You might know that Google’s algorithm is designed to judge whether the content it crawls is quality and trustworthy. What you may not know is that there is a team of actual people who are responsible for making sure Google is doing this properly.
It’s true. Google employs a team of contractors who spot-check the algorithm’s accuracy by manually performing the same Google searches that regular people are searching.
Those algorithm spot-checkers are called Quality Raters (QRs). They’re given a list of searches to perform, such as, “should i buy an iphone?,” and they’re instructed to double-check the quality of the websites that are ranked highly for those searches.
Even though Quality Raters are contractors, and not employed by Google, they still go through extensive training to learn what a good search result should look like. The main resource Google uses to train their Quality Raters is the Search Quality Rating Guidelines. The main set of principles that the Quality Raters are instructed to use can be summed up with the acronym E-A-T: Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness.
Even though that acronym was discovered and discussed way back in 2013, it was still largely ignored — until 2018.
Google rolled out a new algorithm update in 2018 called the Medic Update. That update focused on giving higher search rankings to websites that published well-researched, reputable content. That’s when marketers realized that E-A-T was more important to rankings than originally thought.
The importance of E-A-T became crystal clear when Google updated its Search Quality Rating Guidelines in May 2019. Google devoted a lot of space in their updated guidelines to the E-A-T concept.
What is E-A-T?
E-A-T is made up of three principles that Google uses to assess each piece of content that it crawls. Those three principles are:
- Expertise - The author of the content should be an expert on the topic. Quality Raters are instructed to find expertise by looking for an author’s experience on the topic they’re writing about. This doesn’t always mean that the author has a formal education in the topic. It could mean they have direct experience with it.
- Authority - The author should be a well-known person on the topic or in their industry. For Google’s Quality Raters, this doesn’t mean that the author must have 100,000 Twitter followers, although that doesn’t hurt. It could mean that the author or publication has won awards in their industry that makes them an authority on the subject.
- Trustworthiness - There should be proof that we can trust the content on the website. Quality Raters examine trustworthiness by looking at the website as a whole. They focus on finding privacy policies, editorial policies, and security updates.
Google’s Quality Raters use that acronym to confirm that Google is ranking high-quality websites above lower-quality, less trustworthy websites.
How Google’s algorithm evaluates E-A-T
We know that Google’s Quality Raters are supposed to evaluate search results for E-A-T, but does Google’s algorithm actually evaluate E-A-T too, or is it just a side effect of high-ranking websites?
Surprisingly, Google actually gave us the answer to this question. In a whitepaper published in February of 2019, Google confirmed that these factors are part of their algorithm. Unfortunately, that whitepaper didn’t tell us what the exact ranking factors of E-A-T are.
To actually figure out the ranking factors that go into an E-A-T evaluation, we can piece that together by taking notes from Google’s Public Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, and by examining Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines.
An important thing to note about Google’s Quality Raters is that they don’t directly affect Google’s algorithm when it comes to E-A-T. They exist to make sure the pages that Google is serving up are sticking to the E-A-T guidelines.
Danny Sullivan compares this to a restaurant reviewer — the reviewer isn’t cooking the food, but they are telling the chef if the food is good or not.
This distinction is important because while Quality Raters might not affect rankings, it’s reasonable to assume that their guidelines are similar to the guidelines that Google’s algorithm follows to evaluate E-A-T.
E-A-T and YMYL
One thing is clear from Google’s medic update: E-A-T affects Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) websites a lot. Google has stated that YMYL websites have higher page quality standards than non-YMYL websites because these sites have the potential to have a bigger impact on someone’s life.
When Google’s Medic Update was released, Marie Haynes noticed that YMYL websites were hit harder than others. In a blog post, Marie published screenshots of YMYL websites that had seen large drops in traffic as a result of the Medic Update.
That’s just one example, but there were plenty of other YMYL websites that saw similar drops.
If you’re not sure what kind of website Google categorizes as YMYL, Google gives us a helpful definition. YMYL websites are “[websites that] potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” Google also gives specific examples of these kinds of sites:
- hopping or financial transaction pages
- Financial information pages
- Medical information pages
- Legal information pages
- News articles or public/official information pages important for having an informed citizenry
If your company’s website doesn’t fall under any of those categories, it doesn’t mean that E-A-T doesn’t apply to you. Google has said that E-A-T applies to any website that they crawl — fashion blogs, gossip websites, forums, and satire websites.
