E-A-T (short for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust) is a term used by Google in their Quality Rater’s Guidelines (PDF). Since the term first emerged, there has been great speculation as to exactly what it means, how it is measured, and how important a ranking signal it is, or even if it is a ranking signal at all.
The short answer to whether it is a ranking signal is: Yes and No.
For the complete answer, we need to dig into the various things we know about it.
What do the Quality Rater’s Guidelines Say About E-A-T?
Remember that the first step of PQ rating is to understand the true purpose of the page. Websites or pages without some sort of beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating. For all other pages that have a beneficial purpose, the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T)is very important. –Google QRG (PDF)
From here, the guide goes on to explain how to determine the various values – by checking links, looking for information about the authors, and so on. Much of what they describe are things I have discussed here at Equestics like understanding entities in semantic frames, citing credible sources to help build those frames, and generally backing up your claims and making clear connections between the entities.
What Are Quality Raters for Google?
The next thing we need to understand is what the quality raters actually do. Much of the speculation about whether E-A-T is a ranking factor comes down to the assertion that Google talks about this in the guidelines, but then has also said that Google doesn’t evaluate a site’s authority.
The important thing to understand in this context is what the Quality Raters are doing for Google. These are people who are hired to run Google searches and then evaluate the job the algorithm is doing. So, this suggests that if they are told to evaluate things in this way, that the algorithm must be doing something similar. It would be silly to have the raters base the quality of the search algorithm on something the search algorithm is incapable of doing. The question isn’t whether or not it’s doing it – the question is whether or not it’s doing it well.
Confusion From Moz’s Domain Authority Value
Confusion over all of this is also compounded by the existence of Moz’s Domain Authority value which their SEO tools use. This came about after Google took away the PageRank bar. SEO people, like everyone else, likes a simple and straightforward answer to a question. “How Good is this site?” Until Google hid PageRank, we’d tend to use that as a measure. With that gone, the folks over at Moz came up with a new number which takes a lot of the things we know about how PageRank is evaluated and then added to it some extra factors that arguably make it a more useful scale.
It’s important to remember two things about Domain Authority though:
- It has NOTHING at all to do with E-A-T nor the things we’re talking about when establishing and building our Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust.
- It is NOT a value that Google uses. They may come up with some sort of factors in similar ways, but it’s not really an accurate measure of any specific value that Google uses.
Much of what Google responds to with questions about authority seem to be answering questions about Moz’s DA score and not what we’re talking about.
What Does This All Mean, Then?
As a score, there is almost certainly no E-A-T value that is created and stored anywhere. We know from various patents that Google has filed that they do have ideas for computerized methods of establishing authority on specific subjects (which is not saying that a site has authority on every subject), and determining a site’s quality score – among others.
As a complex set of factors which are heavily influenced by context, framed entities, and Google’s understanding of things, then yeah…
This all adds up to one heck of a ranking signal.
Don’t be confused by the name and don’t be confused by the fact that no one can give it a value.
One Step Beyond – Google’s Trust In Any Entity
We’ve talked a lot about entities and building knowledge graphs around these framed entities. I think just about every post here in the Search Engines section of this blog talks about them at some point. As we’ve learned, an entity is a “thing” – it can be a web site, a web page, a person, a movie, or even a sub-sandwich. There are lots of areas where Google has a pretty good frame of knowledge around things, and other areas where it doesn’t know so much. Even some entities which are well established might have areas where Google can’t really trust what it knows.
Search for “Global Warming” and Google has a ton of knowledge graphs and enhanced listings to show us. But once you bring in the question of whether it’s “man made” or not, Google’s not so sure. Now, remember, machines can’t really determine facts – what they can do is look around through what they know and see if there is a consensus. Once it has a consensus on something, then it can attach that to the frame it has for an entity and treat it as such.
When trying to rank a page for something, you need to consider the entities on the page and consider what Google probably already knows about them. If you concur with what the machine knows, you don’t have to do much. If, on the other hand, you want to make a counter point, you need to back that up with some evidence. If I’m trying to suggest that climate change is natural, I’m going to want to back up my claims by citing important and peer reviewed documents – not linking to some sensationalist site. The better and more reliable your source, the more trust Google can have in your counter-claim as being valid.
Big Secret: Ultimately, “truth” is not as important a consideration as building trust in the fact that what you’re saying can be backed up by others who are trusted by others who are trusted by others. (See where “links” come into play here?)
The concept of climate change is surely too large to actually effect Google’s knowledge and understanding by one person’s efforts. There is just so much out there on both sides of the argument. Humans can’t really decide – not to mention machines.
For most small businesses though, you certainly do have some things that Google hasn’t been able to build a frame about or that has little enough information that you can fill their frame with the information you want. True, you can’t be the only one saying something, but without a lot of contradictory evidence, it’s possible to validate many of the claims and assertions that you want to make by establishing trust in your site, your person, and the frame you’re working in.
While some may argue that there’s no such thing as E-A-T (as described in the QRG) that acts as a ranking signal, Google’s trust in what it knows about things based upon the authoritativeness and expertise level of the supporting (or contradicting) sources is absolutely a key to ranking well. And that, after all, is what it’s all about.