Google E-A-T Overview
E-A-T is a relatively new SEO-based acronym that’s generating a lot of buzz in the digital marketing cosmos.
But what exactly is E-A-T? The truth—algorithmically speaking—is complex. Yet some of the core elements that marketers can leverage are actually straightforward and non-technical.
Let’s start out with the basics. Google E-A-T stands for:
It’s becoming an important factor in SEO as Google works to reward content in Search that’s credible, comprehensive, and crafted by experts. The biggest sites and content creators impacted by Google E-A-T are Your Money Your Life (YMYL) sites; organizations and topics that deal with health, news, finance, and government. YMYL became an official category in 2014 and here’s how Google puts it: “Some types of pages or topics could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
While E-A-T has a basis in Google’s newest algorithms and updates, built to reward sites that produce high-quality content, there is no single algorithm responsible for measuring and rewarding it. Instead, there are multiple algorithms running behind the scenes.
Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, used the term “Baby Algorithms” at Pubcon 2019 and applied them to E-A-T. Essentially, these smaller algorithms look for an assortment of signals that can translate it into E-A-T elements. But there’s also so much more behind Google E-A-T than technology: manual human assessment.
In an age filled with constant reminders of the increasing autonomy of algorithms—and hyped claims around AI and automation—we sometimes forget tech giants like Google and Facebook still rely heavily on people. In fact, Google employs over 16,000 people to rate content that plays a role in how Search generates results.
Here’s how VP of Search, Gen Gomes, put it in a 2017 blog post; Our latest quality improvements for Search: “Developing changes to Search involves a process of experimentation. As part of that process, we have evaluators—real people who assess the quality of Google’s search results—give us feedback on our experiments. These ratings don’t determine individual page rankings, but are used to help us gather data on the quality of our results and identify areas where we need to improve.”
It’s a complex dance of algorithms giving suggestions to humans, humans shaping the algorithms’ interpretations of signals, and then rinse and repeat the process.
So as we discover more about E-A-T below, we will look at the topic from multiple perspectives:
- Social and knowledge-based implications.
- Human assessment (Google’s Quality Raters).
- What it takes to be an expert.
- Common misconceptions.
- Practical steps for marketers to take to achieve E-A-T.
Why E-A-T Matters On a Social (and Not Just Marketing) Level
Before touching on the details, it’s worth placing Google E-A-T into a larger context. We live in an age of irony. We have more information and knowledge at our fingertips than at any other period in human history. Yet we are markedly more confused, conflicted, and flooded with disinformation, misinformation, and contradictory information.
E-A-T in some ways is a remedy for these problems. It has the potential to help create an internet with content that’s more reliable and valid as we continue to live in a world full of misinformation and post-truth sentiments.
Google’s efforts to combat these content problems are nothing new: How Google Fights Disinformation. “Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content. However, it is specifically designed to identify sites with high indicia of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.” E-A-T represents critical standards and practices around content quality and the responsibilities all content creators should take seriously.
Overall, as we look closer at E-A-T it becomes clear that the standards are a satisfying mix of common sense and an academic-like approach to the sharing of knowledge and narratives. In a nutshell, as content creators, we are being asked to bring an objective, journalistic integrity to our work. But this begs an obvious question: How can this all be assessed accurately?
Despite a host of claims about the current state and applications of AI, human beings are still the best judges of these nuanced standards. Let’s look at how Google uses the power of human insight and interpretation.
Understanding E-A-T in the Eyes of Google’s Search Quality Raters
Being successful at E-A-T requires you to understand how Google’s Search Quality Raters are trained. The more you understand how they assess content—the more you’ll be able to take advantage of E-A-T.
The Search Quality Rater Guidelines is 167 pages, and here’s a little cheat sheet for where you can find details about E-A-T: pages 19, 22, 27, 33, 39, and 58.
We won’t go into every detail here. What’s important to note first is that E-A-T is just one part of the Page Quality (PQ) rating process. Here’s how Google breaks down the most important factors that go into rating:
- The Purpose of the Page.
- Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Use your research on the additional factors to inform your rating.
- Main Content (MC) Quality and Amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
- Website Information/information about who is responsible for the MC: Find information about the website as well as the creator of the MC.
- Website Reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the MC: Link to help with reputation research will be provided.
Raters are also given a sliding scale to assign the overall PQ rating:
The guidelines go on to first breakdown examples of “high quality” to “highest quality” and then “low quality” to “lowest quality.” For each, there’s a list of multiple examples asking the raters to focus on elements such as purpose, reputation, clarity, helpfulness, authority, and quantity.
Here’s how the guidelines put it at a high level for the raters:
- The expertise of the creator of the MC.
- The authoritativeness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.
- The trustworthiness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.
Expertise can be demonstrated in the following ways:
- Put detailed author bios on any posts you make and have a dedicated landing page for more comprehensive bios.
- Ask experts to fact-check anything your content creators do, especially if they themselves don’t have direct experience and/or expertise on a given topic.
Authoritativeness can be demonstrated in the following ways:
- Get recognition from other experts in the field and then also demonstrate clearly what other experts say about your own expertise.
- Authoritativeness comes down to link building. Google makes that apparent in How Google Fights Disinformation: “Google’s algorithms identify signals about pages that correlate with trustworthiness and authoritativeness. The best known of these signals is PageRank, which uses links on the web to understand authoritativeness.”
- Thus every time you have a link, evaluate if it’s truly a form of recommending you as an expert. Marie Haynes, Owner/Founder at Marie Haynes Consulting Inc., asked Gary Illyes in 2018 about E-A-T and he indicated that links and mentions were the biggest contributors to authoritativeness.
Trustworthiness can be demonstrated in a few different ways:
- Reputation (online reviews are a big part of this).
- Posting clear and helpful contact information.
- Making refund policies accessible and understandable.
- Using scientific references and make sure you stay in line with scientific consensus.
Below, we’ll cover ways you can demonstrate to raters the quality of your website and content. But first, you might be wondering what it takes to be considered an expert.
The answers may surprise you.
What it Takes to be Considered an Expert
You don’t need a Ph.D. to be considered an expert. Google takes into consideration experiential knowledge and the fact that people can be self-taught—amassing expertise on an array of topics.
Here’s how they break it down on page twenty of the rater guidelines:
“Some topics require less formal expertise. Many people write extremely detailed, helpful reviews of products or restaurants. Many people share tips and life experiences on forums, blogs, etc. These ordinary people may be considered experts in topics where they have life experience. If it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or her an ‘expert’ on the topic, we will value this ‘everyday expertise’ and not penalize the person/webpage/website for not having ‘formal’ education or training in the field.
It’s even possible to have everyday expertise in YMYL topics. For example, there are forums and support pages for people with specific diseases. Sharing personal experience is a form of everyday expertise.”
Where they draw the line in many circumstances is common sense. Sharing your personal experience of a disease is fine, so long as you’re not offering diagnoses and medical advice.
Perhaps as a general rule of thumb, if you have the formal education and experience—showcase it. If you don’t have formal education, demonstrate your expertise by creating content that’s clear, helpful, informative, links to reputable sources, has substantial volume, and is fact-checked and/or recognized by experts.
The nuances and details surrounding E-A-T don’t stop here. It also engenders a fair amount of misconceptions that need some debunking.
Common E-A-T Misconceptions
There is a single E-A-T algorithm.
E-A-T is made up of many “baby algorithms.” As discussed earlier, there are multiple smaller algorithms that provide signals to Google.
E-A-T is only technology-driven.
There’s more behind E-A-T assessment than tech. There are thousands of people reviewing content to help reinforce and improve Google’s algorithms (and therefore search results).
There is an E-A-T score.
All the “baby algorithms” from Google do not assign an E-A-T score. The quality raters don’t either (they just designate something as being on a spectrum of low to high).
Focusing on E-A-T produces immediate results.
