If you’re in the world of SEO, copywriting, or inbound marketing, it’s likely that you’ve already heard about Google’s release of the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in November 2015.
Designed to help Google’s own site evaluators master their jobs and wade through Google’s complex ranking system, these search guidelines are 160 pages of pure SEO goodness. But what do they say, exactly?
One of the most important takeaways from the guidelines as a whole is the need for expert writers to add a true level of authority to the content. Someone who, as Google says, has real-life experience in what they’re writing or talking about. Hence, a big need for expert writers and authors to produce content in an industry they already know.
Let’s discuss this and what you need to know.
The 101 on Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
Despite all of their genius, ingenuity, and innovation, Google is a notoriously opaque organization and it has always been difficult at best (and impossible at worst) to understand their ranking algorithm.
While Google released a compressed version of the guidelines back in 2013, people wanted to know more. Recently, The SEM Post got ahold of a leaked copy and provided their own analysis on it. Google responded by releasing the guidelines in full in November of 2015, in this blog post, and the full 160-page PDF of Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in its massive entirety.
While the guidelines don’t simply tell marketers how to win at Google, they do provide a huge amount of information about what exactly Google evaluators are looking for, what makes a high-quality page, and how content should be written. It’s the last part we are especially interested in.
The Need for Expert Writers, According to Google’s Search Guidelines
It’s no secret that Google has always loved original, useful, and well-written in-depth content. Many of Google’s recent algorithm updates have been designed to reward high-quality pages that feature clear, concise, professional writing and to down-rank pages that feature duplicate, scraped, or careless content.
What is interesting about Google’s new guidelines, however, is that they place a huge emphasis on the need for expert writers, especially on pages that Google views as being very important. While it’s clear that Google has always valued quality content, it seems as if they’re now placing an increased focus on things like authority, as well.
E-A-T: Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness Page Standard
E-A-T is Google’s acronym for what exactly makes up a high-quality page. E-A-T stands for “Expertise, authority, trustworthiness” and it sums up exactly what Google is looking for in high-quality pages.
According to Section 4.3 of Part 1 of the guidelines, “High-quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic.”
At first glance, that may seem a bit vague, but Google goes on to clarify. The guidelines state that, in order for a page to possess those qualities, it needs to feature “expert” content written by “expert” writers:
- Complex medical advice should only be given by people or organizations that possess appropriate accreditation. It should, likewise, be written in a professional style and will need to be reviewed, updated, and edited regularly in order to ensure that it remains current and authoritative.
- Complex financial advice, tax advice, or legal advice should be written by expert writers and will need to be updated regularly.
- Important advice pages that may affect a person’s finances or well-being (this includes investment pages, home remodeling pages, and parenting pages) needs to be written by an “expert” source.
- Hobby pages on topics like hockey, horseback riding, or photography, require expert writers.
Pages that don’t feature this level of expertise or pages that cover a dense topic but offer little information will be marked as low-quality by Google’s evaluators. This is also true for pages with low-quality main content or content that is simply distracting or unhelpful.
What Makes an Expert?
Now that you know which pages require an expert writer, you may be wondering exactly what an “expert” is. Google makes it clear that that depends greatly on the topic at hand. Product or restaurant reviews, for example, can be considered “Expert” even if the person writing it isn’t a mystery diner or secret shopper. As long as the reviews are detailed and helpful, Google considers them expert content.
The same is true for forum-type discussions. In this case, Google provides the example of a cancer support community forum at Cancer Compass, where average people provide information about how long their loved ones lived with cancer. While these people are not doctors and are thus not qualified to write “expert” medical content, their firsthand experience (what Google calls “everyday expertise”) with cancer makes them qualified to write such content.
The takeaway? Pages require different levels of expertise. While advice on liver cancer itself needs to be written by an M.D., advice on coping with it in a family situation can absolutely be written by a layperson with firsthand experience.
Y-M-Y-L (Your Money or Your Life) Page Standard
There are some pages that Google places under special scrutiny. These pages are called, “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) pages. Examples of these pages include:
- E-commerce pages that provide a platform for purchases, money transfers, bill pay, etc.
- Pages that offer information about investing in stocks and bonds, planning for retirement, purchasing a home, financing college, buying insurance, or filing taxes.
- Pages that offer specific information or advice about health conditions, drugs, mental health, and nutrition.
- Pages that offer legal information on topics like child support and custody, divorce, becoming a legal citizen, and writing a will.
YMYL pages are subject to special Google scrutiny because low-quality pages can easily negatively impact a Google user’s health, happiness, or finances. For this reason, it is especially important that these pages feature a high level of E-A-T and are written by qualified expert writers. That said, if you’re working on any topic that could have a major impact on users (car safety and repair, for example) it’s worthwhile to hire an expert writer.
While we’ve always known that Google loves high-quality content, it’s obvious that now more than ever, Google values content that is written by authoritative and trustworthy experts.
As we move into the new year, we can expect to see content that possesses these traits be rewarded while low-quality, low-expertise content is down-ranked. While expert writing has always been important, Google’s recently released guidelines make it clear that hiring expert writers is now necessary for a website to earn quality rankings. Webmasters are going to have to invest in a real author who knows their industry—an industry copywriting expert—instead of just the more general SEO copywriter.
Featured Image: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com
In-post Photo #1: Alexey Boldin/Shutterstock.com
In-post Photos #2 and #3: Image by Express Writers. Used with permission.
Screenshot by Julia McCoy. Taken December 2015.