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Understanding & Optimizing for the Google Quality Rater Guidelines




Casey Markee: We're gonna have a lot of fun today. We're gonna spend about an hour, maybe two hours to maybe three hours, I don't know, talking about the awesomeness that is Google Quality Rater Updates.

Welcome to the webinar today. We're gonna be visiting with Marie Haynes, well-known SEO consultant and expert on the Google Quality Rater guidelines and the concept of E-A-T.

Basically what we're gonna be talking about today is a deep dive into the understanding of the concepts behind the Quality Rater guidelines, the concepts of E-A-T, the concepts of creator expertise, and we're gonna speak a little bit, if not maybe more than we'd like to, actually, about the recent March 12th core update. I know that impacted a lot of people negatively. Impacted some people positively.

We're gonna talk about various topics like, again, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, how bloggers can build that up, what Google is looking for, and the like.

So what we're gonna do is, we're gonna get right into it. What we're gonna do is lay a foundation first. Let's just talk a little bit about the Quality Rater guidelines. So explain it like we're five. What are the Quality Rater guidelines?

What are Google’s Quality Rater guidelines?

Marie Haynes: So the guidelines; first thing to know is that they're publicly available to everybody. So if you do a search right now for Google Search Quality guidelines or Quality Rater guidelines, you'll find this document. It's a PDF and it's about 166 pages, I think.

The guidelines were created for these people called Google's Quality Raters. Most of you have heard of the WebSpam team, where if Google can put a penalty on your site, it's because one of the team has taken a look at your site and found that you're not following Google's guidelines. Quality Raters are not those people.

So any one of us could apply to be a Quality Rater. I actually applied, got approved. And so Google's Quality Raters... I've heard some people say there are 10,000 of them in the world. So the guidelines are basically teaching them how to assess whether a website or a result is high quality or not.

And there's a spokesperson for Google, the Vice President of Search. His name is Ben Gomes. He recently said in an interview with CNBC that the Quality Raters guidelines …. fundamentally show us where Google wants to go with their algorithms.

So our plan of action is to say if something's in the Quality Raters guidelines, Google wants to be able to programmatically measure this type of thing. And so this is really like a handbook for what's considered quality in Google's eyes.

Casey Markee: Okay. I get this question all the time from bloggers: Are the Quality Rater guidelines used in rankings? And again, you've kinda touched on that. But recently, there's been some changes with regards to that.

Google's actually come out and said specifically that maybe they are used in ranking, specifically with regards to the concept of page rank being used as an identifier with certain, "Your money or your life," concepts. Explain a little bit about what these, "Your money, your life," concepts are, and what that statement was recently.

YMYL Google SEO Pages

Marie Haynes: So the term, "Your money or your life," they abbreviated to YMYL. And there's a bit of debate as to what exactly is a YMYL site. If your site is medical, financial, legal, those are definitely your money or your life.

It's a site where, if you're looking for information, you don't wanna go to a site that you've never heard of. You wanna get that information from somebody that you trust that has good expertise in that area.

What's debatable, though, is other areas of YMYL. So I know that in this webinar, we have a lot of food bloggers. And you would say, "Is food blogging YMYL?" And in some cases, I think it is. And in some cases, maybe not.

So if you're helping people make decisions where they have to spend money, then you're probably YMYL.

Casey Markee: And that, in fact, comes to health-related claims, as well. So if we've got bloggers who are gluten-free, if we've got bloggers who are celiac recoverers, they're, in many cases, these gluten-free bloggers, most of 'em are self-healed.

They've had celiac disease. How does that relate to the content or the information they might be putting out on their site?

What is E-A-T and why is it important?

Marie Haynes: And so I think to answer that, we sorta need to define what E-A-T is. So E-A-T is this concept that's throughout the Quality Raters guidelines. And Google just released a white paper a few weeks ago that actually talks about the fact that E-A-T is used in their ranking systems. So it stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trust.

So let's go back to the idea of somebody who's blogging about celiac disease. If you are trying to write an article to explain what celiac disease is, how it's treated, how doctors look at his disease, you may have trouble ranking for that content unless you're truly known in that industry in the medical circles, as an expert on celiac disease.

I mean, expertise is one thing. So let's say you've had a nutrition practice where you've been counseling people for 10 years on celiac disease. That's one thing. That's the E in E-A-T, but the A is very important. So that's authoritativeness. If you are known online, if people look up your name and celiac disease, and they can see, "Oh, yeah. This person's been quoted in this authoritative nutrition magazine and all of these authoritative places," that speaks to your E-A-T for that particular condition.

So one of the issues that I really think Google is trying to fix here is when content is ranking but you're lacking the E-A-T to write that content.

Casey Markee: Got it. Very true. And again, please correct me if I'm wrong, Marie, but if you're providing any sort of health or medical related information, it's not enough to use your own experience.

The Quality Rater guidelines say, specifically, for bloggers, that if you are a, for example, an experienced home cook with clear demonstrated expertise.

But in most cases, if you're making claims of any sort of health or related concept, we clearly want the bloggers to link out to supporting information when at all possible. Is that what you're basically saying?

Marie Haynes: And that's very important, yes. Any claim that can be backed up by science should be. Let's say you have an article talking about how the keto diet will change your metabolism. And so there have to be scientific references that support your theory. It can't just be a theory.

One of the real common problems that I see is that especially with food bloggers and people talking about diet and nutrition, is they're trying to go too far into medical explanations, where really you should only be doing this if you have the medical expertise to write about this.

How to improve your E-A-T?

Casey Markee: Right. Well, let's talk about things, on-site things that users can do to build up this E-A-T, this expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness. We had a good question, here, from Carol. "Like to know if we should put our name on each post as an author, even if it's a one-person blog."

Now again, I'm a big believer that everything you publish on the internet should be signed. For those of you on the call who are recipe bloggers and using a recipe plug-in, that's built-in, the ability for you to show that you are the publisher of that. And in many cases, especially if you're using something like WP, CWP Recipe Maker, you can actually put a custom author link.

Now, Marie, I advise people to usually try to link that signature to their about me page, or even a custom author page. Is that something you would recommend, as well, as a kind of way to reinforce that E-A-T on-site?

Marie Haynes: Yeah. So I'm gonna not to get too technical, here, but the answer to this lies in understanding entities. And so I guess the simple way to explain it is pretty much everything is an entity. So you, as an author, you're an entity. Casey, you're an entity. Right? And let's take your example. You're good at SEO.

Casey Markee: Well, debatable.

Marie Haynes: Well, for now. And Google needs to be able to connect that other people who are considered authoritative in SEO recognize Casey as good at SEO.

And so Google can connect things from all over the web to say, "Ah, this person is known as an expert in this sort of subject area." Right? And so one of the problems is that a lot of sites want to remain anonymous.

So if you were trying to become known as an authority in a particular area, then if Google doesn't know your actual name, that's gonna be really hard for them to connect that you're the authority.

One of the things that's in the Quality Raters guidelines is they actually instruct the Quality Raters to see if they can determine who is responsible for the content on the site. So let's say there's a site that has all of these articles about nutrition, and they're all attributed to ... a lot of WordPress themes, they'll attribute them to admin. Right? Not an actual author.

So then, if somebody's looking at that website, forget the Quality Raters, just think of an actual searcher looking at it; they're not gonna know who the admin is. I think it's better to actually, in most cases, have a particular author build up their E-A-T.

So we can have E-A-T for the business or for the brand, but also E-A-T for the author. So what I like to see is every post has an author bio. And the author bio just gives three to four lines to explain to a user why this person's qualified to write this.

So number one, it needs to be clearly identified who's responsible for the content. Number two, have an author bio. And then number three, have a full author page that fully extols their E-A-T.

I can't say 100% if this is how Google is measuring it, we can just say this is how the Quality Raters are told to evaluate that type of thing.

Casey Markee: Now for those of you on the call using a plugin, you can go in and make one field change, and it will change your author on all of your basic recipe cards, so that's a positive.

How Google measures E-A-T

Marie Haynes: I think it's important here to also talk about how Google measures E-A-T.

Casey Markee: Please.

Marie Haynes: So at Pubcon conference in Austin last year, I asked Gary Illyes, who is a Google spokesperson, how does Google algorithmically measure E-A-T? He said it's largely based on off-site links and mentions. So let's unpack that.

It's one thing to put it on my website. And I still do recommend it. But by far, what's most important, is that other people are recognizing your authority, as well.

