Google regularly discusses how website owners should be utilizing E-A-T metrics and follow Quality Raters Guidelines in order to rank well for their target search terms. Yet, they continue to say that their search algorithm doesn’t have an actual E-A-T score that it goes on.
Here’s what Google says about E-A-T and how it impacts their search algorithm:
“Note (March 2020): Since we originally wrote this post, we have been occasionally asked if E-A-T is a ranking factor. Our automated systems use a mix of many different signals to rank great content. We’ve tried to make this mix align what human beings would agree is great content as they would assess it according to E-A-T criteria. Given this, assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that our automated systems use to rank content.
The word “conceptually” is important to point out: Google’s best advice on matching up with metrics that they look for in their search algorithm is to follow E-A-T recommendations from the Quality Raters Guidelines.
No real concrete advice for marketers, just a conceptual association to a concept pointed out in a set of guidelines used by people who try to give objective ratings to websites.
Google’s “Soft” Metrics
Google has a lot going on under the surface. As their search technology gets more and more advanced, websites are being judged on more than concrete statistics like how many links it has and how many times a phrase is mentioned.
Google’s BERT update and subsequent search algorithm changes have been engineered to allow Google to understand intent, context, and meaning behind content on the web. Ultimately, they want to be able to index web pages identical to the way a human being would.
This has led to a huge focus on a series of “soft” metrics – some directly outlined by Google, some inferred industry experts as part of a high quality web page.
- Match to User-Intent
These “soft” metrics don’t have a quantifiable metric to them the way load time, word count, and image alt tags do. These metrics are assessed not on their own merit, but in context of both the industries that they are a part of and other websites they are competing with. Additionally, it helps to consider whether a metric applies to the website as a whole (domain-level) or an individual piece of content (page-level).
To many website owners, the lack of a concrete metric to go after might leave them scratching their head. Below, we attempt to breakdown each of Google’s “soft” metrics, show how it might be defined or assessed on a web page, how you can improve it, and provide some great examples to follow.
Expertise is a soft ranking metric Google uses to determine the level and depth at which your content addresses a particular subject matter. It is a metric associated with the source of your content and is best to think about it as a page-level metric.
As a general rule, the more information you have on a specific subject on a webpage or a network of webpages, the higher quantity of expertise you will likely have. The catch here is that your content and information needs to be vouched for so that Google knows it’s valid information.
How Website Expertise is Assessed
There are a range of components that make up a website’s expertise, including authorship, number of backlinks, quality of backlinks, citations in other online periodicals, and your industry. Some of the components that make up “expertise” include:
- Length of content at the page level
- Keyword topic coverage
- Content interlinking
- Page-level backlink quality
How to Improve Website Expertise
If your website is suffering from an expertise problem, there are a number of ways to improve it.
- Showcase industry expert curated or generated information on your site, whether it’s from you or a another expert
- Network, connect, and partner with industry experts on social media, on your blog, and in your company information sections on your site
- If you yourself are an expert, showcase your credentials in a better way with in-depth author profiles, updates to LinkedIn profiles, and stay involved in industry-related discussions on social media
Website Expertise Examples to Follow
- https://austin.towers.net/ – the folks behind this website are luxury condo realtors based in Austin, TX and they’ve spent years covering the ins and outs of Austin’s downtown real estate industry, focusing heavily on prominent development projects, construction companies, and legislation. At this point, austin.towers.net are the go-to resource for downtown real estate information, including for buyers, which is ultimately austin.towers.net’s goal: to lead people to Towers Realty’s website to sell condos.
- http://www.seobythesea.com/ – this SEO blog stands out because it focuses on search engine technology and how that translates into the practice of SEO. Their articles and advice are backed up by Google search technology diagrams, patent submissions, and more
Authority is a soft metric Google uses to determine how credible your website is overall. In this case, it is beneficial to think about authority as a domain level metric, even though it utilizes page-level quality in its determination. Internally, Google utilizes something called PageRank. This was a metric devised by Larry Page, one of Google’s founders, to gauge the quantity and quality of links pointing to the site. No longer a public metric that Google shows, PageRank is still used internally and there’s good reasoning to believe that Authority builds on PageRank measurements.
