E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. Google first introduced E-A-T in its Search Quality Rater Guidelines in 2014. E-A-T signals factor into how Google evaluates the overall quality of a web page and subsequently influences how pages will rank in search results.
Since Google introduced E-A-T, there’s been a significant amount of confusion among business owners and marketing professionals about exactly what E-A-T is and how it impacts rankings in search results.
In this article, I’ll answer the question: ‘What is E-A-T?’ and I’ll walk through exactly how and why it matters for your SEO. E-A-T ratings can be addressed through some simple, actionable methods, so I’ll do a deep dive into the strategies you can use to demonstrate expertise, build authority and establish trust for your website. But, first, let’s lay down an E-A-T definition.
What Does E-A-T Mean?
Since Google wants to give searchers the best experience possible, it rewards content that meets the highest standards of quality with higher positions in search engine results (SERPs). Google evaluates web page quality based on its published standards for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
Breakdown of E-A-T
One way to define E-A-T is to consider it a three-legged stool — your website needs all three parts to stand strong. Each of these three words represents a measurement of a business’s right to be considered a leader in its industry.
Here’s what you need to know about Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness:
- Google prioritizes content created by a subject matter expert.
- Google evaluates expertise at the content level, not the site level.
- Your website should show you have a high level of knowledge in a particular field.
- Your content is being examined to see if it demonstrates a higher level of expertise than other pages with similar content.
- Authority is about reputation, particularly among other experts and influencers in the industry.
- When others see an individual or website as the go-to source of information about a topic, that’s authority.
- Authority is relative and specific to an area of expertise.
- Trustworthiness is a measure of your site security.
- Is your web domain secure, or do you need to migrate from HTTP to HTTPS?
- Do you include details such as your business name and contact information?
- Do you have a Google Business Profile?
- Do you include privacy policies, refund/return policies, and a terms and conditions page?
- Trustworthiness is a measure of the legitimacy, accuracy, and transparency of content.
- Who created the content?
- Is there author contact information?
- Is information supported by expert consensus?
- Trustworthiness is also relative to a specific area of expertise.
Where Does E-A-T Come From?
Now that you know the answer to “What is E-A-T?” Let’s talk about where E-A-T comes from and how Google uses it to measure quality.
The E-A-T acronym comes from a set of guidelines published by Google for the educational benefit of its quality assurance team, or as Google calls them, the “Search Quality Raters.”
Search Quality Raters
Search Quality Raters are real people who check the quality of the search results following any changes the engineers in the Search Engine and Algorithm team make.
According to the guidelines, the E-A-T score is “very important” for pages that have a beneficial purpose, and Google instructs its evaluators to consider:
- The website as a whole
- The authors of the website’s content
- The E-A-T of the main content of the page they’re analyzing.
But what does “main content” mean exactly?
Google defines what main content means in its guidelines.
For quality rating purposes, main content can be:
- the title of the page
- page features
Or, it can be user-generated content such as videos, comments, or articles that users have added or uploaded to the page.
Using E-A-T as a factor, Search Quality Raters judge page quality on a scale from lowest to highest.
Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines are what human quality raters use to evaluate websites and SERPs. The guidelines consist of a 172-page document that outlines step-by-step exactly how to rate page quality.
The work of the Search Quality Raters does not directly impact rankings, but Google applies their judgments to improve its search algorithm. This is why SEO strategists look to the Google E-A-T guidelines to indicate the signals Google is trying to measure.
“…we have been occasionally asked if E-A-T is a ranking factor. Our automated systems use a mix of many different signals to rank great content. We’ve tried to make this mix align what human beings would agree is great content as they would assess it according to E-A-T criteria. Given this, assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that our automated systems use to rank content.”Google Search Central August 01, 2019
E-A-T Guidelines include:
- How to determine the author of the content or who the owner of the website domain is
- How to research the E-A-T of content creators
- How to rate the quality of a page and its content
- What constitutes high-quality and low-quality content
- Which types of domains or pages require high levels of E-A-T (like YMYL* sites)
- How to compare the mobile experience of a website to the desktop experience
- Which types of pages, page designs, or page usability could cause users harm
- How to score domains and pages using a “Fully Meets User Needs” to “Fails to Meet User Needs” rating slider
*Time out for a definition: What is YMYL?
