Understanding Google's Quality Raters Guidelines provides an insight into how Google reviews web content. In this chapter we look at two sections in particular: E-A-T and YMYL.
We can’t stress this enough, but Google is always striving to provide the best search experience to the user.
This involves constantly experimenting with ideas and concepts to improve the results we see in the SERPs. One of the ways that Google evaluates these experiments is by getting feedback from external Search Quality Raters.
There are reportedly over 16,000 Quality Raters across the globe who know the ins and outs of Google’s 166-page long Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines document to determine whether a website is of high quality or not.
This document was first introduced by Google in 2014 and has since been updated in May 2019 and then again sixteen weeks later in September 2019 .
Needless to say there have been several standout differences over these revisions.
Two of the most notable differences are to do with E-A-T and YMYL.
Before going into detail about E-A-T and YMYL, it’s important that we highlight that these guidelines do not indicate how Google’s algorithm works but describes how Google wants its quality raters to judge the search results.
Here’s what Google’s VP of Search said in an interview with CNBC: “You can view the raters’ guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go. They don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do”.
But if they aren’t ranking factors, what’s the big deal?
Whilst that may be the case, understanding these guidelines will influence the way you approach your content and ultimately, will help you create a website that Google deems to be of high quality.
Google instructs its evaluators to consider and understand the purpose of the page first – if a page (or website) does not serve a legitimate purpose, it is given a low quality rating.
Next in line? E-A-T.
What is E-A-T?
In the world of SEO, E-A-T is an acronym for Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness, and is highlighted as one of the “most important factors to consider” when deciding an overall Page Quality rating for pages that have a beneficial purpose.
Here are the three main factors that Google instructs its page quality evaluators to consider when looking at Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness:
- The E-A-T of the main content that is being analysed.
- The E-A-T of the creator of the main content.
- The E-A-T of the site itself.
Fun fact, E-A-T is mentioned 135 times in the 167 pages that make up the current version of Google’s Quality Guidelines.
Still not convinced why E-A-T is important?
Guess what’s number one on the list of characteristics Google uses to determine whether a page is of high quality or not?
That’s right: E-A-T.
Oh, and guess what’s number one on the list of characteristics Google uses to determine where a page is of low quality?
That’s right: E-A-T
Incorporating E-A-T into Your Content Strategy
Whilst Google have explicitly confirmed that the level of E-A-T for a given page or website depends on the topics covered, hopefully by now we’ve convinced you that E-A-T is pretty important.
So let’s dig a little deeper and break down the three elements of E-A-T and see how they can be applied to your content strategy.
Refers to the expertise of the creator of the main content on the web page.
The official dictionary definition of “expertise” helps us understand what Google is looking for.
Questions to Ask:
- Are they an expert on the topic covered?
- Does the author/brand/company have the required credentials or qualifications to back up their expertise and is this information presented somewhere on the website?
- Will there be legal repercussions if a user takes this advice? – Not so important for humour or gossip websites, but crucial for websites in the medical, financial or legal websites.
Refers to the authoritativeness of the creator, the contents of the page, and the website.
Again, the official definition of “authoritative” gives some insight into what Google is looking for here.
Questions to Ask:
- Is your brand or company an authority in your industry?
- Does the main content have the power to influence or command thought?
- Does the main content contribute or undermine your authority as a thought leader? If so, how?
This also refers to the main content creator (or author), the content, and the site itself.
Questions to Ask:
- Is the main content accurate, consistent and reliable?
- Can your main audience trust the information presented on your page or website?
The Importance of E-A-T For YMYL Websites
Now that we’ve familiarised ourselves with what E-A-T, let’s take a look at how it impacts YMYL pages and websites.
What is YMYL?
Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) is categorised by Google as pages that “may impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety”.
In other words, your site may be considered YMYL if it contains poor advice or information that helps people make an important decision and could potentially negatively impact people’s lives and livelihood.
The same applies for websites that are selling a product or service.
Considering the amount of misinformation that circulates the Internet these days, it should come as no surprise that Google has extremely high standards when it comes to the quality of YMYL pages.
In fact, (almost) the entire YMYL section (Section 2.3) of the Quality Raters Guidelines was rewritten in the latest revision.
So, what constitutes YMYL topics? Google details some examples in Section 2.3:
- News and current events: these include topics like business, politics, science, technology etc.
- Civics, government and law: these include topics like government bodies, legal issues (i.e. divorce), and social services.
- Finance: includes financial advice on taxes, investments, loans, banking etc.
- Shopping: information about the purchasing of goods/services on a website.
