The competition for site traffic, users’ attention and trust is constantly intensifying, and now, people have more choice than ever about where they can go to find the information or products they’re looking for. That’s why search engines like Google are emphasizing expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) as a measure of content relevance and quality.
Demonstrating a high degree of E-A-T not only improves your chances of ranking higher on relevant queries, it also helps to insulate your site from taking a dip in visibility after a core update and shows users that your content, and by extension, your brand, is a reliable source of information.
During her session at SMX Advanced entitled “Demystifying major algorithm updates in 2021: Where is search headed?”, Lily Ray, senior director, SEO & head of organic research at Amsive Digital, discussed the tactics that she and her team have identified as being harmful to your E-
A-T, as well as ways to bolster it for search engines and users alike.
Practices that can hurt your E-A-T
“Some overarching trends that I’ve seen in my research is the rise of importance of E-A-T, especially for Your Money or Your Life [YMYL] websites,” Ray said. “And on the flip side, we have basically the elimination of fake news, pseudoscience, clickbait [and] sites that contradict scientific and medical consensus, which Google makes very clear throughout many of its documents.”
While you may not be publishing articles that contradict science, the characteristics of sites that host that kind content can be found in low E-A-T content across all sectors. Below are a few of the hallmarks of such content.
Omitting attribution and evidence. Would you take financial or medical advice from someone who claims to be an expert, but refuses to substantiate their claims or reveal their name and credentials? The online equivalent of that would be to publish content without listing an author and including a byline with their credentials.
Sites that choose to omit this information, especially in YMYL categories like finance, civics, news and health, are “just making a lot of bold claims without necessarily saying where they got that information from,” Ray said, adding, “There’s no proof or evidence of the claims that they’re making on the site. And in some cases, the content or the advice that they’re giving throughout the content is outright dangerous, which is something that Google’s definitely cracking down on.”
Thin content, duplicate content and doorway pages. “Another thing that my team and I noticed when we do this type of research and work with our clients is that a lot of sites that have been impacted by core updates over the past few years tend to have a lot of thin, duplicate or doorway pages,” Ray said.
These types of pages are likely to provide a subpar user experience. Businesses may turn to these tactics so that they can save time by reusing a page template, or as an attempt to manipulate ranking signals. Whatever the reason, these landing pages fail to deliver the content that users clicked through from the search results for and can erode your brand’s credibility with users and your visibility in search.
Generalist content. While producing a variety of content on different topics may help you appeal to more audiences, it likely means that you’re not conveying a depth of expertise or authority in any of those topics.
“Another big observation that I’ve seen is that these generalist sites that are kind of jack-of-all-trades, master of none . . . there’s a slow and steady decline of a lot of these types of sites,” Ray said. In the data above, we can see a decrease in visibility for DIY sites, which are relatively low-stakes topics. For brands that want to improve their E-A-T, it’s best to publish content that pertains to your subject area, especially if you’re publishing YMYL content.
Unmoderated UGC. User-generated content (UGC) can do a lot for your SEO, but if left unchecked, it can also damage your E-A-T as well as your rankings.
“Something that we’ve noticed on a lot of sites that have been negatively impacted is they don’t have a good handle on their comments, or on user-generated content throughout the site,” Ray said. “In some examples that we’ve seen, people are providing a lot of really personal information [in their comments], maybe they’re providing really bad medical advice — all that content is being counted towards your content quality,” she added, “So, if you’re focusing on E-A-T, and you have people coming in there and leaving personal information or information that contradicts medical consensus or things like that, that can really work against you.”
Undisclosed affiliate links. For some businesses, affiliate links help to generate revenue that supports their content, and they can continue to do so without necessarily harming their E-A-T by disclosing the nature of these links.
Search engines, and users, may take offense if your affiliate links seem like internal links to other content, which is often the assumption for YMYL content. “If you’re not making it very clear throughout the content that these are affiliate links and if you’re using informational, Your Money or Your Life pages to really push the user to buy products, these sites have gotten in a lot of trouble over the past couple of years,” Ray said, “And, with the product reviews update, and even with the core update of June of 2021, it appears to be the case that Google’s really ramping up the importance of good E-A-T and good usability on affiliate sites and product review sites.”
Ways to convey more expertise, authority and trustworthiness
In addition to avoiding the practices listed above, there are numerous ways that you can show search engines and audiences that your content is well researched, accurate and that your brand can be trusted.
Update, remove, redirect or consolidate your content. Marketers can often get caught up with creating new content and forget that content quantity may not be as advantageous as content quality.
“We update, remove, redirect or consolidate underperforming content where applicable,” Ray said of the work her teams perform for their clients. Building these tasks into your workflow can help you reduce the risk of duplicate content, eliminate outdated information on your site and save time by breathing fresh life into existing evergreen content.
Improve your site architecture. “The way a website is architected via its internal linking structure and breadcrumbs can actually help to convey E-A-T,” Ray told Search Engine Land. “Use a logical parent/child relationship within your categories, subcategories, and articles or products to make it easy for users and search engines to understand you have a depth of expertise on a given topic,” she recommended, noting that this strategy can also be helpful for isolating content that might not be SEO-friendly or could work against the overall quality of your site, such as UGC, adult content, or required website content that should be noindexed.
Manage your brand’s reputation. Poor brand reputation may have an indirect effect on your E-A-T. Section 2.6 of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines specifically addresses the reputation of websites and creators, instructing the evaluators that “Many websites are eager to tell users how great they are. Some webmasters have read these rating guidelines and write ‘reviews’ on various review websites. But for Page Quality rating, you must also look for outside, independent reputation information about the website. When the website says one thing about itself, but reputable external sources disagree with what the website says, trust the external sources.”
Although Google’s search quality raters don’t directly affect the algorithms or rankings, their feedback does get factored into Google’s planning for future algorithm updates, and addressing your reputation will also improve the likelihood that users will trust your site and your content.
Find ways to increase transparency and trust. As E-A-T becomes something of a prerequisite to rank well in certain verticals, more and more sites are finding ways to demonstrate their expertise. This increased competition means that “the more you can do to tell your users why you should be trusted, the more signals that you can add to the page, the better your site’s going to perform,” Ray said.
In the example Ray used (shown above), Diet Doctor clearly indicates who the author is, who the piece of content was reviewed by and the date the article was last updated. The site also uses pop-up citations after each sentence containing a claim.
Expertise isn’t built overnight and neither is E-A-T
Whether you’re looking to recover from a core update or just futureproof your content, understand that it may take some time before you reap the benefits of your optimizations. “Anybody that’s looking for shortcuts to this process, I’m sorry to say that there aren’t any, because this is very, very hard work,” Ray said, “It can take search engines a long time to process these changes, so you might not see the results of your efforts until the next core update rolls out or maybe even the core update after that.”
However, the benefits can be well worth the effort as you stand to increase your organic visibility and build more trust with audiences, both of which can work hand-in-hand to get you closer to your business goals. And, the processes you put in place to bolster your E-A-T can be used to increase your visibility in other important areas as well: “It’s not just Google search, there’s so many different areas of Google that they’re focusing on E-A-T,” Ray said, “So the same processes that you’re using to rank in organic search, think about that for YouTube, think about that for your images, think about that for your Google My Business profile or the Google Play Store, because it really is this ecosystem of E-A-T.”