Google E-A-T & SEO: Checklist, Quality Guidelines, & Tips
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
E-A-T is a concept from the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (QRG) that is used by Search Quality Raters to provide feedback to Google to improve the Search experience.
This article will cover E-A-T in-depth and provide answers to important questions surrounding SEO, ranking, algorithms, and user experience as it relates to the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines and E-A-T (Including an in-depth checklist).
Table of Contents:
- What is E-A-T
- How Does E-A-T Impact SEO?
- The History of E-A-T
- The Significance of E-A-T
- Quality Rater Guidelines & Page Quality Rating
- Does My Website Need E-A-T?
- What is the E-A-T Algorithm?
- What is My E-A-T Score?
- Is E-A-T a Ranking Factor?
- How Does Google Determine Your E-A-T?
- How To Improve a Website’s E-A-T (Checklist)
- How Long Does E-A-T Take?
- What Are the Most Important Factors for E-A-T SEO?
- What is High-Quality Content?
- Additional Resources and Links
What is E-A-T?
As previously mentioned, E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust.
Here’s the breakdown of what each contains:
Expertise in the expert skill or knowledge of the author of the content. Is the author qualified to be writing on this topic?
If the blog is about heart surgery, someone who has performed heart surgery should be the author.
If it’s a blog on which board game to choose for Saturday night, anyone with sufficient board gaming experience could be considered an expert.
Expertise can be displayed in the form of an author bio on page or in a separate author page on the website. It can also come from outside sources and searchable information that shows who you are and your qualification to publish such material.
Authoritativeness considers not only the author but the main content (MC) of the page, and the entire website.
Being authoritative means being trusted, accurate, true, and reliable.
In the realm of the internet, this can mean anything from having high-quality relevant backlinks to prestigious awards tied to your name such as the Nobel Peace Prize.
Anything that helps display you, your website, and your content as an authority in your space can help a user understand you are not only qualified to write the content but a leading and outstanding source of information for that topic.
Wikipedia is noted 56 times in the QRG and mentioned as a “Source of Reputation Information.”
Acquiring a Wikipedia page for yourself can be extremely challenging but highly beneficial to your E-A-T.
Even mentions of your name on a reputable website or social media can be identified as signs of authoritativeness. But it’ll need to be organic and legitimate as any sign of paid or fraudulent attribution would certainly be a negative mark against your overall E-A-T.
As with other parts of E-A-T, authoritativeness takes time and work to build.
It can’t be faked and forced.
Trustworthiness is also looking at the author, main content, and the website itself.
Trustworthiness is the “ability to be relied on as honest or truthful”.
In terms of the QRG this may refer to a number of different items including:
- An easily identifiable author and website owner
- A way to contact the website owner and a physical address if applicable
- Excellent (legitimate) reviews on various websites
- A secure and reliable checkout system for eCommerce sites
- Factually accurate information for news and informational websites
- Trustworthy external references cited in articles
How Does E-A-T Impact SEO
E-A-T is only recently gaining momentum in the SEO community as of the past few years though Google documentation and comments from staff members would indicate it’s a much more important SEO consideration than the lack of historical buzz would indicate.
Google’s Search experience hinges on good user experience. If users aren’t finding satisfactory results, they’ll use a different search engine.
High E-A-T means the content produced is reliable and high quality. This is exactly the kind of content that Google wants its users to see.
So, how does E-A-T impact SEO? Well, it’s a cornerstone to some of Google’s core missions.
That being said, E-A-T impact is relative to each niche. YMYL domains will require more E-A-T efforts than domains regarding hobbies or casual activities.
There are some case studies that show the positive impact of E-A-T on SEO and search performance.
It’s clear that tackling some of the activities that improve E-A-T have positive benefits for organic traffic and rankings.
E-A-T is important however it is one only aspect of SEO. You’ll still want to focus efforts on other strategies while you implement E-A-T.
The History of E-A-T
The importance and gravity of E-A-T is just beginning to be revealed however the concept has been in official Google documentation (QRG) since 2013 and released publicly in 2014 after leaked files appeared multiple times on the internet. (Leaked files of the QRG have been available as early as 2008.)
Some of the core criteria behind it have been used by Google well before 2013 (such as backlinks) although the concept of E-A-T allowed Google to analyze the effectiveness of their algorithm and further inform it via thousands of Search Quality Raters.
