In 2015, Google released a very important document titled the ‘Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines’, or SQEG for short. The document was designed to help Google’s human page evaluators assess web page quality. However, it also proves extremely useful for brands and gives us a clear indication of what we should be thinking about when it comes to improving our page quality and boosting our site’s performance. We’re here to give you the ins and outs of the SQEG Part 1 and explain how you can apply this to help improve your site’s SEO using three main concepts:
Let’s look at these in more detail…
Google evaluates the purpose of a web page and places high value on pages that set out to provide helpful information or have any other beneficial purpose to the user. Whereas, if a page is created solely to cause harm or deceive the user, then it will be given the lowest quality rating and will be poorly ranked accordingly. This also includes web pages which are saturated in advertisements and are created only for money-making purposes.
The mention of ‘purpose’ can be seen throughout the SQEG and highlights just how important it is to focus on creating user-centric content rather than simply writing for search engines or profits. The following excerpt is taken directly from Google’s SQEG (page 9) and details some examples of useful content which demonstrate beneficial purpose:
As you can see, a page with a beneficial purpose could be anything from a helpful how-to guide or forum for shared experiences to an ecommerce product page. The purpose of your content will depend on various factors, such as your target audience, the type of website you have and the user intent you aim to satisfy; there is no one type of beneficial page.
E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. Each of these factors are assessed by Google to determine page quality. Google will rank websites that it trusts and that offer high quality content highly. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the acronym…
Expertise looks at the creator of the page and assesses whether they have the right knowledge, skills or experience to be writing on the subject. Google looks for recognised credentials and qualifications when evaluating creator expertise.
Google states that the authority of a page will depend on the creator of the content, the on-page content itself and the website. For example, it will look at the domain authority of your site and online reputation of the content creator.
Google deems a page trustworthy if it provides users with accurate information using reliable sources or is written by an expert. When evaluating trustworthiness, Google looks at the content creator, as well as the page and website.
There seems to be some debate as to whether E-A-T is a direct ranking factor or not. In short, the answer is no. The quality rating for E-A-T is not a system internally used by Google to rank pages and is not part of any specific algorithm. However, that’s not to say it does not play a significant role in your ability to rank! This is what Google has to say about the matter:
E-A-T is a contributing factor to the success of your website. Pages that provide a beneficial purpose for users and gain Google’s trust will be more likely to outrank competitors in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and attract more website traffic. In turn, this will help you achieve greater online business success.
Domain authority is also a factor with E-A-T. Domain authority refers to the relevance and trustworthiness of a website in relation to a certain industry and has a direct impact on how well the website ranks in the SERPs. The more competitive the industry, the less likely a site with a low domain authority will rank. Domain authority is heavily influenced by the expertise of the site and content creators, as well as the quality of the content provided. This suggests that E-A-T is significant to improving rankings.
The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines also discusses YMYL, which stands for ‘Your Money or Your Life’. Your Money or Your Life refers to any type of content that will have an impact on your readers’ ‘happiness, health, safety or financial security’. Google takes YMYL pages very seriously since you could have a negative impact on someone’s life if you provide deceptive or incorrect information. For this reason, E-A-T is crucial for YMYL pages.
Evidently, YMYL is very broad and covers many different types of sites and pages, including pet care, law firms, car insurance and most ecommerce sites. YMYL is something that you may not have considered before but since almost all websites have YMYL pages, you should begin optimising them for E-A-T. This will help you provide further beneficial purpose and increase your chances of ranking in the top positions in the SERPs, and gaining more featured snippets.
A featured snippet refers to the top result that appears in the search results pages and provides a direct answer to the user query. Obtaining the featured snippet will help increase clicks through to your website since over 25% of users are likely to select the top result in Google. At the time of writing this article, Google has limited the number of featured snippets available with the two largest drops being in key YMYL industries: 68% decrease in the health industry and 60% in finance. This demonstrates Google’s scrutiny when assessing YMYL pages and shows that only the highest quality E-A-T pages have the ability to rank in these positions.
