Complete Guide to the Fundamentals of Google’s E-A-T

E-A-T sign.

In the world of Google Search, there are few opportunities to peek inside the inner workings. The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines is one such opportunity. In it, we get a better understanding of Google’s view on what is a quality website. From there, we can piece together how that might factor into Google’s algorithms.

In this article:

What Is Google’s E-A-T and Where Did It Come From?

The concept of E-A-T, which stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, originated in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG). The concept of debuted within the SQEG in 2014, giving us clues into what Google believes is quality.

We first found out about search quality teams in 2004 — then later the SQEG document, used internally to train search quality raters, was leaked from Google. In 2015, Google made the full version of Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines available to the public. Since then, it has gone through several iterations, with the latest version dated December 2019.

(This is a good summary of big changes in the latest iterations of SQEG.)

E-A-T can apply to individual pages or whole sites, and how important E-A-T is also depends on the type of topic. I’ll touch more on that later.

How Does Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines Work?

The SQEG allows Google to better understand if the changes it’s making to its Search algorithms are producing quality results.

Human evaluators (thousands of them) use the guide as a way to evaluate the search results for certain queries and then report back what they have found. This can act as a feedback loop for Google engineers to make further tweaks to the algorithm.

Here are some snippets from Google explaining how search quality raters work …

In a help file here, Google explains how raters work:

We constantly experiment with ideas to improve the results you see. One of the ways we evaluate those experiments is by getting feedback from third-party Search Quality Raters. Quality Raters are spread out all over the world and are highly trained using our extensive guidelines.

Their feedback helps us understand which changes make Search more useful.

Raters also help us categorize information to improve our systems. For example, we might ask what language a page is written in or what’s important on a page.

We use responses from Raters to evaluate changes, but they don’t directly impact how our search results are ranked.

Another explanation from Google here on its “How Search Works” page:

We work with external Search Quality Raters to measure the quality of search results on an ongoing basis. Raters assess how well a website gives people who click on it what they are looking for, and evaluate the quality of results based on the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of the content. These ratings do not directly impact ranking, but they do help us benchmark the quality of our results and make sure these meet a high bar all around the world.

And here’s a 2012 video of former Googler Matt Cutts discussing it:

E-A-T and Rankings

E-A-T does not directly impact rankings as an algorithm would. Instead, Google uses a variety of signals in its algorithm to align with the concept of E-A-T.

For example, I believe the “Panda” update was about expertise, the “Penguin” update about authority, and the “Medic” update about trust.

Those that watch Google know how to read between the lines. When the Medic update hit, we saw both a blog post from Google and this tweet from Googler Danny Sullivan about the SQEG:

In that blog post, Google said:

Another resource for advice on great content is to review our search quality rater guidelines. Raters are people who give us insights on if our algorithms seem to be providing good results, a way to help confirm our changes are working well.

It’s important to understand that search raters have no control over how pages rank. Rater data is not used directly in our ranking algorithms. Rather, we use them as a restaurant might get feedback cards from diners. The feedback helps us know if our systems seem to be working.

If you understand how raters learn to assess good content, that might help you improve your own content. In turn, you might perhaps do better in Search.

In particular, raters are trained to understand if content has what we call strong E-A-T. That stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. Reading the guidelines may help you assess how your content is doing from an E-A-T perspective and improvements to consider.

Sullivan also weighed in another time on how E-A-T factors into search:

How E-A-T and YMYL Go Hand-in-Hand

“Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) webpages are those that Google says “could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” These types of topics, in particular, are held to a very high standard. In these instances, E-A-T is critical.

YMYL topics include:

  • News and current events
  • Civics, government, and law
  • Finance
  • Shopping
  • Health and safety
  • Info related to groups of people

That list is a start, and Google notes that “there are many other topics related to big decisions or important aspects of people’s lives which thus may be considered YMYL, such as fitness and nutrition, housing information, choosing a college, finding a job, etc. Please use your judgment.”