So again, in the example of SEO, if I write something about a recent algorithm update and Search Engine Land says, "Oh, Marie Haynes said this," that's something that probably is picked up in Google's algorithms because Google is saying, "Oh, Search Engine Land is recognized as an authority in SEO and they're quoting this other person who they're saying is an expert, so she must be an authority in SEO."

So really, what you want to be doing to improve your author E-A-T is to find ways to get other people to talk about you, which is very challenging.

I think a lot of people get confused about, for E-A-T, they look at just the E. They say, "Hey, I've been doing this for 20 years. Why is this person who's new outranking me?" And I think the answer to that is to look at the A, the authoritativeness. And that's really tricky, right?

Because if you're a no-name blogger, and nobody's ever heard about you, why would people be mentioning you and linking to you? And if you think about it, why do links matter? Right? Links matter because if I link to you, Casey, it's because I'm recommending you. I'm recommending your content.

Casey Markee: Right.

Marie Haynes: And so if you can't do stuff to make people start talking about you, it might be hard to rank. And so one of the keys is to just keep experimenting with what can you provide that actually gets people talking about it? And what can you do in a way that's different than the hundreds of other sites that have the same recipe or the same issue that you're trying to cover? How can you be unique?

All about the recent Google updates

Casey Markee: Okay. I think we've dialed in the fundamentals, we've identified the definitions for what is E-A-T. Did we cover the definition for basically what is a core update? Let's go ahead and talk a little bit about that.

Marie Haynes: So I've been doing site quality reviews and helping people who have seen drops in conjunction with Google updates since 2012. And February 7th, 2017 was one of the biggest updates we've ever had.

And we didn't put a name on it at all, but I saw all these sites come to me and it was very clear that they were being outranked by sites that had… more E-A-T. And so I firmly believe that February of 2017 is when Google started putting E-A-T-related information into their algorithmic calculation.

So recently, so we know that we've had an update March 12th of 2019. And the other past big updates were September 27th, was again, an unnamed update. And then August 1st of last year, which a lot of people called Medic, but it was way more than just medical sites. It was connected to E-A-T and your money or your life sites. A lot of these sites saw changes.

When August 1st first came out, Danny Sullivan from Google said, "Look, a lot of people are asking, 'How do I recover if I've been hit?'" And he said, "There's no specific advice for recovery, but we've got a whole document, 160 pages," and he linked to the Quality Raters guidelines.

And that backed up my theory that I think almost every update that we've had since early 2017 has been connected to different things that are in these guidelines.

August 1st, I think was primarily about authority. September 27th was primarily about the T in E-A-T, was trust.

So when there's an update, what's happening here, is Google's engineers, they say, "Oh, here's a problem. These medical sites are ranking and they're giving inaccurate information," something like that, and then they brainstorm on ways to fix it, and they come up with a new algorithm that makes it so that some of these sites don't rank so well.

Then they put that in front of the Quality Raters, and they have thousands of Quality Raters look at the new search results and say, "Hey, would you trust this site? Would you trust the medical information from this site?" And the Quality Raters give them feedback to say, "Yeah, yeah. The SERPs are better now," or, "I'm not seeing these low-quality sites," for whatever reason.

And then the engineers know, "Okay, we can push that change live, and we get a big algorithm update."

Casey Markee: Okay.

Marie Haynes: And then we also have little tweaks to the algorithm updates, so there are rumors that potentially, there's a tweak to the March 12th update that's happening right now. And that's pretty common. After a big update, Google will sort of play with the levers a little bit and make some things that they thought were super important maybe not as important, and vice versa.

Diagnosing and fixing Google update ranking drops

Casey Markee: So for those on the call that were affected and there have been several people, let's talk a little bit about what they can do, specifically, to approach this. Now, clearly, the first thing is probably a content and reputation audit. We can talk about technical issues, as well.

Tell me a little bit how you would approach someone who's had a traffic drop with regards to these recent March 12th update.

Marie Haynes: So the first thing to know is, if you dropped just a couple of positions, for some of your keywords, you probably weren't negatively affected by this update. It's more that some of your competitors have been working on improving quality. So when sites are negatively affected by a quality update like this, it tends to have a drastic effect, a very dramatic effect.

