In late 2015, Google released the 160-page Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. In addition to links and RankBrain, we learned that content is among the top three page-quality factors according to Google.
This document also states that demonstrating a high level of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is one of the most important characteristics of high-quality content.
Then on Aug. 1, Google released a general algorithm update that did not include specific recommendations. But SEO pros analyzed site performance after the update and speculated that sites with low credibility and E-A-T were hit the hardest – especially YMYL industries like finance and healthcare. For more info on these updates, check out this post on establishing credibility and E-A-T in your content.
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
Overall, these updates reflect Google’s initiative to provide more credible content in search results. Implementing E-A-T principles in your content won’t just help with rank, but it’ll secure more trust with users. This builds a solid foundation for the rest of the customer’s journey with your company.
Here’s a breakdown of the E-A-T principles and what you need to know to start creating more credible content for your audience:
Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
Google hires evaluators to analyze content and rank it on a scale of “Lowest” to “Highest” quality. The evaluators help Google understand how the algorithm updates are performing, but they don’t have direct input into the algorithm itself.
Though the evaluator guidelines document was created to help with quality rating, it’s an excellent source for marketers and SEO pros to better understand how Google defines quality.
At 160 pages, the guidelines are thorough, but quite a doozy to sift through. The golden nuggets include the content examples, ranging from the highest to lowest quality. Screenshots and ratings are also noted to give you a better idea of what this content looks like.
The most valuable examples are of the medium-quality websites. This is the type of content that many of our clients produce before we help them create better content. These webpages are stated as having “nothing wrong, but nothing special.”
This begs the question: How can you make your website and its content stand out?
High-quality content and the E-A-T guidelines will help you get there. But first, we need to review why these guidelines are so crucial for certain industries.
Why E-A-T is critical for YMYL (Your Money Your Life) industries
Those in the financial, legal or healthcare industries may experience barriers if their content isn’t written or verified by properly certified professionals.
YMYL pages are considered important enough that if the content is low quality, inaccurate or misleading, they could negatively affect a person’s happiness, income or life. SEMrush lists a few examples that Google considers categories of YMYL pages:
- Shopping or financial transaction pages
- Pages that offer financial information, e.g., investment or tax information
- Pages that offer medical information about specific diseases or conditions or mental health
- Pages that offer legal information about topics like child support, divorce, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
- Any page that has the potential to be dangerous or detrimental if it possessed low levels of E-A-T (car repair and maintenance, for example)
If your brand falls into one of these categories, there is a greater risk for publishing low-quality content. Following the E-A-T guidelines will be especially crucial. The wrong advice given in a piece of content could be detrimental to a reader and thus diminish all trust they may have once had in your brand.
How to establish E-A-T in your content
Ask “Who are the experts?”
The people who know the most about your content topics and industry should be the ones creating or reviewing content. At the very least, they should be cited as a source.
According to Google’s search quality guidelines, there are two types of expertise:
- Formal: Especially for the medical, financial and legal industries, a certified professional is the most reliable source of information. If incorrect information is published in these industries, there is a higher chance of putting users at risk.
- Everyday expertise: The guidebook states that “for some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc.” This type of expertise is acceptable for topics such as recipes, humor and house cleaning, to name a few.
In a YMYL industry, you will need formal expertise. For other brands, you won’t necessarily need someone with expertise if you have a professional writer or journalist.
Recruit writers or journalists
Professional journalists are trained to find and interview sources and conduct thorough fact-checks. Some journalists may already have expertise in writing for your industry. Find them by looking at relevant publications and trade journals.
This guide lists your options for finding writers — you can build an internal team, hire freelancers or work with an agency. The best option depends on your company’s goals and resources.
Recruit an editor
Even the most reliable writers make typos, include the wrong statistic or attribute the wrong source. With a professional editor on hand (or at least someone to review content), you’ll have a greater chance of publishing the most accurate content possible.
Train your content team
Training your content creators (including new hires and freelancers) gives them confidence and an opportunity to learn about:
- Writing for your brand’s personas
- Writing in your brand’s voice
- How to use your brand’s style guide if you have one
- What the creation process and workflow looks like
- Writing and SEO best practices
This is the time to review expectations for content quality, too. If writers are required to find a certified professional as a source or can only reference an official document for information and stats, make it clear during this training.