SEO’s began theorizing that E-A-T directly impacts domain search engine performance after a core algorithm update in 2018 (the ‘Medic’ update) that affected many sites in the YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) category.
Some called this update the ‘E-A-T’ update, but E-A-T was clearly introduced far prior to that.
Additionally, Google implements hundreds of thousands of experiments to their search experience every year.
In 2019 alone, Google ran 464,065 experiments resulting in 3,620 improvements to Search.
There was also a broad core algorithm update in early 2017 that some have pointed to as evidence of SEO data dips to sites with low or poor E-A-T.
There are various other clues from Google including employee Tweets and mentions of E-A-T at well-known conventions that seem to have timely connections to broad core updates and documentation releases.
Regardless of the intensity of detective work by SEO’s, Google’s exact algorithm and details of Search improvement methodologies remain largely behind closed doors.
What we can focus on instead moving forward is the information that Google has provided, including the information in the QRG.
One thing is certain, E-A-T is going to be sticking around. As stated in the QRG:
“Search engines exist to help people find what they are looking for. To do that, search engines must provide a diverse set of helpful, high-quality search results, presented in the most helpful order.”
Google is strongly invested in thwarting the spread of misinformation (especially in regards to YMYL sites), and in the era of fake news, this is highly relevant.
The Significance of E-A-T
In early documentation that presents the prototype “Google”, we can see that the goal since the beginning has been to improve the quality search.
The bones of the system presented back in 1997 was advanced for its time but relative to today it’s just a fragment.
However, the core goal of Google remains the same: Create the best search experience possible.
Originally, links were the backbone of how pages were ranked on Google. It made sense in theory and was a leap forward for search engine technology.
It was only one tiny piece of the puzzle that would ultimately become what is today’s algorithm and ranking factors.
E-A-T includes but goes beyond what’s on-page or bits of digital information like backlinks and anchor text.
True high-level E-A-T has to be legitimately acquired and built and that can take a long time and a lot of work.
This is likely one reason it’s not extensively popular to write about or pay attention to in current the SEO world.
We want quick solutions, fast improvements in rankings, and big keyword gains.
But Google isn’t exactly excited about that and hasn’t been since the early days.
See, Google’s system of counting links and link text as such valuable ranking factors opened the door to gaming the algorithm.
They were clearly aware that this happens and could happen to them, although it’s apparent there was still a lot of work to be done (and still is).
Using grey and black hat tactics (methods of ‘cheating’ the system) have been and are still common in the SEO industry.
But Google is getting stronger and stronger at mitigating and eliminating these methods of improving rankings.
If website owners and SEO’s can “force” certain web pages to the top of the rankings and bypass Google’s standards of quality, then that can make for a serious mess.
By implementing E-A-T criteria into how the algorithm is developed, it is one way to better ensure only the “very best documents” (i.e. – high quality, relevant content) surfaces to the top.
Google continues to pay less attention to traditional pieces of SEO information like alt text, backlinks, anchor text, headings, and meta descriptions and more and more attention to user behavior signals, quality signals, and trustworthiness signals.
Remember, Google wants high quality, relevant content with “beneficial purpose”.
Just check out this Google Search Central Blog snippet for additional proof:
Instead of pouring time into old-school SEO tactics of gaming the system, get to the root of what Google wants and think about your users first.
Search Quality Rater Guidelines & Page Quality Rating
The Search Quality Rater Guidelines exist as an instructional manual to Search Quality Raters to “evaluate search engine quality around the world.”
The QRG is not the Google algorithm nor is it part of the algorithm.
Ben Gomes, Google’s Senior Vice President of Education (formerly VP of Search), stated this regarding the guidelines in a 2018 interview with CNBC:
You can view the rater guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go. They don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do.
Page Quality Rating
Part of the job of the Search Quality Rater is to determine PQ or Page Quality.
According to Google, Page Quality is simply, “how well a page achieves its purpose.”
This purpose is also referred to as ‘beneficial purpose’ or how useful a page is to a user.
While the Page Quality Rating a rater gives a page is not directly used in an algorithm to rank that page, this does tell us that Google wants pages to be helpful to users and they want those types of pages to rank well.
Here is how the PQ Rating is determined and the most important factors of PQ:
As you can see, E-A-T is just one aspect of the overall quality of a page, there is more to consider when creating a high-quality page.
High-quality pages should always be the goal since that’s what Google is looking for and the Page Quality rating and QRG, in general, are excellent maps for what Google wants that to look like.
