December 6, 2021

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E-A-T: Is It A Ranking Factor In Google Search? via @sejournal, @mirandalmwrites

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Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) are important to Google. This is inarguable.

In fact, E-A-T is such an essential element in how Google perceives web content that it’s mentioned 135 times in Google’s 167-page Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.

But is it an algorithmic ranking factor?

Let’s put this one through the paces.

The Claim: E-A-T As A Ranking Factor

I like to start each one of the evaluations with a Google search. Chances are if you’re Joe or Jane SEO looking for ammo to back an idea you’re about to pitch the boss or explain something to a client, that’s what you’re going to do.

And if you search Google today for evidence that E-A-T is a ranking factor, you’re going to find a lot of compelling results that would make the case for your boss or client:

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The Evidence For E-A-T As A Ranking Factor

I’m only linking the last article above, as the first is flat-out hyperbolic and the second implies E-A-T is a single factor with a measurable score.

We know that not to be true.

Marie Haynes, on the other hand, is someone I have a lot of respect for in this industry.

And as she tends to do, Haynes does the work of dissecting and evaluating the information, careful not to jump to conclusions.

Haynes explains:

“There is no one single E-A-T score that Google assigns to a website. Rather, there are multiple algorithms at Google that use the idea of E-A-T.”

Rather than comprising a factor of their own, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness inform other ranking factors.

That makes them even more essential for SEO pros.

Haynes’s conclusions are based largely on a 2019 whitepaper called “How Google Fights Disinformation,” which states:

“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 expertise, authority and trustworthiness.”

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She was also involved in a conversation on Twitter in which Googler Danny Sullivan said:

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The Evidence Against E-A-T As A Ranking Factor

Assigning a single score to a piece of content that encompasses all of E-A-T is impossible, even for Google, who say as much in the aforementioned whitepaper:

“Google is not in a situation to assess objectively, and at scale, the veracity of a piece of content or the intent of its creators. Further, a considerable percentage of content contains information that cannot be objectively verified as fact.

This is because it either lacks necessary context, because it is delivered through an ideological lens others may disagree with, or because it is constructed from contested datapoints.”

Further, they explain:

“The systems (Google News and Search algorithms) 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 expertise, trustworthiness, or authoritativeness of a webpage on the topics it covers.”

Google has been clear on how the Search Quality Raters Guidelines are used, noting that it conducted over 200,000 experiments with human raters in 2017 alone.

Those raters assess the utility and quality of each piece of content based on its based expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

“The resulting ratings do not affect the ranking of any individual website, but they do help us benchmark the quality of our results, which in turn allows us to build algorithms that globally recognize results that meet high-quality criteria,” Google says.

In short, the three characteristics of E-A-T are important signals as to whether a piece of content can be trusted.

E-A-T As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

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To be clear, our verdict is somewhat a matter of semantics, but not entirely.

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There is no “E-A-T ranking factor” in the sense that no measurable E-A-T score or rating exists that will push your search rankings up or down.

Ultimately, E-A-T is a concept, not a ranking factor.

But the E-A-T framework represents very real signals that Google evaluates for the purposes of ranking.

E-A-T is an integral part of the search experience and Google is acutely aware of its importance in modern information retrieval and dissemination.

Google is committed to improving the quality of search results by using expertise, authoritativeness, and trust to inform PageRank and other ranking factors.

This is particularly true where disinformation could result in actual harm to a searcher, as is the case in politics and Your Money Your Life (YMYL) content.

Google uses E-A-T to determine the veracity of all content.

That means E-A-T must be incorporated into every single piece of content you produce – and it’s an ongoing process.

You can neither manipulate E-A-T (not for long, anyway) nor ignore it.

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Google is committed to ridding its index of harmful misinformation, meaning E-A-T will only continue to grow in importance. Ignore it at your peril.


Featured image: Paulo Bobita

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