Google’s E-A-T model, Quality Rater Guidelines and SEO

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It is well known that Google uses over 200 different ranking factors in order to display the best results for every search query. The search engine uses a lot of computing power for this. But when it comes to improving the search function, a completely different process comes into play – manual assessment by human evaluators. The standards applied here also have very practical effects: Anyone who wants to meet Google’s expectations of “high-quality content” in the future must observe the so-called “E-A-T” standards.

Crawlers, algorithms, artificial intelligence – when it comes to finding out which websites deliver the best results for which search query, Google relies on the power of computer-based calculations. No one could collect, weight, and replay all data so quickly and so comprehensively. In view of the increasing flood of data and the risk of deliberate disinformation (fake news), even a tech giant like Google cannot simply leave improvements to the search function solely to machine-based processes. It is – surprisingly – dependent on real people who assess the quality of the results calculated by the algorithms.

The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

“The evaluators assess how well a website presents what our users are looking for. They rate the quality of the results with regard to the expertise and the trustworthiness of the content. “

Google

So that the assessments are uniform, Google provides the evaluators with a 168-page guide: the “General Guidelines”, also known as the “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines” or under the former name or “Quality Rater Guidelines”.

The first versions of the guidelines were actually only intended for internal use. However, some documents were leaked (e.g. in 2008 and 2011). This made SEOs aware of which criteria and examples Google made available for quality assurance. The documents have been available online since 2015 and are updated regularly. The current version of the Google General Guidelines is from December 5, 2019.

One of the most important elements in the Quality Rater Guidelines is the evaluation of the quality of a website (web or landing page) or an entire website based on three aspects: Expertise, professional reputation, trustworthiness – in English: Expertise – Authoritativeness – Trustworthiness, in short : EAT.

Since 2014, when the E-A-T model first appeared in the guidelines, there has been speculation in SEO circles about the influence the E-A-T model has on the ranking of certain web pages. However, Google repeatedly emphasized that E-A-T is not a ranking factor. An evaluator can neither penalize a website nor raise a certain landing page to position 1 of the search results. Websites also did not collect an E-A-T score – comparable to the PageRank value – that would be taken into account when ranking.

Of course, one can assume that the assessments obtained by the evaluators will be used as feedback in the further development of Google search. For this reason, the E-A-T model, even if it has no direct impact on the ranking, is important enough to deal with. Because the criteria described here give an impression of how Google “ticks” when it comes to quality assessment – and SEO cannot avoid that.

At E-A-T, quality assessment is paramount

The evaluators work in a test environment with A / B tests. That means: You will be presented with certain search results in two forms: once with the existing algorithm, once in a modified form. The ratings of the search results are compared. Once the quality has increased, Google continues to research the modification or “feeds” the machine learning systems with the training data. If it worsens, the changes are likely to be revised or discarded.

The guidelines distinguish three areas in which the evaluators make assessments:

1. Page Quality
2. Mobile user needs
3. Needs Met Ratings

While section 2 presents the forms of search intent differentiated by Google, section 3 explains the rating system and how well web pages answer specific search queries. In addition to the actual landing page, the upstream SERP blocks also play an important role. The reference to the search query is left out in area 1. The E-A-T model is primarily about the (objective) quality of the web or landing page and the entire website. For Google, however, this is always based on the meaning and purpose of the respective page – the “Beneficial Purpose”; a news portal has a different goal than a shopping site, a currency converter or a world clock.

Google Page Quality Rating

Evaluators use several factors to assess the quality of a website. (Source: Google General Guidelines)

The evaluators’ approach is standardized: In the first step, they should, if possible, determine the purpose of the website. This is followed by a look at the entire domain, which checks, among other things, whether there is information about the operator of the website and the authors or content creators. An (online) check of the reputation of the website, brand, and author is also important, for example on Wikipedia and external review portals. The evaluators should of course critically question what a website says about itself. The recommended sources are:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Article on Google News
  3. Expert opinions in specialist portals and online forums
  4. User ratings in the form of reviews, product ratings …

In the fourth step, the quality of the webpage is checked.

