Understanding Google's E-A-T and How it Affects SEO

Posted by Emery Ross on Jul 2, 2020 8:30:00 AM

Pieces of the SEO puzzle

If anyone can write on any topic and post it on the internet, how can readers be assured that what they're reading is true, correct, and/or safe? If someone finds the post via a Google search, there's a good chance the search engine has made sure it's quality content. 

While the exact reasoning behind the number one position on any given SERP (search engine results page) can never be fully understood, a combination of highly attuned algorithms and evaluations by actual humans is the case for most of them. Google has shared its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines with the public, so we know that a huge component in its evaluations have to do with expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, or E-A-T.

What is E-A-T?

Google employs Search Quality Raters to do the work of evaluating websites, web pages, and web content creators. Google's comprehensive guidelines (linked above) outline some of the ways that evaluators approach an audit, with explanations and examples of various factors. 

E-A-T is just one piece of the massive puzzle that makes up keyword rankings, SERPs, featured snippets, and other Google features. It's not a ranking factor in and of itself, but it's an important component of how Google judges websites. It's not an algorithm, though better understanding site's and author's level of E-A-T probably influences algorithms in some way. E-A-T is also just one thing that Search Quality Raters evaluate, but it's one of the keys to a site or page being considered "High Quality."  

Google asks evaluators to take into account the author or creator of the content on the page, the creator(s) of content on the site as a whole, and the site itself. That last part can mean evaluating the brand, company, or overall messaging of the site. 

Google also reminds evaluators that there are different ways of understanding what expertise, authority, and trustworthiness mean in the context of the type of content they're engaging with, and 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." 

E-A-T is especially important within sites that Google calls YMYL, which stands for "your money or your life." YMYL sites could affect a reader's health, money, safety, or happiness, so Google has particularly high standards for those types of sites and pages. Search Quality Raters are given additional details and examples for rating this type of content. 

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Defining Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness

In some cases, it's pretty easy to figure out if a site has a high level of E-A-T. Big websites with high-profile brand names, popular writers, or a long history of offering quality content are simple guesses. But that doesn't mean small sites can't compete. "Expertise" can be found, for instance, in a blog that covers bread-making, as the expertise comes from the site offering quality content and a writer who obviously knows how to make bread. This is probably part of the reason niche sites tend to do better than those that cover a broad range of topics. 

Based on the guidelines, here are some other ways that a site or piece of content can have E-A-T:

  • Easy-to-find information about who is behind the site and how to contact them
  • Information about the content creator (on the site or across the web)
  • A positive reputation and good reviews (from other sites, including Google My Business)
  • In-depth, informative, and well-written content
  • Good content across the entire site
  • Privacy policies, clear transaction policies and info as applicable, and a secure domain

Evaluators take into account more than just what they find on the page. Google encourages them to do their homework; they describe ways to find out more about the creator, the company, and the other content offered on the site. 

Google also offers more details about ranking YMYL content, giving raters some tips and examples to guide their evaluations. For example, Google's guidelines state, "High E-A-T financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, etc., should come from trustworthy sources and be maintained and updated regularly." 

On the other hand, Google also makes a point of clarifying that there can be "everyday expertise," which helps cover things like blogs about hobbies or interests. Someone who knits and blogs about it, for instance, can have expertise because they have the experience and knowledge needed to talk about knitting. 

E-A-T and Page Purpose

Evaluating E-A-T is done in the context of the page. The guidelines explain the parts of the page, including the main content, any supplementary content, and ways the page is being monetized (like ads). And the page should have a beneficial purpose in order to be considered high quality. 

Beneficial purpose can mean a lot of different things, but the bottom line is that it should be offering visitors something -- whether that something is a forum to talk about puppies, a product for sale, or personal information to share. As long as the page has a purpose and isn't actively promoting harm, an evaluator can begin to rate the page, site, and creator. 

E-A-T and SEO

Because E-A-T is something that Google uses to evaluate websites and pages, you might be wondering how it fits into SEO. The answer is… it really doesn't. You can't "optimize" for E-A-T. You can understand what E-A-T is, how Google assesses it, and come to an awareness of how your site might be rated. And, sure, there are some things related to SEO that can help (like having a secure site), but in general you'll want to consider E-A-T separate from your SEO strategies. 

I strongly encourage you to read the Google Search Quality Guidelines in its entirety (warning: it's a hefty read, but well worth your time), but here are a few takeaways that you can start implementing immediately. 

  • Have clear contact information
  • Include a privacy policy and a terms and conditions page
  • Link out to high authority domains that support your content
  • Keep your content user-focused and each page purposeful
  • Include author bios
  • If your content falls under YMYL, make sure that you are providing relevant, well-researched content, and fact-check as necessary
  • Keep content up-to-date (especially YMYL)
  • Cultivate positive company, product, and/or site reviews
  • Stay in your area of expertise

E-A-T is one of the key considerations for Page Quality, so it is worth assessing your content with those indicators in mind. However, since there's no way to know if your site has been evaluated, when or if it will be evaluated, or how, exactly, they'll rate you, it's not something you need to (or can) optimize for. 

Keep creating great content and a positive web presence, keep your website user-focused, and don't worry too much about your E-A-T score (because there isn't really a score anyway). 

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Emery Ross

Written by Emery Ross

Emery is an inbound marketing specialist in search engine optimization and content writing. She earned a Master of Arts in rhetoric and composition from Boise State University. In her free time she writes about birds (mostly geese).

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