This is a guest contribution from Larry Alton.
What does the word “quality” mean to you?
If you spend much time thinking about it, you’ll quickly realize that quality is a vague word with a subjective meaning. One person’s idea of quality can vary quite dramatically from another.
Think about if from the perspective of two hypothetical individuals. One is a homeless person, while the other lives in a million-dollar mansion. For the homeless individual, quality may be a safe place to sleep at night that’s covered from the rain and shielded from the cold wind. For the million-dollar homeowner, on the other hand, quality may look like a custom-built home with hardwood floors, marble countertops, and a king bed with a plush mattress.
In virtually every area of life, we encounter the subjectivity of quality. Food, products, jobs, weather, beauty…everything is defined by quality. However, when you look at the world of business – and SEO in particular – quality is becoming less subjective and more objective. For those looking to climb the search rankings, this is good news. It means less guessing and more strategic planning.
Google’s Updated Quality Guidelines
This past November, Google released their Quality Rater Guidelines so that businesses, marketers, content writers, and SEO experts could get an idea of exactly what the search engine giant was looking for when it came to quality content. Then, on March 28, Google updated the original document and pared it down from 160 pages to 146 pages.
As in November when the first version was released, there’s a lot of chatter about what this new update means and how it should guide the quality and direction of your content moving forward.
The newly released version of Google’s quality guidelines is chock full of information. While some of the changes only affect a very small number of businesses, others have a more far-reaching effect.
“With this version we see some interesting changes,” explains Jennifer Slegg, a search marketing expert who has thoroughly studied the new update. “Most noticeably is the de-emphasis of supplementary content, surprising since previous versions have stressed the importance of the additional supplementary content there is on the page – or the negative impact that content has.”
There’s also an increased (or renewed) emphasis on local content, which Google has renamed “Visit-in-Person.” Another notable topic is the continued importance of mobile, which gets some additional examples and guidelines in this version.
Then there’s the emphasis on the role of Your Money Your Life (YML) pages and E-A-T content. While the other updates are certainly worth studying, you could argue that nothing is quite as important as the massive emphasis Google is now placing on E-A-T.
The Emphasis on E-A-T
Whether you’ve paid close attention to Google’s definition of quality in the past or are just now committing to enhancing the quality of your content, the E-A-T concept is perhaps the most important thing you can study. Here’s what it stands for:
Expert Meeting Google’s Quality Guidelines: Will Google EAT Your Content?
The “E” stands for expert. Google is getting better and better at distinguishing when a piece of content is written by an amateur and when it’s been crafted by an industry expert who is familiar with the topic at hand. Google’s Human Raters will look for content that exhibits subject matter excellence and will ensure that this content is given more prominence than content that appears vague and haphazardly thrown together.
In the words of Google, “If it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or her an ‘expert’ on the topic, we will value this ‘everyday expertise’ and not penalize the person/page/website for not having ‘formal’ education or training in the field.”
This means bloggers and businesses need to either spend more time writing their own content or hiring writers that have a thorough understanding of the industry and subject matter.
The “A” in E-A-T stands for authority. Google understands that websites are biased. They’ll frequently tell visitors how wonderful they are and why their content is so valuable. However, they aren’t always being truthful. They may think their content is valuable, but if everyone else in the industry thinks it’s inaccurate or lousy, then it shouldn’t be considered “high quality.”
“When the website says one thing about itself, but reputable external sources disagree with what the website says, trust the external sources,” advises Google. “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.”
Authority has always been viewed as an integral component of quality, but it’s clear that Google is now taking it more seriously than before. With an influx of low quality content, Google is actively seeking out ways to devalue poor quality and enhance the prominence of well-respected content.
The final component is trust. Google understands that its reputation is on the line when it sends users to various websites. If these websites don’t instill confidence in the end user, then this reflects poorly on Google. As a result, they’re increasing the importance of trust.
Trustworthiness can be defined in a number of ways, but it primarily has to do with a website’s overall UX design. In order for a page to be considered trustworthy, it needs to have minimal friction, quick page loading times, seamless navigation, adequate contact information, and other key features.