Google EAT and SEO

The Quality Rater Guidelines differentiate between three types of content that can typically be found on websites:

Main Content (MC): The actual content of a webpage, which can consist of texts, images, videos, games, computers, etc. The MC may be divided into several tabs. User-generated content (reviews, articles, videos, etc.) – content that is not contributed and uploaded by the webmaster, but by users – is part of the MC. Important: A clearly recognizable heading summarizes the content of the page well.

Supplementary Content (SC): These are content elements that do not contribute to the actual topic of the webpage, but which are important for good user experience (UX). SC usually includes navigation and links (notices/teasers) to other websites, articles, videos, or products.

Advertising (Ads): All elements that serve advertising purposes for third parties or otherwise serve commercial purposes. Basically, the presence (or absence) of advertising is not a quality feature, after all, a number of websites are financed by it. However, the ads must not obscure the purpose of the webpage (or be its actual purpose). With high-quality web pages, the ratio between MC and ads is always balanced.

To assess the quality of a website, the evaluators use a slider scale with nine levels, ranging from “Lowest” to “Low”, “Medium” and “High” to “Highest”. The E-A-T model plays a decisive role in the division into one of these levels. As mentioned, E-A-T stands for competence, professional reputation / authority and trustworthiness. However, the evaluation of the individual factors differs in detail, as digital marketing expert Jeff Bullas emphasizes:

Expertise: Does the creator of the content have the knowledge or skills that are relevant to the topic?
Authority: Is the creator of the content someone who others consider to be experts? Is the website that publishes the content a relevant address for getting the best information on the topic you are looking for on the Internet?
Trustworthiness: Does the creator of the content or the website present a topic in a transparent and understandable way? Is the information reliable?

The E-A-T criteria determine how high the quality of a particular webpage is. The evaluator should of course also take into account the other features, i.e. how well the page fulfills its purpose, what reputation the author and the website have, how user-friendly it is structured (navigation), the proportion of the MC in the overall content and the question how well the website looks in general.

The levels “High” and “Highest” are particularly interesting for SEOs, as they indicate the direction of how content has to be so that Google rates it as particularly good:

High quality web pages

1. High level of expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
2. A sufficient amount of high quality MC, including a descriptive or helpful headline.
3. Sufficient information about the website or who is responsible for the website. For shops: information about customer service.
4. The website and the creator of the MC are well known.

An example of the evaluation of a website with “high” quality – the decisive factor here is the “everyday experience” of the creator. (Source: Google General Guidelines)

Very high quality web pages

1. Very high level of expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
2. A significant amount of high quality or very high quality MC.
3. Very good reputation of the website and the creator of the MC.

An example of a “very high” quality rating for a news website. (Source: Google General Guidelines)

Even if the purposes of web and landing pages can be very different – the content shows that it was created with effort, competence and talent, but it always pays into the E-A-T account. The distinction between high and very high quality can sometimes be subjective; for Google, however, originality and uniqueness of the content are a decisive factor:

“A factor that often distinguishes very high quality MC is the creation of unique and original content for the specific website.“

Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Depending on the topic, content of very high quality can be created by proven experts or accomplished laypeople. The second group in particular can score points with everyday topics such as cooking or baking – in the sense of “everyday expertise”. In addition, many people write well-founded and very detailed product reviews or restaurant reviews – these areas also do not require any professional training. Even with special experiences, such as dealing with specific illnesses, those affected can become “experts in their own right”. However, advice on medical treatment should come from medical professionals.

If, on the other hand, certain content is written by someone who has neither experience nor competence in the subject area, this is regarded as a characteristic of inferior quality (“low”).

A lack of expertise on a topic is seen as a negative quality signal. (Source: Google General Guidelines)

Great importance of E-A-T for YMYL sites

YMYL websites (abbreviation for: “Your Money or Your Life”) are websites that have a special impact on “happiness, health, financial stability or security”:

“Some types of pages or topics could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety. We call such pages ‚Your Money or Your Life‘ pages, or YMYL.“

Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Particularly high requirements apply to YMYL websites because the negative effects of incorrect information are particularly serious here. There is – to put it bluntly – money or life (or both) at stake. Poor quality or misinformation pages can negatively impact happiness, health, financial stability, or security. Because the typical topics covered by YMYL websites include:

News / current events: especially politics, economy, science, technology (sport and entertainment, however, do not count towards YMYL).
Civic engagement / government / law: elections, ministries, public institutions, social institutions, legal matters
Finances: financial advice, investments, taxes, pension plans, loans, bank accounts, insurance ...
Shopping: mainly online shops, but also all websites where you can buy something online
Health / safety: medical information, medication, hospitals, emergency precautions, but also information on how dangerous certain activities are
Group-specific information: for example in connection with race / ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, sexual orientation, gender ...
Other: fitness, nutrition, real estate, education, job search ...

