Google’s E-E-A-T: The Beginner’s Guide

Google’s E-E-A-T_ The Beginner’s Guide _ MediaOne Singapore

Are you baffled by the four little letters that make up Google’s E-E-A-T? We understand it sounds like a spell conjured up in some dark corner of Hogwarts, but it’s actually just a fancy way of articulating Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines.

It’s not so often that Google lets us take a peek inside the inner workings of its search engine algorithms.

But occasionally, they open the curtains just enough for us to catch a glimpse. One of those moments happened in 2015 when Google released a full version of Search Quality Rater Guidelines to the public.

Since then, this SEO guide has undergone many iterations, with the latest version being released in December 2022.

The concept of E-A-T was first introduced to us in 2014 when Google launched the first iteration of its Search Quality Rater Guidelines. It gave us our very first official glimpse into what Google believes is quality content and how they assess websites.

Their 2022 update added an “E” for experience to the acronym, making it E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness).

In essence, these four concepts are the main criteria Google uses to evaluate webpages, websites, and authors, and we plan to dig deep into the guide and uncover everything there’s to know about their quality guidelines.

What’s Google’s E-E-A-T, and Where Did the Concept Come From?

The Concept of E-E-A-T has been around for decades, with the first version of the Search Quality Rater guidelines released in 2014. 

However, we first heard about search quality teams in 2004. They’re introduced to us as people who evaluate the quality of search engine results. 

It was in 2015 that Google released a full version of the Search Quality Rater Guidelines. For the first time, we get an official insight into what Google believes is quality content and how they assess websites.

Fast forward to December 2022, and Google has refined the concept of E-A-T, adding an “E” for experience to the acronym. 

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At its core, E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. 

How Does Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines (SQRG) Work?

Google doesn’t update its algorithm in a vacuum. Instead, it relies on real-life human evaluators tasked with reviewing sites to determine their trustworthiness

These people, known as Search Quality Raters, are given extensive guidelines to review websites. They use this information to evaluate the quality of web pages and assign them a score.

The SGRQ allows Google to understand better if their changes to their search algorithms produce quality results. 

And that’s what E-E-A-T is all about — giving webmasters an understanding of the factors Google uses to assess content and websites.

Here are some snippets from Google explaining how their search quality raters work:

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Here’s another one of Google’s explanations for how the search engine works:

And here’s a 2012 video of Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of web spam, explaining how the search engine works:

E-E-A-T and Rankings

Let’s clarify: E-E-A-T isn’t a direct ranking factor, unlike backlinks or page speed. It’s more of a by-product that is considered when Google analyses your website.

Every single one of Google updates, from Panda to RankBrain, plays a role in helping Google decide which websites are most trustworthy and authoritative. 

For example, the “Panda” update was meant to reduce the presence of low-quality content on SERPs. It was about expertise and against low-value content.

The “Penguin” update was meant to reduce the presence of link schemes. It was about authority and against black hat link building.

The “Medic” update was about YMYL websites. It was about trust and against misinformation.

Then came the “Product Review” update, highlighting the value of high-value product reviews. It was about “experience.”

In short, all of these updates help Google better assess a website’s Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness levels. 

In 2019, Danny Sullivan made a tweet on how Google is now using E-A-T to understand websites’ content and its intent:

That shows how Google is now using E-E-A-T as part of its algorithm to give better search results for searchers. It helps them understand what constitutes quality.

So, How Does Google Define E-E-A-T?

According to Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines, E-E-A-T stands for:

  • Experience — Does the website or individual have experience in the topic area? Or are they echoing somebody else’s sentiments?
  • Expertise — Is the creator of the content an expert on the topic? 
  • Authoritativeness — Does the website or individual have authority in the topic area? 
  • Trustworthiness — Is the content accurate and trustworthy?

Let’s examine these components and see how to incorporate them into your website. 