And so what we see in our experience is, traffic's traveling along, and then March 12th or whatever hits, and then you see a very, very big drop. And so if you're just seeing a very slight drop in traffic, it might be that you're not doing anything wrong, that competitors are just outranking you now.

And so the first thing you wanna do is look at, are there technical issues? Is it affecting your entire site? You know, maybe it's just one page. Maybe you were getting 90% of your traffic from one page, and you've lost one or two positions in ranking.

So if you've kind of determined that technical things aren't the issue, then start looking at Google's Quality Raters guidelines. And the first area I would look at is trust.

So I have a post, I don't know if you wanna link to it, Casey, it's... If you go to mariehaynes.com/trust, it'll take you to my article on the September 27th update, and I list, I think there are about 10 different things that are in the Quality Raters guidelines that could contribute to a lower assessment of trust.

We saw examples of sites that dropped because people everywhere were complaining that they couldn't get a refund, or that they just had very bad customer service with this business. And that's something that can actually affect your ability to rank, and that's the T in E-A-T, that people generally don't trust your business.

And then I would be looking at how authoritative are your authors compared to the sites that are now outranking out? And this can be really tricky.

A very quick example. Let's say that your rankings dropped for a bunch of SEO-related stuff. And I'll start doing some searches for your name. And so I'll do a search for “Casey Markee SEO”. And I wanna see what appears. Oh, and minus your own site. Okay?

And what that search does, is it tells me I wanna see people who are talking about Casey and SEO, but not on Casey's own site. And this is how the Quality Raters are instructed in the guidelines to do these searches. So do a search, those of you who are watching this, do a search for your own name. Who's talking about you?

So the example that's in the Quality Raters guidelines, they give these examples of somebody who wrote an article on how to treat the flu. And this person doesn't have any medical expertise. And if you Google their name, all you can see is she's a content writer, she has a Twitter profile, but there's nothing to say, "Oh yeah, this person is the go-to person on the flu."

And then I would do the same search on Google News, as well.

We've been playing around with using Google's knowledge graph API and even the natural language processing to sort of see if we can figure out how are they algorithmically determining whether you're an expert in your area or not.

So give me a few more months, and we'll probably have some more information on that. But the whole point is, Google's trying to figure out, do other people recognize you as an expert on your topics?

Casey Markee: Right. And let's talk a little bit about that because in many cases, especially if you're a food, do-it-yourself or lifestyle blogger, in many cases you're a home cook. You're a home do-it-yourself blogger. These bloggers always ask me, "Well, Casey, I don't have any demonstrated expertise. I don't have any certifications."

What would a self-taught cook do to improve their demonstrated E-A-T?

Marie Haynes: You know, back in the day, and I think a lot of SEO agencies are still doing this, where they're putting such an emphasis on, "Get as many links as you can," but really our goal in link building should be to do things that would matter even if SEO didn't matter.

Casey Markee: Right. We basically say construct your site as a way, that if Google didn't exist, you'd be successful.

Marie Haynes: Yes.

Casey Markee: And so we look at that for other channels. Now, on that note, building up your brand mentions, building up your brand authority; what are some ways that bloggers can do that? I know that we've mentioned... A lot of them know about HARO, Help A Reporter Out.

Marie Haynes: Yep. HARO is fantastic.

Casey Markee: But there are 800,000 people on that platform. If you sign up for the news alerts, and basically how HARO works is that they'll send you a digest of reporters or journalists or bloggers looking for quotes, article ideas, or just help putting together an article. And they send that three times a day. You have to really get on that immediately. The people that apply right away are the ones that tend to get consideration.

Marie Haynes: What I would recommend is start developing some relationships with these people that you want to eventually get mentions from. Follow them on Twitter, start responding to some of their things. I can't tell you how many times I get emails saying, like, "Hey, I published this great post. Can you link to it?" And I've never heard of the person.

Casey Markee: Right.

Marie Haynes: So a lot of it is a relationship, is building up a relationship with the people that you want to be mentioned by.

So let's go back to food bloggers. Let's say you have a vegan website and you have vegan recipes. There are hundreds and hundreds of vegan websites that are out there.

But if you're a food blogger, you're blogging about the same things that 100 other people are, or 1,000 other people are, one key to getting authority is to say, "Look, I wanna be the expert in this particular area," whether it's bacon recipes or ... I think vegan is too broad.

