Posted by Ian-Booth
Over the past few months, you’ve probably seen the buzzword (or acronym, rather) “E-A-T” floating around. While this term has been in the lexicon of many SEO’s for quite a while now, since the major Google algorithm update in August 2018 (AKA “the medic update”), a big bright spotlight has been shone on Google’s “E-A-T” — and it’s been frequently on the lips and fingertips of most SEO’s ever since.
So why am I talking about it now? Because the days are long gone when you could pop up on Google overnight. To rank well on Google, you need to nurture your brand by building its expertise, authority, and trustworthiness — which is exactly what E-A-T stands for!
In this post, I'll cover the three pillars of E-A-T and share tips on how to incorporate each into your content strategy so that you can rank for the best search terms in your industry.
Initially, this “medic” update seemed to have hit loads of websites offering health and medical advice, more than any other vertical. Therefore, acclaimed search engine marketing journalist, Barry Schwartz, declared it “the medic update”.
Yet, while this update certainly did hit many medical websites, it also hit many other websites that could be categorized under what Google calls “YMYL sites” — yep, another flippin’ acronym (and no it’s not a confused person singing a certain Village People hit).
Digital marketers are notorious for using jargon and having tons of acronyms, but this time, it was Google themselves who added these YMYL and E-A-T to the ever-growing pile of potentially-confusing insider lingo.
YMYL is a quality rating for content that stands for “Your Money or Your Life". Google doesn’t just care about delivering the most relevant information — they also want to deliver the correct information. With certain types of searches, there is a huge potential to negatively impact users’ “happiness, health, or wealth”— in other words, were these pages low quality, they have the potential to impact a user’s well-being.
So, when it comes to health, financial issues, and safety, Google doesn’t want to serve up links to pages that share uneducated advice, opinions, or potentially fraudulent websites. Google wants to be as certain as possible that they are recommending sites that display a high level of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness — which is what E-A-T stands for! It’s Google’s way of protecting searchers from low-quality content that has the potential to be detrimental to a searcher.
If your business falls under the umbrella label of happiness, health, or wealth then E-A-T might be vital for you to understand, so keep reading!
Google search quality evaluator guidelines
E-A-T and YMYL came from a very important Google document known as “the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines”.
Back in 2015, Google officially released its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines and this gave us an idea of what is deemed to be a high (or low) quality website, from Google's perspective.
Check out this article from 2015 on the Moz blog — 30+ Important Takeaways from Google's Search Quality Rater's Guideline for an insight into their importance and why us SEOs need to take these guidelines seriously.
The document was written for their human rating team, who are performing important searches all day long and evaluating websites which top the Google results for those searches. Apparently, there are about 10,000 people employed by Google to carry out these spot-checks, a process which is designed to check up on the ranking algorithms effectiveness in recognizing web page quality.
The learnings from the quality rating team inform Google’s engineers on how to improve the ranking algorithm. As the folks at Google often remind us, their ranking algorithm is a continuously improving process, with updates made very regularly.
Check out Marie Haynes talk at Brighton SEO 2018, where she breaks down the ‘Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines’ for us, in plain English with some of her own insights.
The 2018 update to the guidelines
A week after the July 2018 update to the guidelines, Google made some additions that carried some significant impact: The quality evaluators would now be asked to review not only a website’s E-A-T but also the content creators E-A-T too. This is huge news.
So, from now on Google wants to see who the author of a page’s main content is and what their credentials are with regards to the subject matter, particularly if it’s a YMYL subject.
This means that we should now be building up author E-A-T as well as website E-A-T. Some ways you might achieve this is by having author boxes, with links to author profiles elsewhere online and using author schema markup, i.e. structured data that tells Google all about the author, making it easier to connect the author with any other authority signals (such a author profiles on authority sites, social media profiles, etc.).
Above is an example of a good author profile [KB1] given to Google quality evaluators in the guidelines. It declares who has written this content and shares some credentials. It’s very easy for an algorithm to connect the dots and find this author on other websites (something we assume Google does).
Did you know E-A-T is mentioned 186 times in the QRG? pic.twitter.com/Nze7fQzoTo
— Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes) October 11, 2018
One key takeaway (or concept) from this document is E-A-T.
As Marie Haynes’ tweet points out, the term E-A-T is used 186 times in the guide. There’s no question that this is an important criterion for how a page’s quality is perceived by Google.
So, let's be sure we understand what Google E-A-T is, exactly.
To be an expert is defined by the Oxford dictionary as being “very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area”. However, possessing this knowledge alone is not going to get traffic flooding to your website from Google.
You need to understand how to communicate this knowledge in a way that engages people. It comes down to not only having the information but also knowing what your audience wants and how best to deliver the information to them.
Whenever a Googler is asking the question "How can my site improve its rankings?" the stock answer most often seems to be something like: “Create great content that your audience loves.” While this may seem like an overly-simplistic answer (and it is), it’s an answer which pretty much sums up what I’m writing about in this post, to be honest.
