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What is E-A-T?

14 Jan 2020

E-A-T is a concept used by the Google quality evaluators as one of the factors determining the quality of a given page. The acronym stands for expertise – authoritativeness – trustworthiness.

There are many theories about E-A-T that have circulated within the SEO community. Some are extensive, fact-based analyses of the impact of E-A-T on Google Search; however, some are just far-fetched extrapolations, and some are simply wrong. 

Contrary to some opinions, E-A-T is not a score or a ranking factor used by Google – E-A-T is simply a term used to help communicate the complex problem of how to rate web pages based on how much they can be trusted to provide accurate trustworthy information.

In this article, I’m hoping to provide you with everything you need to know about E-A-T based on the “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines” – an official document from Google that goes into detail about what E-A-T is and how it affects Google Search. While E-A-T may be assessed by Google algorithms too, I want to focus on how the E-A-T guidelines can be used as a reference for how Google understands quality.

How E-A-T is reflected in the search results

Around 2018, Google started what seemed like a cycle of continuous core algorithm updates that were supposed to improve the overall quality of the search results. Some of them influenced specific industries in particular (like the famous Medic update which turned health-related search results upside-down), while others had an impact on the search results for all queries.

Looking at the trajectory of these updates, it seems clear that they were motivated by Google’s focus on promoting scientific consensus and expertise, fighting back against the rise of fake news, and penalizing content that’s potentially harmful. 

As a consequence, many websites lost their search visibility. It’s no longer as profitable for general content writers to blog about dietary or financial advice – both the website and the author have to be specialized and considered trustworthy experts in the field. 

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Where to find information about E-A-T

Besides using various algorithms that help determine the order in which pages are ranked, Google also employs quality raters – people who review the search results pages. These raters visit websites and give them a score based on how relevant and helpful they consider a given result to be for a particular query. This data is then used by Google to evaluate whether the search results they serve are relevant and accurate.

Of course, such evaluations wouldn’t make sense if there were no guidelines for these quality raters to base their judgments on.

Google made the “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines public back in 2015, which was a transparent move greatly appreciated by the whole web community. The guidelines have been frequently updated ever since. Besides being a manual for quality raters, it’s also a good resource for webmasters and SEOs to understand Google’s perspective on content quality.

For some time now, E-A-T has been one of the focal points of these guidelines, and one that the raters are encouraged to keep in mind throughout their evaluation process.

What goes into E-A-T?

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Google is very clear about the fact that they want every page to serve to purpose of helping users. Pages that don’t meet this requirement, or even actively attempt to spread misinformation and hurt users, are to be given the lowest possible rating.

For all other pages, quality raters determine the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of the main content, its author, and the website itself, based on the information they can find on the website or externally.

It’s important to realize that depending on the nature of the content, these factors should be adjusted. For example, authoritativeness in the medical context means that the author is recognized by their peers as an expert in the field; when it comes to sharing a personal story about going through a disease, life experience can be considered authoritativeness too.

Making those distinctions is particularly important in some thematic categories and less important in others, which is why Google came up with another concept – YMYL.

What is YMYL?

YMYL is an acronym that is very often used together with E-A-T. Unfortunately, this leads to even more confusion.

YMYL stands for your-money-or-your-life. It’s not a factor used for rating web pages; rather, it’s a wide category that includes many websites based on their thematic focus.

YMYL websites are the ones that potentially impact users’ happiness, finances, or safety. Some examples of industries that fall under this category are news, civics, finance, shopping or health.

The “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines” mention YMYL very often – it’s one of the basic distinctions that quality raters should make before rating a page. Why? Because these pages can potentially waste the users’ time and money, and even be potentially harmful. Therefore, Google expects that they are particularly transparent about the expertise and trustworthiness of the information they provide.

It’s quite telling that every topical category that’s specifically mentioned in the “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines” with regards to E-A-T belongs to the YMYL category. Here’s the direct quote from the document:

  • High E-A-T medical advice should be written or produced by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation. High E-A-T medical advice or information should be written or produced in a professional style and should be edited, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.
  • High E-A-T news articles should be produced with journalistic professionalism—they should contain factually accurate content presented in a way that helps users achieve a better understanding of events. High E-A-T news sources typically have published established editorial policies and robust review processes (example 1, example 2).
  • High E-A-T information pages on scientific topics should be produced by people or organizations with appropriate scientific expertise and represent well-established scientific consensus on issues where such consensus exists.
  • High E-A-T financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, etc., should come from trustworthy sources and be maintained and updated regularly.
  • High E-A-T advice pages on topics such as home remodeling (which can cost thousands of dollars and impact your living situation) or advice on parenting issues (which can impact the future happiness of a family) should also come from “expert” or experienced sources that users can trust.
  • High E-A-T pages on hobbies, such as photography or learning to play a guitar, also require expertise.

What else influences rating the quality of a page?

Besides E-A-T, Google outlines four other concepts that are to a degree interdependent and inform how a page should be rated in terms of quality:

The purpose of the page

The purpose of the page means why a page was created and how it’s supposed to help users.

Main content quality and amount

This quote from the guidelines explains it best.

“The purpose of the page will help you determine what high quality content means for that page. For example, High quality information pages should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive. High quality shopping content should allow users to find the products they want and to purchase the products easily. High quality humor or satire should be entertaining, while factual accuracy is not a requirement as long as the page would be understood as satire by users.”

The amount of content necessary for the page to be satisfying depends on the topic and purpose of the page. A high-quality page on a broad topic with a lot of available information will have more content than a high-quality page on a narrower topic. 

Website Information (information about who is responsible for the main content)

This factor is related to the concept of E-A-T. For example, medical advice has to be well researched, so the information about the website and the author of the main content largely determine the quality of the information.

Website Reputation (reputation about who is responsible for the main content)

Similarly, the reputation of the author is in some cases important in rating the quality of the content – Google wants to promote scientific consensus and recognized authority from a given knowledge discipline.

Wrapping up

I specifically avoided addressing the various opinions about E-A-T within the SEO community. The reason for this is that Googlers are adamant when website owners ask them for advice on how to recover after their websites lose traffic because of an algorithm update.

To put it shortly, Google wants to promote content that meets the standards of quality specified in the “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines”, so producing great content is how you can get the most out of Google Search.

That is, unless your website isn’t optimized from a technical standpoint.

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