Google E-A-T isn’t a new recipe vertical in the search results. E-A-T stands for Expertise – Authoritativeness – Trustworthiness. This is Google’s terminology, introduced in 2018, for a set of website quality standards to be applied by quality testers when evaluating websites. E-A-T is particularly relevant for the assessment of content covering sensitive YMYL topics (Your Money, Your Life), which include information about finances or personal health. Google Updates are also used to bake aspects of E-A-T into Google’s search algorithm. This blogpost explores the importance of E-A-T as a ranking factor and provides tips on how you can improve your own E-A-T score.
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What is Google E-A-T?
Expertise – Authoritativeness – Trustworthiness. This is how Google describes three core pillars of website evaluation, as conducted by its quality raters. The quality raters manually assess the quality of the search results by studying the top-listed results. The quality raters’ work according to a handbook drawn up by Google, and made publicly available, called the Google Quality Rater Guidelines. You can find the current version here.
“Expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness are the three most important aspects of a website that Google uses to evaluate its quality.”
Google E-A-T Updates
E-A-T first entered the public consciousness in a big way in July 2018 when Google updated their Quality Rater Guidelines. The change stated that content related to heath topics should be written by medical experts to be considered authoritative and trustworthy enough to meet user expectations. Not long after, a change to Google’s algorithm caused huge movement in the health sector and the ‘E-A-T Update’ was added to the Google Update history books. Examples of health websites heavily affected by the E-A-T Update in the summer of 2018 include healthline.com, which saw an upward spike, and draxe.com, which lost over half its SEO Visibility in two weeks.
Subsequent Google Core Updates, some of which were officially confirmed, also had a major impact on websites in the health space. For some websites the era of E-A-T has been a real rollercoaster ride: Taking a hit from one update, making gains at the next. Observations like this suggest that Google doesn’t (yet) have a uniform, consistent way of calculating E-A-T when evaluating sensitive YMYL topics like health.
For example, verywellhealth.com was one of the year’s biggest winners in 2018, only to suffer great losses in 2019, particularly following the June 2019 Core Update. More recently, it saw an upward tick after the January 2020 Core Update, but the domain’s SEO Visibility is still a long way from the heights of late 2018.
You can find an overview of all relevant Google Updates in our glossary.
Which YMYL topics is E-A-T relevant for?
Of course, you could argue that any website could benefit from a certain amount of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. There is likely some truth in that, but Google still highlights a few areas in their Quality Rater Guidelines that are worthy of particular attention. The main focus is on YMYL topics that can affect Your Money or Your Life.
“YMYL is how Google describes search queries in the “Your Money or Your Life” category. Google applies heightened quality standards to these keywords, because false information could have disastrous consequences for a user’s health, finances, happiness or safety.”
Examples of YMYL topics include:
- Important news: Articles about current events in areas like business, politics, science or technology – applies less to sport and entertainment news.
- Law and civil society: Current debates around elections, public institutions or legal advice on topics like abortion, adoption or the right to die.
- Finance: Advice on financial issues like investments, tax, loans, banking or insurance.
- Health: Information covering medical topics like medicine, illnesses, hospitals etc.
- Groups of people: Includes content related to race issues, ethnic and religious groups, information on sexual orientation, gender etc.
- Other: Several other topics of significant importance for a person’s life or well-being can also be categorized as YMYL. These can include fitness and nutrition, or sites related to job searches and university placements.
One area that is not considered a YMYL topic – and therefore an area where E-A-T has comparatively little relevance – is eCommerce. This was explained by John Mueller in a Google Webmaster Hangout.
E-A-T in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at what Google says about E-A-T criteria in the Quality Rater Guidelines. Google’s suggestion for quality raters, when evaluating Page Quality (PQ) is that they should first attempt to understand “the true purpose of the page”. Based on their interpretation of this purpose, they should evaluate the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of the content, the content creator and the page itself.
- Health: To achieve a high E-A-T score, content in the health space should be created by people or organizations with expert medical knowledge. It should also be frequently reviewed and updated.
- News: High-ranking news articles should meet professional standards of quality journalism. They should be objective and help users to better understand events. News sources that score well on E-A-T have usually published editorial guidelines and verification processes for the information they publish.
- Science: Websites that provide information on scientific topics should be created by people or organisations with the relevant background, and should present the accepted scientific consensus on issues where such a consensus exists.
- Finance: Financial, legal and tax advice, or information on similar subjects, should achieve a high E-A-T score if it is provided by reliable sources and is regularly maintained and updated in line with any relevant developments in legal frameworks etc.
- Consumer guides: E-A-T can be relevant for high-quality consumer guides dealing with topics like home renovation or parenting questions. Again, these should be written by experts or be backed up by reliable sources that users can trust.
