Author: Olaf Kopp , 01.June 2022
Reading time: 16 Minutes

A bit more than an introduction to E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust)

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There are many definitions and explanations of E-A-T, but few are truly tangible. This article aims to explain the topic of E-A-T more concretely and clear up misunderstandings surrounding E-A-T. (German Article >>> Eine Einführung in E-A-T: Bedeutung für Google-Ranking & SEO )

What is E-A-T?

E-A-T is Google’s quality concept and combines components from offpage evaluation methods (e.g. PageRank), onpage content evaluation methods (e.g. Panda) and evaluation of entities (authors and organizations).

E-A-T stands for the three terms expertise, authority and trust and serves as a guideline for search evaluators to rate search results. The E-A-T rating plays a very important role especially for Your-Money-Your-Life in short YMYL pages. The E-A-T rating was mentioned for the first time in the Quality Rater Guidelines from 2015. Through the E-A-T concept, content is rated on the credibility, expertise, and authority of the source as well as the content in terms of quality. The E-A-T rating refers to the Main Content (MC), the Suplementary Content as well as the author, publisher or the source in general.

What is Expertise?

Expertise stands for the letter E in E-A-T. Expertise stands for the knowledge and experience that an author or publisher possesses. Expertise refers only to the author or publisher.

What is Authority?

Authority stands for the letter A in E-A-T. Authority stands for the notoriety of an author, the website or the content in the respective topic area.

What is Trust?

Trust stands for the letter T at E-A-T. Trust stands for the credibility of an author, the website or the content in the respective topic area.

E-A-T as a concept for brand identification and quality assurance

E-A-T is Google’s own concept for identifying publishers and authors who are a brand. In this way, Google wants to improve the quality of search results and thus the user experience with the SERPs.

Google itself distinguishes between relevance and quality. Relevance is always related to the search query and refers to the document in question. (More about relevance in the article Relevance, Pertinence and Usefulness at Google). Quality can refer to the content quality of the document or the publisher or author. Brand concepts can only be used for the second look at the E-A-T concept.

Brand characteristics

A brand has the following essential characteristics:

  • Awareness
  • trust
  • topical authority
  • topical expertise and competence

Three of these characteristics are also found in E-A-T. Mere popularity is not a useful attribute for determining quality, as it is disconnected from the topic. Transferred to Google, the search volume for a brand is therefore not necessarily decisive for E-A-T.

More in the article E-A-T & TOPICAL BRAND POSITIONING AS A CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTOR IN SEO

Role and influence of E-A-T on Google search

Basically, Google ranking can be distinguished between two areas.

Relevance: Relevance refers in the ranking to the document in relation to the search query. A content is relevant if it fits the search intention. More on relevance in the post Relevance, Pertinence and Usefulness on Google and on Search Intent in the post What is Search Intent, Search Intent & how to identify it?

Quality (E-A-T): When Google talks about quality, it often refers to the quality of an entire domain, individual website sections or all content on a particular topic. In contrast to relevance, quality refers to a more holistic view. E-A-T is Google’s quality concept.

E-A-T can have an influence on the following Google areas:

  • Rankings in classic Google search (confirmed by Google)
  • Insertion of rich snippet elements
  • Review / stars
  • FAQ snippets
  • Insertion of sitelinks
  • Featured snippets, if applicable
  • Display in Google Discover (confirmed by Google)
  • Display in Google News (confirmed by Google)
  • Indexing of content (indirectly confirmed by Google)

E-A-T rating: A mixture of Panda, links & entity signals

The theories explained in this section are not endorsed by Google but make sense in the historical context of developments in Google search, and some are listed in Google patents and scientific papers.

3 years before Google first introduced E-A-T in the Quality Rater Guidelines, the search engine provider rolled out a quality update called Panda in 2011, which addressed the quality of website content overall.

In 2012, Google rolled out another quality update called Penguin which was related to the detection and penalization of unnatural links.

Both updates were similar in procedural methodology to the Core Updates we’ve seen from Google since 2018 and closely related to E-A-T.  Both Panda, Penguin and the Core Update are/were rolled out in single major releases and were quality updates designed to prevent certain websites from making it to the top search results pages. They are also all updates that were more or less topically related.

