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

Author: George Nguyen

a graphic with text that reads "E-A-T" and "YMYL"

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,” Google says. “We use responses from raters to evaluate changes, but they don’t directly impact how our search results are ranked.”

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 informs Google on 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: 1) Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T); and 2) Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content. Let’s go over these concepts and discuss how they can be applied to your site content.

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

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

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

  • Expertise of the content creator

  • Authoritativeness of the content creator, content and/or website

  • Trustworthiness of the content creator, content and/or website

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-A-T.

Here are some examples of what qualifies as high E-A-T, from section 3.2 of the guidelines (as of October 2021):

  • News articles should showcase journalistic professionalism, be factually accurate and presented in a way that helps visitors better understand events. High 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-A-T is evaluated

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

Our systems aren't looking for 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-A-T assessment would be.

In essence, Google uses various signals in place of a “good human 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-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 content

Some topics are more serious than others. Moreover, creating content for some topics requires more 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.”

Simply put, Google gives more weight in its ranking algorithms to factors indicating 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-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.

Here are examples of YMYL topics, from section 2.3 of the search quality guidelines:

  • News and current events: News about important topics like international events, business, politics, science, and technology. Not all articles are necessarily considered YMYL. Sports, entertainment and lifestyle topics are generally not YMYL.

  • Civics, government and law: Content about voting, government agencies, public institutions, social services, and legal issues (i.e., divorce, child custody, adoption, drafting a will).

  • Finance: Advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement planning, loans, banking, or insurance. This also applies to sites that allow people to make purchases or transfer money.

  • Shopping: Content or services about buying, including webpages that allow people to make purchases.

  • Health and safety: Advice or content about medical issues, drugs, hospitals, emergency preparedness, how dangerous an activity is and more.

  • Groups of people: Information, or claims about groups of people. This includes groups based on race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity and more.

  • Other: Fitness and nutrition, housing information, choosing a college, finding a job, and more. There are numerous topics related to big decisions or important aspects of people’s lives that can be considered YMYL—use your best judgment.

Ways to convey E-A-T

As mentioned, the PageRank algorithm is one of the signals used to determine E-A-T. That means acquiring backlinks to your content can help you communicate 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-A-T. Be transparent, but also highlight reasons why your content 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. Include links to get in touch with your authors through their social media accounts and/or email addresses.

  • Use HTTPS: While HTTPS is quickly becoming the standard, Google ranks these sites more favorably. 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-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-A-T by harnessing the E-A-T of your sources.

  • Keep your content updated: 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-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 - Director of SEO Editorial, Wix

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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