The Google Quality Rater Guidelines contain some interesting comments on who can be considered an expert, as well as how to evaluate content on online forums and Q&A pages:
People with “everyday expertise”: Even if somebody doesn’t have any formal qualifications in their online topic, they can still be an expert in a field if they have relevant experience. An example given by Google is that to write about a hobby like photography or guitar-playing, you don’t necessarily need to have a college diploma, but you still need a high level of expertise.
“If it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or her an “expert” on the topic, we will value this “everyday expertise” and not penalize the person/webpage/website for not having “formal” education or training in the field.”
Forums and Q&A pages: The Google Quality Rater Guidelines differentiate between different topics when addressing the question of whether forums and Q&A pages should be given a high E-A-T score. Some kinds of information are found exclusively in forums and online discussions that provide a place for the expert community to contribute valuable perspectives on certain topics. A quite different example is a forum for liver cancer that brings together people affected by this disease. In this case, people are sharing personal experiences, but they are not providing expert medical advice, because accurate medical information should only come from doctors or other health professionals.
To close, Google gives the quality raters (and, as the guidelines are open-source, they give anyone running a website) a last piece of useful advice: “Think about the topic of the page. What kind of expertise is required for the page to achieve its purpose well?”
Is E-A-T a Google Ranking Factor?
The Quality Rater Guidelines make it clear that Google pays close attention to sensitive YMYL topics when evaluating the search results. These provide an indicator to webmasters that if they provide information on certain topics then Google is likely to be particularly strict when judging their content.
However, Google experts have repeatedly stated that E-A-T is not itself a ranking factor, as Gary Illyes did in response to a question at the Pubcon Conference, whether Google had an E-A-T score or not.
Q:Does Google have an EAT score?
A: There’s no internal EAT score or YMYL score. The QRG are guidelines for raters. EAT and YMYL are concepts that allow humans to “dumb down” algorithms. There is no one algo that looks for YMYL@methode @jenstar #Pubcon
— Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes) October 10, 2019
Danny Sullivan, another of Google’s public spokespeople, also recently said that Google’s systems don’t look for E-A-T. Instead, it is the quality raters who apply E-A-T criteria to assess the quality of the search results. Ideally, the search results that are based on the algorithm would match the results of the quality raters’ evaluations.
Our systems aren’t looking for EAT. Our raters are using that to see if our systems are working well to show good information. There are many different signals that, if we get it right, align with what a good human EAT assessment would be. See also: https://t.co/1fs2oJ9Gtl pic.twitter.com/GBbnYEjJUV
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) February 19, 2020
So, we know that Google’s demands on the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of content, as defined by E-A-T, are particularly high for sensitive YMYL topics like health, finance, science, law and certain areas of news. Therefore: Websites that hope to attain top rankings in these areas have to pay particular attention to the expert status of their content and the presentation of the website. To this extent, E-A-T can be considered a ranking factor for websites with sensitive content, as low-quality content and an untrustworthy looking page will likely lead to the site being downgraded, at the latest when the next Google Update comes along.
5 Ways to Improve your E-A-T Scores
Websites that deal with topics that Google explicitly mentions in the context of E-A-T in their Quality Rater Guidelines should aim to produce (and maintain) high-quality content and ensure that their website appears trustworthy to users:
- Topical focus: Anybody looking to position themselves as an expert on a YMYL topic should carefully and precisely define their topic cluster and avoid trying to be a Jack-of-all-trades. In the past, many forums and Q&A pages struggled because they covered (too) many different areas of interest, whilst failing to offer particularly strong content for any individual topics. This made it difficult for them to compete with more specialized websites.
- Content quality and freshness: The top priority for a website looking to achieve a high Page Quality Rank should be creating comprehensive, trustworthy content. The content should also be reviewed and updated at regular intervals. When refreshing content, it is extremely important that the date when content was last modified is clearly displayed.
- Visible authors: The individual authors of each content piece should be named. Additional author information, like a short description, CVs and links to other online profiles also helps to raise an author’s (and the website’s) expert status. Contact options, a detailed website imprint and an “About us” page are other ways of increasing trust. If an author is also visible on other authoritative pages or their own social media channels, where they post (high-quality) content, then mentions or direct links can be beneficial for improving your website’s E-A-T score.
- Brand strength: Establishing and building a brand is a long-term signal for trust. Strategic content marketing that includes the production of unique content like whitepapers can lead to references and mentions in high-authority media within the relevant industry. If the proportion of direct traffic to a website increases, then this is a signal that tells Google users are repeatedly deciding to visit a particular website to find answers to their questions.
- Building trust through web design: Certificates, like those provided by Trusted Shops, can increase user trust in a website, as can the use of HTTPS for secure data transfer, or cooperation with respected advertising partners.