E-A-T has been an everlasting theme in SEO after earning a lot of attention following Google’s 2018 “medic” algorithm update, and as digital marketers hone the right strategies for 2021, they should consider how they can meet the demand from users and Google for in-depth content that demonstrates these three principles.
- The E-A-T acronym stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness which are concepts highlighted in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG)
- Google’s algorithm update in 2018 strongly impacted websites that fell under YMYL quality rating which is listed in the evaluator guidelines as “Your Money or Your Life”
- This update meant a new emphasis on E-A-T, especially for websites that fall under the YMYL category
While Google is vague about the contents of algorithm updates, it’s possible to pick out trends that signal their direction.
The update in 2018 indicated another user-focused move toward matching intent with reliable and trustworthy resources through initial search results. Marketers should expect an increasing focus on single page experiences that go deep on a subject. This will continue to put pressure on SEO content strategies that are thin and disjointed.
This post will give readers a solid understanding of how E-A-T plays into rankings, demonstrate what great E-A-T content looks like and clarify any misconceptions about long-form content not being worth the effort.
Table of Contents:
- Is E-A-T a Ranking Factor?
- What is E-A-T?
- Your Money Your Life (YMYL)
- Google’s 2018 Update to Search Query Evaluation Guidelines
- Demonstrating E-A-T
- Strategies for High Page Quality & Meeting Users’ Needs
- Meeting E-A-T Needs with Long-Form Content
- Key Takeaways
Is E-A-T a Ranking Factor?!
Before we go any further, let’s be clear… E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor, but according to Google’s Public Search Liaison Danny Sullivan, marketers should definitely still explore these principles if they want to improve their content’s performance in the SERP:
What is E-A-T?
Before we jump into some of the finer details of each E-A-T pillar and how you can use them to improve your site, let’s quickly recap how this acronym came to be so we have a strong understanding of its role in page quality (PQ) ratings…
The concepts expertise, authority and trustworthiness are listed as E-A-T more than 130 times in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. The SQEG is a long document released by Google in 2015 that explains the criteria for how evaluators should determine the quality of pages at the top of Google’s search results—yes, we’re talking about 10,000 real people hired by Google to help evaluate and improve search results by providing ratings for the top pages of popular search queries.
Here’s a look at part of Google’s SQEG that outlines the role of E-A-T, how evaluators use it to assess page quality and how each pillar is related to either the content or the content creator:
Note that the first step in determining page quality is to “understand the true purpose of the page.” It might sound a little philosophical, but the concept plays a real role in Google’s prioritization of pages in the SERP. An emphasis on websites having a “beneficial purpose” was a key part of the guidelines’ first update and served as a pretty clear message to webmasters that they should continue to focus on helping users and not much else.
There are plenty of ways to help your users and Google goes on to outline a few in their SQEG:
The Google algorithm update in 2018 was nicknamed “the medic update” because of the way it impacted websites that focused on health. Based on the guidelines, E-A-T is a major part of the framework that helps evaluators determine what a high-quality or low-quality page looks like—especially for pages that have the potential to impact a user’s well-being which is where the YMYL designation comes in.
Your Money Your Life (YMYL)
Here are some examples of YMYL pages provided by Google:
- News & current events
- Civics, government and law
- Health & Safety
- Groups of people
They go on to specify “there are many other topics related to big decisions or important aspects of people’s lives which thus may be considered YMYL,” and evaluators should “use their best judgment.”
All of this means that Google wants to deliver pages with accurate information especially when a user is searching for answers that can impact their lives in a big way i.e. financial and health advice. Google is also upfront about their expectations for the level of E-A-T depending on the topics of that website and that some webmasters might not need to concentrate on this as much.
Google’s 2018 Guidelines Update for Main Content Creators
The first update to the SQEG in 2018 also included a clarification that evaluators should not only look at the website’s E-A-T, but should also assess the content creator’s E-A-T. This was a big deal because it meant that webmasters should also be looking for tangible ways to demonstrate the content creator is an expert and an authority on the topic proving the information can be trusted.