First, it’s important to note that Google places “trust” at the core of page quality, as outlined in their Search Quality Raters Guidelines:

They consider it the most important element of the four E-E-A-T criteria. That’s because untrustworthy pages automatically have low E-E-A-T, regardless of their experience, expertise, and authority level. Therefore, to achieve higher page quality, you must build trustworthiness first and then work on the other three.

For example, a financial website that scams people out of their money would have zero trustworthiness, no matter how much expertise or authority it has in the financial space.

Once you nail down trustworthiness, you can focus on the other three elements: Experience, Expertise, and Authoritativeness (E-E-A).

Now, let’s take a detailed look at each of the factors in E-E-A-T in their order of importance: 

Trust

Trust is assessed on three levels:

  1. i) The trustworthiness of the content’s creator
  2. ii) The trustworthiness of the website hosting the content 

iii) The accuracy and truthfulness of the content itself

On the issue of trust, here’s what Google has to say:

The guideline further goes on to highlight how they factor trust factors into their quality assessments:

The guide also goes further to give examples of trust:

According to Google, a trustworthy page is a satisfying one. Satisfying because it meets the user’s expectations and provides them with what they’re looking for.

Also, in part at least, trust is about reputation:

Reputation research is how Google detects untrustworthy websites. They even mention that your content might look great superficially, but reputation research can expose if it’s a scam, fraud, or harmful in any other way.

Google even goes a step further to define what they mean by a website’s reputation:

It turns out a website’s reputation is based on the experience users have with your website and the opinions of experts who evaluate it.

According to Google SQRG, reputation is determined by outside information, such as reviews or ratings from other websites. 

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Time to put on your detective hat and get sleuthing. Be sure to check reviews, ratings, and other external information sources. That includes links from websites that are considered to be authoritative on the topic in question.

Time to put on your detective hat and get sleuthing. Check reviews, news articles, expert recommendations, Wikipedia articles, magazine articles, forum discussions, references, ratings, and other external information sources. That includes links from websites that are considered to be authoritative on the topic in question.

Google doesn’t just leave it at that. They even clue us into how they evaluate websites for trust and reputation. 

They look for news articles, Wikipedia articles, Magazine articles, forum discussions, and ratings from independent organizations. 

For YMYL websites, they look at what experts in the field say about the website.

Google Algorithm and Trust

It’s only natural that Google would consider trust when ranking websites. After all, their mission is to deliver “relevant and useful” search results.

That’s why spammy websites with low trust scores don’t rank as well in search engine results.

When it comes to E-A-T, there are two main ways that Google measures a website’s trustworthiness:

Product Reviews

In 2022, Google released a new update called the Product Reviews Update. The update sought to weed out reviews not written by the actual users of a product or service. 

The idea was to make product reviews more trustworthy and reliable for consumers, so Google prioritized actual user experiences over sponsored or phony reviews.

The SQRG discusses trust signals with regard to product reviews throughout the document.

Bad Reputation and Rankings

Google doesn’t take it lightly when a website has a bad reputation. 

If your website has been flagged for shady practices or malicious content, trust us when we say it will hurt your SEO rankings.

That is something that Google has been battling for a long time, especially after it gained a lot of traction following the DecorMyEyes controversy in 2010.

It follows the sentiments made by Vitaly Borker, the CEO of DecorMyEyes. He purposely provoked customers to get more attention and backlinks from enraged customers.

Google was not pleased with this tactic and has since been trying to weed out these types of websites from its search results.

When making rankings decisions, Google looks at sentiments, not just backlinks. We’d also like to believe that with the advancement of AI and machine learning, Google is getting better and better at detecting badly reviewed or rated websites.

The ratings you get on websites like Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Trust Pilot can make or break your SEO rankings — so always put your best foot forward when dealing with customers.

Google has mentioned BBB several times in their past versions of SQRG, so it’s safe to say that this is a major trust signal they look at when designing their search algorithm.