With the Hummingbird update in 2013, Google created the basis not only to better understand documents and search queries, but also to make an E-A-T evaluation of entities such as authors and publishers possible. Thus, E-A-T is an integral part of Google’s journey to becoming a semantic search engine.

Because of this, I think Panda and Penguin served as preparation for what Google was going to do with E-A-T years later.

It is possible that parts of the updates at that time were incorporated into the algorithms for the E-A-T rating. This was then joined by other signals that are used for entity evaluation with respect to E-A-T. (More about this in the article Entities & E-A-T: The role of entities in authority and trust )

Possible factors for an E-A-t rating can be:

  • PageRank or references to the author / publisher
  • Distance to trust seed sites in link graph
  • Backlink anchor text
  • Different signals for author/publisher credibility
    • how long the author has been producing content in a subject area
    • Awareness of the author
    • Ratings of published content by users
    • If the author’s content is published by another publisher with above-average ratings
    • The number of content published by the author
    • How long ago the author last published
    • Ratings of previous publications on a similar topic by the author
    • Author’s experience based on time
    • Number of content published on a topic
    • Elapsed time to last release
    • Mentions of the author / publisher in award and best-of lists
    • Click-through rate on an author’s/publisher’s content
    • Sentiment around mentions or ratings
    • Co-occurrences of the author / publisher with thematically relevant terms in videos, podcasts & documents
    • Co-occurrences of the author / publisher with thematically relevant terms in search queries
    • Percentage of content that an author / publisher has contributed to a thematic document corpus
  • Transparency to the author / publisher via author profiles & about-us pages
  • Links to own references
  • Use of https on the domain
  • Knowledge Based Trust (agreement with conventional wisdom and facts)

In the article 14 ways Google may evaluate E-A-T, I specifically discuss possible factors for the E-A-T rating.

So that you do not lose the overview, we have created an overview graphic of the various possible factors for an E-A-T rating. Feel free to download, print and share it. Thank you!

Is there an E-A-T score?

E-A-T is more of a concept than a concrete metric for evaluating websites and individual pieces of content. The E-A-T score is a myth. There is no single summary E-A-T score. According to Google, there is no single E-A-T score into which all signals are aggregated or added up. I can imagine that Google gets an overall impression of E-A-T of an author, publisher or website through many different algorithms. This overall impression is not so much a score, but an approximation of sample image for an entity that has E-A-T. Google could use selected sample entities to train the algorithms to produce a benchmark pattern for E-A-T. The more the entity resembles this pattern image across different signals, the higher the quality. More on this in the related posts I mentioned earlier.

The Role of E-A-T in the Ranking-Process at Google

E-A-T is to be understood as a kind of meta-evaluation of a publisher, author or the associated domain in relation to one or more subject areas. In contrast, Google evaluates the relevance at the document level, i.e. each individual piece of content in relation to the respective search query and its search intention. One can say that Google evaluates the quality of a publisher/author via E-A-T and the relevance via classic information retrieval methods such as text analysis in combination with machine learning innovations such as Rankbrain and natural language processing.

Similar to the cleaning engine, E-A-T can be understood as a kind of layer that is applied to a list of search results sorted by a score. Based on the relevance signals, Google evaluates the content from the index in the scoring process at document level and then uses the collected quality signals to check the expertise, authority and trust of the sources. Accordingly, there is then a ranking bonus or a downgrade of the search results previously sorted by relevance.

Possible process of query processing, scoring and ranking on Google

.

What does YMYL mean in relation to E-A-T?

YMYL is the abbreviation for Your-Money-Your-Life. YMYL can be related to the topic of a content as well as to the source/domain. So-called YMYL pages include websites and content on the topics:

