The Ranking Factor I’m Thinking Most About Going Into 2021

Google Ranking Factors

Here’s what I think is the most important ranking factor right now; The single thing that anyone wanting more search engine traffic in 2021 should have top of mind.

Expertise, Authority & Trust

If your business gets traffic from Google (or if you want it to) it is no longer viable to proceed without understanding what E-A-T is.

In short, Google put out a document some years back called the Quality Raters’ Guidelines. It was originally a document given only to contractors they were using to help assess the quality of websites in the search index. Information from these “quality raters” was fed back into the algorithm to help improve it’s ability to… assess quality. Turns out robots can’t do everything afterall.

This is not a minor thing.

Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president of search, assistant and news, told CNBC, that the Quality Raters’ Guidelines,

“don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do”.

Yes, this document lays out the best they hope the algorithm to be able to achieve some day. Paying attention yet?

Later the guide became publicly available (link here), and SEOs began poring over it for tips to improve their rankings. It’s a huge document. You probably don’t want to read the whole thing, but I strongly recommend at least a skim through during tonight’s Netflix binge. (We just finished “Wild Wild Country“… what a story!)

One of the core concepts of the report is E-A-T. These contractors are taught to assess the quality of a site based on, among other things, the site’s apparent levels of Expertise, Authority & Trust.

There is a lot that goes into E-A-T but for the sake of a handy simplification it can be roughly separated into two parts: On site, and off site.

On site is about the EAT of your authors, contributors and anyone else involved in the running of the site. Who actually writes your site? What’s their expertise? What’s their experience? How credible are they? Are they known in their field? How are they thought of in their industry? What qualifications do they have? Have they been recognized in any particular way?

The answers to these questions have to be considered and then communicated on your site to the greatest extent possible, to show you have sufficient E-A-T in your market.

Off site is about how your site and your authors are referred to elsewhere on the internet. Have you been quoted in newspapers? Appeared on TV? Published some important report? Have you been positively reviewed anywhere? Are you mentioned on consumer report websites? Maybe the Better Business Bureau?

Essentially, if someone went looking for information about your site… that wasn’t written by you… what would they find, and how authoritative would it make you look? Current opinion is that off site E-A-T carries the most weight.

Now, before anyone throws their hands up and quits SEO for good, a couple of notes.

The place where these principles are supposed to be being applied most carefully by Google is in YMYL markets: Your Money or Your Life. Any market with a safety component: primarily finance and health/medical.

It’s still true that in the majority of markets outside of this, sites with no E-A-T are doing great. If your blog is on quilting or pet clothing, you can afford to pay much less attention to this. How much expertise can anyone really have on dog sweaters?

Secondly, even despite having been affected by updates supposedly targeting E-A-T this year (my main site lost about 40% of it’s organic traffic. Yuck.) I see this as a really positive step for search.

SEOs have complained for years that Google is bad at determining the quality of content. It doesn’t know what great content is so it has to rely on secondary metrics like links to decide.

E-A-T might well be the beginning of the end of that. There are prominent SEOs who believe that Google will come to rely less on links and more on authenticity to determine the quality of content.

Better search rankings with less link building?? I’ll take it.

(Ok let’s not get too excited. There’s still plenty of work to do.)

E-A-T Action Steps

So as to avoid leaving this discussion purely theoretical, here are some of the things I have done and am doing to increase my E-A-T in 2018 and 2019.

NOTE: I’m in a YMYL niche so I have to take this more seriously than most.

Author Pages

You know in your Yoast settings where you can choose to noindex those silly pages like tag pages, archives… and AUTHORS. Yeah, those days are done.

My author pages are indexable and they are basically shrines to my authors. On them you can read a full list of their qualifications, their achievements, their backgrounds, all the important work they’ve published, all the places they’ve been recognized, as well as the usual feed of their most recent articles. Their real images are there; social profiles; other websites and more. No one can have any doubt about whether this author is a real person with real qualifications who is a real hero in their field.

No More Template Legal Pages

This year I paid to have proper legal pages created that were specific to my website. Even if you don’t want to pay for it, it’s worth a review of your Terms of Service, Privacy and Affiliate Disclosure/Disclaimer to make sure they properly reflect what your website is doing and not doing.

If you’re not sure what else might need to be added, look at some of your competitors for ideas then ask for one off advice from a lawyer on those.

Oh, and INDEX THEM. Forget whatever duplicate content concerns you once had. Think about it from a trustworthiness perspective: What kind of a website HIDES their legal pages from being found in Google?!

No More Pseudonyms/Personas

There are plenty of reasons you might want to use a pseudonym. I’m not saying a site that has a pseudonym author can’t work anymore. It still works perfectly fine in plenty of niches.

I am saying a pseudonym author can’t build E-A-T properly. Obviously it can’t. Is your fake persona going to be quoted in a major industry publication? If a quality rater digs into the qualifications and education and experience of your fake persona author, are they doing to find anything good?

If your niche requires a lot of E-A-T, you’re going to lose out by not having your authors be real, searchable people.

Disclaimers

Disclaimers for safety if that’s a component of your site, and disclaimers for advertising: Not just on a dedicated page of your site, buried in a footer link somewhere…

but in a small note on EVERY page where there’s safety affecting information, or affiliate links.

Affiliate wise, all the biggest sites do this. TheWireCutter for example, has this one sentence declaration, in prime real estate, at the top of every page with affiliate links

“Wirecutter is reader supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission”

Why not add something similar to your template?

Then for any content that may affect a person’s safety (arguably even a fitness website could benefit here) a similar one sentence on every page (sidebar, header, whatever) isn’t going to hurt:

“This workout advice does not take into consideration your personal fitness or health, and could be dangerous if implemented incorrectly. Seek specific advice from a qualified trainer before attempting this yourself”.

This even gives me the chance to make a disclaimer of my own:

“This advice on disclaimers is for illustrative purposes only. Andrew Hansen is blatantly not a lawyer. He doesn’t even like Law and Order. Don’t copy the disclaimers he’s given. Write your own, ideally with help from a legal professional”.

Boom.

Off Page: Less But Better Links (Better by E-A-T)

Look, I still want high Domain Authority when I’m link building.

But more than ever before, I’m thinking “What is the E-A-T of this site I could get a link from?” and I’m judging the appropriate effort to commit to the acquisition of that link, by the answer.

I’ve got links in my profile that are DA60+ that I can clearly see have minimal E-A-T. They’re not worth working as hard for as they were before.

On the other hand, the well known industry publication who’s DA might not even hit 60 is much more valuable now. If people in your niche will recognise the site, it’s worth having a link on. What’s more, it’s worth being mentioned on even if you don’t get a link. 

I’m thinking a lot more about press in 2021. I’m thinking more about creating content specifically because it will be newsworthy. I’m thinking more about building relationships (best case: contributor spots) with the biggest sites in my market.

I’m thinking about this idea that “Google is getting better at knowing which links to ignore”. I’m trying to minimize time and investment on the kind of links that are likely to be recognized someday by a quality rater as obviously not saying very much about the quality (read, the E-A-T) of my site.

Last note about link building: For new site owners: I think there is a lot in the realm of link building that can be very worthwhile for the purpose of getting a new site off the ground, even if it’s not as worthwhile once the site is established. I’m still a fan for example of the kind of guest posts that can be acquired through services we mentioned in our courses previous and current. I just see them as having less long term value once a site is say 2 years+.

Want More On E-A-T?

This video is a great introduction, by a highly experienced SEO, with tonnes of QnA at the end.

I hope you’ve found this helpful and I wish you all the best at increasing your E-A-T.

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