Last updated: February 6, 2020
This document was published by Google in an attempt to show us how they are fighting against disinformation in the search results. Pages 13-16 of the document are specific to general search.
Google admits in this document that it can be very difficult for technology to determine whether something is true. They say that some false facts can be easy to determine, while others cannot. For example, if a news source claims that they are reporting from France, but it is clear that they operate out of New Jersey in the US, something is likely not true in this claim.
The document says, “Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content.” If that’s true, then how does Google accomplish this task? The very next statement says the following:
Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content. However, it is specifically designed to identify sites with high indicia of expertise, authority and trustworthiness.
The document then goes on to tell us how Google assesses E-A-T:
Here is what we think can be learned from the above statements:
- Trustworthiness and Authoritativeness are important to Google. (There is more information here on how Google likely assesses trust in their algorithms.)
- The most well known signal of trustworthiness and authority is PageRank.
- Quality Raters (also called “search quality evaluators” in this document) are used to measure the quality of the results.
But is E-A-T really a ranking factor?
We would urge you not to get hung up on the semantics here. When Danny Sullivan from Google was asked whether E-A-T is a ranking factor, here is what he said:
Is E-A-T a ranking factor? Not if you mean there's some technical thing like with speed that we can measure directly.
We do use a variety of signals as a proxy to tell if content seems to match E-A-T as humans would assess it.
In that regard, yeah, it's a ranking factor.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) October 11, 2019
We interpret this to mean that there is no one specific E-A-T score, but rather, there are a great many signals that Google measures that all contribute to E-A-T and that those signals are indeed important to rankings.
Googler Gary Illyes has also told us quite a bit about E-A-T. At Pubcon Vegas in 2019, he told us that "multiple algorithms conceptualize E-A-T." He also said, "E-A-T and YMYL are concepts that allow humans to dumb down algorithms." He told us that Google has, "a collection of millions of tiny algorithms that work in unison to spit out a ranking score. Many of those baby algorithms look for signals in pages or content. When you put them together in certain ways, they can be conceptualized as YMYL."
Again, there is no one single E-A-T score that Google assigns to a website. Rather, there are multiple algorithms at Google that use the idea of E-A-T. So, is E-A-T a ranking factor? We'd say that E-A-T is a component of many ranking factors.
Again, don't get caught up in the semantics here. There is no doubt in our mind that E-A-T is incredibly important when it comes to ranking well in Google Search.
How does this tie into algorithm updates?
At MHC, we believe that E-A-T was implemented as a major component of Google's algorithms on February 7, 2017. While Google has always valued many aspects of E-A-T, it seems that in February of 2017, they were able to do a better job of measuring it. Shortly after this unnamed algorithm update happened, we had several requests for help from websites that had Google organic traffic graphs that looked like this:
Every site that was hit by this update was very strongly affected. One thing that we noticed with every site that we reviewed for a traffic drop assessment is that they lost rankings to sites that were clearly more authoritative than they were. For example, we had several sites come to us that wrote about advice for running a business. While their articles were extremely well written, they were written by SEO copywriters. The business articles that were now ranking well were all ones with experts with incredible E-A-T.
Here is a screenshot that we used in one of our reports to demonstrate how much authority the author of the article had as compared to the clients who had seen traffic drops:
Seriously. This woman is VERY authoritative on business subjects. And somehow, Google’s algorithms were starting to detect that an article written by her is probably a much better choice to show users over one that was written by a writer with no real world business experience, and who is not known as an expert authority in these topics.
Over the following two year period, we saw Google put more and more “E-A-T” info into their algorithmic calculations. Here are our thoughts on what each of these updates was primarily about. Each one of them can be tied to something in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines.
March 9, 2018 - This update was confirmed by Google to be about relevance. What we noticed is that sites would lose rankings for terms if they did not have enough E-A-T to be relevant for it. For example, we saw several medical sites that lost rankings for drug brand name queries (think “aspirin”, or “glipizide”). The thing was though, that these sites were only ranking for those queries because they had good SEO work done. If you asked a human being whether they wanted to see results from random-site-i-have-never-heard-of dot com, or from a site like WebMD or Mayo Clinic, they almost always choose the latter options.
August 1, 2018 - This was known as the Medic update because it strongly affected a large number of medical sites. However, we saw hits in many verticals including medical supplies, tech sites, and many other YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) websites. Danny Sullivan from Google confirmed that the key to recovery, if indeed recovery was possible, was to pay attention to the QRG:
Want to do better with a broad change? Have great content. Yeah, the same boring answer. But if you want a better idea of what we consider great content, read our raters guidelines. That's like almost 200 pages of things to consider: https://t.co/pO3AHxFVrV
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 1, 2018
The August 1 update happened just a few days after Google added the words “safety of users” to the QRG:
We feel strongly that the August 1 update reflected an attempt by Google to suppress sites that were not seen as safe. While many different types of sites were negatively affected by this update, a consistent theme that we saw was that the sites that were hit were lacking elements of trust such as the following:
- Lack of external information to support that the site or its authors are known as authorities in their field.
- Medical information that is plain out wrong.
- Having a poor review profile online. We saw sites see drops where it was clear that there were a large number of user complaints online about the business.
September 27, 2018 - This was, in our opinion, almost definitely a refining of Google’s ability to algorithmically determine trust. Many sites hit by Medic on August 1 saw further drops on this date. We saw an interesting pattern in sites that were hit in that many of them were lead gen sites.
A piece of information in the recently released Google Whitepaper discussing E-A-T is this section on Google News sites. We believe that similar points apply to general search (outside of Google News) as well:
We bring this up because many sites that were hit on September 27 were lead generation sites that fit the second bullet point above, “Sites that misrepresent or conceal their ownership or primary purpose.”
We had several businesses come to us after seeing drops on September 27 and in most cases we could find very obvious trust issues with the site. In many cases, the sites existed primarily to sell leads to doctors, lawyers or financial experts, but they represented themselves as an unbiased third party.
How does Google determine this type of thing? We don’t know. But, we thoroughly believe that with every update, Google is getting better and better at surfacing sites that are not tricking people.
How can SEO’s use this information?
It is great that we now have concrete evidence from Google to tell us that E-A-T is vitally important to ranking well. But what can we do with this information? We can’t suddenly just turn on E-A-T. Here are some things that we can do as marketers to help businesses either get more E-A-T or display it better.
Note: These are mostly based on info in the Quality Raters’ Guidelines. While we don’t know exactly how the algorithms work, the best we can do is take the info we do have from the QRG and try to replicate it on our sites.
- Do all that you can to display E-A-T related information for the business. Brag about why your business is the best, has loads of experience, where you have been mentioned, etc.
- Do the same for your authors. Get them published in authoritative places. Display E-A-T related info in an author bio and link to a full author profile.
We hope to have part 2 of our E-A-T webinar soon! We’ll talk about author E-A-T. In the meantime, you can catch part 1 on E-A-T here.
- If you are trying to rank for YMYL content, but truly don’t have E-A-T for this area, you may not be able to rank again. If you are in this boat, we would recommend shifting focus so that you are not competing against medical sites with medical E-A-T, but rather, you help people with aspects of medicine that aren’t well covered by the big sites. Also, remember that E-A-T is not just about how many years of experience you have in this area. You can be a doctor, but if you are not recognized online as an authority, you will likely have trouble ranking against those sites that ARE recognized as such.
- Make sure that any fact that can be properly referenced by scientific articles is referenced in a way that is easy for people to use.
- Work on getting mentioned in authoritative places. That seems hard, right? It is! A good link from an authoritative place is hard to get, but this is the type of link that Google wants to count. We have a theory that Google only passes PageRank through sites that have decent E-A-T.
- Have actual users use your site and have them tell you what aspects of the site they distrust. Are users skeptical that your service is free? Do searchers feel like they are being sold to rather than taught? Are there other elements of the site that turn users off?
- If a business has reputation issues, while you can’t fix those as an SEO, you can share with business owners that these issues are likely impairing their ability to rank well. We recommend responding to every single negative review in a way that shows that the business is working on fixing things. We also recommend starting a program to foster good reviews.
- Consider a link audit and disavow work. While we don’t know whether link trust is a factor in E-A-T, we think that it is. We are seeing nice gains in sites that we have done disavow work for. John Mueller recently confirmed that if Google’s algorithms see a lot of unnatural links pointing to a site, then they may put less trust in the site’s links overall. Disavowing links that were made just for SEO reasons, may help improve E-A-T by improving Google’s assessment of trust for the site.
Want to hire Marie and the MHC team to review your site in the eyes of Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines? Here is more information on what is included in our site quality reviews.
Footnote: Wait? Is E-A-T really a ranking factor?
I, (Marie) wanted to add this paragraph in response to some of the conversation that happened on SEO Twitter yesterday. There were a number of tweets arguing about whether or not E-A-T is was a ranking factor in Google's algorithms.
What is a ranking factor? Here is what the featured snippet says:
Is E-A-T used as "criteria applied by search engines when evaluating web pages"?
Here is what the recently published Google whitepaper says about E-A-T:
Google says that for YMYL topics, more weight is given to the understanding of E-A-T for the page. To me, this means that E-A-T is a factor that can be weighted to different degrees for different sites.
I urge you not to get caught up in arguments about semantics here. Google has told us that E-A-T is something that they consider highly when evaluating YMYL sites. Whether or not you call it a ranking factor, it's not something that you want to ignore!
What do you think?
How important do you think E-A-T is? Have questions or comments? We would love to hear your thoughts!
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