E-A-T is now the most important ranking factor in the Google Search search algorithm that stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust. The concept of E-A-T was first referenced by Google in their quality guidelines back in 2015, and it receieved a stronger, renewed emphasis in the 2018 and 2019 version of the guidelines. The medic update and June 2019 Broad Core Algorithm update were written around these guidelines.
As far back as 2005, Google has been using human raters to analyse the quality of its search results using a set of quality guidelines which act as a manual for these raters. The role of the raters has been likened to that of a quality assurance team in any company.
According to E-A-T, demonstrating a high level of expertise, authority and trustworthiness in a site’s topic is one of the most important characteristics of a high-quality website. And Google not only looks at a website’s content when analysing E-A-T, but who is creating that content. According to the guidelines, “understanding who is responsible for a website is a critical part of assessing E-A-T.”
Google has instructed its raters to rate a page as “Low quality” or “Lowest quality” if any one or more of the following is present:
- The quality of the actual content on the site is deemed to be of low quality.
- The expertise, authority and trustworthiness of the content creator is in question.
- The content on the page is not comprehensive enough in terms of answering the question it is seeking to answer.
- There is little or no information about the content author on the site.
- The site is full of ads and/or click-bait style headlines and articles.
- The content creator is known to have a negative reputation.
- The website fails to achieve its purpose due to lack of maintainance.
YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) Websites Must Be Authored By Experts
In the guidelines, Google uses the acronym YMYL to refer to websites in the finance, health and legal niches, and describes such sites as sites that “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial security, or safety of users.”
YMYL sites and industries include:
- Websites that provide medical advice or health-related information.
- Websites that offer advice on a variety of legal topics.
- Websites that offer advice or information about financial issues such as mortgages, investments, insurance, etc.
- News websites that inform the public of serious news.
- Websites that discuss content related to safety, such as car safety and gas safety information and advice
If your site is categorized as a YMYL website, any content that offers any type of medical, financial or legal advice or information must be created by a qualified, authoritative expert on the topic at hand, and you must have explicit and verifiable information about their expertise and authority on your website.
The guidelines offer up this page as an example of a “Low quality” page.
The page is considered low quality because there is no proof that the author is qualified to provide medical advice. The only way to remove the page from penalty would be to add the author’s formal qualifications or credentials to the page.
Here’s a closer look at expertise, authority and trust for the purpose of the guidelines:
Does the content creator demonstrate a sufficient level of expertise on the subject-matter?
According to Google’s search quality guidelines, there are 2 types of expertise:
- Formal: for the legal, finance, insurance and medical industries, a certified professional is the most reliable source of information. Incorrect information can put users at risk, so Google is very strict as far as sites in these niches are concerned.
- Everyday Expertise: Website authors do not have to show specific expertise for non-YMYL sites, as long as the author’s skill level is clear from the article or from an about page on the site. According to the guidelines, real life experience will be sufficient to establish a reputation in your niche, so you don’t necessarily need a degree or other formal certfication in your niche. This is because Google trusts personal experiences because they are genuine. For example, if you run a review site, you can be seen as a product expert if you have first-hand experience of the product you are reviewing.
The guidelines offer this page as an example of a “low quality” page.
The page is also considered to be of low quality because the author does not provide any credentials that prove that he has the expertise to provide financial advice.
The guidelines state explicitly:
“The reputation and E-A-T of the creators of the MC (main content) is extremely important when a website has different authors or content creators on different pages. “
If you are providing financial advice on any page of your website and the author’s information isn’t available or is difficult to find, this will affect the organic visibility of the page or website in Google’s search results.
Can the content creator or website be considered an authority on the subject-matter?
An authority in a particular subject-matter is an accepted source of expert information or advice. According to the guidelines, credentials don’t matter when sharing everyday expertise, as long as the author has relevant experience in the topic they are writing about.
If you have several years of experience, then for purposes of the guidelines, you have authority in that topic. However, for YMYL sites, specific medical, legal or finance information and advice should come from certified professionals.
The guidelines offer up this page an example of a “highly authoritative” website.
This page is considered to be “highly authoritative because the page is about itself.” In other words, it is coming directly from someone who has direct, personal experience of the topic.
According to the guidelines:
“For some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc.”
This means that as long as your website is not a YMYL site, you don’t need to have formal credentials for your website to be considered a high quality site for the purposes of E-A-T. If you have personal experience of the topic at hand, it will be sufficient.
For example, if your site is a review site, you can be considered an authority if you have personal experience of the product you’re reviewing. You can talk about your expertise in your about page, as in the above example.
How trust-worthy is the content creator?
Google looks at the reputation of your personal brand across the web in evaluating your trustworthiness. Google also looks at the trustworthiness of your content and that of your website.
Trust is also based on links and mentions on authoritative websites. News mentions and mentions on authoritative sites will help Google trust your website. This is why it is essential to find websites that are authoritative in your space and find ways to get them to mention you. Generally, the more links to your content from trusted sites, the more trust Google will have in you and your content.
If you’re asking people to spend money with you online, Google expects you to clearly demonstrate why you should be trusted to be highly visible in the search results. Here’s an example of a trusted eCommerce web page in the quality guidelines. It is a category page of backpacks for school on Target.com.
The page is trusted because it contains the following.
- Customer support
- Contact information
- Good customer reviews
- Security (HTTPS)
- Easily accessible
- About page
- Links from trusted sites
Trustworthiness is also about having a secure website. In the guidelines, a “shopping checkout page that has an insecure connection” is listed as an example of a page that should receive a “Low” rating.
Currently, Chrome marks all HTTP pages as “Not secure”, and any site without an SSL certificate and does not automatically redirect to an HTTPS URL will be filtered from the search results.
Google will also consider your reputation and grade you accordingly. This means that you need to be a reliable and trustworthy expert in your niche if you want to rank high in Google’s search results.
The guidelines state:
“If reputation and E-A-T for the site’s author are lacking for the purpose of the page, the Low or Lowest rating is appropriate.”
However, the guidelines also caution raters that reputation information isn’t always available especially in the case of small businesses, and that lack of information isn’t always a bad thing. But this also means that competitors with a stronger reputation will likely outrank you in the search results.
Raters are encouraged to check out reputation information created by “third parties.” This means that raters will check out what is being said about you on independent review websites such as Trust Pilot, Yelp and The BBB (For US businesses).
The guidelines also state that:
“You should expect to find reputation information for large businesses and websites of large organizations as well as well-known content authors.”
Understanding the Significance of E-A-T
As the number one referral engine on the planet, Google wants to only refers its users to credible websites. It wants to shield its users from bad information or advice, which can have serious consequences on a person’s life.
Many people self-diagnose and rely on information and advice on health or medical websites which can be found through a Google search. If you have a serious health issue and read advice from an unqualified practitioner online, you could worsen your condition and quite possibly endanger your life.
By the same token, if you’re given bad financial information online, you put yourself at risk of serious financial losses. This is why Google holds YMYL websites to a higher standard because it wants to have full confidence in the websites it is referring its users to.
In essence, how well your website is regarded in terms of your level of expertise, authority and trustworthiness will affect your visibility in Google’s search results.