Here’s one such instance:

Just to be clear: your BBB rating isn’t a direct ranking signal but a feedback loop for how Google designs its algorithm. Google even confirms it in this video:

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So, does Google want websites with a bad reputation to rank high in their search engine results? Absolutely not. Having a good reputation and trust signals, such as a BBB rating, is the bare minimum, the expected baseline for SEO. 

It’s like getting dressed for work — you don’t need to dress up to the nines (although it can help). But if you show up in your pyjamas, chances are you won’t get hired. That’s kind of like Google – they don’t want websites with a bad reputation to rank high in their search engine results.

Do Sentiments Impact a Website’s Trustworthiness and, Indirectly, a Website’s Ranking?

The answer is yes. Research shows that:

On average, 87.1% of analysed search results were from websites with positive sentiments.

0.26% of analysed search results were from websites with an average sentiment that’s neither positive nor negative.

12.03% of analysed search results were from websites with a negative sentiment. 

Positive sentiments are when a topic is described favourably, while negative sentiments occur when a subject is described unfavourably. 

In this case, a positive sentiment will have positive words like “hero,” “excellent,” and “amazing” describing the topic. 

On the contrary, negative sentiment will have words like “terrible,” “boring,” “weak,” “horror,” and “disastrous” describing the topic.

In short, you can’t fool Google with numbers. Not in the age of AI, when search engines can still read and understand contexts even better than humans. So, if you want to get that coveted top spot on the Google search results page, work on your reputation and how others perceive it.

Experience

Next to trustworthiness, the next cornerstone of Google’s E-E-A-T is Experience. 

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Simply put, do you know what you’re talking about? Have you done it before, or are you just making things up as you go along? This concept is actually relatively easy to understand.

Before Google introduced experience to their E-A-T criteria, they discussed it in their previous version of SQGR. But mostly, it was tied to expertise. 

But now, Google has decided experience deserves a category of its own. 

In their own words, the purpose of experience is to determine whether a creator has sufficient expertise for the topic they cover.

It has everything to do with having first-hand knowledge of your topic and establishing yourself as a reliable source. 

Their guidelines lay everything out quite simply:

The guidelines also go on to say that:

For example, you wanted to create content about football tactics. You could do that easily with enough research and experience playing the game. Similarly, if you wanted to write about building an online business, you must have done so yourself or been involved in the process with someone who has. 

In other words, you must be knowledgeable and experienced enough to support any claims or advice you give.

Google Algorithm and Experience

Google’s Product Review Update of 2022 is about content creators having first-hand experiences. 

Google’s algorithm now examines whether the content creator has used or experienced the product they are reviewing or just copy-pasted the reviews from other sources.

Google even discusses the types of product reviews they’re looking for — reviews that demonstrate the user has actually used the product.

The experience factor is something that can help content creators create original content. Gone are the days when content creators rewrote other people’s content and expected to rank for it. 

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Google’s algorithm now looks for original and insightful content about topics created by knowledgeable authors with first-hand experience. 

Content developers should go slow on writing and focus more on documenting their experiences. That will help them create content that’s not only reliable but trustworthy:

Now, let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth:

While there’s nothing wrong with curating content, Google likes it best when content creators have first-hand experience with the topic they’re writing about.

The Helpful update, also released in 2022, emphasized original, quality content that provides users with helpful information.

From Google’s statement:

The bottom line: Differentiation is key. And it goes beyond just paraphrasing words. Content creators should show they have a certain level of expertise and can provide helpful advice backed up by their own experiences. So, get out there, and start experiencing the things you write. 

If you provide SEO advice, put it into practice on your website. Or, if you’re writing about a product or service, test it out and share the results with your readers.

Expertise

Expertise can be gained in many ways. It’s not just about having a degree or certifications. 

It’s about having the level of skills and knowledge needed to speak intelligently about a topic. 