If your company does fall into the YMYL category, you need to pay closer attention to what you’re publishing. Make sure all the claims you make are accurate and properly cited. You’ll also want to take steps to prove the authority and expertise of the authors who write your content.
Google’s principles for high E-A-T
One of the best things about Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines is that they give specific examples of websites with high E-A-T, and they explain why those sites have high E-A-T. We can use those examples to reverse-engineer E-A-T.
The websites that Google ranks as having high E-A-T can be categorized into three categories:
- High reputation - the publication is well-known.
- Good user experience - the publication helps users do what they need to do.
- Self-reference - the website is about itself.
Google cites this article from the Wall Street Journal as having high E-A-T. Why? The authors are well-known, the content is clearly in-depth, and the newspaper itself has won 40 Pulitzer Prize awards.
Google also lists this article from Snopes as having high E-A-T. Despite the fact that Snopes isn’t a newspaper, Google says it still has high E-A-T because “Users can trust the information on this page due to the website's positive reputation and high level of expertise in debunking non-YMYL stories of this type.”
Good user experience
Here’s an example of high E-A-T from the wedding website, The Knot. This page isn’t a traditional piece of content, but Google still gives it high E-A-T because it has “abundance of pictures, plus options to view by price range, style, etc.”
This page, from Target’s website, has high E-A-T because “This is a well-known, reputable merchant, with detailed Customer Service information on the site.”
So far, all of those examples are from well-known companies. But, Google also gives examples of high E-A-T websites from unknown companies.
Harbor Fish and Chips is a restaurant with one location in California and a website that isn’t modern or flashy.
Despite that, Google says its website has high E-A-T because it, “provides information on when the restaurant opened and what visitors can expect. Other pages on the website provide information about the restaurant, including the address, menu, other contact information, etc. This website is highly authoritative because it is about itself.”
What can we learn from these examples?
Having a good reputation can take years to build up. If you don’t have a high reputation yet, simply because you’re not well-known, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a high E-A-T. You can still have a high E-A-T by providing a great user experience, providing well-researched, quality content, and making sure your website is clear about who you are and why your expertise is authoritative.
Google’s examples of low E-A-T
On the flip side, Google’s guidelines also give examples of pages with low E-A-T. There are a number of reasons pages could have low E-A-T, but they primarily fall into these three categories:
- Unprofessional - The main content is written poorly and full of typos.
- No expertise - There’s no proof that the author has experience on what he or she is writing.
- Demonstrably inaccurate - There is clear evidence that the content is inaccurate.
This article from a publication called Headlines & Global News is cited for low E-A-T because the writing is unprofessional and has grammatical errors. It also seems to be paraphrased from a different website, but with the wrong facts and figures.
For similar reasons, Google says this article has low E-A-T because it is full of typos and is inaccurate and meaningless.
Here’s a YMYL article about financial advice that has low E-A-T. According to Google’s guidelines, it has low E-A-T because there’s no evidence that the authors have any expertise in this area.
This article, about the flu, is also rated as having low E-A-T because the author has not proven that she is a medical expert. It’s possible that she is a doctor, but according to Google, there’s no obvious evidence of that. As a result, the whole piece is considered to have low E-A-T.
This article from a news organization claims that Miley Cyrus is dead. That fact is very easy to disprove. There is also no author given, no sources cited, and there is very little information about the news organization who published the content.
Google also lists this article as having low E-A-T. The article claims that President Obama banned the pledge of allegiance. There are no citations, other than internal links to other pages on the website. Furthermore, the website as a whole is trying to pass itself off as ABC News when it obviously isn’t.
What can we learn from these Examples?
Low E-A-T isn’t always easy to pick out. Some of the examples above have a great user experience, but if the content is full of typos, Google isn’t going to rank you highly. If you make a claim, you better have citations to back it up, and don’t publish content that is clearly false.
How to improve E-A-T
Improving E-A-T isn’t a one-and-done fix. It takes a number of steps aimed at increasing the quality of what you publish and your website as a whole. These steps are all about doing what you can to make your website as helpful as possible.