While high E-A-T for YMYL topics is crucial, E-A-T may be just as important for other queries as well.

In the guidelines, it says that “there are high E-A-T pages and websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages, etc. In fact, some types of information are found almost exclusively on forums and discussions, where a community of experts can provide valuable perspectives on specific topics.”

Have a Purpose, Then E-A-T

Before we dive into E-A-T details, let’s look at what Google says are the most important factors to consider when rating a webpage or topic:

  • The purpose of the page
  • Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness
  • Main content quality and amount
  • Website information/information about who is responsible for the MC
  • Website reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the MC

The most important thing to first establish is that the webpage has a purpose.

As outlined by Google:

Websites or pages without some sort of beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating. For all other pages that have a beneficial purpose, the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important.

Note that Google said that E-A-T is important for “all other pages with a beneficial purpose.”

How Does Google Define Expertise, Authority and Trust?

Now let’s examine expertise, authority and trust, and how to achieve them on your website.

Expertise

Expertise is a page-level assessment (versus a whole site). For this, Google wants to consider the expertise of the content creator and, essentially, the content creation process.

The level of expertise needed varies from topic to topic. As mentioned, YMYL pages will be held to a higher standard of expertise. SQEG states that “formal expertise is important for YMYL topics such as medical, financial, or legal advice. Expertise may be less formal for topics such as recipes or humor.”

Examples of Expert Content

The SQEG gives several examples of when expertise is critical, and what high E-A-T looks like.

Google says:

An expert page on cooking may be a page on a professional chef’s website, or it may be a video from an expert content creator who uploads very high quality cooking videos on YouTube and is one of the most well-known and popular content creators for recipes in their area of expertise.

Google clarifies some examples in which high expertise is critical:

● 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 …

● 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.

Examples of topics that need less-formal expertise include people sharing their personal experiences in forums or helpful reviews of products or restaurants by people with first-hand experience.

In these cases, Google says: “These ordinary people may be considered experts in topics where they have life experience.” Also, “if it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or her an ‘expert’ on the topic, we will value this ‘everyday expertise and not penalize the person/webpage/website for not having ‘formal’ education or training in the field.”

It’s worth reviewing the examples of high E-A-T in the SQEG, Section 5.4, which include examples of why they’re considered experts.

For example, for this recipe page, Google notes: “Even though this user does not seem to be a well-known professional chef, recipes are an example of everyday expertise. The author of this blog has documented her extensive experimentation with a chocolate chip cookie recipe, and her expertise is demonstrated in the large quantity of original high or highest quality MC.”

For this parenting article, Google notes: “The author of this blog post has become known as an expert on parenting issues. She is a regular contributor to this and other media websites.”

How to Determine “An Expert”

So how does someone show they’re an expert? Experts build a name for themselves on a particular subject matter. But how do you communicate that expertise to a person who may have just landed on your page from the search results?

Having easily accessible credentials is key. For example, author biographies.

In a Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout, John Mueller discussed E-A-T and author biographies:

In a nutshell, Mueller says it’s less of a technical thing (like using markup on the page) and more of a user experience thing. Make sure that visitors can easily identify who wrote the content and why they are qualified to do so.

In another Webmaster Central office-hours hangout, Mueller again discussed schema markup as it relates to E-A-T. He reiterated that while Google can use this info, make sure that information is accessible by users, not just search engines.

This article references a Pubcon Q&A with Googler Gary Illyes in which he was quoted as saying:

“In web search, we have entities for very popular authors, like if you were an executive for the Washington Post, then you probably have an entity. It’s not about the author, it’s about the entity.”

Expertise and the Google Algorithm

Let’s talk about expertise and the algorithm. When someone types in a query, Google is going to use its algorithms and RankBrain to determine which webpages (out of potentially millions) in its index for that query will show up on Page 1.

One of the ways Google might determine if your content is “expert” is how similar or different that content is to other expert, high-quality webpages.

