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What is EAT? How Google’s E-A-T Algorithm Update Affects Your Content Strategy

By: Compose.ly — December 28, 2018

Table of Contents

  1. What Is the E-A-T Algorithm?
  2. What Is “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL)?
  3. Why E-A-T Matters
  4. How to Optimize Your Blog Content for E-A-T
  5. Key Takeaways

This post was written by Compose.ly writer David Tidmarsh.

When you hear the phrase “Google E-A-T,” your first thought might be that the search engine giant is now branching out into food delivery. The good news (for competitors like Uber Eats, at least) is that Google is hungry for something completely different: high-quality user-generated content.

Google releases major updates to its search algorithms several times per year in order to better reflect the current state of the web. The “E-A-T” algorithm update, which was rolled out in early August, reflects Google’s goal to return search results that contain legitimate, reliable information created by experts.

The E-A-T changes were initially referred to as the “Medic update” by search engine optimization expert Barry Schwartz, due to the fact that they disproportionately affected websites in the medical, health, and fitness categories. However, any site that relies on content supposedly created by subject-matter experts must pay attention to the new E-A-T update.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Google E-A-T: what it is, why it’s important for your business, and how it should affect your website’s content strategy.

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What is EAT?

The Google algorithm is honed and refined by human raters who assign quality scores to the pages that are returned for a given search query. According to Google, websites that deliver higher-quality, more relevant content should receive higher scores from raters.

Google publishes a reference document for these raters to use known as the Quality Raters Guidelines. The latest edition of the Quality Raters Guidelines has been updated with many references to “E-A-T,” which stands for “expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.” In many places in the document, the phrase “high-quality” has been replaced with “high E-A-T.”

The three elements of E-A-T can be broken down as follows:

  • Expertise: The creator of the content should be an expert in the given domain.
  • Authoritativeness: Similarly, the creator of the content should have the authority to speak about the given topic.
  • Trustworthiness: The creator of the content, and the site on which it appears, should be trustworthy. This is especially important for “your money or your life” websites (more on those later).

What exactly does E-A-T look like for different types of web content? The Google Quality Raters Guidelines provide some advice. Below are a few quotes 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 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 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.”

This last quote is particularly important for understanding Google’s E-A-T concept. According to the Quality Raters Guidelines, life experience can be considered an acceptable form of expertise in situations such as recipes or movie and product reviews.

Even people who aren’t medical professionals can be considered experts on certain medical topics, such as sharing their experiences with a particular disease. However, the guidelines maintain that “specific medical information and advice … should come from doctors or other health professionals.”

It’s also important to note that E-A-T applies to all websites and topics, not only those that deal with serious or life-altering issues. Due to their solid industry reputation, even gossipmongers such as TMZ and Perez Hilton can be considered “experts” in celebrity news. Fields such as fashion and humor also have experts whose content should be prioritized according to the E-A-T standards.

Google E-A-T and “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL)

Your money or your life” isn’t just a phrase used by muggers anymore. Rather, it describes a specific type of web content that is heavily affected by Google E-A-T.

In the Quality Raters Guidelines, Google defines “your money or your life” (YMYL) websites as those that “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” Some examples of YMYL websites are:

  • Financial websites for transferring money and paying bills
  • Financial advice websites with information about taxes, investments, retirement, and loans
  • Medical information websites about health, diet, nutrition, and diseases
  • Legal information websites about divorce, custody, adoption, lawsuits, and citizenship
  • Government and political information websites about laws, voting, government programs
  • Shopping and e-commerce websites
  • News websites

Because of the potentially life-changing impact that YMYL websites can have, the standards for YMYL content must be even higher than normal. As such, emphasizing high-quality YMYL content is one of Google’s top priorities. The E-A-T update is intended to make it easier for Google users to find and identify high-quality, reliable YMYL content.

Why You Can’t Ignore Google E-A-T

If you run a website in the medical, health, fitness, or lifestyle space, you may already have noticed the impact of the Google E-A-T update on your content.

An informal survey conducted by Search Engine Roundtable soon after the update shows that 42 percent of websites affected by Google E-A-T fell into the medical or health category. What’s more, many of the top 20 “biggest losers” after the E-A-T update were medical and health websites, including prevention.com, patient.info, and buoyhealth.com.

For many website owners, these fluctuations in search ranking aren’t just the normal ups and downs of business—they represent a significant threat to the content marketing business model. Online content marketing is already crowded, with over 4 million blog posts published every day. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that 91 percent of online content gets no organic search traffic from Google.

The field of search engine optimization is all about getting your content inside this other 9 percent, so that it receives the attention it deserves. According to Google, web content that demonstrates a high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness will be rewarded with higher rankings in search results.

“Want to do better with a broad change? Have great content,” tweeted Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, after the E-A-T update. Meanwhile, Google webmaster trends analyst John Mueller has emphasized that websites must consistently serve relevant pages in order to continue ranking well.