A helpful exercise is to think about the websites you visit that publish the highest quality content. What do they do that makes the website and their content high quality? Chances are, they follow some of the steps we’ve listed below.
1) Optimize your About and Author pages
These pages are incredibly important for E-A-T. They help Google understand your expertise and authority.
Those pages should explain why your company is an expert and authority in your industry and why the authors writing content are experts. Make sure you list any industry awards and accolades that you’ve won. You’ll also want to link to relevant social media channels for both your company and the authors who write for you.
Here’s an example of a good author page from the popular sports website, The Athletic:
That page explains why Ken is an expert, the awards he has won, and links to his Twitter. It’s simple, but that’s all it takes to make your author pages more authoritative.
2) Make Your ‘contact us’ options very obvious
This one falls under the trustworthiness part of E-A-T. Throughout the Quality Rating Guidelines, Google mentions that it should be easy to contact the company whose website you’re on. In Google’s eyes, if your website isn’t allowing visitors to contact you, you’re probably hiding something. It’s all about transparency.
If you want your website visitors to be able to call you, put a phone number in the header and footer. Use a live chat plug-in to let visitors chat with you. Have a dedicated “Contact Us” page. Even if your website is just a blog, and nothing else, provide readers with an email address of how they can get in touch with you.
Whatever option you choose, just make sure it’s very obvious. HubSpot does this very simply, but it works well:
Their “Contact Us” is in the header of each page and follows the website visitor down the page as they scroll.
4) Create Editorial Guidelines
If you write and publish content on your website, you should consider creating editorial guidelines. This step is specifically called out in Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines. Editorial guidelines will help improve your trustworthiness by proving that you have a well-defined process for creating and editing content.
Google cites the editorial guidelines from BBC News and USA Today as important pages on websites that publish content.
BBC News goes so far as to have an entire content hub dedicated to their editorial policies:
This is something that Google clearly places a lot of value in. If you’re serious about the content you create, it won’t hurt to spend some time creating editorial guidelines.
5) Increase positive reviews
Positive reviews on third-party websites is a signal to Google that you’re a trusted authority in your industry.
Quality Raters are instructed to look at a company’s reviews on Google, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau when evaluating the E-A-T of a specific website. It’s reasonable to assume that if QRs are supposed to look at those websites, Google’s algorithm is taking those platforms into account too.
6) Invest in security
Security is a big deal for Google. In 2015, they stated that secure websites would be ranked higher than non-secure sites. In Google’s view, secure sites are more trustworthy.
At the very least, you’ll want to make sure your website has its SSL certificate. You should also look into security standards for your industry. Your goal with this step is to create the most trustworthy website possible — Both Google and your website visitors will reward you for it.
7) Consider Your Authors
With expertise and authority being two-thirds of E-A-T, it’s safe to assume that you should take the authors of your content seriously. If your interns are writing all blog content, Google likely won’t view them as experts. The experts in your company are the people on your leadership team, or people who have worked in the industry for some time.
If you’re having a hard time getting those people to write blog content for you, consider using a ghostwriter. As long as the ghostwriter you’re using has a track record of creating high-quality content, Google will likely never know that the content published under your CEO’s name wasn’t actually written by your CEO.
8) Remove low E-A-T Content
A few low-quality pieces of content can drag your whole website down. If your company has been writing and publishing content for years, there’s a good chance that a few low-quality pieces have gotten published.
When it comes to E-A-T, more isn’t always better. Take some time to find your low-quality pages and get rid of them. You can do this by editing those pages to improve them, or deleting the problem pages altogether.
It’s time to E-A-T
E-A-T is something that Google is taking very seriously — it’s mentioned 134 times in their updated Search Quality Rating guidelines. With such a strong emphasis placed on it in those guidelines, you can assume that Google’s algorithm is taking E- A-T very seriously too. We saw evidence of that fact in Google’s Medic Update.
Now is the time for you to take E-A-T seriously as well. Creating high E-A-T for your website won’t happen overnight, but if you build a strategy around the eight steps we outlined above, you’ll have a good chance of improving your E-A-T.