Understanding Google E-E-A-T, Quality Ratings, and AI Content | Linkflow
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Understanding Google E-E-A-T, Quality Ratings, and AI Content

November 17, 2023

Google’s algorithm updates always send the SEO community into a tailspin. Especially since generative AI came into the picture, there’s been a lot of speculation about the best way to build a positive online presence.

I’m here to tell you: It’s not that deep.

Google’s quality rater guidelines, E-E-A-T signals, and stances on AI are about as simple as it gets. In today’s article, I’ll break everything down.

What is E-E-A-T?

E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It’s the acronym Google uses to evaluate content quality and relevance.

Google’s top priority is to present the most accurate and helpful resources possible. When it reads your content, signals in these four categories tell it whether you’re a reliable source.

Technically, it isn’t a ranking factor. But, the more trustworthy Google deems you, the higher your content will rank. Because, again, it’s all about directing users to the best possible information.

So, you might as well pretend it’s a ranking factor. Google search rankings won’t favor your site without it.

A brief history lesson on E-E-A-T

E-E-A-T ain’t new.

Well…the concept of it isn’t.

As the number of websites exploded during the early 2010s, Google noticed a troubling trend. The wild west of the web was filled with half-truths, misinformation, and outright lies, causing users to wind up with dubious information.

In the digital world, anyone can claim to be an expert. So, Google had to play the sheriff.

In 2014, the company introduced E-A-T as a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, the true experts from the keyboard warriors.

The aim was to ensure information found through Google is reliable, accurate, and comes from sources that know what they’re talking about.

When they introduced E-A-T, it primarily applied to YMYL (“Your Money, Your Life”) sites, which include anything that could significantly affect a person’s financial, physical, or emotional well-being. Think medical information, legal advice, and news.

Without it, they’re playing a dangerous game with people’s health and livelihoods. So, E-A-T aimed to limit the risk.

But as time went on, Google added another ‘E’ to the mix (which stands for ‘Experience’).

Basically, it means anyone can be an expert if they have practical, hands-on experience with what they’re talking about (assuming they can speak to it).

E for Experience

The best content demonstrates the creator’s real-life experience with a topic. That’s why review sites consistently perform so well for “best of” keywords.

More recently, it’s also why UGC sites like Reddit and Quora saw a massive boost after Google’s August 2023 Core Update:

Let’s take a look at Crazy Egg’s review of the popular CMS, WordPress.

In the intro, the author mentions that they’ve tested dozens of CMSs and website builders over the years. Because of that, they’re able to speak from experience on the topic.

Throughout the article, they include photos of the WordPress interface to accompany their unique points.

They also discuss specific features, such as customizability and mobile responsiveness, which they’ve personally tested.

E for Expertise

Search ranking systems also need to determine whether you have the knowledge and credentials required to give reliable insights on the subject matter.

This overlaps with experience, but it isn’t the same thing.

Consider the topic of SEO. You’re reading my article because I’m an SEO analyst who’s been in the business for 10 years. I’ve literally been with E-E-A-T since the beginning.

That’s expertise.

But some people want actionable SEO tips that have worked for other website owners.

That’s experience.

Apply this concept to anything — investing tips, cooking recipes, workout plans. Some want the absolute facts from someone with a degree. Others need practical advice.

Google needs to measure ‘Experience’ and ‘Expertise’ because both can add value to different readers looking for different types of information.

A for Authority

Authority refers to your reputation within your field, particularly among other creators in your field/niche.

Google’s Quality Raters examine authoritativeness based on three parameters:

  • The creator
  • The content
  • The website

WebMD is a great example of this. An article from WebMD about chest pain is authoritative because…

  • WebMD is a reputable source for objective medical information.
  • Part of what makes them a reputable source is their qualified contributors (who are often medical professionals).
  • At least one physician reviews every article, including this one.

For a business owner like you, this is a good thing. It means random sites (e.g., spammy affiliate sites that don’t sell anything) can’t just take your rankings because they wrote an SEO-optimized article and built a few links.

However, it does mean you need to create content that’s related to the product or service you sell. When you map out your content strategy, you have to consider how close your new topics are to what you’re trying to actually sell.

Shopify’s blog, for instance, has a ton of articles about ecommerce, marketing, and entrepreneurship (in the ecom space). But these topics all relate to their core product: an ecommerce platform.