  • News and Current Events: News on important topics such as international events, business, politics, science, technology, etc. Note that not all news articles are necessarily considered YMYL (e.g., sports, entertainment, and everyday lifestyle topics are generally not YMYL). Please use your judgment and knowledge of your locale. This is where content and publishers play a key role, especially in Google News searches.
  • Government and Law: Information important to maintaining an informed citizenry, such as information about voting, government agencies, public facilities, social services, and legal issues (e.g., divorce, child) custody, adoption, creating a will, etc.).
  • Finance: Financial advice or information about investing, taxes, retirement planning, loans, banking, or insurance, especially websites where people can make purchases or transfer money online.
  • Shopping: Information or services related to researching or purchasing goods/services, specifically. Websites where people can make purchases online.
  • Health and Safety: advice or information about medical issues, medications, hospitals, emergency preparedness, how dangerous an activity is, etc.
  • Groups of people: Information about or claims related to groups of people, including but not limited to those grouped by race or ethnicity, religion, disability, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.
  • Other: there are many other topics that relate to major decisions or important aspects of people’s lives considered YMYL, such as fitness and nutrition, housing information, choosing a college, finding a job, etc.

As can be seen, large portions of the Internet and online content fall into the group of YMYL sites.

For YMYL topics, E-A-T plays a very large role and is a gatekeeper for the first 10 to 20 search results.

The Role of E-A-T in Google Ranking for YMYL Topics

How important is E-A-T for non-YMYL topics?

Google has clearly stated the importance of E-A-T for YMYL topics in the Quality Rater Guidelines and various other statements. How important E-A-T is for non-YMYL topics remains a matter of speculation. It is possible that E-A-T is included in the ranking on an equal footing with the classic information retrieval methods.

The role of E-A-T in non-YMYL topics for Google ranking.

What are the Quality Rater Guidelines and why are they closely linked to E-A-T?

E-A-T was first mentioned in the Quality Rater Guidelines in 2014.

The Quality Rater Guidelines are a detailed document that Google provides to search evaluators, or quality raters, to evaluate the search results experience after implementing an algorithm change.

The term Quality Rater Guidelines has not been used by Google for some time. The official name is “Search Quality Rater Guidelines” or General Guidelines.

Learn more about Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines here, here and here. (Here an introduction to the quality rater guidelines in german language)

Expertise = relevance of the entity

An expert is someone who has specialized knowledge in one or more specific areas. The following definition can be found in the Wikipedia:

An expert is somebody who has a broad and deep understanding and competence in terms of knowledge, skill and experience through practice and education in a particular field.

Expertise means having expert knowledge and, according to QRG, can refer to both an author and a content editor. I also like to call it entity relevance. Entity relevance ensures that Google considers a domain/publisher or author as a possible source for a given topic.

Combined with a document’s relevance, entity relevance can be the deciding factor in getting into the top n documents for ranking in the first place. A source or entity that has no relevance or expertise to a topic will have a much harder time being included in the top n search results.

For more information on determining the relevance of documents, I wrote the article How can Google identiand rank relevant documents via entities, NLP & vector space analysisfy?

Authority = importance of the entity with regard to a topic / industry

An authority is defined as follows according to Wikipedia:

The authoritarian personality is a personality type characterized by a disposition to treat authority figures with unquestioning obedience and respect.

In other words, an authority is recognized as an expert thus possesses entity relevance, has a good reputation and great influence. An authority belongs to the relevant set in an industry or topic. Transferred to Google, it is a source that should be listed on the first search results pages because the user expects it. Especially with YMYL topics (our Money Your Life) this criterion plays a major role.

Trust = reputation of the entity

Trust is closely related to the reputation of a person or source. The following is written about reputation in the Wikipedia:

Trust is the willingness of one party (the trustor) to become vulnerable to another party (the trustee) on the presumption that the trustee will act in ways that benefit the trustor.

Reputation has a similar meaning in context of search engines:

The reputation of a social entity (a person, a social group, an organization, or a place) is an opinion about that entity typically as a result of social evaluation on a set of criteria, such as behaviour or performance.

Reputation is about prestige. It means the perception of a person or organization from the outside. Reputation and trust are closely and directly related. About this in the QRG:

Reputation is an important criteria when using the High rating, and informs the E-A-T of the page. While a page can merit the High rating with no reputation, the High rating cannot be used for any website that has a convincing negative reputation. Remember that when doing research, make sure to consider the reasons behind a negative rating and not just the rating itself.

As an author or publisher, can you also be rated well in terms of E-A-T in multiple areas?