It may not always be clear whether you’re dealing with a YMYL page or not. A more obvious example is if you’re writing an article about the tell-tale signs of Covid. In this case, you would need to be a medical expert otherwise someone’s life could be at risk. However, it could also be something as simple as advice on how to change a lightbulb, a seemingly simple content piece, yet could have negative implications for the reader if electricals are handled incorrectly.
All types of content will require you to apply E-A-T to some extent, however with YMYL pages you need to be extra vigilant to provide expert writers and trustworthy content to prevent being poorly ranked in the SERPs. Before going about creating new E-A-T informed YMYL pages, we recommend sieving through your existing content and identifying any YMYL pages or blogs you have on your site, and begin updating these to meet the guidelines. Here’s a few tips and tricks on how you can do this.
You should now have a strong understanding of the two acronyms but how do you apply this?
Prove to Google that you have the relevant knowledge to be sharing this information with your readers. For most content, you won’t need a degree in astrophysics but you do need to do your research and reference secondary sources to support your content and ensure it is well informed.
For more serious YMYL sites, especially medical-related pages, the content creator should be an expert in the field, a doctor or nurse, for example. However, the type of expert needed for a page will depend on the type of page it is. For instance, if you write a blog article about your favourite eco-friendly recipes, there is no right or wrong answer. In this instance, the purpose of the blog is to express an opinion and does not require any expertise. Whereas, an article about the effects of global warming would require an expert as this is not an opinion piece but a factual article.
We recommend creating individual author pages on your website for your regular content writers instead of the blog author being unnamed or ‘admin’. An author page should include the educational and professional background of the individual, professional achievements, awards, social networking links and contact information. This will give your blogs an identity, showcase any qualifications, extra skills or experience your content creators have, and tick all the boxes to demonstrate expertise to Google and your readers. For guest writers, as well as regulars, you should link out to their Linkedin profiles or other credentials to indicate that the creator is trustworthy.
In addition to proving expertise for your writers, your site’s authority in the subject matter is equally important. To demonstrate this, there are a number of things you can do. We recommend listing your awards and notable certified partnerships on your site, as shown below.
You should also ensure your contact information and ‘About Us’ page is easily accessible in the navigation for both users and search engine crawlers. This helps show credibility to Google and demonstrate what your site is about. Displaying customer reviews on your website can also be useful at gaining the trust of Google and your users.
There are some on-page optimisations you can make in order to build authority for your YMYL pages and improve E-A-T. Firstly, you should ensure that your internal linking structure ensures that there are multiple links within your site pointing towards important YMYL pages so they are easily indexable by Google. Building pillar and cluster pages is an effective strategy for this. A pillar page acts as an information hub or can also be a transactional page, and is ideally where you want to divert most of your traffic. You can create cluster pages which contain supporting content and use these to link towards the pillar page and help build authority for this page. Producing useful semantically-relevant content and building your internal linking structure indicates to Google that you are knowledgeable in this particular topic. As such, Google will deem your pages highly relevant and rank them higher in the SERPs, making it easier for your target audience to find you online. Here’s a diagram to simplify the concept:
External linking can also help to improve your user experience. For instance, linking out to helpful resources that support the content of your blogs can show trustworthiness and give readers the option to read more on the topic. Remember to only link to reliable sources with appropriate domain authority.
A backlink strategy can work as an effective off-page optimisation strategy to increase your website’s domain authority and help boost authoritativeness and trustworthiness. Some of the best ways to do this is through digital PR campaigns. Adopting a tailored digital PR strategy will enable you to gain valuable backlinks which acts as a vote of confidence to your priority pages and signal the trustworthiness of these pages to Google. Pages with more ‘votes of confidence’ from reliable sources are deemed more valuable and will have better ranking potential. For some more tips on how to optimise for E-A-T, please see our E-A-T SEO checklist.
Ultimately, Google wants to provide its users with the most detailed and helpful content in order to satisfy their query. To do this, Google must prioritise the pages that deliver on E-A-T and our top tips are sure to help you achieve this. The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines provide fantastic benchmarks to help you improve your YMYL pages with E-A-T; it is definitely worth a read! To find out more about E-A-T and YMYL, please refer to the latest version of the SQEG or get in touch with our team for more information.