One of the biggest SEO mysteries marketers and content publishers try to crack is the Google code. How does the service choose which content to feature first in search results? Especially when there are millions of pieces available for each keyword or topic. There’s no simple answer to this question. Between algorithms, human reviewers, search intent, and a variety of other ever-changing SEO factors, we’d be here all day discussing the possibilities. Instead, we’re giving you the fast pass to what really sends your content to the top: E-A-T factors.
Today, we’re exploring what this acronym means and what Google and searchers look for when ranking content:
The Google acronym E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. It’s a concept that features prominently in the company’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines. This “Google Bible” provides tips and instructions on how the service evaluates website quality. The company introduced the guidelines in 2014 and updates them almost once per year. The E-A-T variables are three of the most important factors that Google’s quality raters use to determine which websites and online content are best. They also help choose which ones to display in search results.
Quality raters are the real people, not algorithms, that review online content and choose if it’s worthy of appearing in results for certain keywords or topics. Their primary roles are to evaluate search results for search intent and see if the content meets user needs. Here is a more in-depth look at each of the quality factors:
For Google, expertise reflects what the author or publisher of a piece of content knows about the primary topic. The service evaluates expertise at the content level, not based on the publisher or brand. The job of the quality raters is to determine if the source is an expert on the topic. Do they have the qualifications and credentials to speak about it? Or are they just random people sitting in a basement spouting theories? For some topics, it’s easy to decide who’s the expert. Content that NASA publishes about space comes from experts versus a space enthusiast’s blog.
But the concept becomes murkier when you factor in “everyday expertise.” This type of expertise acknowledges that someone doesn’t have to have a Ph.D. in a particular field to share expert advice. An example is a fashion blogger who provides style and fit guides for dressing various body types. They’ve learned the industry through personal experience, not education. Part of the job of the quality raters is to sort what content comes from experts, everyday experts, and basement dwellers. Then, the raters tell the algorithm team how to rank content accordingly.
Content authority reflects an author or publisher’s reputation in their industry or niche. Google’s quality raters look at authority on a topic, author, and publishing website level. Authoritativeness goes hand in hand with expertise. A more experienced author or publisher has more credibility to speak on a given topic. Consider the authority of medical advice online. Publishers like WebMD, the CDC, and the Mayo Clinic have more authority than health and wellness bloggers. Why? Because these publishers work with subject matter experts like physicians and nurses to provide fact-checked, reputable information.
Google’s quality raters understand how important it is to provide information that searchers trust. That’s why they look into an author or publisher’s background and examine their qualifications.
When an authoritative publisher shares expert content, people are more likely to trust that brand as a top source of information. But when determining trust as a quality rater, Google team members use additional factors to identify which sites or content to recommend to searchers. Most of these come from places of security, transparency, and user experience. Some factors on their checklists include:
The more a publisher or host site thinks about user needs and experience, the higher a quality rater may rank that source for E-A-T.
At the end of 2022, when Google updated its Search Quality Rater Guidelines, the team added a new letter to the acronym. Dubbed E-E-A-T or Double-E-A-T, the new letter stands for “experience.” Though Google doesn’t explicitly say so, the new “E” addresses issues with “everyday expertise.” By adding “experience” to the quality guidelines, Google acknowledges that hands-on or real-life experience is just as valuable as book knowledge or brand reputation.
An example of this is influencer marketing. Influencers may not have the “credentials” of big brands or publishers, but they’re still an important sector of content creators. So adding “experience” to these search guidelines gives those creators a chance to rank higher in search. One area where the experience factor shines is in content for product reviews and descriptions. An influencer may not be a tech pro who can tell you how to develop software. But they may buy, install, and use a program at home. Their experience with the product and how they use it matters to searchers.
By highlighting real-world experience, Google may be putting brands and companies on notice. Companies talk up their own products and services on their own content channels. But if a bunch of influencers gives them bad reviews, Google can prioritize how to show the public reviews versus the company-approved content. The brand no longer controls the entire narrative. The people do. Experience addresses the value of word-of-mouth marketing in the digital age.
