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What SEOs need to know about Google’s Search Quality Guidelines, E-E-A-T, and YMYL

Updated: May 8, 2023

Author: George Nguyen

An image of author George Nguyen accompanied by various search-related iconography, including a magnifying glass, speed dial, and browser

Google employs thousands of people to scrutinize its search results and provide them with feedback—these people are known as “search quality raters.”


“Their feedback helps us understand which changes make Search more useful. Raters also help us categorize information to improve our systems. For example, we might ask what language a page is written in or what’s important on a page. We use responses from raters to evaluate changes, but they don’t directly impact how our search results are ranked.”Google Search Help page

In other words, Google uses data from search quality raters like a restaurant might use feedback from its customers. This feedback helps Google assess whether their algorithms are working as intended.


While rater feedback doesn't directly affect rankings, over time it can inform Google about how to adjust its algorithms. These algorithms are key to how content across the web is ranked.


The rubric that quality raters follow is called the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. These guidelines serve as a lens through which raters judge search results, and can tell us what Google considers to be a high quality result. Creating content with Google’s expectations in mind can help you signal relevance and increase your chances of ranking higher.


Two concepts mentioned extensively throughout Google’s guidelines are:



Let’s go over these concepts and discuss how they can be applied to your site content.


Defining Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T)


E-E-A-T (read as “double E-A-T”) can be thought of as a measurement of content credibility for a particular page. Having a high degree of E-E-A-T means your content is more likely to satisfy searchers, which is ultimately Google’s goal.


Section 3.4 (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust) of Google’s search quality guidelines. There’s a graphic of a three-circled Venn diagram of Experience, Authoritativeness, and Expertise, with a fourth circle (Trust) at the center of the other three.
Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust (E-E-A-T) are all important considerations in page quality rating, but Trust is the most important.

When evaluating the E-E-A-T of any given page, raters are instructed to consider:


  • Experience — The extent to which the content creator has the necessary first-hand or life experience for the topic.

  • Expertise — The extent to which the content creator has the necessary knowledge or skill for the topic.

  • Authoritativeness: The extent to which the content creator or the website is known as a go-to source for the topic.


Trust is the most important component of E-E-A-T: Pages that lack trust have low E-E-A-T regardless of how experienced, expert, or authoritative they may appear. “For example, a financial scam is untrustworthy, even if the content creator is a highly experienced and expert scammer who is considered the go-to on running scams!” Google wrote in section 3.4 of its Search Quality Guidelines.


This criteria applies to pages and sites of all types, even gossip and fashion websites, forums, and everything in between. All these sites can display a high degree of E-E-A-T.


Here are some examples of the type of content that Google considers as having a high degree of E-E-A-T, from section 8.4 of the guidelines (as of May 2023):


  • News articles should showcase journalistic professionalism, be factually accurate and presented in a way that helps visitors better understand events. High E-E-A-T news sources usually publish their editorial policies and review processes.

  • Medical advice must be created by people or organizations with medical expertise or accreditation. It should be professionally written/produced, edited, reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

  • Information pages on scientific topics must be produced by people or organizations with scientific expertise and represent well-established scientific consensus (if consensus exists).

  • Financial advice, legal advice, and tax advice should come from trustworthy sources and be updated regularly.

  • Niche advice topics (i.e., home renovations, parenting, etc.) should come from trustworthy, experienced sources. Credibility matters because these topics impact individuals’ finances or overall happiness.

  • Pages on hobbies (i.e., photography, guitar playing, etc.) require expertise.


Because the formal expertise gap varies significantly between, for example, medical advice and photography tips, expertise is measured relative to the topic. Quality raters are instructed to value everyday expertise. If a content creator has enough experience with a topic to make them an expert, the likelihood of being penalized for lack formal education or training is slim.


How E-E-A-T is evaluated

Remember, search quality guidelines are for Google’s human raters, not search engine algorithms. Google’s Danny Sullivan described this relationship as follows:


“Our systems aren't looking for [E-E-A-T]. Our raters are using that to see if our systems are working well to show good information. There are many different signals that, if we get it right, align with what a good human [E-E-A-T] assessment would be.”Danny Sullivan, public search liaison at Google

In essence, Google uses various signals in place of a “good human E-E-A-T assessment.”