Display the writer’s credentials
If you’ve identified your expert content creators, don’t let them be shy. Make sure your readers know who they are, loud and clear. You could do this by:
- Adding the author’s job title to his or her byline
- Including a short bio at the beginning or bottom of the article
- Linking to their professional website or to a full bio on your company’s website (if using an internal expert)
When sharing “everyday expertise,” credentials don’t matter. Rather, people should have relevant experience. For example, the search guidelines give an example of a participant on a disease forum sharing how long his loved ones lived with liver cancer. “This is an example of sharing personal experience (in which they are experts), not medical advice,” the guidelines state. “However, specific medical information and advice (rather than descriptions of life experience) should come from doctors or other health professionals.”
If your content is created by writers who aren’t necessarily experts on the topic (but they cite their research), their credentials do not need to be displayed. However, showing their picture with a brief biography humanizes your brand and promotes transparency with your readers.
Conduct and cite research
Even if your content creators aren’t experts, thorough research and proper attribution proves that they care about delivering accurate information.
Sources should also be linked to the appropriate anchor text. This is a direct signal to Google that you are attributing sources. Keep in mind that Google likes to see high-quality backlinks, so choose your sources carefully.
From a user’s perspective, linking to your research makes it easy to visit the original source. Such transparency will develop greater trust with your readers.
Manage your reputation
There’s a good chance that your prospects check out reviews of your company before making a decision. These reviews may impact someone’s purchasing decisions, but they can also impact your Google quality rating.
The Google search quality guidelines state that “popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation.” Monitor all channels where customers can share feedback or write reviews. Responding promptly and providing stellar customer service should be part of your overall social media strategy and will leave a strong impression on your customers.
Do you have a few negative reviews? Don’t worry quite yet. The guidelines instruct search quality evaluators to not just look at the rating, but to “find as many reviews and ratings as possible and read the details of the negative reviews and low ratings before inferring that the business has a negative reputation.”
So if your company has mostly positive reviews, and only a few outlying negative ones, the search evaluators will take this into consideration and not penalize your quality rating.
As tempting as it is to write your content just to be found in search, you must prioritize your user. For example, a common misunderstanding is that Google rewards webpages that use many keywords. But this is considered “keyword stuffing,” and harms the user experience.
Google’s quality search guidelines state that “Keyword stuffing can range from mildly annoying to users, to complete gibberish. Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful MC [main content] to help users, should be rated Lowest.”
Avoid this by inserting your keywords carefully. Best practice suggests including the keyword in the first paragraph of your article, but then only continuing to use the keyword in a natural way.
The Google Webmaster Guidelines suggest asking the question, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
The whole purpose of content marketing is to create content your audience wants. Google has made updates and changes to their algorithms to put the most useful and accurate content in search results. It’s also why they’ve recruited the help of living, breathing people to assess the quality of websites and pages.
Simply put, your content should either help or teach your users something on a topic that relates to your business. Google listed some common helpful page purposes, which include:
- To share information about a topic.
- To share personal or social information.
- To share pictures, videos or other forms of media.
- To express an opinion or point of view.
- To entertain.
- To sell products or services.
- To allow users to post questions for other users to answer.
- To allow users to share files or to download software.
Make it easy for users to contact a human
It may seem obvious to include contact information on your company’s website, but this detail establishes trust by giving users a chance to contact an actual human or know who is responsible for the website.
Your company’s About Us page is also a good opportunity to explain to your readers who you are, and you may even want to introduce some of your staff, along with their photo. This helps humanize your brand, helping customers know and trust you.
Make users feel safe
This is especially important for YMYL brands and any eCommerce sites. Ensure your customers that their financial and personal information is secure. These actions help establish security:
- Use an “https” address
- Display a lock and key in the URL bar
- Request that users create complex passwords
- Include any relevant certificates on your website
Ads and popups should also be used appropriately and tastefully. Too many popups or irrelevant ads could deter users, especially if the ads look like spam.
The main takeaway
If it seems like creating content that follows the E-A-T guidelines will take a lot of time, it’s because it will! The guidelines state, “We will consider content to be Low quality if it is created without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill.”
If you put your users first, recruit experts, help users and give them a safe and pleasant experience on your website, you’ll soon find more desirable results from your content.
This post is part of the Brandpoint Quality Content Series, which analyzes how Google assesses quality content and how you can get your pages to appear higher in search results.
Part 1: What is High-Quality Content?
Part 2: Google Search Quality Guidelines: What is E-A-T?
Part 3: Are High-Quality Links Important for SEO?
Part 4: How to Create Readable Content
Part 5: How to Create Comprehensive Content
Part 6: Duplicate vs. Original Content
Part 7: Latent Semantic Indexing and Long-tail Keywords
Part 8: How to Optimize Images and Visuals for SEO
Part 9: Content Freshness and Generating New Topics
Part 10: SEO Success Stories
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2017. It has been edited to reflect the August 2018 Google algorithm update