E-A-T: The basics
What is E-A-T?
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness, each of which are signals Google looks at extensively as part of the Quality Rater Guidelines.
Why do E-A-T factors exist?
These signals are in place to help Google understand why you deserve to rank for more sensitive queries, often those which are focused on your money (e.g. finances and financial advice, banking, or currency) or your life (e.g. healthcare, consumer goods like alcohol or CBD, or legal advice) – also known as YMYL industries.
If Google was to serve misleading or factually inaccurate information in these cases, then there could be serious consequences for the reader which, ultimately, could land Google in both legal trouble as well as the chance a user might go elsewhere to search. So, Google has these factors in place to make sure that manual reviews of websites consider the impact the content could have on the reader.
Are E-A-T factors the same across every industry?
In short, no. E-A-T, and the weight the factors hold, varies significantly from industry to industry. While the legal industry might be under scrutiny from a trust and experience perspective, the healthcare industry might face more scrutiny from an authority perspective.
Content across these industries varies significantly in how it can impact a user’s personal circumstances, so different weighting is applied across different industries and to a large extent, different topics within those sectors.
Every piece of content across every industry is technically subject to E-A-T scrutiny, but some content by its nature requires a much tighter grip on what is accurate and what can be surfaced in results for users – this goes hand in hand with Google’s broader efforts to fight misinformation.
Is E-A-T part of the ranking algorithms?
In terms of measurable impact that can be assessed, like speed, no. E-A-T is not a ranking factor. It is better to think of E-A-T as a concept, rather than a factor in itself.
However, Google does discuss it extensively in the Quality Rater Guidelines and more recently it has been incorporated into their guidance on Core updates, so while it is not a ranking factor in itself, it does play a part in other established systems.
So how does E-A-T actually affect rankings?
You might be questioning if E-A-T in itself isn’t a ranking factor then how much impact does it actually have on the ability of a website to rank in the results?
Well, it goes back to thinking of E-A-T as a concept – here, we can start to dissect what they are actually trying to understand:
- Expertise: how experienced are you?
- Authority: how recognised are you?
- Trust: how suitable are you?
At their core, each of the different signals really come back to quality – how much in-depth information can you provide to show why you are the best result for a user?
We know that Search is about quality. We know that Search is about relevance. So, it stands to reason that E-A-T factors play a part in both of these areas – what makes you relevant, and how can Google be sure of your quality?
First things first, quality is subjective – what might be good to me might not be good to you. That’s why Google collated the Quality Rater Guidelines to try and minimise subjectivity when content and websites are reviewed. These are used to train algorithms as well as during manual reviews carried out by their own team.
The Quality Rater Guidelines, as of January 2022, comprise 172 pages and within them there is information on page quality ratings as well as mobile needs and needs met ratings. If you search for E-A-T within the guidelines, there are 129 mentions of the concept and there is a huge amount of information within those sections which detail what “high quality”, “low quality” and “lowest quality” scores are rewarded for.
Examples are provided throughout the guidelines to show how content is evaluated and the characteristics which form “high” ratings, for example:
Here, we can clearly see that quality is assigned on a sliding scale, so that changes how we begin to think about the content we are creating. In effect, quality is about how we get to the top of that scale.
How do you know what is good enough?
While Google gives you an idea of high performing content and the characteristics it should include, there is no substitute for truly understanding what good looks like in your own field.
Instead, the guidelines should be used as just that – indicators of what good (and bad) quality looks like. From there, you can start understanding what is actually required for you to rank in the search results.
A prime example of this comes from a section in the guidelines where they address what a “satisfying amount of main content” really is. Here we can see that it varies by content need. Some content needs to be much longer in order to sufficiently answer the query, other content can be much shorter to achieve the same result. However, there isn’t a direct “this is the length you should aim for” – instead, again, it is a scale subject to the topic.
To really understand what quality looks like, there is no better alternative than looking at what is ranking already. This content will have been reviewed, either manually or as part of the algorithms (or both), and will have been identified as high enough quality to appear on the first page or even in the top positions. This is the strongest indicator you could have for what Google sees as high quality content.
From that, you start dissecting different factors such as:
- How does the content show expertise?
- How does the content show authority?
- What trust signals are there?
- How much information is provided?
- What supporting imagery or video content is included?
- What additional context is provided?
- How does that particular piece of content relate to the rest of the website?
- How well linked to and from is the page, internally and externally?
And from each of those you can start to build a picture of what your content should look like, and what kind of E-A-T signals you need to be providing based on what your audience, and Google, needs to see.
Why is E-A-T so important if it isn’t a ranking factor?
E-A-T is all about providing additional signals to show why your content should be deemed high quality. If you are not including information that highlights those factors then you run the risk of competitors always outranking you for the same or similar terms, because they can better portray what Google sees as “quality signals”.
E-A-T isn’t just for YMYL websites or industries, it should be incorporated into every piece of content you create. You can do that by:
- In-depth, long-form content
- Step by step guides
- Thorough topic coverage
- Links to, and from, credible sources
- Case studies
Depth of information & supporting content
- Unexplored topic areas
- Content hubs
- Internal linking
- Internal linking & links to credible sources
- Schema markup
All of these factors should be considered whenever you are writing a piece of content. They all contribute to a high E-A-T score and add a level of depth to your content for Google to see it as high quality, thus improving ranking probability.
This year we’re likely to see even more steps towards providing higher quality results in the rankings, so ignoring E-A-T as part of that will leave you stranded while your competitors reap the benefits.