So you find an aspect of eating vegan food that you can say, "Look, a lot of people have questions about this, and nobody's emerged to answer those questions, so now that's gonna be my focus."

Building E-A-T for websites that don’t blog

Casey Markee: How can we build the E-A-T of your money or your life clients that don't blog? we clean out the spammy backlinks? Do we focus on brand mentions? What would you say, specifically, on that?

Marie Haynes: Yeah. That's a good question, let's say you're an attorney, and you're doing SEO for an attorney's website. I mean, that attorney is gonna have a very full day. It's very unlikely you're gonna be able to get them to blog once a week on their topics.

That said, if they don't have authoritative mentions, it's gonna be hard for them to rank well. So some of it can be building up the brand and getting them mentioned in the news, brainstorming like, "What can we do?"

I worked with one attorney that did some stuff around gun control and he created a petition on his website, spread that to the news. Spread it to the press, and the press was all writing about like, "Look, if you're concerned about this issue, you can sign the petition here," and got links back to their website. Right?

Casey Markee: Fantastic.

Marie Haynes: So if the individuals themselves won't blog, you have to find other ways to get them in the news, and that can be challenging.

Main website content versus supplemental content

Casey Markee: Couple other questions, here. Skylar had a question about mobile pushing sidebars or supplemental content below the main content. Should bloggers start moving relevant sidebar content like the author box into the main content itself?

Marie Haynes: Oh, that's a really good question. So the Quality Raters guidelines have a lot of information on distinguishing main content from supplemental content.

And one of the things that can actually make a site be considered lower quality is if you can't make that distinction. And we haven't talked about ads, which is something that we probably need to talk about. Right?

Casey Markee: Right, big deal. Big deal.

Marie Haynes: So ads would be supplementary content. If a user can't tell what's an ad and what's actually your main content, that's a sign of low quality. Now, I personally think this is one of the things that's in the Quality Raters guidelines that Google's not strongly measuring at this point.

So now, the next part of the question was, should I be moving my information like author bios into the main content? I would say yes. I don't have specific information to back that up with, but it makes sense to me that that's very important. We want Google to see that type of E-A-T-related information.

And I think a lot of the time if it's in the sidebar, it's sort of treated like boilerplate information that is given less importance. So I would say anything that you think is important, anything that's in the Quality Raters guidelines that you really want Google to pay attention to, for the most part, should be within the main content and easy for people to see. I mean, maybe we can talk about recipe sites and the fact that so many of them are just so long when that's not what people want. Right?

Casey Markee: And you know, that's a concern, is that there's been this incorrect belief that, for example, word count. Not a ranking factor. Google's come out multiple times and said that, but then you get all these bloggers who are like, "Oh, I need to make this post incredibly long because I wanna stuff it with ads." That's not a user-first optimization.

For example, we had a question here about, "It's been recommended that we make all of our posts 600 words or longer." Well, if you have enough quality content to say and make it 600 words or longer, fantastic. But what I see a lot is the superfluous or unrelated content that users are stuffing their pages with.

If you're writing a recipe post and you have three or four paragraphs about how your aunt Martha made this for you when you were six years old and that that brings back memories of your time with your boyfriend Gary on the lake and that this is why, again, you've passed this recipe down. You're going to be in a world of hurt because this kind of unrelated superfluous content doesn't connect with users in many cases, and can make it hard for Google to get in and evaluate your actual quality content.

Marie Haynes: So the Quality Raters guidelines actually have specific examples for recipe sites. And all of you who are watching this who have a recipe site should just open the guidelines and search for a recipe. They give an example of a low-quality site, and all it contains is the recipe, and that's it.

And they say this is lacking the helpful information we'd like to see, such as user reviews and comments. And so I would be focusing more on trying to get people themselves to leave reviews.

So words are good like Casey said if people are legitimately gonna read those words ... And this is the same thing that happens with eCommerce sites. Right? If you have product and category pages, and then people stuff eight paragraphs of keyword-stuffed words in there that no human's ever gonna read, that type of thing used to work, but it doesn't really help that much now.

Casey Markee: For those of you on the call, some ad companies do a better job than others, but still, all of them, again, are... Again, their goal is to make you money. Sometimes they go a little overboard.

