9 Rules for Establishing Credibility and E-A-T in Your Content
Content marketing provides so many benefits. But increasingly, the quality of a brand’s digital content can make or break the credibility of your entire business.
In a study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and Smart Brief, the majority of decision-makers have no preference about where they get their information, as long as the information is credible.
Many customers’ first touch point with your brand is through your website. Maintaining a credible site and securing that user’s trust from the beginning is a solid foundation for converting this visitor into a customer down the road.
Image source: CMI and Smartbrief
SEO and Google E-A-T (expertise, authority, trust) guidelines
Credibility is also an increasingly important factor for search ranking.
Google did not release specific recommendations to SEOs and website owners in response to the Aug. 1 algorithm updates. But many industry pros speculated that the update had to do with Google’s emphasis on establishing credibility.
The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines go into detail about building credibility by focusing on E-A-T principles. These are especially critical for Your Money Your Life (YMYL) sites like finance and healthcare companies.
After the recent algorithm update, experts speculated that sites with no, or low, E-A-T may have experienced a traffic drop, mainly on health care sites. Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable has even dubbed it the “Google Medic Update” because though all types of industries were impacted by the update and Google stated that they weren’t targeting any specific industries, it just happened to “hit the medical/health niche the hardest.”
Just a few weeks prior to the algorithm updates, Google also updated the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines with changes that emphasize E-A-T principles. Danny Sullivan of Google reminded everyone of the importance of this document and highlighted a case study for improving E-A-T.
And paying attention to them apparently can work. I really loved this tweet that seemed to be an example of that: https://t.co/iJXBG83cXZ
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 1, 2018
Rules for establishing credibility and E-A-T
With all of these updates, it’s becoming clear that “expertise, authority and trust” is a critical factor in branded content, especially for YMYL brands. In this post, we pull from best journalism practices and Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines to help you establish better E-A-T and overall credibility in your content marketing.
Note: The quality guidelines are for search evaluators that help Google address search engine quality and the results returned for queries. Raters do not have direct input into the algorithm. But the guidelines are a great source for marketers and SEOs to better understand how Google defines quality.
1. Whenever possible, include studies, research and statistics — but sparingly
This kind of information should support your overall message, not constitute the foundation of the content.
Link to this information in a place that makes sense (such as hyperlinking the study name) so users can easily click on it and validate that the source you linked to is credible. Don’t just slap any link in there. If you provide users with a helpful, quality source, they’ll recognize that your brand is a reliable source of information. You won’t send them to thin content or a spammy source.
2. Use information from sources with established credibility
For example, government agencies are great information sources for finance and health-related content. Nonprofits, advocacy organizations and professional associations can also be good resources.
Know which sources of information are highly respected in your industry — a formal group or agency stated above, publications, or it could be several individuals with high authority.
In the content marketing industry, we often cite the Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs, Moz, and dozens of other sources (including individual “influencers”) that are known to be authoritative and respected voices.
3. Always try to cite the original source of the information
If you can’t find a concrete point of origin for a piece of information, don’t use it. You can also Google the exact name of a study, along with a few relevant keywords, to see if you can find original sources where the study was published.
Citing your sources and properly using quotes not only helps establish your credibility, it can help you avoid copyright issues. When citing sources, remember it’s best to do it journalistically within the copy. Footnotes are for scholarly research papers, not for feature articles (MAT Releases) or blogs.
Do you need to cite the articles where you find a study? Not always. If the article is well-written and provides interesting ideas, you may want to quote the article and link to it, along with the study.
4. Quote subject matter experts
Choose experts with impressive resumes to create or feature in your content. Include their relevant credentials in a bio at the bottom of a post. Don’t, however, list everything they’ve ever done, and avoid an alphabet soup of abbreviated credentials after their name. Average readers won’t know or care what those initials mean, unless it’s important to your specific industry (a title might show prestige or a specific expertise).
Consider regularly interviewing experts and/or creating Q&A content. If respected individuals in your industry interview with your brand, it shows that you have their support. This person may also share the article with their social networks, which will help grow your audience.
The Brandpoint interview series features marketing pros across the country.
5. Realize you and/or your client aren’t always the best source on your topic
If a spokesperson for your organization has nothing substantive to add to the information in your content, keep him/her out of it. For example, if your content is about the importance of skin cancer awareness, don’t quote your company’s resident cosmetologist.
That said, the person who creates the content does not need to be the expert. Many brands recruit journalists as their content writers because of their ability to research, interview and expertly craft stories using the information they gather. Some journalists already have a deep understanding of certain industries, such as technology and business reporters, who could bring an expertise without having worked in the industry.
6. Keep information current
Google favors displaying results that are recent. Google uses the QDF algorithm (Query Deserves Freshness) to determine what topics and searches require the most updated results. This includes recent events or hot topics.
Creating fresh, updated content will not only help boost your search engine rankings, but it asserts authority. By staying on top of trends in your industry, your brand proves to your audience that you’re a reliable source for news and/or interesting viewpoints on trending topics. Use Google Trends to see what’s popular in your industry and consistently plan new topics or updates to old content.
7. Use good grammar, sentence structure and punctuation
Poor writing makes you look less credible, no matter how sexy or compelling your topic, or how basic you think your audience is. Period.
[Related: Want Quality Content? Why You Need an Editor.]
8. Respect the reader’s intelligence
Consumers are more media savvy than ever, and they will know if you’re trying to B.S. your way through a piece of content. It’s why Google began penalizing keyword stuffing years ago. Not only was it distracting to read, but it made it obvious that the writer was trying to get the post to rank in search.
However, it’s important that you know and understand your audience so you use an appropriate reading level and jargon. For instance, if you’re writing on behalf of a medical device business and writing for medical professionals, you’ll be able to use jargon and terms that won’t need defining. But if you’re writing about medical devices to the general public, you’ll need to avoid jargon and provide definitions to successfully educate readers.
No matter the audience, there are best writing practices for creating readable content that include things like incorporating headings and images to break up the copy, using bullet points and numbers to help a reader identify a section they want to read, and not writing long paragraphs, to name a few. There are also ways to check the reading score to make sure your writing isn’t too difficult to read.
The Hemingway App shows reading level and suggests ways to improve your writing to be more readable.
9. Create helpful or entertaining content
This is arguably the most important point in establishing credibility and E-A-T in your content (and really, it’s the overall purpose of content marketing).
If your content doesn’t help or entertain readers, then what is it doing on the internet? News about your company can help customers who want to stay informed, but an overly promotional infographic or blog post written for the purpose of ranking in search engines is not useful to your audience.
The Google Webmaster Guidelines suggest asking the question, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
Though every piece of content should have a particular purpose, it should first and foremost be a piece of content that benefits your audience. This shows that your brand is all about putting the user first. It’s less about marketing your brand and more about building trust with your users early on.
‘EAT’ your content
Implementing expertise, authority and trust in your content is not an immediate solution to improving your search rankings. However, it’s a powerful long-term play in building your brand’s online reputation and building trust among your audience. In time, as users positively interact with your site, you will see the positive impact of executing E-A-T.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally created in June 2016. It has been updated for relevancy and clarity.