The E-A-T quality standards play a major role on the YMYL pages. Not least for this reason, websites from the health sector were particularly affected by the core update in August 2018 – the unofficially so-called “Medic Update”. As it turned out, Google requires a formal qualification for YMYL sites so that the content can receive the rating “very high”. Even with artistic topics, e.g. B. photography or instructions on how to play the guitar, it is not possible without some proven competence:

Health: "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. "
News: "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. "
Science: "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."
Finance / Law: "High E-A-T financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, etc., should come from trustworthy sources and be maintained and updated regularly."
Hobbies: "High E-A-T pages on hobbies, such as photography or learning to play a guitar, also require expertise."

E-A-T: Not a ranking factor – but a key concept for content quality

The Search Evaluator Quality Guidelines show us which requirements content has to meet in order for it to be considered “high quality” by Google. Therefore, Google strongly recommends that webmasters and publishers deal with the E-A-T model:

“Reading the guidelines may help you assess how your content is doing from an E-A-T perspective and improvements to consider.“

Google Webmaster Central Blog

Even if websites cannot collect E-A-T points in order to achieve better rankings, Google experts like Danny Sullivan keep referring to the Quality Rater Guidelines as a guide for “great” content. Nevertheless, it remains controversial in SEO circles whether E-A-T can actually be considered a ranking factor – or at least as an indication of where Google is headed in terms of further development of search algorithms. The positions of the two SEO experts Roger Montti and Marie Haynes are representative of the pro and contra votes.

You cannot optimize specifically for E-A-T. Because the three points cannot be converted into measurable metrics:

Expertise: "Expertise is a concept, it's an opinion. You cannot optimize for an opinion or judgment that your content is expert. You can be expert and people may respond to your expertise by forming an opinion that your content is expert. "
Authority: "Authority and authoritativeness are just concepts and are not actual ranking factors or metrics that Google uses. There is no 'authority' metric at Google, unless you call PageRank an authority metric. "
Trustworthiness: "A specific trustworthiness metric where a site accumulates‘ trust points ’to indicate trustworthiness isn’t something that Google has researched. Link distance ranking is the closest thing that Google might be using that approximates trust, but there is no actual trust score. "

E-A-T is an element that has to be built up bit by bit, but which perhaps can only be earned. In any case, E-A-T is not a ranking factor that can be specifically influenced by specific SEO measures:

“Those are just descriptions and perceptions of your site and your content, things that your site can be, but not something you optimize for like adding alt tags to your images.“

Roger Montti, Martinibuster

E-A-T represents a ranking factor, at least in broad terms. She is referring to a whitepaper that Google presented at the Munich Security Conference in 2019. In the whitepaper, Google describes how the company combats false reports in search results, especially with Google News. The tech group has to admit that it is difficult to determine what is “true” and what is not based on algorithms alone. Nevertheless, the algorithms look for certain signals in order to be able to assess the seriousness of a message:

“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.“

How Google Fights Disinformation, Februar 2019

There is no E-A-T value or score that can be positively influenced by a few optimizations here and a few technical adjustments there. Instead, they think we should be aware that E-A-T is an overarching concept or model for a variety of algorithms. Taken together, they allowed Google to at least assess the authority of a landing page or website in general for a particular topic or topic. This is how the statement by Gary Illyes, webmaster trends analyst at Google, at Pubcon Vegas last year can be understood:

“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.“

Gary Illyes, Pubcon Vegas 2019

However, Haynes is still convinced that E-A-T (in whatever form) is a ranking factor:

“It is possible that some of the things that I mentioned in this post are not yet being algorithmically measured. But, it is my belief that if something is mentioned in the QRG (=Quality Rater Guidelines), then Google is either already measuring this algorithmically, or they are working on ways to do this. You do not want to ignore E-A-T!“

Marie Haynes, MH Consulting

In a later discussion on Twitter, Google’s Danny Sullivan admitted this: If you interpret the term very broadly, E-A-T is definitely a ranking factor.