If you've got a lot of ads above the fold, if you've got auto-playing video ads that follow the user down the page, those are horrible for user experience. Removing them is always something you wanna think about because they're just a very low-quality ad unit.

When people say there's nothing wrong with these ads, well there is something wrong with these ads. They're being specifically called out in the Google Rater guidelines, and that's under section 6.4: Distracting ads and supplemental content.

Marie Haynes: Yep. Somebody asked in the chat, "What about ads that lazy load?" And it really all comes down to the user. A great way to look at this is to actually have people that use your website, give them a bit of money to answer a few questions for you.

Casey Markee: Yeah.

Marie Haynes: Do a survey and say, "Hey, my fans, my followers, what could I be doing in my recipes to make them even more valuable to you?"

Casey Markee: Are there any general guidelines for a blog meant to promote eCommerce store-branded products? What would you say on that with regard to E-A-T?

Marie Haynes: Oh, okay. So the Quality Raters guidelines talks specifically about product E-A-T. So what we'll do when we do our reviews, is we'll do a search for that product and reviews. And so we'll say, "Brand name keto course reviews." And we'll see, are people actually talking about this. So if nobody is talking about your products, then they're gonna have trouble ranking well. Okay?

And then that's the thing, is to get people to talk about your products. And what we see often is eCommerce sites, they're just selling the same products everybody else is selling. Then you have to find ways to differentiate yourselves. And user-generated content is a great way to do that.

Optimizing website category pages

Casey Markee: Okay so continuing on, here. We had a question on... "Casey, you've encouraged optimizing category pages. Some add lots of content to a category page, like a post. Is that okay?"

No. I would not add a post to a category page. When we optimize a category page, I'm probably recommending just a couple paragraphs of content at the top, specifically related to that category. Like, "Hey, welcome to the cakes category page.

I see people over optimizing category pages all the time. No value in that. Our goal here is that these category pages are windows into our site.

Marie Haynes: I think it's important to have some content there.

Casey Markee: Very much.

Marie Haynes: I mean, I see a lot of people who have category pages that are just lists of posts in the category.

Casey Markee: Couple other quick questions, here. Yes or no to push notifications? Marie, what do you think about that?

I personally hate push notifications.

Marie Haynes: Yeah. I've never had them.

Casey Markee: So I would really urge you to not use anecdotal evidence. Please download and install hotjar.com. Hotjar.com is fantastic. It's free to use, up to 20,000 sessions a month. Find and record how users are navigating your site.

If you can see that they repeatedly go up and choose never allow, you'll know immediately if it's something that you need to keep on your site. Do not listen to, "I've heard this," or, "I've had other bloggers say this." Your site is different. Okay?

Casey Markee: So let's go ahead, we're gonna finish up, here.

Marie Haynes: Yeah.

Summary on Google Quality Rater Guidelines

Casey Markee: In the end, let's go ahead and do kind of a summary here, Marie.

Marie Haynes: Sure. So to repeat, the first thing I would say is to actually take the time to read the Quality Raters guidelines.

And then the next thing I would do is try to objectively look at who's currently ranking for your content. And I find it hard because a lot of people will be like, "Well, that person's not known as an authority. I'm way more authoritative." And when we do the searches that're listed in Quality Raters guidelines, it's pretty clear that the one that's ranking well actually is more authoritative.

So and then the one final thing I would say to look at, which we haven't talked about a lot, is link quality. If you have been actively, in the past, making links just for SEO purposes, you might... I'm pretty sure that that's a part of overall site quality, and you may wanna look at using the disavow tool.

Casey Markee: Right. So again, very important with regards to that. I know a lot of bloggers are confused about how we go about link building. One of the things you wanna look at is, again, networking with your fellow bloggers.

And of course, networking. If you have the ability to go to conferences, if you have the ability to speak on seminars like Marie and I are doing, here. If you have the ability to attend a conference, do a webinar, get interviewed, those are going to lead to brand mentions. Those are gonna lead to links. Those are gonna reinforce your E-A-T and your authority.

And Marie, thank you so much for your time today. You're fantastic. You're a wealth of information.

Marie Haynes: Oh, thanks, Casey. I really enjoyed this. So anytime.

All levels

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