you justify allowing [Mr. X] into your highest coaching levels?

    [Mr. X] is a hardcore blackhatter and business ops guy closely associated with the biggest “money sucking” crowd on the internet.

    This is a serious question. I have nothing against [Mr. X] personally. He’s just a concrete example for this question.

  15. Excellent article Perry and I believe Grandma is a great criteria. I’ve seen so many people hiding behind their sales page – no email, no contact info, nothing but a sales page. If I were a potential customer, I wouldn’t buy their product without that info.

    Perry – I do have a question – how do we find out contact information for our Google account rep? There have been a few times we’ve wanted to talk to someone about our PPC account and it seems impossible to find Google phone numbers (or other contact information).

    Thanks!
    Michelle

    1. Michelle,

      You may not have a Google account rep. Google’s number is 888-Google-9. If you spend more than $10K a month you might be able to get one. Otherwise the best resource I know is our own Mastermind Forum (www.perrymarshall.com/mastermind)

      Perry

      1. Hi Perry,

        Thanks for the info on a Google account rep. We’re not quite to $10K/month for PPC, but fortunately we are in your Mastermind forum which has been very helpful.

        Michelle

  16. Scary…

    What about other sites that went from a higher quality score to a much lower one recently. Any other advice if you have contact info up and don’t look like a full press sales pitch?

  17. Perry:
    I have to agree with Google. I heard from another marketer (in your neck of the woods) Ben Hart, that Google also likes navigation in squeeze pages (if I remember his video right). Perhaps there’s too much hype and not enough proof, in many squeeze or landing pages.
    Randy

  18. I’m on a lot of internet marketing email lists and am seeing some trends. Do you think all the people jumping on the CPA bandwagon has something to do with this?

    Even though a lot of these biz opp squeeze pages seem spammy, their content is actually pretty good for a beginner. And that’s exactly the problem… new IMer’s are signing up for these things by the thousands and creating a bunch of spammy looking sites hoping to make some money online.

    Have you noticed this trend? I’m not going to name names, but do you think the big biz opp IMer’s are causing Google to get more aggressive?

    1. Any time you have people selling “how to make lots of money on Google real easily” you always have this problem. Just makes it dicier for the rest of us.

      1. Any time Google sees a surge in something they know about it and react. If they then see the same text in landing pages (duplicate content), particularly in known categories like diet, weight, money etc, they treat it with suspicion.

        I had an advertiser who had a years-old, massive, legitimate healthcare store which suddenly got his account slapped for “acai” keywords.

        Once news is out about something, and loads of people jump all over it, Google’s “global keyword Universe” is alerted and can cause QS’s to tank even for legit advertisers.

  19. It’s ironic that the biggest ad agency on the planet aka Google, seems not to like hype but does like Grand Ma.

    I think the Grand Ma criterion is a good one and I wish more Internet Marketers would follow it.

    Be nice to see the page Perry ( with URL blacked out) BEFORE and AFTER Grannie had done her work

    :-)

    Alex

  20. Hi Perry,

    trustworthiness is what it’s all about, and there’s nothing better than facts, figures, numbers, and pictures to convey that.

    I’ve had several occasions where I’ve had to call my Relationship Manager at Google to get Campaigns running again, because as you say their automated Robots can sometimes put two and two together and occasionally get it wrong.

    So the real human review becomes essential. But not everyone has direct access.

    Recent problems I’ve seen advertisers have which got their accounts suspended:

    – deliberately using multiple promotional vouchers
    – inadvertently hosting malware on-site because of hacking
    – on one occasion my Google contact was not even at liberty to divulge what the suspended account was doing (must have been pretty heinous, so I declined to ask her further!)

    So, the Grandma test is excellent – simple and effective.

    Let’s not forget Google’s equally simple Corporate motto “Don’t be Evil”. Beware the Evil website!

  21. I think that is what we all want from a search using Google. A true evaluation.

    The geeks in us use numbers.

    But despite the algorithm (and how accurate it is most of the time), how often has your gut told you that the number 1 returned result wasn’t quite right before you even clicked it?

    While the “arbitrariness” of some human’s gut slapping a site might scare some, at some point its always gut that makes the decision to click thru.

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