This isn’t unprecedented, as Google updates its guidelines periodically.
But this time, because of the change, you have to get serious about your content strategy if you don’t want to get de-ranked.
The Quality of Your Content Matters
Quality matters to Google. If you want to improve your rankings, you better create high-quality content that helps your users.
You can’t just post a keyword-heavy blog or article and expect amazing results. In fact, keyword stuffing can get you de-ranked fast.
But how does Google know your site contains quality content?
E-A-T and YMYL.
Listen to my podcast episode explaining these concepts in detail:
Catch all episodes at contenthacker.com/podcast.
What Is E-A-T?
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
In other words, Google rewards credible experts you can trust.
It’s easy to put content on the internet, which is why a lot of it is utter garbage or mostly irrelevant. The sheer volume of content is also the reason search engines have to create a system to evaluate websites and pages.
The criteria in E-A-T can distinguish helpful content from content that doesn’t provide an obvious benefit to the user.
Let’s break the three parts down a bit more.
Google will always prefer content written by an expert over content written by Joe Schmo. For example, a fashion designer’s review of a jacket will carry more weight than your neighbor’s opinion of that same jacket.
When content is written by subject matter experts, Google takes notice. And of course, you don’t have to have a degree to be considered an expert on a specific subject, either. Just like smart employers, Google values real-world and everyday expertise.
To establish expertise, you need to answer the question “Is the author of this content an expert?” in the affirmative.
The definition of “expert”, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, doesn’t say anything about how you acquired the skill or knowledge.
Therefore, a college degree, an internship, real-life experience, or teaching yourself by reading up on the subject could all lead to expert status.
Of course, expert status means different things in different fields. Anyone can easily become an expert on planting a garden.
Well, easily might be a stretch. It’s not actually easy to keep plants alive (who knew?). But you don’t have to go to school or find a teacher. You can learn by doing.
On the other hand, you can’t achieve expertise on brain surgery without a degree and real-life experience. I think we can all agree on that.
If you’re an expert, you must showcase your expertise on your website.
We’ll give you some tips on how to do this soon.
Let’s tackle authoritativeness next.
This word is a mouthful, for sure. But we can make it simpler for you:
You need to be an authority on your content.
That means other people see you as a reliable source of information on this topic. They consider you a thought leader in your industry.
Authoritativeness considers your website, your content, and the author of the content to determine how credible you are.
If you wrote an amazing piece of content and posted it on a site that normally spreads false news or sells snake oil, your efforts would be in vain.
You want your entire site to be full of valuable content your users are looking for. This demonstrates your authority to the search engine gods and allows your site to rank better.
I understand it’s difficult to show authoritativeness for your site when you’re just starting out.
But don’t lose hope. We’ll show you what you can do, but first let’s discuss trustworthiness.
Your site must be trustworthy to rank well.
“Truuusssssst in meeeeee.”
The snake Kaa in Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book is pretty good at appearing trustworthy, don’t you think?
Unfortunately, hypnotizing your website visitors and Google isn’t an option for you.
So you must show trustworthiness in different ways.
This means the information you share has to be accurate and reliable. You must carefully edit and revise any content you publish.
You want to provide up-to-date content to establish trust.
This means you have to give people what they’re expecting. No sensational headlines over false promises.
And all this is especially important if your content falls under the YMYL guidelines.
What Is YMYL?
I thought you would never ask.
YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life.
It has nothing to do with being held at gunpoint. Instead, it has everything to do with the type of content you publish.
When Google first published its search quality evaluator guidelines in 2015, they defined YMYL topics to be part of certain categories of content, such as:
- News and current events
- Civics, government, and law
- Health and safety
- Groups of people
If you publish content in any of these topic areas, you better ace the requirements of E-A-T, or your website could be considered low quality.
On July 28, 2022, Google once again updated its content evaluation guidelines. The change affects how Google ranks YMYL topics and what it now considers YMYL content.
Google Redefined YMYL
As we’ve already covered, there’s a lot of, eh, stuff on the internet.
Much of it is useless. Some of it is helpful. But another portion of content is actually harmful to readers.
With YMYL, Google seeks to de-rank the latter.
The goal is to prevent harm.
If a website deals with certain topics that could affect the health, financial stability, or safety of people or the well-being of society, that would be a YMYL topic.
For example, a website that reports the news could impact the safety of people and the well-being of society. A cooking site with a recipe for banana bread could affect the health of people, but not in the same way as a website prescribing a medical cure for bronchitis.
Google recognizes that YMYL topics are part of a spectrum. Your site may contain clear YMYL content, definitely not YMYL content, or something in between.
