How to Use Google’s EAT and Quality Guidelines for Content SEO Success
Digital marketers love initialisms and acronyms — SEO, PPC, SEM, SERP, ROAS, UX, CRO, ROI, RPV, etc. Today we’re talking about EAT — Expertise, Trustworthiness, and Authoritativeness. It summarizes a significant portion of Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines. Initially leaked around July 2014, Google ended up officially releasing them and has slightly updated them a few times since. These guidelines give you a rare glimpse into how Google assesses content and the authors thereof, all straight from the horse’s mouth! In this post we’ll dive into those, as well as some specific examples, to extract actionable tips for improving your content for your SEO and digital marketing efforts.
Now nicknamed the “Medic” update due to its impact on sites in the medical sector, Google confirmed a broad core algorithm update on August 1, 2018 that seemed to be largely geared toward content. The update reflected Google’s goal of serving up more credible, relevant, and valuable content in its search results. Sites across various industries saw massive drops in rankings and subsequent traffic, sending webmasters into a panic as usual.
Google stressed the fact that sites were not being punished, and that nothing needed “fixing.” Google’s Danny Sullivan and John Mueller, who have touted high-quality, relevant content for years now as a way to improve or maintain rankings, simply suggested creating “better content.” The Medic update seemed to specifically target “low EAT” pages and websites. For the purposes of this post, “high quality” can be thought of as a synonym for “high EAT.” We’ll delve into what these mean below.
So what is E-A-T?
Again, E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
Expertise — The author of the content should be an expert in the field or topic. How knowledgeable is the author on the subject matter? Do they have the requisite experience to speak intelligently and accurately about the topic at hand?
Authoritativeness — Similarly, the author of the content should be an authority in the space. This is informed by relevant credentials, reviews, testimonials, etc. Moreover, your content needs to be comprehensive, truthful, valid, and useful for the visitor.
Trustworthiness — The website on which the content resides should be trustworthy, evidenced by things like site security, overall site quality, inbound link profile, reviews, etc.
In summary, your visitors should be able to trust your website and any given piece of content on your website. Remember, Google wants to provide the best possible results for searchers that offer the best user experience. You must start paying attention to E-A-T to achieve success in your SEO and content marketing efforts.
Why is E-A-T Important for SEO?
Again, E-A-T essentially gives Google a way to assess and quantify a page’s value. The quality rater guidelines per se don’t determine a page’s rankings. But they are for human raters who are potentially manually assessing your page with those criteria in mind. Google has employed hundreds of people whose sole job is to manually rate and assign scores to content pages and sites around the web that appear in Google’s search results. All things being equal, a “high EAT” page will, in theory, outrank a “low EAT” page, so think of it as a comparative metric when evaluating your competitors in the SERP. Google has long said that a great user experience is important for good rankings. EAT is one of the largest components of that.
What if my site is a YMYL site?
The E-A-T criteria are much more important for YMYL — your money or your life — sites: “types of pages [that] could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” Think medical, legal, and financial advice, where what Google calls “formal expertise” is necessary. For example, sites in the health and finance sectors like Livestrong.com and Fortune.com were particularly affected by the Medic algorithm update and these guidelines. YMYL sites especially need to pay attention to adhering to E-A-T guidelines. However, non-YMYL sites can gain insight into the kind of content Google wants to see on pages ranking high in the SERP.
If your YMYL page ranks high in the SERP, it likely already has “high EAT.” Users must feel safe reading, sharing, and interacting with that page. They should also feel comfortable taking action based on advice from that page. This makes it particularly hard to game the system in these instances. Your site will need to have a credible author offering genuinely helpful advice to your visitors. We can also reasonably conclude that sites in these sectors are at a greater risk of creating what Google sees as low quality content.
It’s imperative now that editorial content pages prominently feature the author and their bio with full transparency, such as the example above. The bio or an “About” section for this author or this website should feature things like awards, profile picture, certifications, formal qualifications, titles, address, contact information, testimonials, etc. These comprise what I would call on-page trust signals; it’s all about authenticity.
For what Google calls “everyday expertise,” citing examples like recipes and house cleaning tips, these bios and credentials are not as important. The guidelines state that “for some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc.” In any case, adding authorship information helps provide a human element to your content.
Here’s an example of a “Low E-A-T” YMYL page from the guidelines:
The reason stated is that “there is no evidence that the author has medical expertise.” Thus this site needs to get a trusted medical expert on board to rework this article, putting their bio and credentials on the page. This also means UGC — user-generated content — is probably not a good idea for YMYL sites in most cases.
There are also off-page trust signals that could influence E-A-T. These factors include things like press coverage, reviews, guest posts, testimonials, inbound links, conferences, speaking engagements, etc. You should be making sure sites that are mentioning you are linking to your site. You should also be disavowing any potentially spammy links, soliciting reviews, and utilizing opportunities to grow your audience. Invest in your personal or commercial branding by building out your social media presence, interacting with your audience, and developing thought leadership. This further signals “high EAT.”