Does My Website Need E-A-T?
In short – Yes. Any website can benefit from E-A-T.
Although for sites that pertain to YMYL will need significantly more E-A-T than non-YMYL sites.
What is YMYL?
YMYL sites pertain to Your Money or Your Life. These are any sites that take transactions (eCommerce), or cover topics like, news, government, finance, health and safety, or groups of people.
Outside of SEO benefits – showing your users who you are, why you’re qualified to share the content you’re sharing – all the while providing pieces of information and documentation that bolster trust is a positive to your website no matter what.
As far as SEO goes, while E-A-T does pertain to all sites (nowhere in the QRG does Google mention certain sites being exempt although they understand some sites need additional levels of privacy and account for this), not all sites will benefit or be harmed significantly by having or not having E-A-T.
It’s absolutely critical for YMYL sites to have good E-A-T and so the weighting for those types of sites is much heavier.
In fact, one of Google’s patents categorizes websites into three classifications based on authority (according to Bill Slawski) and ties directly to the concept of YMYL:
- Expert level
- Apprentice level
- Layperson level
There are positive SEO benefits even if your site is not YMYL.
Increasing E-A-T helps boost positive SEO signals in several ways:
- Improves user trust of your site, meaning they’re more likely to spend time there and come back.
- Improves your brand visibility, increasing traffic and return users.
- Improves the likelihood of your content or site getting shared, therefore increasing visibility and possibly traffic, backlinks, and mentions across the web.
Having better E-A-T (in alignment with the QRG and relative to your niche and purpose of your website) is at no detriment to your site, SEO, or your audience. Take steps to improve it and monitor your data.
What is the E-A-T Algorithm?
There is no E-A-T algorithm. E-A-T is a concept that is part of the Search Quality Rater Guidelines.
This process informs and provides human feedback for the algorithm itself.
It helps let Google know how their algorithm is performing and what they might want to change or update.
So while there is no E-A-T algorithm, Google’s algorithm (which is comprised of millions of other tiny algorithms) is in alignment with the E-A-T concept and uses signals to look at elements related to it.
What is My E-A-T Score?
If you’re in the SEO industry you’re likely a data nerd and the first thing you’re thinking is – “What is my E-A-T score?”
There is no E-A-T or YMYL score for your website.
A Quality Rater may or may not end up on your website and go through their process of evaluating your site based on the QRG criteria however the feedback is not something that is publicly available.
A Quality Rater evaluation does not directly affect your site’s ranking.
However, you can use the guidelines to look at your own site and determine how you might rate the various aspects of your own content for Page Quality.
Keep in mind, Page Quality is not E-A-T and is just one part of the overall concept.
Is E-A-T a Ranking Factor?
No. E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor.
Here’s some clear-cut information regarding that from the team at Google in a post about core updates:
Note (March 2020): Since we originally wrote this post, we have been occasionally asked if E-A-T is a ranking factor. Our automated systems use a mix of many different signals to rank great content. We’ve tried to make this mix align what human beings would agree is great content as they would assess it according to E-A-T criteria. Given this, assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that our automated systems use to rank content.
Google looks for signals that align with E-A-T.
This is where the grey area of E-A-T comes in.
If it isn’t a ranking factor, why would SEO’s bother to improve it?
Well, E-A-T signals are in alignment with what the algorithm is looking for.
So it’s absolutely relevant for SEO performance but there is no metric or theorem that we can point to and say, “This is the E-A-T algorithm.”
How Does Google Determine Your E-A-T?
Google doesn’t necessarily determine your website’s overall E-A-T and dole out a reward of ranking improvement to you based on your execution of implementation.
Although, its algorithm (comprised of the aforementioned many millions of micro-algorithms within) is looking to understand those signals we talked about in the previous section.
In 2016, Google said it had knowledge of over 130 trillion web pages.
Keep in mind, although there are tens of thousands of Quality Raters, they are by no means going through every web page to analyze them for E-A-T and Page Quality standards.
Determining your alignment with E-A-T standards is done on an algorithmic level by looking at the multitude of signals within Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
To dive deeper into how Google understands E-A-T, this article on Google Patents by Lily Ray, a Search Engine Journal Contributor, unpacks how the information contained within these patents can help us unveil additional information.
Google uses E-A-T to inform their algorithm and provide feedback on how well it’s performing what they would like it to accomplish – but they’re also using this information to create this detailed & interconnected web of entities.
