There are a lot of moving parts to a successful SEO strategy and the SEO industry is always evolving. Staying on top of what is important in the eyes of the search engines is key, although not always easy. This year, we already experienced a broad core algorithm by Google and more are sure to come as the year unfolds.
See Google Search Liaison tweet from March 13, 2019, confirming the update:
Although we don’t know the specifics of the “March 2019 Core Update,” we do know that the last core algorithm update on August 1, 2018, was very focused on Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines and E-A-T. And it is believed that the March 2019 update continues to focus on the Quality Rater Guidelines and E-A-T. So, what does all this mean and what should you be doing from an SEO perspective? In this blog post I will cover:
- What are Google Quality Raters’?
- Understanding Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines
- What is E-A-T?
- How to Improve E-A-T
Google Quality Raters, What Do They Do?
Google has ranking engineers who write code for the servers that help improve the overall user experience. They use many different metrics to determine if a change/tweaks to the algorithm should be made. Their main focus is to continually look at how the algorithm and how it can be tweaked to help provide the best experience.
Paul Haahr, Systems Engineer at Google does a great job of explaining this in his SMX West 2016 presentation. The presentation is called How Google Works: A Google Ranking Engineer’s Story and he discusses the job of the ranking engineer and what human raters do to help them.
As Paul discusses in the above video. They use metrics to make decisions on whether or not to update the algorithm.
Those ranking metrics are:
- Relevance – Does a page usefully answer the user’s query? (this is ranking’s top-line metric)
- Quality – How good are the results we show?
- Time to result – The faster the better.
One way Google collects these metrics is through live experiments and the other way is through human raters, also known as Quality Raters’. Quality Raters’ are hired by Google (there are thousands and thousands of them) to review live search results, assess the quality of that result, and also look at the page quality of the website from those results.
The standards on what they need to assess and how to properly score a result can be found in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines. Google published these guidelines for the raters’, however, they give the SEO world great insight into what Google means when they say “have great content.”
As Danny Sullivan from Google tweeted, August 1, 2018:
Quality Raters are given searches and pages to assess, Google collects the data, and then tweaks its algorithm based on the rating data. The Quality Raters do not directly impact a website’s ranking. They simply provide the ratings and Google ranking engineers determine if a change needs to be made. Again, the main focus is to provide the best experience by giving the user the best answer to what they are looking for or want to do.
That is what a Quality Rater is and what one does for Google. Now let’s look at the Quality Rater’s Guidelines themselves.
Understanding Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines
Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines is a PDF document of over 160 pages that has been around for a few years. The document is full of SEO goodness on what makes a high (and low) quality page and website. The guidelines are given to the Quality Raters’ along with instructions and examples on how to accurately assess “Page Quality” and “Needs Meet”.
There are a lot of examples in the guidelines and Google covers what is considered to be high, medium, and low-quality search results and pages.
For the purpose of this post, I want to point out a few things from the Quality Raters’ Guidelines:
- Mobile vs. Desktop
- Page Quality
- YMYL (Your Money Your Life)
Mobile vs. Desktop
Google announced that it moved to mobile first indexing in March 2018. Meaning, they will index mobile pages first over desktop pages because mobile search is outperforming desktop search.
Quality Raters’ are given a query result via the rater tool, Paul Haahr stats in the presentation above that Quality Raters’ are given more mobile search queries to rate vs. desktop. And there is a whole section within The Quality Rater Guidelines explaining mobile and how to properly rate queries and pages. Mobile is a big focus for the raters. And mobile should be a focus for you too.
Page quality is one of the elements Quality Rater’s are asked to rate. Here is what the guidelines say about page quality:
Google wants the Quality Raters to look at the following to determine the page quality:
- What is the purpose of the web page?
- Looking at the content on the page and identifying main content, supplemental content, and Ads:
- The main content is content that specifically talks to the purpose of the page
- Supplemental content helps the overall user experience but may not specifically contribute to the main purpose of the page
- Ads refer to links or images that are on the pages for monetization purposes
- Understanding the website: Quality Raters’ need to look beyond the page result and look at how the website relates to the page who website it belongs to.
- Finding the Homepage: Raters’ are given direction on how to look for and find the homepage because the homepage usually has links to other important information.
- Finding who is responsible for the website and who created the content: They assess how clear and easy it is to find who is responsible for the content on the page.
- Finding About Us, Contact Information, and Customer Service Information: People visiting your site want to know about you and how to contact you. Quality Raters’ look at this and rate based on their findings
- The Reputation of the Website or Creator of the Main Content – Quality Raters are instructed “look outside” and perform “reputation research” on the company or person they look for comments, reviews, and other reputable sources to determine the page quality.
Based on the bullet list above, the quality rater will then give the page a rating by adjusting the Page Quality sliding scale:
The other thing the guidelines call out is YMYL (Your Money or Your Life). These are websites that provide medical, financial, shopping and financial transactions, legal, etc. Google stresses that these types of pages could “potentially impact the future, happiness, health, financial stability or safety of users.” They have set very high standards for YMYL pages because, as stated in the guidelines, low-quality YMYL pages could negatively impact a user.
YMYL is mentioned numerous times in the guidelines. So we know it’s important to Google.
So how do you determine if your site is YMYL? Look and the details provided above from the guidelines and also ask yourself, are you providing information that could directly impact a person’s happiness, health, financial stability or safety? If you answer yes, then consider your site YMYL.
Once the quality rater has determined the page’s purpose is beneficial (not low quality or spammy) then, along with all the page quality factors they also need to consider E-A-T.
What is E-A-T?
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. E-A-T is an extremely important part of the Quality Raters’ Guidelines.
