What Is Google’s ‘Needs Met’ Rating and Why Should Website Publishers Care?

Mobile user's needs met.

On Oct. 14, 2020, Google released an updated version of its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG). In it were several updated sections, with one section in particular receiving multiple updates — the “needs met” category. “Needs met” is all about the mobile user, and as we know, Google’s major focus is on mobile.

Because “needs met” is a critical area that website publishers should better understand, I’ll go over the basics of “needs met,” what it means, why you should care, and the new updates around it. Jump ahead if you like:

How SQEG Factors into Rankings

As a reminder, the SQEG is a guide that human raters use as they evaluate the search results for certain queries. They then report back to Google what they have found.

This allows Google to better understand if the changes it’s making to its search algorithms are producing quality results. As needed, Google engineers make further tweaks to the algorithm.

In the latest version of the SQEG, Google adds language to clarify this:

Your ratings will not directly affect how a particular webpage, website, or result appears in Google Search, nor will they cause specific webpages, websites, or results to move up or down on the search results page. Instead, your ratings will be used to measure how well search engine algorithms are performing for a broad range of searches.

Takeaway for website publishers: The SQEG is meant to help Google improve its search results. But website publishers have a big hand in that. Aim for quality content that satisfies your target audience’s search queries.

What Is “Needs Met”?

The “needs met” category focuses on “mobile user needs and … how helpful and satisfying the result is for the mobile users.”

The rating scale for “needs met” looks like this:

Needs met rating scale.
“Needs met” scale, Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Categories include:

  • Fully meets: “A special rating category, which only applies to certain queries and results. All or almost all mobile users would be immediately and fully satisfied by the result and would not need to view other results to satisfy their need.”
  • Highly meets: “Very helpful for many or most mobile users. Some users may wish to see additional results.”
  • Moderately meets: “Helpful for many users OR very helpful for some mobile users. Some or many users may wish to see additional results.”
  • Slightly meets: “Helpful for fewer mobile users. There is a connection between the query and the result, but not a strong or satisfying connection. Many or most users would wish to see additional results.”
  • Fails to meet: “Completely fails to meet the needs of the mobile users. All or almost all users would wish to see additional results.” Google notes that some of the results in this category would include porn, foreign language results, if the website did not load or if the results were upsetting or offensive.

The “needs met” rating can apply to both the result on the search engine result page and the landing page associated with it.

“Needs met” is directly related to the intent of the searcher and how well the search results fulfill that intent. The SQEG gives some examples of results that achieve the highest rating:

Needs met examples, per SQEG.
“Fully meets” search results examples, Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Takeaway for website publishers: An SEO strategy targets queries (aka keywords) that your intended audience uses in Google. Then you create useful content (aka webpages) that fulfill the intent of that query. It is your job to understand what a person is looking to do when they use a certain keyword or phrase. Is it to learn or buy, for example? Ensure that when creating your webpages around key phrases that you give your potential visitors what they want.

The Relationship Between Quality and Needs Met

This updated section clarifies how “needs met” and page quality relate to one another. Google says that while the “needs met” rating is based on both the query and the result, the rater should not think about the query when assigning a page quality rating.

In other words, the intent of the search query matters when considering if the result answered the query in “needs met.” But the quality of the page is a standalone rating with its own set of standards.

Google clarifies with some information:

  • Useless results should always be rated FailsM [fails to meet], even if the landing page has a high Page Quality rating. Useless is useless.
  • On-topic, helpful, but low Page Quality results should get lower Needs Met ratings than on-topic, helpful, and high Page Quality results. The Needs Met scale encompasses all aspects of “helpfulness,” and many users find low Page Quality results less helpful than high Page Quality results. Your ratings should reflect this.
  • The HM [highly meets] rating should be given to helpful, high Page Quality pages that are a good fit for the query. The HM rating may also be used for results that are very helpful, medium quality, and have other very desirable characteristics, such as very recent information.
  • The HM rating may not be appropriate if a page has low Page Quality or has any other undesirable characteristics, such as outdated or inaccurate information, or if it is a poor fit for the query. We have very high standards for the HM rating.
  • SM [slightly meets] is often an appropriate rating for low quality but on-topic pages. However, a page can have such low Page Quality that it is useless for nearly all queries. Gibberish pages are a good example of pages with low Page Quality that should be rated FailsM. An exception to this is queries with clear website intent, where the target website should be rated FullyM even if the page has low Page Quality.
  • Remember that if a page lacks a beneficial purpose, it should always be rated Lowest Page Quality – regardless of the page’s Needs Met rating or how well-designed the page may be. Please review Section 7.0 for a summary of other types of Lowest Page Quality pages.

Takeaway for website publishers: Both Google and websites have a responsibility to meet user needs. That said, “needs met” is a lot about how good Google is at serving results that meet the needs of its users. Many times, Google serves a result that doesn’t meet the needs of a particular user. But that doesn’t mean the webpage in question is not high quality. Remember, though, that low page quality may not meet the needs of your target audience and may not rank. So get to know some of Google’s quality indicators, like E-A-T.

Example search result that fails to meet the need.
Example of when a result “fails to meet” query needs but is still considered a quality landing page, Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Content Blocks and Needs Met

Content blocks, according to Google, can be:

  • A special content results block, like a featured snippet, direct answer in Google’s answer box or something else
  • A web search result block, like the content contained within the results snippet
  • A device action result block, like when a command prompts an action on the mobile device (think: making a phone call to a local store)

When it comes to rating “needs met” for content blocks, Google says the following:

For Needs Met rating, you will assign a rating to each result. Each result includes the content inside the result block and landing pages associated with the result.