T for Trust

Trust is the most crucial element of Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines. Like the other signals, Quality Raters account for the creator, content, and website when they evaluate your site’s trustworthiness.

  • Be clear about who wrote your content (no pseudonyms or anonymous articles).
  • Have an “About Us” page that explains who you are and what you do.
  • Edit everything for factual accuracy (and update it periodically).
  • Cite trustworthy and authoritative sources throughout your articles.
  • Don’t hide your content behind a wall of annoying ads and pop-ups.
  • Include contact info throughout your website and when you publish content, especially if you’re publishing YMYL content.

It’s worth mentioning trustworthiness goes beyond content marketing. For instance, Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines consider an unsecured checkout page as “untrustworthy” because it could compromise the user’s personal information.

In this example, it’s also an ecommerce technical SEO issue.

Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines

Google’s search quality guidelines are what its 10,000+ human evaluators use to evaluate websites for search engine results pages (SERPs). Google’s raters add a human element to the algorithmic scoring process, which helps the company tweak its algorithms to rank sites accurately.

Broadly, the process goes like this:

  • Raters familiarize themselves with the extensive guidelines, which detail how to identify high-quality content, emphasizing expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
  • They run side-by-side tests to compare two sets of search results: one from the current version of Google and another from a proposed improvement.
  • They review pages in both sets of results to determine if they are a helpful match for the search query, using the guidelines as a reference.
  • Their evaluations do not directly affect search rankings, but Google uses them to measure the effectiveness of its search algorithms and validity of potential improvements.
  • Google updates the search experience and guidelines periodically to address new search challenges and to provide raters with the most current criteria for assessing content quality.

To fully understand whether an individual piece of content is valuable or not, Quality Raters look at both page quality and whether the content (objectively) meets their needs.

Once they evaluate the whole page, they come up with a Page Quality (PQ) score. This ranges from lowest, low, medium, high, or highest.

  • Lowest-quality pages are untrustworthy or misleading. They don’t demonstrate E-A-T at all and are potentially harmful to those who read them or use the site.
  • Low-quality pages may have good intentions, but they’re missing a crucial element like accuracy or proven understanding of the subject matter.
  • Medium-quality pages achieve their purpose. But they don’t do so well enough to be considered high-quality. They aren’t untrustworthy pages, but they lack the personal experience or a positive brand reputation that would make their content better.
  • High-quality pages are beneficial to their readers.
  • Highest-quality pages serve a beneficial purpose and engages readers in an exciting way (e.g., they publish original research and have a rockstar content creator who weaves it into a fresh take on the subject).

As with anything related to Google search, the E-E-A-T guidelines are subject to change with future Google algorithm updates. But they do offer insight into how Google wants you to think when creating your own content.

You can find more detail about these guidelines in Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines handbook.

How to Demonstrate E-E-A-T

I touched on this a little bit already, but I’ll go more in-depth here. Simply put, demonstrating E-E-A-T means creating content that is valuable, authoritative, and trustworthy.

Content Quality

I could write a 500-page book on how to write quality content and still have tons of important information left out.

I look at (and audit) content almost every day of my life. There are countless reasons yours might fall short:

  • It’s misaligned with your target audience
  • It isn’t helpful, fresh, or interesting
  • You aren’t covering your topics enough (it’s too short to compete)
  • You aren’t addressing problems
  • You aren’t speaking from personal experience
  • You’re hustling your product in every piece
  • Your writing is formatted poorly or flat-out sucks

They all boil down to one principle: posting content isn’t enough. Once you realize that a content strategy is more than a keyword and topic list, your content will get 100x better. I promise.

To demonstrate E-E-A-T, this is what your content strategy should include:

  • Audience research (pain points, interests, questions)
  • A content calendar
  • Interviews, quotes, and stories that add context
  • Infographics, videos, and visuals that explain or add to your content
  • Links to expert sources in your industry
  • Engagement with readers through comments and social media posts

And, most importantly, share personal experiences or experiences directly related to your company’s authority on the topic.

Oh, and format your content for readability and engagement. Big blocks of text and generic headings are big no-nos.

Authorship

Authorship helps Google’s Quality Raters and search engine crawlers make the connection between your content and your author’s knowledge, expertise, and reputation.

