Ever since Google publicly released their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, webmasters and SEOs have gained better insight into what makes content “great.” Prior to the guidelines being released, a lot of SEOs believed that simply putting 500 words on a page, sticking in a few keywords and pointing a few links was enough.
In verticals with low competition, or with little investment, this will likely be enough to rank reasonably well, but in a competitive vertical a deeper understanding is required.
These releases also coincided with the real-time update to the Panda algorithm. For a long time Panda has been misunderstood, and to an extent it still is. Search engines, user behavior and SEO have all evolved over the past 20 years and what used to be best practice isn’t necessarily the same now.
E – A – T
A major part of the evaluator guidelines is the E-A-T acronym (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness).
When an evaluator looks at a page and the content on it, they need to ask themselves if the author of the content can be deemed as an expert in the field, if the page/domain itself can be classed as an authority and if it can be a trusted source.
Expertise and authorship itself is one of the criteria for having a website accepted into Google News, so having a clear author box on posts, a bio and an authorship page with information and other citations can go a long way to displaying a high level of E-A-T.
These are all very difficult qualities to fake, and it’s important to remember that these guidelines aren’t for algorithms, they are for human eyes that can verify information in the way that all humans do – research. Expertise can be attained through various means, such as writing articles for reputable newspapers and blogs, contributing to forums and Q&A websites. You can also have experts write articles on your website, leveraging their authority, influence and trust for your own means.
As fake news and fake content is now more relevant than ever before, faking your credentials or citing places you have been featured when you haven’t can seriously damage your E-A-T.
Authority comes from reputation, and again is very difficult to fake. What you need to do to be an authority varies between verticals, and authority doesn’t necessarily come from credentials or education achievements, but can stem from citations on external websites or from press cuttings.
Trust comes from a number of factors, including:
- Having a prominent and detailed about page
- Having prominent contact information, especially important for e-commerce websites
- Having well written policies that aren’t copy and paste templates
- Return & refund policies, especially important for e-commerce websites
Trust can also come from citations, so if you have been featured on other websites or in industry journals, blogs or magazines then make sure that they are included.
The guidelines also spell out three types of on-page content that they advise the evaluators to look for and review. These are main, supplemental and sponsored.
Main content is defined by the guidelines as what is imminently visible upon page load, the main body of the page. Page design should make it immediately clear what the main body is.
If a page’s main content is hidden behind a pay wall, subscription-wall or isn’t immediately accessible to a user it could be devalued, especially if the same type of content can be found elsewhere for free.
How Much Do I Need To Write?
One of the biggest misunderstandings of the Panda algorithm in my opinion is the “500 words” concept. Someone somewhere once wrote that a page might be considered thin and low value if it had less than 500 words on it. As a result some SEOs and content writers rushed to write at least 500 words on everything, like it was some sort of magic milestone.
The truth is, that you need to write as much content as is needed that sufficiently answers a user query, whether this be 100 words, 5000 words or two words.
Content Is More Than Just Words/Keywords
It’s also important to remember that content is more than just words on a page.
If a user were searching for holiday destination information, it would be beneficial to include tables showing average temperatures and rainfalls, as well as other useful local information that a user would find beneficial.
TIP: A great indicator of what is required to rank for certain queries is to look at what is already being considered by Google as quality and use that as a benchmark.
Content has also evolved from just being about targeting specific keywords and targeting ones with the highest search volume, rather than relevant keywords.
Sponsored and affiliated content has arguably been a big focus of recent Google updates (January 2017 interstitials penalty and the March 2017 “Fred” update). Websites with excessive or deceptive adverts and affiliate links have seen a drop in rankings following Fred, but this shouldn’t have come as a shock.
Affiliate links and advertisements on a page, according to the guidelines, should be identifiable to users either through explicit labelling or through the pages organization and design.
Great supplemental content should be visible, but can be easily ignored. Related blog posts at the end of a page, in a side bar, or non-intrusively entered half-way through the page itself.
SERPs Can Change
Google is continuously looking to serve content that “highly meets” a users needs, and this can change literally overnight, an example of this being the Dyn DDoS Attack.
On October 21 2016, DNS provider Dyn Inc. was subject to the largest DDoS attack that has ever been recorded (a staggering 1.2 terabits per second) and as a result, a lot of big mainstream websites such as Amazon, AirBnB and HBO were out of service.
Overnight search terms such as DNS, DDoS and CDN all saw huge spikes in interest from a wide variety of searchers. The type of content that was ranking on October 20th was no longer relevant for the type of user searching, and overnight the top ~75 positions all changed and to an extent, this still remains.
Other changes can happen over a longer period of time as Google evaluates and changes its search results to better meet a users needs.
What Isn’t An E-A-T Signal
There are some misconceptions about what does and does not constitute a signal when it comes to establishing a page’s E-A-T value.
Type Of Page/Domain
The type of page is not important, it’s the purpose that matters. The page can be a PDF, a commercial page, product or product category, blog post or just an etc. page, it doesn’t matter.
Google may discriminate for some queries the type of result, especially for commercial and non-commercial queries. The type of domain also doesn’t factor in, so a .edu or .ac.uk domain does not have a higher E-A-T than a .com or .co.uk vis-à-vis.
On Page Adverts
With the interstitials penalty, and the Fred update already this year a lot of webmasters have shown knee-jerk reactions to wanting to rid websites of all adverts. The presence or absence of adverts is not a factor;
Webmasters can choose to display Ads on their page (for example by joining an advertising network), but they may not always directly control the content of the Ads. However, we will consider a website responsible for the overall quality of the Ads displayed.
Google does like webpages and websites that are frequently and regularly updated, the freshness of content however is not indicative of expertise, trust or authority.
Updates to the algorithm over recent years see to have an ever increasing emphasis on user quality, especially in a fake news era. This means it’s very difficult now to fake user value, reputation or authority.
In order to generate these E-A-T signals you need to do more than just create content and pointing links towards it. To show signs of quality you need to engage in off-site marketing, advertising ,and PR activities to build your brand, which does not happen overnight.
In recent weeks I have witnessed websites that used “keyword stuffing” techniques within on-page and structural content see decreases in rankings, especially at a local level. Content needs to provide value to users, and not be geared towards keywords and rankings.
Google is going to continue to positively reinforce content focused on providing user value, and there is a strong possibility that it will continue to adjust it’s core (and Panda) algorithms to refine it’s results.
My advice is to make sure that your main content provides user value, answers user queries and provide a good level of supplemental and supporting content through additional pages or onsite blogs, and not focus too much around keywords and search volumes.