How Website Authority is Assessed
While Google doesn’t divulge exactly what makes a website authoritative, we know from experience that Google uses the following components to determine how “authoritative” a site is:
- Quality of content across the websites
- Domain-level PageRank
- Domain-level brand features (i.e. mentions in the social media)
- Content length sitewide
- Domain-level keyword usage
- Social metrics
How to Improve Website Authority
It can be difficult to determine what your authority is and if you’re having a negative impact from it in search results. However if you feel like you’re struggling with authority, you can utilize the following tactics:
- Improve and scale content for all of your major pillar pages
- Reinforce your target keywords across homepage, about page, and company pages
- Consider a timely domain change (though allow several months for existing rankings to return after a domain change)
- Focus on high-quality backlinks to your pillar pages (i.e. homepage, about page)
- Focus on organic social growth
For newer sites, you can build up authority by publishing high quality new content on a regular basis, but for established sites, parting down your frequency and going deep on quality, resource-building, and overall length of content is a great way to build authority for your site overall.
Website Authority Examples to Follow
- https://backlinko.com/ – as a great example of a website that has really nice authority in the eyes of Google, look no further than Backlinko.com. The founder, Brian Dean, originally started as a web marketing company but has since shifted his focus on posting high quality, in-depth content at a cadence about 1 per month.
- https://www.askariel.com/ – for niche authority, AskAriel.com has gone deep on information for natural remedies for various dog and cat ailments. They’ve spent years writing and fine tuning content that covers common pet health queries and provides research-backed info on how natural supplements can help.
Unlike Authority and Expertise, Trustworthiness can be established and improved through technical improvements to your site and adding in key trust metrics like secure payment seals, industry certifications, and providing plenty of business and company-related information.
How Website Trustworthiness is Assessed
For ecommerce sites, having clear ways to contact the business, FAQs, and About information are essential for establishing trust with your customers and contributing to your overall trust metric. Here are some website and business components that will help you establish “trustworthiness” for your online business:
- Robust about page with copy about company history, owners, etc
- Clear, easy-to-use contact form, email address links, and phone numbers
- Frequently asked questions easily navigable from your homepage
- SSL Certificate setup on your domain (HTTPS vs. HTTP) letting customers know your site is secure
- Trust marks and seals that show you utilize secure payment gateways
- GDPR notice that allows users to opt in if you collect information
- Industry certifications showing your expertise and background
- Easily navigable website with clear content hierarchy
- Generally pleasing UX
- No hidden content
- ADA accessible content
- Robust backlink profile
All of the components above make up your site’s trustworthiness.
How to Improve Website Trustworthiness
If your site is struggling with trustworthiness, you will see a few signs that will let you know this is the case:
- Low time on site metrics
- Particularly high bounce rate on pillar pages (homepage, about page, etc)
- Low conversion rate despite healthy traffic
- Frequent questions from customers about processes, payments, etc.
The above scenarios reveal that there are usability and trustworthiness issues with your site. If you want to improve it we recommend implementing the following strategies:
- Provide ample information about the company in about pages, employee pages, contact pages
- Set up an FAQ that easily accessible from the homepage and answer all questions that your customers email or call in with, continue to update it with any new questions
- Add in relevant trustmarks in global areas to show you use trusted tech
- Showcase any certifications
- Set up SSL if you don’t already have one
- Showcase industry expertise in your content
- Ensure your site is ADA compliant
Website Trustworthiness Examples to Follow
- https://www.brooklinen.com/ – Brooklinen is a bedding ecommerce site that has done a great job of showcasing their reviews and various other trustmarks prominently on the page. Right from the homepage, you can easily see industry awards, customer reviews, and warranty information. They also do a good job of prioritizing FAQs in the footer for all their products and their company
- https://www.searchenginejournal.com/ – for news and update related to digital marketing, Search Engine Journal is an unbiased aggregator of hundreds of different sources and they do a great job of providing ample content for each one of their articles
Uniqueness is not directly addressed in Google’s E-A-T paradigm for high quality content but it is addressed as a component of high quality content by those at Google who advise website owners on how to make their content more compelling.
In April 2020, Google’s John Mueller addressed a question about traffic loss for a ringtone website:
“With regards to losing traffic, I realize that’s sometimes hard.
In general, I think with a website that’s focused on ringtones, it’ll be a little bit tricky because our algorithms really do try to look out for unique, compelling, high quality content.
And if your whole website is built up on essentially providing ringtones that are the same as everywhere else then I don’t know if our algorithms would say this is a really important website that we need to focus on and highlight more in search.”
How Website Uniqueness is Assessed
There is not a lot of information about how Google would determine whether a website is unique or not, but there are some metrics that we can presume they’re using to determine a unique factor:
- Number of keywords unique to a website
- Number of competing websites
- Depth of content on site and topical authority
How to Improve Website Uniqueness
You can’t do anything about the competitors in your industry or niche: they’ll always be there. Instead, to improve website uniqueness, you’ll want to focus on things that you can control.
