On 1 August 2018, Google announced that they had released a broad core algorithm update, “as we do several times per year.”
This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains the same as in March, as we covered here: https://t.co/uPlEdSLHoX
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) August 1, 2018
Each of these updates always see some sites gain in terms of SERP rankings and organic traffic, and others – naturally – losing SERP positions and traffic. And unfortunately for site operators, Google is always reticent about sharing full details of what changed, and about what site operators can do to regain what was lost. In fact, their standard response for many of these broad core updates is the purposefully ambiguous:
There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.
What they are really saying is that there is no quick fix, while reminding site operators that quality is what matters most. Despite the lack of information from Google, there has been no shortage of theories from SEO professionals around the world, with many talking about E-A-T, especially in light of an update being made to the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines a little under two weeks before the broad core update began rolling out.
Without any confirmation from Google, it isn’t feasible to speculate what the update specifically targets or affects, if it is any one thing at all. And being a broad core update suggests there isn’t just one thing. Nonetheless, E-A-T is something all site operators should be paying attention to at all times, and this is – in a way – confirmed by Google’s statement “to remain focused on building great content”.
What is E-A-T and why is it important?
Google’s search algorithms aren’t shaped purely by the decisions of search engineers, or even machine learning. They are shaped by a multitude of factors and influences, including the assessments of real people – the aptly named search quality evaluators. More than 10,000 search quality evaluators continually rate the quality of the top results for actual search queries, using the aforementioned guidelines compiled by Google. Quality is often subjective, but the guidelines give some indication of what Google is looking for in terms of quality content. Search quality evaluators have no direct or immediate influence over how a site or page ranks, nor are they able to assess and evaluate every single web page and website currently accessible to search engines. Instead the data generated by their evaluations and ratings of a broad sampling of websites is used – in part – to shape Google’s search algorithms.
E-A-T is Google’s acronym for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, and as per Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:
For all types of webpages, creating high quality MC takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill.
They also state that the quality of the main content is one of the most important criteria in rating page quality, and that the quality of the main content “informs the E-A-T of the page”. But it is more of a closed loop, with high E-A-T resulting in high-quality main content, and by extension, a high-quality web page and/or website. A simplified summary of what search quality evaluators look for before giving a page a high-quality rating includes:
- It exhibits a high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
- It includes a satisfying amount of high-quality main content, including descriptive or helpful titles.
- There is a satisfying amount of website information, or information about who is responsible for the website. If the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions, then it should have satisfying customer service information.
- A positive website reputation for the website that is responsible for the main content on the page, or a positive reputation for the creator of the main content, if different from that of the website.
The last two points relate directly to trustworthiness, because without trust, expertise and authoritativeness don’t really matter. For many people it is now second nature to turn to an internet search when looking for services, products, or information, and for Google it is important that the top results they return are highly relevant for any search query. For them to be highly relevant the top results need to properly address the query, and more importantly, they need to come from trustworthy sources that are experts in their field. You would trust a horticulturist to tell you how to care for your roses, but not to tell you how to invest your money for your retirement. And this is why E-A-T is important for Google, and for your business website.
How to improve your E-A-T
Google’s response to the 1 August 2018 broad core algorithm update was that there is no fix, but this doesn’t mean you should accept any negative impact it had to your site rankings or organic traffic. Their stock response also includes the reminder to “remain focused on building great content”, which we now know influences – and is influenced by – E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. While it isn’t a quick fix, reassessing the quality of your existing content in relation to E-A-T is a good place to start, combined with a keener approach to new content. Pay attention to:
- The quality of the contact and about information on your website. Websites for businesses and organisations should have a sufficient amount of information for visitors to the site to understand who is responsible for the site and the content, and to convey the expertise of those responsible. There should also be a satisfactory amount of contact information beyond a single email address or contact form. For transactional websites, customer service information is extremely important since users will want to know what to do in the event of something going wrong with their transaction, including who to contact, and how. A trustworthy business or organisation should have no qualms about providing any of this information.
- Your online reputation. This isn’t based on what you say about yourself, but rather what other people say about you. Independent online reviews of your organisation or products, along with mentions of your organisation are both strong reputational signals that should support what you say about yourself. Your aim shouldn’t be to scrub the internet of any negative reviews or mentions, but to rather ensure that positive reviews and mentions outnumber the negative. This doesn’t only apply to the reputation of your business or organisation, but also that of the people writing your content. If most of your blog posts are written by freelance writers, do their online reputations support their implied expertise and authority on the subject? Some types of content – such as medical, financial, legal, or tax advice – require formal expertise.
- Whether the content on each page achieves its intended purpose. The main content on a page about your services should cover the services you offer in more detail, not discuss the history of your business, or how you came to offer the services. Similarly, the content of individual blog posts or articles should match up to the post or article name: a post titled “Everything you need to know about [one of your products]” should convey as much info about your product as possible, rather than discuss why it is superior to a product offered by a competitor.
- The number of external links in any of your content or blog posts. While it is sometimes necessary to link to external sites or resources, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest this could act as a negative signal for authoritativeness.
Improving the E-A-T conveyed by your website content will improve the quality of your web pages, and with enough dedication it could see your site rankings and organic traffic improve too. And if you have noticed a significant drop in SERP rankings for some of the pages on your website following the last broad core update, you could also look at the pages that rank above you and critically compare the content of your pages to the content of these pages, remembering that quantity doesn’t always equal quality.