One of the most common questions about E-A-T is whether you can have authority, trust, and expertise in multiple subject areas in the eyes of Google. The question can be answered with a vague “it depends”. E-A-T is a topic-related ranking factor on Google. Theoretically, it is possible to be ranked well in different topics regarding E-A-T. Especially when topics are semantically adjacent. However, an SEO who wants to position himself as a psychologist at the same time will have a hard time, because he has to build up two different identities in order to be perceived as an authority and expert in both areas. In addition, care should then also be taken to ensure that both identities are clearly segmented from one another in different ontologies with different profiles, digital representations and content.

Why is E-A-T so important for Google?

The consideration of author and publisher in terms of credibility and expertise has become increasingly important for Google, in particular due to social pressure on Google, among other things, as a result of the discussions surrounding fake news. But also for the user experience, a high degree of accuracy and relevance is a top priority for search engines. Read more in the article INSIGHTS FROM THE WHITEPAPER “HOW GOOGLE FIGHTS MISINFORMATION” ON E-A-T AND RANKING

The E-A-T ratings introduced in version 5.0 of the Quality Rater Guidelines as part of the PQ rating in 2015 show how important the factors of relevance, trust and authority are for Google.

The Quality Rater Guidelines list the following important criteria for evaluating a website:

  • The Purpose of the Page
  • Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Use your researchon the additional factors below to inform your rating.
  • Main Content Quality and Amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
  • Website Information/information about who is responsible for the MC: Find information about the website aswell as the creator of the MC.
  • Website Reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the MC: Links to help with reputation researchwill be provided.

Expertise, authority and trustworthiness are currently described in the Quality Rater Guidelines as follows:

  • The expertise of the MC creator.
  • The authority of the MC creator, the MC itself and the website.
  • The trustworthiness of the MC creator, the MC itself and the website.

From 2018 till today there were some major core updates from Google that suggest that signals that feed into the concept of E-A-T have become significantly more important for ranking. There are no concrete indications from Google as to exactly which signals feed into E-A-T. However, there are some indirect indications from white papers and patents as well as the Quality Rater Guidelines and Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines already mentioned.

Google has been under a lot of pressure for a few years now regarding misinformation in search results, which is underlined by the whitepaper “How Google fights Disinformation” presented at the Munich Security Conference in February 2019. Read more in the article .

Google wants to optimize its own search system to provide great content for the respective search queries depending on the context of the user and taking into account the most reliable sources. The Quality Raters play a special role here.

„We publish publicly available rater guidelines that describe in great detail how our systems intend to surface great content… we like to say that Search is designed to return relevant results from the most reliable sources available… But notions of relevance and trustworthiness are ultimately human judgments, so to measure whether our systems are in fact understanding these correctly, we need to gather insights from people.“ Source: https://blog.google/products/search/raters-experiments-improve-google-search/

The evaluation according to E-A-T criteria plays a central role for the Quality Raters.

„They evaluate whether those pages meet the information needs based on their understanding of what that query was seeking, and they consider things like how authoritative and trustworthy that source seems to be on the topic in the query. To evaluate things like expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness—sometimes referred to as “E-A-T”—raters are asked to do reputational research on the sources. „Quelle: https://blog.google/products/search/raters-experiments-improve-google-search/

For the customer experience when using the search engine, a high quality of search results is the focus for Google. This becomes clear when one takes a look at statements made by various Google spokespersons regarding a quality factor at the document and domain level.

For example, the following statements by Paul Haahr at SMX West 2016 in his presentation How Google works: A Google Ranking Engineer’s Story:

“Another problem we were having was an issue with quality and this was particularly bad (we think of it as around 2008 2009 to 2011) we were getting lots of complaints about low-quality content and they were right. We were seeing the same low-quality thing but our relevance metrics kept going up and that’s because the low-quality pages can be very relevant this is basically the definition of a content form in our vision of the world so we thought we were doing great our numbers were saying we were doing great and we were delivering a terrible user experience and turned out we weren’t measuring what we needed to so what we ended up doing was defining an explicit quality metric which got directly at the issue of quality it’s not the same as relevance …. and it enabled us to develop quality related signals separate from relevant signals and really improve them independently so when the metrics missed something what ranking engineers need to do is fix the rating guidelines… or develop new metrics.”

This quote is from the part of the presentation on Quality Rater Guidelines and E-A-T. In this talk, Paul also mentions that Trustworthiness is the most important part of E-A-T. According to Paul’s statements, the criteria mentioned in the Quality Rater Guidelines for bad and good content and websites in general are the blueprint for how the ranking algorithm should work.

Also from 2016 is the following statement by John Mueller from a Google Webmaster Hangout:

For the most part, we do try to understand the content and the context of the pages individually to show them properly in search. There are some things where we do look at a website overall though.

So for example, if you add a new page to a website and we’ve never seen that page before, we don’t know what the content and context is there, then understanding what kind of a website this is helps us to better understand where we should kind of start with this new page in search.

So that’s something where there’s a bit of both when it comes to ranking. It’s the pages individually, but also the site overall.

I think there is probably a misunderstanding that there’s this one site-wide number that Google keeps for all websites and that’s not the case.  We look at lots of different factors and there’s not just this one site-wide quality score that we look at. So we try to look at a variety of different signals that come together, some of them are per page, some of them are more per site, but it’s not the case where there’s one number and it comes from these five pages on your website.

Here, John emphasizes that in addition to the classic relevance ratings, there are also rating criteria for the complete website that relate to the thematic context of the entire website. This means that there are signals that Google uses to classify the entire website thematically as well as to evaluate it. The proximity to the E-A-T rating is obvious.

In addition, Google confirmed in April 2020 the closeness of the E-A-T concept to the ranking signals that the ranking algorithm takes into account, or that webmasters should evaluate their own content according to E-A-T.

„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.“

In the Quality Rater Guidelines, you can find this passage that emphasizes the importance of E-A-T:

“Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. …. Important: Lacking appropriate E­A­T is sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.” 

Also in the already mentioned Google whitepaper you can find various passages about E-A-T and the Quality Rater Guidelines:

We continue to improve on Search every day. In 2017 alone, Google conducted more than 200,000 experiments that resulted in about 2,400 changes to Search. Each of those changes is tested to make sure it aligns with our publicly available Search Quality Rater Guidelines, which define the goals of our ranking systems and guide the external evaluators who provide ongoing assessments of our algorithms.”

The systems do not make subjective determinations about the truthfulness of webpages, but rather focus on measurable signals that correlate with how users and other websites value the expertisetrustworthiness, or authoritativeness of a webpage on the topics it covers.”

Ranking algorithms are an important tool in our fight against disinformation. Ranking elevates the relevant information that our algorithms determine is the most authoritative and trustworthy above information that may be less reliable. These assessments may vary for each webpage on a website and are directly related to our users’ searches. For instance, a national news outlet’s articles might be deemed authoritative in response to searches relating to current events, but less reliable for searches related to gardening.”

Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content. However, it is specifically designed to identify sites with high indicia of expertiseauthority, and trustworthiness.”

For these “YMYL” pages, we assume that users expect us to operate with our strictest standards of trustworthiness and safety. As such, where our algorithms detect that a user’s query relates to a “YMYL” topic, we will give more weight in our ranking systems to factors like our understanding of the authoritativenessexpertise, or trustworthiness of the pages we present in response.”

The following statement is particularly exciting. There it becomes clear how powerful E-A-T can be in certain contexts and in relation to events compared to classical relevance factors.

“To reduce the visibility of this type of content, we have designed our systems to prefer authority over factors like recency or exact word matches while a crisis is developing.“

The effects of E-A-T could be observed in the last few years on various Google Core updates associated with E-A-T.

More reading tips and videos on E-A-T assessment and YMYL

Zu Olaf Kopp

Olaf Kopp is Co-Founder, Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO) and Head of SEO at Aufgesang GmbH. His work focuses on the topics of digital brand building, E-A-T, semantic SEO, content marketing, online marketing strategies along the customer journey. He is the author of the book "Content Marketing along the Customer Journey", co-organizer of the SEAcamp and host of the german podcasts Content-Kompass and OM Cafe. As an enthusiastic search engine and content marketer, he writes for various specialist magazines, including Search Engine Land, t3n, Website Boosting, Hubspot ... His blog is one of the most famous online marketing blogs in Germany. In addition, Olaf Kopp is a speaker for SEO and content marketing at Hanover University of Applied Sciences, SMX, CMCx, OMT, OMX, Campixx...

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