What is E-A-T? Why It’s Important for Local SEO.
“E-A-T” (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) has been a trendy topic in SEO for the past few years. I love this AHREFS chart showing how each month hundreds of new articles on the topic are published.
Thanks to Joshua Hardnick for the idea.
A lot of the SEO literature on E-A-T focuses on “serious” YMYL categories like Health & Finance, but a perusal through Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (yes, I read them so you don’t ever have to – here’s my GoFundMe link) implies that E-A-T is relevant for pretty much every type of search. After all, who is to say what’s more or less important to anyone else? Maybe we should change “Your Money or Your Life” to just “Your Life?” And if E-A-T applies to everything, then since we at LSG are pretty well convinced that everything, in Search at least, sooner or later is going Local, then it stands to reason that E-A-T should apply to Local SEO, and thus, we all should be applying E-A-T techniques to our Local SEO campaigns. And if so, how?
Historically, LSG’s POV on E-A-T is we don’t talk about it much. It’s far too squishy and it implies that an algorithm is borderline sentient. We prefer to discuss E-A-T-like things as technical terms. Thinking about them this way gives us ideas for how to work with them for our clients. It also helps us avoid super-helpful recommendations like “make good content.” As the master himself said nearly a year ago, E-A-T is not an algorithm, but rather E-A-T signals should align with what the algorithm is looking for:
Our systems aren’t looking for EAT. Our raters are using that to see if our systems are working well to show good information. There are many different signals that, if we get it right, align with what a good human EAT assessment would be. See also: https://t.co/1fs2oJ9Gtl pic.twitter.com/GBbnYEjJUV
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) February 19, 2020
And a year before that, Google announced that it was applying BERT to local search:
In early November, we began making use of neural matching as part of the process of generating local search results. Neural matching allows us to better understand how words are related to concepts, as explained more here: https://t.co/ShQm7g9CvN
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 2, 2019
And Danny followed up with a little more nuance about how this might work:
It’s about language, not proximity. But to the degree that language might help us understand something is related to a place, it may have an influence.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 2, 2019
So this got us thinking that perhaps we could use E-A-T concepts to increase relevance at the local level.
WHAT IS E-A-T FOR SEO?
Before we can figure out what E-A-T LOCAL is, let’s lay down a baseline as to what E-A-T for SEO overall is. Great SEOs like Marie Haynes and Lily Ray have gone through a lot of time and effort to pick apart how Google might define E-A-T. In reviewing some of the top posts and presentations on the subject, the consensus says E-A-T for SEO can be defined as:
- Up to date content
- Factually accurate content
- Positive reviews
- Content created by experts
- Content that supports that your experts are in fact experts
- Content on 3rd party sites that suggests your experts are experts
- Content on 3rd party sites that suggests your experts and/or your site are authorities (e.g having a Wikipedia page, a Knowledge Panel for the author, etc.)
- Links from relevant URLs on other sites
There’s nothing mind-blowing here, and you can see how you could start to bake these concepts into a tactical campaign – make sure your content is accurate and up to date, use “known” authors, get positive reviews, and of course, get some links. But Local SEO has always been a slightly different game and so it stands to reason E-A-T for Local should have its own peculiarities as well.
WHAT IS E-A-T FOR LOCAL SEO?
The TL:DR (IMO of course): E-A-T for Local SEO is a collection of attributes a search engine might use to evaluate the prominence, proximity, and relevance of a local business entity in order to rank it for a specific search query.
Now let’s take a shot at breaking E-A-T LOCAL down into “technical” terms.
HOW DO WE DEFINE LOCAL EXPERTISE, AUTHORITATIVENESS, & TRUST?
If I were a Google search engineer, I would think of how a search query might express a request for “local expertise.” In English, that might translate to “A business near me that sells cake.”
I might define “local authoritativeness” as “A businesses near me that sells great cake according to the wisdom of the crowd.”
And I might define “local trust” as “A business near me that sells great cake and is not a Q-Anon front.”