In the SQEG, it says this about high-quality content:

Very high quality MC is original, accurate, comprehensive, clearly communicated,
professionally presented, and should reflect expert consensus as appropriate. Expectations for different types of information may vary. For example, scientific papers have a different set of standards than information about a hobby such as stamp collecting. However, all types of very high quality informational content share common attributes of accuracy, comprehensiveness, and clear communication, in addition to meeting standards appropriate to the topic or field.

For instance, say you have content that states that blueberries can cure cancer. Even if you feel you have the authority to make this claim, when competing against YMYL content, you will not be considered an expert for a query about cancer because the claim is not supported elsewhere.

Remember this excerpt from earlier?

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.

In summary, expertise is really as simple as this quote from SQEG: “Think about the topic of the page. What kind of expertise is required for the page to achieve its purpose well?”

Authoritativeness

Authoritativeness builds on expertise, and takes three things into account:

  1. The authority of the content creator
  2. The authority of the content itself
  3. The authority of the website as a whole

To achieve authority, one must be a recognized expert in their field, whether a brand or a person. To better illustrate, here’s an example in the SQEG of what would not be authoritative:

The website is not an authoritative source for the topic of the page, e.g. tax information on a cooking website.

And even though a website may be a collection of contributors, in many cases, the brand is responsible for the overall content. That means the authority of the brand can come into play.

Often a business or organization is responsible for the content of a website, not an individual person. The IBM Corporation is responsible for the content on ibm.com. The Cleveland Clinic is responsible for the content on clevelandclinic.org. An individual is not responsible for the content on these websites, even though many individuals contributed to creating and maintaining the content. In these cases, we will view the business or organization as responsible for the content on every single page, as well as maintenance of the website.

Authority doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, a restaurant’s “about” page would be considered authoritative because it’s from the restaurant. Here’s an example of that from the SQEG with the following notes:

A Family Fish Story webpage example.

This is an “about us” page on a restaurant website. This page provides information on when the restaurant opened and what visitors can expect. Other pages on the website provide information about the restaurant including the address, menu, other contact information, etc. This website is highly authoritative because it is about itself.

Another example that is deemed “high level” E-A-T is the US Naval Observatory Master Clock page.

US Naval Observatory clock times example webpage.

The SQEG says this about it:

The purpose of this page is to display the official US Naval Observatory Master Clock time in 7 different time zones. The page displays the clock information in a clear, easy-to-read format. The Naval Observatory is highly trustworthy and authoritative for this type of information.

Authority as it Relates to Links and Mentions

The SQEG does not mention the links to a website as an indicator of authority. Perhaps that is because Google doesn’t expect its quality raters to use sophisticated tools for link analysis. Regardless, SEOs know from experience that links matter.

Since the beginning, a link to a site has been a vote of confidence. This is the concept of PageRank, and yes, it still exists.

Of course, you want links from other experts or other relevant types of sites, not just any links. Google is good at knowing which links should count, thanks to its evolving algorithm and updates like Penguin.

Mentions could also be a factor in how Google determines authority. When determining if an individual or brand is an authority on a topic, do a simple search online.

Is a person’s name connected with the subject matter in the search results?


Google search results for "bruce clay seo".
Search results for the query “Bruce Clay SEO”

 

In a post on E-A-T from Marie Haynes, she accurately points out that:

If your business is getting amazing press mentions, this really can help. The incredible thing though is that Google feels really confident that they can determine which mentions are there because there is true buzz circulating about your company, and which are just there because they’re paid, incentivized or self made.

There is a big difference between a mention from a Forbes contributor and a Forbes staff journalist. Google knows to ignore the former, and most likely, they can recognize the latter as a vote for your brand’s authority. In fact, we believe that this was one of the reasons why Google made changes to rel=nofollow. It is possible that now, if Google comes across a great link on an authoritative site, we think they can count it towards your E-A-T even if it is nofollowed.

To add to the discussion about rel=”nofollow” … I, too, believe that “nofollow” is merely a hint to Google nowadays. Just as a link with a “nofollow” on it can work to your advantage as in her example, it can work against you, too.