But this depends on the type of content block:

Types of content blocks, per Google.
Types of content blocks, Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Google gives examples of queries and how to approach content block ratings:

Examples of content blocks, per Google.
Queries and content block examples, Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Takeaway for website publishers: Any time your website has the potential to be involved in a “content block” that’s being evaluated by your potential visitors, think about how that content block is showing up. Don’t ignore the importance of your meta tags and optimizing them for the search results. You also want to consider how to rank for featured snippets, and some of the things you can do to optimize those.

Sites That Don’t Load and Needs Met

When a webpage fails to load in some way it fails the “needs met” rating. According to Google:

All result blocks must be given a Needs Met rating. If the landing page truly doesn’t load, assign the Did Not Load flag and rate the page FailsM. True Did Not Load pages are useless.

However, having a custom 404 page, for example, that directs visitors to another helpful page could mean that the need is still met:

Sometimes the page partially loads or has an error message. Give Needs Met ratings based on how helpful the result is for the query. Error messages can be customized by the webmaster and are part of a well-functioning website. Sometimes these pages are helpful for the query.

Takeaway for website publishers: This category is all about maintaining the technical back end of your website. Make sure it’s accessible to search engines and visitors. Monitor for errors. Ensure you are properly implementing 301 redirects as needed. And customize a 404 page that helps your visitors dig into more useful information on your site if they happen to get a “not found” page from the search results.

Freshness and Needs Met

Some queries deserve fresh content. Google recognizes this and, at one point, changed its algorithm to reflect that. Examples of queries that deserve freshness include breaking news and current event queries.

Example queries that deserve freshness.
Query examples that require fresh results, Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Google wants us to keep in mind, however, that some queries will require both evergreen content and news content to satisfy a need:

For some queries, there may be “newsy” or recent information user intent, as well as more “timeless” information user intent. Users issuing queries for celebrities or politicians may be interested in biographical information, or users may be looking for the latest news or gossip.

Takeaways for website publishers: If you are a website publisher that creates fresh content for some of the categories above, make sure that it is able to compete in the search results. If appropriate, optimize your site for Google News, including having a news sitemap. You’ll also want to think about creating webpages with fresh or evergreen content for certain queries that may warrant either.

Location and Needs Met

Some queries have a local intent and require local results. It’s Google’s job to serve up the best results for a query based on the user’s location, and that can vary a lot depending on the intent. Google explains:

When there is a user location for a visit-in-person intent query and a location has not been specified in the query itself, such as [chinese restaurants] with a user location of Boston, MA, results in or near the user location are the most helpful.

How close is “near”? The type of business and/or entity should be taken into consideration when deciding if the distance of the visit-in-person result is too far. For example, most people are not willing to travel very far for a gas station, coffee shop, supermarket, etc. Those are types of businesses that most users expect to find nearby.

However, users might be willing to travel a little farther for certain kinds of visit-in-person results: doctors’ offices, libraries, specific types of restaurants, public facilities like swimming pools, hiking trails in open spaces, etc. Sometimes users may accept results that are even farther away, such as a very specialized medical clinic.

In other words, when we say users are looking for results “nearby,” the word “nearby” can mean different distances for different queries. As always, please use your judgment.

Takeaway for website publishers: Make sure your website is doing local SEO right. Ensure that you are giving Google accurate signals about your local business so that it can appear in the search results when your target audience is looking for what you offer.

Summary

Will Google always get it right when it comes to “needs met”? No. And that’s where the SQEG comes in, so that Google can improve its search algorithms.

Meeting the needs of your intended audience starts with creating a quality, well-optimized website. This primes your content for ranking in Google’s search results.

Want expert help with your SEO? Contact us today for a free consultation and quote.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay, Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn and other social networks from Bruce's author page.
Comments (5)
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5 Replies to “What Is Google’s ‘Needs Met’ Rating and Why Should Website Publishers Care?”

Improving website according to all guidelines is a must now!

Interesting article Bruce. My thought is that Google’s reliance on the rater evaluations shows they’re insecure about their ranking algorithm. It’s bringing human bias (selected people too) into what the AI system is supposed to be doing itself.

I’m seeing more big publisher sites in the search results too, so these human bias factors may only serve to push slick corporate content to the top. The bias of “branding” can affect rater perceptions and we know small business don’t do branding and image as well. It’s impossible for raters to not be affected by the marketing intent of professional corporate copywriters.

Sounds like the raters have to be lead around by the nose every month and I wonder if their minds aren’t scrambled, thus leading to errors and bias? It’s still confusing as to how this all consuming “one stop needs met” visitor experience is helping Google meet its revenue goals.

When I search, I want and enjoy the journey of learning my own way. They seem to be want AI to take that away from us. We’ll just sit in our chair and be spoon fed delicious pablum.
That’s a fundamental bias that ruins the user experience. While the needs met factors appear to be about quality, I think the algo can pluck that stuff out without human rater evaluations.

Google check quality score while improving search engine position.

It was very beneficial to know about these updates about search quality evaluator guidelines. It was even more interesting to learn that these updates were made by keeping the mobile search results in mind. Usually, I think the Google algorithm will reward websites that produce highly actionable and valuable content to users.

This update in true sense backs the Google Vision and Mission to provide the high qulaity serach results to users world-wide.

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