Google reminds Search Quality Raters multiple times throughout the guidelines that:
“There are high E-A-T pages and websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum, and Q&A pages, etc. In fact, some types of information are found almost exclusively on forums and discussions, where a community of experts can provide valuable perspectives on specific topics.”Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
With the vast number of websites that are available on the internet, you may be wondering why Google puts so much emphasis on whether or not the websites show expertise, authority, and trust.
It’s simple — safety.
Why is E-A-T So Important?
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. E-A-T is part of Google’s ongoing attempt to stop people from gaming the system (such as with keyword spamming) and reward useful, high-quality content that searchers can trust.
The goal is to make web content better for human users.
E-A-T matters because it helps Google direct searchers to the most useful, highest quality content in response to their search query.
Evaluating the trustworthiness of content also ensures a safe browsing experience for Google’s users, especially those who may be susceptible to scams or identity theft.
The more feedback Search Quality Raters provide about the effectiveness of Google’s algorithm, the better the search engine becomes at reading E-A-T signals. The more sophisticated Google’s algorithm becomes, the more “intuitively” it can reward high-quality content and relegate low-quality content to the bottom of search results.
If you can’t prove expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, then Google will prioritize your competitor’s content and send your potential customers in their direction rather than yours.
Failing to optimize your E-A-T signals could mean lower rankings, less traffic, fewer leads, and less revenue. You don’t want this for your business.
What Does the YMYL Acronym Stand For?
YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life. This applies to content that might impact the health, wealth, or wellbeing of searchers.
Google says, “We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could negatively impact users’ happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
When it comes to users’ finances and wellbeing, Google doesn’t want to expose users to any risk.
What Are Some Typical YMYL Sites and Industries?
- Financial advice
- Legal information
- Medical information
- News & public information
- Shopping & financial transactions
- Other important information such as adoption or car safety
If Google doesn’t hold these YMYL industry sites to the highest quality standards, visitors could experience tangible negative impacts. Besides the damage done by false information, a general lack of trust in the content on these pages creates harm through the uncertainty it generates.
When ranking YMYL sites, Search Quality Raters look at:
- Purpose of the page
- Main content quality and amount
- Website information/information about who is responsible for the main content
- Website reputation/reputation of who is responsible for the main content
For example, if a searcher seeks a page with stock information to find investment options, Google wants to make sure that the site is a trusted source of financial advice.
Google E-A-T guidelines give an example of what a “low-to-medium page quality rating” would be for this type of YMYL site.
Their example explanation is: “There is no evidence that the author has financial expertise. Because this is a YMYL financial article, lacking expertise is a reason for a Low rating.”
An example of a “highest quality rating” for a finance YMYL site would be a credit report website.
The guideline’s example explanation is: “Users in the U.S. can obtain free credit reports on this website by providing their Social Security Number. This Wikipedia article (the rater attaches a source) tells us that this website is “the only federally mandated and authorized source for obtaining a free credit report.”
As you can see from these examples, E-A-T signals greatly affect the overall quality ratings of pages. If your business is within a YMYL industry or has a YMYL site, then you must pay close attention to your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
How Does E-A-T Factor Into Algorithm Updates?
The concept of E-A-T has always been important, but Google’s ability to measure it and include this information in their decisions for determining where to rank sites has changed over the years.
For example, in early August of 2018, many sites were impacted by Google’s core algorithm update that has become known as the “Medic” update.
While unconfirmed by Google, the larger SEO community examined the data and concluded that this update hurt YMYL sites that were not meeting E-A-T expectations. On the flip side, it seems to have rewarded YMYL that met high-quality standards.