- Health and safety: includes medical issues and advice, information on drugs, hospitals, dangerous activities, etc.
- Groups of people: information about or claims related to people of a particular ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, etc.
- Other: topics that may influence an important decision in a person’s life i.e. fitness and nutrition, housing information, finding a job, choosing a college or university etc.
How to Improve Google E-A-T
Google has rolled out several core algorithm updates in recent years and one of the most notorious is the update of 1st August 2018 (dubbed the “Medic” update) which largely impacted YMYL websites in (you guessed it) the medical and health niches.
Let’s take a quick looks at one of the sites that was affected – organicfacts.net
We can see above that this health and wellness website’s organic traffic plummeted after this algorithm update – which is a shame considering the foundation it built in the lead up to it.
While Google has stated that there is no “fix” for a broad algorithm update like this, Google Search Liaison office Dan Sullivan did say this on Twitter:
We tell lots of things to do. Improve site speed. Consider secure. Etc. But that’s not what this update was about. It’s broad. And respectfully, I think telling people there’s no particular thing to “fix” is indeed helpful. It means, hopefully, they think more broadly…
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 1, 2018
The bottom line? Improve your content.
We’ve already established what makes great content (and what Google constitutes as high quality content) earlier in the course, so let’s explore how you can improve your website’s E-A-T.
Think about the number of YMYL sites that have published articles by great journalists and writers, but who have no tangible experience on the topic being covered.
If you are looking for advice on the best in ear headphones, you are more likely to trust the opinion of someone with a degree in music or sound engineering or someone who has experience working in the audio tech industry, right?
Whether you have a YMYL website or not, if you’re publishing articles on your website (or blog), Google wants you to exercise “journalistic professionalism”.
Author Bylines and Bios
You should look to in include the following in each of your articles:
- the author’s name (their byline)
- a short biography with proof of the author’s expertise within the subject
- links to their social media profiles
- a professional portrait photo
- a link to a full bio page which includes: full name, headshot, title/position, a detailed bio that explains why they are qualified to write on this subject, contact information (links to their social media accounts, email address etc)
Doing this makes it easier for both your readers and Google to establish the content creator’s E-A-T.
Author and Article Schemas
Implementing Author and Article Schema markups (more on this later on in the course) is another great way of providing Google with as much information as possible about the creator of the article and their expertise.
Linking to Other Experts
Google (and your visitors) want to see that your articles are well researched and are backed by other experts – this is especially important for YMYL websites.
So, when you link to resources by other experts, you’re making it clear to Google that you have done your homework, and that the content on your website is in line with the current consensus on the topic.
In fact, Google instructs its QRs to base the reputation of a YMYL on “evidence from experts, professional societies, awards etc”.
For shopping pages, experts could be previous customers who have purchased products or a service from the website before. So, make sure to include endorsements and reviews from satisfied customers on your website.
For medical advice pages, experts should be people or organisations that have the appropriate expertise or accreditation within that particular field. So, make sure to include scientific references, hire experts within the field to manually fact check the content and even provide them with their own author bylines and bios.
For example, the website above has included a “Medically Reviewed” tag in their article. This kind of seal of approval goes a long in qualifying the site’s content not just for Google but for readers as well.
Building Your Brand Identity
If people trust your content, they’re more likely to link to your page, or at the very least mention you on their website.
So, a quick way to check an author’s perceived authority, is by doing a simple Google search.
Let’s take an example from Google’s QRG:
If we Google this author’s name (along with some keywords), we can see that there is little evidence showing her E-A-T as a writer in the medical or health niche.
Now, let’s see what Google’s quality raters say about this author and article:
Simply getting more links and mentions won’t cut it though.
Google is likely going to ignore a mention from a contributing writer for Wired Magazine, but take note of one from Wired Magazine’s editor.
But how does Google know which mentions to trust and which ones should be ignored?
Whilst there is still room for improvement (link manipulation is still a thing Google has yet to fully tackle) Google is incredibly good at determining which links or mentions should pass PageRank.
Notably, a patent filed by Google called “Producing a ranking for pages using distances in a web-link graph” gives some insight into how pages using manipulative techniques do not gain PageRank.
“One possible variation of PageRank that would reduce the effect of these techniques is to select a few “trusted” pages (also referred to as the seed pages) and discover other pages which are likely to be good by following the links from the trusted pages.”
Google is compiling trusted (or “seed”) pages that are already known to have E-A-T and building a network by following the links on that page.