Interestingly, many SEOs associate the E-A-T concept with backlinks. Brian Dean from Backlinko doesn’t talk about E-A-T at all, he calls it “Domain Authority 2.0”. His argument: “Most of Google’s evaluation of EAT happens off of your website.” In other words: Google evaluates high-quality backlinks from well-known, trustworthy sites as a strong EAT signal – especially for the website as a whole, which thus gains authority for a specific topic. And that’s why the content should come from experts in the respective field:

“So if you want your content to rank in 2020, it needs to be written by people that know their stuff.“

Brian Dean, Backlinko

Content with nutritional value or: How does E-A-T-compliant SEO work?

So if you want to know how E-A-T-compliant SEO works, you should read the most important points on Google. And from our many years of practical experience, we can say that “high quality content” – that is, creative content “with nutritional value” – is characterized by the following features:

  • The content is tailored to the search intention. This allows the landing page to address the user perfectly. Keyword research is necessary for this, which is then implemented for each page as part of the SEO strategy.
  • The content is fact-checked and does not spread misinformation where there is a scientific consensus. Regardless of this, different opinions are of course always possible.
  • The content deals with a topic as comprehensively and in detail as possible (holistic).
  • The content is well structured, clearly formatted and prepared, and is spelling and grammatical error-free.
  • The content has neither keyword stuffing nor copied or automatically created content or content of inferior quality that does not provide the user with any knowledge.
  • The content clearly identifies advertising and does not use interstitials.
  • News portals or blogs clearly mark their “main content” with the “Article” markup. This increases the likelihood that Google will display the articles in a prominent position in the search results.

Well-researched and understandable content creates trust in the content on the landing page itself, the creator and the website. In addition, the content helps to build both the author and the website into brands. Since the Vince update in 2009 at the latest, we have known that established brands enjoy ranking advantages. Why? Because for Google the characteristics that E-A-T also include are combined in a brand: Expertise, authority and trustworthiness.

Building your own brand, strengthening the brand voice and generally increasing “brand awareness” goes far beyond on-page SEO. The most important measures are:

  • Strengthen your own backlink profile with links from relevant subject areas. Perform a link audit and remove poor quality links from your link profile.
  • Create new, interesting and entertaining content and share it on social media or a content marketing campaign. On the one hand, this brings extra traffic to the website and, on the other hand, you indirectly generate valuable backlinks.
  • Invest time and money in PR measures, such as lectures at conferences and trade fairs or publications in specialist media. It is of course also important to maintain the public image using reputation management.
  • And don’t forget the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines’ top source of awareness and trustworthiness: Wikipedia. Ideally, your brand will have a Wikipedia entry or at least benevolent mentions that underline your reputation. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is a bit like chicken and egg: if you get an entry, it underlines its authority – but you don’t get one if you don’t already have authority.
  • In general, you should make sure that you are perceived as an expert on your topic, especially in the online world. Ideally, other experts will refer to you, thereby increasing your authority. However, the same applies here as with Wikipedia: Every beginning is difficult.

Strong E-A-T signals on your own website

In order to establish your own brand with the user, a transparent working method is necessary. In order for your website to send strong E-A-T signals, you should include the following elements:

"About us" page: It should answer the most important questions about the company or the brand: "Who are we?", "What do we do?" And: "Why can you trust us?" To be trustworthy and To represent as an authority, you should credibly substantiate these declarations with prizes, awards and other recognitions.
User reviews: Opportunities for your users to evaluate, for example using the contact form, comment function, but also the display of customer testimonials.
Trust seal and certificates: Well-known and renowned seal givers are Trusted Shops, Trustpilot, Stiftung Warentest, Handelsblatt, Focus Money ...
Service area: Contact information, terms of delivery and payment, imprint, terms and conditions, GDPR. A press contact or a separate press area is also helpful.

For YMYL pages, for example medicine portals or news sites, there are some special features. You should clearly identify the following elements:

1. Who created the content (wrote the text, produced the video ...)?
2. Which sources were used?
3. What experience and professional expertise does the author have

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