In February 2019, Google disclosed one of these signals in a white paper about how it fights misinformation, stating, “Google’s algorithms identify signals about pages that correlate with trustworthiness and authoritativeness. The best known of these signals is PageRank, which uses links on the web to understand authoritativeness.”


Unfortunately for site owners, Google did not share the rest of the signals it uses to approximate E-E-A-T. However, SEO professionals have adapted best practices from Google’s quality guidelines to help their websites convey expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness to their customers. Some of these tactics include using expert writers, citing their sources and regularly updating content, but best practices can vary by industry.


Defining Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) topics


Some topics are more serious than others. Moreover, creating content for some topics requires more E-E-A-T than others. To that end, Google refers to pages that may potentially affect a person’s happiness, health, finances or safety as “Your Money or Your Life” pages.


“For these YMYL pages, we assume that users expect us to operate with our strictest standards of trustworthiness and safety,” Google said in its white paper on fighting misinformation.


“Where our algorithms detect that a user’s query relates to a ‘YMYL’ topic, we will give more weight in our ranking systems to factors like our understanding of the authoritativeness, expertise or trustworthiness [E-A-T] of the pages we present in response.” — Google, How Google Fights Disinformation, February 2019

Simply put, Google gives more weight in its ranking algorithms to factors indicating E-E-A-T for YMYL topics.


You should know whether the content you’re creating falls under a YMYL topic. If it does, you may have to reinforce its E-E-A-T and update it regularly. This helps you provide the most accurate information to visitors and signals to Google that your content deserves to rank well.


You can assess whether a topic is YMYL by evaluating the types of harm that might occur (section 2.3 of the search quality guidelines):


  • YMYL Health or Safety: Topics that could harm mental, physical, and emotional health, or any form of safety such as physical safety or safety online.

  • YMYL Financial Security: Topics that could damage a person's ability to support themselves and their families.

  • YMYL Society: Topics that could negatively impact groups of people, issues of public interest, trust in public institutions, etc.

  • YMYL Other: Topics that could hurt people or negatively impact welfare or well-being of society.


Google holds “clear YMYL” topics to the highest level of scrutiny for page quality rating. The chart below (also taken from section 2.3 of the search quality guidelines) provides examples of the YMYL spectrum for various topics.


Type of Topic

Clear YMYL Topic

​May be YMYL Topic

Not or Unlikely YMYL Topic

Information Could significant harm result from inaccurate information?

Evacuation routes for a tsunami Explanation: Inaccurate information on evacuation routes could cause significant harm to people.

Weather forecast Explanation: In most situations, slightly inaccurate information about the weather forecast will not cause harm. People often ask family members "what's the weather today".

Music award winners


Explanation: This topic is unlikely to cause harm.

Advice about an activity


Could significant harm result from poor advice?

When to go to the emergency room


Explanation: Bad advice on when to go to the emergency room could cause significant harm.

How often to replace a toothbrush


Explanation: This is a casual health topic people commonly discuss with friends. A slightly imperfect suggestion is unlikely to significantly impact health or safety.

How frequently to wash jeans


Explanation: This topic is unlikely to cause harm.

A personal opinion


What impact could this opinion have on other people and society?


Personal opinion about why a racial group is inferior


Explanation:Pages on this topic have been used to justify or incite violence against groups of people.

Personal opinion about why an exercise is inferior


Explanation: While there may be a health concern if the exercise is extreme or risky, most discussions of jogging vs swimming, etc. involve personal preference.

Personal opinion about why a rock band is inferior


Explanation: This topic is unlikely to cause harm, although there may be strong opinions involved!

News about current event


Could this topic significantly impact people and society? For societal impact, consider issues such as elections and trust in public institutions that benefit society


News about ongoing violence


Explanation: People need accurate information to stay safe. Society may also be impacted by information about ongoing violence, as citizens and governments make civic decisions accordingly.

