Anyone who works in SEO will tell you that Google is notoriously cryptic in its methodology and the inner workings of its search algorithm. One of the overarching goals of an SEO expert is to figure out these details, often by trial and error and experimentation. A key tenant of proper SEO is to position a website to rank well not just now, but to continue ranking after a major algorithm update occurs.
While Google offers little guidance in how to maximize the ranking power of a website, one vital piece of information has proven useful: its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. The official document was released first in 2015, after years of leaked versions had already flooded the Web. Since then, the guidelines have been an essential resource for SEO’s and SEM’s looking for a primary source on how Google rates website authority.
At 168 pages, the full document is a comprehensive summary utilized by human Search Quality Evaluators to assess the quality of search results in Google through experimentation. These assessments have no direct effect on individual rankings, but rather provide critical feedback to Google to help them improve their algorithm.
For SEOs, the guidelines serve a different purpose: to offer a glimpse into Google’s algorithm and insight into Google’s quality standards for websites. Of all the information contained in the guidelines, two key concepts merit particular attention: EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness) and YMYL (Your Money or Your Life).
Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness
In February 2019, Google published a whitepaper entitled How Google Fights Misinformation, in which it made this specification:
“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.”
In regards to Search Quality Evaluators, the document goes on to say:
“Evaluators assess whether a website provides users who click on it with the content they were looking for, and they evaluate the quality of results based on the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of the content.”
For many in the SEO world, snippets like these serve as an official confirmation of EAT as an important ranking signal. However, creating a website with high expertise, authority, and trustworthiness isn’t so cut-and-dry; rather, it’s a multi-faceted and often rigorous process that emphasizes the importance of high-quality content overall.
Expertise refers to the reliability of information within an article, blog post, or other piece of website content. Google prioritizes content that is useful, knowledgeable, and accurate. In most cases, this means that the author of a given article should be an expert in that category or field. This does not mean every blogger on the Web needs to hold a Ph.D. in their subject matter, but it does emphasize the necessity for general knowledge at a minimum. It also emphasizes that websites with factually incorrect, outdated, or misleading content will see severe detriments in rankings as a result.
Authoritativeness is, as the term implies, a measure of the authority of a web resource. Whereas expertise involves possessing the required knowledge to create high-quality content, authoritativeness is the degree of accuracy attributed to such content by other experts in that field. The most crucial measure of authoritativeness is the link profile of a given website; the more links a site has from highly reputable online resources, the more authoritative it is. Since its inception, Google has used its PageRank algorithm to determine the authoritativeness of any given website based on links. The first step in building authority is to start with expertise. The higher the quality of a given piece of content, the more likely it is to be linked to, reviewed, or otherwise endorsed by other authoritative sources.
Trustworthiness is perhaps the hardest-earned of the EAT triad, as it requires hard work, consistency, and time. In an economy brimming with saturated industries and fierce competition, gaining public trust in your brand is as challenging as ever. There are several ways to facilitate trustworthiness, from reviews and testimonials to underscoring the qualifications held by content creators on a website. Garnering positive reviews is of considerable importance; a 2017 study found that 93% of consumers take online reviews into account when making a purchase decision. The impact of online reviews on consumer opinions is just one reason why reputation management is a booming business.
There is no surefire method to maximizing EAT. As Google continues to stress the importance of searcher intent and user experience as major ranking factors, the most important thing to remember is to ensure that your website’s content is well-researched, well-written, and relevant to your audience.
Your Money or Your Life
In their Search Quality Guidelines, Google defines Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) as pages or topics that “could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” These topics include news and current events, government and law, finance, shopping, health and safety, and others. For these types of content, EAT is considerably important; Google does not make light of false or misleading claims in the realm of finance, health, or any other subject matter that can directly affect a user’s well-being.
Because YMYL sites demand a higher degree of trust, Google’s quality standards for them are substantially higher than for others. Their aforementioned white paper sums it up best:
“For these “YMYL” pages, we assume that users expect us to operate with our strictest standards of trustworthiness and safety. As such, where our algorithms detect that a user’s query relates to a “YMYL” topic, we will give more weight in our ranking systems to factors like our understanding of the authoritativeness, expertise, or trustworthiness of the pages we present in response.”
The higher standard to which YMYL resources are held was further highlighted by Google’s August 1, 2018 algorithm update. Aptly dubbed the “medic update”, data companies and SEO experts found that medical and health industries felt the most significant impact. Since then, subsequent updates have further impacted these industries, giving more credence to the importance of EAT for YMYL websites.
Google’s Quality Guidelines cover far more than EAT and YMYL, but their relevance to how well a website ranks in SERPS cannot be understated. As Google’s algorithm continues to evolve, competent SEOs and content creators must continue to concentrate on high-quality, user-focused content to achieve the best results.