The industry-wide conclusion is that YMYL sites need to exercise due diligence to make sure their E-A-T signals measure up.
As Google becomes better at measuring expertise, authority, and trust, those signals will hold greater influence over page rankings. Expect E-A-T to continue to matter more and more as subsequent algorithm updates align the algorithm with human capabilities to “read” quality signals.
How Does Google Correlate Ranking Signals to E-A-T?
- Backlinks and mentions matter.
Thoughtfully placed backlinks from relevant, high-authority domains form the backbone of an effective SEO strategy and are one of the best ways to demonstrate topical authority in your industry.
- Google knows which links have value.
Google evaluates links by measuring their proximity to/from “seed” pages. According to Google’s algorithm patent, seed pages “need to be reliable, diverse to cover a wide range of fields of public interests, as well as well-connected with other pages (i.e., having a large number of outgoing links).”
- Other signals that correlate to E-A-T guidelines:
- Forum mentions
Is E-A-T a Ranking Factor?
There’s been a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding the question of whether or not E-A-T is a ranking factor.
A “ranking factor” needs to be something objective and tangible that an algorithm can evaluate, like backlink volume.
Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness are subjective human concepts. That’s why Google engineers need Quality Raters to give them feedback on whether or not the algorithm updates meant to measure the objective signals that align with E-A-T are doing so accurately.
With human help, the Google engineers are getting closer to quantifying the signals that point to E-A-T. Meaning, that while it still isn’t a direct ranking factor, E-A-T influences ranking and will continue to do so.
By improving your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness signals, you will improve your chances of ranking well in search results.
What Happens When You Ignore E-A-T?
Ignoring Google’s facts on how it ranks quality websites is never a good idea. There are two possible outcomes if you disregard the need to measure up to E-A-T guidelines:
- Best case scenario:
You’ll lose ground to competitors who aren’t ignoring E-A-T.
- Worst case scenario:
You’ll be penalized for content Google considers untrustworthy, especially if your website contains YMYL content.
Addressing E-A-T Is Not a Quick Fix
There is no trick or hack to restore ground lost by ignoring the importance of E-A-T.
Some of the strategies I suggest below to improve the expertise, authority, and trust signals for your website may result in some quicker gains in SERPs than others. But, since E-A-T isn’t a direct ranking factor, there’s no direct path to results.
Consistent progress will eventually lead to big improvements.
How to Improve E-A-T SEO
The latest changes to Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines and the subsequent core algorithm updates suggest that Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness play a more important role in rankings than ever before.
Here’s a list of recommendations that can help improve E-A-T ratings and increase your chances of outranking your competitors in search results.
1. Audit Your Brand
If it’s difficult to see the person behind your brand, find contact information, or uncover the purpose of your business, that lack of transparency could appear untrustworthy.
Here are key questions to ask when auditing your brand:
- What are real people saying about your business and/or your website?
Scan reviews, social media mentions, and forum discussions that include conversations about your brand. Hopefully, you’ll discover a list of glowing reviews. If there are problematic discussions, then think of ways to resolve them.
You can stay on top of mentions by setting up a Google alert for your business name to receive notifications when your brand is mentioned anywhere online. There are also subscription-based monitoring tools that will help you listen to what your customers are saying about your brand.
- Who are you? How long has your business been around? What are your company values?
Make sure to include as much information about your company as possible, so people understand who you are, what you stand by, and what you aim to achieve.
- What makes your company stand out from the crowd?
Whether it’s your company’s history and prestige or your strong company values and community dedication, these build up brand sentiment. Show potential customers why your brand matters and why they should buy from or work with you.
The more information you publish about your business, the better.
There’s nothing worse than going to a website and having to play detective to find important information about a business.
Potential customers and Google’s Quality Raters need to know the answers to these brand audit questions, and they need to easily find them on your site or social media pages.
2. Audit Your Content
You may already know that auditing your website content to keep it fresh is a good idea to maintain rank, but did you also know that it can impact your E-A-T signals?
Auditing your content for E-A-T includes:
- Updating pages that tell people who you are and what you do.
- Assigning an author to all written content.
- Updating out-of-date citations and references on all pages and blog articles.
Audit “About” Pages
Your “Contact Us,” “About Us,” or “About” page holds important information for people viewing your website. Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines recognize this importance.
You can use these types of pages to fully elaborate on who you are:
- Why should people trust your company?
- Who are the experts behind the written content on your site, and what are their qualifications?
- Who are the people behind your business?
- Link to their professional social media accounts and professional associations they might belong to.
Informing potential customers about your team member’s experience (no matter how varied or how much) and exactly what their title is not only builds trust but helps you leverage the professional authority of the people on your staff.
Attribute all of your content to a specific author with a biography page. Biography pages should showcase who your content providers are, along with their qualifications and experience. This information validates why readers can trust their expertise.
Always attach an industry expert to your content, even if it’s a staff subject matter expert with a link back to your leadership team page or a leadership biography.
Additional recommendations to establish author expertise include:
- Ensure authors are active and responsive on relevant social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.).
- Seek opportunities for staff to be interviewed and quoted online. (HARO is a great tool for connecting with journalists. Learn how to get started with HARO here.)
- Contributors should publish content relevant to their areas of expertise on well-regarded, topically-relevant publications.
- Ask that your author’s bio on guest publications link to their social media accounts, their personal site (if they have one), their bio page on your company site, and/or their Wikipedia page.
Quality Raters are encouraged to review reputation information created by third parties rather than relying exclusively on content created by the brand or its authors.
Having a favorable brand reputation is vital if you want the quality score for your pages to out-compete others in your industry.
Learn more about reputation management.
Audit Citations & References
Search Quality Raters know solid citations and references mean expertise and authority.
Make sure to include external links and citations when you quote statistics, make quantifiable claims, or mention industry-specific benchmarks. Double-check that all external links lead to up-to-date, high-authority content. The expertise, authority, and trustworthiness of sites you link to will reflect on your E-A-T signals.
3. Audit Your Social Media and Reputation
Social media and online reviews can play a big part in your business’ reputation.
Although a page can merit a “High” rating with no reputation, a page cannot merit a “High” rating if a Search Quality Rater finds a convincing negative reputation.
According to Google’s guidelines, raters should “look for articles, reviews, forum posts, discussions, etc., written by people about the website.”
Good or bad, raters are going to find it. Listen to and take note of what people are saying about your business.
Common places raters look for these business testimonials include:
- Better Business Bureau
- Google Shopping
Don’t ignore poor reviews, social media comments, or immediate concerns about your brand. You can’t make bad reviews disappear, but nothing establishes trust better than a company that publicly owns its mistakes and addresses customer grievances. Failing to respond to negative customer feedback online will damage your reputation and negatively impact the assessment E-A-T evaluators make about your business’s trustworthiness.
Prove you’re listening to your audience and build trust by adding content to your website that speaks to the concerns mentioned in reviews or social media comments. You can target common phrases, concerns, or questions as keywords on new pages.
Key Takeaway: E-A-T Best Practices
- Respond to negative reviews and online complaints professionally.
- Provide only accurate and objective information on your website.
- Offer multiple ways for visitors to contact you.
- Widen your authority and reach with SEO outreach campaigns like guest posting.
- Include relevant credentials and certificates on your website. This is especially crucial for websites that deal with sensitive data, such as medical and financial information.
Find an SEO Partner
Addressing Google E-A-T evaluation is at the heart of a sound SEO strategy, and let’s be honest, it’s just good business practice. From an SEO perspective, establishing best practices to improve your E-A-T signals is an important step toward making sure that the rest of your SEO activities have the greatest chance of success. Find an SEO partner that takes a holistic approach to your SEO strategy and can run an E-A-T analysis to pinpoint issues that might be keeping your site from getting the attention it deserves.
Have questions about the power of a Victorious partnership? Reach out for a free, initial consultation and take the first step toward search visibility.