How To Improve a Website’s E-A-T (Checklist)
In general, improving E-A-T is a long-term process but there are some steps you can take to instantly improve user experience and potentially improve your performance on Google very quickly.
Keep in mind that as you build E-A-T, it becomes easier to build additional E-A-T. The results can be compounding and should organically grow.
E-A-T is intended to be a natural growth process, it’s not something you “hack.” Some basic elements can be implemented to create the appearance of improved E-A-T but in general, high-level E-A-T is forged over time.
Below are the things you’ll want to focus on to improve your website’s E-A-T.
- Implement detailed author attribution and biographies for every piece of content on your site. Make sure each article is written by and attributed to an expert with specific expertise relevant to the content topic.
- Create author pages for each author with an image of the author, a description of their expertise, history, proof of knowledge, awards, certifications, and links to social profiles. Use schema markup as a structured way to communicate this information to Google.
- Write content related to your niche focus. Do not write content just for “SEO” because a keyword has high volume and you want more traffic. Stay in your lane and write about what you know.
- Produce high-quality content. We’ll get into this more below – there’s a lot to unpack. Google has specific standards for what high-quality content looks like as well as some guiding pieces of information. Make sure you’re assessing existing and future content with this in mind.
- Back-up any scientific claims, facts, or claims having to do with anything related to YMYL. Provide proof for what you are alleging with links to other authoritative and trustworthy sites/documentation when possible.
- Create a personal brand and become well-known in your niche. Developing your personal brand is more than just a trend, it has extensive benefits that reach beyond social media followers. Create a memorable and authority-based image for yourself that leads people to want to link to, share, and mention you and your content.
- Acquire newsworthy or noteworthy mentions from authoritative sites. Acquiring backlinks to your website is great but even unlinked positive mentions are beneficial for your reputation. Publish research, win awards, get featured in the news, create new terminology in your niche – do whatever it takes to get your name in the public eye.
- Get your content, name, and website shared on social media. Similar to unlinked mentions, it’s helpful to have your name buzzing on social media. This is something the Quality Raters are looking for in their E-A-T assessments, so we can potentially assume that Google either has or will have means to understand you and your website’s social media presence and mentions algorithmically.
- Be a beneficial source to your users. Google puts a deep emphasis on the beneficial purpose of each website in the QRG. Audit your website and think about if your content is just selling or pitching your products and services or if there’s a true benefit for the user to visit and consume the information you’re publishing.
- Acquire or Improve Your Knowledge Graph. Having a knowledge graph (often associated with a Wikipedia Page) is basically like setting yourself or your brand in Google stone. Google uses its understanding of entities (concepts, people, businesses, etc.) to link, comprehend, and present information from across the web. If you can place yourself in this puzzle, it’s a solid sign to Google you’re doing something right.
- Acquire a Wikipedia Page (or Wikipedia Mentions). Getting a Wikipedia page for yourself is notoriously difficult. However, the QRG does cite Wikipedia as a place for the Rater’s to look to as a reliable source several times. It’s likely having a Wikipedia is helpful to establish your authority in Google’s eyes. If you can’t get a Wikipedia page, even being mentioned on a relevant page can be helpful.
- Implement Structured Data. Use Schema.org for structured data markup to create digestible bits of information about your business and authors.
- Improve and clean up your reputation. Look at your ratings but also assess what people are saying about you online. Step in where necessary to manage your reputation and make improvements to highlight your authority in the space.
- Audit your entire website for low E-A-T content. Using the QRG as your compass, compare your existing content to what Google is looking for. Eliminate pages that don’t align.
- Acquire powerful, relevant, and legitimate backlinks. Links have been deemphasized in many ways in regards to SEO in recent years. That being said they are still hugely important. Links are one of the most obvious and talked about ways that Google understands the authority of domains. For E-A-T, links mean a lot – just check out what Danny Sullivan has to say:
- Make sure contact information and location information are readily accessible. Have contact information including email and phone available in the footer and on a contact page along with any public locational information. Setting up a Google My Business account (if relevant) couldn’t hurt either.
- Publish content that is up to date, maintain it regularly, and check it for factual accuracy. Outdated content can be flawed, misleading, or inaccurate. For websites in finance, health, or legal space this can have life-threatening or personal well-being consequences. Google wants to avoid this at all costs. Keep your content up to date and display the date clearly.