You’ve heard it before: “Create high-quality content to beat your competition.” Every marketer and SEO professional knows this mantra. The problem is, you can’t create high-quality content if you don’t know what makes something “high quality.” Quality is a subjective entity. Because it’s not numerical, it’s up to the authority to decide what’s “high-quality.” For search, Google is that authority. And Google takes its cues from the real authority: the searchers.
E-A-T, along with the extensive list of rater guidelines, gives some insight and definition to what high-quality actually means for the service. If you’re not following E-A-T best practices when creating content, it’s almost impossible to rank on Google. And no rank means no audience exposure.
Understanding E-A-T helps you create content your audience wants to see in a way that encourages Google to rank it for the right topics and keywords. It takes high-quality content from a mystery to a procedure you can follow. According to Google, top E-A-T content meets the following criteria:
By knowing what Google expects from its high-quality content, you can also learn what things to avoid, like:
The bottom line is that bad information on the internet can have real-world consequences. By focusing on ways to weed out and regulate high-quality content from poor content, Google and its team are trying to ensure the health and safety of its users. As marketers, we can do the same by holding our content to those standards.
No, E-A-T is not a direct Google ranking factor. All three elements are primarily qualitative. The computer can’t do simple math and discover which article is more authoritative. There’s some subjectivity to it. For this reason, feedback from quality rankers doesn’t directly affect how, when, or where your content appears in search results.
Instead, the primary role of the quality rankers is to do what an algorithm can’t do on its own—which is to think like a human. The feedback that rankers give helps update and improve the algorithm over time. These updates happen in a three-step process:
This process lets humans tell the computer what “quality” is in a way that the algorithm understands. Let’s look at an example of why this process matters, even as a non-direct ranking factor:
Today, when most people search for the term TikTok, they want information about the social app. But back in 2016 when the app came out, Google and its algorithm likely didn’t know that. People may have spelled the name wrong, like “Tick Tock.” Or the results might have shown information about the 2009 Ke$ha song by the same name.
If people wanted information about the app but kept getting information about Ke$ha, they might later their searches to “TikTok video.” This would make the search engines take notice. Maybe they would provide tweaks to show more information about the app. Or they might show more results with listing for the Ke$ha music video. All of these situations are things the quality raters look for when determining what people want to see when they search. They decide which types of results the algorithm should display higher, but not specifically how to rank the content.
Despite the pop culture example in the last section, E-A-T is important for every query. That being said, there are certain topics where following the quality guidelines matters more than others. For example, if you search Google images for “most flattering jeans,” it doesn’t particularly matter if you actually think the jeans in the photos flatter the model. It’s subjective because you’re not the model. The pants are going to look different on you anyway. But for topics that fall under what Google calls YMYL, E-A-T matters most.
YMYL stands for “Your Money, Your Life.” Topics that fit this acronym “could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” YMYL topics are more serious than picking out new jeans. If Google suggests unverified content for these topics, you could lose all your savings, find yourself in a dangerous situation, or even risk your health.
Part of the job of Google’s quality evaluation team is to determine which topics and categories qualify for YMYL. The ones that are clear or possible YMYL topics have the highest level of scrutiny for E-A-T. Industries or content that fall into the YMYL category include:
Other, more subjective topics may qualify for YMYL depending on the context of the information.
Unlike domain authority and page authority, your website or your piece of content doesn’t receive an E-A-T score.
Image via Twitter
Following E-A-T guidelines isn’t going to improve your website’s numerical value for some internal Google ranking programs. Instead, following common sense rules help your content and website appeal to human quality raters. They make (sometimes) subjective decisions about what fits the bill. They make the decisions about the algorithm. But the algorithm itself doesn’t rate or rank your site.
Following E-A-T isn’t much different than the other content marketing best practices you already know and follow. It’s common sense to want to provide the best information and the most accurate information to your audience. When you do that, you please your audience and search engines. And like everything else with SEO, E-A-T could continue to evolve and change. E for expertise is new, but it came as a response to the human habits changing search culture.
As for what’s next for E-A-T and search, we’ll have to wait and see. If you start noticing trends in your audience behaviors, such as how they consume or look for information, pay attention. How they conduct themselves online could lead to the next big Google update.
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