Why E-A-T Matters to You
Google is obviously placing a big emphasis on E-A-T moving forward, but what exactly does this mean for you as a blogger, writer, or webmaster? Well, essentially it comes down to a couple important takeaways.
- It determines your site’s value. As you know, much of SEO is organic. If you’re creating quality content, then you’ll naturally rise to the top. The E-A-T guidelines were determined based on the things users find important. Thus, if you’re creating content that aligns with the metrics of expert, authority, and trust, then it’s likely you’re developing a valuable site.
- Quality raters reference it. When Google’s quality raters go through and study websites and pages, they’ve been instructed to keep E-A-T in mind. It’s an easy way for them to judge a site and see if it’s delivering a consistent and quality user experience.
If your site’s reputation and rankings matter to you, then E-A-T should be something you think long and hard about. While it’s not mandatory to instigate sweeping changes, forward-thinking individuals will begin looking for ways to improve sooner rather than later.
E-A-T by Industry and Topic
Google doesn’t look at all content equally. They understand that certain content doesn’t need to be as high quality as other types of content. This is why they’ve developed different categories.
1. Everyday Expertise
“Some topics require less formal expertise,” Google admits. “Many people write extremely detailed, helpful reviews of products or restaurants. Many people share tips and life experiences on forums, blogs, etc.” Google doesn’t want to discount the value of these topics. It would be unfair to devalue someone’s life experiences simply because they don’t have official credentials.
“If it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or her an ‘expert’ on the topic, we will value this ‘everyday expertise’ and not penalize the person/webpage/website for not having ‘formal’ education or training in the field.”
You need to sit down and think about how much expertise is needed in order for a given page to achieve its purpose of providing useful, helpful, detailed content. One of the most important considerations when creating content is the value it brings the reader and not how well it will perform with Google. If the content is truly valuable to readers, you will see the results in Google.
2. YMYL Pages
Then there are YMYL pages. Whereas everyday expertise is fine for topics related to food, consumer products, music, sports, and other less significant topics, Google wants to ensure that content about “Your Money or Your Life” is coming from formal experts who have earned the right to speak about such subjects.
YMYL expertise is important in industries like healthcare and medicine, finance, and law. If the content a reader is consuming could negatively or positively impact their health, wealth, or freedom, then it needs to be correct.
How can you show you’re an expert? Nick Chasinov, an SEO expert and founder of Teknicks, explains, “Simply add an ‘About’ page to your website to showcase any expert knowledge and experience your team has. Provide information on your brand and authors. This will demonstrate your industry authority and trustworthiness.” Chasinov goes on to say, “Showcase your awards and professional highlights on your site. Sell yourself as an industry expert through positive customer reviews while creating a community of loyal followers that help support your company.”
How to Ensure Your Content Meets E-A-T
The question most people want answered is, “How can I ensure my content meets the E-A-T metrics as laid out in the updated version of Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines?” While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, here are the three important takeaways:
- Show your credentials. As mentioned, the significance of expertise heavily depends on the subject and industry. For humor websites or gossip columns, expertise isn’t a big deal. However, if you’re providing medical advice, then it matters a great deal. When appropriate, present your credentials to prove your expertise.
- Showcase your authority. Secondly, showcase that you’re an authority figure in your niche whenever you get the chance. The quality of conversions will drive authority, as will the personal experiences of your users – such as reviews, ratings, and reputable backlinks.
- Establish trust. You need to show users that they can trust your pages. This is very important for ecommerce websites that process credit cards and accept sensitive information, but it applies to virtually any site. You should make users feel comfortable and confident.
If you can do these three things, your content will do well. Not only will you meet Google’s guidelines, but you’ll also satisfy the needs and demands of the individuals searching for and consuming your content.
Putting it All Together
The word “quality” will always come with some level of subjectivity. What we deem as high quality often depends on our upbringing, past experiences, current feelings, and expectations. However, if you’re going to rank well on Google and satisfy the desires of millions of users, then you need to abide by Google’s definition of quality.
In 2016, this means developing a website that recognizes the value of Expert, Authority, and Trust. Based on your industry, audience, and conversion goals, your pursuit of E-A-T may very well look different from the next website, but make sure you’re paying attention and utilizing it correctly.