Last year, Google updated its Search Quality Rating Guidelines and a number of algorithm updates that followed shook the web in ways we haven’t seen for years. Data pointed towards something highlighted in the new guidelines: E-A-T. Those three letters have since become the biggest talking point in SEO and content marketing - here’s everything you need to know.
What is E-A-T & why does it matter?
E-A-T is an acronym created by Google that stands for expertise, authority and trustworthiness.It features heavily in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (PDF), which is used by a human team of evaluators who score the quality of results in Google Search.
So why does this matter for businesses and marketers?
The latest version of Google’s quality guidelines tells us a lot about what the search engine considers to be “quality” content. The acronym E-A-T appears in that document 134 times and Google explicitly says it’s “one of the most important criteria of page quality.”
We’ve seen this in recent algorithm updates too. There are plenty of examples over the past year of websites being hit by updates and then recovering after optimising for E-A-T. Expertise, authority and trustworthiness are playing a stronger role in Google’s core algorithm and the impact has been significant.
What does this mean for our marketing strategy?
Expertise, authority and trustworthiness have always been important but their weighting in Google’s core algorithm has increased. Essentially, Google’s AI and machine learning technology is more capable of measuring E-A-T now and it’s adjusted its algorithm accordingly.
Luckily, Google tells us everything we need to know in its quality guidelines. First of all, it says all pages should have a clear purpose and benefit for the end user:
“Websites or pages without some sort of beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating.”
If the purpose of your page isn't immediately obvious to visitors (including Google’s quality raters), you’ve got a problem. You also need to make sure the benefit of being on that page is communicated quickly - eg: matching the headline of your ad in the hero section of your landing pages.
With that covered, E-A-T instantly comes into the mix:
“For all other pages that have a beneficial purpose, the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important. Please consider:
- The expertise of the creator of the MC [main content].
- 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.”
Google wants to see websites filled with content written by experts. So, if you’re publishing content on property investment, it needs to be produced by genuine property experts. These are people who will have books published on the topic, articles published on industry websites, LinkedIn pages filled with their credentials and an entire digital footprint that validates their expertise.
If Google can’t find such a footprint, you probably shouldn’t be publishing content offering investment advice.
E-A-T is more important for some sites than others
Google’s quality guidelines say E-A-T is important for all websites but there are some niches that need to be particularly careful.
Over the latest round of core algorithm updates, medical websites have been among the most affected. Last year’s 1 August broad core algorithm update was even nicknamed the “Medic Update” because sites in this niche were so widely impacted.
Medical sites weren’t alone, though. Cryptocurrency websites were hit in following updates with major crypto news site CCN shutting down after the June 2019 Core Update.
So why are some site categories being affected more than others?
It’s due to something Google calls YMYL pages, which stands for your money or your life. Basically, any page that could affect people financially or the quality of their life in any way is considered YMYL - and Google applies its strictest quality guidelines to these pages.
“We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact users’ happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
This makes a lot of sense because pages offering unverified medical advice shouldn’t be featuring at the top of Google searches. Worse still, pages offering unverified medical advice in order to sell products or treatments are clearly unethical and Google is doing everything it can to prevent this happening.
If you’re pertaining to offer expert advice on a topic, you better have the credentials.
YMYL extends to more website categories than you might expect, too. Ecommerce pages also impact the financial security of visitors and online retailers need to be optimising for E-A-T. The same thing applies to any page that asks users to make a payment and low E-A-T ratings are going to hurt.
E-A-T in context
E-A-T is clearly important to Google and marketers need to adapt their content strategies, if they’re not already scoring highly. However, E-A-T is not a one-fix solution for SEO and there are plenty of other essentials that need to be optimised for: links, structured data, loading times, technical SEO, security and roughly 200 ranking factors to consider.