- Acquire legitimate and relevant positive reviews and clean up or address bad reviews. Reviews are outlined in the QRG as something to be looking for when auditing for trustworthiness. Don’t fake this – they are on the lookout for that too. Acquire genuine reviews on relevant sites.
- Make Your Online Sales Process Highly Transparent and Secure. If you’re running an ecommerce site, your site is YMYL. This means you’ll need high standards of E-A-T. Users should know exactly what to expect from your product and every aspect of the purchase process. They should also be protected from fraudulent activities and be provided transparency on how that protection is implemented.
- Implement HTTPS and Other Website Security Features. Whether or not your website is YMYL, HTTPS is the standard baseline for security today. As of the time of writing this article, nearly 70% of websites are using this protocol.
There is much more detail and many more ways to improve your E-A-T that cannot fit in this article, to learn more, we highly suggest this video by SEMRush including some of the top E-A-T experts in the SEO industry.
How Long Does E-A-T Take?
As previously mentioned, gaining E-A-T, in general, is a long-term process and it’s on-going.
While there are some improvements like author attribution that can be made quickly, others like building a personal brand are quite vague and do not have a timeline.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t sacrifice your other marketing and SEO efforts for the sake of E-A-T. Introduce and build on it as you can fit it into your strategy.
What Are the Most Important Factors for E-A-T SEO?
Any item mentioned in the QRG should be considered high priority when it comes to E-A-T.
Through researching other pieces of content on the topic I’ve noticed that authorship and author biographies are typically the most frequently mentioned.
While this is important (and likely the most obvious) – especially considering Expertise is solely based on the author of the content and Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness both also look to the author as components of their framework – I believe it’s better to think of E-A-T holistically.
Look at the big picture; your brand, your website, your business, your content, the topic, your qualification – how does it align with the QRG and where is it falling short?
This will ultimately lead you to the best possible outcome as you begin to tackle E-A-T.
What is High-Quality Content?
“High quality” and “highest quality” are mentioned 153 times total in the 175-page QRG. The Quality Rater’s job by definition is to rate the quality of a page. It’s clear that quality is important to Google.
That’s because high-quality content means satisfied users, which is exactly what Google wants. That’s why it ranks well.
Want to rank better on Google? Produce high-quality pages.
So what is high-quality content? Google has shed some light on that and wants us to know what it is.
First, it’s important to understand that similar to E-A-T, the term “high quality” is relative to the quality of other similar content.
Additionally, according to the scale used by the Quality Rater’s to rate the page, “high quality” is not the apex but rather “highest quality”.
Here’s what they have to look for when identifying the highest quality pages:
What makes a page Highest quality? In addition to the attributes of a High quality page, a Highest quality page must have at least one of the following characteristics:
● Very high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
● A very satisfying amount of high or highest quality MC.
● Very positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page. Very positive reputation of the creator of the MC, if different from that of the website.
This is helpful to understand at a high level what Google likes to see in page content, however, it leaves us with more questions.
What is a “satisfying amount” of content? What should that content contain? What specific items identify high or highest quality Main Content?
In a 2019 Google Search Central Blog, Google took on the task of addressing some of the details behind content quality.
Inside this blog, they provided a list of 20 bullet-pointed questions that webmasters should ask themselves in relation to their content.
Here are some of the items that we found particularly intriguing:
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
- Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
Honestly assess your content and ask yourself these questions along with the others contained in the blog post.
These questions can seriously challenge the content that you produce. Google sets a high bar on purpose and they are looking at everything.
Average content with the “right” keywords, sneaky alt tags, and “that perfect meta description”, won’t cut it anymore.
Create unique content that stands above the rest.
Beyond this, Google states that you should do exactly what you’re doing right now: learn more about the Search Quality Rater Guidelines and E-A-T.
Think like a rater thinks when auditing your content.
Additional Resources and Links
There is a lot more to be said about E-A-T, the Search Quality Rater Guidelines, YMYL, and everything surrounding this expansive topic.
Here are some resources and links (including important ones from above in case you missed them) that might help you gain a more comprehensive understanding:
- Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
- What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates
- More guidance on building high-quality sites
- How Search algorithms work
- Updating Our Search Quality Rating Guidelines
- Google Using Website Representation Vectors to Classify with Expertise and Authority
- The Mechanics of E-A-T: How Google Patents Can Help Explain How E-A-T Works
- Google Understands An Author Style Well Enough to Imitate It
- The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine
Need help with SEO or E-A-T improvements? Contact the Nomadic Marketing team today to get started.
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