As a current or aspiring website owner, you’ve likely heard about the importance of technical SEO. As opposed to the earlier days of the Internet, when keyword stuffing was all you had to do to rank #1 on Google for your target query, SEO requires a multifaceted approach. It’s not just about the content on your website; it’s the functionality and structure of your webpages.
SEO has only become more complicated in recent years, and if you’re running an online business you’re probably already stressed about it. And with the increased need for SEO services has come an influx of spammers and pushy salesmen, who make their money by playing off of others’ stress.
You may have received an unsolicited alarmist email (or seven) in recent months from an individual claiming to be from an SEO agency. These spammy emails explain in urgent language that your site speed is awful, and your SEO efforts are suffering as a result. They may even include charts from Google PageSpeed Insights that show just how horrendous your metrics are.
We get it: no business owner wants to lose their competitive advantage. But SEO agencies that send you scary emails likely don’t have your best interests at heart.
Besides, page speed isn’t the end-all-be-all for SEO. The addition of more SEO ranking factors doesn’t mean content has become less important. In fact, all the main technical SEO factors combined don’t have nearly as much weight as content-related factors. Content is still king.
So how is site ranking determined? Google may run on a powerful algorithm that evaluates site content, but there are humans that play a part too. Google has human quality raters that use specific guidelines to rank web content. One core principle these raters follow is known as E-A-T, short for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
How much does each factor, whether technical or content-related, affect your site’s ranking, and how can you position yourself as an Authoritative, Trustworthy Expert? Read on to learn more.
Technical SEO means auditing the code that controls a site’s functionality, as well as the server the site runs on, and quashing inefficiencies that may affect the user experience. This may involve doing the following:
To catalog websites for display in search results, Google crawls webpages and indexes them. Google’s “spiders” or bots follow page links and skim and catalog content. This is why crawlability is so important; if Google can’t find your page, it won’t end up in search results, and your rankings and engagement won’t improve.
Besides crawlability, page speed is also important for engagement. Consumers expect lightning-fast load speeds today, and know that if your site doesn’t load quickly, your competitor’s site probably will. Most people won’t wait around for your site to load.
A goal for page speed should be 1-2 seconds. Like we said: lightning fast!
Overall, technical SEO improves your site’s functionality, making you look better in the eyes of both Google and your site visitors. However, it’s not the end-all-be-all. You could have a site that loads in half a second and looks great on mobile, but if the content has no substance, your SEO metrics aren’t going anywhere good.
According to First Page Sage, an SEO agency that has been studying Google’s algorithm for 14 years, page speed only accounts for 3% of your overall ranking. As for other technical SEO factors, they hold a similar weight; use of an SSL Certificate counts for 2%, your mobile friendliness counts for 4%, and the structure of your data is only 1%.
The #1 most important factor by a mile? Consistent publication of high quality content.
Google crawls and analyzes pages using bots, but people are involved in the page ranking process as well. Google’s search quality raters are humans all over the world that help evaluate the relevance of search results for particular queries. This helps Google make improvements to their algorithm.
According to Google, these raters “assess how well content fulfills a search request, and evaluate the quality of results based on the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of the content.” Raters operate based on the principle of E-A-T.
Though not the sole principle for determining page quality, a site’s Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness weigh heavily on the rankings that search raters give. Search rater evaluations aren’t a direct Google ranking factor, but they are a good indicator of how well-targeted your SEO efforts are.
Let’s get into what each of the three parts of E-A-T mean.
When evaluating expertise, the rater considers how qualified the author appears when discussing a particular topic. The author’s formal credentials, if applicable, will be considered, as well as what’s known as “everyday expertise”.
A person doesn’t necessarily need a degree to speak on certain topics accurately. For example, someone who runs a successful plant nursery and blogs about gardening doesn’t need a Bachelor’s in Botany to know what they’re talking about.
Even forum participants can have “everyday experience” according to rater guidelines. Within the guidelines, this image from a cancer forum was provided as an example of individuals with credible everyday experience. People in the thread were sharing personal stories from their loved ones’ current or former battles with cancer. Though this isn’t considered legitimate medical advice, they do have firsthand experience with this disease, which may qualify as everyday experience according to Google raters.
Sharing personal medical stories can mean you have expertise on the subject, but people without verifiable official credentials giving medical advice to strangers would not be held in the same regard.
The authoritativeness of content also goes back to the reputation of the writer and the website, as well as the brand/company the site represents, if applicable. Is this website considered a reputable source for information on this topic, whether it’s at a local, national, or worldwide level?
Reputation is assessed by reviewing site backlinks, and independent reviews and articles that mention the website, company, or content writer. If applicable, comments on the website itself will also be considered. Anything that may tell the rater what others think is taken into account.
A site’s trustworthiness can also be determined by taking into account the content creator and the website itself, in addition to the content on the page. Factual accuracy of site content is a part of a site’s perceived trustworthiness, as well as the security of the site’s connection to the server, especially during the exchange of sensitive information like credit card numbers.
Obviously, if site visitors are being tricked into downloading malware, or there are other deceptive tactics at play, the site will be flagged as untrustworthy. But a site can also be deemed untrustworthy if information appears to be deliberately hidden.
On a site where transactional information is being collected, is there a method of contacting the site owner if something goes wrong? Is there information on what the website is doing with your data?
Overall, transparency is key.
This brings us back to creating quality content. Google released a helpful content update in 2022 that provides guidelines as to what they consider top-tier content. Google particularly favors people-first content that demonstrates specific and useful knowledge on a topic. Content that appears to be written for the sole purpose of gaming the algorithm, with strategically placed keywords and information recycled from other sources, is not what Google considers people-first, because it’s being created for the search engine, not for the people reading it.
Content should be original and demonstrate a depth of knowledge on a topic. Of course, there is nothing wrong with linking to other expert sources to supplement content, but the bulk should be original. There is a difference between a writer adding supplemental information to an original article, and a writer simply summarizing information from other articles while demonstrating no personal expertise or adding any value.
Content should also be specific, and have a primary purpose or focus. Google’s entire goal is to provide the most relevant answers to search queries, so ensure you stay on topic and actually answer the question at hand.
To summarize, quality content is:
The best way to attract site visitors and boost your SEO rankings is to position yourself as an expert in your niche, and write content that is legitimately useful to people who are trying to find out more about it.
We’ve gone over some guidelines for Google’s search raters, but if you want to read about it in more detail, take a look at the full booklet of search rater guidelines.