Like any other business landscape, websites that depend on SEO to drive traffic must be willing to adapt as the Google search algorithm changes. The Google E-A-T update is a rare glimpse into what the company wants to prioritize in its search results. You can take this opportunity to mold your content to the Google standards, or you can ignore these recommendations at your peril.

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How to Incorporate Google E-A-T in Your Content Strategy

Now that we’ve discussed the details of Google E-A-T—and why it’s so important for your business to follow—what exactly can you do about it? Below, we’ll discuss what you can do to improve your standing in each of the three E-A-T elements.

Expertise

According to the Quality Raters Guidelines, “understanding who is responsible for a website is a critical part of assessing E-A-T for most types of websites.

Raters and users must be able to clearly identify the author(s) of all editorial content on your website. This is particularly important for YMYL content, where users need to know if they’re getting their information from a trusted specialist with a PhD or a lone crackpot.

The blog posts on your website should all have bylines that mention the authors and their credentials and/or biographies. This will help readers evaluate whether the authors can be considered a suitable expert on the given topic.

If you don’t have any experts available on-staff, consider hiring freelance writers who have expertise in your chosen topics. For example, if you operate a website about software and technology news, you should work with freelance writers who have programming or engineering experience and who can give their qualified opinions about the latest developments.

Content that has been written by non-experts can nevertheless score well for E-A-T, as long as the writers have done their research and cite their sources. The Google search algorithm rewards outbound links that are high-quality and well-chosen.

As mentioned above, user-generated content does not necessarily merit a low E-A-T rating. User-generated content may even be considered high E-A-T when the given field does not have formal experts, such as a hobby or recreational sport.

Nevertheless, if you run a forum or Q&A page that allows users to create posts and replies, then it’s highly important to moderate this user-generated content, especially for YMYL topics. User-generated content on YMYL topics should come with a disclaimer, warning that the content has been written by a non-expert and may be incorrect or even dangerous. The disclaimer should also redirect users to alternative reputable sources of information.

Authoritativeness

Expertise speaks to the qualifications of the individual authors of your content. Authoritativeness, meanwhile, speaks to the reputation of your website or organization as a whole.

Google encourages its human raters to perform research on the reputation of organizations in order to assess how authoritative their content is. According to the Quality Raters Guidelines:

“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. Reputation research is necessary for all websites you encounter. Do not just assume websites you personally use have a good reputation.”

In order to have a high E-A-T score for your content, you need to have a solid reputation among third parties. Large numbers of positive user reviews can serve as evidence of a strong reputation, as can certain awards and commendations.

You should also focus on building your brand by increasing your presence on social media, interacting with influencers in the industry, and posting thought leadership pieces on well-known third-party platforms.

Trustworthiness

The goal of content marketing is to create content that users actually want, answering the questions that they have when they enter a search query into Google. The Google Webmaster Guidelines suggest that you should ask yourself the question: “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

Practices such as keyword stuffing and link manipulation, which are intended to artificially inflate a page’s ranking in the Google search results, tend to have a detrimental effect on the user experience. As such, Google will penalize these practices whenever it detects them.

Trustworthiness isn’t only about your content, however; it’s also about whether users can trust you with their own information and/or business.

For example, shopping and e-commerce websites fall under the YMYL category as defined by Google. Users need to trust that their personal information and payment card data will be safe in your hands. Your website should use IT best practices such as HTTPS and SSL certificates, and comply with retail security standards such as PCI DSS.

While browsing your website, users should also be able to locate more information about your business and get into contact with you if they wish. The most common methods of obtaining this information are the “About Us” page, contact page, and customer service pages. The types of information that you should include will depend on the type of website that you operate.

E-A-T Everything You Make

Now that you understand the three pillars of Google E-A-T, it’s time to put these principles into action. Starting today, all of the editorial and blog content that you publish should be in alignment with E-A-T. If need be, hire freelance writers who can be considered experts in your field in order to boost your E-A-T rating.

In addition, you should go back and look over the articles that don’t live up to the E-A-T standards. Content with a low E-A-T rating can negatively affect your website’s reputation as a whole. Low E-A-T content with poor traffic should most likely be deleted, while low E-A-T content that performs well should be revised.

If you need further assistance, you should strongly consider working with a marketing manager who knows the ins and outs of SEO and the Google search algorithm. This person can incorporate content that is both actionable and interesting to help raise your E-A-T ratings.

Final Thoughts

The Google E-A-T update has had a wide-ranging and drastic impact on many websites, particularly those for YMYL topics. SEO consultant Marie Haynes calls the E-A-T update “one of the biggest updates that I can recall.” When it comes to the rankings of your content in Google search results, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness are more important than ever before.

There’s some good news, though: websites that are flexible and committed to creating high-quality content will be rewarded by Google E-A-T. At Compose.ly, we offer SEO-friendly content created by writers who are experts in their given fields. We’ll help you create well-researched, engaging articles that Google E-A-T (and your readers) will love to gobble up.


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