There are two different ways in which a topic can cause harm.
- The topic itself is dangerous.
- The topic can be harmful if the content isn’t trustworthy and accurate.
Under the first category, you will find inciting violence, self-harm, and criminal acts. It doesn’t matter what your expert status is. You can be a successful cereal killer (get it? Cereal as in cornflakes?), but Google will not rank your website if you’re encouraging criminal activity.
You probably need to worry about the second category of topics.
If the content isn’t accurate or trustworthy, the topic can be harmful.
Think about it for a moment.
If the content on your site was just slightly inaccurate, how much harm would it cause?
If it could cause significant harm, then you really need to study the principles of E-A-T.
For example, if you posted divorce advice on your website, you better have some credentials to back it up. People can lose a lot of money during a divorce if they make a terrible decision.
If you’re writing about how to win a tennis match next time your neighbor asks you to play, you probably don’t need to be a world-famous tennis player or even an athlete. Chances are you don’t even have to own a tennis racket.
What about Inaccurate Content on Non-YMYL Topics?
If you think I’m going to tell you that you can write whatever you want, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
However, Google isn’t worried about non-YMYL topics as much. If you want to write an article about why the local basketball team stinks or that all grocery stores are a figment of your imagination, go right ahead.
There will be others who will agree on the basketball team, but you probably won’t rank for that other topic for different reasons.
The thing is, people expect accurate information.
Unless you’re hosting a satire or humor site. Then your readers expect the content to be inaccurate and definitely untrustworthy.
Google doesn’t really care what you write about, as long as no harm comes to others.
Have a laugh. 😂
The world is serious enough as it is.
If Your Site Leans towards YMYL, You Need E-A-T
The principles of E-A-T (little refresher here: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) apply to any site you host on the internet.
The more you demonstrate you know what you’re talking about, the more likely it is that your visitors will find your content useful and take the action you want them to take.
If your website covers topics that are most definitely YMYL or lean in that direction, you must prioritize E-A-T.
Providing expert, authoritative, and trustworthy content should be your goal, anyway. Otherwise, how will your site be any different from the rest on the same topic?
But with YMYL topics, you must roll up your sleeves and be even more diligent.
Before we show you how to demonstrate E-A-T, let’s talk about the process Google uses to assess content quality.
The Current Google Search Quality Process
Believe it or not, but Google spends an enormous amount of effort in verifying the quality of its search results. We’ll take you behind the scenes and show you how they do this.
Step 1: Determine the Purpose of the Page
It doesn’t have to save the world. Even a website full of jokes serves a purpose.
A site that merely exists to earn money without potential benefits to the visitor is not considered helpful.
Google believes that websites and pages should help people. To determine if a website is helpful, Google needs to determine what the reason for the page is.
Just to be clear, Google doesn’t really care what type of page it is. It wouldn’t award the page for the local school district a higher rating than a humor page.
However, to rate your page, Google needs an understanding of what the website is all about.
You don’t have to worry if you’re not trying to cure a disease or eradicate hunger with your page. Google isn’t looking for that.
There has to be all kinds of content on the internet. The purpose of your page could be to entertain, sell products or services, or simply share information about a topic.
It doesn’t matter.
Your website just needs to help people in some way.
Now that Google knows the purpose of your site, we move on to the next step in the rating process.
Step 2: Assess If the Purpose of the Page Is Harmful or Has the Potential to Cause Harm
If you have a website full of harmful content, Google will immediately assign you the lowest quality rating possible. If your website tries to deceive people, you’ll also get the lowest score possible.
If your site is harmful to individuals or society, spammy, or untrustworthy, Google will not give your site a high-quality score.
And we’re not talking about controversial or distasteful content here.
Think along the lines of a website that defrauds veterans by pretending to provide services. Or a page that sells playground equipment but only collects money without delivering the goods.
Websites that disguise their ads as content are also considered spammy.
If you’re trying to be sneaky and defraud people or actually harm anyone, Google is onto you.
But that’s not your goal, anyway.
You just want to know how to get your sites to rank under the new E-A-T and YMYL guidelines.
We’re at the last step on how Google arrives at a rating for your site.
Step 3: Determine the Rating
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
As you can see, Google isn’t extremely specific with its ratings.
It almost sounds like a teacher. You will receive an “A” if you write an essay demonstrating your understanding very well. But if you only do it well, you will get a “B”.
It’s not helpful, is it?
Actually, it’s good to understand how Google rates websites. And now we’ll get into what you can do to ace that test.