E-A-T, like nearly all types of SEO, takes time to produce results. You have to be patient and committed to this long-term strategy. Be prepared to produce high-quality content that attracts high-quality mentions and links.
E-A-T is a completely new thing.
Google has been working on fighting disinformation for a long time. E-A-T is just a part of a long evolutionary process.
The recent broad changes to Search algorithms, aka Core Updates, only impacted YMYL sites.
This is a tricky one. It has been reported that cooking sites have been impacted. And here’s what Marie Haynes said recently, “We personally think that most websites on the web are considered YMYL. You might argue that your site that sells ballpoint pens is not helping people make major life decisions.” It just might be that in the near future, Google is going to be able to assess content quality (or simply have an impact algorithmically) in both high- and low-stake contexts.Your goal is to create content that benefits people. Enrich their lives. Open their eyes. Be honest. Click To Tweet
Focusing on E-A-T means you can ignore other SEO factors and strategies.
E-A-T needs to be prioritized among all of your other tried-and-true SEO strategies. It’s only one small piece of the SEO puzzle. In general, you also need to continue to stay abreast of Core Updates and follow quality guidelines.
So you’re probably wondering, “How can I start working on E-A-T?” Let’s look at some practical tips for helping your rank for E-A-T.
Steps You Can Take Now To Improve Your E-A-T Ranking
- Look closely at Google’s recommendations.
- On August 1st, 2019 Google posted, “What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates” on their Webmaster Central Blog. While they mentioned E-A-T they also provided some “fresh set of questions to ask yourself about your content” that complements 2011 insights into building high-quality websites. Read the questions closely and take them to heart. This will require you to look not only at your content closely but your website and your content contributors.
- Take time to look at both the high- and low-quality examples in the Search Quality Rater Guidelines.
- Google provides dozens of examples for their raters with quick explanations that can give you new ideas and insights.
- Build out author bios.
- Make sure every post has a strong author bio.
- Link that to a longer bio.
- Consider making a landing page on your website showcasing the expertise of all of your content contributors.
- Build your brand and reputation online.
- Become trusted and followed on social media.
- Speak at conferences and become a trusted voice in your domain of expertise.
- For your organization, work on getting outside reviews and recommendations.
- Make sure your site is secure.
- Stay up-to-date with HTTPs encryption. Disclose your privacy practices and protect any user information you gather.
- Keep on top of user-generated content.
- If you have forums or community-based Q&A, make sure everything is reviewed and moderated with the highest standards.
- Build a comprehensive contact page and refund policy.
- Don’t keep users in the dark about how to reach you—and how you process refunds.
- Reach out to experts and ask for their feedback and/or fact-checking services.
- Sometimes your content creators aren’t truly the experts in the field. You can still ask experts to evaluate your content—and also promote it.
- Approach everything you write from an academic mindset (in particular, how you source your claims and insights).
- Make sources clear. Use sources that are scientific. Remember what it was like writing during college.
- Think about link building in the context of E-A-T.
- Don’t just accept any inbound links. Make sure the links are from sources that are authoritative and trustworthy. Moreover, make sure the links are truly recommending you as an expert in the field. Also, make sure your outbound links are to trustworthy/relevant/authoritative sites as well.
- Leverage Wikipedia.
- Get mentions on Wikipedia or build your own page (the latter isn’t easy). The rater guidelines mention the crowdsourced encyclopedia a few times.
- Get high-quality mentions.
- This may take time. Mentions on other sites that have strong E-A-T adds to your E-A-T. This can even work for getting mentioned on a reputable forum.
- Spend time forging relationships with experts in your field.
E-A-T Healthy, Digital Marketers
Whether you are a YMYL site/organization, take these standards to heart. When you’re producing content for people, make it objective, insightful, and beneficial. Cite the best and most credible sources available. Make your citations clear. Ultimately your goal is to create content that benefits people. Enrich their lives. Open their eyes. Be honest. Stay tuned for our next post where we look closer at the algorithmic signals behind E-A-T.
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