Take this scenario: A person on your site is reading an informational article. Within that article is a link with branded anchor text pointing to another company’s website. This link is a paid placement.

The average reader would not be able to distinguish a “nofollow” link from a regular link. Therefore, that link may be automatically trusted by your website users.

If Google identifies this link as irrelevant or deceptive (especially when we’re talking about YMYL topics), Google might ignore the “nofollow” and still count that link against your site.

(For more on this, see a post I wrote on manual penalties and guest posts.)

At the end of the day, expertise and authority are closely related and interconnected concepts — as is the “T” pillar in E-A-T, trust.

Trustworthiness

Like authoritativeness, trustworthiness is assessed on multiple levels:

  1. The trustworthiness of the content creator
  2. The trustworthiness of the content itself
  3. The trustworthiness of the website as a whole

Trust is about reputation. Reputation matters, especially when authority and expertise are important. From the SQEG:

When a high level of authoritativeness or expertise is needed, the reputation of a website should be judged on what expert opinions have to say. Recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies, are strong evidence of very positive reputation.

Google further defines how it thinks about reputation:

A website’s reputation is based on the experience of real users, as well as the opinion of people who are experts in the topic of the website. Keep in mind that websites often represent real companies, organizations, and other entities. Therefore, reputation research applies to both the website and the actual company, organization, or entity that the website is representing.

Reputation, says the SQEG, is determined by outside information about the website (not just what the website says about itself):

Many websites are eager to tell users how great they are. Some webmasters have read these rating guidelines and write “reviews” on various review websites. But for Page Quality rating, you must also look for outside, independent reputation information about the website. When the website says one thing about itself, but reputable external sources disagree with what the website says, trust the external sources.

The guidelines give clues into some ways that Google evaluates trust and reputation:

Extensive reputation research is important when giving Highest ratings. Very positive reputation is often based on prestigious awards or recommendations from known experts or professional societies on the topic of the page.

Wikipedia and other informational sources can be a good starting point for reputation research. For YMYL topics especially, careful checks for reputation are required. YMYL reputation should be based on evidence from experts, professional societies, awards, etc.

For shopping pages, experts could include people who have used the store’s website to make purchases; whereas for medical advice pages, experts should be people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation. Please review section 2.3 for a summary of types of YMYL pages/topics.

For some topics, such as humor or recipes, less formal expertise is OK. For these topics, popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation. For topics that need less formal expertise, websites can be considered to have a positive reputation if they are highly popular and wel

Bad Reputation and Rankings

Google does not look kindly upon sites or brands with a bad reputation. This is something it has been battling for years and gained a lot of traction with the Decor My Eyes debacle.
I believe sentiment is an important factor in trust and can impact rankings. I also believe that artificial intelligence has allowed Google to make significant advances in sentiment measurement as a part of that trust component.

As outlined in an article I wrote on sentiment as a trust signal, things like low ratings on the Better Business Bureau can be a big deal. We believe this harmed the trustworthiness of a client’s website and contributed to lower rankings.

Others have reported how reputation (specifically poor BBB ratings) may have impacted rankings after the Medic update.

The SQEG in fact mentions the BBB several times. Here’s one instance:

Look for articles, reviews, forum posts, discussions, etc. written by people about the website. For businesses, there are many sources of reputation information and reviews. Here are some examples: Yelp, Better Business Bureau (a nonprofit organization that focuses on the trustworthiness of businesses and charities), Amazon, and Google Shopping.

One excerpt indicates that “very low ratings on BBB are usually the result of multiple unresolved complaints,” and to “consider very low ratings on the BBB site to be evidence for a negative reputation.”

To be clear, I do not think a BBB rating is a direct ranking signal. Google has confirmed here and here that it is not. (That last confirmation was the result of confusion over a talk I gave on the topic. Nonetheless, Google weighed in.)

Again, the SQEG is designed to be used as a feedback loop for how Google designs its algorithms.