- Google employs search evaluators to assess the quality of top pages in the SERP
- Search evaluators use guidelines to determine quality ratings and focus on:
- Beneficial Purpose
- The update to the guidelines in 2018 clarified that the content creator’s level of E-A-T should also be researched and considered
- These ratings provide engineers with the feedback they need to gauge how well the search algorithms are performing
Here is a snapshot from the evaluator guidelines that outline what Google constitutes as a “high-quality” page:
We can see from these standards that Google is looking for web pages with accurate information, the necessary features and a good reputation from whoever created the MC, but what can we actually do to show off our big brains so our audience views us and our page as a high-level E-A-T source?
Whether you’re skimming through the many pages of the evaluator guidelines or hanging around Twitter for hints from Google experts, investigating what the next algorithm update means for rankings is only half the battle—you also have to be able to use that knowledge to inform next actions, so since we know that E-A-T is a major player in evaluator ratings, let’s look at how we can actively demonstrate our expertise, authority and trustworthiness through our websites.
The first pillar of E-A-T revolves around the expertise of the creator of the main content (MC) on a web page. This means that content created by experts has a good chance to be rated as a high-quality page and showing off those credentials on your page is a good opportunity to capitalize on this.
Google also makes a point of mentioning that “everyday expertise” is also valuable and content creators with relevant life experience won’t be hindered here, but if the content falls under the YMYL category, there is a greater need for input from experts.
Key Takeaway: Level of expertise and credentials depend on the topic
How to demonstrate expertise on a web page:
- Include a detailed author bio
- Cover the topic comprehensively
- Include internal links to other relevant posts
Being an expert also means that you can provide relevant information to readers depending on where they are in the buyer journey. Whether they’re searching for introductory information that can help them learn about the topic or they’re further down the funnel and in need of some more detailed and comparative explanations, expertise often involves providing digestible content.
When search evaluators are thinking about authority, they’re meant to consider the main content (MC), the MC creator and the website that features that content. People generally view you as an authority in an industry if you’ve successfully demonstrated your expertise over time.
A great sign of authority for web pages are links to your pages from other authoritative websites which is a tactic SEOs are already very familiar with.
Other ways to prove you’re an authority include:
- Gain more author and brand mentions online
- Have your content shared consistently on social media
- Earn a Wikipedia page for your company
The final pillar of E-A-T is about how trustworthy the content, the creator and the website are, and there are a few major hints evaluators use to decide on this such as online reviews and the context of your mentions online by independent sources.
As far as what webmasters and marketers can do to show they’re trustworthy sources of information, a lot comes down to digital PR and brand management online.
How to show your trustworthiness:
- Address negative reviews and comments online
- Cite your sources and link out to authoritative sites
- Provide a reliable way for users to contact you
- Secure your domain and protect user data
Strategies for High Page Quality and Meeting Users’ Needs
Outside of earning quality links from authoritative sources and adjusting your site according to some of the other methods we mentioned in the previous section, webmasters can improve their page’s ratings by focusing on the “Needs Met” rating which is also detailed in the SQEG. “Needs Met” describes how well your page meets the needs of the user by delivering satisfying information.
In a presentation at the Google Webmaster Summit in 2019, Longtime speaker and SEO expert Jennifer Slegg posed some questions webmasters can ask themselves to help them figure out how to ensure their site meets their users’ needs:
Needing answers for the third question from the slide above is why doing your keyword research and taking the time to understand the intent behind users’ search queries matters. That way, you know you can deliver relevant content and address the query completely with your content.
Since understanding the intent of your target users is so critical to meeting their needs with your page, Director of SEO & Analytics for Inseev Interactive Jason Melman uses a straightforward and reliable process. “Really, how you understand the ‘need of a user’ in my opinion is by reviewing the actual SERP for target queries. I take the head term, search it on Google and review the top pages,” he says. The rest of the process looks something likes this:
Step 1: Ask, “What is the predominant intent of the SERP from a broad level?”
“Is the SERP commercial, editorial, localized, or maybe it’s even a mix of all 3?”
Predominant intent means what is showing up first. We presume that the 1st ranking page solves the intent of what Google believes the majority of users have (i.e., if the 1st page is an editorial page, then position 2 and 3 are commercial, and 4 is editorial, I’d assume that the majority of the users coming to that SERP are interested in editorial content).