The guideline expounds on this concept further:

First, they consider the length to which the content creator has first-hand experience with the topic. For a page to be considered trustworthy, the content creator should have A wealth of personal experience with the subject.

Example: If you’re writing about SEO, ensure you have the skills and knowledge to speak intelligently about it. In other words, Google will consider you an expert if you’re an SEO or have worked closely with an SEO team.

Google goes further to explain how a page with a high level of E-E-A-T can demonstrate expertise:

You have to think about the topic you’re writing about and the expertise needed to write about it. 

The guideline suggests that a content creator should be able to explain the topic in simple terms, provide helpful advice, use relevant examples, and cite reputable sources.

In other words, a person reading about tax filing should be able to file their taxes confidently after reading the content. 

If you’re writing about a topic, you must ensure you have the expertise to back it up. And if you don’t, do in-depth research and, most importantly, cite relevant sources.

Example of expertly written Content

Google also gives an example of what they consider expertly written content. 

It’s this recipe blog: https://guidelines.raterhub.com/images/yld0TwpyoJi8G7yOhOUm.jpg.

Google first acknowledges the author for documenting their extensive experimentation with a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Their expertise is demonstrated by the high number of original, high-quality mocha chip cookie recipes. 

The content also takes a scientific approach to baking, offering detailed explanations of baking time and temperature varying from one recipe to another. 

The author has also documented their extensive experimentation with chocolate chip cookie recipes. But their expertise is demonstrated in the large quantity of original, high-quality chip cookie recipes.

As a reader, you can tell that the author is an expert in baking from their thorough explanations of baking time and temperature and the fact that they’ve created so many original recipes.

So, How Can You Know if You’re an Expert?

An expert must have built a name for themselves in their respective field. They must have a comprehensive knowledge of the subject and can back it up with experience. 

But how do you communicate your expertise? John Mueller discussed it in a Google’s Webmaster Central office-hours hangout:

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In summary, Mueller points out that expertise is less of a technical thing and more of experience. Can users recognize who wrote the content and why they’re qualified to do so?

For example, if you’re an expert in baking chocolate chip cookies, your readers should be able to tell that from the content you write.

He reiterates that while Google can use this information, you want to ensure it’s also available to the user. An expert reading your content should be able to tell that you’re an expert and that you know your stuff. 

Google Algorithm and Expertise

One way Google determines if a piece of content is “expert” is by looking at how similar or different the content is to other pieces of content on the same topic. 

In the SQRG, Google reiterates the importance of being “consistent with well-established expert consensus.”

For instance, if you write a claim about how lemon cures cancer, but no other sources make that claim, then Google is likely to discount your claim as false. That’s because no other source backs it up.

Authoritativeness

Authoritativeness builds on the concept of expertise. An authoritative author is someone who has established themselves as an expert in their field and can back up their claims with evidence.

Authoritativeness takes into account three things:

  • The authority of the content creator
  • The authority of the content itself
  • The authority of the website or blog as a whole

It’s important to remember that authoritativeness isn’t something that can be bought or faked. You must build your reputation over time as an expert in your field to be seen as authoritative. 

In other words, there’s no authority without consistent expertise.

Here’s what the guidelines say in summary:

The guideline also gives an example of what doesn’t constitute authority, like having a tax filing form on a cooking site. While the tax form might provide helpful information, it’s not directly related to the cooking content and would not be seen as authoritative. 

In the previous version of SQRG, here’s what Google had to say:

An organization or business is responsible for its website’s content, not the contributor or author of that content. For example, IBM is responsible for the content on its website, not the individual authors who work at IBM and contribute to it.
In their latest version, they even give examples of websites with the highest authority levels:

In their latest version, they even give examples of websites with the highest authorities:

Government tax websites have the highest authority for tax forms and would therefore be given the first priority for tax form-related content. Likewise, a university website would be the most authoritative source for information related to that university’s courses and degrees.

In the same way, a local business or organization will be the most authoritative source for local information or information related to their business.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.

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