The best way to establish uniqueness for your site will be to do that through content. The uniqueness of a website doesn’t just rely on your domain or brand name; you need to make sure that your site is ranking for a wide range of keywords that are relevant to your industry, customers, and products.
We’re talking about something called “topical authority.”
In short, to improve your website’s uniqueness do the following:
- See what your competitors are doing and determine where your content overlaps and what you can do to stand out. Are they doing video? Are they doing infographics? Do you have a unique perspective or point of reference that you can highlight in your content. Find out what you can do differently than the competition
- Target long-tail keyword queries in your content. While they may not drive a ton of traffic to your site, you’ll be demonstrating that you have in-depth knowledge of your industry and your site will drive clicks and impressions for a wider range of queries
- Build out existing content for depth and length. A good rule of thumb here is to shoot for between 750 – 1000 words for your most important pages on your site and the naturally pare down in length the more nuanced your pages or topics get. You can also adopt the hub and spoke content model to help generate more depth in your content.
Website Uniqueness Examples to Follow
- https://www.mariehaynes.com/blog/ – Marie Haynes’ blog does a great job of focusing on Google Update recovery. She posts almost exclusively about Google penalty and update recovery as well as shares her own studies and data
- https://moz.com/blog/category/whiteboard-friday – While Moz’s dominance of the SEO world has waned over the last few years, their Whiteboard Friday column is a unique take on sometimes difficult to understand SEO concepts. It’s a simple idea: explain internet marketing ideas using the visual aid of a Whiteboard. What’s compelling about it is the way they share their information and showcase it on their blog
Importance, while not directly addressed in Google’s E-A-T guidelines, website importance is a metric that Google search folks will mention from time to time. It’s an amalgamation of metrics mentioned above (authority, expertise, and uniqueness) and is often used when looking at a website in context of their competitors. The question is: “how important is your website and it’s content to your users in respect to all the other potential websites that are out there?”
How Website Importance is Assessed
Here’s a passage where John Muller, Google Search’s webmaster trends analyst, specifically mentions importance as a factor in which websites are shown and which aren’t:
“And if your whole website is built up on essentially providing ringtones that are the same as everywhere else then I don’t know if our algorithms would say this is a really important website that we need to focus on and highlight more in search.”
Based on the passage above, we can surmise that a website’s importance is assessed relative to their competition, not as a gestalt. While a website about ringtones might not be that important in the grand scheme of things, it can have relative importance in comparison to other ringtone websites. Similarly, we can assume that the CDC website isn’t rated as having more importance than say Amazon, however both might be seen as having great importance to Google in their respective industries.
To simplify things and get an idea of how important your website is you can look at the following components of your website and that of competitors:
- How many pages on your domain?
- What subjects do you cover on your website?
- How broadly is your site ranking for keywords in your industry?
- How many backlinks do have and at what quality?
How to Improve Website Importance
If you’ve assessed your site and deemed that you may need to help build it up so that its more important to search engines like Google, you can do so by utilizing the following tactics:
- Understand your keyword universe – spend plenty of time doing keyword research and identify broad industry terms that people use and work down to the long-tail keywords. From there, assess what topics, queries, and questions your content covers and where you’re lacking
- Increase your content length and/or relevancy – Great content is the best way to increase website importance with on page SEO work. Since longer content is usually better, focus on growing your content in both length and depth. Always ensure that whatever content you’re adding is supremely relevant to the subject matter of the page
- Focus on high quality backlinks – Backlinks are a component of any qualitative measurement of a website, so ensuring that you have high quality backlinks in increasing numbers is a good way to move importance in a positive direction
- Create content that users cannot get anywhere else – there’s a premium on uniqueness as it relates to importance. Naturally, we can assume that is a website if posting content that is readily available on other websites, it’s likely not that important. But if you have content pieces that no one can get anywhere else, then you’re setting yourself apart from the competition in a good way
- Focus on your industry/niche – remember, website importance is relative to others in their competitive space. Learn what your competition is doing, emulate it, and improve upon it
Website Importance Examples to Follow
Here are some examples of SMB and ecommerce websites that have integrated “importance” metrics into their marketing strategy:
- https://www.atasteofkoko.com/ – While A Taste of Koko is a well known food blogger and influencer, she made the genius decision to curate a list of all Austin, TX restaurants that are doing takeout and curbside on this page. They were first to the game to do that during a time where people were desperate for that information. So while the site itself may not have an overall “importance” quality, this page specifically has become a go-to for the Austin food industry
