Google has recommended that publishers review their quality raters guidelines to know what Google wants. The SEO industry responded by picking it apart for clues to Google’s algorithm. Here’s why much of what you’ve read about optimizing for E-A-T may need an update.
What is E-A-T?
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. The concept of E-A-T was created to give 3rd party raters the same method for judging search results.
There are no actual patents or research papers that establish those three concepts (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) as actual metrics or ranking factors.
Links and Authority
There are real factors like LINKS that have traditionally been used to establish expertise and authority as well as understanding what users want to see.
If a web page receives many links from across the Internet, particularly from web pages about a certain topic, then the web page receiving the links can be understood as being authoritative for that topic.
But that authoritativeness is an editorial judgment about that web page based upon the intuition that the links exist because the page is authoritative. There is no actual authority metric.
Ranking and User Needs
Ultimately, Google’s search results pages are about showing users what they expect to see when they make a search query.
Many of Google’s patents and research papers that describe link analysis, content analysis and natural language processing all revolve around understanding what users want.
- Links can communicate what page is expert.
- Links show Google what web pages humans believe are authoritative.
- Links communicate what web pages humans trust.
How E-A-T is a Concept
E-A-T is a concept created to teach the quality raters how to judge a site. How does that concept translate to ranking?
People will link to your page if they know about it, if they discover it and if they feel it is expert.
People will link to your page if people find it authoritative.
People will link to your page, talk about your site in social media and cite a wide range of pages from your site if your entire website satisfies users on a consistent basis. That kind of user satisfaction on a wide scale can cause individuals to regard your site as a trustworthy source of information, services or products.
You Can’t Optimize for Expertise
Expertise is a concept, it’s an opinion. You cannot optimize for an opinion or judgment that your content is expert. You can be expert and people may respond to your expertise by forming an opinion that your content is expert. Expertise in itself is really somewhat subjective, a matter of opinion.
More importantly, there is no metric of “expertise” at Google (unless you count PageRank).
Can You Optimize for Authoritativeness?
What is authority? Metrics for authority can be the links that point to your site. That’s pretty much what is known and confirmed for authority.
But authority and authoritativeness are just concepts and are not actual ranking factors or metrics that Google uses. There is no “authority” metric at Google, unless you call PageRank an authority metric.
So if you talk about “optimizing for authority,” in a way you’re really talking about how to optimize for PageRank, which is kind of silly. One does not optimize for PageRank. PageRank is something that is accumulated by a web page.
Optimizing for Trustworthiness
Googlers have made references to the trustworthiness of a website. Research papers and patents have made references to trustworthiness. An interesting research into trustworthiness relates to link analysis (read Link Distance Ranking Algorithms for more information).
Another line of research is Knowledge-based Trust. But Bill Slawski, an expert on Google patents, said it’s unlikely that Google uses it.
Google likely does not use Knowledge-Based Trust as a Ranking signal for Google Results. Xin Luna Dong posted the following slide in a presentation (https://t.co/R4tfgUabn8) which show low accuracy site are often popular sites, and high accuracy sites are often unpopular ones. pic.twitter.com/b30nMALAIL
— Bill Slawski ⚓ (@bill_slawski) September 9, 2019
A specific trustworthiness metric where a site accumulates “trust points” to indicate trustworthiness isn’t something that Google has researched.
Link distance ranking is the closest thing that Google might be using that approximates trust, but there is no actual trust score.
Aside from being careful about where you get links (which you should be doing anyway!), there’s no way to really “optimize” for trustworthiness.
You just have to be a reliable and trustworthy source of information and if people notice then Google might notice by the way other sites link to your web pages.
Optimizing for a Concept?
You can build expertise, authoritativeness, and authority using all of the above approaches that focus on excellence. There is really no way to optimize for those concepts.
Those are just descriptions and perceptions of your site and your content, things that your site can be, but not something you optimize for like adding alt tags to your images.
Author Bios and Google Rankings
In the previous paragraphs I described actual signals that we know Google uses and how they relate to E-A-T.
Self-created author biographies are not any kind of ranking factor or metric that Google has researched or filed a patent about.
The idea naive idea came about through a misuse of Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines (QRG).
The idea of boosting E-A-T with author bios and worrying about E-A-T in general was something SEOs made up from reading the QRG.
Quality Raters Guidelines and SEO
The QRG does not tell how the algorithm works or what the algorithm is looking for. The purpose of the QRG is to standardize ratings that third party raters give when rating Google search results in the process of quality control.
Rather than show 3rd party raters and allow them to use their subjective judgments, the QRG is Google’s attempt to standardize the ratings so that all raters use the same judging criteria for doing their job. That’s the purpose of the QRG.
One can use the QRG to create strategies of how to make a site more important. But it is a mistake to use the QRG to guess at ranking factors.
Algorithms Focus On Understanding
Many of the algorithm publications and patents related to information retrieval (search) are about understanding search queries and web pages. That’s what all the most important changes in Googles algorithm have been about. Natural Language Processing Research, BERT and RankBrain have all been about understanding what users want and understanding web pages.
There is nothing in there about YMYL or E-A-T. Nothing.
E-A-T is Not a Ranking Factor
A lot of what is said about E-A-T is a mistake based on using the QRG for hints about Google’s algorithm.
I have published articles about what E-A-T is based on what Googlers have told us.
In October 2019 at Pubcon Gary Illyes confirmed that E-A-T was not a ranking metric, algorithm or ranking factor.
Gary Illyes was asked about E-A-T point blank and everything he said matches up with what John Mueller’s been saying about the QRG and E-A-T and with what I have been reporting about it.
As Gary also said, there are lots of Baby algorithms that taken together approximate something like EAT. This may seem like semantics. To a degree it is, if they don’t have one large adult algorithm that looks for EAT signals. The baby ones probably need to be fed too.
— Bill Slawski ⚓ (@bill_slawski) October 11, 2019
He made it clear that there is no such metric or specific E-A-T algo and that it is a concept for use by quality raters.
Google’s Algo is Not Hiding in the Quality Raters Guidelines
There are no ranking hints in the QRG. The QRG is just meant to guide third party quality control raters to use the SAME methods for evaluating example SERPs instead of using their own standards. That’s all that the QRG communicates.
Publishers can use the QRG as a guide for how to judge their own sites. But don’t use it for hints on what Google’s algorithm is looking for because the algorithm is not there.
If you want to figure out why Google is doing something, start with asking what that something means to users. Many of Google’s announced changes (RankBrain, Nofollow Hints, BERT) are focused on understanding user queries and on-page content. That’s the best starting point for optimizing your website.
All that other stuff about adding author bios for E-A-T, there is nothing to support that. Nothing.
It’s time the SEO industry stopped obsessing on these mythical ranking factors like author bios or E-A-T. You’ll do better on focusing on how content, including product content, is relevant and useful to the visitors you want to attract to your website.
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