So besides the E-A-T factors listed above, what might be some Local-specific variables that could affect your site’s E-A-T. Let’s start with the obvious ones, using our cake example:
- Google My Business Categorization and Services
- Local Citations
If Yelp says you bake cakes, who is Google to disagree?
- Physical Location
Is the bakery “near me?” A business’ location supports the “local” part of “local expertise” just as much as the fact that it’s a bakery supports the “expertise” part.
- Hours of Operation
For some queries you may be more of an expert if you are open now.
- Aged GMB Post Content
Post content can show up as “justifications” on your Local Pack results. If you are posting about cake, there’s a good chance you sell cake.
- Presence of the Topic on the Bakery’s Website
You may want to use some words on your site that imply you sell cakes. In low competition verticals, this is really one of the keys.
- Review Content
According to the Guidelines, not having reviews should not necessarily be a sign of low page quality. That said, having positive reviews with words that map to your target queries definitely supports authoritativeness.
- GMB Images
In some verticals, people really want to see images. They absolutely helps sell the clicks. GMB reports on them. Appropriate imagery attached to your GMB can be a good sign of expertise. User photos could be a good sign of authority.
- Structured Data
Certainly marking up your business with LocalBusiness schema and your authors with Person schema makes it easier for Google to connect these with other entities in its Knowledge Graph, which helps establish authority. I particularly like the knowsAbout property in schema to underscore expertise.
- Links/Citations From Other Local & National E-A-T Sites
The only one thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Same goes with links. In our experience once you’ve got your onsite E-A-T going, getting other sites that appear in Google to be relevant for your target queries to link to you or at least just mention you is key to both establishing your site as an authority and just plain ranking better. In fact, you might be able to ignore most of the above and just focus on this for any number of verticals.
FUZZIER E-A-T LOCAL SIGNALS
Now that we have the obvious stuff out of the way, I thought I’d add a few ideas that are definitely on the “fuzzy” side of the SEO theory. What are some more abstract ways that Google could algorithmically get an E-A-T vibe from your brand?
- SERP Clicks for Non-Brand Queries
Click behavior affect rankings has been oft reported. We saw it have a dramatic effect in the early COVID days as online retailers ran out of hand sanitizer, searchers pogo sticked down the results to find who had it in stock, and Google re-ordered the search results on a minute-by-minute basis. Certainly these clicks are signal of Authority.
- Search Demand for Brand + Service/Product
We see similar behavior when people en masse search for a brand plus a topic. It’s another signal that the brand/domain is an Authority on that topic.
- Foot Traffic
There’s a reason Android is tracking the crap out of you.
- Local Business License
This one is sketchy. If it were important, then how could so many spammy sites rank well in the Pack? But it should be relatively trivial for Google to know that you are in a fact a legit business in the state, and perhaps it is a minor signal of “Local” Expertise.
- Responses to GMB Q&A/Reviews
This could definitely help with both Expertise and Authority. Whether it does or not is another story of course.
- Social Media Activity
I have seen some people say this is absolutely critical to E-A-T. I could see Google mining Twitter data and perhaps some other social nets, but I’d limit this to something like if you’re a baker, then share stuff about cakes on social media and make sure your accounts link together.
- Participation in Relevant Local & Industry Communities
Not just participation, “expert” participation. Google’s patent on Search Result Ranking Based on Trust states “Some vertical knowledge sites now provide various types of indicators or proxies for the trustworthiness of particular individuals who participate at the site.” So being active on community sites that rank well in Google for relevant terms and being acknowledged on those sites as an expert, seems like a pretty solid way to establish your Local E-A-T-tiness.
ISN’T E-A-T LOCAL JUST BASICALLY DOING GOOD LOCAL SEO?
Relevant content, clear location and categorization, good reviews, and relevant links pretty much align with E-A-T concepts. So maybe you have all been doing E-A-T LOCAL all along and didn’t even know it. Well congratulations, now you have a brand new acronym to put in your presentations like this one I just gave at SEMpdx: