Search engine optimization is a fickle pursuit, and pretty much anyone who works in SEO can tell you horror stories of watching a site perform exceptionally well and then suddenly drop like a rock. Here in Buffalo, we’re familiar with the phenomenon – we call it watching any Bills game – but for those who aren’t used to such rapid fluctuations between the highest of highs and lowest of lows, it can be a shock.
What if there was a way to mitigate some of those wild swings and help your site continually perform well through whatever rough weather algorithms Google implements?
There is and Google’s even told us what it is – you simply need to E-A-T more.
A Brief History of Updates
Google has made the quality and pertinence of your website’s content an increasing priority through some of the most notable updates to its ranking algorithms in recent years. You may have heard the names Fred, Penguin and Panda bandied about in relation to Google in the past. Each of these are named updates that are notable for having major impacts on low-quality or spammy content sites that were thin in information or used so-called black-hat linking methods to drive poor quality pages higher in results.
Google has continued to refine its scripting to further improve results, with the goal of delivering the best information for any search query. So, knowing that’s what Google wants to do, the best way to find success is to become the best answer or source of information. That’s where E-A-T comes in: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness.
It’s a Site E-A-T Site World
E-A-T is one of only a few instances where Google has actually given us the name, and it comes to us straight from the search giant’s own playbook – literally. Within Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines – a 164-page document that outlines what Google’s hired actual human evaluators should look for when reviewing sites – comes mention of E-A-T and the Page Quality (PQ) rating.
The guidelines specifically outline how an evaluator should assign a PQ score to a site on a sliding scale from Lowest to Highest. This is based on a number of factors, but notes that the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of a page are among the top aspects that evaluators should consider when evaluating. Within its document, Google even specifically says that pages that offer no benefit to the reader, pages that spread hateful, harmful or misinformation, or pages designed to mislead users should receive the Lowest ranking.
We don’t want that – so how do we make like Joey Chestnut and out-E-A-T our competition?
You Are What You E-A-T
In its guide, Google says that raters should consider the main content on any given site or page and weigh it against the expertise, authority and trustworthiness of the creator and the website, as well as the content itself. Essentially, if you’re a trusted expert and authority on a topic, your content should reflect that as well. In turn, Google should reward your site and your material by placing it higher in search results.
This isn’t always as easily done as said, however.
In an age where hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, companies and organizations all are competing for dominance, it can be difficult to make your brand’s voice stand out from the crowd. Localization helps to some degree – it’s often easier to rank your page within your immediate market or for search phrases that include your service area – but for those in major metropolitan areas, that may only mean competing over the last slice of pizza in the box instead of fighting for a piece of the pie. It may be a smaller pool, but it’s likely to be a tougher fight.
Content Is King, But Does It Rule the Kingdom?
Placing an emphasis on creating and curating expertly written, authoritative and trusted content is certainly a big part of the recipe for success, but it isn’t everything. With so many moving parts and changing factors, moving a site from page five to page one in results can take more than simply revitalizing your copy, infographics and other materials. Even so, the quality and integrity of your content continues to be a cornerstone of success.
Google’s updates in 2018 have placed more emphasis on the importance of a quality mobile site, a rapidly loading page and a providing secure experience for users. Many point to these updates as ammunition that it’s not solely the quality of content that matters for a site to rank – and in some ways they may have a point. However, one may argue – and I will – that aren’t these just further refinements on E-A-T?
If your site looks great on a mobile device, aren’t you delivering the best experience as an expert on the topic? What about site speed – wouldn’t an authority on the web want to provide answers that load quickly on any screen? And finally, a secure site is a trustworthy site, so isn’t that just checking that last box of E-A-T?
It’s About the Backlinks, Stupid – Or Is It?
Backlinks rule the world, or so say most SEOs – and again, they have a point. Google was founded on the importance of PageRank, which scored sites with more backlinks higher than sites with fewer links. The thought at the outset of Google was that the pages that were linked to the most were the ones that had the best information, offered the best experience and provided the best content for users.
Wait – so, in a way, doesn’t that mean Google has been ranking for E-A-T all along? Yes, Virginia, I’d say they have.
I’ve seen numerous examples of sites that have smaller backlink profiles than competitors that consistently outperform their rivals. It’s because they have the better experience. They have more authoritative and robust content. They have a greater level of expertise and write in a way that provides more informational value to the end user. These are sites that users can trust – not just content farms or pages linked to from private blog networks or other spam sites.
You can’t fake good content – you can only make it. And when Google is flat out showing us that its own directives to human evaluators is to E-A-T to succeed, we should E-A-T our hearts out first, and focus on everything else to further showcase those same factors. If you want to be at the top of the proverbial food chain, you need to E-A-T or be eaten.
Bringing with him more than a decade of experience in traditional and online news media, digital marketing and content production experience, Ryan Yaeger is the copywriter and digital content strategist at J. Fitzgerald Group. When not busy wordsmithing at his proverbial word anvil or working on client SEO, you can find him testing new board games or cheering for the Bills or Sabres.