Does Google want brands or websites with a bad reputation to rank high? Of course not. Does Google integrate things like the BBB rating into its search results? Yes, just look at the entries for Google Local Services.

Google local services displaying BBB ratings.
Google Local Services entry with BBB rating integration

 

So, where does that leave us? Does sentiment impact a website’s trustworthiness, and indirectly impact rankings? I believe, yes.

Take this study on sentiment analysis, where the author points out:

84% of analyzed SERPs are dominated by positive results. People would rather focus on the benefits than the cons of whatever they are looking for. For the decision-making process, they are not that interested in content that brings attention to the flaws. …

Big sample analysis shows some trends but examples twist them quite often. Every SERP is different, analyze your competitors and find out what sticks to the top.

Sentiment distribution chart.

And I’ll add to this: When it comes to inbound links to a webpage (that vote of confidence), the words surrounding the link should also be positive.

It seems that Google AI technology can separate good from bad reviews, for instance, and properly count them in your rankings. They know if you have been naughty or nice.

I have written more about sentiment as a trust signal in a two-part series. For more, see:

TL;DR

The concept of E-A-T, also known as expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, originated in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG).

The SQEG trains human quality raters, who help Google understand if the changes it’s making to its Search algorithms are producing quality results. This can act as a feedback loop for Google engineers to make further tweaks to the algorithm.

E-A-T does not directly impact rankings as an algorithm would. Instead, Google uses a variety of signals in its algorithm to align with the concept of E-A-T. For example, I believe the Panda update was about expertise, the Penguin update about authority, and the Medic update about trust.

E-A-T is important for most websites, but for “Your Money or Your Life” topics, it is critical. The level of expertise needed for other topics varies.

Expertise is a page-level assessment (versus a whole site). For this, Google wants to consider the expertise of the content creator and the content creation process.

Authoritativeness builds on expertise, and takes three things into account:

  1. The authority of the content creator
  2. The authority of the content itself
  3. The authority of the website as a whole

To achieve authority, one must be a recognized expert on the matter, whether a brand or a person. We know that links and mentions are also key, though not mentioned directly in the SQEG.

Just like authority, trustworthiness is assessed on multiple levels:

  1. The trustworthiness of the content creator
  2. The trustworthiness of the content itself
  3. The trustworthiness of the website as a whole

Trust is about reputation. And reputation matters, especially when authority and expertise are important. As a component of that, I believe that overall online sentiment is a key part of trust. You can read more about that in earlier posts here and here.

Many signals contribute to your online success. If you’d like assistance, check out our SEO services or contact us today!

Comments (7)
Filed under: SEO — Tags: , ,

7 Replies to “Complete Guide to the Fundamentals of Google’s E-A-T”

Ron

What about the search pages where GOOGLE STEALS info and puts it into the search drop down boxes so you don’t have to click to any website?

Websters Dictionary site has a lawsuit against Google for doing it to them!

Can you show us how to get the search to go to our page instead of to a google search page with those listings?

Paula Allen

Ron: Yes, that’s THE question today! Bruce actually just published a post to answer it: “How to Adapt SEO in a Zero-Click World” https://www.bruceclay.com/blog/how-to-adapt-seo-in-zero-click-world/.

To establish Authority go write articles on other authority website and point some backlinks to your own website. Otherwise it’s hard or you need to be a famous person lol.

Paula Allen

Subh: Guest posting for links is a risky practice that may backfire. See our recent article on manual link penalties for more: https://www.bruceclay.com/blog/manual-link-penalties-still-happen/

“Since search engines are algorithms, they can’t directly decide about the quality of the content or the expertise of the author. This is the reason why Google hires human raters to evaluate its content. However, citations which on web are represented by quality backlinks and users’ behavior are strong indicators for EAT because quality content is always in high demand.”

Great stuff. Shameless plug: here is a great example of EAT in action for law firms :)
kingsleykingsley.com/who-can-collect-unemployment

AWESOME post & especially motivating to start my day :)

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