By linking to an individual profile on social media or other websites, you can show readers that an actual person wrote the article.

Here are some ways to demonstrate authorship:

  • Include a short bio at the end or on the side of your articles
  • Use schema markup for author names and bios
  • Link to the author’s social media profiles or website
  • Create an author page on your site that lists all their articles in one place

If you can, I’d also advise you to repurpose your content and build your personal brand in tandem.

Brand and Reputation

Reputation includes what others think about your product, what they say about you, and the relationships you have with others.

For example:

  • G2 Crowd reviews
  • Nofollow backlinks from big sites like Forbes
  • User-generated content (UGC) or inbound links from your customers
  • Social media mentions and shares
  • Great feedback on your Google business profile

Of course, these types of things mostly happen naturally. What you can do to build authority in this way is incorporate customer marketing and advocacy into your content strategy.

  • Case studies
  • Testimonials that reinforce your unique selling points
  • Republishing UGC on your website and socials
  • Influencer collaborations and partnerships
  • Co-marketing, system integration, joint research, and other B2B content partnerships

Over time, this is what gives you the authority to talk about what you’re talking about (in Google’s eyes, at least).

Backlinks are absolutely essential for SEO. They’re Google’s #1 way to determine the trustworthiness and authority of your content (and website).

In fact, it’s nearly impossible to demonstrate E-E-A-T or build a strong online presence without actively seeking backlinks.

Here are some practical ways to get them:

  • Guest blogging
  • Pitching articles to publications in your niche
  • Influencer collaborations that include link-building opportunities
  • Creating shareable assets (infographics, videos, guides) that people want to link to
  • Joining and participating in online communities or forums relevant to your industry

In addition to building backlinks, you also need to monitor the quality of your links. To improve E-E-A-T, you’ll want:

  • Links from high-authority sites
  • Many different sources of backlinks
  • Links from relevant sites
  • Dofollow links (as opposed to nofollow, though nofollow links still have value)

Think of it this way: When authoritative websites think your content is worth linking to in their articles, it must be good.

E-E-A-T and AI-Generated Content

The only way you could possibly be unaware of AI-generated content in this day and age is if you’ve been living under a rock.

People all over LinkedIn and marketing forums are peddling this “AI SEO/content marketing is the future” narrative. And, for a while, the SEO community was divided on whether AI content was bad for SEO.

As if to answer the calls, Google made a subtle edit to its Helpful Content guidelines earlier this year — it removed “by people” from the phrase:

“…original, helpful content written by people for people in search results”

Basically, ChatGPT could write your entire website for all Google cares, so long as the content serves its purpose for search engine users.

But…the algorithm not caring and you being successful are two completely different things. I don’t think anyone basing their content strategy off ChatGPT and an article spinner knows the first thing about great marketing.

If you’re already a rockstar copywriter, you can use generative AI to write 3x faster. But the end result is heavily guided.

As far as E-E-A-T is concerned, AI content has a few massive limitations:

  • Its ‘create-at-all-costs’ programming means it will sometimes deliver false information. It’s a robot, so it produces untrue things with the same confidence as accurate, scientifically-backed information.
  • It’s incapable of the original thoughts E-E-A-T requires. It’s simply an amalgamation of existing content on the web.
  • It doesn’t know anything about your product. And it can’t engage readers in personal experiences (or even sell, for that matter).
  • Everyone can tell when AI wrote your content. It’s the same basic phrases and boring prose we’re starting to see everywhere on the web. It’s becoming obvious to everyday readers, too.

I’d hardly call it the vanguard of technical innovation.

I’m not saying not to use it. If you’re a great writer with a solid marketing plan, it’s an absolute cheat code.

I’m saying I’d be very careful with it when it comes to E-E-A-T

Building authority is a long, hard road…

…especially if you’re doing it alone.

You have to publish great content, build links to it, make sure your website’s up to snuff, develop your brand, validate your product, and reach product-market fit. All at the same time.

Well, you don’t have to. You could partner with us instead.

Brittney Fred, SEO Analyst
Brittney has been working in SEO and digital marketing for ten years and specializes in content strategy for the B2B SaaS industry. She is based in Denver, CO and absolutely fits the Denverite stereotype. You’re just as likely to find her hiking, snowboarding, or doing yoga as reading sci-fi or playing video games.