How do we create expert content? Well, here are a few tips to answer that question:
- Find out what your audience is searching for, then meet and exceed their needs. This begins with keyword research.
- Try to understand the searchers intent behind the terms you discover during that keyword research.
You should understand what stage these searchers are at in their journey as a consumer or as somebody getting involved in your industry. There are a plethora of situations here, depending on your exact case, but if you’re targeting, for example, a search term that clearly is for somebody who is new to the subject matter, then try not to use too much jargon and or gloss-over points that a novice is unlikely to understand.
- Find the balance between being comprehensive while keeping it simple. This comes down to formatting your text so it’s digestible, using visual aids or rich media like video or audio. A perfect example of this is Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series. We want the consumer of the content to truly understand the subject by the end, without making it too laborious.
- Think about the next queries a searcher might have and have content ready to answer that, too. Suitable supplementary content should be internally linked and easy to access. It’s all about becoming the go-to source of information in your field.
Being an expert is great, but it's only the beginning. When other experts or influencers in your vertical are citing you as a source of information or when your name (or your brand) becomes synonymous with the relevant topics, then you are not just an expert — you're the authority.
Here are some of the KPI’s when it comes to judging your authoritativeness:
- Links from relevant and authoritative websites are of course a huge factor when it comes to ranking websites and we certainly can’t discuss any framework for SEO success without emphasizing this.
Note: When we talk links, it’s all about building your domain’s authority. This means we want relevant websites who have gained authority in the space already to recommend us and there is no better endorsement that a website can get from another website owner, than a link.
- While links are ideal, simply being mentioned in the news or on authoritative websites in your space will still boost your authoritativeness, in Google’s eyes. So, mentions are also something to strive for.
- We can use the Moz Domain Authority score to help us understand the authority of a website. It can be used for a quick look at our own website or for the websites linking to us and gives us an idea of the current level of authority.
- Another reliable gauge of authority and trustworthiness is the Majestic ‘trust ratio’ score. If you can get a score close to 1.0 you know things are going well.
- If your content is widely shared, genuinely and consistently across social media, this is also a sign of growing authority.
- Building a brand is a good idea for many reasons, not least for SEO authority. Branded search volume is a good measure of how your brand authority is doing. If more and more people are searching for your brand name, this is amazing news. If they’re searching for your brand name with a relevant keyword attached, that’s even better.
- Having a Wikipedia page for your brand and/or the people in your company is a big signal that you’re an authority. Keep in mind, getting a Wikipedia page is not easy unless you’re a recognized person/brand. However, this does come up within the Google raters’ guidelines, so it is something to strive for.
Proven trustworthiness is really important. While expertise and authority are factors that boost your rankings, trustworthiness or rather a lack thereof is what can easily tank your rankings on Google.
If you don’t reign-in any negative sentiment around your business, you will suffer on Google. Fundamentally, you need to be delighting your customers and if you have any complaints, you should address them before you end up with too much negativity attached to your brand. Google is very clear about this in their guidelines, too many bad reviews is a sign of low quality.
Positive reviews on places like Tripadvisor, Trustpilot, Facebook, Google My Business, and so on are going to really help. If you’re operating in the US, Canada, or Mexico, then you should be encouraging good reviews on bbb.org specifically. The Better Business Bureau is the go-to source for customer sentiment for Google, as referenced several times in their search evaluators guidelines.
Some ways that we can promote trustworthiness on our website are:
- Having a clear way to make contact with the website owners.
- Associating the website with a physical location, i.e. your office or store address.
- Having a term of business or T&Cs page, which is easily accessible to users (usually from the footer).
- Making sure your website’s domain is secure. Correctly implementing HTTPS is very important to Google and helps to ensure any data your users’ input won’t be intercepted by a nefarious 3rd party entity.
- If you’re accepting transactions, you should have clear refunds and returns policies.
- If you’re selling products, try to include comprehensive specifications of the product and include any safety advice that might be relevant.
- If you’re sharing knowledge, in general, it's a good idea to have an author biography included and to cite external sources where relevant. Linking out to authority sites is a good thing.
The Wolfgang essential takeaways
If you’re sharing information on a subject, particularly medical, health and financial related matters, you need to have proven expertise, authority, and trustworthiness for Google to recommend your content.
When Google recommends a page to a searcher, they don’t want them to read false information (fake news!) especially when it could impact their health, finances or happiness. Bad advice is never good, but when it comes to these topics it’s the worst.
Following E-A-T as a framework when working on your business’s digital marketing means you’re taking a holistic approach to SEO and content marketing. Covering these three pillars is a smart thing to do, particularly if you want to rank pages on Google for the best search terms in your industry.
It may come as bad news for those in the game for a quick win, but expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness take time to build and nurture, with no real shortcuts; this is important to remember. Long gone are the days where you can pop-up overnight and take over Google’s results pages. The E-A-T criteria, by definition, means incrementally growing a brand and a positive online presence in a natural way.
The good news, however, is that if you do this right and achieve a high E-A-T, it will hard to get knocked down from the top spots of Google.
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