For example, The New York Times is specifically cited by Google as an example “seed” site in the patent. Google algorithm would then determine that sites linked to by the NYT are likely to be trusted seed sites too because “it is typically assumed that these seeds are also “closer” to other high-quality pages on the web”.
Here’s a real world example to further illustrate this point.
You’re a politician running for President of the United States of America (your website).
How do you get more people to vote for you? (links/mentions)
Endorsements from other prolific figures. (seed websites)!
The patent goes into lots more detail as to how and why it’s difficult to determine what should constitute as a seed site, but here’s the bottom line:
Google has compiled a network of trusted sites and pages that are recognised as authoritative.
Links and mentions from these pages are the ones that Google looks to count when it’s assigning PageRank.
Create A Positive Brand Reputation
As an extension from links and mentions, Google instructs its quality raters (QR) to conduct “reputation research”.
In other words, what people say about your business or brand online, matters.
Here, Google is trying to calculate the overall public sentiment for your brand and website.
The odd negative review of a product isn’t going to hurt you – Google acknowledges that no website will have purely positive reviews.
But if for example a particular product is receiving mostly negative reviews, or your brand is being talked about negatively in the press – then this is likely going to affect Google’s assessment on the quality of your website.
Of course, this should come as no surprise to you, as we’ve already seen how user sentiment influences the SERPs.
Improving On-Site Factors
Make Your Contact Information Easy to Find
Ever ordered a product online and wanted to return it or talk to someone about a fault on the website?
How easy was it to find that information on the website?
It’s important to remember that user experience and transparency are important factors that Google considers when looking at E-A-T.
Here’s an example of a “High Quality” About Us page from a local fish and chips restaurant according to Google’s QRG.
According to Google, the 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”.
Google acknowledges that different websites serve different purposes – for eCommerce websites, it instructs its QRs to specifically look for “the store’s policies on payment, exchanges, and returns”.
Improve (or Remove) Low Quality Pages
Sometimes the answer isn’t to add more content, but to improve or even remove it entirely.
If you have content on your website that is no longer useful to your users, is written poorly or perhaps even provides a poor user experience – going through and improving (or removing) it can have a positive impact on your site’s E-A-T.
Let’s take a look at an example from the QRG.
This page is broken up by lots of adverts which spoils the user experience.
While Google has stated that the appearance of ads does not mean that a page will deemed as low quality, it does say:
“Webmasters can choose to display Ads on their page (such as by joining an advertising network), but they may not always directly control the content of the Ads. However, we will consider a website responsible for the overall quality of the Ads displayed.”
If having ads on your page is fine, why was the above example deemed a “low quality” page?
Well, as you can see, Google highlights that the large ads disrupt the user experience.
Therefore, a possible solution here would be to reduce the size of the adverts, move their location or remove them entirely so that they do not impede the user’s experience.
The Ultimate Checklist for Improving E-A-T
We’ve gone through the most important ways to improve your website’s E-A-T in detail above, but here’s a handy checklist we use when looking at the E-A-T of a website:
- Is the content written by an expert or enthusiast of the topic? – if not, find a more authoritative person from the industry to write the content.
- If people researched your site, would they come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-respected within your industry?
- Is the author mentioned by third party websites as an expert?
- Does the content have clear authorship? I.e. author byline and bio
- Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
- Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors?
- Is contact information easy to find? I.e. a Contact Us page
- Is information about the brand and its content creators easy to find? – i.e. An About Us page, or Author Bio pages.
- Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it?
- Is there evidence of topical expertise in the content?
- Is there evidence of links to sources from experts?
Content and Quality
- Is the content difficult to read or understand?
- Do the page titles and headings come across as misleading or as “clickbait”?
- Do the page titles and headings provide a descriptive and useful summary of the content?
- Does the content provide a comprehensive description of the topic?
- Is the content original? I.e. Does it offer unique information, research, ideas or analysis?
- Is the content kept up to date?
- Would you expect to see this content referenced by other trusted sources such as a magazine, encyclopedia or book?
- Does the content provide actionable or practical information?
- Does the content contain spelling and grammar errors?
- Are articles marked up using the Article schema?
- Are authors marked up using the Author schema?
- Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that impede the user’s experience or distract the user from the main content?
- Do competitors have significantly more reviews online? If so, they likely have a higher perceived authority.
- Do competitors have more positive reviews online?
- What is the general public sentiment for the brand/website?
- Do competitors have more positive reviews on sites like TrustPilot or BBB?
- Do competitors have mentions on sites like Wikipedia, or have their own Wikipedia page? Even if a link from Wikipedia doesn’t pass PageRank, Google clearly gives importance to websites that are mentioned on authoritative sites like this.