Monitor channels where your readers or customers can comment or leave reviews. The Google search quality guidelines state that “popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation.” Responding to reviews and having great customer service should already be part of your strategy.
What About E-A-T for E-Commerce Sites?
E-A-T can also apply to e-commerce websites. Think product buying guides, customer support, reviews, detailed descriptions and photos, video demos, FAQ pages, etc. Take questions your buyers ask often and answer them in the form of an FAQ section on product pages or a separate page. Your e-commerce site may very well have “high EAT” pages that reference its own products, e.g. a product comparison page that comprehensively breaks down features. That is, your site is the primary source for the information therein. Sweetwater.com does a great job with authoritative product guides to help their buyers, such as this studio microphone buying guide:
Remember, too, your e-commerce store is taking people’s payment information, so technically this falls under the financial category we discussed above with YMYL sites. You must provide a safe checkout process, for example, to be deemed trustworthy.
I would argue that most site owners’ content falls somewhere in between these — it’s not horrible (“low quality”), but it can definitely be improved. Below we’ll look at how exactly to improve that content.
How does E-A-T relate to the content itself?
We’ve discussed E-A-T in terms of authorship and reputation, but not what quality looks like for the content itself. Your content of course needs to fulfill the specific E-A-T criteria we discussed above: It should be expertly written, authoritative, and trustworthy. But what exactly does high-quality content look like?
Your content should match the intent of the query the user searched to arrive on your page. Is it navigational, e.g. “hotels in charleston sc” where the user is trying to navigate to a physical location? Is it informational, e.g. “charlotte home prices” where the user is looking for a specific piece of information that answers their question? Or is it transactional, e.g. “get insurance quotes” where the user is looking to perform a specific action or purchase? Unsurprisingly, one of the top-ranking results for the first example lists out hotels and lets users search for hotels in Charleston, SC:
A recent addition to the official guidelines outlines a “Needs Met” rating that refers to how well the page matches and satisfies the user’s intent. The range of the Needs Met scale includes, from best to worst: fully meets, highly meets, moderately meets, slightly meets, and fails to meet. Keep in mind that content doesn’t need to be purely informational here; Google lists the following as possible purposes of a page:
To share information about a topic. To share personal or social information. To share pictures, videos or other forms of media. To express an opinion or point of view. To entertain. To sell products or services. To allow users to post questions for other users to answer. To allow users to share files or to download software.
Stop to think about the intent of most of the users hitting that page and the purpose of the page’s existence. How can you help the user achieve what they set out to in a way that provides the best experience possible? This type of brainstorm can bring crucial pain points to light and provide solutions for improving your content sitewide. Dig into your analytics and see what specific queries users are typing in to reach your highly-trafficked pages. Are you matching the users’ intent with those pages?
“Front and Center”
Whether your content is a product page, an article, or a video, we can safely assume users are not navigating to the page to view your header image, sidebar widgets, or ads. The guidelines specify that your primary piece of content (called “main content”) should serve as the main focal point of the page. This fits within the larger goal of user-friendliness and a page optimized around the overall experience. Specifically, put your content above the fold, make sure it’s the focus, and allow ads to be easily ignored or exited.
Most pages on the web will naturally have what Google refers to as “supplementary content” — navigation links, images and multimedia, related article links, sidebar content, etc. — that surrounds your “main content.” The guidelines state that supplementary content “can help a page better achieve its purpose or it can detract from the overall experience.” Be sure your supplementary content helps the user achieve their original goal.
Google’s guidelines state that “high quality pages have the following characteristics,” where “MC” stands for “main content”:
High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
A satisfying amount of high quality MC, including a descriptive or helpful title.
Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website. If the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions, then it should have satisfying customer service information.
Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the MC on the page. Positive reputation of the creator of the MC, if different from that of the website.
Conversely, the guidelines state that “if a page has one or more of the following characteristics,” where “SC” stands for “Supplementary Content,” it gets a low quality rating:
An inadequate level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
The quality of the MC is low.
There is an unsatisfying amount of MC for the purpose of the page.
The title of the MC is exaggerated or shocking.
The Ads or SC distracts from the MC.
There is an unsatisfying amount of website information or information about the creator of the MC for the purpose of the page (no good reason for anonymity).
A mildly negative reputation for a website or creator of the MC, based on extensive reputation research.
In a broad sense, these items touch on the sections we highlighted above, but let’s break them down into plain English and actionable tips…
Make sure you’re checking these boxes in assessing the quality of your content:
- Does your content provide real value to the reader? Avoid what is known as “thin” content that doesn’t provide any real value.