5 Main Criteria for Page Quality Ratings
Obviously, you want your page to get a high quality score to improve your rankings.
What should you focus on?
Well, these are the five criteria Google looks at when rating your site:
- Purpose of your website
- Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness
- Quality and quantity of your main content
- Information about the creator of the main content
- Website reputation
It seems like a lot to worry about, but when you look at Google’s explanations, you’ll realize it all comes down to offering quality content on your site.
As long as your site isn’t harmful, scammy, or misleading, your best bet is to establish yourself using the E-A-T guidelines. This is even more important if your content leans towards YMYL topics.
You Want to Showcase Virtue & Integrity
The tough part about E-A-T is that it’s actually really simple.
You want your website visitors to trust your content. And you can’t fake trust, expertise, or an excellent reputation. Google will see right through you.
In some ways, Google’s big update of their quality guidelines is just the same message they’ve been telling us for a long time:
You need to create great content because that’s what Google wants at the top of the search results.
You should create content your audience wants and needs by offering truly valuable information.
But we won’t leave you hanging with the same general advice. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of how you can show Google and your visitor that you are a trusted source.
How to Demonstrate E-A-T
Maybe you’re getting frustrated at this point.
After all, you always write great content and wouldn’t dream of publishing anything that’s not well-researched.
Don’t worry. We’ve got some actionable tips for you.
Here are the best practices to follow to demonstrate E-A-T:
✅ Identify every author with a byline and a bio
✅ Make it easy to find your contact information
✅ Perform a content audit and remove old/outdated/low-quality content
✅ Publish only properly edited and well-formatted content
✅ Add visuals to your content
✅ Build your brand reputation to add credibility to your site
✅ Use descriptive and helpful titles for main content
If you’re not sure whether content on your website meets the E-A-T criteria, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
❓ Can you build enough authority or brand recognition and demonstrate E-A-T for this keyword?
❓ Can you clarify your contact/payment/refund information to improve trust for your users?
❓ Would it help to have an author bio for this page? If so, what qualifications should the author have to show expertise?
❓ Could you update the content or add better references?
❓ Does Google connect your brand information with mentions of your company? If not, can you improve company and author information on your site or encourage brand mentions online?
❓ Is this page as helpful as it could possibly be? If not, what could you add to it to make it more useful for your users?
You really want to create the best content on your topic to establish yourself as a credible source and help your website visitors.
The Amount of Content Matters
While Google is looking for quality content, quantity is important, too. A website with very little main content could easily receive a low rating with Google.
It all depends on the topic of your site.
If you’re sharing a recipe, you don’t need to write a 5,000-word blog, contrary to what you see on the internet. Most of those words will be fluff, unless you’re explaining how to bake an intricate, 17-layer wedding cake.
An in-depth topic like World War II or the effects of climate change can’t be fully explained in just a few paragraphs.
When you look at your website from a user perspective, think about what kind of information you want to see.
A financial advisor might explain the difference between traditional and Roth retirement plans. A veterinary clinic might post an article about the average life expectancy of different dog breeds.
The goal is to help your visitor find whatever information they’re looking for by being a trusted source.
Be Ruthless with Crappy Content
You might be familiar with this advice for authors:
You must kill your darlings.
Comb through the current content on your website and be as ruthless as you can. If you have poor-quality content, brainstorm ideas on how to improve it.
If it’s the first blog post you ever wrote, this might make you cry. 😭
It’s okay. That’s what chocolate and ice cream are for.
Now delete that outdated content that’s riddled with typos and grammar mistakes.
If you read old content and immediately think of ways to make it better, it means you’ve grown as a content creator.
So that’s worth celebrating. 🥳
What Google Recommends You Do
Now that you know everything there is to know about E-A-T and YMYL and why E-A-T is extremely important for every website or page, we’ll give you a shortcut.
Focus your content on people first. 🙋♀️
If you create content that considers your intended audience and provides a valuable resource, you’re doing the right thing.
Even though you want to rank highly in the search engines, that’s not who you’re writing for.
You’re writing for your people.
You’re’ sharing firsthand knowledge and experience. When someone leaves your site, you want them to feel like they’ve had a pleasant experience.
Maybe they learned something.
Maybe you entertained them.
Maybe you helped them find what they were looking for.
Maybe all of the above.
Now go forth and write kick-ass content.
Or better yet, grab a seat inside my 12-month mentorship, the Content Transformation System.
This hybrid program — coaching, curriculum, community, and live calls — teaches you how to build your business sustainably through content marketing.
You’ll learn everything you need to know, including strategy-building, content-creating, SEO, hiring/content team-building, and more.