Here is an expert from the Quality Rater Guidelines about Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness:
E-A-T is mentioned over 180 times in the quality rater guidelines. In order to be considered a high-quality page, there must be a high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Pages with low quality or an inadequate level of E-A-T will be marked low quality. I provide some suggestions for improving your site’s E-A-T below.
The History of E-A-T
On July 20, 2018, Google updated it’s Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines. We didn’t quite know the impact this would have on SEO, but we did see it first hand a few months later.
- Quality raters do not directly impact search ranking, but they do help us understand what’s important to Google.
- This update focused on the quality of content and the content’s author.
- E-A-T, an abbreviation for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, became an important consideration for website owners.
On August 1, 2018, Google began rolling out the ”Medic” algorithm update. Some SEO consultants have stated this was one of the largest shifts in search they had ever seen.
- Google confirmed a “broad core algorithm update,” with wide reports of massive impact.
- It rolled out over the period of about a week but peaked on August 1-2.
- This update seemed to disproportionately affect sites in the health and wellness vertical, although large-scale impact was seen across all verticals.
- YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) websites and blogs were hit the hardest.
- It is believed the basis of the update stems from the usage of E-A-T and the removal of unqualified experts in high search results.
- Those websites with strong authority and a valid industry level of expertise saw little impact.
February of 2019, Google published a document that confirmed the importance of E-A-T and that it is a ranking signal. The Google document states the following:
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.
On March 12, 2019, Google rolled out a follow-up algorithm change. We are still waiting to see the full results of this change as it seems to be a mixed back of improvements and further decline. It is believed to be tied to E-A-T and the prior updates that took place in 2018.
Elements of E-A-T and What They Mean to Marketers
- Expertise: You need to be an expert in your industry or field. If your website provides medical information. The content should be backed by scientific evidence and created by people or organizations with expertise, certifications, accreditations, etc in that field. The content should be truthful, accurate, reviewed and updated by a medical professional on a regular basis. Having a high level of expertise directly relates to authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
- Authoritativeness: Authority and expertise are linked closely together. Authority not only comes from your page and who is writing the content. In addition, your authority comes from your online reputation, where are your backlinks coming from?, what others are saying about you? Remember, I talked about online reputation above and how the quality raters’ do “research reputation” all of this impact the overall authoritativeness of a page or site.
- Trustworthiness: Your website and the people who contribute content to your website must be trustworthy. As well as your site must be secure (SSL). Quality Raters’ look to see if the content contributors are trustworthy by matching what is said on the website they are rating and resources on the web. If you say good things about yourself on your website and other reliable sources say the same thing, then the content and site are considered trustworthy. In addition, they are going to make sure that sites collecting information and performing transactions have a secure connection.
Improving Your E-A-T and SEO
As mentioned, the Quality Rater Guidelines give us a ton of information on how to create good content. There are a number of things you can do to improve and establish (if your site is new) your E-A-T. And when you establish good E-A-T your SEO will improve.
Here is a list of things to consider for E-A-T and SEO:
- Look at your site (above the fold) and ask yourself “What is the purpose of this page?” Is it clear? If not, make sure it is by validating both visitors and search engines can clearly see the purpose of the page.
- Make sure your about us page is up to date and tells the visitor about you. Fill the page with information about your business, list out any awards, certifications, accreditations, news mentions, etc. This is your chance to boast about your business, do it.
- Bios pages: All blog posts should have an author bio at the end of the post along with a link to an author page. Think of these pages like an about us page but focus on the person. Medical, financial and any websites that are considered YMYL should have bio pages that provide details on the people that work at your business and are easy to locate. This helps google connect the dots and build that expertise, authoritativeness, and trust. For example, a medical website should have physician page for each one of their doctors. These pages should include information like:
- Medical accreditations and certificates
- Published work
- Hospital affiliation
- Professional memberships
- Build expert and consistent profiles offsite with social media and industry directories.
- Reputation Management: Your online reputation is important to stay on top of. Know what people are saying about your business and it’s employees. Make sure you have good reviews, mentions, and links from expert and authoritative sites and respond to negative reviews properly. Quality Raters’ are specifically told to look at the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Amazon and Google shopping when doing reputation research in the guidelines. Google looks at all of these outside sources and how it relates back to your business.
- Obtain high quality (not quantity) backlinks from authoritative websites within your industry
- Ask your customers to leave reviews. This will help build your online reputation and establish good E-A-T.
- Is it clear who is responsible for the content on the site? If not, make sure people know by linking to the about us page, author or bio pages depending on the content.
- Is your scientific data backed by evidence? If not, make sure it is and provide references and resources to validate your claims.
- Is your content relevant and up to date?
- Is it easy to find the contact/customer service information? If not, create a contact us page, add your contact information to the footer. Make sure your phone number, email address, physical address, and contact forms are easy to find.
- Check for proper grammar and spelling
- Mobile friendly: Make sure your website is responsive and provides a good user experience no matter which type of device is being used.
- Implement structured data when possible. Although structured data is not listed in the guidelines, it will help Google and other search engines know who you are and the content on your pages in a language search engines understand.
Google has given us some great insights as to how they want the algorithm to perform. As Ben Gomes, Google VP of Search, Assistant & News says:
“You can view the rater 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.”
At emagine, we are constantly working with our clients to help them improve their E-A-T. It’s part of our SEO strategy and should be part of yours. Good SEO is more than just good links and content. The Quality Raters’ Guideline gives us a lot of information to improve our websites and user experience.
Take the take the time to audit and optimize your website based on the guidelines and E-A-T, not only will you be providing your potential customers, patients, etc. with the information they need, you will be helping the search engines understand how valuable you are and that will benefit your business in the long run.
Need help auditing and coming up with a plan to optimize based on the Quality Rater Guidelines?
We are here! Our industry experts can with you to assess your website and online reputation and come up with a plan for improving your website.
Resources and References