News about a car accident


Explanation: The accident itself may have been harmful, but there is likely little risk of future harm from small inaccuracies in reporting about an incident.

News about a local high school basketball game


Explanation: This topic is unlikely to cause harm.

Sharing on social media


Could the social media post cause significant harm? Could it hurt individuals? Could it damage society if widely shared?


A tide pod challenge post


Explanation: This harmful social media challenge was responsible for deaths.

A hot sauce challenge


Explanation: While some people may experience some discomfort by tasting various hot sauces, it is unlikely that sharing about such challenges would cause significant harm.

A music video


Explanation: This type of content generally has little risk of harm.

Online commerce and product reviews


Consider the product. Could the product cause significant harm?


Purchasing prescription drugs


Explanation: Prescription drugs have the potential to cause harm and require purchase from licensed pharmacies.

Review of a type of car


Explanation: While cars are big purchases, many people ask friends and family about cars.

Purchasing pencils


Explanation: Pencils and other everyday items are unlikely to cause harm.


How to convey E-E-A-T


As mentioned, the PageRank algorithm is one of the signals used to determine E-E-A-T. That means acquiring backlinks to your content can help you communicate E-E-A-T to Google. However, the consensus in the SEO industry is that not all backlinks have the same value.


Google is unlikely to value a link in the comments section of a YouTube video as highly as it may value a link from a government website or The Washington Post, for example. This makes it difficult to manipulate the system by spamming links across forums or acquiring illegitimate links through private blog networks.


In addition to backlinks, there are several ways to vouch for your site’s credibility. Here are a few places to start:


  • Create an “About Us” page: Your organization’s history and its staff can help contextualize your site’s E-E-A-T. Be transparent, but also highlight reasons why your brand/business is trustworthy. If you’re publishing opinions based on decades of experience, here’s where you can tell people about your expertise.

  • Display your contact details: Contact information should be included in your “About Us” page and footer. Making it easy for visitors to reach out to you conveys credibility and can help build trust.

  • Include author biographies: Showcasing your authors’ experiences and qualifications shows visitors that your content is informed by trusted expertise.


A screenshot of George Nguyen’s author bio. It includes a link to his Twitter and LinkedIn pages, and reads “George Nguyen is the Director of SEO Editorial at Wix. He creates content to help users and marketers better understand how search works. He was formerly a search news journalist and is known to speak at the occasional industry event.
An example of an author bio with social media links.

Include links to get in touch with your authors through their social media accounts and/or email addresses.

  • Use HTTPS: HTTPS is now the standard and Google ranks these sites more favorably (compared to HTTP websites, all other considerations being equal). Using HTTPS makes your site more secure for visitors by encrypting their information. Better security may even mean that your site is more trustworthy.


There are also ways in which your content can help convey E-E-A-T:


  • Maintain focus throughout your content: While you probably wouldn’t consult with a car mechanic for plumbing advice, publishing content on irrelevant topics may raise eyebrows for your audience. Stick to your main subject area and if a topic is tangentially related, make sure to explain how they are connected.

  • Cite your sources: Unsubstantiated claims are simply opinions, which makes them less credible. Clearly citing where your information comes from bolsters your E-E-A-T by leveraging the E-E-A-T of your sources.

  • Update your content regularly: This is especially important if your topic changes often. Fresh content has a higher chance of being relevant because it takes into account the latest findings, trends, and most recent events.


Trustworthy content helps you satisfy visitors and search engines


The search quality guidelines give us a detailed description of the type of content Google values. Keep these principles in mind when creating pages so that you can satisfy the search engines, lift your rankings, and drive more visitors to your site.


More importantly, E-E-A-T and YMYL are human concepts. Sticking to them will help you make the most out of that increased traffic by providing your audience with well-crafted, relevant content.

 

George Nguyen

George Nguyen is the Director of SEO Editorial at Wix. He creates content to help users and marketers better understand how search works. He was formerly a search news journalist and is known to speak at the occasional industry event.

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