- Is it well-written and organized? Break your content into organized subsections for improved readability, and proofread for typos, broken links, and inconsistencies. Use “topic clustering” aka “hub and spoke” content if you need to.
- Is the author an expert and authority on the subject matter? Recruit one if they are not. If that’s not possible, at the very least you should be citing and linking out to your sources.
- Is the content itself authoritative, valid, and credible? Be sure you’re fact-checking any assertions in your content. Also, regularly update it by adding new or relevant information when necessary.
- Longer is usually better. The average Google page-1 result has 1,890 words! This is what is meant by “long-form content.” This post, for example, sits at around 3,000 words at the time of writing, though admittedly that includes large chunks that I copy-pasted verbatim from Google’s guidelines.
- Link out to relevant content, especially authority sites. Linking to original sources improves trust and provides transparency to your readers.
- Use images and video where possible, and remember to utilize alt text and transcripts for accessibility.
- Provide opportunities for the user to interact: answer a poll, post a comment, leave a review, etc.
- Ask yourself, “Would someone want to share this?”
- Does your page load quickly? Load speed has become increasingly important and is actually a ranking factor now.
- Is your page secure? Install an SSL certificate, which is now free and easy with a service like Let’s Encrypt. Site security is also now a ranking factor, and the Chrome browser now marks insecure pages as “Not Secure.”
- Is the page mobile-friendly? We’ve been told time and time again to focus on the mobile compatibility of web content. Mobile-friendliness is now absolutely imperative for site owners. In fact, if a page is not mobile-friendly, the official guidelines state that the page should automatically be scored the lowest Needs Met rating!
Now let’s look at the flip side. The following list may sound like common sense, but be sure to avoid these things:
- Spun (auto-generated) or poorly-written content.
- Scraped or duplicate content — content copied from elsewhere on the web.
- “Exaggerated or shocking” titles, commonly referred to as “clickbait.”
- Keyword stuffing — unnaturally including your targeted keyword(s) many times throughout the article, sacrificing readability.
- Heavy focus on monetization (ads).
- Masked redirects.
- “Intrusive interstitials” — large popups that take up most of the screen.
- Pages with lots of distractions or ads.
- Pages with spam comments.
- Outdated pages that are no longer relevant or valid.
- Pages that contain untrue or harmful information.
- Insecure pages with form fields of any kind — get SSL!
Establish a standard internally that all content must meet before going live. This is also the time to make sure your content creators understand brand voice, personas, your style guide, research and quality expectations, and SEO best practices.
Low E-A-T pages won’t directly impact the E-A-T rating of other pages, but they may negatively impact the reputation of the site as a whole. Comb through your old content; chances are it could and should be updated and reworked to achieve a higher quality rating. Look at Google Analytics and hone in on your poorest-performing content first, and then improve it. If you decide to remove any pages or transfer content to other pages, be sure to use redirects where necessary.
It’s important to note that a page having a “high EAT” or “high quality score” alone does not mean page-1 rankings. There are so many other factors in the ranking algorithm that affect this. Understand too that the aforementioned guidelines and the raters’ feedback serve to improve the quality of Google’s search results and the conclusions of their internal experiments. In other words, Google uses that feedback to better understand and improve their algorithm and its updates, not to rank your individual page. The guidelines tell us what Google thinks users want; it does not tell us anything about how its algorithm components are weighted or the formulas therein.
Moreover, remember there are many technical SEO factors that play into the ranking algorithm that are largely invisible to human visitors. Getting a perfect quality score won’t mean page-1 rankings if your page’s technical SEO is in shambles. Conversely, you may be able to achieve page-1 rankings with stellar technical SEO and a low quality score. But fear not, there’s still excitement to be had — I think you can reliably expect to improve your rankings if you’re able to turn a low-EAT page into a high-EAT page, holding other variables constant.
That was a lot. Here’s a quick recap:
- Google has hired a team of raters who are manually assessing the value of webpages in their search results. They’ve created a set of official guidelines for those raters, of which a large component is based around E-A-T — Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
- All things being equal, a high-EAT page will theoretically outrank a low-EAT page.
- E-A-T is especially important for YMYL (your money or your life) sites offering medical, legal, or financial advice, and for e-commerce stores. Your content marketing initiatives should acknowledge this fact.
- Manage your online reputation both on the page and off — utilize author bios complete with credentials, awards, titles, etc.
- Make sure your page matches the user’s intent.
- Produce high-quality content and put it “front and center” on the page.
- Check that your supplementary content also helps the user achieve their intended goal.
- High-EAT alone does not guarantee page-1 rankings, and vice versa.
- Focus on the user and always ask yourself, “Would someone want to share this?”
Let me know in the comments below how you’ve applied or are applying tactics to improve your E-A-T!