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Google Search Quality Guidelines Now Reward Expertise, Authority, Trust

jessica-lee
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focus-on-qualityThe latest version of Google's "human rater handbook," a.k.a., search quality evaluation guide, has leaked once again, and gives us more clues into how Google determines quality.

Version 5.0 of the handbook is dated March 2014, and contains updated information about expertise, authority, trust and reputation when rating websites and their pages.

Search Quality Evaluation: A Refresher

Google's search quality team hires human raters (dubbed "search quality evaluators") who help Google rate sites for quality. They do so as part of a feedback loop, oftentimes assessing proposed tweaks to the algorithm before they are rolled out.

If you aren't familiar with how human raters work, a quick refresher here:

This evaluation team goes by a hefty manual created by Google that guides them through what a quality website or page is, and how to rate it. From time to time, Google updates this manual. Also from time to time, this manual and its contents are leaked.

The contents of the guidebook aren't anything radically different than what Google and quality marketers teach daily about quality sites; however, it's more detailed on how to decipher high quality from low.

Search Engine Watch has covered previous updates to the handbook, and you can check those out here:

The last time we reported on the guidebook, we talked about the "Your Money or Your Life" aspect of rating, a designation given to pages that need to be held to a higher standard because of the nature of the information, for example, if it could impact your well being. This includes pages that include information on physical, financial, or safety matters, to name a few.

This time around, we're paying special attention to the additions in Version 5.0 surrounding expertise, authority, and trust, and how those factors into ratings.

Expertise, Authority, Trust: How to Valuate Websites Using This Criteria

In the latest version of the guidebook for search quality evaluation, we saw the addition of language around expertise, authority, and trust as a decision-making factor.

"E-A-T" as its abbreviated, is a subsection of in version 5.0 of the guidebook, and discusses the importance of expertise to evaluate the authoritativeness and trustworthiness of a site.

As marketers who have been following Google's recommendations for some time, this concept is nothing new, but the updated version of the guidebook gives some examples of what E-A-T means.

Keep in mind that there are "expert" websites of all types, even gossip websites, fashion websites, humor websites, forum and Q&A pages, etc. In fact, some types of information are found almost exclusively on forums and discussions, where community of experts can provide valuable perspectives on specific topics.
  • High quality medical advice should come from people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation.
  • High quality medical advice or information should be written or produced in a professional style and should be edited, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.
  • High quality financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, etc., should come from expert sources and be maintained and updated.
  • High quality advice pages on topics such as home remodeling (which can cost thousands of dollars) or advice on parenting issues (which can impact the future happiness of a family) should also come from "expert" sources which users can trust.
  • High quality pages on hobbies, such as photography or learning to play a guitar, also require expertise.

But don't be too quick to jump to conclusions about formal credentials as a designation of expertise. The guidebook talks about first-person experience as a form of expertness, like when people write extremely detailed and helpful reviews of products or places.

If it seems as if the person creating the content has the type and amount of life experience to make him or her an "expert" on the topic, we will value this "everyday expertise" and not penalize the person/page/website for not having "formal" education or training in the field.

Going back to the topic of "Your Money or Your Life," the guidebook points out that there are people with "everyday expertise" in these types of topics – but is careful to differentiate experience with specific medical advice.

For example, there are forums and support pages for people with specific diseases. Sharing personal experience is a form of everyday expertise. Consider this example. Here, forum participants are telling how long their loved ones lived with liver cancer. This is an example of sharing personal experiences (in which they are experts), not medical advice. However, specific medical information and advice (rather than descriptions of life experiences) should come from doctors or other health professionals.

In the end, the guidebook says to think about the requirements for the expertise of the topic, and what kind of expertise is required for the page to achieve its purpose well. While formal expertise may be needed for medical advice, less formal expertise may be required for recipes or humor, the guidebook says.

E-A-T by Page vs. Website

The guide advises that in some cases, the analysis of E-A-T needs to be by the page; in others, it needs to be by the website.

For example, the quality of the main content, supporting content, and page design are landing page-level issues (see the 2012 report on the guidebook that covers rating content, linked to earlier in "refresher" section).

At the website level, the raters to consider things like contact information, website maintenance and reputation. But, there could be instances where E-A-T is based on both the page and the website.

Page level checks for E-A-T are important when a website has different authors on different pages. This is the case for article websites or websites like YouTube, which have user-generated content.
Website level checks for E-A-T are important in the following situations:
  • All content on the website is produced by the same person or organization. An example is a medical website which is produced by a reputable physician group.
  • The content of the website is produced by different authors or organizations, but the website has very active editorial standards. An example of this is a science journal with very high standards for publication.
  • The website has an extremely positive reputation from experts in the topic of the website, i.e., the website is acknowledged to be one of the most expert, authoritative, or trustworthy sources on the topic.

E-A-T and User-Generated Content

E-A-T is referenced throughout the latest version of the guidebook when designating highest quality or lowest quality Web pages. The guide touched on E-A-T and user-contributed content as well.

Depending on the topic, the guide says, websites may not be trustworthy if:

  • They allow "almost anyone to publish pretty much anything."
  • The contributors choose their own topics with no oversight, have poor writing skills or "absolutely no expertise in the topic of the page."
  • Contributors may be paid per article or by the word, and "may even be eligible for bonuses based on the traffic to their pages."

On the flipside, the guide gives instances where user-generated content offers high E-A-T, like:

  • Forums with experts on particular topics "ranging from sewing to car repair to do-it-yourself home improvement projects."
  • User-posted content for unique or unusual hobbies, for example, where "expert advice" is found on blogs, forums, and other user-generated content websites.

Positive Reputation and High-Quality Ratings

It's also worth noting that while reputation has been mentioned in previous versions of the handbook, a new subsection on "positive reputation" in Version 5.0 clarifies slightly.

From the last version (Version 4.2), the guidebook said:

A positive reputation from a consensus of experts is often what distinguishes an overall Highest quality page from a High quality page. A negative reputation should not be ignored and is a reason to give an overall PQ [page quality] rating of Low or Lowest.

Version 5.0 says something slightly different – even going so far as to say a medium quality page could get a high rating if positive reputation is a factor.

Reputation is an important consideration when using the High rating. While a page can merit the High rating with no reputation, the High rating cannot be used for any website that has a convincing negative reputation. A very positive reputation can be a reason for using the High rating for an otherwise Medium page.

A very positive reputation, the guidebook says, is "often based on prestigious awards or recommendations from known experts or professional societies on the topic of the website."

When weighing expertise and reputation together, the handbook gives guidelines that clarify where less formal expertise is required for the topic (such as recipes or humor), and says, "popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation."

For topics which need less formal expertise, websites can be considered to have a positive reputation if they are highly popular and well-loved for their topic or content type, and are focused on helping users.

When assessing reputation of businesses, the guidebook instructs search quality raters to use care.

Most businesses have some negative reviews, especially for customer service. Try to find as many reviews and ratings as possible and read the details of negative reviews and low ratings before inferring that the business has a negative reputation.

In Version 5.0 of the search quality evaluation guide, we got a clearer glimpse of what Google deems quality, what expertise means and how reputation factors.

Businesses and marketers that are already building great brands, sharing information that they've put a lot of thought and care into, and making sure their sites are optimized for search engines and users are aligning their efforts well with what Google believes to be quality, too.


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