- https://technicalseo.com/tools/schema-markup-generator/ – this is a web app that helps website owners generate schema. There are a lot of other web apps that do the exact same thing, but the folks at Merkle have done a really great job of making their version supremely usable, easy to look at, and effective. As such, it always ranks well for schema-related queries
Relevance (aka Match to User-Intent)
Relevancy is nothing new in the web marketing world. Simply put, a website’s relevance metric is how well it provides the information that the user was looking for. In some ways, there are already ways that Google will tell you if they find a website’s relevant to a specific query:
- Google Adwords’ quality score
- Low Bounce Rate/Exit Rate
- Display of Rich Result in Google Search
How Website Relevance is Assessed
According to Google’s “How Search Works” guide, website relevance is determined the following ways:
- Presence, frequency, and position of keywords used in search query on the page
- Page interaction data (like bounce rate, time on page, etc)
- Presence of additional components like images, videos, and other analogous pieces of information relevant to the query
Here are a few passages from the guide that help explain how Google analyzes and assesses relevance:
“The most basic signal that information is relevant is when a webpage contains the same keywords as your search query. If those keywords appear on the page, or if they appear in the headings or body of the text, the information is more likely to be relevant. Beyond simple keyword matching, we use aggregated and anonymized interaction data to assess whether search results are relevant to queries. We transform that data into signals that help our machine-learned systems better estimate relevance.”
“These relevance signals help Search algorithms assess whether a webpage contains an answer to your search query, rather than just repeating the same question. Just think: when you search for “dogs”, you likely don’t want a page with the word “dogs” on it hundreds of times. With that in mind, algorithms assess if a page contains other relevant content beyond the keyword “dogs” — such as pictures of dogs, videos, or even a list of breeds.”
How to Improve Website Relevance
If you want to make sure that your website and web pages are more relevant to what your users are searching for, there are a few things that you need to look for:
- How well are you targeting keywords? Do you keyword research and make sure that you are targeting keywords that actually have search volume. Be sure to include relevant keyword phrases and terms on the page.
- Where are you using keywords? Google recommends that you strategically include relevant keywords in key places on the page like the heading, title, and in the body of the page (preferably in the first two sentences)
- Does your website architecture prevent cannibalization of keywords and topics on single pages? If you have broad pages that cover a wide range of sub topics, it’s good to break those subtopics off to their own pages and prevent any one pages from trying to target too many keywords
- Do you provide in-depth, well-written, long-form information for topics that are important to your customers? Look at your most important pages. Do they do a good job of addressing the questions and concerns of your users? Is there information that could be added to improve that page’s relevancy? For those cornerstone pages on your site, try to include relevant media and assets like graphs, videos, and photos to add some depth to your page
- Is your site or web page delightful to use? User experience metrics like bounce rate, time on page, pageviews and more are all assessed to determine if users are actually finding the page relevant. Presumably, the better those metrics are, the more likely Google will deem your site or page to be relevant
Website Relevance Examples to Follow
Across the web, there are niche websites that are using best practices to ensure their website is highly relevant to their users. But the best way to find a relevant website is to Google something you’re interested in and see what appears near the top. Then look on that page and see what they’re doing that make it relevant to your original query:
- NPR’s Video on Making a Facemask – with such a popular query, you’d expect a CDC guide, or WikiHow article to be in some of the top search results, but NPR’s video column dominates the page. When you click through, it’s a simple embedded video page, easy to use and directly providing me (the user) what I’m looking for. Once you play the video, you’ll see that they didn’t just give you a basic how to: the video creators provided nuanced details on how to make a DIY masks that performs better than your typical cloth mask, with tips on how to create a cloth masks that filters out small droplets (most cloth masks only filter out large droplets)
- Cleveland.com’ list of 100 Greatest Hip Hop Albums of the 90s – This page is so relevant in fact, that I spent about 30 minutes looking through it, reading about albums, and adding them to my Spotify playlist. What they’ve done here is simple: provide info relevant to my original query (“best hip hop albums of the 90s”) and gave it to me all on one easy to digest page
A Note on Google’s “Soft” Ranking Metrics
There is little, if any, concrete information on these soft ranking metrics. Even the well-documented E-A-T guidelines don’t have hard and fast rules on how to make sure your site has expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
The information provided above should be taken as a set of guidelines – an assessment of all available information and expertise. A lot of it is based on the Studio SEO team’s experience in search engine optimization and the successes and failures that we’ve had. If you have questions about these soft metrics and how our team can help you improve them, get in touch with us directly.