Step 2: After you’ve identified the predominant intent for your search term, review the top pages in the SERP that match the intent that you identified as the predominant intent.
In the example above, where the page in pos. 1 is editorial, the pages in pos. 2 & 3 are commercial, and the page in pos. 4 is editorial, even though we think more users are looking for editorial resources, it makes sense to build a commercial page if we have the product assortment.
- It’s going to be difficult to get into position 1, and it stands to reason that we can earn position 1 or 4 by creating an editorial page, but not positions 2 or 3 unless Google’s perception of the SERP intent changes
- Commercial pages are going to drive more business value, so they may earn less traffic but still drive more revenue
Step 3: You open up each page to see what competitors are producing – often times you’ll find that Google is highlighting a few different topical areas for the query:
E.g. You might look up a query like “mortgages” and find that:
- Position 1 = hub page
- Position 2 = editorial targeting “what is”
- Position 3 = editorial targeting “what is”
- Position 4 = editorial + calculator
- The top of the page has a hub-like structure pushing users to related more targeted content
- We also include a module somewhere that explains the “what is” variant
- We also include a calculator easily accessible on the page
- Then, we just satisfied all 3 of the intents identified on the SERP with a single user friendly page!
It’s also a good idea to check in on existing pages to see if there’s room for improvement outside of matching keyword intent since Google is always looking to prioritize pages that provide great experiences while serving relevant content. Here are a few other ways to improve your site to meet users’ needs:
- Optimize Landing Pages — Use Google Search Console to find out what keywords lead users to your pages and then check out your landing pages to see if the content meets their needs and intent.
- Consolidate Content — Create content clusters around topics within your niche and consolidate content from multiple pages onto one page where possible.
- Clean Up Mobile UX — Make sure your content is mobile-friendly so users don’t have any trouble interacting with your content or reading your page and can still find the answers they’re looking for
- Provide a set a FAQ’s on your page to give users quick answers
Establishing E-A-T with Long-form Content
Anyone who figures that the sweat and tears poured into a 2,000-word blog post would be wasted on people’s short attention spans might be surprised to learn about how E-A-T standards are moving the needle toward long-form content in 2021.
Google has made it as clear as possible without overtly saying that E-A-T standards are going to be a major factor in how their search algorithm evolves, so digital marketers are leaning into long-form content since longer posts are usually more likely to establish authority and expertise by covering topics in detail.
Satisfying Search Queries the First Time
Something to keep in mind while optimizing pages and creating new ones is that Google wants to deliver the best results the first time, so by creating an in-depth page or blog post that covers a topic comprehensively, you have a greater chance of answering the user’s question so that they don’t need to search again.
Most people don’t want to have to piece together the answer they need by gathering information from a bunch of different places. That’s why content creators should try to explore different angles of their topics based on what they understand about users’ search intent and then create pieces of content that provide in-depth answers.
The best content creators will deliver comprehensive and thorough answers while keeping the information relevant based on how much knowledge of the topic the reader has and where they are in their buyer journey. If users continuously find that they don’t need to search for other resources because they find the information they need from your content, then you’ll consistently have a chance to rank higher in the SERP.
- Webmasters should focus on improving E-A-T especially if their site is YMYL
- E-A-T is not a ranking factor but contributes to algorithms that determine rankings
- Long-form, in-depth content is a good way to establish E-A-T and meet users’ needs
- Links from authoritative sources are even more important for YMYL websites
Marketers like to talk a lot about “nurturing” your brand, but this is a situation where the nurture mindset is really relevant because improving your authority, demonstrating your expertise and optimizing for E-A-T is something that takes time and won’t produce any leaps or bounds in the SERP overnight.
- Is my page helping users and serving its purpose?
- Does my site fall under YMYL? (If the answer is no, you can still benefit from answering the following question)
- How can I establish expertise, authority and trust with my page?
Keeping a pulse on these questions and having E-A-T in the back of your mind as you consider how a website can be improved is a long-term practice rather than a one-time optimization. SEOs are used to playing the long game, so grow your E-A-T signals with confidence that it will pay-off in the future and protect your website right now.